Friday, January 31, 2003

I can't get past this nagging suspicion that a war in Iraq is just the tip of the iceberg. The American far left has been predictable in its complaints that it is all about the oil, but I'm not so sure.

Much has been made of the Bush administration's silence about Saudi Arabia, where most of the September 11 hijackers originated. At the same time, government and intelligence officials (always, ALWAYS, off-record) hint that there is proof that the hijackers received material support from foreign governments. And I don't think those governments include Iraq.

It's always been in the back of my mind that maybe, just maybe, the Bush team is planning an eventual attack on Saudi Arabia, which will turn into a gi-normous Middle East conflagration. Certainly, the U.S. is making all the right moves in that direction. It captures a vital oil source, creates an army of occupation which is an excuse to move troops into the region, and it nails down an airbase location that cannot be taken away by a willy-nilly foreign government.

All you do is wait for another terrorist attack which is bound to occur after American occupation of an Arab country (which just may coincidentally destroy some Islamic holy sites). Publicly connect the dots and invade.

As critical as I am of the current administration, I do not think they are so stupid as to fight a war solely for monetary gain (although that may be a supporting factor). That leaves a mainly military reason, and I have outlined one possible military reason, or an ideological. Currently, I'm disposed towards an ideologic reason; the U.S. is making an example of Iraq to support a unilateral foreign policy extending the Monroe Doctrine to both hemispheres and breaking the power of a United Nations which is now posed to harm the United States more than any other nation.

Still, Iraq as a foothold in the region is at least interesting and different from what anyone else seems to think, so I'd toss it out there and see how plausible people think it is now.
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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

A friend weighs in on the "War on Drugs" and I respond.

Prohibition (and economics) tells us that any good or service will have a black market if people want it bad enough, whether it's alcohol, mariuana, abortion, sex, or Cheetos.

Except for the hardcore libertarians out there, I'm guessing that most of the pro-drug legalization types would want a legal drug industry to be regulated like any other business. What's worse, a Colombian drug lord or a corporate America drug lord? Or did you think that becoming a nice legitimate businessman makes one a saint? At what point will the attorneys general of 30-odd states sue the cocaine industry?

I'm of two minds on drugs. One is that I don't mind the current regime too much. While I would like to spend more money on drug treatment, I don't mind the idea of enforcement of drug laws concentrating on people who are stupid and blatant, while letting slide people who are discrete and smart about their usage. Sort of a "don't ask don't tell" policy. Don't go looking too hard, but nail to a wall anyone who does drugs plus other non-drug crimes.

My other mind is much more vicious. I want to genetically modify drug plants so that they don't produce a high, but they are instead incredibly toxic. Next time the police find a field of marijuana in Kentucky, I'd plant some real "killer weed." Of course, I would announce in advance that these sorts of things were taking place, I just wouldn't say where.

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Monday, January 27, 2003

BBC NEWS | Americas | Chavez fights strike fallout

I wonder if Hugo Chavez will "commit suicide" during a coup d'etat anytime soon.
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Thursday, January 23, 2003

The blog MyDD has of late been spending a lot of time on the upcoming election in Israel. Ah, parliamentary government. Sometimes, people in the U.S. look wistfully towards a proportional government. They are generally of two types: those who want a political parties to act as single-minded creatures rather than as coalitions of individuals and those who feel underrepresented and think that proportional government will give them a voice. The former look to the UK as a model, the latter would end up with something looking like the Israeli Knesset. That is not necessarily a good thing.

An American parliamentary system would do one of two things. It would create clear one-party rule where legislators must follow the party line, or it would create an atmosphere of coalition building. The former would end once and for all the idea of bipartisanship, the latter would set off a swap meet of favors and Cabinet positions in order to build a majority.

A part of me thinks that proportional government would keep the current two parties still in power. There's a great deal of inertia. The two parties would still rule state governments, since I don't expect a change to a proportional national government would be accompanied by a shift in all forms of state and local government.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that the current parties will fracture and be like Labor and Likud in Israel--potential senior members in a majority coalition, but needing to make concessions to small parties. In either case, I see the Democrats and Republicans sticking around.

So, let me give a run-down of the likely winners and losers of a Balkanized parliamentary system in America:

The Christian right--This highly motivated, cohesive group is currently a junior member of the current Republican coalition. They are used, they are for the most part not given power within the party proportional to their strength. George W. Bush is clearly not a member of the Christian Right, but his team knows how to use them as an ally. People may point to John Ashcroft, but the corporate America/national security Republicans in power have held the Christian Right in check so far. A Christian Right bloc as a separate entity would be able to demand major concessions. Take a look at the concessions Shas or other ultra-Orthodox groups have been able to demand in Israel.
African-Americans--Sort of like the Christian Right, they are a cohesive bloc on the left. A separate African-American party would be better able use their size in a left-of-center coalition as leverage for some major concessions.
Pro-Lifers--This is not synonymous with the Christian Right (see: Kucinich, Dennis). Still, they are a highly motivated, single-issue bloc that is willing to stick together. I get the idea that some pro-lifers will vote for an anti-abortion Communist or Nazi versus a pro-abortion Republican or Democrat.
Regional Parties--Whether it be Southerners, Californians, or New Englanders, some region will be able to build a party that will poll highly in its area and not at all in other parts of the country. Many parliamentary government seem to give a few seats to these types of parties.

The Libertarian Party--Pretty much everyone who wants to be a Libertarian is already one.
The Green Party--The Greens have become the leftist party of choice through lack of alternatives. The party has gained so much because of a presidential candidate who doesn't really represent the Greens but who acts as a symbol. It will lose strength as various left-leaning types believe that their own particular spins on the left can be better realized through other political groupings that now seem viable.
New Democrats and moderate Republicans--These groups have based their strategies on the idea that a more moderate platform is a better base for election on a national stage. By encouraging the existence of parties whose appeal is to narrow constituencies, the New Democrats and their ilk no longer have a clear, pragmatic purpose.

This isn't a full rundown of the winners and losers. Our current form of government is based on the idea that we form coalitions of interests well before the election. The Democratic Party fails to realize that and tries to cater to ephemeral tastes, crafting a diverse set of issue positions without clear philosophical coherence and sounding as empty as a Top 40 station owned by ClearChannel.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2003

[] G Dubs announces his economic stimulus plan.

Here are the highpoints so far as I can glean from,, and the New York Times.

--No more taxes on stock dividends payed out to individual investors. However, stock dividends going into a 401(k) plan along with stock market profits and the person's own contributions will be taxed as ordinary income when withdrawn from the account according to a "senior administration official.

--Income tax cuts scheduled for 2004 and 2006 will be put on an accelerated schudule so that some of them are effective in 2003.

--Increased tax breaks for businesses and individuals, including tripling to $75,000 the write-offs for purchasing new equipment.

--Accelerating the schedule of child tax credit increases from $600 to $1000 per child per year which is set to reach the upper figure in 2010.

--Extension of the unemployment benefits which lapsed in December after Congress failed to pass an extension.

--A state-run program giving unemployed people $3,000 in "Personal Re-Employment Accounts" for job training, moving expenses, and child care. Any money not used would go to the person as a bonus upon finding a job, with 60% given right away and the rest after six months on the job.

--Acceleration of the decrease in the "marriage penalty," doubling the standard deduction of married taxpayers so that it is effective immediately rather than phased in between now and 2009.

--The movement of more federal dollars toward needy states with budget problems, especially those that peg their rates to federal income taxes.

There's some information not in the news stories that I can't find and I don't really want to do the research right now. How much are stock dividends currently taxed? The same as regular income? Higher? Lower? Which states tie their tax rates to the federal rates? What are the income tax cuts currently scheduled for 2004 and 2006?

This is easy enough that I can find it if I put my mind to it. On the other hand, I think it should be included in website news reporting. I can forgive the New York Times because they seek to put online the stories as they appear in print, but I would think that CNN and FOXNews could put a little more info out there. Granted, that's not a lot of time to do research and maybe these numbers will pop up sooner or later.

But on to my reaction. I'm annoyed with the whole tax dance. It feels like this artificial battleground where the two parties rattle their sabers and toss out numbers. Even though I, unlike most Americans, understand statistics, the numbers tossed out seem vague or unimportant. And anyways, once the numbers come out, each side attacks the credibility of the other side's numbers.
The thing that pisses me off is that every single tax plan involves a credit for this or a deduction for that. Whatever. It's not multiple tax brackets that makes the tax code complicated; it's all the deduction, all the trying to figure out what is and isn't taxable. Just make every form of income taxed. Paychecks, stock dividends, capital gains. I don't know what the rates are for the last two, if they are taxed at higher or lower rates than regular income. Just make it all the same. If it gives the wealthy a tax break, I don't particularly care. Just get rid of most deductions and credits in exchange for an overall rate decrease that would maintain the amount of money currently raked in by the federal government if income remained the same.

Once we eliminate the whole battleground over who gets to define the next few pages added to the tax code (and hey, that will save trees, so its environmentally sound policy), we can get on with the proper debate about where the money is being spent. Viva social spending.

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Monday, January 06, 2003

CBS Transcript of Howard Dean and John McCain talking about North Korea.

I didn't see this in person, but found out on someone else's blog. I'm still exploring this man's views and this is one more piece of the puzzle. It's interesting that this obscure candidate for President is who gets called in for a foreign policy discuss. I'm not one to watch the Sunday morning shows, so I'm not sure what the pattern of guests normally is. Since most guests speak blandly and non-controversially, it tends to be boring and long-winded ways of saying not much at all. Letting loose the attack dogs and putting people in surprise spots is a way of finding some non-manufactured candor and of exploring how people react under pressure in new situations.
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Thursday, January 02, 2003

e.thePeople : Article : The next Democratic Presidential candidate? Howard Dean, M.D. ---- a brief (positive) bio for those of you who asked.

He come's from a small, New England state. He's not a sexy candidate whose mere interest in running causes hours of CNN coverage. He's Howard Dean.

One of his strongest cards is his passion for the environment as governor of Vermont. His foreign policy is an embracing of free and fair trade and active nation building of democracies. Within that framework, he finds a way to put an emphasis on energy conservation and good environmental practices. And he is no foreign policy novice, having visited over 60 nations of the world. Unlike most Democrats, he's been a vocal critic of the current administration's policy in Iraq.

His other hallmark as governor, with more tangible results, is
a leave of health coverage in the state of Vermont. Bill Frist is nowhere near the best doctor/politician to speak on health care needs. Despite being a governor with a
history of deficit cutting and reducing taxes on the state level, Dean still opposes federal tax cuts, in part to create more effect social services, especially in the area of health care.

As governor of Vermont, the NRA gave him an A because his position is that gun laws should be different in different parts of the country, based on the existing local culture. This interest in putting thing local is seen in his view on education, which includes a suggestion that Vermont may give up federal educational funding in order to avoid onerous federal mandates.

He signed the first American state law recognizing gay civil unions, but annoyed homosexuals by approaching it as a run-of-the-mill piece of legislature rather than having grandstanding public ceremony ass-full of symbolism. He's been described as a fiscal conservative. He's the darling of the progressive-minded Democrats on the web.

So, is he the next Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, a no-name governor coming out of nowhere to make an early announcement for a presidential bid, or is he the next Paul Tsongas, a New Englander who is ultimately little more than a sideshow to the real race?

I like him. He's of my mind in many respects, reach for amibitious goals, but do so with manageable steps. He criticizes the Clinton health care plan as too much too soon, trying to improve both access to health care and health care system itself, all in one fell swoop. Dean's plan is to first get everyone access to an admittedly flawed system. Once everyone is all aboard and health care has become an entitlement, then he would go about reform the system. Things like the Patient's Bill of Rights are simple grandstanding. He thinks that the current health care debate right now is about whether or not one can sue an HMO, doing nothing to get more people insured.

I don't agree with Howard Dean on all issues, but I see him as taking manageable steps in many directions. They are the same first steps I would take, though in the end our paths might diverge towards differing goals.

One quote particular marks him as a man after my own heart. "[Republicans] can't tolerate ambiguity, and without ambiguity the world can't survive." The inherent nature of the human condition as other than a black-and-white existence is central to my own philosophy of human nature.

I like him, but I don't know if I can support him for exactly the same reasons that I like him. A Howard Dean presidential campaign may be an attempt to do more than can be humanly done. He may be a quixotic mirage for progressive minded folks. Then again, it may be the right first step. For conservatives, Barry Goldwater ran a presidential campaign that failed miserably, but he inspired legions of followers as if he were the Velvet Underground of politics. The left could use a similarly inspirational figure. Maybe Howard Dean could be that, a leftist who isn't a hippie.
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