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news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

News this week 02/13 - 02/19 - North Korean nukes

North Korean Paranoia

North Korea is the ultimate in totalitarian feudal societies, where its leadership maintains loyalty through lavish perks and brutal repression of any opposition, or even if they just need a patsy to blame their bad behavior on (re: the chopping down of a tree in the DMZ in the 1970s nearly lead to war with the US - when they blinked, several senior NK generals were executed). NK is paranoid in believing that the US is just looking for an excuse to attack, which actually may end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their diplomacy is one of brinkmanship and aggressive posturing; their leader is worshipped as a god.

NK long-standing goals are financial aid, diplomatic recognition, and a non-aggression treaty with Washington.

NK and the US are both digging in their heels. Neither is blinking.

NK raised the negotiating ante last week by publicly declaring it had nukes and a refusal to return to six-nation talks. Most nations believe NK has had nukes for a decade.

The China Card

China has considerable leverage with North Korea because it supplies NK with critical fuel (80% of NK's energy) and food supplies and often uses that leverage to threaten instability on the Korean Peninsula to further other strategic objectives without getting its own hands dirty. But recently, with North Korea's hell-bent pursuit of nuclear weapons, China is learning that having a 'bad boy' ace-card is often worse than a double-edged sword. China, no less than any other country within range of North Korean missles, wants a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. This new declaration (ie threat) may have been aimed at China as much as it was at US

2/13 - Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a phone call China will push for NK to return to the six-nation talks.
2/12 - China has allowed criticism of North Korea and its declaration that it has nuclear weapons to flow freely in state media and in Chinese internet chat rooms. Until now, China has denied NK was really pursuing nukes.

The Six-Nation Talks

From the beginning, the Bush Administration rejected bilateral talks with North Korea in favor of regional six nation talks, including US, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia. China had been convinced to convince North Korea to accept the six nation talks, which did so unwillingly. In the past two years, there have been three rounds of fruitless talks.

Now, North Korea is using its public "We have nukes" announcement to force a return to bilateral talks.

2/12 - The US rejected North Korean demands for bilateral talks and is downplaying NK's nuke threat.
- Rice assures that the US has no intention of attacking NK
- US admin officials are beginning to talk about referring this to the UN for international sanctions against NK
- Japan objects to international sanctions claiming NK would not negotiate then.

South Korean viewpoint

South Korea is understandable nervous about NK. Seoul is within long-range artillery fire from NK batteries and it is common knowledge that NK uses the proximity of four thousand railed artillery pieces pointed at SK heads as a bargaining chip in gaining concessions from other countries. Casualty estimates for just the first day of war are over 1 million.

2/12 - According to Chosunilbo, a conservative SK newspaper, "Washington views (NK's nuke) statement as essentially negotiating rhetoric"

American Domestic Politics

The two parties have very divergent views on how to handle NK and, separately, China. The Democrats favor negotiation and inducements and accuse the Republicans of saber rattling; the Republicans favor negotiation through strength and accuse the Democrats of bribery and caving to NK threats.

2/13 - Sen. Joseph Biden (D - Delaware), ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" that China, South Korea and Japan -- "have got to be ready to use sticks, and we have to be willing to use a few more carrots."

News this week 02/13 - 02/19 - Iraq


United Iraq Alliance got 48% of the vote; the Kurdish Alliance party came in second with 25%; the Iraqi List, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular-oriented party, got 13%. Only the Kurdish party exceed expectations. 67% are needed to form a presidential council. The allocation of seats may take as long as a week after the three-day electoral verification period beginning Monday.

Elections held in Iraq on Jan. 30 were for a 275 seat transitional National Assembly and 18 provincial councils. Nearly 60% of 14 million eligible Iraqi voters participated. The National Assembly, which should be seated by March 1, will draft a constitution and select a president and two vice presidents. The constitution will be drafted by Aug 15 and a national referendum is scheduled for Oct 15. Elections for a permanent government is scheduled on Dec 15 and will take authority on Dec 31.

Shiite turnout (Shiite's comprise approx 60% of Iraqi's) was heavy, especially in the Shiite-dominated south where turnout averaged 61%-75%. Early results indicate the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite clerics and supported by the most influential, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (born and raised in Iran), may win as many as 130-140 of the 275 seats. Major parties in the coalition include the Iraqi National Congress, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Dawa Party.

In the Kurdish-dominated north (20% of the Iraqi population), turnout is ranged from 82-92%. The Kurdish Alliance is an alliance between two Kurdish parties, Kurdistan Democratic Party whose leader is Massoud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan whose leader Jalal Talabani. They are expected to garner 70-75 seats.

The Iraqi List is expected to get 40 seats in the National Assembly.

Sunni turnout (20% of Iraq) was light due to boycotts from two major Sunni groups, the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party, and threats of violence on those who did participate (see Insurgency). No Sunni-dominated area polled more than 33% turnout. In Anbar province, turnout was 2%. The Association of Muslim Scholars are already taking heat for the boycott from Sunnis who did participate in the elections but polled badly.

Current estimates of the top favorites within the United Iraqi Alliance include al-Sadr's allies with maybe 21 seats, Adel Abdul Mahdi with 18, Ibrahim Al-Jafaari with 15 and Ahmed Chalabi with 13 seats. About 65-70 seats would be needed to control the Alliance, which in turn will likely control the National Assembly

Kurdish Iraqis in northern Iraq also voted for a regional parliament, a 105-seat Kurdistan Assembly.

2/13 - The Kurdish Alliance will nominate Jalal Talabani for president of Iraq
2/13 - Current Prime Minister Allawi, of the Iraqi List, met with members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party to attempt to block a Shiite governing coalition from getting the 2/3 majority to set up the transitional presidential council. Allawi is meeting with other minor parties.
2/13 - Election results - United Iraq Alliance got 48%; Kurdish party came in second with 25%. 67% are needed to form a presidential council.
2/12 - Election results to be released Sunday. After three day verification period beginning Monday, it will be considered final.

Possible candidates for prime minister are:
-> Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Assembly,
-> Ibrahim Al-Jafaari of the Dawa party and
-> Adel Abdul Mahdi (or Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim??) of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution.

- The provincial council of Maysan (95% Shiite) in southeastern Iraq is expected to lean favorably toward radical Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr of Najaf, who led a revolt against American forces last year.

- Other local preliminary results released Friday:
..in Wasit province, a party backed by al-Sadr won a majority, the only majority result throughout the country;
..the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq came out on top in the provinces of Karbala, Muthana, Najaf and Qadisiyah;
..the Sadr faction also took Theqar province as well as the Maysan province mentioned earlier
..Prime Minister Ayad Allawi party got 15% of the vote in Baghdad, while the Sadr movement got 9%.


Maysan province, the Marshes at the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, suffer from Saddam's damming of the rivers to flush out rebels and the diversion of the headwaters by Turkey and Syria for their own consumption.

2/12 - "Corruption will destroy all the efforts of reconstruction," said Khalid Qubiian, who ran for the provincial council on a clean-government platform. "That's our main problem."


The insurgency is mostly a Sunni insurgency of Saddam loyalists, Sunni opportunists and Sunnis afraid of an Iraqi government dominated by the majority Shiite population. It is also a rallying point for 'foreign' fighters who want to fight Americans, mostly under an Al Qaeda flag. More than 2,500 suspected insurgents were captured in the month leading up to the elections.

Just over 100 people killed in violence last week.

2/13 - Two Iraqi army officers and a soldier were shot and killed in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of al-Kadimiya; an American military convoy was targeted by a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad with no fatalities; a vehicle accident killed 3 US soldiers near Balad.
2/12 - 17 to 19 Iraqis killed in Musayyib; judge assassinated in Basra; bodies of six Iraqi National Guardsmen and six Kurds working as security guards were found in Mosul.
- An American base in northern Mosul was hit by mortar attacks fired from a local mosque. They responded and killed nine insurgents with no American fatalities. A woman was killed when a mortar round hit her house.
- A military convoy was hit by a roadside bomb new Youssifiyah. The only casualty was an Iraqi bystander.
- 24 Shiites were killed in two attacks, at a bakery and at a mosque.
- The bodies of a Sunni imam and his son were found on a highway outside of Baghdad.

NATO said that a NATO-sponsored military academy to train Iraqi officers would not be ready by September because of a lack of commitment from member nations to commit instructors and support troops.

Of concern is the Shiite holy day of Ashura, on Feb 19. It remembers the death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Hussein. Last year, attacks in Baghdad and Karbala killed nearly 200 Shiite pilgrims. The Iraqi government have said they will close the borders for five days starting Thursday, Feb 17.

American-Iraqi Diplomatic Relations

As Iraq reemerges as a bona fide country, diplomatic relations, particularly with America, are in flux. This section will attempt to document the reforming relations

2/12 - American diplomat Robert Ford met with Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Assembly in Baghdad last week for a couple hours.

Howard Dean speaks as DNC Chair

If you told me one year ago that I'd be standing here today, as your choice for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, I wouldn't have believed you. And neither would have a lot of other people.

But let me say that standing here with the opportunity to lead this party, is a great honor.

I am thankful.

I am humbled.

And I'm ready to get to work.

This was the first race for DNC chairman truly driven by the grassroots of this party. And so, I want you to know this is not my chairmanship, this is our chairmanship.

You have given me an enormous responsibility. But it is a responsibility we share.

We can change this party, but only by working together and competing in all 50 states. We can change this party, but only by working together and becoming a national party again. We can change this party, but only by working together at the local level.

If we want to win nationally, we have to win locally.

With your help, I am certain that today will not mark the end of the process of selecting a DNC chair. Today will be the beginning of the reemergence of the Democratic Party.

We have a lot of work to do.

But we have a bright future, exemplified by the other candidates who joined me in this race. They are all great Democrats.

I want to thank Terry McAuliffe. He has given this party so much. Not to mention every waking day of the past four years as our Chairman.

He has also given us something else -- a party in strong financial shape, with the infrastructure to meet the challenges of the future. That is no small gift. Thank you, Terry McAuliffe.

I also want to thank my family. I wouldn't be here without their support, or their belief in a more fair and just America.

I especially want to thank my wife, Judy, for her patience and her love. She's here with me today.

We all know that we're the party of the big tent and new ideas.

We know that we're the party for young Americans looking for a government that speaks to them, we know that we're the party for working Americans desperate for a government that looks out for them, and we know that we're the party for older Americans and veterans and members of the Armed Services expecting and deserving a government that honors them.

And we know that no matter where you live or who you are, what you look like or how you worship, ours is the diverse party that welcomes you.

But right now, as important as all of that is, it is not enough. We have to move forward. We cannot win if all we are is against the current President.

Republicans wandered around in the political wilderness for 40 years before they took back Congress. But the reason we lost control is that we forgot why we were entrusted with control to begin with.

The American people can't afford to wait for 40 years for us to put Washington back to work for them.

It can't take us that long.

And it won't take us that long, not if we stand up for what we believe in, organize at the local level, and recognize that this party's strength doesn't come from the consultants down, it comes from grassroots up.

The first thing we have to do is stand up for what we believe in.

This week, the Republicans introduced a $2.5 trillion budget that deliberately conceals the cost of their fiscal recklessness.

Their budget doesn't account for the cost of the war in Iraq, or privatizing Social Security. It cuts education, children's health, veterans benefits, and community policing.

As far as I'm concerned, this budget does only two things:

It brings Enron-style accounting to our nation's capital.

And it demonstrates what Americans are beginning to see: Republicans cannot be trusted with your money.

The Republicans know the America they want, and they are not afraid to use any means to get there.

But there is something that this Administration and the Republican Party are very afraid of. It is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe -- the fiscally responsible, socially progressive values for which Democrats have always stood and fought.

Because we are what we believe.

We Democrats believe in fiscal responsibility and we're the only ones who have delivered it.

The first time our nation balanced its budget, it was Andrew Jackson, father of the Democratic Party, who did it. The last time our nation balanced its budget, it was Bill Clinton who did it. Democratic governors do it every single year.

Not one Republican President has balanced the budget in almost 40 years. Borrow and spend. Borrow and spend. Borrow and spend. Americans cannot trust the Republicans with their money.

Americans want a strong and smart national security.

It was Democrats who pushed to create a Department of Homeland Security. It was Democrats who pushed to make our airlines safer. It is Democrats who are now working to make sure we close the remaining gaps in our security. It was Democrats who demanded reform of the intelligence community.

And it is Democrats who are pushing for a foreign policy that honestly deals with the threats of today, and the threats of tomorrow -- like securing the nuclear materials around the world.

Republicans had to be dragged kicking and screaming to our side on all of these issues. There is no reason for Democrats to be defensive on national defense.

We believe that a good job is the foundation of a strong family, a strong community, and a strong country. We're going to work to create good high-paying jobs here in America, and we're going to keep good high paying jobs here in America.

And there is no reason for us to apologize for being willing to stand up for our belief that Americans who get up and go to work everyday have the right to join a union.

We believe every American should have access to affordable health care. It is wrong that we remain the only industrialized nation in the world that does not assure health care for all of its citizens, particularly our children

We believe the path to a better future goes directly through our public schools.

We believe that every single American has a voice and that it should be heard in the halls of power every day. And most importantly, it ought to be heard by guaranteeing an open and fair vote on Election Day.

And finally, we believe that a lifetime of work earns you a retirement of dignity. We won't let that be put at risk by leaders who continually invent false crises to justify policies that don't work, in this case, borrowing from our children and shredding our country's social safety net in the process.

The President's plan for Social Security does nothing to guarantee Social Security's future. But it will cut benefits and cost an estimated 2 trillion dollars. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, we will have to borrow 4.5 trillion dollars to finance the privatization of Social Security in the first 20 years alone.

Let me give you a sense of how much money that is. There are 118 million people under the age of 30 in America today. That means borrowing nearly $45,000 in each of their names.

That's a legacy of debt our children don't deserve.

Social Security is one of the proudest achievements of the Democratic Party, and we don't intend to let it fall victim to a dishonest scheme that only serves to heap greater debt on America's young people.

We need to set the agenda. And we're going to work with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and our Democratic governors and local elected officials to do just that.

I met with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid this past week, and we are looking forward to standing together in the battles ahead.

We're all going to need to be united. And we're going to need to be organized.

Really organized.

That means we frame the issues; Republicans will not tell America what our agenda is. We will do that.

Organizing means raising money not only from big donors but small contributors, not only through dinners and telephone solicitations and direct mail, but also through the Internet and person-to-person outreach.

Organizing means transforming us into a party that can communicate with its supporters and with all Americans.

Politics is at its best when we create and inspire a sense of community. The tools that were in part pioneered in my campaign -- like blogs and Meetups and most importantly, community building -- are just a start.

We are going to use all of the power and potential of technology as part of an aggressive outreach to meet and include voters, to work with your state parties, and to get our message out.

We cannot run 18 state presidential campaigns and expect to win.

You all know we have a strategy for every state and territory. It's very simple. Show up.

People will vote for Democratic candidates in Texas, and Utah, and West Virginia if we knock on their door, introduce ourselves and tell them what we believe. That's what organization allows us to do.

But all of the ideas and organization in the world won't matter if people don't see our ideas as relevant to them, or the political process as connected to them.

So, third, we are going to recognize that our strength lies at the grassroots.

If we are to take our country back for everyday working Americans, Democrats will have to match or exceed the Republicans' ability to motivate voters.

You might find this hard to believe, but I'm not much of a zen person. But I've found that the path to power, oddly enough, is to trust others with it. That means putting the power where the voters are.

That is something Republicans will never understand.

But we do.

Standing up for our beliefs, organizing, and transforming our party into a grassroots organization that can win in all 50 states: That's how we will rebuild the Democratic Party.

We will rebuild our party because only we are the party of reform. Republicans can stop progress, but only Democrats can start it again.

And we will rebuild our party because our greatest strength is something the Republicans can and will never match -- the diversity represented in this room.

Look around -- we look like America. We are America. Republicans stop progress, but only Democrats start it.

It's going to take a lot of work. And I'm going to be asking a lot of all of you. It is not my chairmanship; it is ours.

Election by election. State by state. Precinct by precinct. Door by door. Vote by vote.

We're going to take this country back for the people who built it.

Musings: Social Security Reform

Some quotes from Peter Drucker's The Sickness of Government:

Some short quotes from Drucker in an earlier article, Sickness of Government:

Of all social institutions, business is the only one created for the express purpose of making and managing change. Government is a poor manager.

government is big rather than strong; that it is fat and flabby rather than powerful; that it costs a great deal but does not achieve much. . . .

The best we get from government in the welfare state is competent mediocrity. More often we do not even get that; we get incompetence such as we would not tolerate in an insurance company.

there is no performance (in government) whatever—only costs. This is true not only of the mess of the big cities, which no government—United States, British, Japanese or Russian—has been able to handle. It is true in education. It is true in transportation. And the more we expand the welfare state, the less capable of routine mediocrity does it seem to become. . . .

Every government is, by definition, a "government of paper forms." This means inevitably high cost. For "control" of the last 10 per cent of any phenomenon always costs more than control of the first 90 per cent. If control tries to account for everything, it becomes prohibitively expensive.

The system which protects government employees from political pressures, Peter F. Drucker notes, "also protects the incumbents in the agencies from the demands of performance".

To fear corruption in government is not irrational.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Looking dow the road, wandering aimlessly....

sourceBut one need only think about the technopolitical issues looming ahead to see that neither party is talking about them adequately. A few decades from now, if China has a larger economy than the US, if 25 countries have nuclear weapons, if Europe is half-Muslim, and if the Asian Tigers lead the world in such key fields as broadband, robotics, and stem cell -- as they intend to do -- then it will be hard to know what political and policy prescriptions the US might need.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Conservative Progressive Musings: Rethinking Social Security

February 7, 2005 07:04 AM

Someone wiser than me said, either here or in another posting, that without common reference points, arguments will invariably fail to come to a resolution. And it appears that is where we have arrived.


The broad issue here is whether the entitlements enacted over a half century ago are still relevant.

In her first two paragraphs, Anderson clearly takes the defensive point of view that Social Security, at least, does not debase people by making them dependent on government ... (nor does) it sap people's self-sufficiency and make them a burden on others. . This is the fundamental divergence point. Those who would tear down the entitlement programs of the last century would argue these programs do exactly that.

Subsistence programs were created to keep people alive, to put bread on the table and a roof over the heads of those less fortunate. Sixty years later, those programs have ballooned into entitlement programs guaranteeing not just life, but a comfortable lifestyle, and not just for the unfortunate, but everyone. They are out of control and they are bankrupting our public finances.

But more importantly, these well-intentioned programs are doing exactly what Anderson claims they are not. They are bankrupting the soul and character of the American people.

Today's generation spends 40-50% of their take-home pay on housing, at least 1/3 of their hard-earned income on servicing debt in the form of interest payments.

We don't save.

We don't save because we don't have to. It's guaranteed. My father's generation would only put 25-30% into housing, buying 1200 square feet for a family of five instead of 2500 for a DINK. My father drove Fords and Chevys; we drive BMWs, Volvos and Lexus. My father put 15-20% into savings, not only for retirement but in case he lost his job; we put that much on credit and then file unemployment claims.

We have lost the ability to be frugal, prudent, thrifty. Growing up in a society where risk and danger has been consigned to boogy man status has made us complacent and indifferent to our future.

I am not saying there isn't a place for subsistence programs. But because of political expediency, those programs have escalated into devastating entitlement programs.

February 7, 2005 05:07 PM

To quote a famous crook, "let me make one thing perfectly clear". I am all for social progressivism. But for a program to be progressive, it needs to advance something. The current basket of entitlements do nothing. Unless we embue a program with supernatural powers (like taxing authority), the basket will eventually run out of bread and fish and need to be replenished. Just like the rolling "fixes" to Social Security, these basket demands a constant restocking. I'd rather spend a little more in the short term and teach everyone to fish (hmm. I seem to remember a great philosopher using that metaphor).

The G.I. Bill was the second most successful social program of all time. Millions of veterans were given billions in educational vouchers which they could use at any accredited educational facility and earn any accredited degree they chose. A pity that program fell victim to the anit-war sentiments of the mid-1970s.

We need to do the same for all the basket-emptying entitlement programs. Not just eliminate them, but replace them with something that will survive. I am thinking of FEMA here, which is arguably the most successful social program of all time.

When disaster strikes, billions of aid is pumped into the affected areas to recovery and rebuild. But once the most serious effects have been mitigated, the spigot is turned off. So why can't we do the same with the War on Poverty and the failure of Social Security (definition: anything that requires an endless supply of something is a failure) and the health care mismanagement crisis.

Any takers?