Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grand (Same) Old Party

Hi Everyone,

CNN's website has a story today about the "Reborn GOP." This is in keeping with the usual media story that the Tea Party has somehow revolutionized the Republican Party. But let us look at the leadership of the GOP pre and post Tea Party.

In 2008 the GOP was lead by:
John Boehner (House Minority Leader)
Eric Cantor (Minority House Whip)
Mitch McConnell (Senate Minority Leader)
Jon Kyl (Senate Republican Whip)

In 2011 the GOP is lead by:
John Boehner (Speaker of the House)
Eric Cantor (House Majority Whip)
Mitch McConnell (Senate Minority Leader)
Jon Kyl (Senate Republican Whip)

Do you notice any differences? I sure don't. The only difference is that the titles of House leaders changed because the Republicans won the majority in that chamber. But they have the same leadership now that they had when the got creamed in 2008. So the Tea Party has not changed who is in charge. It may have changed the policies that these leaders advocate.

So what of those policies? The Republicans insisted on a tax cut for the rich that put enormous pressure on the deficit. In that deal they compromised on a range of issues about which the Tea Party might have been expected to be especially concerned and unwilling to give ground: DADT, FDA authority, START. Representative King (R-IA) will be Chair of a subcommittee of the Judicial Committee in the House and wants to hold hearings about ACORN (an old wining complaint of the far right from 2008). It seems to me that this leadership is both the same in identity and policy perspective. Their only priorities are tax cuts for the wealthy and political vendetta.

This suggests to me that we should not expect a great deal of influence by the Tea Party on the actual practice of governance by the newly empowered Republicans in the House.



Wow, a bit of good news from Tea Party Nation:

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips put out a list yesterday of the "top five liberal hate groups," because "while the Left loves to accuse the Tea Party and Conservatives to be members of hate groups [sic], the simple fact is, there are a lot of liberal hate groups." And who made the cut for the top five? The NAACP, the Department of Homeland Security, the ACLU, the SEIU, and of course, the Southern Poverty Law Center.


The number two spot went to the DHS for taking part in "silly political posturing from the most corrupt regime in the history of this country." Referring to Secretary Janet Napolitano as "the DHS Clown in Chief," the list says that the "DHS will not enforce border security. It makes Americans go through a joke of a security system when they want to fly. It invades their privacy while not going after terrorists."
(emphasis mine)

Can I hold out hope that this means we will be getting rid of it soon, now that people on the left and right both distrust it? Or is it (as a jaded person might suggest) that everyone in America hates it except elected officials, and thus it will remain forever?

I also have this same question about indefinite detention.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hegemony, Decline and Normalcy

Hi Everyone,

Various of us have discussed the nature of American power in the world and the prospect of its decline. In the last two years, there has been an enormous amount of talk around (if not on this blog) about the supposed reality of American decline. This kind of talk is often combined with references to ascending new powers such as China. The usual contention is that China is replacing the United States as the world hegemon (i.e. the single greatest power on the planet). The purpose of this entry is not to discuss the validity of expectations of China's rise or to speculate about what sort of policies an ascendant Chinese government would pursue. Rather I would like to talk about something that has been on mind lately: namely that talk of China replacing the USA is rooted in the belief that a world dominated by a single great power is the normal state of affairs and that naturally, if the USA declines it must be replaced as "top country" by some other power and the most likely candidate is China. This view is badly mistaken.

A single power (or "unipolar") world, such as we have experienced since 1989, is not normal. Neither is the "bi-polar" world we lived in between 1945 and 1989. For most of human history different regions of the world were dominated by local powers sometimes with one power dominating a region, but more often with a small group of powers contesting for regional hegemony. For most of the time, these regions were only tenuously connected to each other and rival powers from different regions rarely came into direct contact let alone conflict. That began to change in the 17th century when a cluster of European powers began to transfer their previously regional conflicts to a global stage. That state of affairs held until after World War II with the additions of the United States and Japan to what otherwise had continued to be a European multi-lateral rivalry.

World War II changed all that for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, only the United States emerged from that war with a completely intact industrial base. Second, only the United States and the USSR emerged from the war with militaries capable of imposing their governments' wills in all regions of the world.

Between 1945 and 1989 two processes occurred that set up the unprecedented situation of a single global power. Those were Europe's and Japan's recovery from WWII on the one hand and the relatively rapid decay, within the span of a single human lifetime, of the USSR on the other.

Since 1989 we have seen processes that appear to indicate a decline of US power. These are the rapid industrialization of countries that until the 1940s and 50s were largely colonies of the great powers of the pre-WWII rivalry. This includes countries like China, India, S. Korea, Brazil, etc. Related to this is the ending of the post-WWII US monopoly on global economic power. Advantages that the US had briefly after WWII have disappeared. For example, no longer can American industrial laborer charge whatever they wish for their efforts without regard to what the industrial laborers of Europe, Asia, South America or even Africa are willing to charge.

But are these developments a valid pretext for declaring an end to American power? Far from it. The US remains the wealthiest, large country on the planet by far. It also remains by far the largest military power (many times more potent than China is really). At the same time, while the gap between US power and the rest of the world has narrowed somewhat of the world's ten largest military spenders, 7 are the US and its allies. China is one. Russia and India are the remaining two and while difficult to place squarely in the US camp, both have fought minor wars with China relatively recently and neither has much reason to support China's unrestricted rise. This suggests to me that while the gap between US and Chinese power narrows, the US still has a dominant advantage diplomatically. Chinese governments' positions on crises such as those involving North Korea or Iran do not help China's diplomatic status in the world.

What we are seeing is the return to the Pre-WWII multi-lateral arrangement but without the over representation of European powers that characterized the period from the 1600s to 1945. In my view what we have seen in the last 60 years is not so much the firm establishment of US hegemony as a transition from one 350 year period of multilateralism to the next period of multilateralism. What's more, this transition has been overseen by the US. In the grand scheme of things the advantage that the US realizes as a result of this position of dominance during the transition will prove a good thing both for Americans and the world.

Well, that's my two cents for now.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Big Government?

The phrase "Big Government" gets kicked around so loosely, that I think it is worth considering its meaning. Wasn't it Bill Clinton who said the "era of Big Government" is over? In his case, it meant offloading government services to contractors. But that is really a cosmetic change at best. So what is is, and why is it so bad?

What do conservatives and Tea Partiers mean when they talk about "big government" , what do liberals mean? And aren't there good kinds and bad kinds of big government? And what government is too big? We have so many levels of government: Federal, State, Local.

There is no way that a country, the size of the US with a now new population of 357 million, can avoid big Federal government. It takes a lot of money and people to keep it running.

When conservatives talk big government, they are usually referring to Federal Government, Federal Spending programs (Medicare, SSI, Unemployment insurance, education funding, etc), the people who work and run those programs (too many civil servants and the unions that represent them), any form of regulation and the bodies that enforce them (EPA, FDA, IRS, etc.), stimulus spending to get the economy on track. These are the things liberals see as good kinds of government.

The inherent contradiction is that conservatives support big government by constantly voting for military spending, costly weapons programs, nanny state regulation (no abortions, no drug legalization, anti-sodomy laws, etc.), block grants to states who are then forced to build bigger government to meet the obligations, subsidies to private industry and key constituencies, etc. This, in turn, is what liberals mean when they talk "big government" and they see it as bad kinds of government.

Citizens, what's your take?


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The GOP-Obama Tax Deal

This morning I read that some conservatives are claiming that the GOP gave away the store in dealing with Obama on the tax cuts - the only good news I've hear din weeks. Of course it's not true - they're just upset that the GOP gave away anything at all. Evidently the Tea Partiers are all in a huff about extension of the 100 year old Estate Tax, which they call the "Death Tax" that they say "ruins small businesses" and "double taxes savings." These little-minded people who know nothing! At the same time, they are angry about the deficit. Huh? My fear is that the GOP will scuttle the tax deal, then come back in the new year and demand even more, which Barack Obama will give them, since he seems to be spineless at this point. The only good thing about the deal is the payroll tax temporary reduction which is a very good thing for middle class people and will totally stimulate the economy. If only, again, this weren't blowing a hole in the deficit. I think calling this the "Obama Tax Deal" rather than the "Republican Tax Deal" is a way of setting up the President for another defeat. Wait for it.

Responsible government would put in the payroll tax holiday and keep the tax rates low on the first $50,000 of income, but would allow other rates - and especially the tax on estates - to rise back to their levels in the 1990s. Remember the 1990s? Balanced budgets, even surpluses, and economic growth? Instead, more supply sider crap.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

University Trends and National Security

There have been a spate of talk shows and news stories lately discussing how universities are cutting back on modern language programs. I have a few thoughts on this issue, and I would be interested to know what the Citizens think, as many of you have a better grasp of Academic politics than I.

The Department of Defense is throwing a lot weight behind language learning. The Marines now have a language requirement for all troops being deployed to Afghanistan (see MARSOC). Language Training Detachments are being opened at major Military Bases with focus on training Special Forces. The Army in its 2010 Posture Statement launched its "Army Culture and Foreign Language Strategy". The DoD has provided millions in grants to universities such as University of South Florida, University of Maryland, UCLA, to name a few to bolster language programs. So there is now doubt that foreign language is now on the same footing as math and science as a top priority.

Therefore, I get concerned when I hear about how the University of New York at Albany is not allowing new students to major in some foreign languages, like French and Russian. Bad news is that French and Russian are considered important languages for National Security. In addition, we need to be adding programs in new languages, like Arabic, Persian-Farsi, Dari (very similar to PF), Pashto, Hindi, etc. Granted, finding qualified people in some of these languages is very difficult, but not impossible. Currently, the only foreign language increasing enrollments is Chinese. At UC Berkeley I hear they can't add the classes fast enough. Of course, I am pretty for sure it's a lot of MBA types.

To replace the Modern Languages, there is a movement in Academia that says you can teach "world culture" through Anthropology departments instead of language and that this is just as good. I think you can teach world culture, but that does not negate the need for foreign language training . Language and cultural go together. As someone who focused on Cross-Cultural communications, I can tell you that language is 70-80% of the game. Just learning "culture" doesn't do the job. And what does that mean to "learn culture", anyway? I think this is just a lazy attitude. It is hard to learn a foreign language, it takes a lot of effort and time. So what you are really saying is that we don't want our students to take time and work hard.

One proponent of this idea is Linguist John McWhorter , currently a lecturer at Columbia University and former senior fellow at conservative think tank The Manhattan Institute, who went so far during an interview with NPR's Talk of the Nation to say that after a certain age, the ability to learn language is so greatly reduced, it's pointless to start. The age he sites is 18. After that, he says you will always have an accent. Where do they dig these people up and who is paying this guy?

Bottom line, we need more languages taught in our schools at younger ages. I've always believed that and I think it's more important now than ever before. I don't even care which ones are being taught. Learning any language is useful.


Friday, December 10, 2010

China as Enfant Terrible

Hi Everyone,

According to the Mirriam Webster online dictionary there are multiple definitions of "enfant terrible" and both apply to China: "a person known for shocking or outrageous behavior" or "a usually young and successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, or avante garde." So much is true of all great powers in history.

China has fit the second, more flattering definition when it managed a difficult transition away from totalitarian, Maoist communism towards a significantly less oppressive market oriented authoritarian dictatorship. In doing this China has established itself as a major world economic power while dramatically improving the standards of living for millions of its citizens. China's management of this transition has been far more successful and innovative than the Russian transition. China has also shown its innovative side when it devotes large resources to researching renewable energy (a farsighted policy for a country with rapid growth and not enough domestic fossil fuel reserves to meet future needs).

But China has also fit the less flattering definition. When China hypocritically claims to be the champion of non-interference in domestic affairs by major powers all while bullying aid recipients into buying Chinese or while supporting the horribly dysfunctional North Korean regime against the interests of the North Korean people and the entire region. China also fits this less flattering definition when it reacts so childishly to the Nobel Committee's award of the Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.

China is on the verge of becoming a major global power. But they are still often stuck in the mind set of a petty dictatorship. Two recent events; one in North Korea and now this Nobel Peace Prize award highlight the ways in which China's leaders are not ready for prime time.