Wednesday, August 31, 2005

John McCain: Fickle Friend of Gays

Crossposted from The Moderate Republican

If one has followed this blog, then you know that I've been a follower and admirerer of John McCain. He seems like a modern incarnation of Teddy Roosevelt. He has come out against the how corrupt the GOP has become and has stood for pragmatism at a time when the Republican Party has become more ideological. He stood against the far right when he ran for President in 2000 and I was pleased to see a Republican do that. I knew that his views were more conservative than I am, but I still liked him.

And now, McCain has just stabbed me in the back.

McCain has come out in favor of a change in the Arizona constitution that would ban same sex marriages.

To say that I'm shocked, is an understatment. McCain has been a hero to gay Republicans like myself and he has a place on Log Cabin's Hall of Fame. It might be time to take him off that list.


To me, this smacks of pure politics. He's running again in 2008 and is probably fearful that the far right might attack as they did in 2000. If he thinks sacrificing gays is going to sway them, he has another thing coming. They can't stand him, and trying to shore up his far right bona fides ain't going to change things.

I have no idea why he is doing this, especially at a time when a growing number of Republicans, like Christie Todd Whitman and John Danforth, are calling for a more tolerant GOP.

This is a slap in the face to all gay Republicans who have supported McCain. I was all ready to support him in 2008, but I'm now going to have to rethink that. I would counsel all fair-minded Republicans to do the same and let McCain know that.

Proposal Four: Require Cleaner Cars

Proposal four in Mark Satin’s radical middle agenda is to reduce oil dependence on the Middle East via requiring cleaner cars. Satin writes:

Raising fuel economy standards is the most effective single way to reduce oil dependence -- cars and light trucks account for a whopping 40% of U.S. oil use…We should increase fuel economy standards for new passenger vehicles 5% per year for 10 years so that they reach 44 mpg for cars and 33 mpg for light trucks by 2015, with improvements of 3% per year beyond 2015. That level of improvement is technically feasible now and would not compromise vehicle safety.

First, it’s important to note that Satin’s motivation for this proposal is not the environment but is dependence on Middle East oil. I am constantly amazed at how little our government is doing to lessen this dependence despite how much it obviously harms out security and our ability to interact honestly with the Middle East. Despite what some would have you believe, simply drilling more and building more refineries is not a magic-bullet solution. Greater domestic production could be helpful, but reducing demand should also be a major component of any genuine energy plan.

But do we need laws requiring fuel efficiency? With rising gas prices, the marketplace is already creating a condition where consumers will be demanding cars that get higher gas mileage. Plus, greater awareness of the need to reduce fuel consumption is also spurring consumers to purchase hybrid vehicles. I myself just bought a hybrid and discovered that demand was so high that there wasn’t a single one on any dealership lot in the city—I had to wait until the next shipment arrived from Japan. And this all happened in Texas—not a state known for demanding fuel-efficient vehicles.

Generally speaking, I only support laws that rectify a problem the free market is incapable of handling on its own. And I think the free market is handling the fuel consumption issue fairly well. But I don’t know if it’s handling it fast enough. If this were merely an environmental issue, I’d be much slower in supporting new laws requiring higher gas mileage (although I readily support tax breaks that reward makers and consumers of such vehicles). But this is also a national security issue and it’s one that probably can’t wait for the free market to sort out the problem.

We need stronger action. And Satin’s proposal is right on target. I’d want to see an analysis on the economic impact that a fuel efficiency law would have, but the proposal seems reasonable. I think it would be beneficial for the nation and wouldn’t substantially burden the automakers.

Reducing the number of gas-guzzling vehicles on the road is a commonsense effort that the homefront can make in helping us win the war on terror.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Proposal Three: Patient Capital

Proposal three in Mark Satin’s radical middle agenda is what Satin calls “patient capital.” He writes:

The only other income that wouldn’t be taxed is income on investments held for five years or more. Capitalism can’t work if investors only care about getting rich quick -- biggest single lesson from the Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, etc., scandals. It’s in everyone’s interest for American businesses to do long-range planning and build wealth over time rather than worry overmuch about short-term shareholder value.

At first glance, this proposal seems less important than some of Satin’s other ideas. But think about the implications. By taxing all income on investments that have been held for less than five years, the patient capital program would punish short-term investing—a major form of modern investing. There would be less incentive for investors (individual and corporate) to “ride the wave” and more incentive to think long-term and add real value to investments.

In many ways, I like this proposal. It in no way prevents individuals or companies from selling investments quickly—it just assesses a tax penalty if they choose to do so. But I wonder how it would affect the common investor who owns mutual funds. Even if we try, most of us do not track exactly which stocks and bonds our mutual funds hold. If our fund manager is moving around investments and that movement nets us a profit, would we be penalized? I’d hope not. I’d hope it’d be enough just to own the mutual fund itself for five years and not each individual investment within the fund.

But that would create a giant loophole where mutual fund managers could continue to buy and sell investments at a quick clip without suffering the tax penalties for doing so. And when it comes to money, once a loophole is opened, creative accountants will exploit it for all it’s worth.

I think, while a solid starting point, Satin’s “patient capital” proposal needs some greater detail so as to protect the interests of the common investor. Perhaps the five-year tax rule only cuts in if the investment is worth above a set amount (say, $30,000). Or perhaps the threshold is graduated to tie the number of years an investment must be held to its total worth (i.e. one year for a small investment and up to five years for the largest investments). Or perhaps, in the case of mutual funds, any tax would have to be absorbed by the broker and not the customer.

There are certainly other solutions. And they should be considered because I think the proposal has a lot of merit.


UPDATE: It should be noted that the “patient capital” proposal only works in a flat-tax or even our current taxation system. A VAT system would not levy taxes on any kind of income. It would promote fiscal responsibility on the purchasing side rather than the income side.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Joining the Fray

I want to (belatedly) jump into the discussion about Mark Satin's "Twelve-point creative-centrist agenda" - I'm sorry I haven't done so until now; blame it on the August blahs. I'm going to try to discuss one or two of Satin's proposals every couple of days, as Alan and others have been doing.

First off, let me try to offer my take on Mark's first suggestion, a balanced budget constitutional amendment. Alan quotes it here and offers his strong support, as does Tom (here). While I very much support fiscal responsibility in government (I've been yapping about pork-barrel spending for months now), I am quite leery of constitutional amendments, regardless of subject. I'd much rather the people elect fiscally responsible legislators and have them make decisions to keep the nation's fiscal house in order.

Yes, I know, you've all got bridges to sell me. I believe the ballot box is a better way to hold legislators and abetting executives accountable for overspending than making an attempt to change the constitution ... but I also recognize that American voters have not been willing to exercise their prerogative and hold pork-barrelers to account. Instead, they re-elect them.

As Alan says, centrists must be the voice of fiscal sanity today, since both political parties have pretty much abandoned it. We have much work to do to convince other Americans, of all political stripes, that supporting truly fiscally responsible candidates (and then holding them accountable once they're elected) is the best way to combat not only pork-barrel spending, but also irresponsible tax and deficit spending policies as well.

I don't oppose the concept or the intentions of a balanced budget amendment. But I would rather see other steps taken instead, steps that don't rise to the level of amending the constitution. I outline some of the possible options for pork-fighting here - other specific steps would need to be implemented (and then stuck too!) in regard to tax policy and annual budgeting (triggers, "pay as you go" rules, etc.). What these require is the election of fiscally sane representatives and executives who will enforce rules and not spend like drunken sailors while continually calling for ever more tax cuts at the same time. Is that too much to ask?

We have much work to do to persuade the American people that fiscal responsibility is better than the current trend. But somebody's got to say it.

Friday, August 26, 2005

FDA "Stumped" Over Plan B; Fetal Pain Article Prompts Hate Mail

[Cross-posted on AmbivaBlog]

(Listening to ABC World News Tonight:) They've determined that Plan B is safe for girls over 17, and could be sold to them over the counter; but how to prevent girls younger than 17 from using it? Under pressure to make a decision, and afraid or unable to make one, the FDA has taken the unprecedented step of throwing the matter open for 60 days of public discussion and comment. (The FDA calls this "taking action.")

So let the comments fly, folks! But how? Where? A look around the FDA website reveals a "Submit Electronic Comments" link, but no "open docket" on Plan B on which to comment -- at least not yet.

Opponents are still saying easier availability of Plan B "would embolden young people to engage in more risky behavior," even though a study of over 2,000 California women ages 15 to 24, conducted by the Center for Reproductive Health Research and Policy at UC San Francisco, showed no such effect. The study found that easy availability of Plan B made young women likely to do only one thing more often: use Plan B.

Plan B can prevent ovulation, fertilization, and (possibly) implantation of a zygote, or fertilized egg, according to these guidelines from The McKinley Health Center of the University of Illinois:

HOW DOES PLAN B WORK?
Plan B works through delaying or preventing ovulation, by interfering with fertilization (inhibiting the movement of the egg or the sperm through the fallopian tube), and may inhibit implantation by altering the lining of the uterus. It is not effective if the process of implantation has begun. Plan B will NOT cause a miscarriage. . . . Pregnancies occurring despite treatment do not have an increased risk of adverse outcome.

Plan B should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT?
Plan B may reduce the risk of pregnancy by 95% when taken within the first 24 hours after unprotected intercourse and by 61% when taken between 48-72 hours. Recent research indicates that taking Plan B between 96 and 120 hours after unprotected intercourse continues to provide some protection against unwanted pregnancy. Plan B is not as effective as using consistent contraception with each act of intercourse and should not be considered a routine contraceptive method. Plan B is effective only for this particular act of intercourse . . . and will not provide any contraceptive protection during the remainder of this menstrual cycle. It is very important to use a consistent method of birth control for the remainder of this cycle.
WHO SHOULD NOT TAKE PLAN B?
Plan B should not be used if a woman is pregnant or suspects that she may already be pregnant.
If you believe, as I do, that actual life (not potential life) begins with implantation (I'll have more to say about this in Part III of the AmbivAbortion Rant, coming soon), then Plan B should be an important piece of a problem pregnancy and abortion prevention strategy, along with abstinence, responsible use of contraception, and encouragement of adoption.

MEANWHILE, MORE NEWS ON THE ABORTION FRONT: The editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association defended her decision to publish the UCSF "fetuses probably feel no pain" study "despite receiving criticism for not disclosing the abortion-related work of two of the authors." According to Daily Reports from kaisernetwork.org:
[T]he article does not mention that study co-author Eleanor Drey, a UCSF OB/GYN, is the medical director of the abortion clinic at San Francisco General Hospital . . . The review also does not mention that study lead author Susan Lee -- a medical student and a lawyer -- worked in the legal department of NARAL Pro-Choice America for eight months in 1999 and 2000. . . .

DeAngelis -- a Roman Catholic who opposes abortion -- said she has received dozens of "horrible, vindictive" e-mails condemning her for publishing the review. She said she will publish properly submitted comments on the review in an upcoming JAMA issue but added that there is "nothing wrong" with the review. DeAngelis said the review was based on data from dozens of medical articles by other researchers, adding, "If there weren't four other authors and this wasn't a peer-reviewed journal, I'd worry ... but I don't" . . . . DeAngelis also said Drey did not have to reveal her scope of practice as an OB/GYN, but added that she will find out more information about Lee's work with NARAL Pro-Choice America and give the authors "the opportunity to explain why they didn't reveal it."

Critics of the review have said the affiliations of the authors are important when considering its results, the Chicago Tribune reports. "These are people with years of professional and ideological investment in the pro-abortion cause, not some neutral team of medical professionals," Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said. Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said, "Suppose there were an article that said that (fetuses) do feel pain and it was written by people who were involved in the right-to-life movement. Would I want to know that? I think I would". . . . [Another scientist asked for comment said] "The standard for disclosure in medical and scientific journals is not your politics . . . There's no obligation to tell people what your mind-set is ... as long as the data is sound and gathered objectively".
Go to the Kaiser article for sources and links.

What do you think? Should the "abortion connection" have been disclosed, and do you think it necessarily affects either the selection or the interpretation of the data? (Remember that this article was a broad review of previously published studies, not a new study.)

The rather callow Terry Moran ended his ABC News report by saying that the JAMA editor had stated she still had complete faith in the study's . . . pregnant pause, attempt at significant eye-roll . . . "integrity." Moran tried to infuse that last word with, I don't know, heavy irony? sarcasm? ambiguity? It was such a strange, awkward signal -- ABC News trying to display its lack of liberal bias? Moran doing his own editorializing? But the editorial was unreadable. It was as if he was trying simultaneously to channel both Peter Jekyll and Sean Hyde.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Proposal Two: The Flat Tax

Proposal two in Mark Satin’s radical middle agenda is the implementation of a flat tax. Mark writes:

Our current tax system is wasteful beyond measure. Simply complying with the tax code imposes national costs exceeding $150 billion annually. And despite its ostensible “progressivity,” the code -- now 60,000 pages long -- is so riddled with loopholes that wealthy Americans end up paying far less than they should…
A flat tax should be adopted instead. A flat tax would scrap the entire tax code and tax all Americans at the same rate. Wage, investment, and pension income tax would be collected from individuals. A tax on profit would be collected from businesses. All deductions and credits would be eliminated…Virtually the only income not subject to tax would be a generous personal exemption -- say $20,000 for a single adult and $40,000 for a family of four. That’s why the flat tax would be more progressive, in practice, than today’s so-called progressive income tax.

I am certainly a fan of tax simplification. It is basically impossible for the average American to prepare their own taxes without help from either a computer program or a tax preparer. And even then, the system is a Gordian Knot of deductions, rules and penalties.

But is a flat-tax the answer? I don’t know that it is. My primary concern is that, even with Satin’s allowances for the poorer earners among us, it seems like a rather regressive idea. If the flat tax was at, say, 17%, that 17% taken out of a $50,000 salary is a much greater burden than the 17% taken out of a $400,000 salary.

If we’re going to go with a complete-overhaul (and I don’t see how tinkering with the current system can work), then I’m much more inclined to support a Value Added Tax (VAT). I’ve written about the VAT before (here, here and here) and have discussed its advantages and drawbacks at length.

A VAT is a type of sales tax . In his writings, Satin dismisses the effectiveness of a national sales tax because it’d be too easy to cheat. But a VAT is notoriously difficult to cheat because it is structured so that taxes are paid at each step of a product’s manufacture and distribution and not just at the point of sale.

Given that a VAT would be an effective system of tax collection, it would also be more progressive than a flat tax in that it taxes expenditures, not income. There would of course be products exempt from a VAT (fruits, vegetables, mortgages, etc.) but most everything would be taxed in lieu of an income tax. The transition can be rolled out slowly over a course of years to prevent the inevitable sticker shock that will come when all our goods are more expensive. But that extra expense will be more than made up for by the savings we would have in not paying an income tax.

If you are poor and buying mainly sustenance goods, you’d pay very little tax. If you are rich and buying luxury items by the boat loads, you’d pay a ton of taxes. In that way it is progressive. It also would promote savings as it would entice people to think twice about purchasing the plasma TV they don’t really need and can’t really afford.

But there are drawbacks. As long as there can be an income tax, the federal government might feel obliged to levy one. And that can only be prevented by repealing the Sixteenth Amendment (not an easy task). Plus, a VAT can be raised a quarter point here and a quarter point there to pay for new, potentially unneeded programs—making it a far too easy way to tax us heavily.

But if we’re going to support a radical change to the tax system, a VAT allows for more flexibility and more fairness than would a flat tax. Its drawbacks are certainly less problematic than the current system and, with the proper thinking and planning, a VAT could be the answer to our tax woes.

Family Values & Politics

Earlier this summer, TYL regularly criticized the Republican meddling in the Terry Schiavo case, expressing our alarm that the federal government would pass a law aimed specifically at one family’s private tragedy and questioning the Republican’s dedication to “family values” after they routinely failed to acknowledge the wishes of Ms. Schiavo’s husband in the case.

Family values debate will again reenter the national debate in light of a decision by the California Supreme Court that grants both members in same-sex relationships full rights and responsibilities in child-custody issues.

I certainly support parental rights of same-sex couple and have advocated previously on this site that same-sex couples deserve the same legal recognition as married couples. The national parties preach a lot about families, yet they do little to support programs that provide families, specifically low-income families, needed services. If we truly care about family values we would support any family structure that can provide a loving home for a child.Our nation needs to invest greatly in community-based mental health service, early childhood education, and day-care facilities.

Monday, August 22, 2005

De-Mushy, Revisited

Reader gljunket reminded me that I had promised to start a conversation about Mark Satin's 12-point proposal for a creative-centrist platform. I'm not really a policy expert - far from it, as a matter of fact, but I guess I brought this on myself. So without any further adieu...

1. Balanced budget amendment. I don't really have much to say about this -- it's a natural part of any sane platform. What it would take to move it through Congress, where spending bills conjure crazed lust like the scent of freshly smoked chorizo, is another matter entirely.

2. Flat tax. I agree with Satin that our tax code is too complicated. However, as another Mark points out here, there is a logical leap from saying "our tax code is too complicated" to saying "we need a flat tax."

Those with greater incomes have a greater ability to pay. Satin acknowledges this somewhat by including a large personal exemption of $20,000 for individuals and $40,000 for a family of four. As an individual who makes about $20,000, this is undeniably attractive to me. However, I would be remiss in not pointing out that our balanced budget amendment, above, would require that the government makes enough money to cover its ass, and that many of the last 10 platform proposals require significant funding. It is not at all clear to me that Satin's tax proposal would cover the needs of the federal government, even assuming a massive reduction in pork. If not, his flat tax could turn out to be seriously regressive, especially if it were expanded to include a sales tax (like the so-called "fairtax").

I could potentially be persuaded of a flat tax for work income, given the significant personal exemption above. However, I'd be incredibly leery of applying this principle to investment income for anything other than retirement accounts. As the more sane Democrats are arguing nowadays, we should value work over wealth.

3. Patient capital. Pass.

4. Require cleaner cars. I'd add that we should significantly up our R&D investment for alternative fuels, especially biofuels (although watch the agriculture subsidies rocket if that ever takes off). And we should probably expand the use of nuclear energy as well. The old-school lefty in me isn't wild about that last one, but hey, France did it.

5. Minimum retirement income of $15,000/year. I'm not sure what to make of this one yet, honestly. There's probably a whole separate post or two about it in my head, hopefully to be published sometime in the future. For now, I'll say that I'm very wary of benefits that get expressed in dollar amounts without being tied to any other criteria.

6. Universal health care via private insurance. Not an awful choice, and certainly better than the status quo. You can read more about Satin's thinking here.

That said, I'd have to qualify this as the least radical of his radical-middle proposals. It just doesn't seem very inspired; I'm not sure why, exactly. Perhaps because, like HillaryCare, it's a rather incestuous private-public alternative to single-payer health care; private in name only, or PINO for short.

Why is this? Because the level of federal subsidation involved would be considerable. As we all know, health insurance is not cheap; divorced from the group rates achievable by employers, it is even more expensive. Much more expensive than auto insurance, which Satin compares it to. My guess is that the majority of taxpayers would have trouble paying for mandatory health insurance without some kind of subsidy. What results is an indirect subsidy to the health insurance providers; given what we know about subsidies, we can only expect it to increase over time.

7. Education reform via utopian fantasy. Okay, I shouldn't be so snarky. Actually, Satin and Miller are completely right on this topic; for all the promotion and criticism of NCLB, the need for competent, empowered teachers has much more to do with solving our educational system's woes. However, is the "grand bargain" Miller describes politically possible? My guess is that it's definitely NOT possible given the status quo; the Democrats would alienate a huge fragment of their base, and the Republicans have staked out a very different terrain with regard to education.

8. Universal parental counseling and preschool. Took me by surprise. Seems like a good idea, but a little touchy-feelie.

9. A nest egg from birth for poor children. I find this and the next one to be the most intriguing of Satin's proposals. There are some problems with it -- for instance, the determination of who's eligible seems rather arbitrary. For instance, what if a poor kid's parents strike it rich five years later? Or worse, what if a non-eligible family has a crisis and becomes poor after the child is born? What protection is there if the market goes splat? But these don't seem like insurmountable challenges to me, and the expenditure is really pretty modest.

10. A national service draft. Not the most popular of Satin's proposals, if you look at the numbers -- but if done right, I think this would sell. Calls to service always resonate with people; I'd say one of the mistakes the current administration has made, actually, is not to call people to service more than it has. I remember when, about a year after 9/11, Bush gave a big speech about the importance of service, calling on every citizen to volunteer for 2 years. It was one of his more impressive speeches, and yet it was quickly forgotten, because there was no follow up.

Satin's proposal might help military recruitment; it would definitely help national guard and peace corps/americorps recruitment. It would help create a culture of service, which in a society that values competition and greed as much as ours seems wise to me. I'm in favor.

11. A whopping increase in foreign aid. I know amba's itching to give Satin a smackdown on this one. The basic problem with foreign aid is that so much of it ends up getting diverted away from the people who actually need it -- and so often goes to line a dictator's pockets. I don't know enough about Sachs' proposals to really say if he's right or not, but that would definitely be my major concern here.

12. Opening the agricultural and textile markets. I'm strongly in favor of this. However, it's relationship to #11 - which might very well act like a subsidy to third world farmers and weavers - needs to be considered. I know it's hard to be a family farmer in the third world; it ain't easy in the first world. If we remove our subsidies here and give them to farmers in other countries, I wouldn't blame our farmers for becoming seriously pissed off.

Proposal One: A Balanced Budget Amendment

Earlier this month, Mark Satin, Centrist thinker and publisher of the Radical Middle newsletter, published a 12-point creative Centrist agenda that he feels, if adopted, could rid Centrists of the “mushy middle” label and propel us to prominence.

Here at The Yellow Line, we vowed to discuss each point. And so we will. Over the next several weeks we will write about each of the 12 points and hopefully spur debate on their merits, drawbacks and feasibilities.

Proposal One is:

Balanced budget amendment. As James Fallows memorably conveys in a recent article ("Countdown to a Meltdown," Atlantic Monthly, July-August 2005), current fiscal “policy” is going to bankrupt this nation, possibly even before the Baby Boom Generation now in charge dies off. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects record deficits totaling $1.2 trillion over the next five years alone.
Congress should pass a Balanced Budget Amendment. In an exuberant, contentious democracy, voluntary “pay-as-you-go” Congressional rules can never work. The Amendment should require Congress to raise enough revenue each year to cover the next year’s projected expenditures -- and to pay off some proportion of our mountainous debt as well.


In short, I strongly agree with this. A balanced budget amendment was actually part of The Contract With America but never got through the Senate. Of course, nowadays, even Republicans have little use for fiscal responsibility. And that’s why this can be such an important issue for Centrists.

If Centrists aren’t going to stand up and oppose the excesses and fiscal irresponsibility of the federal government, who will? You don’t have to be an economist to understand the severely negative consequences that will come from running up our national debt and yearly deficits. There’s only so long that we can carry such a heavy debt load before our economy suffers.

I’ve always felt that Centrists can generally be defined by their support of responsible action (on a personal and governmental level). And surely fiscal responsibility should be the cornerstone of any Centrist economic plan.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

New Ideas in Election Reform: Approval Voting

Robert Rouse of A Little Left of Centrist has posted an interview with Rob LeGrand, head of Americans for Approval voting. The group is advocating a method of voting that would allow voters to cast a vote of approval for any and every candidate on the ballot whom they feel would be an acceptable choice.

This sounds a lot like instant runoff elections (a method actually used in Australia) where voters rank candidates from favorite to least favorite. If no candidate gets a majority of first level votes, then the second level votes are tallied for the two top contenders. Approval voting seems similar, except that instead of creating automatic runoffs, it allows for voters to actually vote for more than one candidate at a time.

I’m all for election reforms, even if implementing them will be difficult. But I’m not sure approval voting is a system I can support. My biggest problem with it is that it allows for multiple voting by individuals. It’s not any different than casting two (or three or more) ballots—which is illegal and illegal for a good reason.

Instant runoffs, however, could be just as effective of a reform but are less radical in that voters are still casting only one vote. And they could still afford the moderating influence that LeGrand thinks can come form approval voting. In both systems, candidates would have to try to appeal to the broad electorate instead of simply motivating their bases.

But instant runoff is the better system, in my mind. Thanks to Robert for taking the time to conduct and post this fascinating interview.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Over the Line?

Crossposted on the Moderate Republican:

So, is Cindy Sheehan's protest outside the Bush ranch going to win the hearts and minds of the great American Middle?

Not with these comments:

COOPER: Cindy, I was reading some of the essays that you've been writing about the war over the last couple of months. In one you say the war is blatant genocide and you go on to say, and I quote, "Casey was killed in the global war of terrorism waged on the world and its own citizen by the biggest terrorist outfit in the world, George and his destructive Neo-con cabal." Do you really believe the president of the United States is the biggest terrorist in the world?

SHEEHAN: I believe that he's responsible for the needless and senseless deaths of more people than any other organization right now. There was 3,000 people killed on September 11th, which was a tragic day. Our nation still mourned it. I still mourn for those people and their families. But tens of thousands of innocent people are dead in Iraq, Anderson, and there was no reason for the war. The war was based on lies and we know that now.

COOPER: But when you say that the president, I mean you're essentially saying the president is a terrorist. I mean I think a lot of people would hear that and think what are you talking about?

SHEEHAN: Well, you know, I've heard a lot of -- a lot of definitions of that and it's the definition they kill innocent people, you know, and his policies are responsible for killing innocent people and I say the organization is killing innocent people and it needs to stop.

We know that he said there was weapons of mass destruction and we know he knows that there weren't. There was no link between al Qaeda and Saddam and we know he knows that there wasn't, so we need to stop the killing now and I'm here to confront him.

COOPER: You said that it's blatant genocide. I mean you really think the United States is trying to eliminate an entire group of people, all Iraqis?

SHEEHAN: There's 100 -- there's an estimate 100,000 to 200,000 innocent Iraqis dead because of our occupation, either by bullets and bombs or by disease, malnutrition and he says we're doing it for the Iraqi people. How many do we have to kill before we convince them that what we're doing is right over there?
From Anderson Cooper's 360.




Now it's one thing to say that the President has botched this war, or that he was wrong to go to war in the first place. I say that all the time. But it is a whole different thing to say that the President is a terrorist, that kills innocent people. I wouldn't doubt that there has been some deaths that can bve attributed to Americans, and we all know about Abu Gharib. But, what the insurgecy has done is far worse. They have sought to kill innocents. And the people behind the New York, Madrid and London bombings sought to kill innocents and kill as many as they can. These are terrorists, not the President.

As for genocide, again, I see no evidence. I haven't heard of deliberate killings such as what is going on in Darfur or what happened in Rwanda or Bosnia.

These comments sound like comments made by some on the far left which are so ridiculous that they aren't worth debating.

I want to believe that Ms. Sheehan is being manipulated by the far left. I don't want to believe she true believes this. Either way, this will not connect with Middle America, who might be fed up with the war, but don't think that Bush is the greatest evil the world has ever known.

I don't think this was a necessary war. With that, I can agree with Ms. Sheehan. But I can't agree that this President, as much as I disagree with him, is a terrorist that is perpetrating genocide. To do so, would be morally suspect in my view.

Back On Line

For the last five days I have been without Internet access (blame SBC for not getting my new home set up on time). I am now back on-line and am in the process of catching up with the news (I also have had limited TV access) and the blogosphere.

I should be back and posting soon—although the frequency will still be reduced for at least another week as my family and I unpack and get our new house situated.

Thanks to all my fellow co-bloggers for keeping The Yellow Line up and running with such thoughtfulness.

I’ll be back soon, but I leave with this thought: While off-line, I constantly needed information available only on the Internet—or at least incredibly hard to find without the Internet. Every company I dealt with wanted me to go on-line. Many friends and colleagues tries to contact me on e-mail accounts that I couldn’t check. I felt completely and frustratingly detached from society.

So I wonder, is Internet access now mandatory to fully participate in American life? And, if not, will it soon be that way?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Third-Way Psychology

[Cross-posted at AmbivaBlog]

Mark Satin at Radical Middle celebrates two psychologists -- and fine writers -- who bring a centrist sensibility, both tough and tender, stand-up and searching, to the argument for the examined life:
[Robert] Karen’s . . . elegant essay "Shame" was featured in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1992. . . . [H]is latest book [is] The Forgiving Self: The Road from Resentment to Connection (2001) . . . .

Karen worked as a journalist in New York before settling on psychology as a profession; Terrence Real spent his entire 20s messing around and writing unpublished fiction. Now he’s a member of the senior faculty at the Family Institute of Cambridge, Mass., and author of two books that are richer and more moving than anything you’ll find on the contemporary fiction shelves today . . .

I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression
(1997) [follow the link to see the awesome reader reviews this book gets from men], and
How Can I Get Through to You?: Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women (2002) . . .

[T]heir written work is driving at exactly the same things, the same hard psychological truths we need to know now. (Is it only a coincidence that both of them write beautifully? Karen writes like Chekhov, quiet, delicate, haunting, and Real writes like Dreiser, his prose driven by huge gusts of emotion you can only marvel at.

(And is it only an accident that both of them share personal stories in their books, a practice still somewhat frowned upon by Important Professionals from the Northeast? Or that both of them end books watching over their dying fathers and mourning the connections that were never made, never there?
Here are just a few of their good ideas (much more at Radical Middle):

Third way. Satin writes:
Both Real and Karen reject the extremes of the dominant culture. Real strives to avoid both "manipulation" and "accommodation." Karen . . . laments both the "political correctness of the left" and the "moral righteousness of the right." Real’s guiding vision is pure radical middle:
Now more than ever, in this uneasy time of transition, men and women in our society must be encircled by a third force, larger than partisanship to either sex, a vision beyond blame, nostalgia, or platitudes about immutable differences. . . . This is not feminist work, any more than it is “masculinist.” It is the next step for all of us.
(I've been hearing a lot about Terrence Real and his bracing road map to that "next step" from my close friend Dalma Heyn, who quotes him in her forthcoming book about the last stumbling blocks before the next step, Drama Kings: The Men Who Drive Strong Women Crazy.)

Fathers and Sons. There's been much theorizing on both the left and right about what boys need from their fathers -- some arcane transmission of masculinity. Terrence Real has one shockingly simple word for it. "Affection."

An End to Victim-Think. "Karen argues that 'we collude in or have some sort of responsibility for much of what befalls us.'"

Embracing Complexity and Ambivalence. Satin again:
Real wants us to acknowledge that closeness will always trigger discomfort, even trauma -- it’s "inescapable in close relationships" -- and that we need to learn to give our partners "space to recoup."

Karen says that "openness to complexity" is a big part of personal growth, not to mention mental health. His book on forgiveness teaches that a "totally forgiving posture is neither possible nor desirable" . . .

Real says we never really resolve grief, we simply learn to live with it. [Whew! At long last, we can get some closure on closure!] He also says we get "something" in a relationship but not "everything," and that the question we need to be asking ourselves is always, "Are you getting enough?" If you are getting enough, then you’ve got to learn to mourn what you’re not getting -- not resent your partner for not having it to give.

Karen is equally accepting of ambivalence and imperfection. You’ll have ambivalent feelings in any relationship, he says. Not everything can be therapized away. The "ability to live with ambivalence -- with both love and hate but with the love predominating -- is perhaps what most distinguishes the forgiving from the unforgiving personality."
At the end of the piece, Satin makes a provocative leap from psychology to politics, claiming that only "a psychology that’s in love with complexity, ambivalence, and connection" can undergird a politics of listening, negotiation, and inclusion.

Call it . . . nuance with cojones.

Fighting Pork: What Can Be Done?

Cross-posted at Charging RINO.

I have been railing about the state of overspending and fiscal indiscipline from Congress and the White House for months. I am ashamed to say that aside from urging the president to get serious and follow through on his threats to veto spending bills that represent budgetary irresponsibility, I have not offered enough in the way of concrete solutions. That is not because there aren't any reasonable solutions, so I want to outline some of those here. Obviously the best solution would be for American voters to hold drunken-sailor-spending legislators and presidents accountable at the voting booth, but so far we haven't seen any evidence that's going to happen anytime soon. So what can be done?

1. Increasing Threshold for Legislative Riders and Earmarks. Several times in the last few years, most notably in mid-2003, Senator McCain and others (then Kyl, Sessions and Feingold) have introduced amendments to the Senate's rules which would have done much to tighten spending discipline in that chamber (similar efforts have been made in the House). Their proposal called for a change to Senate Rule 16, which governs amendments to appropriations bills. Currently, a senator may make a point of order against any legislative rider or unauthorized appropriation contained in a spending bill or a conference report - but it only takes a simple majority of senators to kill that procedural move and allow the rider or earmark to proceed unchecked (so often I suspect such points are not even bothered with since their fruitlessness is recognized: no senator, not even McCain, is willing to be "that guy" all the time by holding up every bill on multiple points of order). McCain's plan (which he outlines in a speech here in much greater depth), would raise that threshold to 60 votes, a three-fifths majority. Unanimous consent might be a more effective approach but I'd take 60 over the status quo.

2. Ending Conference Committee Shenanigans. Another portion of several versions of McCain's plan would have amended Senate Rule 28, which covers the Senate's handling of conference committee reports. At present, the Rule states that no provision may be inserted into a conference report which was not passed by either the Senate or the House during the original appropriations process. As before, however, only 51 votes are needed to overturn a point of order against extraneous insertions (and again, usually the points of order aren't even made). Conferees regularly insert huge numbers of provisions into their reports, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the underlying legislation (see the partial list in McCain's recent floor statement on the highway bill). I'm sorry to be linking almost solely to McCain items here, but since he's one of the very few in Congress actually concerned with such things I don't really have any other options. As with Rule 16, McCain has proposed raising the threshold for this point of order to 60 votes, which would certainly do something to improve things.

3. Allow Time for Scrutiny of Conference Reports. Currently a provision of Rule 28 allows the Senate leadership to bring a conference report up for debate as soon as the report is made available at the desk of all senators. That means that if the conference committee finishes debate and copies are made and distributed, a report can be debated and voted on literally within hours. Senators and representatives (i.e. their staffs) can (and often do) have very little time to read and absorb the provisions of the conference reports (many of which, as stated above, have been slipped in by the conferees unbeknownst to all those outside the conference) before they are asked to vote. Many of these reports amount to thousands of pages, and while it is too much to expect that our representatives would actually examine what they're voting on, I think we deserve at the very least the security in knowing that they were given the option. I would propose an amendment to Rule 28 mandating a two or three day 'waiting period' between the completion of any conference report and when senators and reps are asked to vote on it. Violating that waiting period should require a two-thirds majority vote. The House already has a three-day rule, but it does not apply during the last six days of a Congressional session and it is regularly waived at all other times. It too should be strengthened.

In all cases of Senate rule changes, it would be necessary to require a roll call vote on the points of order, so that all senators would have to go on the record as voting to allow extra material in the spending bills rather than just sliding it through.

Changes to the Senate rules can be filibustered (and usually are), which means reform proponents would have to garner 67 votes for these amendments. Pragmatically speaking, the likelihood of that happening is probably pretty close to nil right now ... but that's where we come in. We should urge our representatives and senators to propose these rules changes during the 109th Congress and move the debate forward. I read somewhere a few weeks ago that Senators McCain and Durbin were planning to propose a waiting period but have been unable to find anything concrete. All senators should be encouraged not only to propose but also to support these rules changes, and similar efforts to beef up the rules should be undertaken in the House.

4. Impose term limits for appropriators. Not surprisingly, large percentages of the pork spending in appropriations bills goes to those writing the bills - the members who sit on the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction. Members of those committees should be rotated through every six years or so (as the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste has suggested) so that they don't become entrenched and addicted to the spending power that the appropriations committees offer.

5. Enact a constitutional line-item veto power. With all the legal and political acumen around this country, there has got to be a way to come up with a line-item veto law that would pass Supreme Court muster. A line-item veto would allow a president (though probably not this one, since he's shown little inclination to rein in spending in any way) to strike out extraneous material from spending bills without vetoing entire bills and possibly wreaking havoc on many good and necessary programs. [Update: We've been having a great discussion about this specific step down in the comments at Charging RINO; make sure to check that out. Basically the concern, which I have been persuaded by, is that while theoretically a line-item veto power would be an effective way for a president to cut pork out of spending bills, today's presidents - acting as they are in a generally partisan way - would not be even-handed enough with their slicing. A serious concern, to be sure, and one that probably undercuts the practical usefulness of a line-item veto, even if one could be construced and approved by a future Supreme Court.]

These are just a few possibilities for fighting the battle against pork-barrel spending. None of them, not one, will be easy to implement; acceptance of any of these would require a serious shift in perception by our current political leaders, which will only be brought about through a wide-ranging effort by us to make them understand that we don't want our government to operate this way.

Ending wasteful government spending doesn't begin or end with either Congress, the executive, or the public alone. It will require the commitment of all, which makes any immediate change quite unlikely. It's not going to happen in a day, or even in a year, but sooner or later, these steps or some others like them will have to be taken in order to right our fiscal ship of state.

I'd invite you to offer your own suggestions for decreasing excessive spending in the comments, and I'll provide updates if we see any movement on any of these.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Common Sense on Immigration

[Cross-posted on AmbivaBlog]

Read both this post on A Moderate's Musings and David Brooks's Sunday Op-Ed column. You'll get a quick, clear overview of the two immigration-reform bills now working their way through the Senate. Moderate Man prefers the McCain-Kennedy bill to the tougher, but in his view less realistic, Cornyn-Kyl bill; Brooks thinks the two can and should be combined. But both writers stake out a sensible centrist position between two bad ideas: a sweeping amnesty (which would give easy cover to terrorist sleeper cells) and a sweeping crackdown (which would only drive illegals deeper underground). Both face up to three undeniable realities:

• American employers want large supplies of hard-working, low-wage foreign labor.
• Such workers want to come here because our "low wage" converts into a bonanza back home that enables them to become home- and landowners, and/or because they harbor their own American dream. They want to come here so badly they will die trying.
• In an age of terror, we must have a better way of knowing who comes across our borders and tracking what they do once they're in.

Moderate Man:
Under the Cornyn-Kyl bill . . . [c]urrent illegal aliens would have to leave the U.S. within five years, but could then apply for the temporary-worker plan from their home countries. The problem with this is the deportation process. The Cornyn-Kyl bill essentially calls for all illegals to pack up whatever livelihood they have established here and turned themselves in to be sent back. Do these senators really expect these people to go along with this . . . ? And when (not if) they don't comply, how are immigration agents going to find them . . . ? Because of its high unenforceability, this bill will do nothing to help us keep better track of who is coming into the country.

The McCain-Kennedy bill, on the other hand, creates a new worker visa for unskilled laborers and establishes a formula for determining the annual number to be issued. The application process would require security clearances, medical checks, and a fee. A work visa could be renewed after three years, and, after four years, a worker could apply for a green card leading to citizenship. This provision allows immigrants a safe, legal method to work in this country. . . . It will thus ease the now overwhelming amount of illegal traffic border patrols . . . have to deal with, and allows them to treat those who still try to enter illegally with greater suspicion. . . .

Under McCain-Kennedy, [current] illegals will be able to gain citizenship, but only after a lengthy process and the payment of fines [and back taxes].
Brooks:
Tough enforcement laws make us feel good but they don't do the job. Since 1986, we've tripled the number of Border Patrol agents and increased the enforcement budget 10 times over, but we haven't made a dent in the number of illegals who make it here. We've got agents chasing busboys while who knows what kind of terrorists are trying to sneak into this country.

The problem is that we make it nearly impossible for the immigrants to come here legally. We issue about 5,000 visas for unskilled year-round labor annually, but the economy requires hundreds of thousands of new workers to clean hotel rooms and process food. We need these workers but we force them underground with our self-delusional immigration policies. . . .

The only way to re-establish order is to open up legal, controllable channels through which labor can flow in an aboveground, orderly way. We can't build a wall to stop this flood; we need sluice gates to regulate the flow. . . .

Practical people understand the only way to establish law and order is to create a temporary-worker program and step up enforcement to make sure people use it.

[The two bills i]n the Senate . . . if combined would get us a long way toward a solution. The McCain-Kennedy bill has an effective temporary worker program. The Kyl-Cornyn bill has tough border security provisions. . . . [T]he sponsors of both may come to realize the two bills are not rivals. They complement each other.

The issue of immigration from Mexico, in particular, is personal for me. I have a friend in North Carolina who bitterly resents the transformation of her traditional world by floods of non-English-speaking strangers whom the system, in her view, accomodates and coddles instead of demanding they adapt. And I have a childhood friend who now lives in Oregon, who came across the Rio Grande one night on his father's back, much as my mother's father came across the Prut between Russia and Romania on his uncle's back, half a century apart, both on their long way to Chicago. "Chato," as he was called at fifteen, sends me the short stories he's writing, funny and piercing, about the pain of that adaptation. When I found him again over the Internet after about 40 years, one of the first things he said to me was, "We were wetbacks, you know."

My North Carolina friend's grievances are legitimate, and when I listen sympathetically to them, they hurt the part of me that knows Chato, because I feel how they would pierce him.

UPDATE: Cutler's Yankee Station has gathered some highly pertinent related information. What percentage of adult Mexicans want to immigrate to the U.S.? What percentage of U.S. Latinos think illegal immigrants should get driver's licenses? Go see. (H/T: Dean's World.)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Steal This Society!

A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan Cortis published a piece about The Ownership Centered Workforce. It was a hell of an essay, and in my view has not yet received the attention it deserves. So go read it, now.

Back yet? Okay. I've been a little slow in responding to Jonathan's post, mostly because the matter of which he speaks is something that I care about deeply, and I wanted to take some time to really think about it before posting. In short, I think the transformation Jonathan is describing is a very important development: the slow-mo democratization of American capitalism. What's most amazing about it is that it's happening despite little recognition in the media, and little government involvement. And at the root of it all, as Jonathan says, lies our concept of ownership.

Like Jonathan, I'm someone who buzzes a bit at the words "Ownership Society." For one thing, it's the kind of paradoxical turn of phrase I love, conjoining the selfishness of "ownership" with the communitarianism of "society." It speaks to what I think is a huge problem in the world, the fact that many workers don't feel (or receive) any ownership over the product of the labors, and that most owners are unconnected with the production of their property. This dual alienation is a root cause of many of our struggles over the distribution of wealth.

It also highlights what for me is the core problem with the current administration: they're great at marketing, but they have nothing to sell. As Jonathan also points out, the Bush vision of an "Ownership Society" is terribly, terribly underdeveloped - it basically comes to nothing more than creating further tax incentives for stock investment, as if tax-sheltered IRAs were not enough. It is not transformative, does not try to solve any problems...does not do anything, really, except feed the notion that something is being done.

At the same time, however, the true Ownership Society is busily creating itself, and no one's listening. Jonathan gave the example of American Airlines. Let me provide a few more:

1. The maturation of open-book finance: In the early 1990's, Jack Stack, the CEO of employee-owned Springfield Remanufacturing Corp., wrote a book that has slowly but steadily transformed American small business. That book is The Great Game of Business, and it turned one of the bedrock concepts of business success on its head.

For decades, the majority of American small businesses operated under a simple system of division of labor. Employees were given a single area of responsibility, were expected to do it well, and to not care about what employees in other divisions or departments are doing. This has especially been the case when it comes to the management of a company's finances. Normally, the only people to even see the finances of a company are the owners (or shareholders), the accountants, and top-level managers.

What Stack did at SRC was change the game. At the time, SRC was in a state of crisis. Desperate for solutions, he and the other managers started sharing the financial data with the rest of the staff - and at the same time, taught them how to read and analyze that financial data. The result was a completely different brand of organizing, as the floor employees were encouraged for the first time to think like the owners they were. Because SRC is in a highly cost-competitive industry, this meant brainstorming ways to reduce their costs in order to maximize their profits, dished out through a system of playful yet competitive "games." Their company's fortunes turned around dramatically. He then wrote The Great Game about the effort, sharing tips and strategies for other business leaders interested in trying the same approach.

From the book: "The best, most efficient, most profitable way to run a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the financial outcome, good or bad."

In the business world nowadays, open book management is becoming old hat. Inc. magazine runs an article on it every five minutes or so; the number of small and large companies that have successfully adapted some or all of Stack's approach seems to be significant (if hard to count). It is amazing to me, however, that the potential political implications of this approach have rarely been considered. Open book management is a sea change in how American businesses are organized; it has a strong track record, and suggests that in many markets, empowerment of workers is key to financial success. Some notably successful businesses, like Whole Foods, Costco, and now American Airlines, have clearly heard the message. But political analysts remain mostly unaware of this development.

2. The transformation of unions: As most everyone knows, the AFL-CIO just broke up, with the most prominent private labor unions seceding. This had been threatening to happen for some time, and has led some smirking commentators to predict the demise of the labor movement entirely. I expect the opposite. The problem with the AFL-CIO in a nutshell is that the private labor unions have very different interests at this point from the public labor unions. To survive, the private unions need to recruit, recruit, recruit. The public labor unions have a far more vested interest in protecting the gains of tenured employees and longterm positions. These two interests are incompatible. As someone who is fairly fervent about the labor movement, I think the breakup is a very good thing.

One significant and underreported aspect of this change is the fact that the private unions understand that the very role of unions must change in order to meet the needs of their members. Consider this Matt Miller article on Andy Stern, head of the SEIU. The idea of reorganizing unions to be employee-service associations is not new, but has gained momentum in recent months, and if anyone is well positioned to try it out, it's Stern.

I'll go a step further than Miller does and propose that this approach is key to solving one of organized labor's biggest dilemmas: unionizing Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is masterful when it comes to stalling unionizing efforts, but that's in part because the unions have made it easy on them; it's fairly clear that not enough Wal-Mart employees have bought in to the value of organizing. What the unions are selling, they're not buying. So it's time to sell something different. What do Wal-Mart employees want?

The answer: benefits. Health care and child care. These are the areas where Wal-Mart employees remain on the government dole, at tremendous expense to taxpayers. A union that could successfully organize these benefits for Wal-Mart employees without interacting with Wal-Mart itself would go a long, long way towards unionizing Wal-Mart. It would provide just the kind of flexible organization tha Wal-Mart employees need right now.

All of this is to point out that the "new union model" that Jonathan and Alan Stewart Carl have written about is already in development. A union that organized Wal-Mart workers in this way would not only succeed in meeting some of their most crucial needs; it would also give them ownership of that organization in a way that makes sense for them. The best unions have always been vibrantly democratic, attuned to the shared needs of their members. The SEIU's model harks back to this, and can be duplicated elsewhere.

3. The rapid rise of ESOPs, CDCs, and co-ops: (Disclosure: I serve on the board of directors of a food co-op) A few weeks ago in The Nation, Gar Alperovitz published this article (now subscription-only) on the rise of a "progressive ownership society" made up of employee stock-ownership plans, community development corporations, and co-operatives. The article contains some astonishing statistics: there are over 11,000 American companies significantly or totally owned by their employees; over 2,000 CDCs nationwide. From my own experience I know that there are 40,000 co-operatives nationwide, including ten thousand credit unions with over $600 billion in assets.

All of these represent the "ownership society" in a different light: that of shared ownership. And this, too is key: all of these types of organization are currently on the rebound. Co-ops in particular went through a long phase of disintegration in the 1980's, as landmark institutions teetered and fell, not unlike the more recent travails of unions. They simply fell out of touch with what their members wanted; burying themselves in the spirit of the 60's, they could not see the changes going on all around them.

That era of idealistic collectivism is dead, but a smarter collectivism that honors the individual has risen in its place. The last 15 years have been kind to co-ops, especially food co-ops. Some of that is changes in the market - organic foods certainly weren't mainstream items in 1989 - but more of it has to do with changes in the co-ops themselves. Go to a co-op conference like I did in June, and you'll hear about the strength of collective ownership systems in one room -- and fostering entrepreneurialism in the next. Like the ESOPs and privately-owned business influenced by The Great Game of Business, co-ops have learned the value of smart financial thinking, and have wisely recaptured their original mission as self-help organizations that look out for the economic needs of their members.

Lessons

The "Ownership Society" needs to be saved from itself. It's dangerously close to becoming an empty slogan, which is too bad because the potential for a genuine ownership movement is out there. What I've tried to do in this article is display more of the evidence that an "Ownership Society" could be a real and effective addition to a radical-middle platform.

As Stack himself has written, in the age of a global economy, the era of 10% annual raises is over. There's simply too much low-price competition, and the protectionism espoused by isolationists in both major parties creates more problems than it solves. Yet there remains a need for a political party that speaks to the financial stresses of ordinary people. The broadening of business ownership could help alleviate those stresses in a genuinely American manner.

I'm not sure what role policy would play in all this - it seems quite possible to me that policy doesn't have to play a role at all. The changes I'm describing are occurring in the market; if they ceased to be competitive, they would fall out of existence. Despite their "progressive" results, the success that they've experienced has occurred without any meaningful governmental meddling. That said, I'd love to gather a crack policy team and ask: are there fiscally sustainable changes we could make to our laws and regulations that would support these trends?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Brokaw's Idea

Cross-posted slightly differently at Charging RINO.

I wanted to just chime in quickly today and recommend an op/ed from Tom Brokaw in Sunday's Washington Post. Drawing on his experiences reporting with American military personnel in Afghanistan, Brokaw suggests the creation of a 'Diplomatic Special Forces' corps, which he envisions as a kind of "Peace Corps plus."

The foreign service should "recruit young men and women who want an adventurous life ... and [p]ut them through crash courses in local dialects and skills relevant to the areas where they will be assigned. Place them in military outposts in remote areas, an arrangement that would have the added benefit of forging bonds between the military and the diplomatic corps. Give them extra pay and set the bar high so they have the same elite status as the Pentagon's Special Forces," Brokaw writes.

Besides providing a "different American face" to local civilians, these special forces would be able to take responsibility for some of the "nation-building" duties now handled by military personnel, assisting with the creation and re-creation of infrastructure - from schools to hospitals, etc. in various areas of the world.

While obviously there might be some logistical problems with Brokaw's approach, I think he's got an interesting concept. It is this kind of "outside the box" thinking that's got to be done at the very highest levels of government to devise new ways for Americans to see and be seen around the world (the latter being more important). Slickly-produced television ad campaigns might reach more people, but I'd be willing to bet that face-to-face contact would be far more impactful.

If nothing else, Brokaw has started a healthy discussion. I'd like to see it continued.

In a comment to this post at Charging RINO, Wilderwood noted that "crash courses" in preparing young Americans to deal with other cultures will not lead to real understanding of other cultures. I agree that crash courses alone are insufficient ... but combined with a period of exposure to different peoples and ways of life, this would certainly be better than nothing. And obviously this plan is nothing formal, but a springboard for further thoughts and debate. A debate the country could certainly stand to have.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Center: Land of Con-Fusion?

[Cross-posted on AmbivaBlog]

PRO-CON.
The very name is enough to warm an ambivalent's heart. Heck, I can be pro and con the same thing at the same time!

They're Progressive Conservatives, in the U.K., Canada, and now the U.S. The term has legs. Jude Wanniski, one of the founding fathers of supply-side economics, coined it in 1979 to describe the Reaganauts, and Randy Piper, Ph.D., MBA (that's how he signs his posts) re-coined it, all unknowing, in 2004. I've described myself as a Proservative or a Congressive, so I can already relate. They've anointed themselves the Next Big Thing in conservatism, and they're storming the blogosphere with an e-mail blitz. Here's their U.S. website.

Who are these guys?

The first thing you notice about them is that they're good, almost too good, with a slogan. They've got this Branding-Framing thing down and screaming for mercy:

• Diffusion of Con-Fusion: The Birth of a Political Brand.
• Bridge Brand: Pro-Con Fusionism
• The Progressive Conservative ReView & ReKnew
• PURPLE Federalism
• Rubric's Cube [ow!]
• Progressive Conservatism is the Growth DNA for Conservatism.
• Dr Gingrich is a great policy synnovator. [a blend of synthesis and innovation]
• [Michael] Moore is Less.
• Read ON...and...Right ON!!
• a Grand Unifying-Perspiring-Inspiring Metaphor (GUPIM)

Here's their "Values Portfolio" (an expression which all by itself melds principle and profit, doing well and doing good):

• Freedom, Family, Faith
• Peace, Prosperity, Progress
• Rewards for Risks, Risks for Rewards
• Tradition, Tolerance, Technology
• Ownership, Opportunity
• Rights, Responsibilities
• Pursuit of Happiness, Pursuit of Hope
• Health, Wealth
• Steadfast Security

You can hardly argue with that. But look closer -- it's more than just clever, or blandly inclusive. It's a true fusion (or as they'd probably say, con-fusion) cuisine. Look at "Tradition, Tolerance, Technology." The notion that tradition and tolerance could ever coexist is a novel, if not a naïve, one. And yet that's what's going to have to happen if people insist on preserving their ancient identities and beliefs in a modern, global world. Will technology bring traditions into violent contact and conflict, or will it become the culture medium of their coexistence, their mutual respect? Is the latter pure wishful thinking -- or something that is already happening?

Getting down to brass tacks, from an essay called "Diffusion Of Con-Fusion: The Birth of a Political Brand" (my paraphrases are in brackets):

• Pro-Cons are fiscal conservatives and supporters of private property rights.
• We believe in smaller and smarter government.
• Pro-Cons defend most markets at most places at most times. [But not all markets, such as, say, markets in fetal tissue.]
• Like Neo-Cons, Pro-Cons believe that humans do not live by bread alone. . . . Incentive-based economics is important, but not primary. [In other words, these are values conservatives, not utilitarian libertarians.]
• Pro-Cons stake claim to the metaphor of Eagles. We are neither doves nor hawks. . . . Think of Pro-Cons as “constrained” Neo-Cons [who believe in "Peace Through Strength" and in pushing dictatorships toward democracy, but not necessarily in military action, at least not as a rash first resort.]
• [Pro-Cons are context-aware globalists, and border protectors who don't believe America's door should be wide open -- or tight shut.]
• Pro-Cons support the movement toward freer and fairer international trade.
• [Government can play a limited role in incentivizing responsible corporate behavior, retraining displaced workers, and protecting the environmental commons from free-lunch exploitation and degradation.]

Particularly interesting is their way of handling divisive social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Rather than tackle them head-on with a one-size-fits-all set of values, or seek a broadly acceptable compromise, ProCons fall back on federalism:
Pro-Cons are social moderates and social conservatives . . . commingling . . . Our general decision rule is that Federalism should apply to most social issues at most times. Many, if not most, social issues should be decided by the states and even by counties, not by the national government. [The example here is Nevada, which allows each of its counties to decide if it will legalize or ban prostitution.]

By embracing and celebrating this division of powers, we think that the perpetual conflict generated by divisive social issues will subside somewhat. Equally important, the states as laboratories of democracy will produce a diverse set of options that individuals and families can incorporate into their respective moral and religious value systems. These decision-makers will be better able to choose a mix of values and recognize a series of trade-offs. For example, some states may offer better economic opportunities but not offer equally attractive social value conditions.
This envisions a United States even more morally Balkanized than it already is; one wonders if the Union would even hold together. I prefer Randy's frank admission that "I am pro-choice and pro-life" (in other words -- he's Pro-Con!), and his inability to resist proposing a national compromise strategy that would both permit and discourage first-trimester abortion.

Who Pro-Cons admire:

• Ronald Reagan (their Abraham Lincoln, it seems)
Newt Gingrich
Rudy Giuliani
Christie Whitman
• Jack Kemp
• Arnold Schwarzenegger
• Frank Meyer (former senior editor of National Review, who conceived of "Fusionism," a way to reconcile the traditionalist and libertarian wings of the conservative movement)

I'm sort of liveblogging my reading of the Pro-Con website. Right about now I'm thinking this movement should really be named TradLib instead of Pro-Con, but never mind. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that the "Progressive" in Pro-Con suggests some sort of reconciliation or fusion with liberals-by-any-other-name:
Pro-Cons will yield neither the content nor the package of “progress” to liberals. Pro-Cons will not surrender the present or the future use of “progressive” to liberals. As conservatives, we reclaim and wear proudly the progress and progressive mantles!
In other words, these folks are staking out the center-right. Their bottom line, in the words of Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation:
The core fundamental [is] "the freedom of the person, the central and primary end of political society." The state [has] only three limited functions: national defense, the preservation of domestic order, and the administration of justice between citizens.
Whew! I'm exhausted. I've got metaphor fatigue. The more I look at it, the more I realize this site is manned and written singlehandedly by Randy Piper, who must be one of those hypomanics that supposedly supercharge America -- his exuberance is in overdrive as he goes about "planting the intellectual seed capital" for this new movement (is the right metaphor here Randy Appleseed, or a prize bull?). Here's his bio:
Randy Piper, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.S. . . . Randy has worked on new product development and technology transfer projects for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Southeast Manufacturing Technology Center, and the Department of Energy. He has worked on projects for libertarian and conservative think tanks, including the Reason Public Policy Institute, Heartland Institute, and Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). He was designated a Salvatori Fellow by the Heritage Foundation from 1991-1993.

Randy has conceptualized and invented various systems, including PESOP—Public Employee Stock Ownership Plan in “Employee Options Under Privatization.” He also developed the Piper Education Inverted J-Curve (not to be confused with the Laffer Curve). The Piper Curve reveals the relationship between public school expenditures and performance outcomes.
Randy thinks that Progressive Conservatism has the potential to forge an alliance between people who proudly identify themselves as conservative and centrists who don't. As a centrist, I'm not put off by the conservative label, but I did have to peel off the annoying marketing shrink-rap to get to the meat:
Though the Pro-Con sub-brand has not been formally formulated and introduced to our lexicon and discourse, we believe that this sub-brand has great appeal to those currently loyal to the Conservative master brand. Moreover, we think that the Pro-Con intellectual product will have immense appeal to those who are not currently loyal to the Conservative brand.
Now the next time a Pro-Con comes at you, you'll know: it's not a pushme-pullyou, but possibly someone you can make common cause with when we're pegging down that big tent in the center -- as long as he speaks English.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Few Thoughts From the Road

After nearly three days on the road as I drove between Washington, DC and Dallas, one observation sticks out. There are a LOT of eighteen-wheelers on the road.

An economics professor once told me that if you wanted to get a true sense of how the American economy is doing at any given time, you have to go count the semis rumbling down the interstates. If this is at all an accurate measurement, then our economy is doing quite well. I saw thousands of the big trucks in my journey. They easily outnumbered the cars.

This in turn led me to another thought: all these trucks run on gasoline. Our entire lifestyle runs on gasoline. Without the ability to affordably move products and raw materials all over the country, we wouldn't have the life we do. Not even close.

We can talk about how our thirst for oil ties us too closely with the Middle East. We can talk about how all these vehicles on the interstates pollute our environment. But really, what's at stake is our way of life. If oil reserves dwindle or if gasoline prices continue to rise, all these products we count on will become more and more expensive--prohibitively expensive in many cases. And while I have faith that the ingenuity of Americans will eventually overcome this problem, I wonder if that can happen before we feel the hurt.

I saw a lot on the road this weekend, but what I realized is our dependence on oil is an a vast dependence. But I also realized there is a better way to talk about energy concerns other than focusing on the Middle East or the environment. Those are important, but not as salient as the greatest reason why we need to find ways to ensure our energy needs continue to be met and continue to be affordable: our lifestyle hinges on it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Centrism and the Threat of an "American Hiroshima"

Marcus Cicero has an amazing post, on both Donklephant and Between Hope and Fear, titled "Sitzkrieg's End." He has bestowed a name, analogous to and as potent as "Cold War," on the paradoxical waiting game we're playing with the jihadis:
The rules of M.A.D. -- all or nothing -- gave us a false sense of safety during the Cold War. In an all-or-nothing world mired in a vast global political struggle, each side could attain relative normalcy. Normal life was disproportionate to the high stakes of the nuclear standoff -- and we got used to it. All those layers of morality we built over that blinding apocalyptic core of immaculate annihilation could work a lot of miracles, providing that the promise of destruction was mutual, and total.

It turns out the Cold War amounted to an entire half century of having it all, creating nominal safety. The nothing part of M.A.D. -- Armageddon -- never came to pass. And so we did indeed create a playground of prosperity: Shopping malls, freeways, cheap global travel, and the Internet; the plethora of things, rock-n-roll, the rise of socialism and multiculturalism; baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. We got very used to that. Three generations grew up in the soil of transparent global war.

M.A.D. conditioned us to have our cake and eat it too. But today's WMD perils are unlike the days of M.A.D. In the Cold War, we could depend on the rationality of our adversaries, the Soviets. We could mutually agree on something, heinous as it was. . . .

Since 9/11 we have enjoyed the seemingly endless dawn of Sitzkrieg -- a period of declared emergency, but undeclared war. Our malls remain open, and gasoline flows freely. The housing market is hot. Mobilization for war is something we read about. But now there are multiple indications that terrorist nukes are either here, or coming, or in the making. Perhaps this is a long way off; perhaps it's hearsay; perhaps it is close at hand. . . .
Now our adversary is nihilistic and irrational, and mass destruction has become much more possible precisely because it is not total. Cicero's question is: are centrists tough enough to take this on -- tough enough to do what's necessary to prevent at least some of it (like cracking down on the Mexican border), tough enough to keep a reeling post-attack society from careening into extremism?
[I]f we want a meaningful definition of centrism, it should be something that can withstand the shocks of catastrophic terror. . . . It must work with the realities of our time, even if they're cataclysmic.
If not, our principled and reasonable moderation is nothing but a luxury of these fat, queasy times, and will be blown away by the blast wave of the first smuggled nuke. A must, must, must read.


What is Profiling?

Cross posted at "Thoughts of an American Centrist"

To begin an embroiled debate centered around the tension between law enforcement, anti-terrorism, and civil liberties, one need only mention the word "profiling." Of course, it's not profiling per se which gets people so uppity, but rather what they assume you mean, namely, racial profiling. Racial profiling by definition describes the automatic suspicion of guilt based solely on race. I will acknowledge that such a practice is discriminatory, counter-productive, and insulting. However, I don't want to talk about racial profiling today. Instead, I want to talk about profiling of a different type: behavioral profiling. I believe that creating a sketch - a profile - of the types of people likely to commit terrorist acts is absolutely essential to successfully protecting the public good.

Webster's lists one definition of the word "profile" as:

4 : a set of data often in graphic form portraying the significant features of something... a graph representing the extent to which an individual exhibits traits or abilities as determined by tests or ratings

Note the use of the term "significant features." The word is plural. To effectively hold an accurate mental picture, police officers must be able to look for and recognize a variety of factors, including reticence to questions, nervous glances, paranoia, when appropriate, race. Racial profiling is not the act of using race as one piece in a criminal profile, but of using race as the only characteristic.

Kira Zalan writes a very compelling argument for including race in the list of factors that make up a terrorist profile:

We must stop pretending that the terrorists so far, by-and-large, have not been of the same ethnic origin. This will reasonably narrow down the search for potential perpetrators. But, it makes ALMOST as little sense to stop every Arab or North African in NYC today as it does to stop every 5th random person. Therefore, the profiling must be even more exact than race to be effective.

Israel has been perfecting the art of profiling, and has successfully prevented El Al (national airline) hijackings since 1970. The profilers are trained to look for signs of suspicious behavior (body language), which provides effective clues of whom to question. Barring exceptional con artists, body language is a dead give away of suspicious behavior. In fact, police officers are trained to look for such clues when dealing with everyday criminals.

The results: plenty of Arabs fly El Al, and yet enough people have been turned away to prevent terrorist attacks since 1970.

So why not fly some Israelis to NYC to train New York’s finest on such tactics?


Now that idea makes a lot of sense.

People Seeds

[This is a repost of a post from AmbivaBlog in May. I would not normally dig back into archives -- even for want of anything new to say! I'd just shut up! -- but the stem-cell and emergency-contraception discussions are far from over, and this post stakes out a genuinely centrist position where there didn't appear to be one.]

From an L.A.Times editorial (now in the paid archives, alas), "Stem Cell Hypocrisy":
[E]ncouraging the donation of frozen embryos to prospective parents, even under the most optimistic scenario, would put only a small dent in the supply. According to a 2003 study, there are almost half a million frozen human embryos in storage in the United States. The vast majority of them — 87% — were frozen in case the parents might need them, but the vast majority of that vast majority will never be needed or used. An embryo-adoption drive wouldn't save the embryos that die in other stages of the process. And ironically, the recipients of donated fertilized eggs also generally have several implanted in the hope that one will survive. In effect, donation results in the deaths of embryos that would otherwise stay frozen.
Half a million!

Bottom line: Those who oppose embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds must either oppose in vitro fertilization, or stand convicted of hypocrisy. If frozen embryos can be discarded and destroyed, then there can be no objection to donating their cells for research, the way you might donate a dying relative's organs for transplant. If frozen embryos cannot be discarded and destroyed, then they should never be created, even if it means that some couples must reconcile themselves to infertility and adoption.

I would like to propose a third alternative.

Devout Catholics will disagree, but I think that life proper can accurately be said to begin with successful implantation. Many naturally conceived embryos (some estimates run as high as 50%, but we'll never know) do not succeed in implanting in the womb, either because of some factor in the embryo or because the woman's body is not receptive at the time. It may be no coincidence that embryos can easily be grown in a Petri dish and then frozen at the 8-cell stage, and with more sophisticated techniques, at the blastocyst (hollow-ball) stage, at which the embryo is ready to implant -- but no further.

The fact that their development can be suspended and then restarted might encourage us to think of these embryos as "people seeds." Each is the seed of a unique individual, but only at the moment when that seed is accepted by a woman's womb, sheds the "seed coat" of the zona pellucida, takes "root" and begins to grow, does that individual's potential life become actual, acquire "a local habitation and a name."

This would be, to me, both a metaphorical and a literal expression of the fact that there is no human life without relationship. We would not have a language, a name, the ability to survive, or even an existence without one another -- without at least one other, a mother, and all the relationships that in turn support her.

It would also be an argument for an emergency contraceptive like "Plan B" as the last threshold short of abortion. This will not move anyone who believes it should be up to God, never us, whether an act of sex creates a life or not. But it seems to me that a woman's psychological or relational or economic unreadiness to be a mother might be as legitimate -- if not as "innocent" -- as any involuntary biochemical reason for her uterus to be unreceptive.

I understand and even partially agree with the arguments that life or God often knows better than we do, and that things we're unready for can turn out to be -- especially given an attitude of principled surrender -- some of the best things that ever happened to us. But they can also be some of the worst. For every story of an unplanned child becoming a blessing, there is one of awful suffering all around. The argument that we may be turning away the genius who would find a cure for cancer can always be answered by the argument that we're just as likely (i.e., not very) to be turning away a future mass murderer. Abortion is violent because it rips out a life that's already on the way, breaks a bond that has already been struck. "Plan B" is less like a two-edged sword than a "No Vacancy" sign.

If we thought of very early embryos as "people seeds," it might be less problematic to accept that, whether in the fallopian tube or the fertility clinic, not every seed gets planted.

UPDATE: William Saletan in Slate writes that sure enough, pro-lifers are gearing up to restrict in-vitro fertilization, so that a couple will be allowed to create only one or a few embryos at a time. (Added thought: while this might make it harder to conceive, it might also protect the mother from the risk of ovarian cancer that may be incurred by extreme overstimulation of the ovaries with fertility drugs. Gilda Radner thought this might have been the cause of the cancer that killed her.)

I have serious qualms about the wisdom of IVF. But I'm also frightened by the absolutism of people who proclaim every zygote's right to life, when God or Nature itself recognizes no such thing. The real question, it seems to me, is not whether every "people seed" ought in principle (has a "right") to be planted, but whether human will is or is not one more legitimate factor in determining which, or when. (That is, I'm more interested in Plan B than in IVF.) The notion that hormonal fluctuations or imbalances are from God, while family planning is not, is at the very least an interesting one. The Catholic assumption, I think, is that as long as these matters are entirely beyond our control, they are heaven-sent -- whether what Heaven sends is infertility, Down's syndrome, or an eleventh child.