Bad Actors

“I just think reasonable people are more inclined right now to start thinking about ways our country’s future isn’t dependent on . . . oil from a region where there are a lot of very bad actors.”

- Conservative activist Gary Bauer. And no, he’s not talking about Sean Penn’s latest trip to Baghdad.

Seriously, though, it’s amazing it took this long for Conservatives to wake up and join the CONSERVATION movement. You would have thought it a natural fit (pun very much intended).

(via The Slant)

Oh, what tangled webs we weave…

…when first we try to enshrine corporate pork into the tax code:

Washington state’s hopes of wooing an aircraft assembly plant that could be built by a major Boeing Co. rival may get a boost from a package of tax breaks designed for Boeing itself.

France-based European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., the majority owner of Boeing rival Airbus SAS, is collecting bids from state and local governments this week for a possible U.S. manufacturing site and engineering center. The location could be used to compete with Boeing for a multibillion dollar aerial refueling tanker contract from the Air Force.

Come children, and let us sit by the fire and watch this ironic stew bubble to a boil. In an effort to get Boeing to keep its assembly lines in Washington State, our State legislators signed off on $3.2 Billion (yes, that’s a “B”) in tax breaks for the “aerospace industry.” You see, it turns out you can’t actually give taxpayer money to a specific corporation. That would be too easy. You have to guise it in an effort to promote a specific industry. Of course, the “aerospace industry” has, like three companies. And only one of them is based in Washington.

Well, maybe not any more.

Of course, the only reason that the Air Force has put the tanker contract out to bid again is that it turns out that Boeing hired a former Air Force procurement specialist to help seal the deal and probably violated a few laws in doing so.

So in the end, two of Boeing’s efforts to raid the public purse strings have backfired in stellar back-to-back fashion, like a beautifully executed chain reaction. Cheers, guys!

Tales from the Pro-Democratization Center

Noam Scheiber writes this in today’s NYT:

By embracing a robust democratization agenda, the Democratic nominee in 2008 will be able to appeal to his base while also claiming the new, pro-democratization center. The Republican nominee, who has to win the nomination of a party at best indifferent to democratization, will enjoy no such luxury. Mr. Bush himself won the Republican nomination in 2000 by promising a far less activist foreign policy than the Clinton administration had advocated.

The gist of his argument, which he’s made before on his blog, is that the GOP base is fundamentally isolationist, while the Democratic base is fundamentally internationalist. Therefore, after the partisan attachment to Bush fades, the president will have actually made life easier for Democrats by making internationalism more acceptable nationwide.

I find Scheiber’s argument interesting and hopeful, but I’m skeptical for two reasons.

One, Bush isn’t going anywhere. He’ll be out campaigning for the 2008 nominee, and that nominee will probably have had some hand in pre-2008 GOP politics. Frist, Rice, Jeb, McCain, Giuliani… all of them have, to some degree, embraced the Bush foreign policy agenda or even created it. So the eventual nominee won’t be starting from a blank slate. They will be pushing for “four more years” of the Bush policy of aggressive internatlionalism, and they’ll probably have Bush by their side on the trail. That should be enough for the Republicans who only support internationalism for “partisan” reasons to continue to do so.

The second issue, the main one, is the deficit. Bush has been piling up a mountain of debt to fund his internationalism, and the bill’s going to come due. The 2008 nominee will probably be the one who gets stuck with the check. Faced with a mounting debt, might the “new, pro-democratization center” decide that isolationism is better than tax increases? Especially since Scheiber is postulating that the military threat will be gone:

But by 2008 the job of consolidating democracy will probably be primarily nonmilitary in nature. It will involve financing and training indigenous political activists, helping to build highways, schools and hospitals, and nurturing democratic institutions like a free press and labor unions. Which is to say, all the things Republicans roll their eyes at and Democrats have long embraced.

Scheiber is right in that whether or not Bush has made the world safe for democracy, he’s made the American policial scene safer for pro-democratization. But will these newly internationalized centrists vote Democrat next time around? It’s far from certain. More likely, there will now be two strains of American Internationalism, if that’s a thing: The neocon, America-kicks-ass-and-the-UN-is-corrupt Bush approach, and the Europe-is-always-right-and-the-UN-is-wonderful Democratic base approach. The Dems will have to have a real “Sister Souljah moment” with the UN if they hope to bring the newly internationalized GOPers along for the ride.

Tom, Tom, Tom

Will Saletan on Tom DeLay’s deathbed conversion:

This is what happens when you approach a tragedy as a politician rather than as a family member. You see quality of life as a slippery-slope abstraction, not as a reality affecting someone you love. You find it easy to impose a standard of documentation that would have forced your family to break the law. You second-guess a spouse in a way you would never second-guess your mother. You challenge people’s competence and impugn their character. You perceive the afflicted person more as God’s tool than as God’s child.

Exactly.

Ugh

Gov. Gregoire’s first budget is full of hikes in sin taxes. I hate sin taxes. What a stupid, bass-ackwards way to fund government.

They should call ‘em “chicken-shit state legislator taxes.” See:

Senate leaders told reporters the sin-and-death taxes will be relatively uncontroversial…

CNN vs. Itself

The NYT reports on CNN prez Jon Klein’s latest attempts to go toe-to-toe with Fox. But the devil is in the details:

That gap in average viewing time has had a profound impact on CNN’s ratings: thus far this season, its average audience between 7 and 11 p.m. (775,000) is far less than Fox’s during the same time period (two million) , according to Nielsen Media Research. (As recently as four years ago, CNN was drawing more viewers than Fox News at night.)

The truth, of course, is that Fox and CNN aren’t even truly competitors. The reason Fox kicks CNN’s butt is that Fox is an extension of a very successful right-wing media empire, and guys like Hannity and O’Reilly have successul publishing and talk-radio offshoots. They’re multi-media savvy. It’s a synergy that the behemoth of AOL-CNN-Time-Warner, stunningly, has failed to equal.

This is especially (perhaps mostly) true in the 7-11 primetime hours that the article focuses on. Calling Fox a “news” station between those hours would be like calling Michael Moore a “journalist.”

Can you imagine Aaron Brown or Lou Dobbs ever getting the kind of rabid fan base that the Fox guys (and Moore) enjoy? Would never happen. Extremists get people excited. Moderates don’t (except maybe here at B&P!). So Klein’s got a tough sell when he says this:

Mr. Klein has ruled out one obvious option: he will not, he says, turn CNN’s prime-time lineup into a liberal counterpunch to Fox’s opinion-driven programming, which draws a heavily conservative audience. “It’s much better to be right down the middle,” Mr. Klein said in an interview. “Moderates are our sweet spot.”

It’s not that he can’t get people to watch moderate hosts, it’s just that his idea that he’ll get people to hang around as long as they do on Fox (26 minutes vs. CNN’s 19) is going to be hard if he intends to keep his hosts relatively neutral.

My broader point is that CNN and Fox aren’t really competitors, they just seem that way. Fox wants you to think they’re a competitor to CNN because it makes them look more legitimate and “fair and balanced.” They give their shows a CNN-like aura, but it’s only skin deep. Look at the “Beltway Boys,” for example, which is a lot like CNN’s Crossfire, at least at first glance. But whereas Crossfire has a liberal and conservative host going at it, Beltway Boys has two conservatives yapping at each other. It’s a sleight of hand. And it’s furthered by the fact that most cable and satellite providers choose to lump CNN, MSNBC, and FOX at the same end of the dial, thereby making them seem even more indistinguishable.

Bottom line? The TV market for right-wing propaganda is bigger than the market for 24-hour news. Plain and simple. I’m not placing a value judgement on that, it’s just how it is. Maybe that wasn’t true before the internet, but it’s true now. CNN’s ratings slide is, I’m guessing, due to the fact that there’s a substantial overlap between the “news junkie” audience and the “right-wingnut” audience, and the folks who fall into both categories have migrated to Fox, because it gives just enough news that they don’t miss CNN.

So what should CNN do? It’s got a hard sell ahead of itself if it wants to go against Fox. If it wants more popular appeal, it should probably do less politics and more pop culture. It can’t succeed as a Liberal counterweight, as some have argued, because liberals are a smaller market, and they don’t tend to spend as much time in front of the tube.

They should also work harder at multi-media celebrity anchors, exploiting the fact that they’re part of an enormous media empire (Anderson Cooper croons Sinatra???).

Oh yeah, and definitely ditch the xenophobic Lou Dobbs. He makes my skin crawl with his anti-immigrant, anti-globalization screeds. What a reactionary dolt! And not telegenic at all!!

The Social Security Ponzi Scheme

Yesterday I referenced a snarky headline in Harper’s on Social Security. Well, today I got to read the article itself, by economist Michael Hudson. It’s a deceptively simple argument, but one worth sharing. Since Harper’s doesn’t make their content available online, I’ll try to summarize.

He starts with a couple of bare facts (I couldn’t verify these independently):

- the total value of all stocks on the NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX exchanges totals roughly $14.2 trillion (at the end of 2003).

- The total value of all non-SS retirement assets (i.e. public and private pensions) total $10 trillion. Nearly half of that, $4.7 trillion, is held in stocks.

- QED, retirement savings are roughly 1/3 of the total value of the stock market.

This was not always the case. He gives us a little history lesson: starting in 1950, General Motors (and, later, others) began to invest a portion of an employees’ paycheck in a pension system. The pension system, in turn, was invested in the stock market. The newly-juiced stock market exploded and the postwar boom began apace.

At the same time, companies were being overly optimistic about projected returns and not funding their pension systems as well as they should have. They had no choice, because more pension funding would have cut into profits which would have hurt stock prices which would have crippled, yes, pension funding.

So now, they have liabilities they can’t pay out. GM’s pension payouts add $675 to the cost of every car. That’s more than the cost of the steel.

The result is that pension responsibilities are crippling big companies, from GM to IBM to United Airlines. And that, in turn, is crippling Wall Street. This is a big reason why companies are turning from pensions to 401(k)s: they shift the risk to the employee to manage his or her own funds. And if the 401(k) contributions aren’t enough to live off of? So be it. At least the employer has no more obligations.

Fast-forward to 2005. The market needs some serious juicing. The only way to get our government out of debt is to grow the economy, according to the supply-siders (we can’t raise taxes!!). So Wall Street needs investment. Americans don’t save, in general, so where are we going to find more money to invest? Where is the cheap capital going to come from? We used to just lower interest rates, but we can’t do that anymore: they’re nearly at zero, the lowest rates, since, you guessed it: 1950.

So we look around for piles of cash. And we find there’s only one big pile left. It’s labor. If we could just siphon off a portion of wages and divert it into the market, we could almost guarantee a stock boom. And presto, the Personal Savings Account is born.

But this is still the market, of course. Which means every boom must be followed by a bust. And when that happens, in 20, or 30, or 50 years, Hudson concludes, we’ll be flat out of juice… and options.

Now, despite any snarkiness in my tone, I’m not aghast at this. If this is how capitalism is supposed to work, well, I guess that’s just the way it is. I’m not an economist, but it does seem kinda shady.

Readers, I encourage you to either (a) blow a hole the size of the deficit in Hudson’s argument, or (b) tell me that yes, this is the way it is and it’s no big deal. That’s what the comments section is for. Thanks!

Free WiFi Gets a Boost: Guerilla-Style

Someone on the Sounder commuter train from Tacoma is giving away free WiFi.

Tight. Sit in the front car and log on to his network, powered by a portable battery-powered hotspot and, presumably, a cellular data link.

WiFi on moving vehicles has been a holy grail for a while now. Boeing is working on adding the service to some planes, and the Washington State Ferries are trying to get it on the ferry service. The technical problem, as I understand, is that you drop data as you get handed off from one relay station to another. While this is fine for a phone call (a few milliseconds of dead air), it’s unacceptable for a data network, where it can ruin a file transfer.

I’ve been using a Motorola v710 as a Bluetooth modem with my PowerBook for a few months now, and it works pretty spectacular. Though much has been made of Verizon’s annoying decision to cripple the Bluetooth on the phone, it works great as a modem. And you can’t beat Verizon’s coverage area.