Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bush, Clinton, and Congress

We're hearing complaints now that Congress is unfairly attacking and interfering with President Bush. Imagine subpoenas for Cabinet members. It's really not hard for us Democrats to imagine, we can remember it well: can you say "The 1990s"? Let me refresh your memory: Bill Clinton had his shaky first two years in office with a Democratic congressional majority, and then spent the next six years confronted by an aggressive Republican House that defined itself as the expression of a conservative movement. Remember Jim Leach's investigation of Whitewater? Hearings and subpoenas over dismissals in the travel office? Remember the federal prosecutor who decided to go after the Clintons after the savings and loan scandals? The Clinton legal shop was one of the legendary offices of that administration, by simple virtue of necessity. As to that, is there anything I haven't mentioned? What about poor beleaguered W? Elected with a Republican House, from 2003 to 2007 he enjoyed a unified Republican government: Both houses and the White House under Republican control. He faces a Democratic Congress for only the last two years of his eight-year term. He couldn't have had it better. I hope the Democratic Congress runs the score up as high as possible.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Special Rebate to First-Time Illegal Immigrant Car Buyers

Watching C-Span this morning I was struck by some statements from Thomas Saving, one of the mandated "independent" Trustees of the Social Security and Medicaid Trust Fund (the other half of the Board is basically the president's cabinet). Along with the news that these entitlement programs are moving this year from paying for themselves to funding from other revenues, Dr. Saving estimated that, whereas Social Security costs about five percent of the total federal budget today, by 2020 that figure would be closer to twenty percent. Of course the Bush administration is hostile to Social Security, and these prospects could change for the better if a new administration took better care of the fund (just as they changed radically for the worse after the election of 2000). But what struck me was this analysis from Dr. Saving about how to cure the chronic problem. "We need lots of young, well-trained, healthy people," he said. This younger generation could pay into the fund enough to keep it solvent. But with lower fertility rates in the "industrialized world," this will require: immigration. In fact (the punch line), Saving predicted a shortage of immigrants within fifteen years. Countries will be bidding on desirable immigrant populations to make up for demographic labor shortages.
Meanwhile, today the New York Times reports that Toyota sold more vehicles worldwide in the first quarter of 2007 than any other automaker, including General Motors. General Motors has sold more vehicles worldwide than any other manufacturer, continuously, since 1931. We're supposed to be amazed by the symbolism of the eclipse of the old manufacturing goliath, but count me as amazed that General Motors was once so mighty that it took until now to be overtaken by trends that started decades ago. I never would have guessed that GM was outselling every other manufacturer, quarter after quarter, all these years. If you had told me that two or three Asian companies were doing better, and even throw in a European or two, I would have believed it. That's because financially speaking, that number or so were doing better.
What is the connection between these two items?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sheepish Wolfie

Paul Wolfowitz is in trouble this week and to some extent that is because he is one of the architects of the Iraq war policy. That's a simplification: he was appointed by his patron President Bush and is a creature of this administration, so he will naturally live by the Bushies and fall by the Bushies, so far as being World Bank president is concerned. As to how he measures up as a WB president, in terms of the overall role the Bank plays in 2007 and in terms of his differences with his predecessors, I can give you a firm opinion on that, but you'll have to give me a day or two to study. I see no discussion of this topic in the media, at least not in the coverage of Mr. Wolfowitz's troubles. Aside from the fact that he is under protest for his implication in the war (which is frankly enough admitted by the employees of the Bank), he has what looks like an imbroglio involving his girlfriend; we even read that he obtained a higher salary for her.
But I'm persuaded by Christopher Hitchens writing in Slate and several other voices, both conservative and unconservative, that this is a misrepresentation. According to new reporting, what happened is that Mr. Wolfowitz took it upon himself to write a letter disclosing his relationship with Shaha Ali Riza. This letter set off a chain of bureaucratic events leading to Ali Riza losing her current post and also losing, apparently, the likelihood of her next career goal that she had been working for for who knows how long. All very unfortunate.
Meanwhile, thinking of both Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Wolfowitz, people don't understand that loyalty with the president is not exactly a two-way street. The fact that the president is not asking you for your resignation does not mean that it wouldn't be the right thing to submit it. We'll never know, for example, if H. W. Bush didn't really want Clarence Thomas to withdraw. Wouldn't you want to jump to resign the moment you saw you were embarrasing the president who chose you?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't Close the Campus

There have been three basic responses to the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech. I will go through them by process of elimination. The first is to promote even more gun ownership. The idea here is that armed people will protect themselves by shooting back. Now, well-intentioned people can disagree, but my common-sense intuition is that this is not the right approach. More guns in student dormitories, for example, or in classrooms, is going to lead to more people getting shot. It is fantasy to imagine that if everyone is armed, no one will be shot, or even that less people will be shot. The second option is prevalent in the media coverage and commentary today, the day after the shootings, and is the main reason I am addressing this issue today. Many people want to respond by increasing security, and thus decreasing access, to college campuses. This has been done for many high schools and elementary schools, the commentary goes, so why not universities? As a career public university professor, I disagree. The state university (or any college, for that matter) is not the same as a secondary school. It is all about community access, to public lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, exhibits, extension courses, group meetings, demonstrations, blood drives, and many more kinds of events. Shutting the doors to the public with security checkpoints, locked gates, ID requirements and so forth is necessary sometimes (dormitories ought to have strict security, for example, but also laboratories and other facilities), but in general the campus should be as open as possible, and we should not capitulate to a violent few and lose the benefits that communities enjoy because of nearby universities. That leaves the third option: gun control. Compare our statistics on gun shootings with the rest of the world: it is worse only in a tiny handful of countries, Columbia is the only one I can remember hearing is worse. Obviously we have a problem. It is one thing to say that citizens have a right to own guns, another to say that obtaining guns and ammo must be easy. Making it harder to buy guns and bullets works to reduce gun violence, period. Let's hope we move in that direction.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Al Sharpton is Right

I think the Rev. Al Sharpton has really been in the zone the last day or so on the Don Imus flap. His argument is that there must be some sort of standards, formal or otherwise, for speech in the national news media. If community standards aren't enforced informally, by news executives, sponsers, commentators, and viewers, then sooner or later legislation would be proposed. I for one would be against that. Imus should be fired. Meanwhile some of the conservative reaction on the cable news shows has been perplexing. Apparently conservatives think of Don Imus as a liberal. I guess anybody who isn't a card-carrying, self-proclaimed conservative must be a liberal by default. I flip back and forth between Imus and C-Span's "Washington Journal" show over coffee early in the morning, so I've seen him quite a bit over the past couple of years. He's not really an ideological person. He goes after anything he sees as hypocritical, or inauthentic, or weasly, but he's not a crusader; he has no aura of righteousness. He's just as likely, so far as I can see, to attack Democrats as Republicans, and he spends a lot of time talking about "American Idol." But a commentator on Fox claimed he'd get off easy because he wasn't conservative. First, he's not getting off easy, and second, is it the "conservative" position, then, that anybody who disparages blacks on the air should be fired? That's news to me. Tucker Carlson, on Imus's own MSNBC, claimed he saw a double standard between the reaction to Imus and the reaction to George Allen's "macaca" gaffe. I think there is a double standard there: we think differently about these things when the man is running for president, for heaven's sake. Does Carlson think Imus and Allen both ought to be left alone to spout off as they please? Presidential candidates can make racially disparaging remarks? Carlson's position is incoherent. Or maybe not: a few weeks ago he tossed off the "observation" that the Congressional Black Caucus hadn't endorsed anyone because they were "too cowardly." Never mind that almost noone else is endorsing candidates this early in the season. I think Carlson has come a long way (like Sharpton has, in fact), but his hostility to blacks and women is real and evident. As to Imus, I remember going on talk radio in Denver a long time ago (a friend couldn't make it to his spot on a right-wing talk show and knew I wanted to try it, I'm no media personality). The host was so aggresive, so irrational and irresponsible, that I afterwards regretted participating, even in the role of liberal whipping-boy. I expressed my distress to the staff at the studio and they said, eagerly, "Did you say that? Did you tell him on the air?" Well no: in my family we didn't learn to throw things up in people's faces, or to make a scene. But that was why I didn't wow them on talk radio.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Three-way race for Dems #2 spot

I would say that Hilary is the front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination, and that the #2 spot is up for grabs between Obama, Edwards, and Gore. I think Gore has real potential, I think Edwards has problems. His wife's cancer, unfortunately, is a net negative I would say. I think both Obama and Edwards are too inexperienced, the difference being that Obama may be with us for quite a few more election cycles while Edwards guns his way into something this time or he's gone. I like Clinton and Gore, after that I'd have to say Bill Richardson. Biden and Dodd are more senatorial than presidential I would say. As to the Republicans, they're more wide open than the Democrats at this point. Giuliani is being laudably upfront about his views, but he's never going to be the Republican nominee. Federal funds for abortions? Forgetaboutit. Romney is running into Gorish problems about gilding the lily (I don't care if he's Mormon, but he might be too slick). Everybody else is to the right of Atilla the Hun (Sam Brownback). If they really don't like McCain, OK, but they're not going to nominate a winning candidate. Oh yeah, and the Clintons are back at the mansion praying: "Please let it be Newtie! Please God, let it be Newtie!"