Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Governance Ruminations

Good Represenative Government
One of the great failings of the lastCongress was their essential do-nothingness. They logged one of the least working hours ever. A simple (but surprisingly hard) way to win over the American people is to support working 5 days a week.

I know the house of representatives got used to 3 day work weeks with 4 days of schmoozing and money raising, but the Dems could really get the support of us average workers if they would have the grace to Treat Their Job Like It Is Fucking Important. They are running the country, not a country club. So do your job for a whole work week. Hold extra hearings if you can't find ways to fill the day. Exert some oversight. You know, do your job. That is a simple concept. The American people will respect it.

Good Representative Governance
Also, try to end corruption. Police yourself above all (with respect to unethical behavior). Remember your role as a public steward. And try to keep earmakrs down, for the love of god. If someone wants money in their district, make them earn it. Make them at least work on their appropration enough to put it through a committee based on actual merits. Naturally a signature piece of legislatation made need a bit o' the bacon grease. But vow to keep it below 100, even thought the outgoing folks (R) were around 6,000+

A Democratic President and Congress
Only a Democratic Presidential candidate can propose a solution that could actually be implemented. The only action the Dems can take is to investigate.The mistakes made in Iraq have been hidden by the GOP and Bush, not to mention the reality of the situation on the ground. The Dems should vow to hold 5 or 6 day work weeks, with lots of long hours, in order to discover what really has been going on the last three years. Only once we have the true picture of the facts on the ground can we devise a change. Have 'em even send congressional investigation committees to Iraq and the neighboring countries (hopefully composed of ex-military staff and hard nosed professional diplomats, not some namby pamby staffer who's parents donated a lot of cash, a la "Life in the Emerald City").

The Federalism of Persuasion

I would like to make a call for a new Federalism, which will redefine the role of the federal government to the states. It will be that of a more nuetral and non-partisan government that focuses on gathering data, promulgating (but not mandating) new polices, and more trusting of states to fulfill their own duties. It will be a Federal government that focuses less on how it spends money, because it will spend less. Instead, it will provide more discretion to the states to spend, but it will aggressively audit the spending to ensure that the taxpayers money is not wasted on frivolous or corrupt projects.

Currently, the federal government is a source of mandates, like the No Child Left Behind. I will use educational policy as an example to describe the new federalism. The NCLB act mandated all kinds of testing on our schools. It provided some money, but certainly not enough to fulfill the orders from DC. It is administered in a haphazardly and counter-productive fashion, becuase it is run inflexibly by Dept. of Eductaion bureaucrats in D.C. The new federalism would have handled things much differently.

First off, the focus would be on good policy, as divorced from the political process as possible (difficult as that may be). This is because there is no guarantee that the policy will be enacted. The implementation of the policy will be permissive. Instead of mandates and limited funds, there will be suggestions and block grants to the States to help their educational systems. Money sent from DC will only be very general. Money for facilites/equipment, teachers, or training. The states will receive the grants, and they can spend it as the choose in that general field. However, there will be very strict audit requirments by the folks in DC on documentation of how the money gets spent. This will be a federal job, and the feds will not only pay for their own auditors, but will also help provide a little additional money to the states to help them with the audit compliance requirments. The auditors will have the power to subpoena and investigate if they feel something fishy is going on. They can hold public hearings, which will be in the state, not in DC (the audit teams will be based in the staes, paid by the feds, with the HQ in DC). If there is misues of funds, it will be investigated and publicized in the local area. The state will then be penalized by having to give the money back, and hopefully the local state corruption will be rooted out.

This is more of a traditional balance of powers benefit. There is freedom to act by the state, but oversight to ensure responsible use of funds by the federal government. These policy departments will have a mix of political apointments and of career civil servants. Additionally, the political apointees will have fixed, multi-year terms (so they can outlast any particular executive leader and offer advice freely, without fear of offending the orthodoxy). There will be a range of 2 years to 10 years, which will ensure a eclectic mix of opinions. The agency will then issue their policy, based on a mix of the opinions of the career experts and the appointees. If the President doesn't like what he sees for political reasons, he can refuse to issue the report for that year (i.e. provide additional funding for adopting these measures). However, then the President will be exposed as against good policy. Naturally, the continued adherence to older policies will still be valid for additional federal funds.

The feds will also promulgate policy on a yearly basis. There will be policy plans issued, which wil focus on the areas the US most needs to tweak. It is not required to follow these policies. However, the policies will have a certain number of key points (say 10). If a state chooses to follow most of these (say 8 of 10), it will be entitled to additional funding from the feds for adopting what is believed to be a better and more rational policy. The policy arm of the feds will constantly liason with their counterparts in the states to reformulate their ideas. Additionally, while new polices will come out each year, the States themselves only have to adjust to follow the newest federal policy (in order to get the extra funds) once every 10 years or so. They can adpot earlier if they wish, but in order to avoid constant, yearly upheavels, they can wait. States that like a new idea can lead the reform, more cautious States can adpot only the tried and true methods. Such an operation is an incalculable boost to the laboratory of ideas that is our federal system.

Naturally, this should only be for most policies, not all. For example, Civil and Voting rights should be protected by the feds, and following such federal laws won't be optional. But with anything regarding basic administration, the control on such choices should lie with the states. Liberty and due process should remain protected by the federal government (in a meaningful wya, not like it is now with suspension of Habeus Corpus and basic due process).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

American Energy Renissance and Employment Ruminations

There is a failure of immagination in energy in the republican party.

100 years ago, people tried all kinds of energy system, and we went with the dirty and cheap one. It's time to actually support, as opposed to Lip Service, real energy goals.

The current policy from Bush Co. is to "hope" that the free market comes up with something. Just like he "hopes" Iraqis will just figure it out and make peace. But just like the great American advances in the space race and the Manhattan project, we need serious government investment into these fields.

We should fund new state university based research centers and new government labs that contain the best and the brightest focusing on critical energy ideals (perhaps with the help of some of them university folk!)

There should be increased grants, sure, but the focus should be on increased american engineering students and physicians. Setting these people loose in our economy, especially after theoretical job experience in cutting edge state and federal research labs, will only increase economic innovation.
State governments should get grants to create joint degrees in both the nuts and bolts of engineering and the concepts associated with pure energy theoretical applications to encourage new ways to conceptualize energy
After sputnik, we invested heavily in these types of things (math, science), and we should increase state block grants for these technical subjects. To make sure the money is well spent, there should be serious audit professionals (who's ethics will hopefully migrate into morally bankrupt industries that need sober auditing).

We should subsidize scholarships for americans in engineering areas, especially for students from finacially disadvantaged areas. Instead of a message of no escape from econmically blighted areas, we should preach that all students in a certain income range will get help to go to college and become an engineer. The poorest should get a free ride, on a slowly decreasing scale, finally peteting out to no tuition assistance around 75 K (and indexed to the CPI). Children from families without means should know that there is a reward to focusing on education: a valuable education about the physical world. Even if it creates a glut of engineering jobs, it creates a vitally educated and practical poulace.
It is a simple sloganan, and many can actually succed quickly under such a program. Want to succed? become an engineer for amcerica!
A hope of working hard and getting an education as a path out of poverty is a far better enticement for society than excellence in sports. Don't belive me? Go ask Maurice Clarrett.

Just as an aside, there ought to be a program helping the children on those who lose their jobs through globalizaton, like scholorship opportunities and tutoring programs.
Even if we give up on a worker's job, we should at least let them know we want their child to have a future.

Government technology centers should also be built in areas based on their economic blight (and despite Kelo, it should be ok to do a little bit of extra rennovation in really bad area, but it needs to be associated with the gov. center. Just saying all right to have a slight commercial [bars, restaurants] incorporated into the gov. rennovation)

The government should invest some in helping the auto industry become more efficent. Locate these research centers in the rust belt and Michigan.

We also need to invest in better basic energy systems. Efficencey creates gains throughout the economy.

Immigration Workers in America

Some Ideas:

Immigrants should be able to come to america the capitalist way, by paying a fee (and passing a security clearance). Smugglers get all the money from the trade in illegal entry. We should bring it out of the shadows and capture that revenue stream to help immigrants ajust. Naturally, citizenship would have to be earned (and paid for).
First year immigrants would have to pay a certain amount. The next year, it would be slightly less, it decreases another 2 years, then starts going up slowly. This will increase to a certain point until it is equal (or maybe a bit higher) than a new arrival. Unless, that person begins working towards citizenship. If there efforts reach a certain point (say 3/4 of the citzenship requirments/american political normalization), then the costs will decrease significantly. They can then continue through citizenship and become a citzen later on, or just push through with citizenship. There could also be a benifit credit once you are an immigrant worker (say 25 years) that gets a discount too.

Prison Reform
To give access to better jobs, America should work on a construction job training and supervision program for some of our prisoners. They should earn this privilege, but those who want to earn their keep on the outside should get that chance.

Here's a principle to apply creatively to Immigration policy
If there has been a long period of work, don't want permanent "guest worker." So either put them on the path to citizenship (lower fees if taking right steps). If not, raise fees to encourage a return. Immigrants/guest workers as incubators of democratic and governmental norms, so that they will return to their home countries with both capital and with reformist, democratic ideas.

Democratic Refom/Immigration
Encourage demcroacy, especially through internal reforms. One benefit of teaching demoractic ideals to registered immigrants combined with a felixable fee system is that if after a few years (and Liberty based classes focused on civil rights and capitalist efficency) when the guest worker goes home, they will be "infected" with the great ideals that buttress free societies. Even if only 20% of the guest workers actually go home, it will be the spread of great ideals to areas of the world lacking in enlightenment advocates.

Public Works and the New Deal of the 21st Century

What is the purpose of a good government? What should its aims be? I think the best investment for the future should be guided by two key aims. A more comprehensive, American public transit infrastructure and a massive investment in energy and generally hard science research.


To help create the new deal of the 21st Century, we need both investment in ideas and investment in infrastructure. In a quick and simple sense, government should develope the systems and structures that will help build a strong, essentially free market system for the future. This is not the abstract future of our grandchildren, but that of our own future, 5 years, 10 years, and 25 years from now. Now, this discussion could devolve into a sort of philosophical discourse on what is appropriate for the federal government to undertake, but I leave that for my post on a New Federalism (see sidebar). The current policy of the government seems to be to operate more like a patronage machine for the favored doners. See ( Clearly, that's a philosophy of "I'll get mine now, and let's not think about tomorrow.

We like to belive in the power of the market, but there are certain large scale enterprises that benefit the commons that the market cannot feasibly handle. This is where the government should step in to help direct investment to plan for the civic future. This is not to suggest a planned economy, but more of to help guide fundamental realingments of policy, into which private funding will then flow. For example, I need only point out our current highway policies. We expand and build, and the private market fills in with certain developments suited to our arterial highway system expansion. The public sector leads with a certain key development, and private investment exploits the opportunities this creates. Another good example is the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, or the Tennessee Valley Authority and the South. Even the development of early America was spurred by the construction of the Eire Canal and the transcontinental railroad.

Unless you subscribe to the most extreme libertarianism, there is a recognized need for public sector investment. This is recognized through investment in Universities, roads, public health, police, fireman, schools, etc. This is necessary to defeat the problem of free riders, and also to destroy negative incentives that could, for example, encourage people to not pay private fees to send their children to schools or pay for fire protection. A self interested person could choose to reject such payments for short term gain. Regardless, sometimes investment is best served by the market, other times it is of a scale and scope that requires national investment, as in investment by the government.


When Sputnik entered the stratosphere, there was a general recognition in America that a new focus was necessary to prove the superiority of the free mind. The same challenge exists today, witht the omniprescent existence of oil-based regimes that export demogaugery and fundamentalism much in the same way the Soviet Union sought to export communism. We helped bypass the claims of superiority of the USSR by putting a man on the moon. In the same way, we should bypass the smug preaching of the oil regimes by undercutting the basis of their power: energy in a hydrocarbon society.

The development of alternative energy is not a matter of preference. It is a matter of survival for liberal democracies. Our economies, in this post-industrial age, are energy. We use it in every facet of our existence, from the internet, power to our PC's, our cars and trucks that transport ourselves and our goods, and even the toast we have for breakfast. Our use of energy in the future is something that is not in doubt: we will continue to use it, and the world will undoubtedly seek to use more. There must be freedom from the oil we pump from the earth to a harnessing of the energy which is the source of oils power: the power of molecular connections and the power of the sun.

The only way to do this is to spark a new scientific race in America. This should be done in three key wasy: the construction of new, government sponsored research facilities, new engineering universities focused on improving the studies of sheer energy itself, efficent use of energy, and general scientific applications; and the establishement of a massive scholarship program focused on the youth of America to funnel them into these new instituitions.

Government Energy Research

It is a key national security goal that America have baisc energy independence from non-democratic regimes. These countries focus on one thing: slavish support of those in power. In a free market, we have little to fear, but in a system based on obeying the will of one individual over those of the general populace, there is no way a market based system can efficently devine the future. The only solution is to trade energy needs with other free market systems (and a system can only be free if there is no undue political inteference with the means of production by non-market forces). Such a system is essentially impossible today, because the entire system is based on hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas, coal, etc.). Institutions devoted to pure research of energy must be established, in numerous locations across America, to help wean ourselves, and the world, off hydrocarbons.

Oil is valuable. But it is also valuable as a manufacturable commidty. We should endeavor not to simply burn away this resource of many uses, but ensure it can continue in our manufacturing chain throughout numerous generations.

Another important factor in establishing these facilites is that they should be located in areas of America that have suffered recent economic depressions. As our economy evolves, it is tragically true that certain secotors are left behind. It is these areas that the government should invest to help create the industries of the future (which leads me to my next point).

New Energy Universities

When it comes to manipulating the elements to create new possibilites, nothing beats engineering. America has some of the best engineering instituitons in the world, but that doesn't mean we can't use more. We should encourage the founding of new state insitutions (especially in historically economically regressing areas), both through the use of state funds (see "new federalism" at sidebar) and through private encouragement. No reason for Bill Gates or Buffet not to found new universities for the 21st century, much like Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago for the 20th Century. There should be additions to current campuses, but there should also be entirely new campuses created, centered around research labs and the new governmnt research centers, that would provide a fulcrum to both provide jobs to the burgeoning new engineering professions in the public sector, and provide paternships with the private sector. The public sector resarch labs could be a valuable conduit between the Univesity education and private technology transfer initiatives.

Scholarship Program

We must encourage more American scientists. This is easy to accomplish. Heavy government funding for scholarships of disadvantaged youth. With such a progtam, if a student takes math and science in jr. high and high school and perform well, the enterprising child will go to college. This will apply to the traditional poor (both in neglected urban/inner city environments and rural areas), as well as offers to the children of workers who lose their job from globalization.

People like to talk about retraining 50 year old factory workers. That's a tall order, to push an industrial worker like that into the IT sector and expect a quick absorbtion of skills. But it may ease the pain if there is a promise that their children, if they only study in school, will be guranteed a college education in the hard sciences, which will teach them practical facts about the world they inhabit. One of the great existential worries that comes with a loss of a job is the question of the future, and a good parent worries more about the future of their children. Greater investment in the education of these children at the very least gives them the opportunity to succeed.

If we are to invent our way out of our current energy predicatment, we should invest in the intellectual structures that will encourage such investment, and provide the essential raw material of young and dedicated minds for our information economy.

Mass Transit

America's system of mass transit, aside from limited areas on the Eastern seaboard, are frankly embarassing. We had far better transit systems 60 years ago. But we choose to tear them up to build highways to create an Auto-topia. Instead, most cities now have bumper-to-bumper gridlock at rush hour.

The solution is obvious. A new transit paradigm. It should be based on differnet levels of distance and speed. Inter-city travel should be very fast (100 mph +) with very few stops. Slightly slower systems (50 mph +) should feed into these stations. Local feeder routes should feed into these mid-level stations (25-50 mph). Light rail/subway/bus to regional to national systems.

Naturally, this requires heavy investment by the public sector. And there shoudl be assurances that this work is done by Americans. Managers must swear, under penalty of law, that their workers are Citizens (or the appropriate level of immigrant worker: see Homeland security and immigration post). Willful ignorance will not be tolerated. To avoid complaints about companies unable to find competent workers, there will also be money available for training programs in the interested states.

With any large government project, there is always the danger of public investment pulling resources away from the capital and labor of the private sector. But there is also a danger that exists from inaction on this front. National Security dictates that a comprehensive transit system be developed, both for use in the case of national emergencies and to help America cope with its oil addicition. If costs are driven up in such a fashion as to discourage sprawl (as should be done with tax policy as well), and more energy efficent development is planned, then such an effect is actually a benefit. Already, road building sucks in a massive amount of money in America, so redirecting some of these emminent domain actions and construction costs to rail transit isn't really much of a change.

Most importantly, these acts will go slowly. Major transit systems will likely take many years to come online. The funds for this work will go only to states who are willing; the system should not be unilaterally imposed. This will allow for a variety of ideas and actions, and the "laboratory of the states" can hopefully lead the way, creating new efficencies. Additionally, the research of the new school facilities and grants can also focus on promoting infrastructure improvements.


America is a land of modernism and progress. But the acheivements that helped create the American 20th Century did not happen in a vaccum. They often happened with express or implied government support. The American people and the greater humanity deserve cutting edge energy research for a cleaner, more economical future. America also deserves a state of the art mass transit system. Government should support both of these laudable goals.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

U.S. Influence in Iraq

I think one of the great mistakes of this administration is its manichean ways of dividing the world into two camps. The fact of the matter is, every person, militant group, tribe, or nation has its own will and specific agenda. In Iraq, there are 27 million people. There are 150,000 U.S. troops, and only a fraction of this number actually goes outside the gate on any given day to exercise U.S. influence, say 30,000 (a generous figure). That's 30,000 Americans trying to move the destiny of 27 million people with their own thoughts, dreams, vices, and aspirations. Frankly, it is not enough to make a difference, not by a long shot.

The President and his administration speak of a need to have "will," like some sort of Nitzchean mantra that sheer desire and gumption will turn Iraq into a democratic, capitalist haven. But the Iraqis themselves have plenty of will, and there are a lot more of them willing their reality. As long as gangs rule unchecked, be they religious militas, Bathaists thugs dreaming of former glory, Al-Queda inspired terrorits, or just plain kidnapping criminals, it is their will that rules the daily life in Iraq. We have been unable to change that simple fact for three years. We have been unable to acknowledge that there are other wills than ours. We can act, but they can act back, and they have been, for the last three years.

The influence of triabl roots and religious ties runs much deeper in Iraq than the ideals of Locke or Montisque. Those ideals don't even run deep in many parts of America. A "democracy" that seems to put religious death squads in charge of the police will not get much love in a country, nor will it get trust, nor will it get effectiveness. We cannot run every facet of Iraq, nor have we tried. It is the Iraqi people themselves that will control how power is distributed throughout the Iraqi society. Until this basic fact is recognized, our policy will remain a shambles.

The Iraq government will live if the people of Iraq want it to live. It will die if enough of them don't. Since neither Shia, Kurd, or Sunni is particularly happy with the way things are, it will likely die. It will turn into something. Maybe even have several years of ugly civil war around Baghdad. But in the end, it is the people in the cities and towns of Iraq that will determine the face of the country.

There is only one struggle of wills we should be concerened with: that of terrorists who want to strike Americans and America. And while there are quite a few that want to hurt American and Americans in Iraq right now, part of that is because they view us as occupiers. No amount of our "will" or "resolve" will change that basic fact. If we aren't around, it would likely make many of those simply hate us, but no longer actively try to kill us. More importantly, we don't have the local skills, knowledge, or support in Iraq to actually find these people who want to kill us and eliminate them all. We just present ourselves as an easier target.

Naturally, we must continue to disrupt Al Queda terrorists bent on killing others wherever they go. The Al-Queda types want to kill any Muslim they see as heretic, westerners, and Americans. It is easy to find allies in this fight. I'm sure there are even plenty of Iraqis who would join the fight against those who bring car bombs to their cities and towns.

We should exercise our influence where it will make a differnece. Our national will and resolve should not be pissed away trying to establish a Western style democracy in the midst of an Iraqi civil war. Besides, if we leave Iraq, it will not fall to Osama (see previous post). Our will should be focused on Al-Queda.

Just how do terrorist win in Iraq?

This is an important question. The administration likes to define terrorists winning if Americans do something he doesn't want us to. Like dissent, or call on a pull-out of Iraq. But if we leave Iraq, do the terrorists actually win? What do they define as a victory? Could Al-Queda turn Iraq into another Afghanistan before 9-11? Of course not.

I do not want to make the mistake of claiming that all who use the tactic of terror are united. So let us look specifically at our enemy of september 11, Osama and Al Queda. How do they win?
Well, they define it as creating a theocratic, Sunni fundamntalist state. Something like the Taliban. That was a win for them, and they wanted to spread it from Afghanistan and the border areas across the Islamic world. So, if we pull out, do they win? Of course not.
The foreign terrorists comprise only about 7% of the fighters in Iraq. Additionally, the Al Queda types are the enemy of: Bathists, Secular Iraqis, Turkomans, Shi'ites, and the Kurdistan north. Who does that leave on their side? Some of the Al Queda inspiried sunnis (not much), and some foreign trouble makers. Could they actually conquer Iraq? When they consist of only a small number of the population, and are actively hated by the vast majority because of their Sunni religious extremism and acts of terror?

Of course not. There is no way for the terrorists to win. There is no way the terrorists can win in Iraq if we are there (because we have the firepower to destory them if they sieze command of even a sizeable municipal government). There is no way they can win if we are gone, because the Sunnis, Kurds, and even Bathists would not let them. Furthermore, if there is no US in Iraq and there is constant acts of terror, I believe that the general Arab community would be repulsed and more border countries would take action to help stabalize Iraq.

As usual, the president is giving Osama and Al-Queda the one thing they don't deserve: our respect, and fear of their power.

Now, why can't anyone in the media ask this simple question? "How is it even possible for Al Queda to take over Iraq when A: the vast majority of Iraqis hate them, and B: the vast majority of Iraqis are heavily armed?"

Monday, September 11, 2006

Reflections on Saftey after 9-11

Are we safer today? Some say yes, some say no. 3000 people died in 9-11. There has been no major terrorist attack on American soil since then. But there was no major attack on our soil the five years before. And many Americans have died since then. According to the official statistics from the Department of Defense, 2,669 American solidiers have died in Iraq. 19910 have been wounded. Also, this war has been fought with mercenaries, CIA operatives, and American contractors. Their casulties I do not know, although I'm sure the numbers are out there.

Not counting respiratory illness and other lingering chronic problems from 9/11, there were a total of 5367 casualties (adding dead and wounded) as a result of that terrible day.
As a response, we went into Afghanistan. To be frank, we appeared to score a quick victory, and then the political leadership lost interest. Troops began to leave the country before we even had a chance to catch Bin Laden at Tora Bora. Since we entered that country, we have lost approximately 336 soldiers killed and 901 wounded, a total of 1237 casualties.
Imagine if that was the final number. Just 1237. Instead, our total casualties from the war on terror after 9-11 is 23,816 American soldiers, and probably a few thousand more government civil servants, contractors, and U.S. mercenaries.

So has the president kept Americans safe? Or did his actions lead to the death or maiming of about 30,000 Americans since 9-11?

As usual, the only ones asked to sacrifice by the President are the military. Their deaths are not honored by acknowledging this grim toll, but instead, they are hidden. The administration has censored their pictures and downplayed the cold facts.

The administration did not keep these young men and women safe. That’s a fact. So since we have had a bit less than 10 times the casualties of 9-11, of Americans hurt in our “war on terror,” does it matter if a shopping mall in Topeka is “safe,” when it never was going to be a target anyway? Does the life of civilians now matter more than a soldier? What kind of respect is that for our military?These casualties are a cost of our struggle. I believe the enemy is Al Queda and Bin Laden. He is the one who struck on 9-11. And yes, he has an ideology. But you can’t kill an ideology with bombs. Nor can you do it by invading Iraq and then managing an incompetent occupation. So if you ask are Americans safer, remember that our military consists of Americans too, and the policies of the Bush administration did not make them safe.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Patronage Machine

Today, we have a federal system of Government. There is a national income tax, so the governmental system with the most money is in Washington D.C. It also is the most powerful, accoridng to the Constitution and the Supereme Court's interpretations thereof. So just what is it supposed to do with this money and power? Currently, the idea is Patronage.

What it has Done:

Since the Republicans took Congress in 1994, the stated policy was that Government is no good. The private sector, affected by the "invisible hand" of the market, can always do a better job. And so taxes have been cut, and services privatized. However, the Government is still distorting the market. It does not demand accountability or stringent audits (like a responsible private sector contractor would). In fact, the practices of Congress and the current administration shows that efficency and low costs are not a goal. The goal is patronage. The use of earmarks (where a congressman adds provisions to a bill that basically serves to send money to one of his friends) has ballonned at an astonishing rate. Vast programs have been proposed and initiated that do not work, but do employ Republican donors. A good example of this is the missle defense shield. Every test the Air Force sets up for this program is rigged, and about half the time, they fail. Nonetheless, we are building and investing in a massive deployment of this system. Presuming that the government is a rational actor (a big presumption), the only plausible purpose for rewarding such a failure is to bribe their defense contractor buddies. Who will then donate generously to electoral campaigns

The current crop of Republicans have even downsized the military and sent many former military jobs to contractors. It actually didn't seem like a terrible idea in the 90's. The military can be lumbering and ineffecient, and every soldier knows that its just Uncle Sam footing the bill, and that he can afford it. So cost is often disregarded. But the soldiers do understand following orders. So the right solution was not to privatize, but make officers more accountable on costs. They would then order their subordinates to keep those things in mind. These orders come in handy in a war zone as well. Contractors don't mind working when its quite, but when the bullets fly, it takes a soldier.

So when our soldiers went to Iraq, so did the contractors. And they needed massive pay raises to work in the war environment. Suddenly, these "savings" became losses. It also became huge profits for the politcally connected companies, like Halliburton. Indeed, the US began sponsoring private militas to protect these contractors, since the soldiers were busy. More profits for companies, but still, no efficency.

Another example is health care. When someone had the idea to reform Medicare, the Republicans didn't examine the system and try to devise a way to deliver the most care for the least cost to the US taxpayer. Instead, the forbid the government to act efficently by negotiating for drug prices. It allows deceptive and confusing advertising for competing drug plans. It encouraged private sector bureacracy and paperwork. Why? Because there were big companies, in the pharamaceutical and hospital industry, that wanted a big injection of taxpayer money to boost their bottom line.

This is patronage government. By the party, for the friends of the party, in order to keep the election campaigns of the party filled.

The professional nature of the government burecracy was created to avoid the problems of patronage. Certainly, the top positions are always open to the friends of the politcal party, and especially to the friends of a victorious president. But the actual employees, the people who run the system through fair weather and foul, have to pass certain tests to get their job. They are also "professionalized," so to speak, in that they will work for the U.S. people and the citizenry instead of the political ledaer of the moment. In practice, they often work in their own interests, in order to make their own job easier. The solution to that is to demand higher standards and better management. The "privitization" of these jobs just ensures one thing: that the people running the programs care about profit most of all.

The private sector cares about profit. That is the reason for its existence. To make money. All other concerns are secondary. Even if a bureacrat is lazy, he can't pad his bills. And without oversight, which is woefully lacking in the current government, the privatized worker can be lazy as well. But by permitting these false invoices, the patronage machine continues.

A government of patronage is the enemy of any patriot. It is not wrong to ask for good government. Every citizen should ask no less. But the current Republican refrain is that government is no good and it can't be trusted. They then go out and prove this to be the case by delibertly subverting good government in order to provide patronage. The hold no hearings to investigate the corruption, but instead participate (see Delay, Cunningham, etc.).

There is only so much money the government has to spend. This money can go to worthy projects that help build a stronger nation ready for the challenges of the coming years. Or it can go into the pockets of the wealthy and corrupt. The current Republican Party has choosen the later. Congressmen hold lavish parties for their cronies, and buy gilded commodes out of the Palace of Versailles. And the patronage machine rolls on.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Iraq and Freedom (Locke and Hobbes)

There there many in charge of our government right now who enjoy cloaking their foreign policies in the mantle of freedom. They speak of how it is a gift, from the Lord, who will deliver to the poor, unenlightened masses of the Middle East. As if they are the messengers sent to bring this "divine" gift.

However, the word "freedom" by itself is meaningless. I recall one bitter Iraqi's statement on freedom, saying that he now had the freedom to wait in gas lines, to loot, and to be blown up. He was not so happy that the Iraqi people were now exposed to such freedoms. We truly did bring a freedom, a license, for the people to do whatever they wanted after our occupation began, becuase we did not control the country.

One of the most important freedoms is the freedom from fear. Security should be freeing, it should be liberating. In America, I can go down to the street corner and speak outrageous slanders on the heads of state, or on the mayor, or the local police cheif. And I can do this without worry of violence against me. I am free to stroll down the street on a sunny day without a care in the world, and perhaps even slip inside a dark saloon for a cool glass of beer. There is a loosening of the tensions of life when the threat of random violence; it allows a person to focus on loftier goals.

This freedom is conspicuously absent in Iraq. It was absent before, in the era of Saddam, and it is absent today.

I think the intent is, that we shall bring a representative form of government to the Country. But one of the prerequisities for a government of this type, one that relies on the will of the people, that there aren't armed secarian groups at each others throats. The will of the people tends to be inflamed after violent acts are perpetrated against their religious shrines, schools, hospitals, and government leaders. We want to build a sytem of government influenced by Locke and Montesquieu, but there is no check or balance against the senseless violence of the current Iraqi civil war.

The county, to put it simply, lacks its Hobbes. There is no Leviathan. There is no monopoly of the use of perceived legetimate violence in the hands of the state. And so various political actors, be they Bathist, Badr Brigade, Al-Queda, the Mahadi Army, or just bandits, smugglers, and kidnappers for profit, perhaps a virulent strain of highly violent organized crime, that bred unchecked from extended lawlessness.

This lack of control is a direct result of two failures of the U.S. leadership. The first is he failure to secure the peace. This is a result of Rumsfeld's decision to go in with the minimal troop levels of 150,000 people to keep the order in a county of 26 million people. But most of these were logistical, and haven't been outside keeping order.

The problem of Hobbes must first be tended to before the question of Locke. There must be order in Iraq for the U.S. to be efective in brokering the creation of a new democracy. There was basic peace and order in Germany and Japan, and there was success. People had a swift opportunity to see what living in a more just society could bring. But there has only been bloodshed, murder, bombings, and assassinatons since we captured Saddam. This is a failure of a society on a fundamental level. We have witnessed the birth of shadow armys of death squads, and have been powerless to prevent it.

In order for there to be a Leviathan, there must be some degree of legitimacy of the party who controls the last word on violence. Right now that is the U.S. military. Their use of violence is always legitmate, and the prosecution of breaches of military law rests with the U.S. Now, as far as an occupying army in the midst of a gureilla war, we have done a decent job in prosecuting some low level perpatrators of unacceptable violence, but our reputation is currently soiled by the various killings and prison abuse that is very difficult to avoid in prosecuting an insurgency. The U.S. has failed to avoid these difficulties.

The U.S. has also done a poor job of preventing basic crime from plaguing the citizens. Shopkeepers are firebombed. Many family members face threats of kidnapping. Frankly, it is a poor environment for investment. No one is comfortable investing heavily into an active civil war or an epedemic of banditry. The people simply do not trust the U.S., although it is sad to say that they generally trust the U.S. forces more than someone wearing a police uniform.

Saddam Hussein understood Hobbes. He kept the order. But he had a loyal cadre of Bathists willing to enforce his brutal regime. The U.S. has 150,000 soldiers, most of which do not leave their large, fortified compounds. Most of our troops do not understand those they seek to control and order. They lack both a literal understanding of language, and also a cultural understanding that would both permit a true communication of goals and desires and an understanding of how to effectively apply force to the society. We have generally failed to create the Hobbesian world of government since the day Baghdad fell and the looting began. Three years of impotent control. I believe that is three years too long. Only a massive influx of troops, on a scale we are clearly unprepared to comit, could have a chance to reverse this history of failure.

Imagine it, though. Order. Normalcy. Garbage men able to do their jobs without fear of assassination. Civil servants performing their duties normally.

A society will seek out its Hobbes in one way or another. If the Leviathan fails to materialize, one will be made. This new Leviathan may not gain full control of a a political sphere. But people will give up freedom for safety. This is a sad lesson of history, from time Julius Ceasar was declared dictator for life, to the rise of fascism in Europe after World War I. Such chaos is the meat and drink of demagouges.