hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.
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Monday, August 12, 2002
 
the iraqi masses and other people we haven't heard from

suppose we took out saddam with a cruise missile. what would happen?
best case scenario: iraqi's dancing in the streets ala Romanians after Ceauchescu(sp?)
worst case scenario: A) a civil war between those who are loyal to Saddam (eg. Republican guards, people from Saddam's home village/province) and those who aren't B) civil war between the various ethnic and provincial subroups: kurds, arabs, persians, shias, sunnis, christians and other religious minorities, north versus south, urban versus rural, etc.

one might think that after Saddam had led them to needless wars against, Iran, Kuwait and the US, meant only for Saddam's greater glory with no regard for the lives or well-being of his people, the Iraqis would be fed up with the man, but remember that we killed between 100,000 and 200,000 Iraqis in the Gulf War. While Saddam could have avoided that by pulling out of Kuwait, and so he does bear ultimate responsibility, you can't reasonably expect the Iraqis to have warm and fuzzy feelings toward the US.

What this means is that the leader who follows Saddam is vital. He must not be seen to be a pawn America, because offhand I would say that the average non-Kurdish Iraqi hates America (I could be wrong). He must have street cred with the Iraqi people, yet must be an improvement over Saddam from the point of view of America and the world.

where can we find such a person? Who is Iraq's Hamid Karzai? More broadly, who are examples of living Iraqi heroes, who are revered and respected by non-Kurdish Iraqis, and who would endorse the new regime that is created after Saddam is toppled?

Changing the subject, where the *#$%! is Bill Bradley? Perhaps he's not raising money, and says he probably won't run in 2004, but why has he competely disappeared as a public figure, let alone a potential presidential candidate? What does *he* think of the war on terrorism, potential war with Iraq, and the return of deficits? Even as a Presidential candiate, he got 48% in NH and a consistent 20-25% everywhere else, which ain't hay in the context of a multi-candidate primary.

I would rate Bradley as a second tier candidate, behind first tier candidates Gore and Kerry, alongside Gephardt, and ahead of third tier candidates Howard Dean, John Edwards, Bob Kerrey and Dianne Feinstein. As for Joe Lieberman, Tom Daschle, Joe Biden. . .fuhgeddaboutit! I'm tempted to say the same thing about John Edwards, except he does fill a unique niche in the primary landscape, and he does have some impressive people (Bruce Reed, Bob Shrum) behind him.

I find it mystifying why Feinstein doesn't get any buzz as a Presidential candidate. I'm not a big fan of hers, policy-wise (why, oh why did she vote for the Bush tax cut?), but the woman is a tough cookie, who comforted and united SF after the Milk/Moscone murders, has significant executive, legislative and private sector experience, and beat by a whisker in 1994 a free-spending and telegenic Michael Huffington, in a truly treacherous year for Democrats, in the teeth of a fierce Prop 187 campaign. Maybe she doesn't get attention because she's slightly older and dowdier than the Baby Boomer women the press corps usually fawn over.

changing the subject for the last time, why does Bob Shrum continue to say, again and again, "half of the Bush tax cut goes to the top 1%" when it is a hideously ineffective slogan? Isn't it much more persuasive to say "half of the Bush tax cut goes to people making more than 300 grand a year"? David Brooks pointed out somewhere the most interesting poll result of the 2000 election, that 20% of Americans believed they were in the top 1%, and another 20% believed they would be eventually be there someday. "The top 1%" is a phrase that should be banned from the Democratic lexicon, yet people who should know better keep on repeating it like trained seals.

It drives me crazy. How can the Democrat's top political cosultant, of all people, be so obtuse/incompetent when it come to crafting a soundbite? (Another phrase that should be banned is "unskilled labor", or "less-skilled labor" as in "It is true that globalization hurts unskilled and lesser skilled workers, but the solution is not closing our borders, it is new programs in job-training". Speaking for myself, making 50 sandwiches in a day is an intrinsically harder job, requiring more effort, than computer programming. )

the latest DLC-sponsored "New Democrat" buzzwords seem to be "opportunity, responsibility, security". The guiding idea seems to be"everyone who behaves responsibly should have real opportunities and an adequate level of security". Not bad, but I can hardly see enthusiastic campaign volunteers shouting
"Opportunity, Responsibility, Se-CURITY!", nor can I see voters rubbing their chins thoughtfully and saying to themselves: "Opportunity, reponsibility, security? Yeah, that makes sense. Awright, you got my vote this time" "Opportunity" in particular isn't a word people really use in conversation. It's a word that conjures up images of a big shot addressing the little people.

As an alternative, may I humbly suggest something like, oh I don't know. . .er. . ."middle class, common sense, golden rule"?


 
rough notes:

besides my (ongoing work) on the Democratic and Republican platforms (it's taking a long time because they are so damned boring, its tempting to ditch them and read normal political stuff). here is a list of people who've written articles about the Democratic party, what its doing wrong, and what it should be doing.

michael tomasky
ruy texeira & john judis
william saletan
robert borosage
joe conason
paul glastris
robert kuttner
TNR editors
mickey kaus
joshua micah marshall
micah sifry

Most of them are pretty good, but I believe the pick of the lot is written by Michael Tomasky, in the American Prospect.

Forget the obsession with the President's poll numbers! One of the most pathetic developments in the Democratic-leaning journals has been painfully hopeful spins of the President's poll numbers. (for example, the Presidents poll numbers have been dropping (from 91%!) at *4%* a month, rather than the more sedate *2%* of last year. And do not compare the current President's poll numbers to Bush I. The reason Bush I's numbers sank was 1) the government was almost insanely in deficit, and had been for the last ten years, leaving the administration unable to argue that the deficit problem was a short-term blip due to unforseen catastrophes 2) the economy was in the toilet. The number of private sector jobs actually *decreased* during the four years of the Bush administration. Median family income growth during the Reagan-Bush years was something like 4%. Homeownership rates had declined. A majority of Americans thought that the next generation would do worse than the previous one. Given the natural optimism of the American people, this is an astounding poll result, but the Age of Diminished Expectations had crept so slowly upon us that it was thought of as a curious quirk, not as a sign that something was seriously wrong. Bush II's approval numbers will *not* drop like Bush I's.

the main point is that Bush's approval ratings do not have to be low for the Democrats to do well. Voter's don't have to disapprove of Bush to vote Democratic, they just have to approve more of the Democrats than they do Bush (and Republicans in general) More to the point, they have to be persuaded that their and the country's lot will be better if the vote Democratic.

to an extent, populism, or resentment in general, runs against the American belief that you can and should be able to write the script to your own life, that your happiness does not depend on the actions of some big-shot executive or government bureaucrat somewhere, it depends on your own actions.

thoughts on political salesmanship/buzzwords:

the Feynman formulation for social decison making:

first part is a scientific/factual question: If I do this, what will happen?
second part is a philosophical/religious qestion: Do I want this to happen?

how will this policy improve the lives of Americans?
how can I make the case that this policy will improve the lives of Americans?
how can I make the case that America will be better off with the Democrats in charge?

choices/ consequences / values
you have to thinkg up the various choices that face the American people, evaluate the consequences of each choice, argue that your judgment is the correct one, use your values to evaluate the various outcomes, and then argue that your values are the correct ones.

you need *imagination* to think up the range of choices that lie before the American people
you need *judgment* to predict what will be the likely conseqences of the various choices
you need *values* to decide which of the possible outcomes are best, and thus which are the right choices for the American people to make.

boy, I seem to have buzzwords on my mind. In any case, here is my preferred list of buzzwords as it now stands:

policy platform for America: "middle class, common sense, golden rule"

preferred character attributes for (Democratic) cadidates: "clean, smart, tough, kind" That is, the ideal (Democratic) politician will be thought of by the voters as (morally) clean, smart, tough and kind.
BTW Republicans are welcome to these buzzwords too. . .if they adopt my preferred policies!

abilities needed to be a good policy maker: "imagination, judgement, values"

Al Gore was though of by the voters as smart, and was probably adequate in the toughness department, but he was not thought of as clean or kind. That is a real shame, because I believe that Gore is actually very clean and very kind (send derisive/abusive/hate mail to roublen@yahoo.com) If I have a problem with Gore, it is, funnily enough, in the smarts department. He seems to have some very wrong-headed notions, especially on how to campaign and how to persuade people, which greatly reduce his effectiveness as a politician


Tuesday, July 30, 2002
 
skimming through the party links, here is an amusing example of the difference between the two major parties. While the Republicans composed a polished and elegant oath, which they dictated from up on high as *the* oath of the Republican party, the Democrats ran a contest asking people to send in explanations of "why I am a Democrat", and then published a long list of the replies: amateur, unpolished, but very diverse, empowering, grass-roots bottom-up and Democratic.

I found it amusing, anyway. Also, the Democratic National Committee seems to be recruting volunteers to call in radio talk shows and spread the DNC gospel. I'm sure the RNC does something similar, most likely worse, but I still find it. . .well, not quite cricket.
Talk Radio Volunteers Needed

another surprise: the Green Party platform is more sensible than the Libertarian platform. for example:

Libertarian platform, milltary matters: "We call for the withdrawal of all American military personnel stationed abroad, including the countries of NATO Europe, Japan, the Philippines, Central America and South Korea. There is no current or foreseeable risk of any conventional military attack on the American people, particularly from long distances. We call for the withdrawal of the U.S. from commitments to engage in war on behalf of other governments and for abandonment of doctrines supporting military intervention such as the Monroe Doctrine."

granted it was written in July 2000, but still.

the Greens:

"1. With half of all discretionary spending now going to the military, the president requesting spending even the Pentagon thinks is wasteful, and the Congress proposing even more than the president requests, Greens believe the more than $300 billion DEFENSE BUDGET MUST BE CUT. The Green Party calls for military spending to be cut by 50% over the next 10 years, with increases in spending for social programs. Preventive diplomacy, a strong economy and humane trade relations are our best defense. We must maintain a viable American military force, prudent foreign policy doctrines, and readiness strategies that take into account real, not hollow or imagined threats to our people, our democratic institutions and U.S. interests. Even so, Greens seek strength through peace. "

all right, neither party seems exactly sensible, but at least the Greens seem amenable to reason and compromise, rather than the fanatically dogmatic Libertarians. There is a good reason that, despite the generally Libertarian outlook of most Americans, the Libertarian Party remains small and marginal


Monday, July 29, 2002
 
After all that work compiling as comprehensive a list of party platforms as I though would be necessary, I find my list is glaringly incomplete. namely, I've forgotten

Robert Borosage

robert borosage, co-director of "campaign for America's future", who I've always dug whenever I've seen him on television. Here He writes in the Nation a rather bitter denunciation of DLC "new democrat" types. (got the link from Andrew Sullivan) I do agree with him on one point:

"Since the DLC is infamous for taking credit for every victory and blaming others for every defeat, its leaders are not likely to admit that they've been wrong"

The best example of this was after the 2000 election when the DLC claimed Hillary Clinton was a new democrat while Al Gore was not, even though they ran on exactly the same platform.

As for the general dispute between "old" and "new" democrats, I find it largely pointless. The arguments seem to me to be mostly about what tone and rhetoric will be most effective in getting elected, and not at all about policy differences (neither side uses an especially effective tone or rhetoric). To the extent that there are real policy differences, they seem to be magnified because of sheer personal animus, and the common ground is downplayed because neither side bothers to think things through, keep an open mind, or do the arithmetic necessary to have everything add up. I realize that sounds arrogant, but I'll try to back it up in future posts.

To my mind, the only really polarizing, unpleasant doctrinal issue in American domestic policy is whether you believe it is acceptable to redistribute income from the affluent to the poor and middle class in order to serve socially desirable goals. Both old and new democrats basically believe that income redistribution ("progressive taxation" is the preferred euphemism) is acceptable in principle, though new democrats are less thrilled about it, and are likely to hedge with a lot of weasel words. Everything else is an argument about the practical consequences of various policies, which should not be a reason for division or acrimony.

In any case, much more to say about all this, for now, I'm adding a link to campaign for america's future

perhaps more importantly, here is a link to their book: The Next Agenda: Blueprint For A New Progressive Movement

edited by Robert Borosage and Stanley Greenburg, with contributions from jeff faux, william greider, theda skcopol, jonathan oberlander, theodore marmor, heidi hartmann, richard rothstein,
bruce katz, joel rogers, lynn a curtis, william e spriggs, carl pope, robert wages, peter barnes, rafe pomerance, david moberg, ellen s miller, micah sifry, roger hickey. (I don't know who most of these people are either)

To see how cool these people really are, they actually print the entire text online for free. I don't think any other cash-starved think tank would be idealistic enough to do that, though I intend to buy a copy at some point.




 
unfortunately I don't often read Bob Herbert but I did today and I can hardly believe my eyes:

what the hell is going on?

Bob Herbert "Kafka in Tulia, TX"

really you must read the whole thing but here are some excerpts:

"It is not an overstatement to describe the arrests in Tulia as an atrocity. The entire operation was the work of a single police officer who claimed to have conducted an 18-month undercover operation. The arrests were made solely on the word of this officer, Tom Coleman, a white man with a wretched work history, who routinely referred to black people as "niggers" and who frequently found himself in trouble with the law.

Mr. Coleman's alleged undercover operation was ridiculous. There were no other police officers to corroborate his activities. He did not wear a wire or conduct any video surveillance. And he did not keep detailed records of his alleged drug buys. He said he sometimes wrote such important information as the names of suspects and the dates of transactions on his leg.

In trial after trial, prosecutors put Mr. Coleman on the witness stand and his uncorroborated, unsubstantiated testimony was enough to send people to prison for decades.

In some instances, lawyers have been able to show that there was no basis in fact — none at all — for Mr. Coleman's allegations, that they came from some realm other than reality.

He said, for example, that he had purchased drugs from a woman named Tonya White, and she was duly charged. But last April the charges had to be dropped when Ms. White's lawyers proved that she had cashed a check in Oklahoma City at the time that she was supposed to have been selling drugs to Mr. Coleman in Tulia.

Most of Tulia's white residents applauded the arrests, and the local newspapers were all but giddy with their editorial approval. The first convictions came quickly, and the sentences left the town's black residents aghast. One of the few white defendants, a man who happened to have a mixed-race child, was sentenced to more than 300 years in prison. The hog farmer, a black man in his late 50's named Joe Moore, was sentenced to 90 years. Kareem White, a 24-year-old black man, was sentenced to 60 years. And so on. . .

Another defendant, Billy Don Wafer, was able to prove — through employee time sheets and his boss's testimony — that he was working at the time he was alleged by Mr. Coleman to have been selling cocaine. And the local district attorney, Terry McEachern, had to dismiss the case against a man named Yul Bryant after it was learned that Mr. Coleman had described him as a tall black man with bushy hair. Mr. Bryant was 5-foot-6 and bald.

The idea that people could be rounded up and sent away for what are effectively lifetime terms solely on the word of a police officer like Tom Coleman is insane. "

I suppose there is no need to get hysterical and fly off the handle, generalizing and stereotyping, but these people must be freed. let's hope the Texas governor and parole board are people of integrity.



 
now that the preliminaries are out of the way, the first new task: to summarize / compare / contrast the various party platforms: I intend to put in a 30-60 minutes a day toward this goal. Others are welcome to contribute / comment. here are the links to a number of party platforms:

the biggies:

Republican party 2000 platform
Republican party rules
Republican oath

Democratic Party charter & rules(pdf file)
Democratic Party 2000 platform
Democratic Party 2000 platform (pdf)
Democratic Leadership Council “Key Documents”

big third parties:

Libertarian Party Intro
Libertarian Party Issues & Positions
Libertarian Party Platform
Special Section on War On Terror

green party platform index
green party 2000 platform
green party 2000 platform (pdf)

Reform Parties and offshoots:

MISSION STATEMENT
We, the members of the Reform Party, commit ourselves to reform our political system. Together we will work to re-establish trust in our government by electing ethical officials, dedicated to fiscal responsibility and political accountability.
--Adopted November 2, 1997 at the Reform Party Founding Convention, Kansas City, Missouri

current Reform Party Platform
Reform Party Founding Principles
current Reform Party constitution
2000 Reform Party constitution
2000 Reform Party platform
Reform Party Convention Resolutions

American Reform Party platform
American Reform Party statement on immigration

Buchanan’s American Cause issues
about Buchanan’s American Cause organization

Natural Law Party Platform

Centrist Party Platform
Centrist Party policy guide

conservative parties:
Constitution Party history
Constitution Party platform
America’s Party principles
America’s Party Platform

leftist parties:

Peace and Freedom Party Platform
Socialist Party USA platform
Communist Party USA socialist vision
Communist Party USA constitution

comprehensive guide to American political parties


Saturday, July 27, 2002
 
more preliminary rough notes:

political ramifications and possible general rhetorical approaches:

so far my little list seems to alienate the entire Democratic party donor base + grass-roots support: public sector unions ( greater accountabilty) private sector unions ( free trade, possible tax reform) trial lawyers ( tort reform, no fault auto insurance reform, loser pays) blacks (de -emphasis of affirmative action, possible civil rights law reform) feminists ( de emphasis of affirmative action, abortion) gun-control lobby; "Common cause" type McCain-Feingold goo-goos, anti- death penalty folk, etc.;

yuck. anyway, will cross that bridge when it comes.

possible general rhetorical approaches:

when I was eight I was an enthusiastic republican

by the time I was ten, however, democrat for life

prop 187 was the key. never forget the courage of the Democratic party, or the cowardice of the Republicans

learnt that the head has never beaten the gut in a political fight, and that political campaigns are not won by reason and evidence they are won by catchy sound-bites. to put it indelicately, by stroking the voters erogenous zones. some common zones: strong military, education, protecting Social Security, welfare cheat, illegal immigrant, soft on crime, greatest country in the world

however, I also learned that if the people make a big mistake, they almost always reverse it The system does not work efficiently, perfectly, or quickly, but the system does work. I learned to trust the people, not always in the short run, but almost always in the long run.

the core values of the democratic party: fairness, the conviction that everyone deserves a fair shake, an opportunity to make the most of their potential. An open mind, a willingness to hear new ideas and to seek progress instead of always sticking with the familiar. That’s why we’re called progressive. Democrats believe tomorrow can be better than today, and we have a responsibility to work towards that goal. Lastly and most importantly, to stick up for the people who need sticking up for, to fight the fights that need fighting, to choose the hard right over the easy wrong, to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. The golden rule is one of the central values of every great religious tradition, the source of compassion, And compassion and empathy, above all, are the defining values of the Democratic Party. It can all be summed up in six words: middle class, common sense, golden rule. These are the core values of the Democratic party, and these are my core values, and that is why I expect to be a Democrat for as long as I live.

the real Clinton legacy: has never in thought or word or deed said "I am an American, and you are not" largely a negative one, beat back the conservative tidal wave; a good Clinton project: set up a school in Arkansas which does a first rate job of educating poor whites and blacks. He could name it after his mother: the Virginia Clinton (or Kelley) school of Arkansas;

more money for teacher's salaries. 20% increase for education in exchange for vouchers/school choice. if you're willing to work, a middle class society a common sense society; a middle class society: a society where if you work hard and play by the rules you can become a member of the broad middle class education, health insurance a decent home or apartment in a safe part of town with places for kids to play. Krugman parable of fishermen and gold prospectors
bringing backcommon sense, we've really got to reform our legal system.
de-meme-ing society; clean smart tough and kind; a middle class government; a common sense government, a government with American values: optimism; work ethic and the golden rule;

work ethic, accountability and principled competition are vital ingredients to the American character but they are not all it means to be American. it that were all America was about, then we would be the most powerful nation on the face of the earth, but not the greatest nation on the face of this earth. If that were all, we would be the most respected nation in the world, but not the most admired nation in the world.

earth is not heaven and down here the lion does not lie down with the lamb. but for civilized life to survive, and for a person to reach their full spiritual potential, these harsher virtues must be leavened with the softer ones. the pacifists who are full of resentments who criticize one side exclusively are not worth emulating. but the pacifists who have made the principled decision to return hate with love, I am not one of them, but I honor them. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Quakers, the Amish, In any civilized society such people must be protected and respected.

toughness is the price of survival in a world that is not always benign. toughness, competition are what makes surviving possible, compassion, charity, friendship service to others are what give our life meaning, and what make it worth living.

not just because they are strong, and daring and effective
in other countries, citizens respect their military, but they also fear them, for there is always the possibility of a military coup. In this country, duty honor country the trust in our military is so strong, we don't have to fear them, so as a result we can give them our unreserved admiration and gratitude.

middle class, common sense, american, and/or golden rule;


 
here are my preliminary rough notes:

general thoughts on liberalism:
justification for liberalism: to mitigate the consequences of increasing returns, or that e.d. hirsch verse in mathew, new testament: the more you know the easier it is to learn, the less you know the harder, therefore unless a strong effort is made the knowledge gap will keep widening.

For a society to thrive, that is to be a Great Power or a respected ally of a Great Power, two and only two things are required: a sufficient number of its citizens must be enterprising and hardworking, and it must have ready access to the most advanced technology of the time, especially military technology.
fighting for a liberal society in a conservative world.

various core spectrums of liberalism versus conservatism,

equality vs. hierarchy, social reform vs. social stability, altruism vs. self-interest, tradition vs. progress, cooperation versus competition; forgiveness versus accountability; freedom vs. fairness

what America needs to be done: a suggested platform for idealistic liberals

three phrases, six words that could make the Democrats the majority party:
"Middle Class, Common Sense, Golden Rule"

books ideally, that one would like to read: halstead & lind; chernyi the next deal; the nader guy (micah sifry); herbert croly; texeira; greenberg middle class dreams; almanac of american politics; blinder hard heads soft hearts; charles peters; mickey kaus; kevin philips, ej dionne; robert novak; steve allen, martin gross, philip howard, jacob weisberg, john judis, jonathan rauch, dinesh d'souza; michael kinsley; andrew tobias; carville & begala; lasch revolt of the elites and betrayal of democracy; heaven on earth, rise and fall of socialism; why it didn't happen here socialism in US, george orwell; gene lyons; really, the list is damned near endless


middle class: tax policy, financing for health care & education, auto insurance reform, eliminating many specialt interest tax breaks and subsidies, instead of granting licenses, hold auctions for many public resources. pro private-sector unions.

common sense: war on drugs, abortion, education, national defense, gun control, special interests, tort and regulatory reform, judicial reform, environment;

common sense: war on drugs, tort and regulatory reform (sticking it to both trial lawyers and corporations), death penalty, violent crime, national defense, environment, race relations. annexation of DC residents by Maryland;

golden rule: employer of last resort “guaranteed minimum wage job”; foreign aid, education, equal-opportunity programs in general for the poor, nation-building, voluntary program for humanitarian intervention.

golden rule: generous tax credits for health care and education for the working poor, welfare (government as employer of last resort), foreign aid and nation-building.

ending the war on drugs, and starting a war on violent crime.

stepping back from the faustian bargain. reforming civil-rights law.
5.
end the war on drugs, start a war on terrorism and violent crime

moderate on abortion (safe, legal and rare), separation of church and state (freedom of religion, not freedom from religion) , gun control (sensible efforts to keep guns out of the hands of children, criminals and the mentally unstable), while protecting the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns for hunting, sport, and to protect their family and property), and national defense (anti-Star Wars, pro-everything else), public sector
unions,(good compensation, but greater accountability), environment (pro-ANWR drilling, anti-letting mining companies mine on federal land for free, tradable emission permits, etc.)

afterthoughts:

Using conventional labels:

liberal on the war on drugs, fiscal policy, health care, private sector unions, non-violent crime

maverick on welfare, education, tort reform, death penalty, regulatory reform, campaign finance reform

conservative on violent crime


 
Current project: Research and write an article titled either

"What America Needs Done: A Suggested Platform For Idealistic Liberals"

or

"Three Phrases, Six Words That Could Make The Democrats The Majority Party: `Middle Class, Common Sense, Golden Rule'"

here is the initial, relatively polished seed kernel which guides my thinking:

Middle Class (unavoidably polarizing) issues: progressive taxation (income redistribution) , refundable tax credits for health care and education, eliminating many special interest tax credits and subsidies, supporting private-sector unions, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other safety net programs, social insurance, taking on special interests in favor of public interests:

Common Sense (unifying middle ground, reforming) issues: Gun Control, Abortion, War on Drugs, National Defense, Education, Public sector unions, Environment, Special interests, Death Penalty, Tort and Regulatory reform, Judicial issues, Immigration, campaign finance reform, gerrymandering, voting rights for DC residents, feminist issues, affirmative action;

Golden Rule (spiritual, moralizing) issues: "Employer of last resort", Foreign aid, Nation-building, Education & Equal-Opportunity programs for the poor/disadvantaged, No State lotteries, Voluntary humanitarian military missions

Middle Class issues:

guiding idea: "Everyone who is willing to work for it should be able to afford the essentials of a decent, middle-class life"

These should be the "bread and butter" issues for Democrats, which distinguish them from Republicans, and convince the average worker that their lives will be better under Democrats than Republicans.

The key polarizing idea is "progressive taxation" (the liberal word), or "coercive income redistribution" (the conservative/libertarian word). Liberals may think that it is unwise to redistribute income through the tax code (for incentive, efficiency and technical reasons), but it is not immoral. Conservatives believe such redistribution is either 1) immoral, evil, a government theft of private property, or 2) very very very unwise, playing with fire, and thus any social safety net and the consequent redistribution should be kept to a bare minimum.

A good exposition of the liberal point of income redistribution/progressive taxation are two essays by Paul Krugman, one a review of Dick Armey's book "The Freedom Revolution", the other a review of a book on the living-wage movement:

http://www.pkarchive.org/economy/TopHeavy.html

http://www.pkarchive.org/cranks/LivingWage.html

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid: Blessed be the Trinity. No privatization, some reforms (like means-testing) may be considered. Bottom line: the safety-net must be preserved.

Progressive taxation: (unrepentant class warriors . . .wheee! just kidding). How progressive should the system be? Offhand, I would say gephardt's 97-98 tax bill is a good place to start

Private Sector Unions: We should not idealize unions: Sometimes they are corrupt, and sometimes they seek special favors at the expense of the broader public. But unions are almost the only political counterweight to big money, and the loss of that counterweight is clearly bad for society. Unions help keep us a middle class society, and we should give them all principled support.
priorities of the anti-union movement: to keep workers docile disorganized, and underpaid;

Health care tax credits: Universal Health insurance through refundable tax credits: We choose tax credits instead of Single Payer because 1)tax credits are simple to implement 2)they have some bipartisan support 3) less risky politically. If tax credits don't work, we can move on to Single Payer.

Education tax credits: Daycare, preschool. For School Vouchers(!?), see below.

Taking on special interests in favor of public interest: examples: Cracking Down on Tax Havens, making corporations count stock options as an expense, ending the strange practice of giving broadcasters public airwaves licenses for free, instead of auctioning them off on behalf of the public.

Common Sense issues:

"Common Sense" issues are either non-ideological issues, or issues that we wish to make non-ideological, by uniting people over a broad middle ground. Especially, we attempt to take the sting out of polarizing (and often inane) “culture war” issues, and try to form a broad consensus which can heal the polarizing wounds. This might require taking on people on the right and left. Also, “common sense” issues refers to reforming programs that have failed (eg. the War On Drugs), and taking on certain powerful non-ideological special interests.

War on drugs: The War On Drugs is the second most important race-relations issue (education is first) in America today. End the war on drugs, and use the freed up resources for the war on terrorism and violent crime. Money for drug treatment, selling (or giving) to children remains a federal crime, no selling drugs and no using drugs in public areas

Abortion: A moderate position on abortion (safe, legal and rare) No state funding for abortion, incentives to "choose life" and for adoption, funding for birth control and sex ed (subject to its being effective)

Education: Three broad principles 1) A voluntary national test/curriculum and the surrounding infrastructure, spelling out what kids should know and giving parents/teachers the tools to teach them. 2) Equalizing funding between rich and poor school districts (a good compromise: more state/federal money for poor school districts) 3) School vouchers, in order to put power in the hands of parents, and not district administrators, teachers unions, and politicians (a good compromise: more charter schools)

national defense: Anti-Star Wars, pro-everything else. But defense should not have an unlimited budget: In any well-run organization there are uncomfortable trade-offs and competition for resources. Inefficient, marginally useful programs must be reformed or shut down. Difficult decisions must be made, and the Military brass + defense contractors must not be able to bully politicians from making them.

Gun control: Sensible efforts to keep guns out of the hands of children, criminals and the mentally unstable, while protecting the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to own guns for hunting, sport, and to protect their family and property

Public sector unions: Good compensation, but greater accountability. In particular, Public sector managers (who are accountable to Politicians, who are accountable to the Public) must be given greater flexibility to fire workers they don't think are up to snuff

Environment: Pro-ANWR drilling: when I say “Pro-ANWR drilling”, I don’t mean so much I support specific drilling proposals so much as I support the concept of drilling, if the payoff is high enough. That is, I don’t buy into the notion of a “pristine” wilderness, which must be protected no matter what cost. I support weighing the benefit of the extra oil, weighed against the cost of possible environmental damage, and making a decision based on the facts on the ground, not on a priori principles; anti-letting mining companies mine on federal land for free, tradable emission permits, BTU tax. etc.

special interests : “no fault” auto insurance reform (taking on the trial lawyers), free trade (taking on the protectionists), etc.

death penalty: supporting the death penalty, making sure we get the right guy (ie. no testimony from "jailhouse snitches", videotaped interrogations, money for good defense lawyers, etc.)

tort and regulatory reform: sticking it to both trial lawyers and fanatically anti-regulation corporations

judicial reform:
here are the key judicial issues, as I see them: civil-rights & affirmative action,
roe v wade, separation of church and state, antitrust & regulatory law, labor law, environmental law, attitude towards due process, classified information and probable cause; tenth amendment issues (i.e. relationship between federal government and the states); you could also add second amendment law to the mix;

evaluating judicial nominees: judicial philosophy: + integrity & judgement: intellectual consistency, partisan biases, other systematic biases; other lapses in judgment;

These issues are a bit beyond me at the moment. I will eventually have to borrow an opinion from someone else. On the issue of roe v. wade, separation of church and state and second amendment law, I’m actually pretty conservative. For example, I don’t believe a right to abortion is written into the constitution. I don’t believe abortion should be illegal, but that should be for a legislature to decide, not the courts.

I believe the first amendment guarantees freedom to practice your own religion, and freedom from subsidizing the majority religion to any substantial degree, but I think the key term is “to any substantial degree”. Prohibiting a school principal from saying “ let us now have a moment of prayer” strikes me as pointless and ridiculous. In other words, I largely agree with those who say “freedom of religion, not freedom from religion” However, I am annoyed with those who use these church-state issues to ridicule ACLU-type minorities, to use them as a free punching bag to bolster their self-esteem, and to imply that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket because Johnny couldn’t read the ten commandments on his classroom wall.

I believe the right to bear arms exists, but that the government has the power to regulate that right to a substantial degree. To see what I mean here, see that “arms” refers not only to firearms but also tanks, nuclear weapons, etc. A fundamentalist view of the second amendment would seem to conclude that private citizens have the right to bear nuclear arms and the government can’t lift a finger to stop them. Since that is obviously absurd, I think any sensible person would agree that government must have the power to regulate the right to bear arms, but that the right exists.

voting rights for DC residents: not statehood, but DC residents must have representation in the Senate and Congress. This is probably best achieved by making DC residents parts of Maryland for voting purposes. Puerto Rico is trickier, because they have the opportunity to vote for independence, and choose not to.

campaign finance reform: unlimited contributions in exchange for 1. full disclosure (in particular, close the loopholes that allow anonymous campaigning) 2. some other possible conditions, like a mandatory "question hour" where politicians have to face interrogation on possible corruption. 3. A minimal but adequate level of public financing for those who have agreed to strict campaign finance limits.

an end to gerrymandering: competitive districts are vital to keeping politicians accountable. true, it might make politicians more desperate, with unpredictable consequences.

Affirmative action: reforming affirmative action so that it 1) helps disadvantaged minorities 2) does not antagonize whites. Perhaps using the military as a model.

feminist issues: equal pay for equal work. feminists say women make much less than men. Critics, say, if you account for differences in consecutive years of work, they make the same. I find this hard to believe, but in any case, we should make it equal pay for equal work experience, regardless of whether or not it is consecutive. also, upper class feminists are obsessed with how many women are CEOS or bigshots in general. this is not as important as the problems of single mothers, divorced women who face substantial income drops, widows below the poverty line, etc. The argument that women ceos will be more empathetic to women's issues is largely bullshit. CEO's are CEO's whether women or men. People at the top should be chosen strictly on merit, though of course diversity *is* often related to merit. For example, the CIA needs to hire more ethnics if it wants to do a better job collecting intelligence.

immigration is the big unresolved issue in American politics. Being the son of an immigrant, I don’t know how native Americans viscerally feel about this issue, so I’m going to defer to others. I would suggest however, that if native Americans completely shut the door on future immigration, America will be losing a part of its soul.

Golden rule:

“Golden Rule” issues are those that require us to make sacrifices for the good of others. Americans are very generous people: They just don’t think government is an effective vehicle for their generosity. But there are some things that can only be done by Governments. We can give a homeless person a meal: we can’t get him a job. Similarly, if we are serious about helping Africa / South America/ Asia / the Carribean, the federal government must play a large role. Private charities tend to be inefficient and piecemeal. Liberals should support “Golden Rule” programs because they are the right thing to do, and also because it will raise their standing with Evangelicals and the religious.

"employer of last resort": guaranteed, sub-minimum wage, above the poverty line, 50 hr a week job;

foreign aid, nation-building, One percent of GDP: Extensive supporting quotes from "the Sermon on the Mount")

education, equal-opportunity programs in general for the poor

opportunity for US servicemen & women to volunteer for humanitarian military interventions (e.g. Rwanda) Right now there is no such volunteer program in place because the military feels it might hurt cohesion.

No state lotteries: gambling is a sin, and government should not be encouraging (or outlawing) sin, even if gambling is a relatively harmless vice in small doses. Our children should go to school on clean tax dollars, not gambling money.



 
test

 
I haven't been updating my blog because 1) my interest in politics comes and goes, so there was a stretch where I wasn't reading much and so didn't have much to say 2) so many good blogs out there (like armed liberal!) it seemed pointless to put much effort into a new one. I intended it more as a personal scratch pad, and had a vague idea of writing full articles and then distributing them somehow.

In any case, I have an idea for my blog that could be fun. Basically, to cut and paste/ compose a "suggested policy platform for idealistic liberals". By "idealistic" I basically mean that political and practical problems are put aside for the moment: the only consideration would be what is the right course for the country.

This sounds like a megolomaniacal, windmill-tilting excercise, and it is, in part, but I believe what would make it worthwhile is I would operate from the firm principle: "no reinventing the wheel" That is, before trying to come up with any new or original ideas, I would try to absorb all the smart ideas already out in circulation and then evaluate them in some coherent way. For example, the first task I will set myself will be to compare/contrast the Republican and Democratic party platforms.

In terms of politics, I've been feeling a need to step back from the shouting and think hard about what ideas I support, what policies would work, and then to act on that understanding in some sensible way. If other people feel that way too, it could turn out to be a cooperative effort, which would be really cool. we'll see how it turns out.

Hopefully future installments will give a clearer idea of what I mean to do

 
a quote from George Orwell, from his essay "Reflections on James Burnham"

"the immediate cause of the German defeat was the
unheard of folly of attacking the USSR while Britain
was still undefeated and America was manifestly
getting ready to fight. Mistakes of this magnitude can
only be made, or at any rate they are most likely to
be made, in countries where public opinion has no
power. So long as the common man can get a hearing,
such elementary rules as not fighting all your enemies
simultaneously are less likely to be violated."

the same essay contains a quote that Jonah Goldberg is quite fond of, which goes along the lines "always extrapolating present trends into the future is not just a minor vice, like exaggeration. it is a major mental disease, which has its rooots in cowardice and power-worship" I think Goldberg uses it whenever he's bashing the silliness of our mainstream media.


 
excerpt from Andrew Tobias's book "My Vast Fortune", written in 1997 (I believe)

" `How Not To Fix Social Security'

The most frequently proposed Social Security reform - to gradually privatize the system, with people managing their own retirement accounts - has great surface appeal but big problems:

* while you're making the transition, one generation has to shoulder the nearly impossible burden of two systems - saving for themselves and providing benefits to today's older generations.

* what do you do if a person invests poorly? You'd still need a safety net.

* won't this leave an awful lot of unsophisticated people prey to slick pitches, high commissions, and transaction costs?

* But mainly (to my mind): why should everyone have to save - and live, once retired - as if he or she will last to age hundred and ten? Social Security is not just a pact between generations, though it is that, with each generation pledging to assist the previous one. It is also a pact among citizens of the same generation. We all pay in more or less equally (given equal incomes), knowing that those who die first will have wound up subsidizing those who outlive them. Yet this seems a reasonable deal, because it keeps us from all having to live like paupers at age sixty-five in case we have to stretch our funds to last thirty-five or forty years (So there's another reason we'd still need a taxpayer-financed safety net: would we allow ninety-two year olds whose cash has run out to freeze and starve?)

There's a reasonable case for going partway. With enough warning, you could eliminate benefits for those who don't need them and cut back somewhat on benefits even for those who do. The savings from this would be used to fund the individual investment accounts people are talking about. But why? Why take that extra step, in effect penalizing people who live longer than average, as tens of millions will?

After all, there's still lenty of variety in retirement lifestyles. It's not as if America becomes a homogenized, socialized society even with today's rather modest benefit levels. Some retire in splendor; others manage on Social Security alone. If the "safety net" is indeed a bit above bare subsistence - well, why not? For one thing, it's a relatively small concession to a sort of national neighborliness. A social compact that binds us together. We're the only advanced country in the world without universal health insurance, and we no longer have the common experiences of the draft or Walter Cronkite every night. Maybe we should keep Social Security. . .

although it won't be much, and it may not go to people who don't need it, and it may even be called something else, there will be Social Security in the future. But you won't be a happy camper if it's all you have to fall back on."





 
after quite a long time: "nagging questions about long-term stock returns"

Paul Krugman once wrote that if a non-economist has had an insight about economics, it has probably already occured to an economist/social scientist, and has likely been explored, clarified, and decisively refuted; or worse, become a standard accepted part of the canon. In that vein, I've had two "insights" which seem to me to be crucial when discussing long-term stock market returns, which *must* have been explored by some clever person or another, but which no one ever seems to talk about.

the usual explanation of long term yield is that it is = dividend yield + earnings growth + changes in P/E ("speculative yield"). Let's call this "conventional long-term yield"

Now here are my two doubts:

1) the share of the publicly traded sector as part of the economy.

If the share of publicly traded corporations rises from 50% of the economy to 75%, long term stock market returns should be higher than the "conventional long term yield". Likewise , if the share drops from 75% to 60%, long term return will be lower than the conventional model.

Now it seems to me that the publicly traded share of the economy has been rising for the recent past. (i.e. we eat more fast food, shop at WalMart instead of the corner store, etc.) Assuming that it stays constant or declines in the future, doesn't that mean we can't extrapolate future returns from the past?

In his web article Dow 36000: How silly is it? Paul Krugman wrote:

"Third, the deepest issue: today's stocks are not a claim on the earnings of the U.S. corporate sector into the indefinite future. They are a claim on the earnings of *today's corporations* into the indefinite future. That's a big difference, if you look far enough ahead: unless something terrible happens, U.S. companies will be earning a lot of money 70 years from now; but much of that money will be earned by companies that do not now exist, or at any rate are not in the Dow or even in the S&P 500"

He's right. This is a deep issue. Where can one find some deep discussion about it?

I've read "A random Walk Down Wall Street" and long chunks of "Stocks For the Long Run", which I don't remember dealing with this issue. I haven't read but intend to read someday "Irrational Exhuberance" and the new book "Triumph Of the Optimists". From the Intro to "Triumph" however, while it talks of "survivorship bias" and "adjusting for reinvestment" it does not seem to talk much about the share of the economy of the publicly traded sector.

2) "outsider (small investor) returns" versus "insider returns"

Basically, I wonder if long term returns are calculated not from the IPO price but from the price at which the stock first became publicly available.

e.g. if a stock has an IPO price of $10 but is only available to outside investors at $25. Let's say in five years it has risen to $30, is the long term return of the stock calculated as approximately 20% or as approximately 200% ?

This question may be dismissed as the artifact of the Internet bubble, but there is a larger issue: Suppose Walmart sells $100 worth of stock in its company at an IPO price of $10 and the stock appreciates to $50. Then Walmart sells a further $100 worth of stock in the company at the new IPO price of $50. Is the long term return on WalMart's stock calulated as 400% (which mixes in the returns to insiders and outsiders), or is it calculated as (100*5 + 100 - 200) / 200 = 200% (which is the return that would have been available to an outside index investor, minus the "insider returns")

I have seen *no* discussion of this issue in the context of long-term stock market returns. I have seen plenty of discussion in the context of greedy investment banks, etc. Perhaps this is what "Triumph Of the Optimists" meant by "adjusting for reinvestment" ?

I guess these nagging doubts are similar to a question I asked Paul Krugman a long time ago, namely, putting aside the issue of privatization and individual accounts, what is the appropriate model to think about the optimal asset-allocation of the Social Security Trust Funds? His reply was "Its complicated. There are questions about the effect of that large a player on the markets. But investing the trust funds in the Stock market after federal debt has been exhausted is a reasonable thing to do"

Boy those were the days, huh, when one had to imagine what to invest the trust funds in after all federal debt had been exhausted? Unfortunately, now I imagine running out of federal debt to invest in may not be one of our problems.

What motivated me to write was reading a Business Week "sound money" column that argued for stock returns of 4-6% over the next ten years (Bogle says 4-9% William Nordhaus 2-3%, Shiller "close to zero or even negative") The author (Chris Farrell) was inundated with emails like this:

"Over the past 75 years, equity appreciation has averaged about 11% annually. This is documented history.... Why would you expect the long-term future to underperform so drastically?"

I wrote this email on June 23, and sent it to three people: Paul Krugman, Andrew Tobias and Brad Delong. no reply from Krugman, Tobias replied "thanks for the email. good questions". Brad Delong replied "point #1 is important (point #2 less so). I have not seen *any* deep discussion of it. It *is* an important issue." Given how good an economist Delong is, I find that a bit scary.

Make of it what you will.