Saturday, June 17, 2006

how's that "smaller government" working out for you?

See Devilstower's diary at Daily Kos about the Supreme Court's decision to essentially gut "knock and announce" requirements for police.

Big-government conservatism at its finest.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

They don't even know what "pro-life" means.

I have been following with interest an argument on Redstate concerning choice, morality, and the meaning of pro-life.

The discussion started on a diary concerning Mitt Romney's more liberal positions as Governor of Massachussetts (apparently, Republicans don't understand the "take what you can get" principle that allows us to appreciate Ben Nelson).

It quickly became clear in the ensuing discussion that the contradictions inherent among the notions of libertarianism, conservatism, and the "pro-life" position reveal themselves nearly instantaneously.

The first thing we see comes in the form of the "I personally oppose abortion, but I can't enforce that decision" form of pro-life:

s that he has HIS OWN personal beliefs but feels no need to impose his personal beliefs on others. While I will bet he WISHED others would share his beliefs and values, he doesn't feel a need to enforce his beliefs and values on other people.

You seem to be saying that he isn't a conservative because he wouldn't force other people to abide by his personal value system and codify his beliefs in law. I disagree. What makes a conservative is what you yourself would do and what you yourself believe. It isn't that you would force others to live by your beliefs and values. There are other words for that kind of thing.

This poster may be legitimately considered as both pro-life and pro-choice. This is the position held by John Kerry and Bob Casey concerning abortion. It is essentially a libertarian position.

The problem for libertarians in the abortion debate--regardless of their personal beliefs regarding the morality of choice--is that the position held by religious conservatives is unable to separate the concept of their version of morality from legal versions of morality as determined by law:

We're not talking "legislating morality" in the sense that we're legislating everyone goes to church, we're talking "legislating morality" in the sense that it's immoral to kill other humans. Even your staunchest 'Toid will grant that's a legitimate function of government.

(I don't know what a 'toid is on Redstate.)

It's a fascinating exchange going on here, especially for Redstate. The problem is one we know all too well: one person's version of morality is not another person's version of morality when it comes to religious precepts. Of course, there are exceptions--it may be the case that in some moral system somewhere, murder is not a moral offense--but a respect to the opinion of mankind is generally enough to be able to draw such distinctions. And that's where the current abortion debate stands.

A Muslim or a Jew living in the United States will understand that no matter what their religious precepts say about eating pork, it is at odds with the principles of freedom as defined by Lakoff to require--even should they be a majority--that legislation be enacted against it. The problem is that the definition of whether one is killing a human being or not is a slightly more serious matter than dietary precepts.

So here, we already have two different versions of being "pro-life" or anti-abortion: one definition that assigns the morality of choice the same importance that is ascribed to other seemingly arbitrary codes of morality determined by religions, and another definition whose logic demands an imposition of its belief on the rest of society.

I assume most of us are aware of these definitions already, but there is a third definition--one of pragmatism and the inevitability of imperfection. This is the middle ground--a "third way" of sorts that seeks to please both the parties involved, but ends up satisfying neither.

the real argument is that we, as a society, constantly make decisions that balance life, money, convenience and personal freedom. factories release some harmful chemicals into the atmosphere because it would be prohibitively expensive to avoid it. people are allowed to drive hummers, even though they are statistically more likely to kill someone if involved in an accident. some people live in extravagant wealth while children starve to death in other countries. poor people get crappy medical treatment. innocent people die in wars.

we recognize that "sanctity of life" isn't the end of the argument. it gets a lot of weight, but in the end, other considerations must also be taken into the balance.

It is obvious that these three positions are inherently contradictory. The Democratic position on choice--that abortion should be rare, safe, and legal, regardless of one's personal belief in the practice, has no such logical inconsistencies.

And this is why Roe v. Wade will never be overturned. The adherents to the second definition of "pro-life" that I named will never be strong enough to dictate their terms to the entire nation, and conservatives with either viewpoints one or three have a little more foresight than to go along with them for the sake of political expediency.

As long as Roe v. Wade remains law, conservatives can unite in opposition to it, but if it is ever overturned, the proverbial excrement will hit the proverbial spinning cooling apparatus forthwith. There will be debates about whether to outlaw abortion state by state, and that will fracture the movement. There will be debates about what punishment abortion providers and patients should be punished with should they undergo the process. If abortion is indeed murder, then why wouldn't it fall under the murder statutes, in which case abortion patients and providers would both be conspirators to first-degree murder and subject to the death penalty? And if abortion merely deserves a place in regular criminal law that remains separate from the laws concerning murder, then on what grounds is it criminalized in the first place?

The pragmatists who value the best compromises and trade-offs will also have to deal with other sticky issues that will throw wrenches into the movement, and by extension their electoral prospects.

1) The adherents of the second definition of "pro-life" will attempt to regulate out-of-state travel to obtain an abortion should a neighboring state maintain legal access to abortion, and conservatives would have to prepare not only for political repercussions, but also for sound rejection from a conservative federalist court that such laws completely violate the interstate commerce clause.

2) The rape exemption is obviously a hot-button issue. A pragmatist quickly realizes that the majority of the public supports such an exemption. It has been discussed here many times before, and I have written many times, that if aborting a viable fetus constitutes murder, it will remain murder regardless of the circumstances of the creation of that fetus, and the pragmatists can sense it.

(Time was, I used to argue this point only in theory--but I met someone recently who shared a personal story with me concerning this issue. If you happen to read this--and I assume you know who you are--please know that I was touched by your candor, and that story is the main reason I decided to write this as soon as I saw the thread on Redstate.)

So in short, there is already enough disunity on the abortion issue among conservatives--even right now while Roe v. Wade is still in force--that any Republican who actually cares about the electoral future of their party knows that criminalizing abortion will wreck their political aspirations.

Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I feel that Roe is safe for the time being. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

[Cross-posted on Daily Kos]

Yearly Kos 2006: Foreign Policy Panel

Foreign Policy panel:

Chaudhry, Ari Veltman, Alex Rossmiller, Arianna Huffington

Chaudhry: I'm here because I edited the foreign policy section of These Times. We bloggers are very good at critiquing policies and advocating specific actions, and we're very good at that. But we strongly feel that there's a need for us to go beyond that and think in terms of a middle east policy, which requires us to think about what the U.S. is, and what our role is in that region. What we wanted to do is something I think is really important: to think in concrete and pragmatic terms--I mean, rooted in reality on the ground about what is possible--to see our options clearly. At the same time, within the context of a broader vision, we need to go beyond advocating policy actions in the next six months without having a plan 5 to 10 years from now. So what we did was, we put together a round table and usually the tradition is to just have Americans. But we had two Americans. We also had someone from King's college and another think tank in Britain. Because to talk about what US foreign policy is, we need to talk to the people on the other side of that policy. Basically, what comes out of it is a series of policy recommendations. Some predictable: a more balanced approach to Israel/Palestine, understanding the nuances of Islamic fundamentalism, that Hamas isn't Hezbollah, isn't Al-Qaeda, isn't the Taliban. But what was valuable was, it outlines how difficult the situation is. Even as we speak the situation is deteriorating to the point at which we have to accept that we can't do as much.

I think the idea isn't beyond leaving Iraq, but the idea that we may have two failed states--Iraq and Palestine--by the time Bush leaves in 2008. So we need to start the conversation now about how we deal with this as progressives, because the Republicans won’t deal with it--so it's our job. Thank you.

VELTMAN: The last state department report showed a tripling of terror under Bush. Osama is on the loose, and the U.S. has lost its moral authority. Whoever wins is going to inherit all of these problems. What I want to focus on is what is most likely to continue and that is the concept of the global war on terror. That is a sweeping formulation that has been so widely embraced in US politics that it's hard to imagine any challenge to it--but that's what we have to do. So what exactly is the GWOT? It is an endless war to eradicate all terrorism everywhere. As Bush said in 2001, "the war will not end until every terrorist group anywhere is found and defeated." That policy is fatally flawed, because it's like declaring a war on a tactic--it's like declaring a war on war. This system has served Bush's politics. Everything gets fit back into this paradigm. This isn't just talking points. It's in the policy, in the legal authority they have in mind. Here are some examples.

In August 2002 A. Gonzales said they could invade Iraq without congressional authorization. Condi said the same thing about Syria. How do they handle domestic spying? Same way--as part of the war on terror. So where's the opposition? Well, Democrats are actually reinforcing the GWOT paradigm and framing their arguments within it. But we need better strategic thinking. People are asking why we're still in Iraq and why Osama is still loose. Those failures start to distill alternatives. We must focus on defeating enemies and not a tactic. We need a focus war on Al-Qaeda, Osama and the Jihadists that are fighting. Our objective should be to defeat the enemies that attacked us and that pose a credible threat. It should not be defeating terrorism, or imposing democracy across the globe. At the macro level, this gives us choices. It means international cooperation, fighting Al-Qaeda, and restoring Ameican values--human rights and the rule of law, while enhancing our global standing. All of you know that these ideas aren't new, but we don't outline these as a uniting tissue. Holbrook said that we need to replace the war on terror with a war on Al-Qaeda. Chris Bowers called for Democrats to abandon the war on terror. He argued that it was a frame invented by Bush’s speechwriters to pin down the foreign policy debate.

Many people don't remember the Graham proposal and the Senate tabled it on the eve of the Iraq war vote. I read the Congressional Record. After Graham's speech that terrorists were a greater threat than Saddam Hussein, Senators Lieberman and McCain responded. McCain said that Al-Qaeda and Iraq were two faces of the same coin. History has shown that they were both embarrassingly wrong. Graham said that he felt that we would rue this day, and said that our top targets should be the groups that could repeat what happened on Sept. 11th--that the statesman must realize that once the war bell is sounded, he is no longer the master of events.

In general--and this may sound obvious--we still work with the media and pro-war politicians, even when their arguments deny reality. They say that any opposition to the war on terror will show weakness. But we need to show the value of our foreign policy, and I think that we activists can help do that.

ROSSMILLER: I’m a former intelligence officer for the DoD. I left because I felt that the policies of this administration harm American security. We've heard about how Democrats can work to expose this administration's efforts. I'd like to express a democratic alternative. The central foreign policy issue is the war in Iraq. I spent 6 months there, and it's simply beyond my comprehension how anyone could think it's made us anything but less safe. (lists all the reasons we all know). Stay the course is ridiculous when the course is wrong. All Democrats can embrace a simple message: change the course. Iraq resonates loudly, and the foreign policy campaign is a simple one. We can't trust them on Iraq, or N. Korea, or trade, or intelligence or defense. In 2006 we can establish oversight in Congress.

We need to advance American interests in the US.

(okay, this guy talks too fast. Summation). Democracy promotion against transnational terrorists was betrayed by Bush pursuing bad policy. They've treated a tactic like an ideology. The best way to defeat an ideology is to offer a better alternative. Self-determination and democracy are a better alternative. In terms of security, mature democracies do not attack us and we don't attack them. They foster trade. Encouraging and supporting democracy is a basic idea.

Wars are good for toppling governments, but bad for institutions and infrastructure. Democrats largely agree on foreign policy. The vast majority of us believe that democracy is good but using force to implement it is bad. This administration grossly misunderstands what it takes to establish a democratic society. You can't hinder democracy at home and support it abroad.

It's all about infrastructure. I don't believe that Democratic strategies need to be revised, and I don't think we have message problems. America knows that Democrats can be trusted on foreign policy. For congressional elections, no more rubber stamp congress.

To those who have lost faith in internationalism, isolationism is not the solution. And to those who believe the party is at risk of being taken over by fringe elements, I'd ask that you stop going on TV to say that. Just kidding.

The netroots aren't radical with regard to foreign policy. The real problem is republicans. Foreign policy rarely wins elections, but it can certainly lose them. Foreign policy is done best by democrats, not in spite of our patriotism, but because of it. This is an issue that we should own. Thanks.

HUFFINGTON: It's great to be here, and inspiring to walk through the halls and meet so many people, and know that they're incredibly tall or are 50 when I thought they were 22. I'm delighted to be participating with people who say things that are more important and useful than what our elected officials say. I've been blogging for a long time, and I've said that it's time that democrats put foreign policy on the front burner. It's not 1992, and it's not the economy, stupid. John Kerry did extremely well after that speech in the New School, where he categorically called Iraq the wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. So what happened? The "smart people" running the campaign said that he needed not to do that, and he should stick to domestic issues. This country is full of fear, and you can't win unless you convince the American people that you'll keep them safe.

Haditha, the continuing ongoing atrocities, have lost us the war to win the hearts and minds of the Islamic people, and we're much less safe now than before Sept 11th and that's because of the invasion of Iraq. That's a simple message, but the Democrats haven't adopted it. We cannot endorse any Democratic candidate who does not have a clear, unequivocal position on Iraq. There will be a tremendous effort to court you--court the bloggers, the netroots. To make them think that this is the way to win. Any candidate who cannot say that we need to bring the troops home should not be the Democratic nominee. Bloggers are going to be courted with attention, job offers, money, everything you can imagine, because Democratic elected officials have recognized our power. Do not succumb. We should start a hotline or something. The offers are coming already. But do not go and do that. Do not run a netroots campaign for a candidate who feels we need to stay in Iraq. There is no "they stand up so we can stand down." More and more Democratic candidates are telling you that now that we're there, we have to finish the job. And that's absolute idiocy. We need an elevator message response. #1: withdrawing from it doesn't mean abandoning it. Let's put money, resources and brainpower into it. #2. There's no question that there's a huge difference between being in Iraq and losing the war for their hearts and minds, which is key to winning the war on terror--which is why the Jack Murtha position is the clear and unequivocal position, and I'm happy to hear he'll run for majority leader. Jack Murtha supported going into Iraq, but we are extremely forgiving. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. I used to be a Republican. When I was, Saddam Hussein was Dick Cheney's good friend, Enron was a good company, and Michael Jackson was still black.

But it's about where you are now. The end of triangulation when it comes to war and peace and life and death. There's a false distinction about Iraq when it comes to left and right. There are opponents of the war on the conservative side. And if we want to make inroads, there is no better message than bringing the troops home. In the American DNA is a clear understanding that we must not pursue what the founding fathers called imperial adventures abroad. So why not make those red states purple if not blue on this foreign policy issue.

I got an email about the results of the latest poll. They start by saying that the reason people have soured on Bush is the Iraq war. But it’s #5 on what Democrats need to do, and on the list, they put it after congressional pay raises. The problem is that they don't get it. They're mired in the 1990’s mindset, and they can't get their mind around the idea of making the war in Iraq the central issue. But if they don't get it, they need to get out of the way.

We have a great opportunity to take back Congress. We started out with the defeat of Francine Busby. Her campaign kept urging her not to focus on Iraq, but rather on the corruption in Congress. She listened, and she lost. And I don't want to hear from Rahm Emmanuel that she only lost by 5%. I don’t care. We need to stop losing.

We need to stand up on this and be the leaders, instead of following those who say they know best. It's time for people to follow US. It's time to see the leader in the mirror. Not because we're purists, but because we’re fed up of losing. Thanks.

Q: There's this notion that the GWOT is part of a notion to spread democracy--and it's been hard to argue against because it's been engaged in the American consciousness. They've been called Kantians with cruise missiles, which is almost Bolshevik thinking. It's been hard for me to argue against it, the spread of democracy by force of arms.

Q: This is a question to Arianna. I'm Eric Massa, running in New York’s 29th CD. There are over 70 veterans running for Congress and we collectively fear whatever it is in October labeled as a national security surprise. I think we need to make this a pre-emptive national issue. We need to say that whatever they want to pull, there will be some announcement to rally people back to George W. Bush. I want to turn this idea to you further, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.

A from ARIANNA: The way to pre-emptively deal with it is to keep on talking every day about how this administration has not kept us safe. This is the key message. To win the war on terror, the first step is getting out of Iraq. While we are there as an occupying force, we will be the issue. In terms of the earlier question about democracy, first of all, we need to remind ourselves that this was reason number 5 about why we invaded Iraq. It was done because of the WMD, which was completely disproved. Democracy was a default position. Beyond that it is absurd to think you can bring democracy with military power. It has never happened before and it won't happen now. We need to communicate that to the American people.

VELTMAN: I don't want American soldiers dying for politics in another country. I want our soldiers only risking their lives to protect American interests. We'll pay for a hospital in Africa, but we won’t put US troops to build it.

ROSSMILLER: For the second question: if something happens, it just proves they failed somewhere in the world.

CHAUDHRY: Also for democracy, you can't pick which democracies you like if you want to spread democracy. You have to deal with Hamas too.

Q: How do we articulate our beliefs in a way to convince the military that we're on their side? It's a little bit different from articulating this to the man on the street. People who may see this as a complex issue, we need to articulate that.

Q: Right now we're dealing with the Iraq war and current crises, but assuming that there's a fundamental change in 2008, we need to address longer term events. There had to be a circumstance that caused 9/11, for them to be willing to commit suicide, and for a lot of people to applaud the fact that they did. I think we need a peace corps instead of the marine corps.

A: from ROSSMILLER: Regarding the first question, it's a silly debate. Nobody not named Cheney wants to stay there forever. The question isn't whether we should leave, the question only is when. The CAP has a paper on re-prioritizing. But as far as your neighbor, just ask them whether we should keep 130,000 troops there forever. If the answer is no, the debate becomes how to withdraw. In terms of how it's represented in Iraq, there’s a huge media disappointment there. They call it Sharks and Missing White Women because that's all we heard about. But they don't need to be part of that debate all the time. It's about strategic and executive leadership.

A: from ARIANNA: The longer we stay there the more terrorists will be recruited and the less safe America will be. It staggers me that our elected people haven't said that. That's where the debate needs to be. The majority of the American public used to believe that Saddam was linked to 9/11. Cheney and the rest of them kept repeating that line. Why don't we keep repeating the truth! It doesn't matter what happens that makes them forget Abramoff or Katrina, what matters that we're less safe. I talked to a lot of neuroscientists about this idea of fear. We're not voting with a rational brain. If we were, he would have lost in a landslide. We remember Abu Ghraib. We said that because of that there would be no way he would be re-elected because he was campaigning on the John Wayne archetype. People want someone who will tell them the truth, and I'm terrified that we're missing this opportunity. The message that the Democats came up with--"together we can do better"-- is simply pathetic.

Yearly Kos 2006: Communicating the Progressive Vision

Communicating the Progressive Vision panel.

Jeffrey Feldman, operator of Frameshop:

To be a progressive means to believe in the power of communication. Blogs aren't just sites where people post articles. They're places built on talk. On any given day, the blogs are boiling over on how to best communicate progressive ideas. How to disarm Republican propaganda. How to use language. As such, there has emerged a new core principle. Success doesn't merely begin with fundraising, but with talking back the talk, and ends when we hold the debate. While movement republicans are eager to accept talking points and propaganda, we have uniformly rejected a top-down approach, choosing instead to pick up the tools of political communication and apply them. Progressive activists go where only PR consultants had gone before with profound results.

Today we have 4 people representing a cross-section of progressive communication. Jim Derych, author of Confessions of a Former Dittohead. John Javna, author of 50 simple things you can do to save the earth, and 50 simple things you can do to fight the right. Justin Krebbs, founder of Drinking Liberally and Laughing Liberally, and George Lakoff, author of Don't think of an Elephant and Whose Freedom.

A word about the format--since they’re all experts, I'll turn over the floor to them. Each will speak for five minutes, after which I'll initiate a panel discussion. The panelists will speak to us, and to each other.

JIM DERYCH: I'm Jim and I'm a former dittohead. I still can't believe I'm standing up here. I started blogging in 2005. I wrote my first diary called confessions of a former dittohead after 2004, and tried to make amends for my vote for Bush in 2000. I went in my bunker for about 2 or 3 months and the sun was still shining so I rejoined society, but I said, this would be cathartic, I have to write the reasons why I changed my mind. It got 300 comments and went to the top of the rec list. What can I tell my co-worker, etc. It was really a book written with the help of the community. Very much a bottom-up phenomenon. It's the difference between what we do and what they do. They pre-masticate the information and distill it.

Imagine a world where one party controls all the branches, corrupt, where Congress focuses on thing that people don't care about. This year is 1992. People found a voice that spoke against it in Rush Limbaugh. I was going to college, UT-Knoxville. My dad turns on Rush. My mom says he's just a hate-monger. But I was hooked, because of his framing. He does a great job. Montana Gov. Schweitzer sad that issues divide and values unite. We need to focus on values. But today, we need to frame the issues. We need to fight to frame the issues but then bring it back to our values. I believe I am my brother's keeper--people don't fail because they're not trying. A rising tide lifts all boats and government can have an effective role. You can't be a Republican and believe that. I'm pleased to be a part of the panel.

JOHN JAVEN: This has been a heck of a conference. I don't know about you but I spent the last two days talking non-stop. The morning after the election of 2004, I, like many, woke up and screamed. What have we done? It was the first time I realized that my children might grow up in a repressive society. So I decided I was ready to do something. I checked the blogs, magazines, books, but nobody was having a conversation about what an average American could do to make a difference. So I decided that it was my obligation to write this book. I have to admit, it wasn't my first book, it's about my 50th. You might assume that because I'm a writer, that we're all here to tell you how to use words. Certainly that's important. This book has many ways that you can use words, but let's talk about something else. The central component is action. So what does that have to do with it?

When you talk about a vision, it's the picture of the world as you want it to be. The world you want to live in. Raise your children in. And that implies, change, action. On some level, they know that. If we don't believe in our own vision, how can we communicate it? If our vision isn't strong enough to inspire us to work every day to fulfill it, nobody else will believe it or accept the idea that we believe it. Action has always been a part. The progressives of the late 1800s were among the most prolific of political activists. They believed in their message and took action. Think of what they gave us: primary elections, direct senatorial elections, labor unions, social security, child labor laws. Even student newspapers. It's because of what they did that we believe and know the truth of the progressive vision today. It's what they did. The sense of vision. We have it a lot easier than they did. They created the progressive vision and we need to fulfill it. Unfortunately, we’re not living up to their example. We're not doing enough. But the good news is that here we are at a convention. People who strictly used to associate by words, and now we're asking, what can we do? Take my book home. Look it over. Find something that we can do. Don't just talk about it, show it. I firmly believe that once we integrate what we think with what we do, we will be unstoppable, and the progressive vision will be the American vision. Thank you.

JUSTIN KREBS: I'm delighted to be here. When I was 12 and read 50 simple things you can do to save the earth, I haven't thrown out the rings in aluminum cans since. Don't think of an Elephant is a pretty good book too. We're all here, and we've all crashed the gate. But my work is a little more on seducing the gatekeeper, or softening the gate. They're connected. One idea is drinking liberally. It might not sound at first like a communication tool, but it's building community. One of the ways we refer to it--and I didn't make it up--it's the gateway drug of progressive politics. It's easy to go have a drink with someone. It's a lot more difficult to show up here in Las Vegas. There are easier ways of getting involved, and that ups your ante. I think about the Democratic alternatives, and they're linoleum floored, fluorescent lit rooms. And if you showed up in that and they started arguing about Roberts Rules of Order, you might decide not to do it any more. But if you have a drink, you can get people started. You'll then have people on the hard drugs of progressive politics, standing on street corners in freezing rain handing out literature. A great comparison that's been made is that it's sort of like church for us. But for all of us atheists in New york, we don’t go to church, but we recognize the community that they have after the sermon. They talk about family, the kids. Not the sermon. That’s the way drinking liberally is. Same with Laughing Liberally. Who could imagine that we'd be energized today at 8am after being at the stratosphere? But we were because he's an awesome Bush impersonator.

People who watch a political speaker might repeat what he said. But a great comedian will get you to repeat the punchlines. If those punchlines carry a meaning and message and communicate liberal values, they can be a Trojan horse. That's what we're out to do. We don't believe that the kind of talk radio that convinced Jim will work for us. We need to storm the gate of party establishment, but with our community, you’re going to convince them by cracking a joke and having a drink. And that's what we're about.

GEORGE LAKOFF: It's a pleasure to be here at this amazing convention and this panel.
These are wonderful people. This convention is about freedom, and that's what the book is about. It's about taking back the idea of freedom that they have successfully commandeered. I'm trying to point out that, say, the second inaugural, he used free, freedom and liberty 49 times in 20 minutes, and the question is, what did he mean by it, and what do we mean by it? I'd like to talk about the Rockridge institute. We're compiling a handbook for progressives, free on the internet. What it will do is go through the basics of framing, simple and systematic. And then what it will go through is put up regular postings on these issues using these ideas. And what we want to get people to understand the complexities of framing. And in addition, set up an action network. As I travel, I find that there are groups trying to do that. Last night I was taken out to dinner by the Las Vegas Framing Study group. Awesome people, and there are groups like this everywhere I go. We want to organize them and organize individuals who want to speak out. People want to be able to speak out more effectively.

Let me tell you a little about what this book says, and what the handbook will say. What I learned from Ronald Reagan’s chief strategist--he's very proud of what he accomplished, and what he did was, he joined Reagan as a pollster. He believed that 'people voted on issues. But then he realized that people didn’t like Reagan on the issues, but they just wanted to vote for him, and he was upset. He wanted to know why. Regan talked about values rather than issues, and he was authentic. And people trusted him, and they identified with him. VALUES, AUTHENTICITY, TRUST, IDENTITY. To them, issues are symbolic, and that's how Bush ran his campaign. It's the values themselves that matter. These things are not programs. Not social security or net neutrality. Those are consequences of values. If you're a progressive, you care about people. Protection. Safety nets, consumer protection, environmental protection, real protection from terrorists. You care about fairness, equality and all those other issues. Given that, there are certain principles that we all intuit as soon as you hear them. Let me go through three.

The first is that we believe in using the common wealth for the common good--building an infrastructure that everyone can use. Taxes, for instance. Using them for roads, schools, the internet. The banking system supported by the federal government. The court system. The SEC which runs the stock market. You can't do anything in this country without using the common wealth. It's necessary for individual goods. We know it, but we need to say it.

Take another one. There has been an expansion of freedom, in the liberal notion. If you look at it, what has been expanded? Voting rights, civil rights, education, science research, communication. That allows us to be more free. It's what this country is about. The last has to do with basic human dignity. Anyone can be treated like a human being. They're cross-cutting. They're framing in the deepest sense. There was a mistake made in the reading of "don’t think of an elephant" by journalists who thought it was about spin. It was about ideas and values. So we're going to go through framing and arguments in our manual.

All political arguments begin with a usually hidden moral premise, but they all make sense only if you assume a moral premise, whether that's right-wing strict father morality or progressive morality. And we'll get at those in our manual. The idea is to give you a tool to allow you to understand what's going on when you hear things, and what happens when you give your own arguments, so when they work you can understand why and when they don’t you can also understand why. So you can be the best progressives you can be.

Q by JEFFREY: I’d like to start by asking a question. An activist walks up to me, and says, I've read your ideas, but I have my feet on the ground and I want to know what I can do right now. First question for Justin: what do you say to that?

JUSTIN: Specifically in terms of drinking liberally, I'd say either go to one or start one. We don't pretend that that's the end point whatsoever. We don't endorse candidates or send people to bus trips, but it creates the community of the people that do. Start there, because you don't know what conversations you'll have there. The only way you'll join the community is to show up. The number of people who have formed interesting action projects, from the army man project in the South--it's amazing. The social networks that we can build are a piece of that action.

JEFFREY: When, John, people take a look at your 50 things--where can people get started?

JOHN: It's organized by difficulty. With things to Save the Earth, not all people start at the some level. We need things that aren't so challenging but are rewarding. Somebody who’s asking, what can I do?--is just getting started. As soon--

and here, my battery died. sniff.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Yearly Kos 2006: Failure of Conservative Economics Panel

The current treasury secretary doesn't account for inflation. It also explains why the poverty rate has increased. The reserve has noted the slowing trends of income growth.

Bonddad starts by trashing the GOP's current economic numbers. Fewest economy in 40 years, lower job quality, and income stagnant over inflation. Where's the expansion coming from?

Debt. According to the federal flow of funds, debt has gone up from 7 trillion to 11 trillion between 01 and 05. That's mainly because of mortgage debt. Total household debt per GDP increased from 70% in 01 to 90% in 05. Debt increased at a compound annual growth rate of 11.55%--twice the growth rate of the preceding periods.

The right wing always complains about the media's reporting of the economy. But underneath the macro numbers are pathetic developments. Job growth is the weakest of the last 40 years. The jobs created are of lower quality. After inflation, wages for 80% of America had decreased during the expansion. And people have financed this on their credit cards. This is the CREDIT CARD expansion. And the bill will come due.

PROFESSOR BEALE: much of what I have to say will echo what he just said. People power is based on we the people translating into government that matches. A big piece of that is how we handle tax, monetary, fiscal policy. The primary goal should be to develop a broad-based economy that supports a decent standard of living. Reward work, not wealth. Provide a disaster safety net.

The US experienced that in the 90s when we did just that. It coincided with reduced income disparity. We had civil rights legislation. Economy prospers when opportunities are spread broadly. But we’ve traded those policies for red ink fiscal policies that reflect willful indifference for average Americans.

Tax cuts, deficits, debt and gimmickry.

The tax cuts have increased income disparity. The gap between rich and poor is growing. The top 10% are gaining--everyone else is losing. Median income has fallen. CEO pay has escalated marvelously, 571% increase in a decade. The workers have not done so well. Retirement creates a galactic gulf. Low income earners cannot accumulate enough. So poverty increases, and has especially in the last four years. The percentage of families in poverty has increased.

Tax cuts for the wealthy don't help. The middle 20% got 8.4% of the tax cuts. You can cut them lots of different ways. Citizens for tax justice shows that between 2003 and 2010, the top 1% will receive a 15% cut in their taxes. If you take all these cuts we've been passing into account, these tax cuts have to be paid for by tax increases or entitlement cuts.

The wealthy benefited from the cuts in investment income. The wealthiest 1% get 60% of capital income. So you’re shifting the burden from the wealthy to the middle class.

Total federal taxes paid on wages amounts to 23%. Total taxes on investment income: less than 10%. The rationale is always spurring growth, trickle-down and everyone benefits. But wage-earners, we know, are losing.

Wage stagnation, price inflation--can't bode well for ordinary Americans. It is in health particularly that we see the problem. One more thing on tax cuts. The estate tax repeal is another one that obviously benefits only the ultra-wealthy. Only 1.2 to 1.4% of estates that come into play are taxable. It’s only the very rich estates that end up paying it, but you wouldn't know that from listening to the rhetoric of thrifty family farmers.

DEFICITS: continuous large deficits cause long-term imbalances. Between tax cuts and war costs, we've pushed the surplus into the deficit. Current estimates for 2006 are 300 billion, but who knows where it will really go.

Publicly held federal debt reached $4.829 trillion. Intergovernmental borrowing is another 3.5 trillion. Foreigners own an awful lot of that. 50% is held by foreigners. A lot of hedge funds in the Caribbean. The debt ceiling is 8.965 trillion. The problem with the debt is the global imbalances it creates. As other economies grow, they attract capital, and we lose the main engine of our economy. The problem with debt financed tax cuts is that it creates inter-class and intergenerational transfers to the wealthy.

One of the reasons it's hard to talk about tax cuts is because it depends on whether you're adjusting for inflation. It makes statistics manipulable. And they're happy to manipulate statistics. Let's look at the tax cuts in 2006 that extended the tax credit for the very wealthy. The House looked at that, the investment cuts, and the Senate looked at the AMT, and they then looked at that and conferenced it without the threat of a filibuster that would arise from a reconciliation bill.

In searching for individual examples to hold up about the estate tax, they haven't been able to find one. All the gimmickry, no matter what type, all of those things lead to the YOYO economy--You're On Your Own. We've traded trying to bring everyone along for something closer to the gilded age with robber barons. That’s not the right direction.

LONDON YANK: slideshow!

"The USA must accept that a waning primacy is not consistent with an assertion of superiority."

Those other 5.7 billion people all like to live nice lives too. It's a globally competitive economy. I appreciate that the US has primacy, but that is shifting, and it will lose it very soon. Within the next 15 years, China’s economy will be bigger in terms of GDP. The growth in Asia is so rapid that that could be an underestimate. That's not very inspiring, because a lot of the growth in the last 5 years have been in sectors that don’t contribute to long-term growth. Housing, homeland security, and healthcare. None of those make you a stronger economy in the future or more competitive going forward.

In 2003 Buffet wrote an essay about Thriftville v. Squanderville. Squanderville ends up getting enslaved to thriftville. If you run up big deficits, you get foreign ownership of everything worthwhile. That's why Dubai is buying our ports, and China buying our oil companies. They don't want dollars, they want real assets. They want control of the means of production. Buffet said that there are things you can do. Promote savings. Those savings need to be invested in productive ways. Not in housing, or big cars, or healthcare that's the most expensive on the planet, but in things that increase wealth over time. Warren Buffet isn't investing in America any more, and if that happens, that's scary.

Competitive positioning: the US have 5% of global population, and 50% of global military spending. 25% of oil consumption. 22% of all the prisoners on the planet. More prisoners than any other country in the world. More than 80% of global borrowing. For every dollar saved in the world, the US is borrowing 80 cents. When theres so much opportunity in the world, why wouldnt they take their savings and invest it at home?

The dollar crisis: The rest of the world is fed up with financing the US. The world is losing confidence in the US model. The US brand is seen as negative.

Creditor nations are working together to bring the dollar down because they've given up on the US being a responsible participant in finding a solution. It's not likely that the US will like the result of this process.

We've exported free markets to the rest of the world, but that means the US has lost a lot of power. There's a lot of choice out there for movement of assets, and it's a lot faster. There is 2 1/2 trillion dollars in currency traded every day. In 1973, most debt was held by central banks, and it was easy for the central banks to get together to resolve it. But now it’s in hedge funds. More than half of global volume is driven by hedge funds, and if they act quickly, it will be beyond the control of regulators to intervene. Hong Kong and China have more decision makers running hedge funds than the US. If Asia decides it's not comfortable with the US, there’s nothing we can do.

The EU has worked out. It's working. I'm pleased to have an EU passport and be able to live in any one of 25 countries, and be protected by a court of human rights. China is tying up agreements with other countries, and its sales pitch is a lot better. They don’t care about human rights records, they just care about the resources. So US policies are driving a realignment of interests. They have a better sales pitch, given the US history of intervention in domestic politics and regime change.

I was in Dubai for four months last year. The rest of the world is developing. Doing things right. Dubai had 59,000 in 1960. 2 1/2 million today. Incredible services, civic administration. It's modern. I lost my COO to Dubai when he was offered a job there. He decided to make his future in Dubai. It’s time to become multilateral.

Go back to surpluses, fiscal conservatism and rational investment. It'll take a recession to do that, but bite the bullet and get it over with. America spends a ton on healthcare and education, but they get nothing for it. Brits and Canadians live longer and they pay less. America should learn something. I know this won't be easy, but it's something to work towards.

And adopt global standards. It’s frustrating to find parochial proprietary standards. It would be nice if the U.S accepted international standards in telecommunication and computing. You could sell to the rest of the world.

STIRLING NEWBERRY: Financial principal of 22nd century financial group.

The failure is simple: BORROW AND SQUANDER. Beginning in the late 1960s and culminating in 1973, Bretton Woods, buttressed by the IMF and World Bank, fell apart. The individual most responsible was Richard Nixon, who, in a misguided effort, proceeded to institute the Smithsonian agreement. It is the worst financial agreement that any country has negotiated, ever. Richard Nixon said it would save the global financial order. At the end of it, we had no fixed currency exchanges. It took 8 years to fix. It is no accident that wages stagnated at that time. In 1981, I was a supporter of Margaret Thatcher, a balanced budget hawk and a Republican.

But the end of the order is coming. Most of the people on the stage are from the era of Paul Volker. We are of the belief that the United States practices fiscal discipline and the Dollar becomes a gold standard. Clinton did this in the 90s. But there's a perpetual dollar shortage around the world. It creates problems in South Korea because they faced a currency crises. You could have bought Korea for less than the price of breaking it apart. Greenspan flooded the world with liquidity. But we refused to practice fiscal discipline by creating marginal taxes.

In 2000, we faced two wildly divergent views to deal with the fiscal crisis. I sent out a crash signal in April 2000, and sold every US equity I had on the 4th. I then sent a signal to buy Euro-based investments. Then, it was selling at 85 on the dollar. Now it's 125, and not looking back.

We have an energy deficit. To buy the energy we need, we run a trade deficit. The concentration of Eurodollars and Petrodollars grows. One response was to slash marginal tax rates on the wealthy. It told people to stop speculating on commodities and start trading stocks, and it created a huge bull market. But people are no longer investing in things like the highway system. The government lives longer than anyone else. This was pointed out by a conservative macroeconomist. The US has been able to sell bonds because we've been able to tell the rest of the world that someday we'll tighten our fiscal policy and they'd be caught short in dollars.

Chinese government funds production and takes the profits of that production and pulls them into the central government. If the profits sit in your government, they'll get into it somehow. In China, it’s easier to ship it overseas because companies can't show an increase in value. We no longer have the credible threat that we will have another high-tech boom. Korea has better broadband. Taiwan has better telecommunications. In the 1990s, if you invested in Germany, you would have gotten creamed, but the NASDAQ would have made you rich. As soon as that threat goes away, the equivalence hypothesis goes away. They don't need to buy our dollars or buy our debts. This is parallel to the situation in the 60s and 70s when the rest of the world realized that they could buy dollars and cycle through the gold market because it was better on the open market. And that's the rational thing to do if the fixed government price is lower than the free market price.

Our monetary base is based on the value of the houses, buildings and assets of this country. Not on gold, but on the market value of those hard assets. For 70 years it served us well because it encouraged value creation in the community. It was a way of creating a free market mechanism where distribution was controlled by individual economic decisions on a ground level.

But wealth isn't generated that way because we are no longer independent on our energy sources. The US needs to break the cycle of deficits by changing the way it deals with the rest of the world. The simple solution is to stop using 6% of the GDP to finance our trade deficit and get back to a situation where we sell as much as we import. We would have to shift 5% of our GDP from making mcmansions and excessive profits in the healthcare system--it'ss cheaper to borrow money to build a house than it is to borrow money to build a business. The simplest policy change is to shift this balance. Go to an export economy. Get fiscal discipline. Otherwise, WE WILL BE IMF'ed.

As Stiglitz says, what happens with a government is that they have to go to the IMF with a short term loan. What they do is say, we’re the IMF, and everybody pays us back. We will force you to slash your domestic spending, link your currency to an external hard currency, and shift the economy to export. It takes 1% of GDP cost to shift 1% of GDP to export. In order to shift 5% of our GDP, we have to use another 5% of our GDP to move it. If the U.S. doesn't begin making this shift, simply by using the economic tools we have available, and not involving ourselves into expeditions in Iraq. I knew Bush wouldn’t find WMD in Iraq, but he couldn't even find cheap oil there!

If we use the same rules imposed on the 1990 recession on the 2000 recession, it would technically have lasted until 2003, which would have been the worst recession post-war. If you don't, we have the worst recovery in post-war history. So take your poison.

We have the most vibrant financial sector in the world. We also have a huge resource base, a very well educated population, large trade contacts, and liquidity. What we need is investment supply--new businesses that can pay for the cost of money. We need to shift from the petroleum-based economy to an independent economy. This was FDR's focus. Hoover did the same thing. The communities that cannot get enough energy cannot grow. As long as we are beholden to foreign energy sources, we will continue to have Dubai.

Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to build a 2000-foot skyscraper. And to do it he wanted to do a tubular structure. And the architects have finally gotten a chance to try--but in Dubai, not in the U.S.

We either do this, or we will allow someone else to pull the plug for us. An expansion is over when the bankers say it's over.

Someone I correspond with writes for the financial times. When Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, etc no longer fear a financial crisis, they will no longer buy our funds. It is much better to call the credit company before they declare you insolvent and set up a payment plan than it is to do it afterwards and have them impose a payment plan.

I'm a free-trader. I'm a hard-core free-trader. The interstate commerce clause has been used to expand economic rights. But what world do we live in when the Caribbean free trade agreement doesn't liberalize the sugar market? Agricultural products are the only thing for which they have a real advantage. If we broke that, every bottle of coke in this country would be cheaper.

You can ask Brazil, Lithuania or Argentina what happens when your currency melts down. Thank you.

Q: lots of the problems we face are because large multinational corporations control our politicians. Can we do anything to make market forces create a shift to better energy?

A: The way we subsidize industry is hidden in the tax code. Those subsidies are really one thing that makes it hard to know what profits they're really making, or how energy policy would work if we didn't. The senate thought about getting rid of them, a little accounting gimmick, but the uproar and the success of those companies to make sure it didn’t happen was immediate. So it's very hard to change those gimmicks.

A: corporations aren't all evil. There's a lot of sensible allocation of capital. So not all corporations are bad. But it's balance. I was thinking about this a couple of weeks ago in terms of Martin Luther who led the reformation against the sale of indulgences. Poor people didn’t have that option. The way the American government seems to work is that the rich buy indulgences--earmarked legislation, incentives, forgiveness of their excesses. What we need to get back to is a more populist form of government.

A: STIRLING: How many people here remember the Florida election fiasco? 80% of shareholders have their votes dismissed by the way we structure mutual funds. The problem of corporate democracy is going to be perpetual. The people running it aren't the owners. If you go to the Electrical Institute of America, they'll tell you how much it takes to make each alternative energy balanced against standard PGGC and IGGC. Get a CO2 externalities tax and get the number high enough, paid against the carbon extraction industries, and transfer that to non-carbon technologies.

Q: US imports 2/3rds of the crude it consumes. Most of that is controlled not by companies but by governments. That applies just to electric power, but oil is imported for cars.

I didn’t get the rest of the questions from this event.