The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Friday, July 29, 2005

Our Marvelous Media: Teaches Ethical Practice

The Miami Herald fired a reporter who secretly recorded a conversation with a man who fatally shot himself at the end of his phone call. It is illegal to record conversations in Florida without the person's permission. Of course, that didn't stop the Herald from publishing the content of that phone call recording in its paper. Hmmm, lessons from the ethically challenged.

MIAMI, July 28 - It seemed like a throwback to "Miami Vice": an eccentric politician, recently accused of money laundering and soliciting male prostitutes, fatally shoots himself in the lobby of The Miami Herald after an anguished phone conversation with a star columnist.

But the storyline grew even stranger on Thursday as employees of the newspaper reacted with outrage after learning that the columnist, Jim DeFede, had been fired for secretly taping his conversation with the distraught man - a possible violation of state law.


After talking to a Herald reporter who wanted to interview him for an article about the shooting, Mr. DeFede was transferred to Mr. Díaz and Mr. Beatty, whom he told about the tape. With their permission, Mr. DeFede said, he transcribed it before bringing it to The Herald building and sitting down to write about the conversation. He was fired hours later. Even after knowing Mr. DeFede had taped Mr. Teele without his consent, the newspaper published portions of the conversation as described by Mr. DeFede.

Tom Fiedler, the paper's executive editor, said the decision was wrenching but that he, like Mr. Díaz, saw no choice.

"We expect our people to act in a highly ethical way, and Jim admitted that he had crossed that line, and I really didn't see an alternative," Mr. Fiedler said. "If we have that expectation and someone fails to abide by it, knowingly fails to abide by it, regardless of that person's talent it means they can no longer be a part of The Herald."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

USA Today Get's Its Facts Right - Mostly

Sob stories mask a giveaway for the super wealthy - via Yahoo! News: "Wed Jul 27, 6:49 AM ET

When, a non-partisan watchdog group, questions the accuracy of a political advertisement, it normally does so in dry language. It might call an ad 'misleading,' or even 'inaccurate.' But when Factcheck focused on ads by an anti-estate tax group, the American Family Business Institute, it opted for more colorful prose, calling them 'malarkey.'

The word choice is a play on the name of the ad's narrator, World War II veteran Donald Malarkey. But it's also a dig at the ads' contents, which make it sound as if it's no longer safe to pass away. 'When you die,' one ad warns, 'the IRS can bury your family in crippling tax bills. It can cost them everything.'

What it doesn't say is that the vast majority of people listening won't even be taxed when they die. Nor does it say that most estate taxes are paid by the very wealthy.

Rates on estates

Average tax bite on estates of various sizes:

$1-2 million: 4.7%

$2-3.5 million: 10.5%

$3.5-5 million: 20.8%

$5-10 million: 24.9%

$10-20 million: 27.1%

$20+ million: 21.8%

After years of misleading arguments about how the 'death tax' crushes farms and small businesses, supporters of a repeal are poised for at least partial victory.

As early as this week, the Senate could vote on a bill that would slash the top estate tax rate from 47% to 15% while increasing the amount shielded from the tax from $1.5 million to $3.5 million. The measure would ccost the treasury about $196 billion over the next decade. That would require other taxpayers to make up the difference or add yet more debt to be paid off by future generations.

In April, the House of Representatives passed a measure that would replace the estate tax with a complicated capital-gains tax, making it likely that something will reach President Bush's desk this year or next.

These legislative successes show how disinformation campaigns can be enormously effective and how wealthy interests have been able to gain at the expense of others.

The estate tax falls mainly on very large estates, not mom-and-pop shops or family farms. Consider these facts:

• Just 1% of estates paid any estate tax in 2003, according to the IRS. Three quarters of the money raised from the tax comes from estates of more than $5 million.

•Although the top rate has been as high as 55%, and is currently 47%, the actual rates paid are much less, thanks to generous exemptions and the creation of trusts and other tax plans. According to the Tax Policy Center, the average estate is taxed at 19% of its value. Estates worth from $1 million to $2 million are taxed at an average of just 4.7%.

• Of the more than 18,000 estates paying the tax last year, just 340 consist primarily of a single farm or small business.

Some sob stories of family businesses hit hard do exist, but that hardly justifies slashing the taxes on heirs of vast fortunes.

The Senate measure, which is still being negotiated, would tax inherited wealth of millions of dollars at a lower rate than what a teacher pays on a $70,000 annual salary. It would also give inherited wealth a more privileged status than money made from hard work or putting capital at risk.

In fact, it would ensure that the easiest way of making money - being born into the right family - is the least taxed. That would be good news for wealthy heirs. But anyone who says it would be good for the economy or more fair is spreading, well, malarkey."

Damn straight. Everything they said with the additional caveat -- note only 340 small businesses and family farms were subject to the tax last year -- out of almost 300,000,000 people. And in fact, opponents haven't been able to document a single documented case of a family farm or small business being lost to the estate tax.

Coalition of the Willingly Merciless?

Of the Mercilessly corrupt.

The latest news out of Harare indicates that Zimbabwe will continue its controversial "Operation Drive Out Trash" and do this under the cover of Chinese sanction.

Zimbabwe continues eviction campaign, says China will protect it from U.N. censure - MSNBC

HARARE, Zimbabwe, July 26 — Riot police turned an urban township into a ghost town Wednesday, rounding up the last residents in defiance of a U.N. call to halt a demolition campaign that has left 700,000 without homes or jobs.

After emptying the Porta Farm township — where some 30,000 people lived just days ago — earth-movers were seen lumbering into the area to finish clearing debris from destroyed homes, cabins and shacks as part of what the government calls Operation Drive Out Trash. Police armed with batons and riot shields barred aid workers and residents from entering.

The latest demolitions came as President Robert Mugabe paid a state visit to China, which is building a track record of willingness to do business with African leaders others shun.

Mugabe is confident China will use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to protect Zimbabwe from any U.N. censure following the U.N. report denouncing the campaign as a violation of international law, a state-owned Harare newspaper, the Herald, reported Wednesday.
China, which has expanded business and diplomatic contacts in African trouble spots like Congo and Sudan, has not joined Western condemnation of Zimbabwe's human rights record.

In fact, China has become a key source of loans and supplies for Zimbabwe. Most recently, Beijing agreed to a loan to expand a power station and to supply a third Chinese-made MA60 commercial aircraft to Zimbabwe, state media in Beijing announced Wednesday. No details of the terms were reported.

China is clearly making a play for influence in a region typically ignored at best by the West. But their tact seems clearly flawed. Instead of aligning with the peoples of the region, they are aligning with the most currpt and amoral rulers. I suppose this makes sense since we should hardly expect China to take a lead on calling for reform in the areas most significantly in need of it in the poorest nations -- corruption, income inequality, and democratic stability. But since the long term interests of the region lie in this direction, the advantage is at best short lived and opens the door for the West to once again make inroads among the populace with a campaign for greater democracy, less corruption and greater economic opportunity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The ABBH Strategy

David Sirota has been lambasting the DLC this week and the slew of potential 2008 nominees who made their way to Ohio to pay homage to the corporate denizens of the Democratic Party. I think a lot of the DLC's ideas and language are good but the internal staff complaint is spot on -- they only get attention and press when they attack fellow Democrats, and I have no truck with that. Although their policy shop is first rate, I have never been convinced that Al From was motivated by anything other than a strategic view. It's not as if their centrism is principal based. Rather it seems a strategic affectation. Does the DLC really believe that 10% reductions in nondefense spending are required as a matter of policy and principal? I doubt it.

Chris Bowers ( has it exactly right in his political analysis as he looks ahead to the next Presidential. Mark Warner, Evan Bayh and Tom Vilsack are taking the wrong tact if they think that addressing the DLC and pandering to that wing of the Party is likely to serve as a winning strategy in 2008. In fact, tactically, I am not quite sure what the best road to take is to oppose Hillary in 2008. Her emerging strategy seems clear. As a woman candidate with a strong base in the Democratic Party, she needs to move to the center in advance of a nomination. So her pilgrimage makes sense. The Dean wing already loves her and her bona fides are pretty sound. Hence her new language with regards to abortion and her role in armed services and foreign affairs issues in the Senate. But moving to her right is not likely to endear anyone in the Party to that candidate. It's not like DLC voters make up such a large contingent of the Democratic base. Rather, the people to keep an eye on, as likley strong opponents to her, would be those who stayed away from Ohio this week. Richardson, Schweitzer, Obama. The move to outflank Hillary will have to be to present oneself as the non-Hillary, as the real Democrat and the best way to do that is to attack the mistakes of the Clinton legacy and pin them on her -- the approach to trade, the health care debacle, losing Congress, the politics of personal destruction (and self-destruction).

Friday, July 22, 2005 - LOCAL NEWS

Well here's one way to keep people from voting.

"U.S. elections post to be filled by Secretary of State Davidson
Denver: President Bush said Thursday he intends to appoint Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson, who has been criticized for state election blunders, to the four-member federal Election Assistance Commission. "

Clearly, this is not a man interested in getting the best voting system in the world staffed by the most competent people. The election in Colorado last year was a mess and Davidson was in the center of most of the controversy.

Whose Zooming Who?

Just who exactly is waging class warfare on whom?

David Sirota pointed out this NYT piece on CostCo which is pretty essential reading for progressives and everyone concerned with the future of the economy, the corporation, and large scale retailers. Sadly, TIAA CREF is facing a movement to divest from so-called socially irresponsible corporations such as Wal-Mart and the list includes CostCo. The only charge that could be leveled against CostCo, given the article excerpted below is that it threatens the downtowns of small towns and small retailers. But if you trade off how the average small retailer treats workers with the treatment given CostCo workers the claim is somewhat problematic.

My own view is that CREF is in the business of making money for investors (and future retirees such as myself) and should leave the social investing to others. It already offers a social investment fund option for those who want it. And CREF's divestment is unlikely to have much affect on the retailers given the liquidity of the stock market. A missing buyer of WalMart stock is unlikely to have much impact even if it is CREF. And besides, if we paid more attention to corporate governance in this country CREF could have more of an impact as a shareholder that standing outside of the stock market.

The Times article (How Costco Became the Anti-Wal-Mart - New York Times) is telling though for the concerns expressed by equity analysts and others on Wall Street for the way the CostCo owner is running his company. Their concern? He cares too much for workers and is too generous. Well there's a novel complaint in America today.

Here are some choice quotes:

But not everyone is happy with Costco's business strategy. Some Wall Street analysts assert that Mr. Sinegal is overly generous not only to Costco's customers but to its workers as well.

Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam's Club. And Costco's health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco "it's better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder."

Mr. Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street's assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street's profit demands.

Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, he said. And Costco's customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers' expense. "This is not altruistic," he said. "This is good business."

He also dismisses calls to increase Costco's product markups. Mr. Sinegal, who has been in the retailing business for more than a half-century, said that heeding Wall Street's advice to raise some prices would bring Costco's downfall.

"When I started, Sears, Roebuck was the Costco of the country, but they allowed someone else to come in under them," he said. "We don't want to be one of the casualties. We don't want to turn around and say, 'We got so fancy we've raised our prices,' and all of a sudden a new competitor comes in and beats our prices."

At Costco, one of Mr. Sinegal's cardinal rules is that no branded item can be marked up by more than 14 percent, and no private-label item by more than 15 percent. In contrast, supermarkets generally mark up merchandise by 25 percent, and department stores by 50 percent or more.

"They could probably get more money for a lot of items they sell," said Ed Weller, a retailing analyst at ThinkEquity.

But Mr. Sinegal warned that if Costco increased markups to 16 or 18 percent, the company might slip down a dangerous slope and lose discipline in minimizing costs and prices.

Mr. Sinegal, whose father was a coal miner and steelworker, gave a simple explanation. "On Wall Street, they're in the business of making money between now and next Thursday," he said. "I don't say that with any bitterness, but we can't take that view. We want to build a company that will still be here 50 and 60 years from now."

If shareholders mind Mr. Sinegal's philosophy, it is not obvious: Costco's stock price has risen more than 10 percent in the last 12 months, while Wal-Mart's has slipped 5 percent. Costco shares sell for almost 23 times expected earnings; at Wal-Mart the multiple is about 19. Mr. Dreher said Costco's share price was so high because so many people love the company. "It's a cult stock," he said.

Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, faulted Mr. Sinegal as being too generous to employees, noting that when analysts complained that Costco's workers were paying just 4 percent toward their health costs, he raised that percentage only to 8 percent, when the retail average is 25 percent.

"He has been too benevolent," she said. "He's right that a happy employee is a productive long-term employee, but he could force employees to pick up a little more of the burden."

Mr. Sinegal says he pays attention to analysts' advice because it enforces a healthy discipline, but he has largely shunned Wall Street pressure to be less generous to his workers.

"When Jim talks to us about setting wages and benefits, he doesn't want us to be better than everyone else, he wants us to be demonstrably better," said John Matthews, Costco's senior vice president for human resources.

With his ferocious attention to detail and price, Mr. Sinegal has made Costco the nation's leading warehouse retailer, with about half of the market, compared with 40 percent for the No. 2, Sam's Club. But Sam's is not a typical runner-up: it is part of the Wal-Mart empire, which, with $288 billion in sales last year, dwarfs Costco.

But it is the customer, more than the competition, that keeps Mr. Sinegal's attention. "We're very good merchants, and we offer value," he said. "The traditional retailer will say: 'I'm selling this for $10. I wonder whether I can get $10.50 or $11.' We say: 'We're selling it for $9. How do we get it down to $8?' We understand that our members don't come and shop with us because of the fancy window displays or the Santa Claus or the piano player. They come and shop with us because we offer great values."

Costco was founded with a single store in Seattle in 1983; it now has 457 stores, mostly in the United States, but also in Canada, Britain, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Wal-Mart, by contrast, had 642 Sam's Clubs in the United States and abroad as of Jan. 31.Costco's profit rose 22 percent last year, to $882 million, on sales of $47.1 billion. In the United States, its stores average $121 million in sales annually, far more than the $70 million for Sam's Clubs. And the average household income of Costco customers is $74,000 - with 31 percent earning over $100,000.

One reason the company has risen to the top and stayed there is that Mr. Sinegal relentlessly refines his model of the warehouse store - the bare-bones, cement-floor retailing space where shoppers pay a membership fee to choose from a limited number of products in large quantities at deep discounts. Costco has 44.6 million members, with households paying $45 a year and small businesses paying $100.

A typical Costco store stocks 4,000 types of items, including perhaps just four toothpaste brands, while a Wal-Mart typically stocks more than 100,000 types of items and may carry 60 sizes and brands of toothpastes. Narrowing the number of options increases the sales volume of each, allowing Costco to squeeze deeper and deeper bulk discounts from suppliers.

"He's a zealot on low prices," Ms. Kozloff said. "He's very reticent about finagling with his model."

Despite Costco's impressive record, Mr. Sinegal's salary is just $350,000, although he also received a $200,000 bonus last year. That puts him at less than 10 percent of many other chief executives, though Costco ranks 29th in revenue among all American companies.

"I've been very well rewarded," said Mr. Sinegal, who is worth more than $150 million thanks to his Costco stock holdings. "I just think that if you're going to try to run an organization that's very cost-conscious, then you can't have those disparities. Having an individual who is making 100 or 200 or 300 times more than the average person working on the floor is wrong."

There is little love lost between Wal-Mart and Costco. Wal-Mart, for example, boasts that its Sam's Club division has the lowest prices of any retailer. Mr. Sinegal emphatically dismissed that assertion with a one-word barnyard epithet. Sam's might make the case that its ketchup is cheaper than Costco's, he said, "but you can't compare Hunt's ketchup with Heinz ketchup."

Still, Costco is feeling the heat from Sam's Club. When Sam's began to pare prices aggressively several years ago, Costco had to shave its prices - and its already thin profit margins - ever further.

"Sam's Club has dramatically improved its operation and improved the quality of their merchandise," said Mr. Dreher, the Deutsche Bank analyst. "Using their buying power together with Wal-Mart's, it forces Costco to be very sharp on their prices."

Mr. Sinegal's elbows can be sharp as well. As most suppliers well know, his gruff charm is not what lets him sell goods at rock-bottom prices - it's his fearsome toughness, which he rarely shows in public. He often warns suppliers not to offer other retailers lower prices than Costco gets.

When a frozen-food supplier mistakenly sent Costco an invoice meant for Wal-Mart, he discovered that Wal-Mart was getting a better price. "We have not brought that supplier back," Mr. Sinegal said.


Mr. Sinegal, who is 69 but looks a decade younger, also delights in not tilting Costco too far into cheap merchandise, even at his warehouse stores. He loves the idea of the "treasure hunt" - occasional, temporary specials on exotic cheeses, Coach bags, plasma screen televisions, Waterford crystal, French wine and $5,000 necklaces - scattered among staples like toilet paper by the case and institutional-size jars of mayonnaise.

The treasure hunts, Mr. Sinegal says, create a sense of excitement and customer loyalty.

This knack for seeing things in a new way also explains Costco's approach to retaining employees as well as shoppers. Besides paying considerably more than competitors, for example, Costco contributes generously to its workers' 401(k) plans, starting with 3 percent of salary the second year and rising to 9 percent after 25 years.

Its insurance plans absorb most dental expenses, and part-time workers are eligible for health insurance after just six months on the job, compared with two years at Wal-Mart. Eighty-five percent of Costco's workers have health insurance, compared with less than half at Wal-Mart and Target.

Costco also has not shut out unions, as some of its rivals have. The Teamsters union, for example, represents 14,000 of Costco's 113,000 employees. "They gave us the best agreement of any retailer in the country," said Rome Aloise, the union's chief negotiator with Costco. The contract guarantees employees at least 25 hours of work a week, he said, and requires that at least half of a store's workers be full time.

Workers seem enthusiastic. Beth Wagner, 36, used to manage a Rite Aid drugstore, where she made $24,000 a year and paid nearly $4,000 a year for health coverage. She quit five years ago to work at Costco, taking a cut in pay. She started at $10.50 an hour - $22,000 a year - but now makes $18 an hour as a receiving clerk. With annual bonuses, her income is about $40,000.

"I want to retire here," she said. "I love it here."

If you don't see the class warfare in that you are not looking hard enough. The Wall Street analysts quoted above say nothing about the excessive compensation of CEOs when plenty of data and research shows that it is not correlated with stock performance and runs much above what would be needed to compensate the CEO for his or her marginal contribution to the company. But then CEOs are from the same class as the stock analysts who also bring home wages far and above their marginal product. "So it's okay to overpay folks like us, just don't pay the dirty proletariat who drive pick-ups and live in trailer homes."

There used to be a time when economists felt that it made good economic sense to pay salaries above workers' so called reservation wages. Sadly, in America today the motto has become 'squeeze all the blood from that turnip that you can.' It's a poor long range strategy and bad social policy as well -- to say nothing of economic policy. An extra dollar in compensation for a worker has much more economic benefit than an extra dollar in earnings for the company and dividends/ stock appreciation for capitalists. To say nothing as well about the reluctance of companies to distribute earnings back to the shareholder. Research by Eugene Fama highlights that there is little economic justification for this practice -- in fact, the earnings retained by companies typically do not yield adequate returns to justify keeping them from shareholders.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Poorman Weaves a Tapestry of Comic Genius

DC Media Girl points to this gem: The Poor Man Cafe - Keyboard Kommando Klassics presents

A Democratic Response to The Malpractice Straw Man

One of my frustrations in the last election was with the failure of Democrats to counter Republican rhetoric implying that a solution to the health care crisis lay in malpractice reform. Whatever the merits of attending to friviolous lawsuits or protective (practice that protects against lawsuits) rather than preventive medicine, capping maltpractice claims is likely to help (some) doctors without helping patients much.

There is a lot of evidence that much of the run up in costs is attributable to practices of the insurance companies rather than of the patients and their lawyers. And evidence I have highlighted suggests malpractice damage caps will do little to cut overall spending in the system. Another argument against the idea though goes to the fact that the malpractice system essentialy represents the only effective mechanism patients have to punish bad medical practice and try to keep it in check. The review boards of the AMA are notoriously reluctant to punish fellow doctors. Given that an estimated 195,000 Americans die of medical errors in hospitals alone, the true policy issue facing Washington shouldn't be how to emasculate the malpractice system but how to craft a more effective mechanism for assuring high quality delivery of medical care.

"More than five years after the Institute of Medicine brought the issue of medical errors to the national agenda, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on legislation to create new voluntary reporting systems for errors and 'near misses' so that researchers will be able to analyze the data and recommend policy fixes," CongressDailyAM reports. "The deal -- struck before dawn Tuesday... resolves more than two years of on-again, off-again negotiations over relatively minor differences between measures passed by the chambers in the 108th Congress."

A Democratic agenda needs to address both health care reform and health care quality as a response to the malpractice ju-jitsu of the Republicans.

The Meltdown Cometh

So China modestly revalued its currency today and lifted the dollar peg in favor of a peg to a more varied basket of currencies. The change was slight (2.1%) and portends future revaluations so it is only likely to fuel currency speculation in Asian markets. It brings only modest relief but it does suggest longer term rates will now rise sooner rather than later. One puzzle for economists today is why long term rates have stayed so low while short term rates have been increased 9 times by the Fed. As for Greenspan's froth, all signs suggest that Denver is one of those tiny bubbles of foam. - LOCAL NEWS: "New homes outpacing population
A census report points to an overbuilt market as just six Colorado counties have kept up with housing.
By Jeremy Meyer
Denver Post Staff Writer
Housing growth outpaced population growth in all but six Colorado counties in the first part of the decade, leading analysts to speculate the housing market is overbuilt.
The U.S. Census Bureau's annual report on housing units released today shows the state continued to add homes since 2000 at an 11.2 percent clip. Over the same period, the state's population grew by 7 percent.
'Many, many housing units have been built, and the population growth isn't going with it,' said Y. Richard Lin of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. 'That's good for the people, because there is more housing available. But housing prices keep going up, so people can't afford' them.
A disconnect exists between the increasing number of housing units and the lower population rate, said Tucker Hart Adams, chief economist for the Rocky Mountain region of U.S. Bank.
'The numbers don't add up,' she said. 'If you are building (two) times as many houses as the number of people moving to the state, my question is - if we're not overbuilt - who is buying them and living in them?'
The Denver metro area has three times as many homes on the market this year as it did five years ago - 21,300 homes for sale in the first quarter of 2005 compared with 6,800 in the same period of 2000.
The vacancy rate in apartments was 10.2 percent in the first quarter of 2004 compared with 5.1 percent in 2000.
At the same time, home sales are breaking records. The real estate market in metro Denver set a high last year with 54,012 home resales - a 12.6 percent increase over 2003.
'The chickens are going to come home to roost," Adams said. "I don't know when. People who really stretch to move out of apartments into houses, and did it with no money down - interest-only loans or floating mortgages - are not going to be able to stay in those houses." "

The Problematic Democratic Base

The Republican victory in 2004 has been attributed to a successin turningout the base -- a factor foreseen as critical by Karl Rove several months before the election. 3 million more evangelicals turned out to vote this year than in 2000. So could the Democrats have turned out more of their base to counter this? One argument for an insurgent progressive rather than a 'globalized' moderate such as Clinton or Kerry is that it would improve turnout among the base, but others caution that this would turn off crucial middle of the road voters. Recent data suggests that the challenge of turning out the Democratic base looms larger than ever and it's not just attributable to voting policies.

Getting Out the Democratic Base (Washington Post): Washington: So have three decades of electoral reforms had any effect on the proportion of less advantaged Americans who vote on Election Day?

Yes -- but not in the way that the advocates of reform envisioned, says political scientist Adam J. Berinsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing in the latest issue of American Politics Research.

Instead of luring the young, the poor and those with less interest in politics to the ballot box, new initiatives such as Oregon's vote-by-mail law have provoked greater participation from older, wealthier and white voters.

In a classic case of unintended consequences, Berinsky's review of all major election-law changes of the past three decades found that 'reforms designed to make it easier for registered voters to cast their ballots actually increase, rather than reduce, socioeconomic biases in the composition of the voting public.'"

Check out the lead in to this story (Yeah, and Johnny Cash Invented the Internet) citing Denver's one and only - Professor Peter DeLeon.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Yet Another Argument for TABOR Reform

A pol released this weekend showed a tight race over Referenda C &D -- the twin efforts to reform Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights - or TABOR. 43-for, 42-oppposed and 15 undecided. I have to say I am surprised since the case for reform is so compelling. State services are stretched to the breaking point. That has become clear in higher education. But here is another example of how much has been 'trimmed' from the state sector:

Tap-water worries - News -

"Colorado's system to oversee the safety of drinking water is significantly understaffed, threatening the integrity of a program designed to protect public health, a federal report says.The Environmental Protection Agency, in a review of the state health department's drinking water program, repeatedly warned that staffing levels far below national standards spread supervisors too thin and could delay important new regulatory initiatives.

'The drinking water program must be able to respond to . . . emergencies, maintain (its) basic program and be able to move the program forward in a comprehensive manner to . . . ensure the safety of drinking water,' the report said. 'The current level of resources simply does not make this possible, and this course of action is not without its risks to the public health.'"

Friday, July 15, 2005

Andy Dick - Boy Genius

IFILM - Viral Videos: Harlan McCraney: Presidential Speechalist: "Harlan McCraney: Presidential Speechalist [2005]"

Click the link. You know what to do.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Larry Johnson Underscores the Real Outrage In the Rove Plame Affair

There seems to be some confusion over the Plame affair, doubtless, intentionally sown by the Right-wing spin machine. Here's that wing of the RNC communications department -- the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page:

On the contrary, we’d say the White House political guru deserves a prize -- perhaps the next iteration of the "Truth-Telling" award that The Nation magazine bestowed upon Mr. Wilson before the Senate Intelligence Committee exposed him as a fraud.

For Mr. Rove is turning out to be the real "whistleblower" in this whole sorry pseudo-scandal. He’s the one who warned Time’s Matthew Cooper and other reporters to be wary of Mr. Wilson’s credibility. He’s the one who told the press the truth that Mr. Wilson had been recommended for the CIA consulting gig by his wife, not by Vice President Dick Cheney as Mr. Wilson was asserting on the airwaves. In short, Mr. Rove provided important background so Americans could understand that Mr. Wilson wasn’t a whistleblower but was a partisan trying to discredit the Iraq War in an election campaign. Thank you, Mr. Rove.

Media chants aside, there’s no evidence that Mr. Rove broke any laws in telling reporters that Ms. Plame may have played a role in her husband’s selection for a 2002 mission to investigate reports that Iraq was seeking uranium ore in Niger. To be prosecuted under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Mr. Rove would had to have deliberately and maliciously exposed Ms. Plame knowing that she was an undercover agent and using information he’d obtained in an official capacity. But it appears Mr. Rove didn’t even know Ms. Plame’s name and had only heard about her work at Langley from other journalists.

If there’s any scandal at all here, it is that this entire episode has been allowed to waste so much government time and media attention, not to mention inspire a "special counsel" probe. The Bush administration is also guilty on this count, since it went along with the appointment of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in an election year in order to punt the issue down the road. But now Mr. Fitzgerald has become an unguided missile, holding reporters in contempt for not disclosing their sources even as it becomes clearer all the time that no underlying crime was at issue.

As for the press corps, rather than calling for Mr. Rove to be fired, they ought to be grateful to him for telling the truth.

Typical of the emerging attitude among many is this comment from a reader:

"Yawn...this stuff doesn't even come up to any single weeks scandals in the old Clinton White House, and we know how well that stuff worked for the Republicans."

The political point aside (which is well taken if only from a political perspective) the policy point seems to me serious and credible. In addition, it is ironic at best and maliciously hypocritical at worst to imply that this investigation was a needless waste of taxpayer money after all the witch hunts the WSJ called down on the Clinton's which yielded so little. Here is the take of an ex CIA officer on the whole affair:

Courtesy of Larry Johnson

The misinformation being spread in the media about the Plame affair is alarming and damaging to the longterm security interests of the United States. Republicans' talking points are trying to savage Joe Wilson and, by implication, his wife, Valerie Plame as liars. That is the truly big lie.

For starters, Valerie Plame was an undercover operations officer until outed in the press by Robert Novak. Novak's column was not an isolated attack. It was in fact part of a coordinated, orchestrated smear that we now know includes at least Karl Rove.

Valerie Plame was a classmate of mine from the day she started with the CIA. I entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985. All of my classmates were undercover--in other words, we told our family and friends that we were working for other overt U.S. Government agencies. We had official cover. That means we had a black passport--i.e., a diplomatic passport. If we were caught overseas engaged in espionage activity the black passport was a get out of jail free card.

A few of my classmates, and Valerie was one of these, became a non-official cover officer. That meant she agreed to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. If caught in that status she would have been executed.

The lies by people like Victoria Toensing, Representative Peter King, and P. J. O'Rourke insist that Valerie was nothing, just a desk jockey. Yet, until Robert Novak betrayed her she was still undercover and the company that was her front was still a secret to the world. When Novak outed Valerie he also compromised her company and every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company and with her.

The Republicans now want to hide behind the legalism that "no laws were broken". I don't know if a man made law was broken but an ethical and moral code was breached. For the first time a group of partisan political operatives publically identified a CIA NOC. They have set a precendent that the next group of political hacks may feel free to violate.

They try to hide behind the specious claim that Joe Wilson "lied". Although Joe did not lie let's follow that reasoning to the logical conclusion. Let's use the same standard for the Bush Administration. Here are the facts. Bush's lies have resulted in the deaths of almost 1800 American soldiers and the mutilation of 12,000. Joe Wilson has not killed anyone. He tried to prevent the needless death of Americans and the loss of American prestige in the world.

But don't take my word for it, read the biased Senate intelligence committee report. Even thought it was slanted to try to portray Joe in the worst possible light this fact emerges on page 52 of the report: According to the US Ambassador to Niger (who was commenting on Joe's visit in February 2002), "Ambassador Wilson reached the same conclusion that the Embassy has reached that it was highly unlikely that anything between Iraq and Niger was going on." Joe's findings were consistent with those of the Deputy Commander of the European Command, Major General Fulford.

The Republicans insist on the lie that Val got her husband the job. She did not. She was not a division director, instead she was the equivalent of an Army major. Yes it is true she recommended her husband to do the job that needed to be done but only after fielding a request from her supervisor asking for her husband's bona fides. The decision to send Joe Wilson on this mission was made by her bosses and was in response to a request relayed to the division Valerie worked in by the Presidential daily briefer.

At the end of the day, Joe Wilson was right. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It was the Bush Administration that pushed that lie and because of that lie Americans are dying. Shame on those who continue to slander Joe Wilson while giving Bush and his pack of liars a pass. That's the true outrage.

Once again, a tip of the hat to DC Media Girl for pointing this out.


Click here:from James Wolcott via DC Media Girl:

"He railed with such eloquent, unrelenting, unwavering, concentrated, righteous magnum force that the senators were reduced to ashen figures by his flesh-and-blood intensity. So unprepared and unaccustomed were they to hearing a hot serving of unadulterated disrespect and mocking irony that they didn't know how to respond other than to sit there and hope their heads didn't fall off."

A Fish Rots from the Head Down

Abu Ghraib Tactics Were First Used at Guantanamo

By Josh WhiteWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, July 14, 2005; Page A01

Interrogators at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, forced a stubborn detainee to wear women's underwear on his head, confronted him with snarling military working dogs and attached a leash to his chains, according to a newly released military investigation that shows the tactics were employed there months before military police used them on detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The techniques, approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for use in interrogating Mohamed Qahtani -- the alleged "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- were used at Guantanamo Bay in late 2002 as part of a special interrogation plan aimed at breaking down the silent detainee.

Gen. Bantz Craddock, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, testifies about the investigation of alleged detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)

Military investigators who briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday on the three-month probe, called the tactics "creative" and "aggressive" but said they did not cross the line into torture.

The report's findings are the strongest indication yet that the abusive practices seen in photographs at Abu Ghraib were not the invention of a small group of thrill-seeking military police officers. The report shows that they were used on Qahtani several months before the United States invaded Iraq.

The investigation also supports the idea that soldiers believed that placing hoods on detainees, forcing them to appear nude in front of women and sexually humiliating them were approved interrogation techniques for use on detainees.

So are we still to believe that what happened in Abu Ghraib was just the shenanigans of a group of unruly bored soldiers?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Good! Justice Served

WorldCom's Ebbers Gets 25 Years, Weeps: "NEW YORK - Weeping in court as he learned his fate, former WorldCom boss Bernard Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in prison Wednesday for leading the largest corporate fraud in U.S. history.

It was the toughest sentence imposed on an executive since the fall of Enron in 2001 touched off a record-breaking wave of business scandals.
Even with possible time off for good behavior, Ebbers, 63 and with what his lawyers describe as serious heart problems, would remain locked up until 2027, when he would be 85.

The sentence came four months after Ebbers was convicted of overseeing the $11 billion WorldCom fraud much of it a pattern of chalking up expenses as long-term capital expenditures, which are classified as assets."

It's about time someone who bilked millions out of billions paid the price. I am so tired to petty criminals racking up lengthy sentences while white collar criminals get to go to Federal Country Club for three years. World Com was a panzi scheme from the start. Lock em up and throw away the key.

Good News for the White House

You'd have to be pretty mercenary to be disappointed by this news. The two largest threats to American national well being eased back slightly today.

White House Touts Falling Budget Deficit - Yahoo! News:

"WASHINGTON - Surging revenues and a steady economy have led the White House to project that this year's federal budget deficit will drop to $333 billion, nearly $100 billion below earlier estimates. 'We're ahead of projections now,' President Bush said Wednesday. "

U.S. trade gap unexpectedly shrinks 2.7 pct in May

WASHINGTON, July 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. trade deficit narrowed unexpectedly in May to $55.3 billion as exports set another new record and a short-lived drop in oil prices kept imports from reaching a new high, a government report showed on Wednesday. The smaller-than-expected trade gap suggested stronger U.S. economic growth in the second quarter than previously forecast and was likely to keep the Federal Reserve on a path of steadily rising interest rates, analysts said.

The White House is of course touting this as vindication of their economic policies. The point remains however that the deficits created under their watch were not necessary in the first place since he inherited a large surplus and a generational moment where inflows would be larger than outflows as long as taxes and spending stayed near their historic levels.

Arianna Huffington: Has the Turd Blossom Express Reached the End of the Line?

From the Huffington Post::

"Which, of course, is utter nonsense. Because while the legal jury may be out, the political jury is definitely in Whether someone in a position of power and authority has acted inappropriately is not a matter of narrow legal definitions and fine semantic distinctions. Given what we already know about Rove's conversations, we can, right now, without even a single new revelation, and without reservation, say this: he is guilty of behavior that dishonored the White House and that placed the dirty politics of vindictive retribution over national security.

Ethics isn't just about what is legal or illegal. It's about what is right and what is wrong. And what Rove did was wrong -- and no amount of legalistic hair-splitting will change that.

So the question is: will the press buy into the White House's attempt to put the two Rove trains on the same track? Perhaps but after ignoring the story for weeks (hell, years!), it looks like the MSM are smelling blood in the water. ABC's Terry Moran, CBS' John Roberts, and NBC's David Gregory were all aggressive in their questioning of McClellan at today's press briefing, and even Tim Russert weighed in on the Today show (wearing what Crooks and Liars called 'his super double secret serious face' -- see for yourself), saying 'One Republican said to me last night, 'If this was a Democratic White House, we'd have Congressional hearings in a second'.' (Don't you just love it when Tim slips on his ultimate insider status and models it like a sexy negligee?)

Here's the bottom line: let's imagine for a moment that Fitzgerald does not indict Rove. Does this in any way mitigate, excuse, or erase what Rove did? Does it take the onus off President Bush's promise to fire the White House leaker? Of course not. Rove leaked -- and he should be fired. The Turd Blossom Express has reached the end of the line."

Huffington makes a good point here distinguishing between ethics and legality -- a distinction Republicans were once adept at in the days of Newt Gingrich and minority status in Congress. Legality is the defense employed by Tom Delay as well. But its a moot point and a distraction. Ethics are what is at stake here.

Imagine for a moment you are a car salesman and a little old woman walks into your showroom. She needs a car to run errands around town. Do you sell her what she needs -- a parctical car to get around, or do you sell her the souped up Cadillac version with all the bells and whistles. If your sales and commissions are down you may find yourself wondering. But while the latter is not illegal, it is unethical. And in politics, particularly among our leaders, we hold them to a higher standard of ethics.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Importance of Property Rights

One of my fixations as an academic is with the concept of property rights and their impartance in structuring the functioning of markets. To most economists, property rights have been irrelevant since their models are typically unconcerned with distributional effects. Yet property rights do more than affect distribution -- although that ought to be enough to make them significant to us. They also affect incentives and behavior since what one gets out of a market will affect what one puts into a market system. Institutional and empirical economists such as Douglas North, Joseph Stiglitz, Alan Krueger, and Dani Rodrik understand this. Most macro- economists do not sadly. Which is why the debate over CAFTA has been defined as one between free traders and protectionists.

But you can believe in Free Trade to some degree and still see that CAFTA is a bad deal. CAFTA could after all, be re-written. What this debate is about is whether the corporate written version will be jammed down our throats.

For most macroeconomists -- "free trade is always good." But imagine free trade with a country that is run by a powerful dictator who has confiscatory labor policies. People work for pennies a day under the boot and the gun. They produce cheap goods that are sold for low prices in the US. American consumers are better off. American workers are worse off. And the workers in our hypothetical country are worse off since no one feels a need to intervene on their behalf. "Why raise a stink if doing so increases the price of our TVs, etc.?" The gains from trade to the foreign country accrue to the oligarchic class of leaders. And no distributionary policy is necessary for a macro economist to show that this country is better off. Overall GDP will rise. But suffering will to because increasing the wealth of the oligarchs increases their ability to oppress their people more and extract more gain for themselves. Is it too much to demand that free trade be with countries that at least pay minimal respect to the rules of democracy and the principles of freedom? Think CHINA and Latin American for a moment. Then read the following from Nathan Newman at TPM Cafe:

Torture and DR-CAFTA
By Nathan Newman bio

For those who wonder why many people are skeptical of labor rights in Central America, read this decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The Court, based on charges by the Guatamalean workers and union leaders, is allowing a lawsuit against Del Monte foods under the federal Alien Tort Act (ATA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) based on the torture allegedly suffered by the workers.
Here are the charges:

Private security forces are permitted and regulated in Guatemala. According to Plaintiffs, on 13 October 1999, Del Monte agents met with the security force "to plan violent action against the Plaintiffs and other SITRABI leaders."..
According to Plaintiffs, at 5:45 p.m. the security force, which is described as "a gang of over 200 heavily armed men," arrived at SITRABI's headquarters in Morales, Izabal. There, the security force held two Plaintiffs hostage, threatened to kill them, and shoved them with guns.

Later, a mayoral candidate appeared. While the candidate was at SITRABI headquarters, the security force "reached a consensus that the two main leaders of SITRABI [both of whom are Plaintiffs in this case] would be taken to a radio station . . . where they would be forced to denounce the union." Plaintiffs also allege that the actual Mayor of Morales participated. He, along with "several other armed aggressors," allegedly accompanied Plaintiffs to a radio station. There, Plaintiffs, at gunpoint, announced the labor dispute was over and that they were resigning.

The leader of the security force allegedly threatened to kill Plaintiffs if they failed to leave Guatemala or relocated to Mexico. Plaintiffs now live in the United States.

The scary part of the Appeals Court decision is that nothing that the private companies did violates international law or would have any cause of action in US courts on that basis.
Only because an elected official, the local mayor, was on hand did the court let the case move forward.

Which gives you a pretty good idea of why union leaders in both Central America and the US find a trade agreement without enforceable labor standards unacceptable in a region where private mercenaries threaten and torture workers and union leaders on a regular basis.

TPMCafe Politics, Ideas &Lots Of Caffeine

How about this for a Democratic policy on Trade. Instead of "Fair trade, not free trade." Or even Free Trade with economic equals that respect the environment and labor laws." How about, Free Trade with democracies only?

Well Isn't this a Surprise?!

Ninety pct of DVR users skip TV ads - new study - Yahoo! News:

"LONDON (Reuters) - TV advertisers are facing a potential disaster as more consumers buy digital video recorders (DVRs), according to a new study, since about 90 percent of current users fast-forward through ads.
The trends are even more foreboding among the 18 to 34-year-old demographic most coveted by marketers, with 97 percent saying they skip ads all or almost all of the time.
'This has always been advertisers' biggest fear,' said Sarah Wade, a London-based account manager for the French market research firm Ipsos, which carried out a survey of 4,000 British TV households.
A previous study by media buying agency PHD found that viewers fast-forwarded through about 77 percent of ads.
DVRs, offered by companies like Britain's BSkyB and U.S.-based TiVo, save many hours of programs to a built-in hard drive, allowing users to pause live TV and fast-forward through advertisements.
The technology has yet to break through to the mainstream but it is steadily building a base of enthusiastic users. BSkyB, Britain's top pay-TV company, says about half of new subscribers opt for its Sky+ DVR, and cable companies are beginning to sell DVRs that are built into set-top boxes.
Only 6 percent of Britons own a DVR, according to the Ipsos study, but 35 percent of those without are interested in buying one. "

With changes in technology, more and more communications companies are going find themselves challenged in the same way that recording companies and broadcasters are today. Rather than respond with predatory regulation as each has -- broadcasters have tried to make it impossible for DVRs to skip commercials, perhaps it's time for them to rethink their business model in the same way that other industries have when technological change wrought economic change. After all, workers in this country have to do this every day. Perhaps it's time for broadcasters and cable companies to consider a la carte television -- allowing people to buy the programing they want to watch. Think of how clumsy it currently is to subscribe to cable television. If you want to get Fox World Sports Net, you generally have to pony up around $100 a month to get a broad ranging package with numerous channels you never watch. And most of these still come with ads. In the days of old, broadcasters discovered their customers were the corporate marketers and their product was eyeballs. It's time to reverse that model.

Money Talks in These Studies

Most previous studies of cell phone use and car accidents have found no connection. Of course, most of those studies were funded by the cell phone industry. Anyone who has walked or ridden a bicycle in a central city though knows that you can pretty much assume that when you see a driver with acell phone glued to his or her ear, he or she probably hasn't seen you.

Now comes the insurance industry with their take on the subject.

Drivers using cell phones more likely to crash - Wireless World - "WASHINGTON - Drivers using cellular phones are four times as likely to get into a crash that can cause injuries serious enough to send them to the hospital, said an insurance study released Tuesday.
Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that using a hands-free device instead of a hand-held phone while behind the wheel will not necessarily improve safety.
The institute said it was the first attempt to estimate whether phone use increases the risk of an injury crash in automobiles."

Monday, July 11, 2005

No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States.

This gets pretty ugly so if there are kids in the room you might want to ask them to leave. A man publicly emasculates himself in the White House Press Room at the gaggle.

Q Does the President stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I appreciate your question. I think your question is being asked relating to some reports that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation that you reference is something that continues at this point. And as I've previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, the White House is not going to comment on it. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, we made a decision that we weren't going to comment on it while it is ongoing.
Q Excuse me, but I wasn't actually talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the President said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak, to press of information. And I just want to know, is that still his position?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but this question is coming up in the context of this ongoing investigation, and that's why I said that our policy continues to be that we're not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium. The prosecutors overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference to us that one way to help the investigation is not to be commenting on it from this podium. And so that's why we are not going to get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation, or questions related to it.
Q Scott, if I could -- if I could point out, contradictory to that statement, on September 29th, 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one who said, if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. And then on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation is when the President made his comment that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved. So why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you've suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, "We're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation. That's something that the people overseeing the investigation have expressed a preference that we follow. And that's why we're continuing to follow that approach and that policy.
Now, I remember very well what was previously said. And at some point, I will be glad to talk about it, but not until after the investigation is complete.
Q So could I just ask, when did you change your mind to say that it was okay to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it's not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think maybe you missed what I was saying in reference to Terry's question at the beginning. There came a point when the investigation got underway when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be their -- or said that it would be their preference that we not get into discussing it while it is ongoing. I think that's the way to be most helpful to help them advance the investigation and get to the bottom of it.
Q Scott, can I ask you this; did Karl Rove commit a crime?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to an ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don't think you should read anything into it other than we're going to continue not to comment on it while it's ongoing.
Q Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003 when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliott Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, "I've gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this" -- do you stand by that statement?
MR. McCLELLAN: And if you will recall, I said that as part of helping the investigators move forward on the investigation we're not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time, as well.
Q Scott, I mean, just -- I mean, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said, and I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation --
Q Why are you choosing when it's appropriate and when it's inappropriate?
MR. McCLELLAN: If you'll let me finish --
Q No, you're not finishing -- you're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American people, he did, indeed, talk about his wife, didn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, there will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
Q Do you think people will accept that, what you're saying today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've responded to the question.
Go ahead, Terry.
Q Well, you're in a bad spot here, Scott, because after the investigation began, after the criminal investigation was underway, you said -- October 10th, 2003, "I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby, as I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this." From that podium. That's after the criminal investigation began. Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not a correct characterization Terry, and I think you are well aware of that. We know each other very well, and it was after that period that the investigators had requested that we not get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation. And we want to be helpful so that they can get to the bottom of this, because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. I am well aware of what was said previously. I remember well what was said previously. And at some point, I look forward to talking about it. But until the investigation is complete, I'm just not going to do that.
Q Do you recall when you were asked --
Q Wait, wait -- so you're now saying that after you cleared Rove and the others from that podium, then the prosecutors asked you not to speak anymore, and since then, you haven't?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're continuing to ask questions relating to an ongoing criminal investigation, and I'm just not going to respond any further.
Q When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you peg down a date?
MR. McCLELLAN: Back at that time period.
Q Well, then the President commented on it nine months later. So was he not following the White House plan?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, I appreciate your questions. You can keep asking them, but you have my response.
Go ahead, Dave.
Q We are going to keep asking them. When did the President learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation with the President -- with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson's wife and the decision to send --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions.
Q When did the President learn that Karl Rove had --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions, Dick.
Go ahead.
Q After the investigation is completed, will you then be consistent with your word and the President's word that anybody who was involved would be let go?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, after the investigation is complete, I will be glad to talk about it at that point.
Q And a follow-up. Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove's lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove, the Deputy Chief of Staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it's ongoing. And that was what they requested of the White House. And so I think in order to be helpful to that investigation, we are following their direction.
Q Scott, there's a difference between commenting on an investigation and taking an action --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Can I finish, please?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can come -- I'll come back to you in a minute. Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, today also the President spoke about the war on terrorism and also, according to -- report, there was bombings in London and also bombings in India, and at both places, al Qaeda was involved. According to the India report and press reports, a Pakistani television said that Osama bin Laden is there alive and they have spoken with him, and his group is still -- as far as terrorism around the globe is concerned. So now the major bombings after 9/11 took place in London, and more are about to come, according to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. They are still -- and again, the President is doing a great job as far as fighting against terrorism is concerned. But where do we stand now, really? Where do we go from London, as far as terrorism is concerned? How far we can go after Osama bin Laden now to catch him? Because he's still in Pakistan. (WHO SAID JEFF GANNON WAS THE ONLY PRESS SLUT?)
MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, go ahead. I'll come to you, David, in a second.
Q Does the President continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation. And you've heard my response on this.
Q So you're not going to respond as to whether or not the President has confidence in his Deputy Chief of Staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, you're asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation. And I would not read anything into it other than I'm simply not going to comment on an ongoing --
Q Has there been -- has there been any change --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- investigation.
Q Has there been any change or is there a plan for Mr. Rove's portfolio to be altered in any way?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you have my response to these questions.

Now I'll go back to David. Go ahead.
Q There's a difference between commenting publicly on an action and taking action in response to it. Newsweek put out a story, an email saying that Karl Rove passed national security information on to a reporter that outed a CIA officer. Now, are you saying that the President is not taking any action in response to that? Because I presume that the prosecutor did not ask you not to take action, and that if he did, you still would not necessarily abide by that; that the President is free to respond to news reports, regardless of whether there's an investigation or not. So are you saying that he's not going to do anything about this until the investigation is fully over and done with?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has previously spoken to this. This continues to be an ongoing criminal investigation. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And we're just not going to have more to say on it until that investigation is complete.
Q But you acknowledge that he is free, as President of the United States, to take whatever action he wants to in response to a credible report that a member of his staff leaked information. He is free to take action if he wants to.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking questions relating to an ongoing investigation, and I think I've responded to it.
Q One follow-up. Considering the widespread interest and the absolutely frantic Democrat reaction to Karl Rove's excellent speech to conservatives last month, does the President hope that Karl will give a lot more speeches?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, April. Go ahead.
Q Scott, what was the President's interaction today with Karl Rove? Did they discuss this current situation? And understanding that Karl Rove was the architect of the President's win for the second term in the Oval Office, how important is Karl Rove to this administration currently?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is coming at it from --
Q It has nothing to do with what you just said.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is still coming at the same question relating to reports about an ongoing investigation, and I think I've responded to it.
Q Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have questions on another topic?
Q No, no, no, no. Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this current administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate the question, April. I think I've responded.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q Is the President going to make any outreach to conservative groups on the Supreme Court nominee and listen to their point of view at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are listening to what others have to say, not only in the United States Senate, but outside, as well. And there are a lot of people expressing their views right now.
Q -- seemed to get annoyed last week --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't try to label anything.
Go ahead.
Q Scott, I think you're barrage today in part because we -- it is now clear that 21 months ago, you were up at this podium saying something that we now know to be demonstratively false. Now, are you concerned that in not setting the record straight today that this could undermine the credibility of the other things you say from the podium?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm going to be happy to talk about this at the appropriate time. Dana, you all -- you and everybody in this room, or most people in this room, I should say, know me very well and they know the type of person that I am. And I'm confident in our relationship that we have. But I will be glad to talk about this at the appropriate time, and that's once the investigation is complete. I'm not going to get into commenting based on reports or anything of that nature.
Q Scott, at this point, are we to consider what you've said previously, when you were talking about this, that you're still standing by that, or are those all inoperative at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're still trying to come at this from a different angle, and I've responded to it.
Q Are you standing by what you said previously?
MR. McCLELLAN: You've heard my response.
Go ahead.

Go ahead, Alexis.
Q When the leak investigation is concluded, does the President believe it might be important for his credibility, the credibility of the White House, to release all the information voluntarily that was submitted as part of the investigation, so the American public could see what the -- what transpired inside the White House at the time?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is an investigation being overseen by a special prosecutor. And I think those are questions best directed to the special prosecutor. Again, this is an ongoing matter; I'm just not going to get into commenting on it further at this time. At the appropriate time, when it's complete, then I'll be glad to talk about it at that point.
Q Have you in the White House considered whether that would be optimum to release as much information and make it as open a process --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's the same type of question. You're asking me to comment on an ongoing investigation, and I'm not going to do that.
Q I'm actually talking about the communication strategy, which is a little different.
MR. McCLELLAN: Understood. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. And that's what he expects people in the White House to do.
Q And he would like to that when it is concluded, cooperate fully with --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've already responded.
Go ahead.
Q Scott, was it -- who in the investigation made this request of the White House not to comment further about the investigation? Was it Mr. Fitzgerald? Did he make the request of you --
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, you can ask -- you can direct those questions to the special prosecutors. I think probably more than one individual who's involved in overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it's ongoing. I think we all want to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of this matter. The President wants to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of this matter. And the way to help them do that is to not get into commenting on it while it is ongoing.
Q Was the request made of you, or of whom in the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: I already responded to these questions.

Bob, go ahead.
Q Yes, in your dealings with the special counsel, have you consulted a personal attorney?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm just not going to say anything further. I expressed all I'm going to say on this matter from this podium.
Go ahead.

Do they hope this will blow over and no one will notice Karl Rove still at the White House 12 months from now?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Components of a Democratic Response to Outsourcing

Here's an interesting article and embedded within it some ideas for how Democrats can respond to the outsourcing issue outside of complete protectionism.

Outsourcing flops blamed on tunnel vision

Hidden costs, high staff turnover and poor cross-cultural communications are the key causes of offshore outsourcing failures, according to new research from analyst house Gartner.

The analyst report predicts global spending on offshore outsourcing services will top $50 billion by 2007 but it warns too many companies are rushing into deals on the promise of unrealistic cost savings.

The biggest mistake that is common to all offshore outsourcing failures is to base the business case solely on reduced labor costs.

"Many hidden costs--including expenses associated with infrastructure, due diligence, communications, governance, overseas travel and cultural training--will offset the cost advantage of wage differentiation," the report said.

Essential planks of a future platform need to address

Improved corporate governance and better safeguards for creditors, employees and shareholders.
More funding for education, training, and transition assistance
More transparency in credit and equity markets
Greater attention to infrastructure, particularly communications infrastructure
Health care costs reduction efforts to lower the cost of American labor

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Why I am a Democrat

What are the principles and values that unite Democrats? What do Democrats stand for? What are the core beliefs that guide their policy choices? Why do people become Democrat? These questions appear to trouble many Americans and have become a recurring challenge for Democrats post-election. The American Prospect engaged in such an exercise in January. The DLC held a forum on the questions several years ago. One group started precisely to settle these questions. And Bloggers have engaged in the effort as well. For some the motivation is personal and for others the motivation stems from a desire to articulate these beliefs for a public that seems skeptical that Democrats have any unifying convictions. A local group I belong to set the task for members to articulate five basic core beliefs, values, or sentences that capture for them why they are Democrats and what they think Democrats believe in. Personally, for me, being a Democrat is perfectly expressed by the passage in The Grapes of Wrath made famous by Henry Fonda. In response to this request I drafted the following.

1) Personal Freedom with Social Responsibility: Liberalism may be a bad word today but two centuries ago it denoted a particular view of the individual’s role and position in society and a reaction against the capacity of church and state to subordinate the personal desires of the individual to the caprice of the state (embodied by the aristocracy) or the Word of God as dictated by the clergy. Liberalism’s central tenet continues to guide Democratic views on personal freedom today – your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of someone else’s nose. As long as individual actions do not cause demonstrable harm to another individual, government should protect the rights and freedoms of individuals to pursue their personal happiness on their own terms and as they see fit. This value informs the Democratic commitment to the free market, to the First Amendment, to the right of Privacy and its associated dimensions while incorporating the attendant responsibilities to protect the environment and steward the nation today so that it can provide wealth and opportunity for future generations.

2) Equality of Opportunity: In Europe and elsewhere the Left has traditionally held that societies should pursue complete and total equality and that this includes social equality and equality of economic outcomes. Democrats draw from the older tradition embodied in the founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – society’s obligation to everyone is to set a level playing field upon which they can perform and pursue their talents, their values, and their needs. This value encompasses our commitment to the free market and our recognition that society cannot dictate or predetermine outcomes. But it also incorporates the social responsibility to structure society as a starting gate so that every individual has the opportunity to pursue a personal vision of his or her existence to the same extent as everyone else. No individual should have an undue advantage on the basis of birth, on the basis of ancestral wealth, national origin, gender, race, religion, or ethnicity. This value informs Democratic support for education reform and improvement, commitments for better funding K-12 education, efforts to identify mechanisms that equalize school funding and help poor districts, insistence that governmental power limit the ability of the prejudiced to practice discrimination of any kind, to promote access to opportunity for those traditionally under-privileged by economics, society and the law..

3) Full Freedom Proceeds from a Society that Shares and Protects Against the Risks of Misfortune: A full commitment to freedom entails a corresponding agreement to socialize the risks that accompany a free-market and an unpredictable world. People are less likely to pursue their interests and realize their talents if they cannot be assured that society will support their choices through a safety net that insures against the risks of an uncertain world. Society should promise that if a worker works hard and plays by the rules then that person should not be economically and personally devastated by unfortunate circumstance. We all face risks and socializing risk bearing through social insurance programs creates a covenant between all citizens that hard work and social responsibility will be rewarded, encouraged, and protected. Illness will not devastate or bankrupt a working family. Economic instability will not destroy individuals or families. The cycles of the economy and the inevitability of economic change will be smoothed by retraining, job search assistance, and economic transition aid. Old age will not doom individuals to poverty, isolation, and helplessness. This value informs Democratic opposition to privatizing Social Security, outrage when Government turns a blind eye as corporations turn their backs on their promises to existing and to retired workers, support for better designed and better funded programs that assist workers and their families when they lose their jobs as a result of new environmental regulations, free trade efforts, or market failures, and the broadly shared commitment to health care reform and a system of national health insurance.

4) Self Government and Freedom are Illusions without Equality Before the Law: One danger of a free market society is that economic wealth will accumulate in certain hands and political power will follow. When political inequality flows from income inequality, political and personal liberty are threatened. Unless political power is equalized across all citizens, then self-government and political freedom become empty promises and vapid prose. Hence, Democrats believe that each vote counts equally, every voice in society should be heard, and influence over the political and legal process should not accrue to those with the means to purchase it. This value informs the Democratic commitment to election reform, to campaign finance regulation, to publicly funded legal defense funds, and to fair ownership rules over the nation’s media.

5) America’s Promise Serves as a Beacon to the World: Much of American History relates the nation’s struggle to realize the promises inherent in its founding documents and the ideologies of its founders. The story of America is one of continued growth into the full potential of personal autonomy and self-government. As the times change, so too must the nation and its people. Democrats are committed to stewarding the emergence of a society guided by ‘the better angels of our nature.’ But the nation’s greatness and current power carry the obligation to lead the world towards fully realizing these promises for all peoples. Democrats believe that America is greatest, most influential, and most secure not when it imposes its vision and values on the world at the point of a gun, but, by example and initiative, it leads a cooperative effort to create international institutions for securing peace and individual rights for all. This value informs the Democratic commitment to civil rights, to personal freedom, to international peace-keeping and international institutions, to securing the rights of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to opposing, by force if necessary, individual and ethnic oppression wherever it exists.

The Leader of the Free World

Dubya may think he is. He may have the most powerful army. America may be the most powerful economy. But again and again, Tony Blair demonstrates that one's standing as the leader of the free world depends more upon depth, intelligence, moral conviction and international commitment than it does on brute force and stubborness

ABC News: Blair Vows to Press Ambitious G-8 Agenda: "GLENEAGLES, Scotland Jul 6, 2005: World leaders faced pressure from the United States to scale back goals for relieving African poverty and combatting global AIDS, but British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday he planned to keep campaigning for his ambitious objectives with other world leaders. "
When asked about reports that Britain is preparing to scale back its demands on support for Africa and climate change in the face of U.S. opposition, Blair said he is "prepared to hold out for what is right."

Friday, July 01, 2005

Why US Prisoner Abuse Matters

So why do gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan matter? Because the Taliban now claim to hold an American soldier prisoner.

U.S. troops missing, Taliban claims to hold one - Yahoo! News: "KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. helicopters and hundreds of troops were searching on Friday for soldiers who went missing in Afghanistan just before a helicopter coming to their aid was shot down, while the Taliban claimed to be holding one American. "

If it's true are they likely to treat him humanely? Are they likely to make an example of him and say it is in retaliation for American abuses? Americans have often been abused in captivity -- Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and both Gulf Wars. Perhaps abiding by the Geneva Conventions guarantees nothing. But the stories of abuse that have emerged are unlikely to cow the Taliban now and probably guarantee that American soliders taken prisoner receive the harshest treatment. If you care about the troops, you should care about the stories coming out of the American military incarceration facilities. It endangers them all.

The Challenge Facing Democrats

The conventional “inside the Beltway” wisdom is that the Republicans are self-destructing politically and that all Democrats have to do is stand by and wait for the public to turn to us as an alternative in 2006. The conventional “inside the Beltway” wisdom is that Democrats are now an “opposition party” and that we need to be uniform and “stick together” in our fights against the Republicans. However the latest Democracy Corps poll has some bad news for Democrats. That strategy ain’t going to cut it.

While some of the numbers are good -- Bush’s approval rating is lower than the disapproval rating, people are more inclined to vote for a Democrat than a Republican next November (48-43), the issues of most concern to voters are traditional Democratic issues like health care and pensions or issues Republicans have squandered like fiscal responsibility, and finally, almost 50% of voters strongly want to country to go in a different direction from the one George Bush is taking us.

Now for the bad news. Despite everything that has happened in the last year – over-reaching on Terry Schiavo, the debate over the nuclear option, the disastrous effort on Social Security, Iraq, and the neglect of core economic issues, Republicans are still viewed more favorably than Democrats. Their average level of support is 49.8% while for Democrats it is 48.9. Of more concern, only 38% of voters view Democrats favorably while 43% of voters view Republicans favorably. While both sides have seen drops in their approval ratings, the Democrats have fallen further faster. Stan Greenberg who ran the survey attributes the decline to voters feeling that Democrats have no core set of convictions or point of view (Christian Science Monitor 6/29/05). Now with Sandra Day O’Connor retiring, attention will shift to a big Court fight which will only further alienate voters from Washington, and cement their suspicion that Democrats are out of touch.

In addition, the country remains firmly in the conservative camp. More than twice as many voters consider themselves conservative as liberal. While some components of the Democratic message resonate with voters, the poll also shows that many of the likely Republican strategies in 2006 continue to prove powerful to voters. A Democratic message about Republican over reaching and partisanship, combined with economic populism generates a “much more likely” voter inclination to vote Democrat of between 34 and 37%. But more bland messages generate percentages around 30%. For instance, respondents were read the following: ‘Republicans are for more of the same in Washington. Democrats are for change’ and only 28% said this would make them much more inclined to vote Democratic. In another example “Republicans have done nothing about health care. Democrats will get moving on health care.” This argument led only 31% of respondents to indicate they were much more likely to vote Democratic. Voters are unlikely to be persuaded by bland generic phrases filled with empty promises. Unless they begin to offer some specifics, voters are unlikely to see the Democratic alternative as viable. Republican arguments that Democrats are for bigger government and higher taxes continue to resonate with voters. 37% indicated this would make them much more likely to vote Republican. A Republican promise to protect the sanctity of marriage from gay marriage proposals of Democrats garnered 41% much more likely to vote Republican. And for all those anti-war Dems, 37% of respondents were much more likely to vote Republican after hearing the message: “The Democrats are now calling for a retreat and withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. The Republicans say we can not leave without finishing the job.”

My big fear is that the leadership in Washington will remain silent in the face of this evidence and go into the 2006 election cycle with a bland message of opposition, confident that the Republicans will generate sufficient disgust that Democrats will look appealing. If public doubts about the Party, its leadership and its willingness to stand for principles and new ideas are left unmet, then public willingness to turn to Democrats will fade. 2004 showed us a weakened incumbent who trailed through most of the year, but who still managed to retain his office.

Articulating not a message but an agenda is the central challenge facing the Party. Doing this will require Party members to debate the issues and perhaps expose rifts in the Party. Doing this may require some Party members to agree to abide by the decisions of the majority. Doing this may put the Democrats in the position of assuming unpopular positions. Doing this may require that Democrats face serious issues like trade, taxes, the deficit, and health care that play to people’s worst suspicions about the Party. But these risks are smaller, in the long run, than doing nothing. Democrats can take a page from George Bush who remains personally popular in part because he has said he won’t follow the polls in doing what is right in Iraq (right being what he thinks is right) or in pushing parts of his domestic agenda like stem cells. If Democrats express their core convictions in articulating their agenda, then even if a majority opposes their position, winning a majority of votes becomes attainable because Democrats indicate that they have what voters care more about – a willingness to stand on their values and fight for them.