Monday, January 31, 2005

Man of Vision: Bill Clinton?

I buy it.

Barking Moonbat Hooooo!

We all know crazy books often do well on the NYT bestseller list, but I think we may have a new standard for mass market mendacious lunacy. Despite the fact that I disagree with Glenn on many things, and that he leans right, he has a penchant and sensitive radar for the barking moonbats on his on side of the great divide as well as nutty lefties. Today is no exception, and shows that you might want to think twice before you have Civil War "historians" (revisionists) on your talk show. Glenn is alerting us to Eric Muller over at IsThatLegal and his alarming discoveries and research about Dr. Woods and his blockbuster piece of hate venom called A Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. It's no surprise right wing critics are starting to pile the critical elbow-drops on this dangerous piece of work along with the leftists who quite reasonably are scared.

Dr. Woods seems to be associated with a more and more loud group of anarcho-capitalists, and deeper to be associated with the "South Shall Rise Again" Civil War Revisionists amongst them. If anything, liberals and conservatives alike need to focus and root these people out. #8 ON THE BESTSELLER LIST PEOPLE, this is not lunatic fringe, this is quasi-Nazi insanity gone mainstream. Spread the word.

They Pulled it Off

I have to say something about the Iraq elections, and that's that I'm immensely happy and moved for the people. The first step has been taken and this chain of events is not something that can be stopped now. Often I wax pessimistic on this blog about Iraq, but that's just because I wax pessimistic about everything on this blog. Today, I'm going to be an optimist. I could link to a ton of Iraq stories, but I'll just direct you to Glenn and his always link rich threads, too many to count, Andrew Sullivan and his hope, and the always irrepressible Iraq The Model, and why not Althouse too. They all put it well, and all lend their own individual voices and choices to the chorus of optimism.

The problem with Iraq was, as I viewed it, a problem of foundation. Philosophically, I'm an Arendtian, I just believe she had everything right when it came to Political Theory. She was no liberal, and no conservative, and altogether brilliant (not to mention a former lover of Heidigger, curious since she was Jewish and he a Nazi till his deathbed). Arendt held that the moral authority and legitimacy of any government or state originates and lives on a founding of some sorts. With the Roman Empire, it was the founding of Rome itself. With the United States, it was the act of the American Revolution and Framing of the Constitution. All that follows in action must somehow be linked to this founding to claim legitimacy. You see evidence of that in political debate in every country as it gestures to its founding and how whatever policy or action that is sought somehow is in that spirit. Iraq did not have that when we invaded and/or liberated them, at least not until yesterday. Yesterday was a true act of national founding for the Iraqis, something to draw legitimacy and authority from at last. And let it sustain itself long enough to annihilate the insurgency and make the mad dreams of the Neocons of a democracy in the middle east at least come partially true.

A Rant With a Message

Amba has beared her soul and provided not just some brilliant thoughts and observations, but her own personal struggle over at Ambivablog on that question of questions: abortion. I don't know what it's like to be a woman, but the picture of emotional and moral complexity here is more than compelling. Anyone who doesn't wilt in moral cowardice at the abortion debate should look at this. It's mandatory reading, and it's part 1 of 3 (others to follow).

Friday, January 28, 2005

Right vs. Right

PRO-CRIMINAL HIPPIE LIBERAL (who opposes abortion)! RIGHT WING CHRISTIAN COALITION NUTJOB! ACLU LAWYER! BUDGET OBSTRUCTIONIST! I can already see the commercials. In one hand, we have a crazy anti-tax Republican nutcase who obstructed Virginia's budget process thoroughly last year and was humbled in the process. On the other hand, we have a pro-life staunch Catholic Democrat fool who opposes gay marriage AND civil unions, and who thoughtlessly did some work for the ACLU. You can't really paint the guy liberal with his social positions at all, except for the fact that he's squeamish on the death penalty. Let's cut to the chase here: we have a far right Republican, vs. a center-right Democrat, and the far right Republican is going to attempt to paint the guy who's only two differences with him ideologically are the death penalty and taxes. Yeah, real liberal. I'm going to bite the bullet and probably vote for Tim Kaine, but in any other state he would be a Republican right along with Kilgore. He's definitely to the right of every New York Republican I encountered while living in Syracuse. Gotta love Virginia. And gotta love phony choices in elections. I'm going to miss Mark Warner bigtime.

This all strikes me as if the opponents are like Spy vs. Spy. There's a white spy, and a black spy. And I"m not talking about race of course, just shades of clothing. And it's like the black spy is saying, "don't vote for the other spy, he wears the color white!" And the white spy says "You can't trust him, who wears a black hat?" When you know inside their the same guy: just thinking of meaningless and counterproductive ways to blow each other up with big round cannonball bombs and springloaded boxing gloves.

Cause For Riotous Behavior

Maryland beats Duke, students riot and admit their true reason for attending college in the first place. (Thanks to James F. for the Hi-Larious sarcasm).

Continuing the coverage of hot local basketball teams, El Wapo publishes an article on the gathering storm of fan support for the Washington Warriors...I mean Wizards. My initial response to this article: Very interesting. I've been to three going on four games this season (all wins), watched numerous games on television, and I could probably count the number of times the crowd has been on its feet. On two hands that is. El Wapo seems to be a bit misled by the three or four superfans that they interviewed/cajoled into speaking with them, because I have yet to witness any play that brought the entire arena to its feet. And I don't mean in the nose bleed seats, where the real fans are, but those in the lower levels of MCI who are too stuffy to be genuinely excited. Wizards fans are some of the worst in basketball... EVEN WHEN THEY'RE WINNING!

Lastly, I propose a new motto for UVA basketball: "Second To None, Unless We Start From Below." Yes Mr. Proliferation, I will eat crow now for getting overly excited about apparently nothing. Just call me Vaughn Iskanian from here on out.

Drumming My Nose

As a federal employee, I should be upset about what happened with the DHS personnel rules, but I'm not. Kevin Drum, in his post hits the right marks as to what is at stake. When John Gage states that "they are encouraging a management of coercion and intimidation," what he's really doing is, in Drum's brilliant words, "defending the right to not work very hard." People may say, MrProliferation, how can you say that when you're a federal employee and you're obviously blogging at work? The answer is I, like most federal employees, can multi-task. But that's beside the point. I was at an Arlington Young Democrats meeting last night and Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) parroted a similar point about how he was afraid annihilating civil service protections were going to "politicize the civil service." While that is a somewhat valid fear, coercion and intimidation aren't, and I'll deal with the politicization issue soon.

The fact about the pay for performance system is, it's great. Right now, as a federal employee, I can only get a raise annually, and while I can get a small cash bonus that is some sort of incentive (but takes 3 months in paperwork and waiting to get after it's awarded), this is irritating. Also, at a certain point, I don't get a raise except biannually, or tri-annually. It's all part of the dreaded "step" and "time within grade" rules. No matter how good I am at my job or what I accomplish, I have to wait a year from the last time I was promoted before the catastrophically slow machinery can be put in motion to promote me again, or even before I can apply for another job and get it at a higher grade. Also, any raise or promotion is at a set amount, whether I did barely good enough, amazing, or mindbending superhero levels of work. Pay for performance takes a sledgehammer to ALL that. With that I can get colossal raises several times per year, or if I'm a mindless slacker I can actually have my pay cut slightly, which is IMPOSSIBLE now. So number one, this system is better on its merits. Number two, if anything people's pay is going to skyrocket. Large amounts of anecdotal evidence (basically every person I've ever talked to under pay for performance), says everyone gets more raises. Supervisors in the federal government are largely wimps, so basically this is an opportunity to promote their employees and raise their salaries faster. It's nothing to fear from anyone mildly competent, if anything federal employees should be cheering it on because it means more cash faster.

I could go on a screed about how full of turtle excrement John Gage is, but that's an easily observable fact. Now for the politicization argument. For about 98% of federal employees, that proposition is absurd. Why is it absurd? Because most of us have no authority at all, and work within frameworks of regulations that we cannot bend or deviate from at all. Politicians politicize the government by changing and removing those regulations about how and what we're supposed to do in our jobs (which happens often). So for most of us, we're either already politicized, or unpoliticizable because we have relatively little discretion. For the top managers, the 2%, yes they are politicizable. But these people are usually in policy analysis positions and high level management positions, and, sorry, but they're actually supposed to be carrying out the administration in power's priorities. They can resist and offer conflicting points of view, which I doubt anyone is going to hurt them from as long as they don't do it in public (which is illegal anyway)but at the end of the day they should be doing what they're told. Too often they're maverick and don't accomplish anything or have their own agendas not even in the public interest. So I say a round of applause for actually holding these suckers accountable now.

So my conclusion is: the DHS system is progress, and if there was any justice it would be government-wide.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Buttery Guns (Screw You, Taxpayer!)

Thud. That's the sound this GAO Report made when it landed this month. Govexec has all the highlights of GAO's high risk assessments, the closest thing we have in this government to true program evaluation. It's sad that it has to be the red alert programs only, and also when most of them are politically untouchable. The big surprise? No wait, it's not a surprise at all! Pentagon Weapons Systems programs are actually "high risk" for Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. I am shocked and outrage that a fighter plane that is nonsensically manufactured in all 50 states so that no congressman can vote against it without losing jobs for his homies is prone to waste, fraud, and abuse! El Wapo believes it may actually give Rumsfeld the leverage he's always wanted to slice into these programs. I certainly hope so. Most of these newfangled planes and submarines don't ever really materialize, and when they do they hardly serve the ends they intended. Weapons Systems are too much designed to launch major wars against superpowers and are cold war relics. Do we really need a superstealth fighter jet that can outrun any plane in the world when most of our military threats are homemade bombs and guys in pickup trucks strapped with explosives?

Of course, Dick Cheney disagrees, and agrees. We need to get rid of these, if not to stop multi-billion dollar money burning just to reallocate these resources to where they're really needed. If Rumsfeld really goes for the jugular this time and says we need to cancel these behemoths and free taxpayer money, AND IF BY SOME MIRACLE OF GOD HE SUCCEEDS, the man may actually be redeemed in my eyes. Let's just hope he comes back from his little trip in time to take advantage of the ball Comptroller General David Walker has hiked to him.

Back in Green (World Roundup)

It's been awhile. I could say my litany of excuses for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere, but I won't. That's just a waste of space. Instead, I'll put up and shut up and bring you a World Roundup. First: T minus three days until the Iraqi Elections. I'm just about as giddy and enthralled by this story as probably humanly possible. El Wapo has some great stories about it, including our school for candidates. Money Quote: "A former Congressional staffer stands by to emphasize the vital difference between an army of volunteers and an armed militia." Heh. Also, for a look into how torn the Sunni community is, take a look at El Wapo's profile of two Sunni leaders, one who decided to run, one who didn't. CS Monitor has an equally great piece on the new space for women in Iraq's political geography. Honestly, for once every political scientist in this country worth their salt needs to turn their obsessive gaze away from Washington and now to Baghdad. This is history for the world, US, and especially those brave unstoppable Iraqis who show up at the polls on Sunday. 80 percent? I hope they put our own voter turnout to shame. It's especially interesting that Iraq, like a lot of developing countries especially in Africa, has written into the transitional law a mandatory set-aside of parliamentary seats for women. While this turns out to be token offerings in many African Countries the sheer sight of it is bound to be shocking to the Middle East, especially to the Saudis for refusing the role of women to vote at all.

In Palestine, the green scarves, hats, and bandanas of Hamas are starting to mean more than suicide bombers and violence. They're putting a bid in not just to join the political process, but to form a reformist party out of their members. While they make no beans that they're from Hamas and are violent militants, they've chosen to throw quite a few of their names in the Change and Reform List. Says the party's spokesman "We are not running for this election as Hamas." Whether he means it or not, stringing together a sentence without talk of destroying the Zionist enemy is encouraging to say the least.

Dollar Watch: More trouble for the dollar. The one positive thing: a forced revaluation of China's currency. That could help tilt the monstrous trade imbalance a tiny bit. But still, to me, doubtful. The UN is also reportedly being shaken up by Central and Eastern Europe. They've essentially become the big watchdogs and serious whiners about human rights abuses, especially in the Kofi Annan's Era of Dictator Love. Transitions Online speculates that this probably has a lot to do with their path to joining the EU and efforts to show progress with liberty at home. They've often also been crucial deciders in debates over resolutions relating to Sudan and other abusers that some developing countries actually side with. AllAfrica has itself a potent reflection on Tsunami aid relief and its startling generosity and the slow aid buildup related to AIDS deaths.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Virginia (and Other) Woes?

Nothing gets my blood boiling more than discussions about DC's bumper-to-bumper syndrome. Virginia pseudo-blog Bacon's Rebellion has a serious fixation with public enemy number one, with their weekly emails often covering traffic a whopping 50% (or more) of the time. While I'd rather bear Mark Warner's child than align with most of their writers on state tax issues, when it comes to remedying to our traffic woes, I'm behind them 100%.

I've argued for a while that we couldn't trust the obese. Case in point: Thanks to the judicial system for today, nary a fat person will be avoiding their local grease shop. "I'd like a combo number 3 with punitive damages on the side please!"

And oh, the First Lady was finally arrested for being intoxicated BEHIND THE WHEEL. Don't worry, I'm just waiting for that dude from Revenge of the Nerds II and Billy Madison to show up and save the day!

Hybrids, The Weapon of Choice

Mr. Proliferation and Ken, I think you guys will finally agree on something.

Presenting the "Hawkish Tree Hugger.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Blame Canada?

C-plus Augustus and the only real diplomatic question that needs an answer: "Why are we paying to defend Canada?" Uncouth? Surely. Boneheaded? As expected. To the point? You betcha.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Celebrating Americans

Lets try and forget that DC was shut down by a bunch of angry hooligans this past week (in addition to some fur-coat bearing hooligans with "Don't mess with Texas!" bumper stickers covering their pick-ups). This thread on Drezner's sight is exactly why national holidays celebrating great American INDIVIDUALS (MLK, Presidents Day, etc.) are a bad idea. Don't even get me started on why we waste a precious national holiday on a single Italian (who wasn't even the first one in the New World).

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Lincoln Chafee continues to embarrass himself

The liberal Republican senator, closing his questions with Dr. Condoleezza Rice today, recommended that she read a book by Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, that's right, a whiney liberal Northeasterner told an accomplished, professional, well-educated African American woman to READ A BOOK by MLK.
Senator Lincoln Chafee closing his questions to Doctor Rice: "Thank you very much. I know my time is up. I’ll just say thank you for your time. And yesterday we talked about Martin Luther King Day and I recommend you read his great treatise, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?"

This is the cherry on top of the sundae. Yesterday Chafee prodded Rice to "say something nice" about the despotic regime of Marxist Castro-posterior-smooching Hugo Chavez. Who does Chafee think Rice is, Cyrus Vance?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A proposal to reform Social Security

(as published on my blog, Shepherd's Pie, Web Edition today)

Trolling the US Newswire website today, I came across this release on Social Security Reform by the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI). After checking out their website, I had a few questions on their plan. They promptly replied.

What follows is what I asked and what they answered. Thanks to IPI's Sonia Hoffman and Empower America's Larry Hunter for the prompt reply:

Shepherd's Pie, Web Edition: "How closely do your proposed Social Security reforms track with existing plans by the President or congressional leaders and where do they differ?"

Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI): "The Ryan/Sununu Plan, which does not raise taxes or cut future benefits, tracks the IPI plan very closely. Other large-account plans offered in the Congress with raise taxes, cut future benefits or both. Option 2 proposed by the President’s Commission has a small account (4 percent capped at $1,000) and cuts future benefits."

SPWE: "On your website, you mention that six (6) percent of personal SS
contributions should be invested. Why six?"

IPI: "Most financial analysts agree that five percent would be sufficient for most people to fund their own retirement. Six is chosen here because Social Security is so "progressive," i.e., so generous to low-income workers, that in order to ensure that they too can benefit from the move to personal accounts, they need to save on the order of six to seven percent, thus we have made the contribution schedule "'progressive," allowing workers to save 10 percent of the first $10,000 and five percent thereafter."

SPWE: "Is this more of a floor than a ceiling? Should, in the view of IPI, taxpayers be able to contribute more than this six percent? If so, is there a contribution ceiling which Social Security should impose? If so, is that a concession to the practical nature of reforming and resolving the Social Security financing structure more so than an ideological tenet?"

IPI: "Workers would be able in toto to contribute more than the personal accounts amount if you take into consideration existing 401Ks, IRA, etc. Moreover, IPI supports universal saving accounts as one component of tax reform, which would have the effect of allowing workers to save more."


Thursday, January 13, 2005

What Is Left?

The accusation by Michael Barone that liberals and the democratic party have become the defenders of the status quo and that conservatives amd the republican party are the true visionaries made the blog rounds a long time ago, but it got me thinking. Especially with the vigorous and alienating Social Security Pusch. Barone has a lot of good points, but his arguments mainly rest on the fact that the democrats and liberals are somehow out of ideas because they have accomplished their entire agenda and there is nothing left for them to do.

If I was a Republican and a conservative, I would be more worried about it happening the other way around. In history many parties have accomplished their way out of existence, for instance the Liberal Democratic Party in Britain, who had one of their main goals as Universal Suffrage and limited work weeks. Really, when they completed that, they had little left. Karl Rove and Bush think that Social Security Reform is going to help them build a permanent majority, but they should be more worried about whether they have much left to do should they succeed. If the Third Rail is somehow eliminated, they also have the fact that they turned Medicare into the pork machine to private corporations they've always wanted, ballooned the Pentagon, and cut taxes so much that the government is rapidly defunding itself. What is left for Republicans to campaign on, especially domestically? There's always going further with a lot of Bush's entitlement reforms, but that really lacks much traction. This is a paradox in politics, because as you accomplish things and get stuff done, you take away people's reasons to vote for you. This is what Barone argues happened to the Democrats and why now they're stuck playing defense. The Republicans have almost completed their offensive policy blitzkrieg, and soon they will find themselves in the same position.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Stuff of Nightmares

Virtual Stan scares me in some way that is deep, guttural, reverberating. Sort of like killer Japanese wraiths. I salute you, Screenhead

The Stuff of Nightmare

Virtual Stan scares me like only a killer Japanese wraith would. I salute you, Screenhead

A Hard Question: Healthcare and Big Brother

Yikes. Normally I don't touch Healthcare with a ten-foot pole, but there's so much interesting news about it lately and now that I'm leaving the Department of Veterans Affairs for Bureau of the Census, I also have thoughts about the enormous Veterans Health Administration. So today, I have three topics of discussion: Medicaid in Florida, TennCare, and the VHA. All of the three introduce a lot of problems that arise with government intervention in health care, and I plan to guide my way through these antinomies to come up with a dialectic synthesis. Along the way, let economics, experience in government, and general anti-ideology be my guide!

In Florida we have Jeb Bush coming out today railing about the impending collapse of the Medicaid program in Florida. He proposes a dramatic revamping of the program to grab the 17 billion dollar bull by its jagged horns. Right now, Florida pays doctors and hospitals directly for the cost of the poor in treatments under Medicaid's formula of the Federal Government picking up 61% of the tab and states the rest. Right now, the system is also not working. Bush's solution is to create a new system, one that basically has the government funding people's HMO's and private health insurance plan. Poor people would go out, buy health insurance, and the government would reimburse them for it. Not many details, but it could essentially create a voucher-style system for health care. Before the system basically functioned as a safety net, and would be undergoing an extreme marketization.

In Tennessee, TennCare is a system that has basically emulated a completely universal government health care system, similar to HillaryCare. A comprehensive view of the challenges with that can be found here, along with links to other articles in the whole special coverage The Tennessean has dedicated to the battle over TennCare. The state budget has swelled to the point of busting because of TennCare, and Gov. Phil Bresden has decided to eliminate several hundred thousand from the program and cap coverage for the remainder, although children will continue to have full coverage. Essentially he's falling back on what is a more traditional approach to Medicaid than the broad palette of TennCare.

Lastly, there's the VA Hospitals. VA numbers of patients have actually are actually more eb and flow than you would expect for a government program (usually it's just up and up and up!) But the veteran population is both alike and different than other populations because of the changing nature of wars and the number of them. For those of you who aren't familiar with who VA covers and why, it is basically written into some complex eligibility rules. Overall if someone has x% (x is set by law, and has changed several times) of a physical/mental disability that is service-related, meaning occurred while they were in military service, then VA hospitals cover them for life. Otherwise, they are on their own and VA doesn't touch them after they leave the military. While they're in the military, VA also doesn't touch them, they interact with DOD facilities and the DOD medicines. Also, VA runs a comprehensive program involving discounted medical supplies and prescription drugs. Essentially, it's a miniature SOLELY GOVERNMENT RUN AND CONTROLLED (not just regulated or purchased, straight command and control socialist-style) health care system, fully-functional, for service-disabled vets. I've worked at VA now for awhile, and I've noticed a lot of things about the hospitals that treat these service-disabled veterans. Primarily two things: the care ain't great and they are really expensive. Also that veterans go to these hospitals because they pay for everything and they make them feel special, even though the care is not quite as good and it comes at enormous expense. We pay 28 billion to treat 1 million veterans. Do the math. That's about 28,000 each PER YEAR, and that's not counting all the expenses resulting from other programs, agencies, and offices at VA that support the hospitals. That's an awful lot of money. I'm not saying, in some sick way, that the veterans don't deserve to be taken care of (even though the Bush Administration obviously doesn't think Nursing Homes are as worthwhile, but they may be right about that). I will say, though that there might be a better way to do it.

I bring up these three cases because I think they show a cross section of different ways government interacts with health care. In Florida, right now the state has a traditional medicaid system (centrist) but is contemplating moving in a radical private insurance/HMOs direction (center-right, for the sake of this argument, straight right wing would be no government involvement in healthcare). TennCare is a single payer, European style healthcare system (left) contemplating moving into a traditional medicaid system (centrist). Veterans Affairs is a government run and controlled health care system, including statutorily determined discount rates for prescription drugs with the purchasing power to back it up (so left it's basically communist), and is probably going to stay that way. This is a variety of means of dealing with how much and in what way governments should interact in the healthcare system, but boils down to the central argument, single-payer (government) or multi-payer (private market, employer, plus government or in a perfect libertarian utopia just private market) system. The European or TennCare left-wing models are obvious budget busters and require high taxes to take care of their expenses, as well as creating access problems by putting the health care system at the mercy of government bureaucracy. The pros are that it cuts administrative costs because only one payer is managing the system, as opposed to several, and that it produces some level of fairness. The cons are that it distorts prices which causes economic efficiency and because of the bureaucracy involved stifles innovation in health care.

Multi-payer systems establish a market for health care, creating incentives for innovation by establishing different payers and providers. Essentially, when government is introduced into paying for some of it, as with traditional Medicaid and Medicare, it creates a two track system of private market health care and government approved and paid for health care. That's problematic in a number of ways. The pros are that it keeps the innovation associated with a private market, but compounds administrative costs, undermines fairness, and creates unequal and poor treatment for those of lower incomes if they can get access through the government-paid system at all. Bush's voucher system, and for that matter John Kerry's old health care plan, seeks to circumvent the problem of a two-track health care system and maximize innovation by essentially saying the government will pay for people's private health insurance. This means that people would by health insurance and get health care on the private market in return for the government forking over cash for whatever plan and method they happen to choose.

If you are going to stick with a multi-payer system, I think this center-right mode of operation is the best. It accepts unfairness, which is just true of market economies, but avoids the two-track problem of traditional medicaid and minimizes government intervention. Innovation and choice would be more rampant in health care if this market element is allowed to completely rein, and some fairness is introduced because invididuals of lower income can select the same health plans as those with higher income and have the government pick up the tab. So all that discussion, just for me to say that I agree with Jeb Bush (although I also agreed with John Kerry, because this was his plan on a federal level, to let poor people buy into the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan). So, Jeb Bush and John Kerry agree, and agree with both of them. If you're going to have a private market and multi-payer insurance, the government should basically just become like an employer for poor people and help them buy their own private insurance plans, not set up a health care system just for them that would be shitty and foul, or create an inefficient bureaucracy to regulate healthcare into providing.

That, coincidentally, I also extend to Veterans. I think the government should get rid of most of the Department of Veterans Affairs and effectively privatize it by reimbursing the veterans for their private insurance plans and prescription drugs. I doubt the cost of private insurance coverage and prescription drugs will equal 28,000K a year on average for each veteran, and even if it does it ensures veterans will get better care. That and free up thousands of doctors and nurses currently taken by the VA Medical System for the private market, simultaneously helping our doctor and nurse shortage.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Question That Wasn't Asked

On her self-titled Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics program today, the veteran CNN anchor today interviewed Washington State Governor-elect Christine Gregoire about her inauguration tomorrow and the controversies swirling around her close electoral win-by-hand-recount.

When compared against Woodruff's November 30 interview of then-Governor-elect Dino Rossi, Woodruff was consistent in positing questions about the ultimate uncertainty of the election results, regardless of official certification.

Conspicuously absent, however, was a question to Rossi about "pulling the state together." [see below]

It's frequently a worry of the liberal media when a conservative Republican wins a close election, but seldom, if ever, is it a worry when a Democrat wins. True, Woodruff did show a concern about political ill will stewing in the aftermath of the recounts. But a question about where Gregoire might shift to the center or grant concessions to the Republicans as a gesture of good will? Fuhgeddaboutit!

"If you are, indeed, victorious, do you feel -- how do you pull the state together? And do you feel you govern as a Republican? Or do you, you know, try to make happy the other half of the state, almost, that voted for Christine Gregoire."--- Judy Woodruff to Dino Rossi, on the 30 November 2004 edition of Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff.

A Christian Nation

Fred Clark over at Slacktivist has a thick and wildly distressing post on the new Gourevitch book. With Hotel Rwanda set to come out soon and the events in Darfur, the Rwanda genocide is being talked about a lot lately. As it should. Not only is it a shame on the UN, US, and really all countries that sat by at the time, but it is a keen example of complete and total depraved sociopathy. Clark highlights the fact that the Hutu Power ideology was so powerful it even turned religious leaders to massacring Tutsis who were members of their same denomination and engineering attacks on them. Frightening to the bone. What is stressed is the sociology of the situation, and how even though most of Rwanda was Christian the Hutu Power ideology had them set it aside and sent people into massacring members of their own churches.

Jerry Bruckheimer, NASA Administrator

I know they were looking for people to replace genius Sean O'Keefe, but this is ridiculous! NASA is sending an unmanned spacecraft on a comet mission. The name of the mission? "Deep Impact." I'm sure Morgan Freeman and Elijah Wood are doing aerial backflips in their little spaceboots and Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis are crying perfectly globular Zero-G tears. The point of "Deep Impact" is to send the craft to crash into the comet, creating a crater and providing some clue as to the internal composition of it. Maybe next we can mine them, although that's always been a pretty farfetched notion. If anything, though, this is NASA doing what it should be doing: hardcore nonprofitable space science, what the private sector is NEVER going to step into (unless the purpose of crashing the device into the comet was to carve a Swoosh into it).

Pay the Cost to Be the Boss

The Coalition of the Willing is about to be minus one again. Ukraine has ordered its troops pulled out. By the Parliament first, and then a set order from President Kuchma. Part of me wonders: is this payback for the US role in the revote? After all, it was Kuchma who made the order, and Yanukovych was his right hand man. Apparently, though, Yushchenko will announce the details of the plan. The chess game continues. . .is this just Putin wielding his fist over Eastern Europe? Chances are it's more likely just the voice of the Ukrainian people speaking. I wonder why there's NO COVERAGE OF THIS AT ALL in "America's Newspaper?"

Death to Shrum!

It's been a while since I last denigrated the Democratic Party/John Kerry, but thanks to a post by Drezner, the fire inside of me has been rekindled. For my lunch hour at least.

Alt(house)ernative Views

Ann Althouse takes aim at the whole Michael Moore vs. Mel Gibson, Left vs. Right notion. Her post wonders whether each can really legitimately call on the other as a spokesman. I've always wondered this as well, not so much about Michael Moore, but about Mel Gibson. Gibson's religious views are infamously conservative, but what about his views on everything else? Plenty of movies he's been in argue outright liberal views, especially the Lethal Weapon series. Additionally, he does express his skepticism about Iraq, and consequentially should because the Pope said it was an unjust war that "threatens humanity" to begin with. If he's truly as dogmatic a Catholic as he lets on he would have a skeptical view about war. I think counting on Mel too heavily to have "converted" to the right could be damning because other than appearing on Fox News to defend his movie and speak out against Stem Cell Research he truly hasn't.

Monday, January 10, 2005


There's definitely one thing that's always permeated my mind through all the comic books, movies, and tv cartoon shows related to X-men. I mean, sure Professor X has Cerebro, but beyond that how does he select the kids for his school? There must be some sort of application process for those mutants not quite powerful enough to make the cut. McSweeney's has taken it upon itself, in its constant brilliance, to make rejection letters from Xavier's School for Exceptional Youth. With some hilarious results.

E-Government (Scew You, Taxpayer!)

E-Government. In everything from the commercials of Money Mad Pirates (aka Contractors) to Corporate Embezzlers (aka Contractors who furnish non-functional systems at great taxpayer expense) to panaceic propaganda (aka Worldbank Reports) you see its merits touted and a bunch of self-evident headnodding about how it's going to change the world. Momentum has gathered behind it so much that spending on it next year is going to swell. Congress is skeptical, and they have every reason to be.

In my career as a purchaser of endless IT products and a contract negotiator on ccomplex e-government projects, there's a theme that comes up time and time again: irrational technophilia, all at taxpayers' expense. Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends work for these Money Mad Pirates, but the same frenzy that grips the corporate world about relentless and gigantic IT spending and a fascination with the latest toys unfortunately works its way through the government. The logic of e-government is to use IT to facilitate greater citizen interaction with elected officials, and to get more information sooner to those who need them. For an in-depth view of the logic of e-government, watch the movie What amazes me about that movie is how they didn't get their company off the ground despite terrible execution of a not so great idea, because I've seen worse of both flourish in the government IT contracting community for e-government.

Fancy toys in e-government consist of electronic comments systems, web portals, intranets, information clearinghouses, online libraries, and other such things. Strides have been made, that I won't lie about. Some government websites recently have even turned out to be helpful! The GAO is one such one that publishes constant wastes of taxpayer money and failed programs in nice reports you can download and read. But what's the problem? As with most activities government undertakes, for every visible success there are ten invisible and very expensive screwups. The statistic useful: 60% of projects end in failure. The government, in its wisdom, purchases e-government contracts and goods in endless strings of ill-conceived pilot programs, crony capitalism of political appointees wanting contracts awarded to friends of theirs, and giant multi-million dollar tasks to upgrade and make public databases that never ends up happening. Why does it keep happening? Like most great wastes of taxpayer money, it's related to politics. Every President needlessly boosts e-government budgets, even though they have questionable benefits in relation to the absurd costs entailed and make public information of dubious value, because most IT services by the government go straight into private sector coffers. Pork to the technology sector.

The President's Management Agenda stresses E-Government as an end, and virtually the only real indicator of a projects success is spending money and buying stuff, as well as spamming the public with as much useless information as possible. What a great trend. That I have entered an enraged fugue inspired by experiences in my profession is obvious, but I call on anyone to question E-government initiatives and ask: does this really connect the government and people, or does this just a bad idea full of technological voodoo that's going to line corporate pockets? Too often it's the latter. The idea of being able to do one's civic duty and interact with a responsive government all without having to change out of your pajamas is nice, but the technology just isn't there yet, and we all know the government is even behind the technology.

Over the Edge (World Roundup)

I haven't done one of these in awhile, but it's time. As much of an event of global importance the Tsunami is, I'm not going to talk about it at all. Why? Because there are other bloggers doing that better and there's also other potentially important things going on. Stories that are slipping by the wayside very quickly. I'll start with CS Monitor's Africa Notebook on the topic of Sudan. A peace settlement is finally happening between the North and South, which for people who don't follow Sudan closely DOES NOT MEAN Darfur, where genocides are occuring. What it does mean is that now the government is out of excuses to handle the Janjaweed, but since no one has applied any real pressure to the government anyway we'll see if something happens. The peace settlement does officially end the longest-running civil war in Africa's history though, and that's good news by any count, and a time for rebuilding in an area that's never even seen the light of development. Good news for Sudan.

Next, to Palestine where Abbas is the victor, and one with the kind of mandate that Bush can never dream of. Let's see if he has earned political capital, and plans to spend it. I myself would wonder about Abbas, because at times he has come across as a cool moderate who decries violence against civilians and suicide bombings, but then turns into a hot radical talking about the "Zionist enemy." Barghouti should have labeled him a flip-flopper, that might have bit into his numbers. Then maybe a campaign by the "Jihadists for Truth."

And, surprise, audits show the UN oil for food is a mismanaged mess! I have a long theory about this, and that is one of accountability and transparency. Plainly, if you don't have those two, there is no incentive for an organization to behave efficiently and achieve results. I think it applies to governments and corporations (after all, how many corporations do we know recently simply covered up their failures and continued pressing on? they found ways around the transparency in the marketplace and did away with their accountability). The UN has no accountability to any people because it is not elected, and no transparency in its processes because no single entity controls it or polices it. Until that changes, the performance incentives for the UN won't. That's just how it is. I think part of UN reform is going to have to be establishing a lot of transparency reforms similar to those governments do that have to be provided to all the member states. There's some evidence in Volcker's report that UN auditors were kind of doing their job, but just missed the areas that were really problematic. Unless there's a requirement in the UN's Charter and law that they poke their, they will avoid it. Who wants to audit your boss? In democracies you have to count on the opposition party to really provide that kind of pressure, and in corporations equivalently you have to count on shareholders. The UN doesn't really have either.

Speaking of voting and responsiveness, the Iraqi Electoral Board in Anbar province resigned due to insurgent threats. Can Iraqi elections catch a break at all? Not only have these people resigned, but they've had to go into hiding. The Chairman doesn't have kind words about those hoping to stick to the timeline either. We're headed quick for a direction in which Sunnis are largely excluded from the elections, the Insurgency manufacturing for itself a continued reason for the Insurgency to take place. Hollow gesture of the month goes (not to Iraqi elections), but to Iran, who is allowing nuclear inspectors to take samples at a possible weapons sight, but get this, not to inspect military equipment! As frightening as Iran is, it has been expert at playing brinksmanship. With every move they give just enough ground not to jeopardize their weapons program and to take the wind out of the sails of those who call them an imminent threat and uncooperative. Every measure is mixed, and it makes it harder to conjure up a George Tenet style "slam dunk."

Lastly, now that Yushchenko has won Ukraine, he has a lot of fences to mend and way to go. He knocked out Putin's boy, and Transitions Online makes it clear that Putin is not likely to take that sitting down. He might even poison someone. Oh, wait, too late. . .The Orange Revolution has a long way forward in it's new pro-West path, and the Russian Question will need to have an answer.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Heavyweight Belt

I would write something about Alberto Gonzales and torture. Granted it disgusts me thoroughly, as it should a lot of people. But I think others have written better about. An especially wicked fight has erupted between Glenn and Andrew. Glenn weighs in handily with this massive post of his, which he has been continuously updating ad naseum. It is link-rich as Black Hades himself. Andrew has been responding steadily after starting the fight here, here, here, and here, but you can basically keep scrolling up to witness the verbal barrage. Again, Glenn retaliates finally here. Possibly more to follow. I could never hope to discuss the issue with as much richness as these two, so hats off to 'em. Andrew, once again, has shown off his mastery as a Great Thinker, but Glenn demonstrates his power and virtuosity as a Great Linker.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Militant Wing of the Salvation Army

CS Monitor has a great article on the politics of donations and how disaster relief has changed over time. Things that might surprise you: India is turning down relief funds, and Thailand is afraid that accepting that money might hurt it's credit rating. For those of us in the developed world that would probably do a backflip out of total astonishment, there's one term that's helpful to understand: postcolonialism. And you don't have to be Edward Said to understand that, but instead might be better with a little Dipesh Chakrabarty, a much more sensible critic. A lot of the nations in this area aren't the hopeless "Third World" countries they were viewed as not too long ago, with India and China hopping into the fray of relief (with China, it's a trend. 150 mil for Afghanistan, AND peacekeeping troops in Haiti). These countries don't want to be seen as helpless, now or in the future, and are desperate to build their own identities and futures. Postcolonialism is becoming a strong discourse in these nations, with eagerness to seize hold of their own destinies outside of the West. Also, it's critical to remember that the word "aid" is often synonomous with "loans." It's not grants just handed out, as too many countries have had to learn again and again the hard way.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Tsunami aid from US should include military effort

Not sure what the Pentagon is doing about it, but from the first response of US military assets on 26 December through the conclusion of US military assistance in the region, I suggest the Pentagon should calculate the expenses incurred in operating US military assets to provide relief for tsunami victims and publicize it. The value of these operations is extremely vital to the relief effort and should be considered as part of the total US governmental contribution, along with the $350 million pledge of assistance.

Die, Libertarian Scum

Anyone who knows my preoccupation with political philosophy knows I have nothing but pure distaste for the brand of intellectual chicanery that is Libertarianism. Senor C. has witnessed me several times bluster and spin out anti-libertarian tirades like a scenery-chewing Al Pacino philosopher. It's not that I'm some sort of communist, or that I'm some sort of even big-government liberal, I just can't stand people who have such naivety. James F over at why.i.hate.dc has a brilliant social, intellectual, and just plain hilarious smackdown of these philosophical charlatans who believe the government is essentially the only force of evil in existence and the more we limit government the more problems we solve. I'm willing to grant these idiots that it's true in a lot of cases, but as a general rule it's pure trash.

If you want to be Lockean classical liberal, fine. If you like Adam Smith, fine. I love Adam Smith. But Adam Smith advocated, in the Wealth of Nations: public education, the public to pay for churches, the public to pay for ministers training, and that the interests of businessmen and merchants were against that of society as a whole. Conservative, absolutely. Sensible, absolutely. Limited government, absolutely. But not libertarian. Libertarians believe that the only force of coercion in society and the only place freedom is taken away is in government action. That's complete jive. And they are complete jiveturkeys. It's obvious there are social causes and society that exert pressure and take away people's freedom with just about the same ferocity and probably more authority than government does. Not to mention economic necessity, which is a harsh mistress as well.

But I'll stop here, because Libertarianism is obviously a bastard child of Lockean liberalism, just like Rawlsian Liberalism is, and all of the above are ridiculous when you look at their philosophical bases in "states of nature" and "free will" and "rationality." And people are, I'm sorry, not all that rational, nor was there ever, I'm sorry, a state of nature.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Senseless Criticism: I Live Again

So I read a book, and meant to do a review on it, and then didn't get around to it. Then I read another book, and still haven't reviewed that. So I do them both at once now! And you like it! At least they both have a common aspect, from very different angles, that is "life" after "death." First, comes Richard K. Morgan's Broken Angels. I'm interested enough to want to read his new book, Market Forces, but I have the rest of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle to wade through. Yes, and for those who don't know already and who haven't read this blog in enough detail, I'm in fact a huge scifi dork. Onto Broken Angels. The major twist Morgan has brought to the table though started in his book Altered Carbon. In the Altered Carbon universe, there are two main things of interest: 1) the human soul has been digitized, stored in something called a "cortical stack" that can be moved from body to body, or as they call bodies, "sleeves." So, your consciousness can travel through several different bodies, living out dozens and dozens of lives and potentially dozens of bloodcurdling, violent deaths. 2) There was life on Mars, and the Martians spread an infinite wealth of amazing technology barely understandable to humans across the galaxy that has to be found and acquired as quickly as possible. These two facts of life have warped humanity and morality severely.

Broken Angels follows Altered Carbon's lovable asshole of a main character, Takeshi Kovacs. Altered Carbon had Kovacs cast as an ex-elite military type set on a detective mission, combining the genres of cyberpunk and detective thriller into a potent mix. Broken Angels has him as a mercenary, and blends cyberpunk and archaeology thriller. As the story begins, Kovacs is getting killed for about the dozenth time in a month and decides he wants a more stable gig than professional dying in an armed conflict. He runs into an old pal, who knows an archeologue (basically futuristic lingo for a hybrid between an archaeologist, anthropologist, and treasure-hunter) who found a big score. They rescue her from a prison camp with a daring con, find a corporate sponsor to back their exploits, and then Kovacs seduces her. Graphic sex ensues. A team of rough and tough other mercenaries is collected, then dispatched to aid in the wild goose chase. Kovacs also seduces one of them, and graphic sex ensues. After a series of puzzles, an attack by a vicious evolving nanotechnology, and a whole lot of internal bickering and sabotage the team opens a mysterious Martian gate. The gate leads to an actual Martian spacecraft which turns out to be a discovery of the biggest (literally) piece of Martian technology ever found that could define the future. Oh, and it's also haunted. . .

This sounds like standard thriller fare, and it has all of the action, nudity, mayhem, snarky dialogue, and pliot twists you'd expect from one and bonus thought-provoking material. Broken Angels takes place on the bleak world of Sanction IV, whose inhabits are devoid of hope and constant victims to a ridiculous war that makes the trench warfare stalemates of World War I look meaningful and productive in comparison. People die, and are resleeved, and die again, and resleeved, rinse and repeat so much that their lives, culture, and worldviews are about as jaded as existential Frenchmen. The book has heavy philosophical overtones, enriching the seedy and complex world of Altered Carbon with the philosophy of Quellism and the counterproductive structure of intergalactic corporate power politics and capitalism fueled by archaeology. Heavy social theory and philosophy regarding the inherent pigheadedness of the human race versus the allegedly (but turns out not so pure) superior Martian race are also trotted out in a more interesting way than you might assume. Morgan thought the Martians out carefully, and their society is nuanced and unique as the characters off their own takes on what the extinct aliens were like.

In other words, it's a scifi adventure with a brain and a soul that examines issues of life, afterlife, guilt, and redemption. I don't like it as much as Altered Carbon, but there's still plenty to enjoy and think about. My one major criticism is that it often tended to get tangled in the overnumerous plot twists, and the actual story motion ducked and lunged forward, with little happening and then too much all at once to process. The ending was also uneven and rushed, giving little resolution to the superclimactic battle between Kovacs and his former Commander along the outer hull of the alien spacecraft. It left me feeling a little ticked at the end and frustrated with what was otherwise an excellently-written and provocative book.

Second on the roster, I present Sean Stewart's Perfect Circle. Unlike Morgan, I haven't read any of Sean Stewart's other books. But, apparently, they're really good, as acres of critic quotes tell you. Perfect Circle is many things, but imagine The Sixth Sense meets The Big Lebowski meets Ghostbusters, and you've got yourself an idea. The protagonist, William "Dead" Kennedy, DK for short, is an absolute bum. DK is the kind of worthless high school dropout bum who at the beginning of the story is fired from his job at Petco. Ouch. He's got problems with his ex-wife, who he's still in love with and who has inconveniently married a short-tempered marine who has much better prospects (he's an assistant manager at a mall store). Also, said marine is raising DK's biological daughter as his own, and even had his own name put on the girl's birth certificate as her father. While DK has visitation rights, the ex-marine hates him and is looking for the slightest excuse to get a restraining order against him.

Sounds pretty standard, right? A real family drama. Well, how about this. Since he was a kid, DK has seen ghosts, hence his nickname, "Dead" Kennedy. Dead relatives, dead hobos, dead murderers who speak and interact with him and who no one else can see. Growing up in his tiny town of Deer Park, TX, everyone knew this about him and tolerated him. But now, out in the big city, DK has to fight the urge not to seem like a madman and often fails. His cousin Tom Hanlon soon calls him up with a ghost problem, and when DK shows up to investigate, it turns out that Hanlon is looking to get rid of the frightened ghost of a woman he raped and beat to death and who cries in his garage everynight. DK struggles with his psycho cousin Hanlon in a freaky garage sequence complete with freaky naked murdered ghost and ends up killing Hanlon with some gasoline and useful sparks in self-defense, but not before getting shot himself. That's up to about page 40.

The rest of the novel involves DK struggling to put his life together, to win his wife back, and to win the love of his daughter, who has ceased calling him "dad" and has taken up the more derogatory, "Will." Also, he starts his own paranormal investigations business, gets tormented by his dead relatives, and is frequently manipulated and haunted by the ghost of his dead cousin Hanlon, who antagonizes him and swears he will find a way to kill them, kill them all just for loving Will. The basic story is interesting, and the antihero bum's obsession with REM and other 80s underground music and a simple, pure love for his daughter makes him one of the most compelling characters for a first person novel I've read lately. The ghost stories are creepy and full of weird imagery, sometimes recalling the Sam Raimi mystery flick The Gift but with much more of a comedy and misanthropic bend to it. DK has bad luck, then worse luck, and follows one ill-conceived plan after another through a book that's remarkable full and rich for 240 pages with an ending that actually delivers the goods. I definitely got interested in Sean Stewart's work through this, from his simplistic narrative and eye to character detail to his wild imagination in imagery and analogy. Mystery, comedy, and horror lose all meaning as identifiers and the end result is a story with good endings and bad endings that leaves you with a certain since of ambiguous satisfaction. It's a fast read and anyone who likes ghost stories and appreciates the twisty complexities of interacting with human beings both dead and alive will love this book.

A Gesture Speaks a 1000 Words

Sometimes symbolic presentations can mean a lot. Actions are more than what they do, but what they mean. President Bush has always gotten that message, even when he's callously pandering during election cycles. And he also gets it when it's important and he does the right thing. We're officially going to be half-staffing it today:

"Below information received this date regarding the lowering of the American Flag. Please disperse to your field entities ASAP.

From: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Date: January 03, 2005
To: All Regions and Federal Agencies
Subject: Occasion to Half-Staff the American Flag


The American flag will be flown at Half-Staff beginning JANUARY 3 2005. The American Flag will be flown at Half-Staff until Sundown FRIDAY, JANUARY 7, 2005.

That's memo text. Bravo, W. Also, sending out a true bi-partisan coalition to raise funds (which they'll do handsomely, I bet) is another great idea. I criticized Bush at first on the Tsunami day, mostly because I just thought he should've been out there in the press that day talking about the "tragedy," but he's been pure class now that he's gotten going on this disaster.

On the criticism of U.S. aid, all the talk about it only amount to three and a half hours of fighting the Iraq war is true, these rantings miss the big picture. I offer the following four rebuttals to such foolishness:

1) We've still dumped way more cash than any of the other countries involved (shit, even Amazon has crossed over 13 million dollars at the time of writing this. . .that itself put most of the other countries to shame!)

2) Two battlegroups have been contributed, when you add the expenditures in actually launching those and tasking them to the efforts, would blow the 35 million dollar figure way up.

3) Our government does actually have to follow rules and get funding approved by Congress because we live in a democracy. Federal agencies and even the state department only have so much they can throw discretionarily into international incidents, and federal law prohibits them from reprogramming other funds without getting congressional approval. So any BIG DOLLAR amounts, like those used to fight the war in Iraq, actually have to be offered as supplmentals and voted on. As much as to the chagrin of C-Plus Augustus, the Executive Branch doesn't have power of the purse.

4) Get out your wallet and raise that amazon figure. The Red Cross deserves some of your money and you know it. Stop waiting for the government to fix all your problems and do something about it yourself.

I hate to defend this President, but his response to this has been fair and reasonable. If all his critics can do is summon ridiculous arguments about being stingy with no factual basis then they need to grow up and focus on something else, like how he's going to basically fake his way to his halving the deficit promise. (Hat tip, Sullivan)