Saturday, July 21, 2007


Bottom line, there are only two choices: stay forever or leave some time.
There are, therefore, only three questions about an exit strategy that must be answered:
1) under what circumstances should we leave (aka, how do we define victory)?
2) when will we leave - obviously directly related to #1
3) what contingency plans should be in place should things not go as we expect after starting to exit or actually leaving?

As the Vietnam War got into high gear, colleges and universities were almost inundated with teach-ins conducted by experts in the history, language and culture of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Books such as Fire in the Lake became bestsellers.

Where, however, are the nonpolitical Iraq/Middle East experts?

Yes, a number of books have been written about what has gone wrong in Iraq, but their focus is on what the U.S. did or didn't do. Pundits (with little or no real knowledge of either Iraq or the Middle East - let alone expertise in the language - except whatever the conventional wisdom is) flood the radio and TV networks. But where are the academics? The historians (civil and military)?

First, let's face it (as the "deadlines" for evaluating the situation in Iraq have shifted from this summer, to September to November and now to next Spring or Summer): No matter what opponents says or do, Bush will not do anything more than, perhaps, a token withdrawal of a few troops prior to the November 2008 election.

Bush has said often during the past several years that he plans on leaving Iraq to his successor(s). We have no reason to doubt this. Indeed, I suspect that many Conservatives now believe it, no doubt secretly, to be the best possible outcome for their objectives. They realize that, barring extraordinary circumstances, they are likely to lose the White House and remain a minority in Congress after the 2008 elections. Whatever happens in Iraq thereafter, they will blame on Democrats. If the new Democratic President withdraws troops and the worst nightmare scenarios do, in fact, happen, these Conservatives will happily campaign for the succeeding decade on how "the Democrats lost Iraq".


Recently, I read that a couple of economists have begun to concede that there may be some downsides to globalization. I'm not an economist, but these are two flaws that I see:

"High status" jobs can be outsourced as easily as. or more easily than "low status" jobs
Economists tell us that it is good for consumers for goods to be produced wherever they can be made most cheaply, then sold to us at a fair market price not subject to tariffs. They insist that U.S. citizens can then do those kinds of high value work that we are best at.

There are a couple of problems with this theory of outsourcing. First, it is obvious that lots of "high value" jobs can be just as easily outsourced as manufacturing jobs: software development, hardware & software phone support, legal work, tutoring, architectural drawings, etc. are already being done abroad But, with increases in broadband and video technology, it seems to me that the only jobs that are "safe" are those that require the presence of a physical body: farm labor, hair cutters, many medical positions (surgeons, nurses, technicians who draw blood, dentists), waiters, etc. The work of most magazine and newspaper writers, reporters, and editors could just as easily be done abroad. Why do we need to have TV reporters stand in front of a courthouse, the White House or the Congress, fro example, just because the story emanates from people who work in those buildings. Even Tony Snow's news briefings could be done via teleconferencing. And how many American pundits (print, radio or TV) could just as easily be replaced by pundits who live abroad. One needn't live in Washington to hold a conversation with a Senator. Come to think of it, why do we have to have CEOs who earn outrageous incomes stationed in the U.S. ? They head, mainly, multinational corporations so why couldn't the CEOs be foreigners? Think about all the kinds of "high status" jobs economists assure us will stay here. I suspect you'll come up with a very long list of work that could just as easily be done elsewhere. I can't wait until U.S.-based economists discover that their jobs have been outsourced.

Human skills and job requirements are not infinitely interchangeable
Second: these economists seems to assume that we are all capable of doing any kind of work, although this is clearly ridiculous. I doubt that Wolf Blitzer could, for example, design a new building if he lost his job (to say nothing of the fact that some architectural design could easily be done abroad). And could the average person working on a manufacturing line learn to be a lawyer or engineer (assuming, of course, that most legal and engineering jobs aren't also eventually sent abroad)? We all have different talents and, while most of us can learn to do something other than what we are doing, there are absolute limits imposed by the brains and bodies we have inherited.

In short, taken to its limits, globalization could result in an American workforce consisting primarily of jobs requiring on-site manual labor of some kind with, maybe a sprinkling of "brain-based" work.

Outsourcing is asymmetrical
Quite simply, under the current system of globalization, work can be located wherever it makes sense for a company to to do it, but all countries restrict immigration; some also restrict emigration. Workers, unlike jobs, are not included in the concept of globalization: they are not free to live and work wherever they want to. In other words, that low-paid Chinese or Mexican or Indian worker cannot simply pick up and decide to move to Denmark or Australia or the United States.

It seems to me that for globalization to be fair, people should be able to move just as freely as goods or services or jobs.


On Science Friday July 20, 2007, in the second hour, Joe Palca interviewed Elliot Aronson, one of the co-authors of a book called "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)" on cognitive dissonance which seems to me to explain, if not justify, how President Bush can, among other things, authorize torture while at the same time denying that the U.S. uses torture. Although the author uses Bush and Iraq as his first examples of CD, I think the more telling example is that of the prosecutor who continues to insist on the guilt of a person who has been in jail for 20 years even though DNA evidence now proves that the person is innocent. (I have read before how eye witnesses are unable to believe that they were mistaken in their identification even when there is irrefutable proof that they were.) Bush and his supporters are guilty of exactly that kind of thinking but on a global level. They have unleashed so much horror, they are incapable of believing that they could have been mistaken in doing so.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Bush and the Breakdown of Constitutional Government

The Bush Administration, with its wholesale contempt for the Constitution (lying us into a war, signing statements, promotion of torture, warrantless wiretaps and arrests, denial of habeas corpus, etc.) has shown us that the system devised by the Founders to prevent just such a usurpation of power can be circumvented. The questions that must be answered are 1) how it happened, 2) why it happened, and 3) how do we prevent it from ever happening again.

The first indication that this was going to be a dangerous Presidency occurred early in Bush's first term when it became clear that he was going to govern not as a man who had lost the popular vote and won the electoral vote in an, at best, dubious fashion (vote counts in a state governed by his brother, a Supreme Court with a majority of his party's appointees). But even those of us who were shocked by this creation of a mandate out of nothing could not anticipate all the horrors that followed.

It would easy to dismiss the Bush Presidency as the political equivalent of the " perfect storm": one party rule covering all three branches of the government plus 9/11. But a Constitution that works only under the best of circumstances is barely worth the paper it is written on.

So, what elements need to be redesigned? Clearly, the 9/11 attack, per se, could not be anticipated. But it is certainly reasonable to expect our Constitution to prevent the abuses that may reasonably be assumed to follow such an attack.

The Electoral College
Should we abolish this to ensure that the winner of the popular vote wins the Presidency? I have mixed feelings about the idea. Although it clearly can thwart, on occasion, the will of the people, just as the Senate's composition gives extra weight to those citizens who live in small states, Without these two institutions, citizens who live in small states might face an almost permanent disenfranchisement. Candidates running for office would ignore them; laws would be passed against the wishes of a, possibly small, but permanent minority. (I am assuming that the citizens of small states probably differ in significant ways from the citizens of large states.) And, let us not forget, Nixon was elected, not once but twice, with a majority of both electoral votes and popular votes.

Two-party rule
Should we prohibit control of both houses of the Congress by the same party as the President.? How we could do this, I don't know, but would it work? Well, Bill Clinton certainly would not have been impeached had one of the houses been in Democratic hands. And some of Bush's most egregious acts might have been prevented had one of the houses been in Democratic hands. We have, however, now learned that the opposition party, even when in control of both houses, is limited in what it can do with a runaway Executive Branch. And we shouldn't forget that FDR was unable to pack the Supreme Court even though his own party controlled both houses.

The Justice Department
One element common to the two most corrupt Presidencies in the past century, Nixon's and Bush's, was the transformation of the Justice Department into a powerful political arm of the governing President.

Is there, then, some way we could isolate the Justice Department from both the Presidency and the Congress without making it totally unaccountable?

The War Powers
The Constitution, explicitly and for sound historical reasons, put the power to declare War into the hands of the Congress, not the President. The founders did not want their new country to be embroiled in war after war initiated because of a power-hungry King. Yet, since at least WWII (I think), the Congress has ceded this power to the President. It has issued concurrent "support" statements when a President has authorized a military adventure or authorized a President to take "whatever actions are necessary", but it has not issued a clear and simple declaration of war.

What is it about the modern world that has caused the Congress to repeatedly, regardless of which political party was in control of either branch of government, fail to insist on exercising what must be the most important power granted to it?

Separate the roles of Head of State and Executive
Perhaps we need to to change our form of government into a parliamentary system in which the President has no real power other than to represent the country while a Prime Minister governs. Many of the citizens of this country, perhaps a majority at one time or another, invest the POTUS with almost mystical powers, a person who should not be criticized while in office because he is "THE PRESIDENT". This makes it hard for those in opposition to make their case when they object to the President's policies. At best, criticisms of the President are interpreted as criticisms of the country. In times of threat or war, their criticism is interpreted as a lack of patriotism, even treason.. A PM however, in parliamentary democracies like Britain, is just a politician who can be, and routinely is, attacked by the opposition.

Perhaps there are other things that could be done, but certainly something must be done because we have slid very far down the road toward dictatorship - if we have not already, for all practical purposes, become one.