The Angry Cyclist

A fleeting grasp of civil, well reasoned discourse.
This blog will comment on topics of interest like politics, business, taxation, the War with Islam / Islamofascists, road cycling, football, and others.


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Wednesday, April 28, 2004
 
Paleoliberal

Intrepid economist Robert Kuttner proposes the typical liberal solutions to the issue of job outsourcing.

Remedy to outsourcing: better US jobs


Kind of like the Steve Martin guide to becoming a millionaire: first, get a million dollars.

By Robert Kuttner | April 28, 2004

LAST WEEK I addressed the dilemma of job outsourcing. I promised some remedies in this column.

In truth, the outsourcing of American jobs is one relatively small facet of the larger problem -- the steady erosion of jobs that pay middle-class wages. A global economy makes this challenge more difficult because it puts many American workers into direct competition with foreigners who are happy to work for less.


Bob might also mention other forms of competition, or productivity levels relative to these foreign counterparts, but they would get in the way of his proposals that he presumes will fix things.

Most of the solution to the outsourcing problem, however, is domestic. In recent decades, institutions that once produced a more equal society have been dismantled or weakened. These included government regulation of wages and working conditions, of industry practices, of a worker's right to choose a union (or not), as well as various government pork social investments that once contributed good jobs. If we can rebuild these, the loss of some jobs overseas will continue to be a problem, but a manageable one.


In other words, he favors government interference and protectionism. When I was a hack at the Mass DOR, I was not given a choice on whether or not to join a union. I was informed that if I did not start paying union dues by a certain date, I was to be fired by said certain date. On that point, I must call bullshit on Bob's blithe assertion that I had a right to choose, other than the obvious 'pay up or get fired' choice. And I am rather tired / bored with the omnipresence of Bob's favorite phrase, 'social investments' as though government spending is some magic elixir that cures all ills. As noted somewhere else, name three government programs that are run more efficiently and for less money than a private sector equivalent.

The majority of jobs in the economy today are in the service sector, and many of these need to be close to the customer. A job in a hotel, a nursing home, a restaurant, a university, or a public school cannot easily be outsourced overseas.


So, 'social investment' can't cure everything.

So the first remedy is to make these good jobs. We can do this with higher minimum wages, local living wage ordinances, by enforcing the right of workers to join unions, and structuring these jobs to encourage and reward higher skills and career paths.


Minimum / living wages, proven causes of unemployment, or make some people happy by making others miserable. I don't think that's my idea of equal opportunity. And how does one "structur(e) these jobs to encourage and reward higher skills and career paths"?

Enforcement of the Wagner Act, which allows American workers a free choice to vote in a union, has become a joke. Employers find it cheaper to fire pro-union workers, hire fancy law firms to conduct union-busting campaigns, and pay the very infrequent fine.


Note the present tense / implicit laying of blame at the current Republican administration. Aside from the Family Leave Act, there doesn't seem to have been a golden age of worker's rights under Clinton, thanks in great part to Robert Reich:

Nailing the point home, Labor Secretary Reich is quoted in the August 8th New York Times as stating, "The jury is still out on whether the traditional union is necessary for the new workplace."


One happy exception speaks volumes -- the successful struggle by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees to turn Las Vegas into a union town. Today, the most humble workers in Vegas's hotels -- those who clean the rooms -- are paid middle-class salaries with health benefits and have career opportunities. They are becoming homeowners and starting to live the American dream. The higher labor costs are a drop in the casino bucket.


But a drop (or two, or three) nonetheless. A recent conversation with a friend of mine, contemplating a move to that part of the country, was notable in terms of the low cost of living in that area, which would give some credence to this 'middle-class' salary argument.

After all, no inherent economic logic required semi-skilled factory workers to earn middle-class wages. What made the difference was strong unions and federal enforcement of the right to organize. Blue-collar service jobs could pay decently, too.


In other words, government intervention, and not market factors, was the decisive influence here. I fail to see how this is a sustainable model in the long run. Hell, even Robert Reich pointed this out ten years ago. Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Second, we need more human service jobs that pay professional salaries by addressing unmet social needs.


Why do we need 'human service jobs'?

At many hospitals, nursing staffs are spread thin. Residents in nursing homes are cared for mainly by inadequately trained people earning barely above minimum wage with very high turnover rates. Budget cuts have decimated mental health services. America's children need a whole new set of professionally trained child development workers.


What criteria were used to make this determination? Staff to patient ratios? Wage disparities between these and other similar workers? And why, on God's freakin' earth, do we need 'whole new set of professionally trained child development workers'? Are parents really doing that bad a job?

What I see here is a solution (more quasi-social workers for lack of a better definition) in search of a problem (low wages, high turnover occupations).

But here comes the Bob Kuttner oh, so predictable remedy - HIGHER TAXES!

These social needs should be met in the time-tested way -- by cutting other government programs privatizing these services taxing 'the rich' those who can afford to pay and using the proceeds for government spending social investments. America's social outlays have been reduced to the level of the 1950s. Let's have a new marriage between necessary services and good jobs.


I'm deducting a style point for the second use of the 'social investment' phrase.

On a serious note, Bob states that 'social investment outlays' are at the level of the 1950's. He doesn't state that in nominal or real dollars, but I do remember this period being one where both parents didn't always have to work to make ends meet. What I infer from that is more tax money is going to entitlements like Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid and less towards Bob's precious 'social investments'. I'd also like to state that not everybody winds up in a nursing home or needs (I still can't believe this) child development workers, necessary in Bob's mind, not mine.

Third, while manufacturing jobs may never employ the work force they once did, public policy can help stimulate an advanced manufacturing economy. Al Gore didn't invent the Internet, but the US government did -- as a byproduct of defense spending. A lot of very good jobs were created as high-tech industries took off.


Offhand support for more defense spending?

Government subsidy of biotech research, likewise, has helped incubate an industry with good jobs both in research and manufacturing.

Government could work alongside private industry to invest in new technologies for energy independence.


Such as...?

We could make a national commitment to bring broadband cable service to every home, which would create a huge new market for jobs. These strategies would both create millions of good jobs in research, services, and manufacturing.


I remember my own foray into receiving broadband cable into my house. I remember calling up the cable company four years ago and paying for the service.

Trade and outsourcing do need to be addressed, too. If workers in countries that trade with the United States are assured the right to form unions, wage competition will be less of a problem. Repealing tax incentives to outsource jobs would also help. If we enforce fair trade, the United States could have more export opportunities to balance our increased imports.


Um, isn't that what the World Trade Organization's supposed to do?

One approach to creating good jobs, however, is a proven failure: George Bush's strategy of cutting taxes, gutting regulation, and trusting private industry to do the rest. This path has led to a few astronomically compensated executive jobs, a bonanza for a few fortunate investors, and a slow slide for the working middle class. Ultimately, many roads are available in the new economy. How to reconcile globalism with good American jobs remains a political choice.


Some 'proven failure'. The most recent major economic news includes the greatest year on year increase of leading economic indicators in two decades and 308,000 new jobs added last month. The only thing 'proven' here is that Bob Kuttner is consistently wrong on nearly every issue he addresses.

Say it, Bob - Arthur Laffer was right!

Robert Kuttner's is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.


Friday, April 16, 2004
 
1040X Already!

Noted Man Of the People John Kerry has filed an amended tax return for 2003 based on his sale of the Adam Willaerts painting he co-owns with his wife? somebody who prefers to remain anonymous.

I looked it up in the Schedule D instructions, and I'm rightly kicking myself in the ass for not spotting it earlier. The sale of said painting is considered a capital asset held for personal use, the disposition of which is considered ordinary income, not capital gain income. Thus, the increase in the tax rate on this transaction.

I still maintain that he probably owes an underestimated tax penalty, but hey, that's just the tax guy in me...


 
A Rant Against A Capitalist

I don't know if anyone watches this new 'reality show' called The Apprentice 'starring' the Donald Donald Trump. I refuse to discuss the particulars of the show, although some people seem to fancy it, for whatever reason.

I simply cannot fathom the fascination with such an egotistical, hubristic self-promoter who makes Larry Ellison look like Ghandi, whose investment decisions are questionable at best, and the modern-day culture of celebrity somehow pass off as some sort of fuckin' genius who gets his jollies off telling the overwhelming majority of applicants a line clearly stolen from 'The Jetsons' cartoon, "You're Fired", and then has the brass to try and trademark the fuckin' phrase? If he was telling me that, I'd probably leap over the board table and beat his worthless ass to within an inch of his life, but that's just the sensitive, consensus building type of guy that I am.

Jesus H. Christ, my contempt for such morally devoid subhumans knows no bounds...


 
John Kerry's Tax Return

I'll blog on his 2003 Federal 1040 and my recreation of his MA Form 1 (request via the Viking Pundit) as soon as I'm able to upload the applicable PDF files to my Comcast account; I can't as of now, because two tech support calls later I'm still not able to upload anything there, so discussion thereof is irrelevant until I can illustrate some things via those files.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004
 
Cut And Run

The Boston Globe's Tom Oliphant advocates the Vietnam strategy of losing resolving conflicts.

Iraq exit plan gaining bipartisan support


Republicans ? Any names, Tom?

By Thomas Oliphant, 4/13/2004

WASHINGTON

ON THE SADLY shaky assumption that some degree of stability can soon be restored inside Iraq, there is a route to the future that has a chance of avoiding the worst of all medium-term outcomes -- an almost exclusively American occupation dealing with an increasingly nationalist Iraqi opposition.


Try thug opposition.

The route has growing bipartisan support in this country and strong support abroad from a world that is not simply content to watch the United States stew in its own mess in a vital and volatile region.


Names, please...

It also has support within the fractious administration of George Bush, where Secretary of State Colin Powell has a toehold of influence against discredited unilateralists and where political advisers can state categorically that the status quo is seriously eroding Bush's standing with the public.


For the last time, names, puhleeeze...

Among the obstacles ahead is that Bush is being urged to implement what amounts to John Kerry's ideas for Iraq's future and the future of US involvement.


You mean Kerry's latest position on future US involvement? Vodkapundit has more on the shakiness of this most recent 'nuanced' position.

For those who casually follow politics in the silly form of sound bites and most press coverage, Kerry is not supposed to have an alternative to the status quo, is just sitting there trying to take advantage of current chaos, or is the willing puppet of his cousins in France.


Tom, do you think Kerry being somewhat aligned with the French actually helps his case? This might work in Brookline, but elsewhere...

In fact, Kerry made a rather comprehensive proposal nearly seven months ago and updated it shortly after Thanksgiving. Its main elements will sound familiar because you can hear them these days in many Republican and Democratic discussions of the mess that US occupation has become.


It might sound familiar in that there's nothing original in it.

First at the Brookings Institution


I bet they LOVED IT!

here and then about eight weeks later at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Kerry said Iraq's future should be framed around two new Security Council resolutions at the United Nations.


Would those two supersede the seventeen that the UN already had against Saddam Hussein's Iraq that they refused to enforce with any effective measures?

One would place the UN in Baghdad as the nation-builder -- a task for which it is both skilled and deeply experienced.


Shall we talk about Kosovo?

Under what they call a "high commissioner," the UN would, to borrow Kerry's verb, "absorb" the entirely American Coalition Provisional Authority. Its job would be to manage both the reconstruction of the country and the establishment of a democratic government.


The Kerry Plan - Turn an overwhelming military victory to an inept vanguard of the failed League of Nations, watch them fuck up on a world-class scale and blame Bush for starting the whole thing. Yeah, that's leadership!

The second resolution would establish a multilateral military force to provide security in the wrecked country and gradually train and equip Iraqi military and police units. Because of the facts on the ground, Kerry said the multilateral force must be under US command. However, he has suggested a rough division of labor, with the non-US forces taking a major responsibility for the gradual training of a new Iraqi military. The potential importance of Arab or largely Muslim soldiers to this effort should be obvious.


Do you believe that? Didn't Kerry once call for US troops under UN command?

Last September and December, with tempers still warm from the disagreements over the Bush decision to conquer Iraq with only Britain as a major contributing ally, it was not clear whether such a US proposal could move forward. It is now. With shared power and responsibility, a genuine international coalition is more than possible, and it would include serious money for the soaring costs as well.


Yes, Tom, other countries are so interested in helping us defray the costs of international operations, just as long as they have a disproportionate amount of control over things.

The alternative should frighten Americans -- an indefinite US military occupation with essentially unilateral casualties and financial costs and a gigantic US Embassy (the administration envisions 3,000 people in it) as the provisional authority's successor. Forget the supposedly important June 30 date for formal transfer of sovereignty to what baseball people would call a player to be named later. This would be an indefinite American occupation, and this is when an analogy to Vietnam would begin to become undeniable.


No it wouldn't. Saddam has been captured, Oday & Qusay caught lots of bullets and save for Iranian 'help' we have the entire country under control, save for some pockets of Jihad and other 'resistance'. Tom doesn't want to discuss the full story.

There are three clues that Bush has at least not yet rejected the international route. The first is that there has been some willingness to pause for negotiations before an all-out military assault on insurgent forces in the Sunni Triangle and the Shi'ite South.


Jesus Christ, Tom, isn't this a 1) Delaying tactic to get reinforcements into place / 2) flush jihadis out into the open?

The second is that the United States has largely deferred to UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in the task of brokering a new Iraqi entity to accept sovereignty this summer; Brahimi's task, needless to say, has been greatly complicated by the hideous events of the last two weeks.


The UN sure seems well equipped and willing to accept such responsibility, don't they?

Most important, Bush has mostly disappeared from a public leadership role in the current mess. It is fair to criticize his posture, but I think it reflects in part the fact that the forces of sanity in his administration are still alive and kicking.


I'll agree with that, although tonight's speech by President Bush is a step in the right direction.

John Kerry has also been relatively quiet. The Bush campaign people still slam him for not having the alternative he clearly has, and even some Democrats would like to see another major speech on the subject and soon. The fact is, however, that the higher Kerry's Iraq profile is right now the more politicized the subject gets, and that is not in the country's, Iraq's, or even Kerry's interests.


That suggests Kerry's input adds nothing to the debate. You've just wasted an entire column, Tom.

The irony is that he laid all this out a long time ago.


Problem is, no one remembers it, and his position shifted more than a supercharged Dodge Challenger down the quarter mile...

It's not his fault that the likes of me press was too busy nominating Howard Dean, reelecting Bush, and burying Kerry to notice. But the most damaging four words Kerry could utter now are: I told you so.


I wonder what Tom and John Kerry will be uttering on November 3rd...

Thomas Oliphant's e-mail address is oliphant@globe.com.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.


Friday, April 02, 2004
 
Beating A Dead Horse

Another Boston Globe leftist (redundancy noted - Ed.) uses the discredited Richard Clarke testimony to try to score points against Bush. Given that articles like this one are all I've been doing lately (can't wait for tax season to end!), it kind of makes you wonder about the Globe's priorities.

A tarnished image as a war president

By H.D.S. Greenway, 4/2/2004

AN ARTICULATE insider, blowing the whistle on the most important thing George Bush has to peddle to the electorate this fall, is the stuff of nightmare for the president. Bush is banking on voters choosing him and his team to take care of the daddy of all issues, national security. Yet that hoped-for image of competence has been under heavy assault during this administration's fortnight from hell.


Dude, when even hyper leftist John Pilger has problems with Richard Clarke's veracity, it's high time to find another avenue in which to criticize President Bush.

My local bookstore ran out of Richard Clarke's "J'accuse" book a week ago.


Greenway must live near Harvard Square, Cambridge...

My newspapers have not let the former antiterrorism chief or his detractors off the front page, and any time you turn on the television or the radio there is another administration official either rebutting Clarke's charges or trying to blacken his reputation.


Newspapers - The Boston Globe and the New York Times. Television shows include CSPAN and anything involving Dan Rather and radio fare includes such unbiased fare as NPR and Al Franken's radio show. Such a narrow vision...

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was on he referred to Clarke as "that douchebag individual" as if he had forgotten his name, sounding for all the world like Bill Clinton talking about "that woman." And clinging to an untenable executive privilege in the case of Condoleezza Rice's testimony, only to abandon it later, made the administration seem uncertain and undaddy-like.


I for one can't wait until Condoleezaa makes mincemeat of Clarke, and how you're gonna try spinning that, H.D.S.

Impugning the witness, trying to put Clarke on trial instead of the administration, is an old defense attorney's trick.


Some might call it 'defending oneself', but I'm old fashioned that way.

Although some of the administration's arguments and rebuttals have been reasonable and measured, too many have slipped into character assassination that discredits the administration more than Clarke.


That's wishful thinking:

Curiously, about the Clinton years, where Mr. Clarke's testimony would be authoritative, he is circumspect. When I interviewed him a year ago, he thundered at the political appointees who blocked his plan to destroy bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan in the wake of the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Yet in his book he glosses over them. He has little of his former vitriol for Clinton-era bureaucrats who tried to stop the deployment of the Predator spy plane over Afghanistan. (It spotted bin Laden three times.)

He fails to mention that President Clinton's three "findings" on bin Laden, which would have allowed the U.S. to take action against him, were haggled over and lawyered to death. And he plays down the fact that the Treasury Department, worried about the effects on financial markets, obstructed efforts to cut off al Qaeda funding. He never notes that between 1993 and 1998 the FBI, under Mr. Clinton, paid an informant who turned out to be a double agent working on behalf of al Qaeda. In 1998, the Clinton administration alerted Pakistan to our imminent missile strikes in Afghanistan, despite the links between Pakistan's intelligence service and al Qaeda. Mr. Clarke excuses this decision -- bin Laden managed to flee just before the strikes -- as a diplomatic necessity.


In other words, as much as he had criticized Clinton's handling of terrorism to Miniter, his tone while testifying in front of the 9-11 Commission was in marked contrast to that. I'd say Clarke does a fine job at discrediting himself.

Still, you have to feel a little sorry for President Bush. It's like being outdoors on a pre-9/11 spring morning with the air filled with bird song. Then later, someone you think a self-aggrandizing ornithologist nerd says: "Didn't you hear that shrike? You know, the butcher bird that impales his victims on thorns. Didn't you hear him sneaking into your garden?"


I feel a little sorry for H.D.S. Greenway. It's like writing this awesomely partisan screed against President Bush, and then the editor comes out of his office and says "You know, this guy Clarke is really partisan, so you shouldn't, you know, write your whole damn column based on this guy's testimony".

"That's OK, Mr. Editor, I'll just make some lame comparison to a killer bird, OK?"

Where does the Globe find these people?

Well, in retrospect, when so many of the birds in your garden have been killed, the shrike's song was definitely there to be heard. But back then when there were so many birds in the air? And those were supposed to be the days of ever-lengthening light after the Cold War winter.


This lame rhetorical trick is tired already. What else you got, H.D.S.?

Bush came into office hoping to enjoy America's holiday from history just the way his predecessor had.


And the predecessor before him, and the predecessor before him, and...

I heard Bush speak, rather plaintively, that Clinton had had eight years, but he had only had eight months before 9/11. Oh yes, the Bush team was going to get serious about terrorism, outdo the feckless Clintonites, but terrorism on the scale of 9/11 was as far away from Bush's mind as most everybody else's. If the Bush administration nodded off a bit, didn't most of us in that warm, pre-9/11 sunshine? "I didn't feel that sense of urgency," Bush told author Bob Woodward. "I was not on point."


At least President Bush admits his mistakes, which is leagues more than I can say for Clinton's wife. What unmitigated gall...

Yet national leaders are supposed to be accountable. There was plenty to blame on the Clinton administration, but 9/11 didn't happen on Clinton's watch.


But the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was. So was Somalia in 1993, the 1995 car bombing of 5 US citizens in Saudi Arabia, the 1996 bombing of a U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole in 2000. Has anyone held Clinton accountable?

Bush came to office deeply inexperienced (is there some sort of traing program Bush missed out on? - Ed.), but he tried to pick some of his father's team, elder statesmen, who could make up for this deficiency.


It's called hiring experienced people. Not that you seem to be clear on the concept...

Colin Powell did his best, but Bush allowed the others to undercut Powell, and he lacked the coalition-building skills that Bush senior and James Baker had. Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld egged Bush on to use the cover of 9/11 to invade Iraq quickly,


How do you know that, a really good crystal ball?

before he had a UN mandate,


Like we had a realistic chance of ever getting one...

before there was any progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front,


Because the Palestinians refused to dismantle terrorist groups and stop sending suicide bombers into Israel...

before the war was truly won in Afghanistan.


A tribal hellhole that's been a clusterfuck since time began.

Some advised him to invade Iraq before going after Al Qaeda.


But al Qaeda was based largely in Afghanistan, wasn't it?

And even if they weren't actually relying on shaky intelligence lying to the public about weapons of mass destruction (like these? - Ed.) and links to Al Qaeda in Iraq (like these? - Ed.), the kindest thing you can say was that all the president's men, and the president, were deceiving themselves, something we saw previous administrations do in Vietnam.


Like the Kennedy (D) and Johnson (D) administrations?

Then Rumsfeld botched the job in Iraq.


Isn't Bush the one who's accountable? I'm (almost) confused!

The one moment when US troops might have been seen as liberators instead of occupiers vanished in a paroxysm of looting and anarchy when US troops entered Baghdad because the Pentagon had no coherent postwar plan and not enough troops.


Thank you, Bill Clinton...

Mistakes followed mistakes, and today the administration is still in denial about the extent to which resistance to the Americans is becoming a popular uprising rather than the work of leftover Saddamists and foreign terrorists.


I don't recall anyone in the Bush administration saying anything to the effect that things were going to be easy. Got any quotes, H.D.S.?

Bush was hoping that his handling of 9/11 would bond Americans to him, but his goals in Iraq and in the Middle East are receding before his eyes. Afghanistan is not where it should be either, partly because of the drain of resources for Iraq. Polls show more people in France Europe the world hating the United States more than they did pre-9/11. The war on terrorism is in trouble, and now, to top it all, Richard Clarke, the insider who worked in the last four administrations, is alleging that the president was asleep in the garden when the butcher birds came to call. CORRECTION: In a recent column I misnamed AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group. It is American Israel Public Affairs Committee.


As is usual with Boston Globe columnists, they're heavy on criticism and short on alternatives, rarely if ever saying what they might do differently either strategically or tactically. If there's one strong bit of proof that appeasement doesn't work, it is this. You either take the fight to the terrorists, wherever they may be, or they will eventually take the fight to you.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.