Examining the Republican Platform Part V: “Energy Independence and Security” and “Environmental Protection”

This is continued from Parts I-IV of my examination of the Republican Platform. I have hope the next examination will go up by the end of the night.

Considering that so far, I have by and large agreed more often with the Democrats than I have with the Republicans, and I started this project (which by the way, is dominating the run-up to the election more than I ever had in mind and proven to be a lot less fun) last Monday with the Democratic Platform before launching into the Republican plan, you may be wondering why I’m letting the Republicans take the lead and reach Part V first. The short answer is that the Republican platform has struck my fancy more.

The long answer is that Part IV, “Energy Independence and Security”, touches on my single-issue topic, the one I expounded on so much at length, that of the concerns raised by global climate change. But right off the bat, Danger, Will Robinson! This part is so short that I can conceivably throw in a second part to fill out the space. The Republicans do give an entire part to the issue of energy, a bit more than the Democrats, but the Republicans also have more parts (we’re only halfway through and the Republicans are already passing the number of parts the Democrats have in their entire platform). Any concerns I might have over the Republicans’ commitment to climate change are seemingly validated when they devote all of two pages to the following part on the environment. On the plus side, we’ve only got four more parts or so to go after this (we passed the halfway mark last part), so we’re fast approaching the end!

It’s been a long time since I properly quoted a section introduction to see how it addresses its own goals:

All Americans are acutely aware of the energy crisis our nation faces.  Energy costs are spiraling upward, food prices continue to rise, and as a result, our entire economy suffers.  This winter, families will spend for heat what they could have saved for college, and small businesses will spend for fuel what could have covered employee health insurance.

Our current dependence on foreign fossil fuels threatens both our national security and our economy and could also force drastic changes in the way we live.  The ongoing transfer of Americans’ wealth to OPEC – roughly $700 billion a year – helps underwrite terrorists’ operations and creates little incentive for repressive regimes to accept democracy, whether in the Middle East or Latin America.

It didn’t have to be this way, and it must not stay this way.  Our nation must have a robust energy supply because energy drives prosperity and increases opportunity for every American.  We reject the idea that America cannot overcome its energy challenges – or that high gasoline prices are okay, as long as they are phased in gradually. We reject half-measures and believe “No, we can’t” is not a viable energy policy.

Together we can build a future around domestic energy sources that are diverse, reliable, and cleaner.  We can strengthen our national security, create a pathway to growing prosperity, and preserve our environment.  The American people will rise to this challenge.

Hmm, “no we can’t”? I smell a not-so-subtle dig at Obama there! Who’s positing the idea that “America cannot overcome its energy challenges”? What do you mean by “high gasoline prices are okay, as long as they are phased in gradually”, what’s that referring to? Of course I don’t want to see any “half-measures” with the stakes as high as they are!

“Growing Our Energy Supply”:

We must aggressively increase our nation’s energy supply, in an environmentally responsible way, and do so through a comprehensive strategy that meets both short and long term needs.  No amount of wishing or hoping can suspend the laws of supply and demand.  Leading economists agree that any actions that will increase future energy supplies will lead to lower energy prices today.  Increasing our production of American made energy and reducing our excessive reliance on foreign oil will:

  • Bring down the high cost of gasoline and diesel fuel.
  • Create more jobs for American workers.
  • Enhance our national security.

In the long run, American production should move to zero-emission sources, and our nation’s fossil fuel resources are the bridge to that emissions-free future.

All good points. Some notes. Hand-in-hand with focusing too much on reducing our dependence on foreign oil, instead of what’s best for reversing climate change, is focusing too much on gas prices. Gas prices should be made irrelevant, not necessarily lowered. From what I’ve heard, there isn’t enough oil offshore to make much of a dent in gas prices, now or later. Agree that “American production should move to zero-emission sources” – as soon as possible. Using “our nation’s fossil fuel resources” as “the bridge” is pretty much unacceptable, because it continues reliance on the major source of greenhouse gases.

“Growing American Energy Production”: As Sarah Palin would say, drill, baby, drill! Drill everywhere, from the oceans to the mountains to the valleys white with foam! “To deliver that energy to American consumers, we will expand our refining capacity. Because of environmental extremism and regulatory blockades in Washington, not a single new refinery has been built in this country in 30 years.  We will encourage refinery construction and modernization and, with sensitivity to environmental concerns, an expedited permitting process.” Which is a good thing if you’re going to drill for all that oil, but we should be getting away from oil! And the Democrats say “we can’t drill our way to energy independence”. “Any legislation to increase domestic exploration, drilling and production must minimize any protracted legal challenges that could unreasonably delay or even preclude actual production.  We oppose any efforts that would permanently block access to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” As long as legitimate legal concerns aren’t railroaded past and the ecological concerns with drilling in ANWR are addressed.

“Nuclear Power: the Earth’s Clean Future”:

Nuclear energy is the most reliable zero-carbon-emissions source of energy that we have.  Unwarranted fear mongering with no relationship to current technologies and safeguards has prevented us from starting construction of a single nuclear power plant in 31 years.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has for decades relied upon nuclear-powered vessels, and other nations have harnessed nuclear power to provide a major portion of their energy consumption.  There is no reason why the United States cannot catch up and do the same.  Confident in the promise offered by science and technology, Republicans will pursue dramatic increases in the use of all forms of safe, affordable, reliable – and clean – nuclear power.

I try to represent a typical, uncommitted American’s perspective in these examinations, and I’m not sure I’ve succeeded. So I’m tempted to say this is mostly bull-bleep. But instead I’ll list the concerns I had earlier – waste needs to be disposed of for many thousands of years, nuclear reprocessing is currently laden with problems, you need to secure the uranium so it doesn’t get into the wrong hands, it still produces at least some greenhouse gases, it’s not entirely renewable, etc. That’s entirely apart from the Three Mile Island-type incidents you probably have in mind. Just because “other nations” do it doesn’t mean we should – right, “control-the-UN-and-go-in-unilaterally-if-everyone-thinks-we-suck” GOP? Don’t just talk about “unwarranted fear mongering”, to some extent it’s very much warranted, address these concerns. With a substantial rollout solar power is already ready to meet most of our energy needs with few or no side effects. How is it less reliable? “The labor force will expand, with nearly 15,000 high quality jobs created for every new nuclear plant built – and those workers will lead the nation away from its dependence on foreign oil.” They will need a lot of education, even the construction workers, and I see no commitment to that.

“Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Hydropower”: In other words, “oh, here are these other sources of energy as well.”

Alternate power sources must enter the mainstream. The technology behind solar energy has improved significantly in recent years, and the commercial development of wind power promises major benefits both in costs and in environmental protection.  Republicans support these and other alternative energy sources, including geothermal and hydropower, and anticipate technological developments that will increase their economic viability.  We therefore advocate a long-term energy tax credit equally applicable to all renewable power sources.

Well, you’re playing my song, and you at least talk about a form of energy tangential to wave or tidal power, but you also bring up geothermal like the Democrats. The Dems don’t say directly how they would support alternative energies but they seem to imply a direct giveaway. I’m thinking a modern TVA may be in order. “Republicans support measures to modernize the nation’s electricity grid to provide American consumers and businesses with more affordable, reliable power” – hear hear, but I don’t think you’re committing to it as heavily as the Democrats. “We will work to unleash innovation so entrepreneurs can develop technologies for a more advanced and robust United States transmission system that meets our growing energy demands.” Sounds like building a bigger patchwork system of different standards from different companies. But beyond that little “privatize everything” point, sounds good.

“Clean Coal”:

Although alternate fuels will shape our energy future, coal – America’s most affordable and abundant energy resource and the source of most of our electricity – remains a strategic national resource that must play a major role in energy independence.  We look to innovative technology to transform America’s coal supplies into clean fuels capable of powering motor vehicles and aircraft.  We support coal-to-liquid and gasification initiatives, just as we support investment in the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies, which can reduce emissions.  We firmly oppose efforts by Democrats to block the construction of new coal-fired power plants. No strategy for reducing energy costs will be viable without a commitment to continued coal production and utilization.

Ah, the “clean coal” scam. I already linked to environmentalists’ critiques of it. It’s far safer, and possibly less expensive, to invest in technologies for which “carbon capture” isn’t needed. Power our cars and airplanes with coal?!? Sequestering carbon is obviously impractical; how the hell are you ever going to clean up coal enough to serve as automobile fuel suitable for use in our cities, even with “coal-to-liquid” technology?!? You’re going to need to do a lot of “carbon capture” with how much CO2 “coal-to-liquid” can produce. Of all the things you could have proposed to power our cars, you go with coal?!?

“Natural Gas”: “Natural gas is plentiful in North America, but we can extract more and do a better job of distributing it nationwide to cook our food, heat our homes, and serve as a growing option as a transportation fuel.  Both independently and in cooperation with alternative fuels, natural gas will be an essential part of any long-term energy solution. We must ensure it gets to consumers safely and quickly.” It’s still a fossil fuel and it still pollutes, not to mention it leaks methane in transport, which is significantly more of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. No direct mention of taking care of that little problem.

“Energy Cooperation”: “We embrace the open energy cooperation and trading relationship with our neighbors Canada and Mexico, including proven oil reserves and vast, untapped Canadian hydroelectric generation.” Certainly sounds good; the “proven oil reserves” we shouldn’t be in too much of a rush to exploit, the “vast, untapped Canadian hydroelectric generation” we should, with some consciousness of the ecological impacts of dams. I don’t believe this is mentioned in the Democrats’ plan.

“Reducing Demand for Fossil Fuels”: Now this is getting into my wheelhouse! “While we grow our supplies, we must also reduce our demand – not by changing our lifestyles but by putting the free market to work and taking advantage of technological breakthroughs.” Do those “technological breakthroughs” refer to those advances in solar and wind technology? “Increase Conservation through Greater Efficiency”:

Conservation does not mean deprivation; it means efficiency and achieving more with less.   Most Americans today endeavor to conserve fossil fuels, whether in their cars or in their home heating, but we can do better.  We can construct better and smarter buildings, use smarter thermostats and transmission grids, increase recycling, and make energy-efficient consumer purchases.  Wireless communications, for example, can increase telecommuting options and cut back on business travel.  The Republican goal is to ensure that Americans have more conservation options that will enable them to make the best choices for their families.

Those are all important goals, some of which I mentioned in my earlier discussion. “New Technologies for Cars and Other Vehicles”:

We must continue to develop alternative fuels, such as biofuels, especially cellulosic ethanol, and hasten their technological advances to next-generation production.  As America develops energy technology for the 21st century, policy makers must consider the burden that rising food prices and energy costs create for the poor and developing nations around the world.  Because alternative fuels are useless if vehicles cannot use them, we must move quickly to flexible fuel vehicles; we cannot expect necessary investments in alternative fuels if this flexibility does not become standard.  We must also produce more vehicles that operate on electricity and natural gas, both to reduce demand for oil and to cut CO2 emissions.

More pushing “cellulosic ethanol” like the Democrats, while giving a shout-out to “rising food prices”, without addressing the land use constraints of any plant-based fuel. The shout-out to electric vehicles is something I absolutely love; the shout-out to nat-gas less so, and no mention of mass transit. In retrospect, I should have been able to tell from the introductory paragraph that the Republicans would focus way too much on reducing our dependence on foreign oil, not on climate change, and “half-measures” like “clean coal” suggest a deceptive edge to those remarks.

We move on to Part V, “Environmental Protection”, and see what happens when the Republicans get into the core of my wheelhouse. They start by only talking about “increasing our American energy supply and decreasing the long term demand for oil”, not decreasing the short term demand for oil like might be necessary. Still, a good start.

“Addressing Climate Change Responsibly”:

The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.  While the scope and long-term consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment.  Those steps, if consistent with our global competitiveness will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy.  Any policies should be global in nature, based on sound science and technology, and should not harm the economy.

(Thinking about it, deciding not to say anything about the “ongoing scientific research” comment.) Everything sounds good to this point. I might say that a short-term economic hit is OK when you consider the long-term consequences, but green investment right now could actually help the economy anyway.

“The Solution: Technology and the Market”: Other than “privatization”, this is the Republicans’ other favorite buzzword: the “free market”. They believe technology and the “free market” will “decrease emissions, reduce excess greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, increase energy efficiency, mitigate the impact of climate change where it occurs, and maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy.” Eee…eee. Not sure what to think of that line “maximize any ancillary benefits climate change might offer for the economy”. That might indicate they secretly want to keep climate change going. It certainly suggests they don’t take it very seriously. The last two points, though, are important when you combine how urgent the problem is and how little confidence world leaders have inspired in most environmentalists.

“To reduce emissions in the short run, we will rely upon the power of new technologies, as discussed above, especially zero-emission energy sources such as nuclear and other alternate power sources.” Still pushing nuclear power as the panacea. “But innovation must not be hamstrung by Washington bickering, regulatory briar patches, or obstructionist lawsuits.  Empowering Washington will only lead to unintended consequences and unimagined economic and environmental pain; instead, we must unleash the power of scientific know-how and competitive markets.” Using climate change to hammer your typical drumbeat: “Don’t let Washington do it.” “Use the For…er…free market.” I think I’ve grown numb to this sort of drumbeat.

“International Cooperation”: “Because the issue of climate change is global, it must become a truly global concern as well. All developed and developing economies, particularly India and China, can make significant contributions in dealing with the matter.  It would be unrealistic and counterproductive to expect the U.S. to carry burdens which are more appropriately shared by all.” Agreed in basics, but like I said in my earlier posts on climate change, there is no such thing as doing too much. It may be “unrealistic and counterproductive” for “the U.S. to carry burdens which are more appropriately shared”, but it’s imperative that it carry as much burden as it can, and so must everyone else, and the developed nations should help the developing ones by providing them with the technology they need. Bickering about “who should shoulder more burden” as the Republicans hint at here misses the larger point.

“Using Cash Rewards to Encourage Innovation”: “Because Republicans believe that solutions to the risk of global climate change will be found in the ingenuity of the American people, we propose a Climate Prize for scientists who solve the challenges of climate change.  Honoraria of many millions of dollars would be a small price for technological developments that eliminate our need for gas-powered cars or abate atmospheric carbon.” Sounds like a great idea. Something about the title turns me off, though.

“Doing No Harm”: From the very first sentence, I become very disappointed. “Republicans caution against the doomsday climate change scenarios peddled by the aficionados of centralized command-and-control government.  We can – and should– address the risk of climate change based on sound science without succumbing to the no-growth radicalism that treats climate questions as dogma rather than as situations to be managed responsibly.” Unfortunately, those “doomsday scenarios” are rather plausible, and possibly disturbingly close. Given the other terms in the second sentence, I suspect “situations to be managed responsibly” is an euphemism for something else. I may be almost as extreme as they come about climate change but I don’t consider myself a “no-growth” kind of guy; it’s precisely because I think we can and should grow as we go green that I’m such a big backer of transit. I don’t even have any idea where this comes from or how anything I suggested in my earlier global warming series would be “no-growth”.

A robust economy will be essential to dealing with the risk of climate change, and we will insist on reasonable policies that do not force Americans to sacrifice their way of life or trim their hopes and dreams for their children.  This perspective serves not only the people of the United States but also the world’s poorest peoples, who would suffer terribly if climate change is severe – just as they would if the world economy itself were to be crippled.  We must not allow either outcome.

If it were to turn out that no matter what efficiency and renewability gains we achieved, there was no way the average American’s way of life could be sustained, would you be willing to sacrifice this plank, or would you rather sacrifice the Earth? I think for the most part, the suggestions I proposed largely preserve most Americans’ way of life. The major two exceptions are home heating and my backing of mass transit, but in the case of the former the Republicans themselves called for building “better and smarter buildings”, and for the latter I know there are some people who would think that would be an improvement in people’s quality of life. (Regardless, if you’re not hep to transit you still have the electric car.) I don’t think that living a little cooler, or cutting back on barbeques, exactly constitute “trim[ming our] hopes and dreams for [our] children”. I’ve elided the impact climate change would have to direct industrial applications, such as the use of gas flames as a source of heat in reactions, but I suspect we can find non-polluting (or less-polluting) ways to achieve the same goals with little negative impact to the economy. I’m not a “no-growth radical”, I tried in my climate change recommendations to preserve as much of our way of life as we can while dramatically slicing emissions (I even gave up on a couple of non-fossil fuel fronts), and I encourage you to read them. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but I do suspect it’s an euphemism for “let’s do as little as possible”.

“Continuing Our Stewardship over the Environment”:

The Republican perspective on the environment is in keeping with our longstanding appreciation for nature and gratitude for the bounty the Almighty has bestowed upon the American people.  It was Republican President Theodore Roosevelt who said, “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.”  We agree.  Whether through family vacations, hunting or fishing trips, backpacking excursions, or weekend hikes, Americans of all backgrounds share a commitment to protecting the environment and the opportunities it offers.  In addition, the public should have access to public lands for recreational activities such as hunting, hiking, and fishing.

Thanks for trivializing the issue. So what’s your stand on motorcycles or snowmobiles in public lands? Time to beat the “privatization” drumbeat again: “In caring for the land and water, private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while the world’s worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under governmental control.  By the same token, it is no accident that the most economically advanced countries also have the strongest environmental protections.” Wait, what? Did you just undermine the point of the first sentence by implicitly backing “environmental protections”? That’s like the Democrats saying “Social Security is not in crisis” where I’m not sure that’s what you meant to say, except I’m not sure this is as simple as a one-word typo.

The next paragraph begins by praising “[o]ur national progress toward cleaner air and water” through “balancing environmental goals with economic growth and job creation”. “State and local initiatives to clean up contaminated sites – brownfields – have exceeded efforts directed by Washington. That progress can continue if grounded in sound science, long-term planning, and a multi-use approach to resources.” Sounds good.

Government at all levels should protect private property rights by cooperating with landowners’ efforts and providing incentives to protect fragile environments, endangered species, and maintain the natural beauty of America.  Republican leadership has led to the rejuvenation and renewal of our National Park system.  Future expansion of that system, as well as designation of National Wilderness areas or Historic Districts, should be undertaken only with the active participation and consent of relevant state and local governments and private property owners.

First two sentences sound well and good. The last sentence also sounds reasonable but could be disagreed with; we need to make sure private property owners don’t impose unreasonable demands on everyone.

But by and large, I am incredibly disappointed. Virtually everything I disagreed with in the Democratic platform, the Republicans have as well if not worse. Mixing up goals? The Republicans have that in spades. Geothermal and the “clean coal” scam? The Republicans name-dropped geothermal along with solar and wind, much like the Democrats, and devoted a whole paragraph to “clean coal”! Using cap-and-trade to fund renewable investment? The Republicans don’t propose anything specific to discourage emissions. Weaning us off cars entirely? The Republicans, if anything, give even less sign they’re ready to do that than Democrats do. Only a quarter of our energy from renewable sources by 2025? Republicans don’t give any firm target at all and the word “renewable” only appears once in either part. Doubts about cellulosic ethanol? The Republicans are plugging it as well. The Democrats aren’t even finished with dealing with energy and climate change, and I’ve finished covering the Republicans’ entire plan in one part – in fact, had I stopped before this paragraph I would have fallen short of 4,000 words! The part specifically dealing with “Environmental Protection” is the shortest in the whole platform! I was actually considering getting a head start on the next part of the platform!

The really sad part is that the Republicans actually have some good points, though again the Dems might claim some of them later. They would use a tax credit and “Climate Prize” to encourage renewable energy development instead of growing the size of the bureaucracy and government. Democrats haven’t yet mentioned cooperation with Canada and Mexico, and only obliquely referred to “plug-in hybrids” and didn’t directly call for making more. No pushing India and China to fill their role and cut to renewables as fast as possible either. And there is something to be said for giving some credit to the free market. And I like to think my recommendations, by and large, meet the criteria laid out by the Republicans in the “Environmental Protection” part. But the GOP wants to use fossil fuels as a “bridge” to a renewable future and see nuclear as our chief source of electricity thereafter. I’ve yet to see anything that fundamentally wrong in the Democrats’ approach.

I am so running back to the Democrats for my next examination.

This is going to slow down my platform examinations even more, isn’t it?

In light of the anti-media comments coming from both sides in response to this article, perhaps the exhortation at the end is of some import:

But in a world, and a Web, full of analysis, opinion and “accountability journalism,” what’s missing is a neutral referee. Which is a bit like living in a world with a North Pole and a South Pole but no equator. If there’s no one to set the standard, how will we know when we’ve crossed the line?

But truly neutral, objective journalism may well be dead now, if it ever really existed, sacrificed to the altar of profit and, in the case of blogs, preaching to the choir. In today’s media climate, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth it for anyone in the “mainstream media” to serve as a “neutral referee”.

So I’d like to posit this proposal, and I don’t know if I personally would be able to take part, but it’s worth considering: A collective of blogs, bloggers, and other interested persons from all sides of the political spectrum that monitors the media – newspapers, TV, and blogs – and calls them on their BS, while also serving as a “new” AP, attempting to present the news of the day accurately, completely, and fairly from as many sources as possible.

Workable, or unworkable?

Examining the Republican Platform Part IV: “Expanding Opportunity to Promote Prosperity”

This is continued from Parts I-III of my examination of the Republican Platform. You may notice a change in my formatting scheme for the Republican platform only starting with this part.

Before we move on to Part III, “Expanding Opportunity to Promote Prosperity”, we need to take a look back at the Republican government-reform plan. I think the Republicans can be trusted to take some of the steps they propose to reform Washington, but I’m not sure they’re entirely willing to control the size of government. And they never did address the “members of Congress” that “have been indicted for violating the public trust”, a good many of them Republicans. Now then, on to the Republicans’ economic policy, and it is possible that for the first time the Republican review is catching up to something already covered by the Democrats.

America’s free economy has given our country the world’s highest standard of living and allows us to share our prosperity with the rest of humanity. It is an engine of charity, empowering everything from Sabbath collection plate to great endowments. It creates opportunity, rewards self-reliance and hard work, and unleashes productive energies that other societies can only imagine.

Today, our economy faces challenges due to high energy costs. Our task is to strengthen our economy and build a greater degree of security – in availability of jobs, in accessibility of health care, in portability of pensions, and in affordability of energy. That is an urgent task because economic freedom – and the prosperity it makes possible – are not ends in themselves. They are means by which families and individuals can maintain their independence from government, raise their children by their own values, and build communities of self-reliant neighbors.

Economic freedom expands the prosperity pie; government can only divide it up. That is why Republicans advocate lower taxes, reasonable regulation, and smaller, smarter government. That agenda translates to more opportunity for more people. It represents the economics of inclusion, the path by which hopes become achievements. It is the way we will reach our goal of enabling everyone to have a chance to own, invest, and build.

Even when talking about the economy, the Republicans still talk about “security”. The Republicans entirely attribute the economy’s “challenges” to “high energy costs” and want to pursue “affordability of energy”, but there’s nothing yet about climate change. They do want to increase “accessibility of health care” and “portability of pensions” as well. The Republicans, tellingly, see one of the real “ends” that “economic freedom” is a “means” to as “independence from government”, which should tell you what some of their strategies will be: as little government interference as possible.

“Republican Tax Policy: Protecting Hardworking Americans”:

The most important distinction between Republicans and the leadership of today’s Democratic Party concerning taxes is not just that we believe you should keep more of what you earn. That’s true, but there is a more fundamental distinction. It concerns the purpose of taxation. We believe government should tax only to raise money for its essential functions.

Today’s Democratic Party views the tax code as a tool for social engineering. They use it to control our behavior, steer our choices, and change the way we live our lives. The Republican Party will put a stop to both social engineering and corporate handouts by simplifying tax policy, eliminating special deals, and putting those saved dollars back into the taxpayers’ pockets.

So why didn’t you do so when you were in power for six years? As described, it sounds all well and good that the Republicans would want us to live our lives the way we see fit and not let government micromanage us, but it seemingly rings hollow when that path is self-destructive, especially where the environment is concerned. When a Hummer is seen as a status symbol, you know “the people” and “the market” can’t always be trusted to do the right thing. And look at the other extreme, explicitly espoused by the Republicans: “tax only to raise money for [the government’]s essential functions.” That way lies, in all likelihood, chaos and unchecked corporate greed. The Republicans did back “reasonable regulation” in the introductory section, but still.

“The Republican Agenda: Using Tax Relief to Grow the Economy”:

Sound tax policy alone may not ensure economic success, but terrible tax policy does guarantee economic failure. Along with making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent so American families will not face a large tax hike, Republicans will advance tax policies to support American families, promote savings and innovation, and put us on a path to fundamental tax reform.

Lower Taxes on Families and Individuals

  • “American families with children are the hardest hit during any economic downturn. Republicans will lower their tax burden by doubling the exemption for dependents.” Sounds like a good idea.
  • “New technology should not occasion more taxation. We will permanently ban internet access taxes and stop all new cell phone taxes.” Do those taxes exist, or are the Republicans just trying to preemptively stop them?
  • “For the sake of family farms and small businesses, we will continue our fight against the federal death tax.” I know the Democrats disagree, but “estate tax appears nowhere in their platform. Tax issues are rather missing from the whole thing, other than a general tax plan, which makes it scary that I keep wondering if they think money grows on trees.
  • “The Alternative Minimum Tax, a stealth levy on the middle-class that unduly targets large families, must be repealed.” I think everyone agrees on that.
  • “Republicans support tax credits for health care and medical expenses.” Am I going to have to call the Republicans out for trying to use taxes as a tool for “social engineering” as well?

Keeping Good Jobs in America
America’s producers can compete successfully in the international arena – as long as they have a level playing field. Today’s tax code is tilted against them, with one of the highest corporate tax rates of all developed countries. That not only hurts American investors, managers, and the U.S. balance of trade; it also sends American jobs overseas. We support a major reduction in the corporate tax rate so that American companies stay competitive with their foreign counterparts and American jobs can remain in this country.

The Democrats think jobs go overseas because of tax breaks, and want to provide specific incentives for companies to stay here – one reason the Republicans accuse Democrats of “social engineering”. (And remember my mention of “the Democrats’ attempts to mandate community service” in Part I?) I hope you get rid of those same “tax breaks” the Democrats are concerned about, though.

Promoting Savings through the Tax Code
We support a tax code that encourages personal savings. High tax rates discourage thrift by penalizing the return on savings and should be replaced with incentives to save. We support a plan to encourage employers to offer automatic enrollment in tax-deferred savings programs. The current limits on tax-free savings accounts should be removed.

The Democrats said they would “encourage personal savings” but didn’t say how; they did say they would create “automatic workplace pensions”. You don’t like “penalizing the return on savings” but you want to replace them with “incentives to save”? Social engineering alert! The penultimate sentence sounds good, if a bit social-engineering-y, and the last sentence sounds good but could be a minefield.

Fundamental Tax Reform
Over the long run, the mammoth IRS tax code must be replaced with a system that is simple, transparent, and fair while maximizing economic growth and job creation. As a transition, we support giving all taxpayers the option of filing under current rules or under a two-rate flat tax with generous deductions for families. This gradual approach is the taxpayers’ best hope of overcoming the lobbyist legions that have thwarted past simplification efforts.

Why does that smell like trying to screw poor people? What about the original and current purpose of the income tax? Rich and poor should benefit equally from the “generous deductions for families” unless the deduction is a flat dollar amount and the “flat tax” is a flat percentage, and I doubt a “flat tax” would get rid of income taxes for the poor, which (in my opinion) is the tax we really need to get rid of. How about a simple tax on a logarithmic or polynomial scale, with a formula available to anyone, and if you don’t know that sort of algebra you can plug in your income on an IRS web site and get your tax burden? The Democrats just wanted to close loopholes and end “tax havens”.

“As a matter of principle, we oppose retroactive taxation, and we condemn attempts by judges, at any level of government, to seize the power of the purse by ordering higher taxes.” Why would anyone do that? “Because of the vital role of religious organizations, charities and fraternal benevolent societies in fostering charity and patriotism, they should not be subject to taxation.” Sounds reasonable, but “fraternal benevolent societies”?

“In any fundamental restructuring of federal taxation, to guard against the possibility of hypertaxation of the American people, any value added tax or national sales tax must be tied to simultaneous repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the federal income tax.” Or in other words, “if a value added tax or sales tax is in, the income tax is out!” A value added tax is basically a sales tax that avoids double-taxation incurred during the making of a product (so in other words, a sales tax would tax a sandwich maker for the peanut butter, jelly, and bread they bought, and then tax you for the full price of the product, whereas a VAT would only tax the “value added” by the sandwich maker). Regardless, I don’t think the Democrats are pulling for either. There is something to be said for the idea that you’re taxed once when you get money, and then taxed again when you spend that same money, so I can see the Republicans’ point here. The next section takes a startlingly direct shot at the Democrats:

“The Democrats Plan to Raise Your Taxes”: This section is a startlingly direct shot at the Democrats.

The last thing Americans need right now is tax hikes. On the federal level, Republicans lowered taxes in 2001 and 2003 in order to encourage economic growth, put more money in the pockets of every taxpayer, and make the system fairer. It worked. If Congress had then controlled its spending, we could have done even more.

Ever since those tax cuts were enacted, the Democratic Party has been clear about its goals: It wants to raise taxes by eliminating those Republican tax reductions.

Before I get to the bulleted list, I want to remind you of what the Democratic platform actually said: “families making more than $250,000” would be asked to “give back a portion of the Bush tax cuts” (emphasis added). And those tax cuts have worked re-e-e-e-eally well right now, have they? And the poor and middle class really got a lot “more money in the[ir] pockets”, didn’t they?

  • “Marginal tax rates would rise. This is in addition to their proposal to target millions of taxpayers with even higher rates.” 2% of 300 million is about 6 million, so technically, “millions” of people would indeed get “even higher rates”. And the “marginal” tax rate is the rate on the next dollar you make, or the rate on the money that carries you into another tax bracket. If you’re raising the curve beyond a certain point, while keeping the curve on the other side the same or lowering it, the slope of the line has to increase somewhere. But the Republicans imply by their “in addition” phrasing that these two things would happen in two separate increases, separately.
  • “The “marriage penalty” would return for two-earner couples.” Not sure what that is or if it’s a real “penalty” or just separate assessments on each earner that don’t get reduced for marriage or cohabitation.
  • “The child tax credit would fall to half its current value.” A valid point.
  • “Small businesses would lose their tax relief.” However, the Democrats also proposed “exempt[ing] all start-up companies from capital gains taxes and provid[ing] them a tax credit for health insurance”. Of course, the latter might be that “social engineering” the Republicans complain about.
  • “The federal death tax would be enormously increased.” Again, “estate tax” doesn’t appear in the Democratic platform.
  • “Investment income – the seed money for new jobs – would be eaten away by higher rates for dividend and capital gain income.” Again, the Democrats would “exempt all start-up companies from capital gains taxes”. Otherwise, however, this seems to be a fair point.

    All that and more would amount to an annual tax hike upwards of $250 billion – almost $700 per taxpayer every year, for a total of $1.1 trillion in additional taxes over the next decade. That is what today’s Democratic Party calls “tax fairness.” We call it an unconscionable assault on the paychecks and pocketbooks of every hard-working American household. Their promises to aim their tax hikes at families with high incomes is a smokescreen; history shows that when Democrats want more money, they raise taxes on everyone.

So the Republicans think the Democrats are just playing politics and will raise everyone’s taxes regardless of what their platform may say. On the one hand that’s obviously a concern, on the other I’m actually a little bit less concerned about the funding sources of their social programs, but on the other other hand, the GOP is making them really look like traditional tax-and-spenders.

“Small Business: the Engine of Job Growth”: In addition to the above, the Democrats also pledged to “help small businesses facing high energy costs”, “remove bureaucratic barriers for small and start-up businesses” including reforming the patent process, and “create a national network of public-private business incubators and technical support.”

We proudly call ourselves the party of small business because small businesses are where national prosperity begins. Small businesses such as Main Street retailers, entrepreneurs, independent contractors, and direct sellers create most of the country’s new jobs and have been the primary means of economic advancement by women and minorities.

Eight years ago, when Democrats controlled the Executive Branch, small business faced a hostile regulatory agenda, from OSHA’s ergonomics standards and attempts to intrude into the homes of telecommuting employees to IRS discrimination against independent contractors. Republicans turned back those threats, along with much of the onerous taxation that limited the growth of small businesses. We reduced their marginal tax rates, quadrupled the limit on their expensing of investments, and phased out the death tax on family owned small businesses and family farms. We enacted Health Savings Accounts to help small business owners secure health insurance for themselves and their employees. All those gains are jeopardized if Democrats gain unfettered power once again.

What were “OSHA’s ergonomics standards” under Clinton? Were they unreasonable and/or unnecessary, or are you intimating that small businesses shouldn’t have to help their employees avoid carpal tunnel syndrome? The only other points I would wonder about are the “death tax” and the “Health Savings Accounts”. And the fact that the Democrats have only had “unfettered power” for two years, at the beginning of the Clinton presidency, since Carter’s presidency ended. On to the Republican plan:

  • “Through the energy agenda laid out elsewhere in this platform, we will attack the rise in energy costs that is making it so difficult for entrepreneurs to compete.” So the Republicans wouldn’t do anything to specifically help small business, only take on energy in general. The Democrats are so vague that for all I know, they may have the same thing in mind.
  • “Our tax reduction and tax simplification agenda will allow businesses to focus on producing and selling their products and services – not on paying taxes.” Another reference to another part of the platform. The Democrats indicated they would do similar things for small business.
  • “Our plan to return control of health care to patients and providers will benefit small business employers and employees alike.” Wait until I see it. I should remember the Democrats’ tax credit for small businesses at that point, in addition to their general health care plan.
  • “Our determination to vigorously open foreign markets to American products is an opportunity for many small businesses to grow larger in the global economy.” Once again, wait until I see it and compare it to the Democrats’ own plan to increase exports.
  • “Our approach to regulation – basing it on sound science to achieve goals that are technically feasible – will protect against job-killing intrusions into small businesses.” Sounds good; would you engage in the bureaucratic simplification the Democrats promise? What regulation is based on unsound science?
  • “Our commitment to legal reform means protecting small businesses from the effects of frivolous lawsuits.” Sounds good, but what about protecting their right to legitimate lawsuits?

The section ends with empty praise for small businesses as the source for “technological progress” and the solutions to our most pressing problems, including the environment.

“Technology and Innovation”:

American innovation has twin engines: technology and small business, employing over half the private-sector work force. The synergy of our technology and small business drove a world-wide economic transformation of the last quarter-century. To maintain our global leadership, we need to encourage innovators by reforming and making permanent the Research and Development Tax Credit as part of the overall agenda outlined in this platform.

The Democrats also vowed to make the R&D Tax Credit permanent, but did not vow to “reform” it.

Innovation is our future – in our approach to energy, to education, to health care, and especially to government. As a symbol of that commitment, we share the vision of returning Americans to the moon as a step toward a mission to Mars. In advancing our country’s space and aeronautics program, NASA will remain one of the world’s most important pioneers in technology, and from its explorations can come tremendous benefits for mankind.

Sending Americans to the moon may seem like a waste of money, but in fact the future of the human race may well lie on the moon and Mars if the environment keeps going to hell in a handbasket… and the moon is only mentioned in the Democratic platform in reference to the expeditions of the 1960s and 70s.

“Developing a Flexible and Innovative Workforce”: “To master the global economy, our work force must be creative, independent, and able to adapt to rapid change. That challenge calls for better education and training and new approaches to employer-employee relations. It means investing in people, not institutions.” The first sentence is certainly agreeable, but doesn’t “investing in people”, in the sense the Republicans are getting at here, require “investing in institutions”? The only way to directly “invest in people” without “investing in institutions” is to give them tax cuts, which you can’t control how they’re spent unless you use specific tax credits, which smack of “social engineering”. But I digress.

“The Failed Model of Employer-Employee Relations”:

The Democrats’ approach to employment policy is a retreat to failed models of the past: new regulatory burdens on employers that make it more difficult for businesses, big and small, to hire and keep employees. That failed model empowers union bosses at the expense of their members, trial lawyers at the expense of small businesses, and government bureaucrats at the expense of employer-employee partnerships. Its goal is not to create jobs but to control the workplace and the work force.

Are the “failed models of the past” referring to Democrats’ support of the right to organize? The empowerment of “union bosses at the expense of their members” suggests it may well do so, which means the “regulatory burdens” are referring to the need to report to labor boards about treatment of workers. “Trial lawyers at the expense of small businesses” refer to what Republicans see as frivolous lawsuits. “Government bureaucrats at the expense of employer-employee partnerships” of course refers to those same labor boards, but how are we to know the “partnership” won’t be a way for employers to take advantage of their employees? I do agree with the idea that unions shouldn’t be the cure that’s worse than, or at least just another iteration of, the disease – and that’s an issue that hasn’t appeared in the Democratic platform at all thus far.

“The Republican Model: Investing in People”: “Republicans believe that the employer-employee relationship of the future will be built upon employee empowerment and workplace flexibility.

  • The Industrial Revolution treated people like machines; today’s economy must treat them as individuals. We recognize that work schedules should be more flexible when employers and employees are not negatively affected such as removing outdated distinctions between full time and part time, clock-punching and overtime. The federal government should set an example in that regard.” Wha… what? That almost sounds like an Orwellian way of giving employers a blank check to force workers to work as long as they (the employers) want. I’m not sure what to expect if this were to happen.
  • “The workplace must catch up with the way Americans live now. For increasing numbers of workers, especially those with children, the choice of working from home will be good for families, profitable for business, and energy efficient.” Sounds good, but how will you encourage it, especially without instituting “social engineering”?
  • “All workers should have portability in their pension plans and their health insurance, giving them greater job mobility, financial independence, and security.” I’m fairly sure the Democrats agree.
  • “Global competitiveness will increasingly require an entrepreneurial culture of cooperation and team work. Making the best talent part of our team is the rationale for the H-1B visa program, which needs updating to reflect our need for more leaders in science and technology while we take the necessary steps to create more of them in our own school systems. By complementing the U.S. work force with needed specialists from abroad, we can make sure American companies and their jobs remain here at home.” Sounds like good ideas all around, but I mentioned how sad it was that even in fields that are remaining here at home, we’re importing the best and the brightest, at the end of the Democrats’ Part I. Importing “specialists from abroad” take up jobs that could be going to Americans (which is one reason blue-collar workers are concerned about illegal immigration). Fortunately, you also pledge to “create more of them in our own school systems”.

“Businesses and employees, working together, are best suited to addressing the challenges ahead. Empowering official Washington and the trial bar, as Democrats prefer, will only lead to more antagonistic relations.” Unfortunately, you didn’t really stipulate how, specifically, you would change the “employer-employee relationship”, only the paths you would open up for how people could work.

“Individual-Based Unemployment Insurance and Training”:

Government can play an important role in addressing economic dislocations by modernizing its re-training and unemployment assistance programs. We must make these programs actually anticipate dislocations so that affected workers can get new skills quickly and return to the workforce.  We advocate a seamless approach to helping employees stay on the job and advance through education. Workers should be able to direct a portion of their unemployment insurance into a tax-free Lost Earnings Buffer Account that could be used for retraining or relocation. With financial incentives to return to work as soon as possible, this approach will also require strengthening community colleges and making them more accessible through Flexible Training Accounts.

This sounds good but kind of skirts the details, especially: How will unemployment programs “actually anticipate dislocations”? What are “Flexible Training Accounts”, aside from Yet Another Overly-Capitalized Gimmick?

“Protecting Union Workers”: Hmm, will the Republicans address here some of the questions they brought up but then avoided earlier? “We affirm both the right of individuals to voluntarily participate in labor organizations and bargain collectively and the right of states to enact Right-to-Work laws.” I still don’t know what those are, but I know the Democrats hate them – and I’m about to find out! Wikipedia says they’re basically laws forcing employers to allow the existence of non-union employees. Before you think Democratic opposition is simply pandering to union bosses, know that such laws can effectively kill unions by allowing people to benefit from union negotiations without paying union dues, which might make it insane to join a union.

But the nation’s labor laws, to a large extent formed out of conflicts several generations ago, should be modernized to make it easier for employers and employees to plan, execute, and profit together.  To protect workers from misuse of their funds, we will conscientiously enforce federal law requiring financial reporting and transparency by labor unions.  We advocate paycheck protection laws to guard the integrity of the political process and the security of workers’ earnings.

Sounds appropriate, but the Democrats hate “paycheck protection” laws too, and Wikipedia doesn’t really have an article on them – although it does have an article on California’s Proposition 75, which would have barred union dues from going to political campaigns. The Republicans probably see Democratic opposition to that as protecting their union money, the Democrats probably see it as protecting workers’ voices – but if those voices are being presented as one monolithic voice from union bosses, it probably gets distorted, especially in this post-Dean era of Internet microdonations.

“Stopping the Assault on the Secret Ballot”: “The recent attempt by congressional Democrats to deny workers a secret ballot in union referenda is an assault, not only against a fundamental principle of labor law, but even more against the dignity and honor of the American work force. We oppose “card check” legislation, which deprives workers of their privacy and their right to vote, because it exposes workers to intimidation by union organizers.” I already gave away my agreement with this statement when the Democrats brought up the EFCA.

“Rebuilding Homeownership”: “We support timely and carefully targeted aid to those hurt by the housing crisis so that affected individuals can have a chance to trade a burdensome mortgage for a manageable loan that reflects their home’s market value.” Since no one wants to enter the housing market, how is that possible? “At the same time, government action must not implicitly encourage anyone to borrow more than they can afford to repay. We support energetic federal investigation and, where appropriate, prosecution of criminal wrongdoing in the mortgage industry and investment sector.” Agreed. “We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself.” (stifles guffaws of laughter, since maybe a month later they passed just such a bailout) “We encourage potential buyers to work in concert with the lending community to educate themselves about the responsibilities of purchasing a home, condo, or land.” See also: the Democrats’ call to “invest in financial literacy”.

“Republican policy aims to make owning a home more accessible through enforcement of open housing laws, voucher programs, urban homesteading and – what is most important – a strong economy with low interest rates.” It certainly all sounds good. “Because affordable housing is in the national interest, any simplified tax system should continue to encourage homeownership, recognizing the tremendous social value that the home mortgage interest deduction has had for decades.” “You see, this is an example of social engineering that works and is good for America.” “In addition, sound housing policy should recognize the needs of renters so that apartments and multi-family homes remain important components of the housing stock.” But no Democratic call that “affordable rental housing…is now more critical than ever.”

“Reforming the Civil Justice System to Improve Competitiveness“: You’re probably thinking “Shouldn’t this belong on the section on government reform?” But this is talking about tort reform and what the Republicans call “the rule of lawyers”, as opposed to “the rule of law”. “The Republican approach to eliminate frivolous lawsuits has advanced in Congress through efforts like the Class Action Fairness Act and in many states through the adoption of medical liability reforms, which we will continue to pursue on the federal and state level.” Not sure what those are and what their impacts have been.

“But because their Democratic donees currently control Congress, the trial lawyers are on the offensive. They are trying to undermine federal health and safety regulations by allowing trial lawyers at the state level to preempt the reasoned judgments of independent experts.” Sounds bad and needing reform, but how have they done so? “They seek to weaken lower-cost dispute resolution alternatives such as mediation and arbitration in order to put more cases into court.” Again, sounds bad, but what are the positives and negatives of mediation and arbitration? “In bill after bill, their congressional allies insert new private causes of action – trial lawyer earmarks – designed to drag more Americans into court.” Again, sounds bad and needs reform – I can’t wait for the Democratic section on this, if there is one. “All plaintiffs, especially those who must hire personal injury lawyers on a contingency basis, should be protected against abuse by their attorneys, and the attorney-client privilege should be defended as a bulwark in the defense of liberty.” Sounds good.

“Free and Fair Trade”: For a while I was concerned that I was going to go a significant distance over 6,000 words and be tempted to break this into two parts, but I’ll only now hit 5,000. Basically, trade is great and means more jobs and a higher standard of living.

With 95 percent of the world’s customers outside our borders, we need to be at the table when trade rules are written to make sure that free trade is indeed a two-way street. We encourage multilateral, regional, and bilateral agreements to reduce trade barriers that limit market access for U.S. products, commodities and services. To achieve that goal, Congress should reinstate the trade promotion authority every president should have in dealing with foreign governments. Trade agreements that have already been signed and are pending before Congress should be debated and voted on immediately.

Hmm. Short on details. Basically, we need free trade agreements; I’m not sure what “trade promotion authority” is. “We will contest any restrictions upon our farm products within the World Trade Organization and will work to make the WTO’s decision-making process more receptive to the arguments of American producers.” Hmm, could this be because the US government throws out farm subsidies left and right? “We pledge stronger action to protect intellectual property rights against pirating” – sounds good but I know there are a LOT of people on the Internet that hate this stance – “and will aggressively oppose the direct and indirect subsidies by which some governments tilt the world playing field against American producers” – also mentioned by the Democrats. “To protect American consumers, we call for greater vigilance and more resources to guard against the importation of tainted food, poisonous products, and dangerous toys.” Compare with the Democrats, which expressed a very similar sentiment in another section. “Additionally, we recognize the need to support our growth in trade through appropriate development and support of our ports in order to ensure safe, efficient and timely handling of all goods.” Sounds good but could be expensive.

“Supporting our Agricultural Communities”: “We advocate the creation of Farm Savings Accounts to help growers manage risks brought on by turbulence in global markets and nature itself.” The GOP loves “savings account” gimmicks, don’t they? Another shot against the “death tax” as well. “Those who live on and work the land are our finest environmental stewards. They understand, better than most, the need for safe water, clean air, and conservation of open space. We oppose attempts to hamper agricultural production with heavy-handed mandates, including any expansion of the Clean Water Act to regulate ditches, culverts, converted cropland, and farm and stock ponds.” Wait, the people who work on the land “understand…the need for safe water” so you want to pull back regulation of safe water? Or are you saying regulation of safe water isn’t needed? Somehow I get the feeling it quite probably is.

“We reaffirm traditional state supremacy over water allocations and will continue to make available renewable rangeland under sound environmental conditions.” Don’t know what this is but it sounds good. “We support greater investment in conservation incentive programs to help rural communities improve and sustain environmental quality.” Sounds excellent, and right in my wheelhouse, but aren’t “conservation incentive programs” “social engineering”? (Since I could fill an entire part with pointing out GOP examples of “social engineering” I’ll stop after this part.) “Agricultural policy should be formulated by giving careful consideration to the expert opinions of those most knowledgeable on the topic – the farmers and ranchers.” Sounds reasonable.

To meet surging global demand for food and biofuel, farmers must have the technology to grow higher yields using fewer inputs. The USDA must remain the international leader in agricultural research to ensure that America and the world will never have to choose between food and fuel. The U.S. government should end mandates for ethanol and let the free market work.

The best way to “never have to choose between food and fuel” is to take fuel off the table entirely, especially when you consider the unpredictability and possible consequences of technology. I also support ending mandates for ethanol, for entirely different reasons – I don’t think it’s the best way to address climate change.

The Democrats, in their discussions of farming so far, focused on supporting rural Americans, including a “strong safety net” and “funding for soil and water conservation programs.” So the Republicans want to reduce the need for a safety net with their “farm savings accounts”, which follows the old adage about prevention and cure, and the Democrats have fewer comments on farm production itself. Don’t we need support for rural Americans in both their business and their way of life? Or maybe that’s spending too much money, but you’d think both approaches would be backed by the same party.

I promise, I’ll pick up the pace in the near future! For real!

Examining the Republican Platform Part III: “Reforming Government to Serve the People”

This is continued from Parts I and II of my examination of the Republican Platform. Don’t worry, I am making progress and I fully expect to make good on my pledge to put up two more examinations tomorrow.

Onward to the Republicans’ Part II, “Reforming Government to Serve the People”, and if you’re skeptical about one of the major parties reforming the government they’re knee-deep in I don’t blame you.

The American people believe Washington is broken … and for good reason.  Short-term politics overshadow the long-term interests of the nation.  Our national legislature uses a budget process devised long before the Internet and seems unable to deal in realistic ways with the most pressing problems of families, businesses, and communities. Members of Congress have been indicted for violating the public trust. Public disgust with Washington is entirely warranted.

Republicans will uphold and defend our party’s core principles: Constrain the federal government to its legitimate constitutional functions. Let it empower people, while limiting its reach into their lives. Spend only what is necessary, and tax only to raise revenue for essential government functions.  Unleash the power of enterprise, innovation, civic energy, and the American spirit – and never pretend that government is a substitute for family or community. 

The other party wants more government control over people’s lives and earnings; Republicans do not.  The other party wants to continue pork barrel politics; we are disgusted by it, no matter who practices it.  The other party wants to ignore fiscal problems while squandering billions on ineffective programs; we are determined to end that waste.  The entrenched culture of official Washington – an intrusive tax-and-spend liberalism – remains a formidable foe, but we will confront and ultimately defeat it.

To be fair, Republicans have always had a reputation, at least, of being the party of small government, but boy, that government was really tiny from 2001-2006 when Republicans controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, wasn’t it? But based on what I’ve already seen in the Democratic platform, some of those shots at “the other party” in the last paragraph kind of cut close to the bone. Still, you’d think there were no Republicans in “official Washington” at all.

“Washington’s Failure: The Scope of the Problem”: The government collects $2.7 trillion a year from the American people! Shock! Worse, it spends $3 trillion a year! Shock!

Why? Largely because those who created this bloated government will not admit a single mistake or abolish a single program.  Here are some staggering examples of the overall problem:

  • Recent audits show that 22% of all federal programs are ineffective or incapable of demonstrating results.
  • 69 separate programs, administered by 10 different agencies, provide education or care to children under the age of 5.
  • Nine separate agencies administer 44 different programs for job training.
  • 23 separate programs, each with its own overhead, provide housing assistance to the elderly.

With so many redundant, inefficient, and ineffective federal programs, it is no wonder that the American people have so little confidence in Washington to act effectively when federal action is really needed.

Well, the last bullet point can be taken care of by merging all of the programs; I can think of reasons why so many different programs would exist for the middle two, but consolidation of agencies might still be possible. But how can we be sure Republicans will “admit a single mistake or abolish a single program” and won’t just perpetuate the problem?

“The Budget Process – A Fraud that Guarantees Runaway Spending”:

For more than three decades – since enactment of the Budget Act of 1974 by a Democrat-controlled Congress – the federal government has operated within a rigged system notable for its lack of transparency. The earlier approach – annual passage of the appropriation bills, amended and voted up or down, with the numbers there for all to see – had its flaws and generated much red ink.  But its replacement, the current budget process, only worsened the money flow and came to rely on monstrous omnibus spending bills.  The results are adverse to all seeking to limit government’s growth.

Wow! Tell us what you really feel! But I have a feeling this is going to veer off into esoterica that no one can even comprehend. Examples in original:

  • “The budget process assumes every spending project will be on the books forever, even if the law says the spending will expire – but it assumes tax relief will be temporary.” A fair point.
  • “It treats well-deserved tax cuts as a kind of spending, so that letting Americans keep more of their earnings is considered the same as more spending on pork projects.” Ties in with the following:
  • “It fails to recognize the positive impact that lowering tax rates has on economic growth.” That might be a fair point, but the budget process is designed with the federal government in mind, and as far as the government is concerned tax cuts ARE a sort of spending unless it actually increases revenue.
  • “In its deceptive and irresponsible accounting, an increase in a program’s funding is actually a decrease if it is less than the rate of inflation.” Um, yes. That’s what inflation is. That’s not “deceptive and irresponsible accounting”, that’s honest and responsible accounting.
  • “Once a budget is produced under that system, the budget law itself limits the time Congress can consider it before voting.” Already no budget gets completely passed before the date it’s supposed to go into effect; you want to lengthen that time?

“Moreover, the budget’s review process is a sham.  Of the $3 trillion spent annually, only one-third is reviewed each year during the budget and appropriations process.  The remaining $2 trillion automatically goes to interest on the national debt or entitlements.” What, in this sense, are “entitlements”? And from a fiscal perspective, doesn’t it make sense to pay down the national debt? “And because the budget process assumes an automatic increase in spending, the debate on the remaining one-third is only over how much more spending to approve.” An “automatic increase in spending” adjusted for inflation, or unadjusted for inflation? If unadjusted for inflation, I think it’s fair to factor in inflation in the budgeting process. “Finally, while government requires corporations to budget for future pension and health care costs, our government ignores those requirements.  No family or private sector business could keep its books the way Washington keeps ours.” Another fair point.

A Plan to Control Spending Republicans will attack wasteful Washington spending immediately.  Current procedures should be replaced with simplicity and transparency.  For example:

  • We favor adoption of the Balanced Budget Amendment to require a balanced federal budget except in time of war.” We haven’t had a congressionally-declared war since World War II, and the War Powers Act pretty much guarantees we’ll never have another. Any sane judge would say a Constitutional amendment would use the Constitutional definition of “war”, so unless you start having Congress declare war again (or make the Founding Fathers turn in their graves by giving that power explicitly to the President), your war exemption is meaningless and practically, you won’t be able to spend like you need to in time of war. Also, most economists say deficits are natural and necessary in recessions as tax revenue goes down and government services are used more, and should be exacerbated by tax cuts and infrastructure investment, so without an economic-downturn exemption this sounds like a recipe for disaster that will force you to take steps that would exacerbate the recession.
  • “Earmarking must stop.  To eliminate wasteful projects and pay-offs to special interests, we will impose an immediate moratorium on the earmarking system and reform the appropriations process through full transparency.  Tax dollars must be distributed on the basis of clear national priorities, not a politician’s seniority or party position.” I can’t think of a good reason for earmarks to even exist, but how can I trust the Republicans to follow through on this?
  • “Government waste must be taken off auto-pilot.  We call for a one-year pause in non-defense, non-veterans discretionary spending to force a critical, cost-benefit review of all current programs.” Why “non-veterans”? Why not non-education? And if you eliminate all spending of that sort, especially in a recession, you deprive people of a LOT of vital services, redundant though they may be. And who will perform this review, and if it’s an independent auditor, how can I trust the Republicans to follow through on his recommendations? 
  • “We call for a constitutionally sound presidential line-item veto.” That would allow for the President to get rid of specific items in a spending bill without vetoing the whole thing. Because when the President wants more power, he usually gets it, this might actually happen.
  • “If billions are worth spending, they should be spent in the light of day.  We will insist that, before either the House or Senate considers a spending bill, every item in it should be presented in advance to the taxpayers on the Internet.” Same as for the “accountability” measures the Dems proposed for things like pension funds: no one will be able to sit through it except for watchdog groups and freaks like me who run point-by-point examinations of party political platforms. J
  • “Because the problem is too much spending, not too few taxes, we support a supermajority requirement in both the House and Senate to guard against tax hikes.” Sounds like that’ll make it more difficult for your balanced budget amendment to work. Republicans love tax cuts, so they’ll probably follow through on this, but it almost certainly will require a constitutional amendment and people who think government has a vital role will complain that “it takes a supermajority to raise taxes but a majority to lower them”.
  • “New authorizations should be offset by reducing another program, and no appropriation should be permitted without a current authorization.” You really are the small-government type. This could create a tight space for the important services government provides, and it needs to be able to account for inflation. And I doubt you’ll do it anyway.
  • “Congressional ethics rules governing special interests should apply across the board, without the special exemptions now granted to favored institutions.” Sounds good, but what are these “favored institutions” and why are they “favored”?
  • “We support the Government Shutdown Protection Act to ensure the continuance of essential federal functions when advocates of pork threaten to shut down the government unless their wasteful spending is accepted.” Sounds like a good way to undermine your “spending freeze”, er, “pause”, and it’s sure to become a target for loopholes that allow every wasteful, porkful program to keep getting funding and render a “government shutdown” meaningless.
  • “We will insist that the budget reasonably plan for the long-term costs of pension and health care programs and urge the conversion of such programs to defined contribution programs.” Sounds good, but a lot of foreign language.

“Empowering the States, Improving Public Services”:

The long term solution for many of Washington’s problems is structural. Congress must respect the limits imposed upon it by the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

We look to the model of Republican welfare reform, which, since its enactment in 1996, has accomplished a major transfer of resources and responsibility from the federal government back to the states – with an accompanying improvement in the program itself.  Applying that approach to other programs will steer Congress back into line with the Constitution, reversing both its intrusion into state matters and its neglect of its central duties.

Well, the “model of Republican welfare reform” serves to reassure me – and, presumably, others – that the Republicans can, indeed, be trusted to reduce the size of government, and that moving some programs to the states is indeed the answer.

(Note: For the first time I’m struck by the remarkable small-government implications of the Tenth Amendment. It effectively says the government literally cannot do anything unless the Constitution explicitly or implicitly allows them to, or says the states can’t. I’m planning a series of posts on that next year, but if the Congress has really gone afoul of the Tenth Amendment, isn’t the real problem that the Supreme Court hasn’t called them on it?)

To aid in the fulfillment of those duties, we propose a National Sunset Commission to review all federal programs and recommend which of them should be terminated due to redundancy, waste, or intrusion into the American family. The Congress would then be required by law to schedule one yea or nay vote on the entire sunset list with no amendments.

This would be nonpartisan and not influenced by political manipulation, and can’t be used to get particular powerful people’s wishes ramrodded through without a chance to be amendmented out, right? Oh, you talk about “intrusion into the American family”, it’s already influenced by political manipulation.

“Additionally, as important as returning power to the states is returning power to the people.  As the Declaration of Independence states, our rights are endowed to us by our Creator and are inalienable: rights to life, liberty, and property.” Actually, the Declaration talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”… “Government does not confer these rights but is instituted by men to protect the rights that man already possesses.   The Republican Party strongly affirms these rights and demands that government respect them.” Empty platitudes that sound good but mean less than nothing.

“Congress Must Improve Oversight of Government Programs”: “Congress has a fundamental duty to conduct meaningful oversight on the effectiveness of government programs, not use every hearing as an opportunity for political grandstanding.” Well, that certainly rings true from what I’ve seen. With that in mind:

  • “We urge every congressional committee to reserve at least one week every month to conduct oversight of the nearly 1,700 separate grant and loan programs of the federal government.” That’s almost micromanagement, and it does nothing to stop “political grandstanding”.
  • “To prevent conflicts of interest, a Truth in Testimony mandate should require all committee witnesses to detail the amount of federal funding they and their employer currently receive and, in the case of associations, how much federal money their members would receive from the proposed legislation.” Sounds reasonable, if subject to the same problems as other “accountability” measures, but why would only “associations” have to declare how much money they would receive?
  • “Because official Washington does not even know how much land it owns, we call for a national audit of all federally-owned properties as a first step toward returning unnecessary properties to the American people or to state and local government for public use.” Again, sounds reasonable.

“Improving the Work of Government”: A good chunk of the federal workforce and most of its managers are about to retire, and the Republicans see in that “a[n]…opportunity…
to gradually shrink the size of government while using technology to increase its effectiveness and reshape the way agencies do business.”

Each agency must be able to pass a financial audit and set annual targets for improving efficiency with fewer resources.  Civil service managers should be given incentives for more effective leadership, including protection against the current guilty-until-proven-innocent grievance procedures which disgruntled employees use against them to thwart reform.  Due process cannot excuse bad behavior.

What happens if and/or when an agency can’t improve its efficiency any more? The first sentence sounds good but the rest almost seems to come out of left field. I’d like to know more about these “grievance procedures” and verify whether or not “protection against” them would result in more bad apples among “civil service managers” less able to be disciplined.

“We will provide Internet transparency in all federal contracting as a necessary step in combating cost overruns.” A good – nay, excellent – idea, especially in light of some of the headlines of the past eight years, but like all such “transparency” measures, who’s reading it? “We will draw on the expertise of today’s successful managers and entrepreneurs in the private sector, like the “dollar-a-year” businesspeople who answered their country’s call during the Second World War, to build real-world competence and accountability into government procurement and operations.” How do we know they won’t be more like the “party-a-bankruptcy” businesspeople at companies like AIG? That sounds like a recipe for a bunch of charlatans to come in, loot the government for personal gain and leave it in shambles, and leave.

“Domestic Disaster Response”: “Americans hit by disaster must never again feel abandoned by their government.  The Katrina disaster taught a painful lesson: The federal government’s system for responding to a natural calamity needs a radical overhaul.  We recognize the need for a natural disaster insurance policy.” That sounds like a fantastic idea. Of course, Katrina happened under a Republican President and a Republican Congress, but it sounds like a great idea and should motivate the government to protect people from natural disasters, especially with the climate potentially going out of whack in coming years.

“State and local cooperation is crucial, as are private relief efforts, but Washington must take the lead in forging a partnership with America’s best run businesses to ensure that FEMA’s Emergency Operations Centers run as well as any Fortune 500 Company.” Oh great, another “let’s privatize it all!” suggestion. To be fair, the Republicans talk about “best run businesses”, but even there that’s going to lead to ruthless cost-cutting and the lowest levels of service FEMA can get away with (not to mention possibly irrelevant advice), and how do we know it really is going to be the “best run businesses” Republicans take a cue from? And it’s a “partnership”, so how do we know there won’t be any conflicts of interest? About the only part of this sentence that I like is the bit about “state and local cooperation”.

“We must make it easier for both businesses and non-profits to act as force-multipliers in relief situations.” Agreed in theory, especially for non-profits, but at the same time we can’t just hand it over to big business and trust them not to join the looting. “We believe it is critical to support those impacted by natural disasters and to complete the rebuilding of devastated areas, including the Gulf Coast.” Again, agreed.

“Restoring Our Infrastructure”:

The American people can have safer roads and bridges, better airports and more efficient harbors, as long as we straighten out the government’s spending priorities.  The politics of pork distorts the allocation of resources for modernizing the nation’s infrastructure.  That can leave entire communities vulnerable to natural disasters and deprive others of the improvements necessary for economic growth and job creation.  We pledge a business-like, cost-effective approach for infrastructure spending, always mindful of the special needs of both rural and urban communities.

The bit about disaster response is more out-of-place in this part than infrastructure, because infrastructure improvements tend to be the target of pork. Once again, “run the government like a business”. I don’t even know what this means or how you would change anything.

We support a level of investment in the nation’s transportation system that will promote a healthy economy, sustain jobs, and keep America globally competitive.  We need to improve the system’s performance and capacity to deal with congestion, move a massive amount of freight, reduce traffic fatalities, and ensure mobility across both rural and urban areas. We urgently need to preserve the highway, transit, and air facilities built over the last century so they can serve generations to come.  At the same time, we are committed to minimizing transportation’s impact on climate change, our local environments, and the nation’s energy use.  Careful reforms of environmental reviews and the permitting process should speed projects to completion.

It sounds like your heart’s in the right place, and if you want to “deal with congestion”, “reduce traffic fatalities”, and “minimiz[e] transportation’s impact on…energy use”, mass transit would be a good place to start, especially for the last. Would those “reforms of environmental reviews and the permitting process” potentially get rid of important aspects of either?

Safeguarding our transportation infrastructure is critical to our homeland security.  An integrated, flexible system – developed and sustained in partnership between state and local governments and the federal government – must also share responsibilities with the private sector.  We call for more prudent stewardship of the nation’s Highway Trust Fund to restore the program’s purchasing power and ensure that it will meet the changing needs of a mobile nation.

“Privatize! Privatize! Privatize!” Pretty much all covered before. Oddly, this might mean getting the private sector involved in securing the nation’s infrastructure, but not in building it like the Democrats. Last sentence… not sure what to make of it, really. No reference to non-transportation infrastructure in the whole thing.

“Entitlement Reform”: So this is what “entitlements” are: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which are typically isolated from the rest of the federal budget. “The job of modernizing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid calls for bipartisanship, not political posturing.  Through the last four presidential terms, we have sought that cooperation, but it has not been forthcoming.  The public demands constructive action, and we will provide it.” Really means little until we hear more in the next two paragraphs.

Social Security
We are committed to putting Social Security on a sound fiscal basis.  Our society faces a profound demographic shift over the next twenty-five years, from today’s ratio of 3.3 workers for every retiree to only 2.1 workers by 2034.  Under the current system, younger workers will not be able to depend on Social Security as part of their retirement plan.  We believe the solution should give workers control over, and a fair return on, their contributions.  No changes in the system should adversely affect any current or near-retiree. Comprehensive reform should include the opportunity to freely choose to create your own personal investment accounts which are distinct from and supplemental to the overall Social Security system.

So no hiking the retirement age, “give workers control over…their contributions”, and “personal investment accounts which are distinct from” Social Security proper. This might be what some Democrats are talking about by Republican plans to “privatize” Social Security, and notice that it’s rather short on details. The bit on “Medicare and Medicaid” refers to the later discussion of the Republican health care plan, which will involve “rewarding quality care, promoting competition, eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse, and giving patients and providers control over treatment options.  We envision a new Medicaid partnership with the states, improving public health through flexibility and innovation.” More reducing the size of government by passing it off to the states. “Improving public health through flexibility and innovation” seems like an empty platitude for now.

“Appointing Constitutionalist Judges for the Nation’s Courts”:

Judicial activism is a grave threat to the rule of law because unaccountable federal judges are usurping democracy, ignoring the Constitution and its separation of powers, and imposing their personal opinions upon the public.  This must stop.

We condemn the Supreme Court’s disregard of homeowners’ property rights in its Kelo decision and deplore the Court’s arbitrary extension of Americans’ habeas corpus rights to enemy combatants held abroad.  We object to the Court’s unwarranted interference in the administration of the death penalty in this country for the benefit of savage criminals whose guilt is not at issue.  We lament that judges have denied the people their right to set abortion policies in the states and are undermining traditional marriage laws from coast to coast.  We are astounded that four justices of the Supreme Court believe that individual Americans have no individual right to bear arms to protect themselves and their families.

Republicans will insist on the appointment of constitutionalist judges, men and women who will not distort our founding documents to deny the people’s right to self-government, sanction federal powers that violate our liberties, or inject foreign law into American jurisprudence.

I’m withholding judgment until I read the Democratic platform’s discussion of this issue. Suffice to say I suspect none of these cases are as black and white as the Republicans indicate. The line about “sanction[ing] federal powers that violate our liberties” actually surprises me a little because it suggests the Republicans at least want to give the appearance that they want to control the abuse that one of their own, Bush, has been accused of. I’m curious what cases the Republicans think “inject[ed] foreign law into American jurisprudence”.

The Republicans “oppose stealth nominations to the federal bench, and especially to the Supreme Court, whose lack of a clear and distinguished record leaves doubt about their respect for the Constitution or their intellectual fortitude.” That’s out of left field; certainly it’s a fair point, but is it based on something in the Democratic platform or something? Because otherwise it would seem to refer to their own president’s nominations.

“We reject the Democrats’ view that judicial nominees should guarantee particular results even before the case is filed.  Judges should not be politicians.  Jurists nominated by a Republican president will be thoughtful and open-minded, always prepared to view past error in light of stare decisis, including judicial fiats that disenfranchised the American people.” WHAT? You just said you object to the Supreme Court making decisions you didn’t like, and now you’re trying to claim justices should be free of political pressure?

No qualified person should be denied the opportunity to serve on the federal bench due to race, ethnicity, religion or sex.  In affirming Article VI of the Constitution – that no religious test shall ever be required for any office – we insist that the Senate should never inquire into a nominee’s religious convictions and we condemn the opposition, by some members of the Democratic Party, to recent judicial nominees because of their ethnicity or religion.

I agree, but I’ve heard nothing about this. Presumably “inquir[ing] into a nominee’s religious convictions” is part of determining, say, how those convictions might affect how they rule. It’s appropriate, and in line with your ranting against judicial activism, to determine if someone’s religious convictions will unduly affect how they rule, which applies regardless of specific religion.

“Protecting the Right to Vote in Fair Elections”: It’s so hard for members of the military to vote in the election! We need “expedited mail delivery to bring ballots to and from our troops abroad, including those serving in areas of conflict, while completing work on an electronic ballot delivery system that will enable our military personnel to receive and cast their ballots in a secure and convenient manner”! What about those screwy voting machines that made such a difference in 2000?

We oppose attempts to distort the electoral process by wholesale restoration of the franchise to convicted felons, by makeshift or hurried naturalization procedures, or by discretionary ballot-reading by election boards.

Preventing voting fraud is a civil rights issue.  We support the right of states to require an official government-issued photo identification for voting and call upon the Department of Justice to deploy its resources to prevent ballot tampering in the November elections.  We support efforts by state and local election officials to ensure integrity in the voting process and to prevent voter fraud and abuse, particularly as it relates to voter registration and absentee ballots.

That all sounds well and good, but there have been reports of voting fraud cases used for political purposes to disenfranchise poor voters, and concern that requiring photo ID for voting either will disenfranchise more poor people or result in the basis of Orwellian tracking.

“The rights of citizenship do not stop at the ballot box.  They include the free-speech right to devote one’s resources to whatever cause or candidate one supports.  We oppose any restrictions or conditions upon those activities that would discourage Americans from exercising their constitutional right to enter the political fray or limit their commitment to their ideals.” It sounds good but what does it really mean? Does it mean weakening campaign finance legislation?

“Guaranteeing a Constitutional Census in 2010”:

The integrity of the 2010 census, proportioning congressional representation among the states, must be preserved. The census should count every person legally abiding in the United States in an actual enumeration.  We urge all who are legally eligible to participate in the census count to do so; at the same time, we urge Congress to specify – and to constitutionally justify – which census questions require a response.

What the hell is this all about? It sounds good but I have no idea what it’s talking about.

“Working with Americans in the Territories”: “We appreciate the extraordinary sacrifices the men and women of the territories are making to protect our freedom through their service in the U.S. Armed Forces.” That’s basically everything you said about the “Armed Forces” in the previous part, only with “of the territories” added.

We welcome greater participation in all aspects of the political process by Americans residing in Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and Puerto Rico.  We affirm their right to seek the full extension of the Constitution, with all the political rights and responsibilities it entails.

Wait, does this mean you support statehood for all of them? Why am I surprised? “We recognize the valuable contributions made by the people of the United States Virgin Islands to the common welfare of the nation, including national defense, and their contributions to the federal treasury in the form of federal excise taxes paid on products produced in the territory.” Why a shout-out specifically to the Virgin Islands for this?

“We support the Native American Samoans’ efforts to protect their right to self-government and to preserve their culture and land-tenure system, which fosters self-reliance and strong extended-family values.” Calling them “Native American Samoans”, which makes them sound like what we call Indians, might not sit well with them. Still, you are showing cultural sensitivity. “We support increased local self-government for the United States citizens of the Virgin Islands, and closer cooperation between the local and federal governments to promote private sector-led development and self-sufficiency.” So are you trying to grease a path to independence?

We recognize that Guam is a strategically vital U.S. territory, an American fortress in the western Pacific.  We affirm our support for the patriotic U.S. citizens of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to achieve greater self-government, an improved federal territorial relationship, new economic development strategies, a strong health care system that meets their needs, and continued political self-determination. We support a review to determine the appropriate eligibility of territories as well as states for Supplemental Security Income and other federal programs.

Once again, it sounds like you’re moving towards something resembling independence, but this time you still want to keep them as “strategically vital U.S. territor[ies]”. All of this, by the way, sounds like perfectly good things, but this in particular makes me scratch my head at the Republicans’ small-government reputation.

We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state after they freely so determine.  We recognize that Congress has the final authority to define the constitutionally valid options for Puerto Rico to achieve a permanent non-territorial status with government by consent and full enfranchisement.  As long as Puerto Rico is not a state, however, the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained by means of a general right of referendum or specific referenda sponsored by the U.S. government.

So you’re okay with Puerto Rico becoming a state, but you don’t want Congress defining so, you want the people to choose from the options Congress provides. As written by the Republicans, this seems reasonable.

“Preserving the District of Columbia”:

The nation’s capital is a special responsibility of the federal government.  Yet some of the worst performing schools in the country are mere blocks from the Department of Education, and some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country are blocks from the Department of Justice.  Washington should be made a model city. Two major Republican initiatives – a first-time D.C. homebuyers credit and a landmark school choice initiative – have pointed the way toward a civic resurgence, and a third piece of GOP legislation now guarantees young D.C. residents significant assistance in affording higher education.

Sounds good, but sounds like Democratic proposals. Although “school choice” might be a little more Republican. Still, once again casts doubt on your “small government” reputation.

Because Washington’s buildings and monuments may be top targets of terrorist groups, the federal government must work closely with local officials to improve security without burdening local residents. We call on the District of Columbia city council to pass laws consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Heller case.  We honor the contributions of the residents of the District of Columbia, especially those who are serving honorably, or have served, in our Armed Forces.

Again, sounds good, but I notice there was no mention of the call by DC residents for true voting representation in Congress.

Hmm. At this rate, I’m going to need to devote a part to each and every part of the Republican platform from here on out unless some of them get really short. Can I get through them all before the election???

Examining the Democratic Platform Part IV: “Ending the War in Iraq”, “Defeating Al Qaeda and Combating Terrorism”, and “Preventing the Spread and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction”

This is continued from Parts I-III of my examination of the Democratic Platform. I’ll make every effort to put in two more examinations today.

Part I showed the Democrats’ commitment to social issues, particularly health care. Part II, “Renewing American Leadership”, shows that the Democrats don’t want to be seen as slouches in protecting our national security. You’ll notice I’ll be referring a lot to Parts I and II of my Republican Platform examination, because this will be treading a lot of the same ground. You wouldn’t know it from the opening paragraph, which talks about how great leaders have come along at opportune times in American history, how they helped America lead, and it concludes with this very audacious statement: “Just as John Kennedy said that after Hoover we needed Franklin Roosevelt, so too after our experience of the last eight years we need Barack Obama.” Obamessiah much? Besides, wasn’t the crisis Hoover left FDR with the Depression, which you covered in the last part, not foreign-policy related?

Today, we are again called to provide visionary leadership. This century’s threats are at least as dangerous as, and in some ways more complex than, those we have confronted in the past. They come from weapons that can kill on a mass scale and from violent extremists who exploit alienation and perceived injustice to spread terror. They come from rogue states allied to terrorists and from rising powers that could challenge both America and the international foundation of liberal democracy. They come from weak states that cannot control their territory or provide for their people. They come from an addiction to oil that helps fund the extremism we must fight and empowers repressive regimes. And they come from a warming planet that will spur new diseases, spawn more devastating natural disasters, and catalyze deadly conflicts.

That last sentence, of course, is critical. But how will the Democrats deal with these issues?

We will confront these threats head on while working with our allies and restoring our standing in the world. We will pursue a tough, smart, and principled national security strategy. It is a strategy that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Beijing, Berlin, Brasilia and Bamako. It is a strategy that contends with the many disparate forces shaping this century, including: the fundamentalist challenge to freedom; the emergence of new powers like China, India, Russia, and a united Europe; the spread of lethal weapons; uncertain supplies of energy, food, and water; the persistence of poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor; and extraordinary new technologies that send people, ideas, and money across the globe at ever faster speeds.

Barack Obama will focus this strategy on seven goals: (i) ending the war in Iraq responsibly; (ii) defeating Al Qaeda and combating violent extremism; (iii) securing nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists; (iv) revitalizing and supporting our military; (v) renewing our partnerships to promote our common security; (vi) advancing democracy and development; and (vii) protecting our planet by achieving energy security and combating climate change.

Most people would agree with all of those goals except #1. But I hope they’re not in order, unless they’re in reverse order, because that would imply that combating climate change is the last priority on the board. Unfortunately, they pretty much match up with the section headers.

“Ending the War in Iraq”:

To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end. Our men and women in uniform have performed admirably while sacrificing immeasurably. Our civilian leaders have failed them. Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists who struck us on 9-11, and incompetent prosecution of the war by civilian leaders compounded the strategic blunder of choosing to wage it in the first place.

Presumably “civilian leaders” implicitly blames Bush while skirting any blame in the direction of military leaders like David Petraeus.

We will re-center American foreign policy by responsibly redeploying our combat forces from Iraq and refocusing them on urgent missions. We will give our military a new mission: ending this war and giving Iraq back to its people. We will be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely remove our combat brigades at the pace of one to two per month and expect to complete redeployment within sixteen months. After this redeployment, we will keep a residual force in Iraq to perform specific missions: targeting terrorists; protecting our embassy and civil personnel; and advising and supporting Iraq’s Security Forces, provided the Iraqis make political progress.

Everything sounds good, but I think some people might be suspicious of the “residual force” you’re keeping in Iraq.

At the same time, we will provide generous assistance to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. We will launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic surge to help broker a lasting political settlement in Iraq, which is the only path to a sustainable peace. We will make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We will encourage Iraq’s government to devote its oil revenues and budget surplus to reconstruction and development. This is the future the American people want. This is the future that Iraqis want. This is what our common interests demand.

Again, all sounds well and good. Look back at my Republican Part II: how does this compare with the Republican strategy? They wanted “success” in order to “deny al Qaeda a safe haven, limit Iranian influence in the Middle East, strengthen moderate forces there, and give us a strategic ally in the struggle against extremism.” None of those are really mentioned in the Democratic plan, though some may be mentioned later. The Democrats want to “give Iraq back to its people”; depending on the temperament of the Iraqi people that could either be at odds or in line with the Republican goals, and if the former, simply pulling out and letting “the Iraqi people” have their way could prove to be a mistake in the war on terror. But even then, from the standpoint where we like to think of ourselves as a good people, wouldn’t turning Iraq into a puppet state be almost as bad if not worse? (Some of the Democrats’ other words, like being “as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in”, seem to indicate that they will indeed pay attention to “conditions on the ground” and “the essential advice of our military commanders”.)

And as soon as you hit the next section, you know the Democrats think of Iraq much as they think of the current economic crisis – get past it as quickly as you can and move on to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Defeating Al Qaeda and Combating Terrorism”: “Win in Afghanistan”:    “Our troops are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but as countless military commanders and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledge, we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq.” So, GOP, you challenge our assertion, as you see it, “that America can succeed in Afghanistan only by failure in Iraq”? Then you challenge the judgment of our “military commanders” and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs!

“We will send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan, and use this commitment to seek greater contributions–with fewer restrictions–from our NATO allies.” Compare this to the GOP’s “Additional forces are also necessary, both from NATO countries and through a doubling in size of the Afghan army.” No commitment to lower restrictions on what NATO can do, presumably to “protect US sovereignty”, but it sounds like the GOP wants more commitment from the Afghan army and less American meddling. Of course, maybe the US needs to secure the country before the Afghan army can do a damn.

“We will focus on building up our special forces and intelligence capacity, training, equipping and advising Afghan security forces, building Afghan governmental capacity, and promoting the rule of law.” So the Dems do want to boost Afghanistan’s own forces. So the GOP is focusing more on “a nationwide counterinsurgency strategy”, and keeping the Taliban and al-Qaeda out, and does spend one sentence on work between the “international community” and the government of Afghanistan to fix “illegal drugs, governance, and corruption” problems. Sounds like the Democrats want to take care of the latter two themselves. And while the Republicans vaguely support a “counterinsurgency strategy led by a unified commander”, the Dems want to “build[] up our special forces and intelligence capacity”. But wait, there’s more!

We will bolster our State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams and our other government agencies helping the Afghan people. We will help Afghans educate their children, including their girls, provide basic human services to their population, and grow their economy from the bottom up, with an additional $1 billion in non-military assistance each year–including investments in alternative livelihoods to poppy-growing for Afghan farmers–just as we crack down on trafficking and corruption. Afghanistan must not be lost to a future of narco-terrorism–or become again a haven for terrorists.

So the Democrats also want to crack down on drugs, and they spend half a sentence on keeping out the Taliban and al-Qaeda, neither of which are mentioned by name. So the Democrats pretty much agree with all the Republicans’ priorities but they would add one more: economic development. That may make up for the short shrift given to keeping out terrorists, since wealthy nations tend not to have a lot of terrorists (and when they do it tends to be in poor communities).

“Seek a New Partnership with Pakistan”:

The greatest threat to the security of the Afghan people–and the American people–lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train, plot attacks, and strike into Afghanistan and move back across the border. We cannot tolerate a sanctuary for Al Qaeda. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO–including necessary assets like satellites and predator drones–to better secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents.

The GOP section on Pakistan was literally as long as I put it in Part II of my examination: two sentences long and with absolutely nothing challenging the government or suggesting it’s been less than cooperative in cracking down on Al Qaeda forces within its borders. Nothing on any of this. And the Dem solution seems to make sense. “We must help Pakistan develop its own counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capacity. We will invest in the long-term development of the Pashtun border region, so that the extremists’ program of hate is met with an agenda of hope.” All important things (investing in economic development again!) and all things the GOP doesn’t touch with a twelve-foot pole.

We will ask more of the Pakistani government, rather than offer a blank check to an undemocratic President. We will significantly increase non-military aid to the Pakistani people and sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we provide is actually used to fight extremists. We must move beyond an alliance built on individual leaders, or we will face mounting opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror, extremism, and the instability wrought by autocracy.

Compare that to the Republicans “support[ing] their efforts to improve democratic governance and strengthen civil society”. Everything the Democrats say here makes sense based on what I know about Pakistan – if we give too much outward support to an unpopular dictator we risk becoming unpopular ourselves, and that certainly can’t help our efforts in the war on terror there. Yet the Republicans just say “Pakistan? Yeah, they’re good people, a good strategic ally on the war on terror. Can we talk about something else?”

“Combat Terrorism”:

Beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, we must forge a more effective global response to terrorism. There must be no safe haven for those who plot to kill Americans. We need a comprehensive strategy to defeat global terrorists–one that draws on the full range of American power, including but not limited to our military might. We will create a properly resourced Shared Security Partnership to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation with countries around the world, including through information sharing as well as funding for training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology, and targeting terrorist financing.

“Shared Security Partnership”, from the party that brought you “English Language Learners”. Clearly the Democrats are still committed to fighting the war on terror, and they’re willing to use the military to do so, among other approaches. The SSP is really just enhancing relationships with other nations’ security and intelligence agencies.

We will pursue policies to undermine extremism, recognizing that this contest is also between two competing ideas and visions of the future. A crucial debate is occurring within Islam. The vast majority of Muslims believe in a future of peace, tolerance, development, and democratization. A small minority embrace a rigid and violent intolerance of personal liberty and the world at large. To empower forces of moderation, America must live up to our values, respect civil liberties, reject torture, and lead by example. We will make every effort to export hope and opportunity–access to education, that opens minds to tolerance, not extremism; secure food and water supplies; and health care, trade, capital, and investment. We will provide steady support for political reformers, democratic institutions, and civil society that is necessary to uphold human rights and build respect for the rule of law.

So the Democrats think that by being good guys who practice what we preach and don’t offend Muslims, they can undermine the intellectual underpinning of extremism. Oh, and economic development is good as well, as is providing support for democratization. Which might undermine the otherwise-reasonable don’t-offend-and-develop approach, for reasons I covered when examining the Republican Platform: is the Muslim world culturally ready for democracy? Perhaps a successfully democratic Iraq could help make it so. And maybe the Democrats only want to support pre-existing “democratic institutions” and “political reformers” that are working within the system. The closest thing the Republicans had to this was their “Middle East” section, which was as much concerned with the state of Israel and organizations like Hamas and the Arab nations as it was with Islam in general; they had a one-sentence acknowledgement that there are “good” Muslims and praised the pre-existing movement towards democratization and development, which might be seen as claiming the Democrats shouldn’t throw money away on something happening already.

“Secure the Homeland”:

Here at home, we will strengthen our security and protect the critical infrastructure on which the entire world depends. We will fully fund and implement the recommendations of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission. We will spend homeland security dollars on the basis of risk. This means investing more resources to defend mass transit, closing the gaps in our aviation security by screening all cargo on passenger airliners and checking all passengers against a reliable and comprehensive watch list, and upgrading plant security and port security by ensuring that cargo is screened for radiation. To ensure that resources are targeted, we will establish a Quadrennial Review at the Department of Homeland Security to undertake a top to bottom assessment of the threats we face and our ability to confront them. And we will develop a comprehensive National Infrastructure Protection Plan that draws on both local know-how and national priorities. We will ensure direct coordination with state, local, and tribal jurisdictions so that first responders are always resourced and prepared.

Aside from defending mass transit, which sounds like a waste of money more suitable in an absolute war zone like Israel (unless of course you build the mass transit we need), and the fact that the watch list needs to not contain people added for what appears to be pure political purposes, this is all good. We need to look at Part I of my Republican platform examination for the GOP plan, and the GOP “homeland security” section has nothing whatsoever to do with the Democrat “secure the homeland” section. The GOP does “acknowledge and appreciate the significant contributions of all of America’s First Responders, who keep us safe and secure and who are ever ready to come to our aid”, but mentions nothing to support them.

The Democrats here support endorsing the 9-11 commission’s report, tightening aviation security, screening cargo for radiation, instituting reviews to target spending, a comprehensive “Infrastructure Protection Plan”, and coordination with smaller jurisdictions. The Republicans support “public-private partnerships” to defend privately-owned “critical infrastructure”, “remov[ing] barriers to cooperation and information sharing”, “modernized 9-1-1 services”, ability to thwart “cyber attacks”, “monitor terrorist activities while respecting…civil liberties, and protect against military and industrial espionage and sabotage.” Hmm, I suspect the next section, and maybe even the next subsection, may touch on these GOP topics…

“Pursue Intelligence Reform”:

To succeed, our homeland security and counter-terrorism actions must be linked to an intelligence community that deals effectively with the threats we face. Today, we rely largely on the same institutions and practices that were in place before 9-11. Barack Obama will depoliticize intelligence by appointing a Director of National Intelligence with a fixed term, create a bipartisan Consultative Group of congressional leaders on national security, and establish a National Declassification Center to ensure openness. To keep pace with highly adaptable enemies, we need technologies and practices that enable us to efficiently collect and share information within and across our intelligence agencies. We must invest still more in human intelligence and deploy additional trained operatives with specialized knowledge of local cultures and languages. And we will institutionalize the practice of developing competitive assessments of critical threats and strengthen our methodologies of analysis.

Let’s see… gimmicks… supporting improved information collection systems and more sharing of information… make sure our agents have better knowledge of the places they’re going to be deployed to… and a last sentence that’s kind of hard to parse. The Republicans supported beefing up intelligence agencies with raw numbers, “integrat[ing] technical and human sources”, and getting intelligence information to the President and generals quicker. They also supported the formation of a “Joint Committee on Intelligence”. The speedier rate of getting information to “the warfighter and the policy maker” is probably the best part of all of that, and some parts of the Democratic plan, such as the NDC, may have that in mind.

“Preventing the Spread and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction”:

We will urgently seek to reduce dramatically the risks from three potentially catastrophic threats: nuclear weapons, biological attacks, and cyber warfare. In an age of terrorism, these dangers take on new dimensions. Nuclear, biological, and cyber attacks all pose the potential for large-scale damage and destruction to our people, to our economy and to our way of life. The capacity to inflict such damage is spreading not only to other countries, but also potentially to terrorist groups.

In other words, “See, Republicans? We care about bioterrorism and cyberwarfare too!” But what about chemical weapons, and are you focusing too much on nations and saying “oh, yeah, and these days these sorts of things are getting in the hands of terrorists too”?

“A World Without Nuclear Weapons”:

America will seek a world with no nuclear weapons and take concrete actions to move in this direction. We face the growing threat of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons or the materials to make them, as more countries seek nuclear weapons and nuclear materials remain unsecured in too many places. As George Shultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn have warned, current measures are not adequate to address these dangers. We will maintain a strong and reliable deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist, but America will be safer in a world that is reducing reliance on nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminates all of them. We will make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

This is a paean to pacifists, but the Democrats have already shown they aren’t a pacifist party by leaving a “residual force” in Iraq and increasing our presence in Afghanistan, among other things, and it starts to make people think the Democratic Party is a bunch of goody-two-shoes who are soft on confronting other nations when necessary. But nuclear weapons are possibly the most dangerous weapons out there, and we need to have a “deterrent” while reducing the worldwide number of nuclear weapons to zero. The Republicans also called for “reducing the world’s nuclear stockpiles and preventing proliferation” and “reducing the size of our nuclear arsenal to the lowest number consistent with our security requirements and working with other nuclear powers to do the same”, so they may have the same goal.

But rogue nations and terrorists could, even in a world without nukes, create and use their own nuclear weapons and catch the worldwide community off their guard. Are you prepared to deal with that potential threat and secure nuclear materials? Come to think of it, the only thing you really say you’re going to do now is “maintain a strong and reliable deterrent”, but you don’t say much about securing those materials that “remain unsecured in too many places”. At least the Republicans, in addition to their own “end nuclear weapons” program (which given evidence elsewhere in their platform I’m skeptical about), want to “improve our collective ability to interdict the spread of weapons of mass destruction and related materials, and ensure the highest possible security standards for existing nuclear materials wherever they may be located.”

Well, that question may be answered, because the next subsection is “Secure Nuclear Weapons and the Materials to Make Them”:

We will work with other nations to secure, eliminate, and stop the spread of nuclear weapons and materials to dramatically reduce the dangers to our nation and the world. There are nuclear weapons materials in 40 countries, and we will lead a global effort to work with other countries to secure all nuclear weapons material at vulnerable sites within four years. We will work with nations to increase security for nuclear weapons. We will convene a summit in 2009 (and regularly thereafter) of leaders of Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council and other key countries to agree on implementing many of these measures on a global basis.

Well then. More specifics, but is four years (oh look, just in time for Obama’s reelection campaign) going to take too much time, and how will you improve America’s ability to perform its role in the nuclear security regime? Both parties seem to support much the same things, but the Democrats seem to place a higher priority on it, because the Republicans just move along to their missile defense scheme.

“End the Production of Fissile Material”:

We will negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. We will work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology so that countries cannot build–or come to the brink of building–a weapons program under the guise of developing peaceful nuclear power. We will seek to double the International Atomic Energy Agency’s budget, support the creation of an IAEA-controlled nuclear fuel bank to guarantee fuel supply to countries that do not build enrichment facilities, and work to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It’s a short paragraph, but the entirety of the coverage it gets in the Republican platform is “In cooperation with other nations, we should end the production of weapons-grade fissile material”. This is essentially the same thing with more details and a pledge to work within the existing framework through the IAEA and NNPT, while not cutting off nuclear supplies for nations that want peaceful power entirely. In previous posts, I have listed my concerns with peaceful nuclear power; it doesn’t entirely stop global warming and it has its own concerns. Clearly the Democrats place a higher priority on controlling nuclear proliferation. Republicans just wanna build missile defense and tap our phones. Which is the real national security party? And they aren’t done! “End Cold War Nuclear Postures”:

To enhance our security and help meet our commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we will seek deep, verifiable reductions in United States and Russian nuclear weapons and work with other nuclear powers to reduce global stockpiles dramatically. We will work with Russia to take as many weapons as possible off Cold War, quick-launch status, and extend key provisions of the START Treaty, including its essential monitoring and verification requirements. We will not develop new nuclear weapons, and will work to create a bipartisan consensus to support ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which will strengthen the NPT and aid international monitoring of nuclear activities.

This gets no coverage in the Republican platform at all, and it’s really following up on the prior anti-nuclear planks and helps complete the anti-nuclear program.

“Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons”: “The world must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That starts with tougher sanctions and aggressive, principled, and direct high-level diplomacy, without preconditions.” Whoa, whoa, whoa. I hope you’re prepared for the complaints from Republicans about the “without preconditions” line. Tougher sanctions? Good. Diplomacy, in and of itself? Good. “Without preconditions”? Who would have to fulfill the preconditions? Would Iran want the United States to, say, ensure Iran can continue its nuclear program, or would the Republicans want to demand Iran stop it? Actually there’s something to be said for both sides here; the Republicans want Iran to “improve its behavior” first, but that may just allow Iran to hold any negotiations hostage by not doing so. The Democrats want to launch into negotiations right away, but that might allow Iran to continue its bad practices. I’d need to get the opinion of experts: what do they think is the best approach here? I’m not sure about this one. Regardless, sanctions are important.

We will pursue this strengthened diplomacy alongside our European allies, and with no illusions about the Iranian regime. We will present Iran with a clear choice: if you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime. The Iranian people and the international community must know that it is Iran, not the United States, choosing isolation over cooperation. By going the extra diplomatic mile, while keeping all options on the table, we make it more likely the rest of the world will stand with us to increase pressure on Iran, if diplomacy is failing.

That sounds all well and good. The Republicans want to make clear that “the U.S. government, in solidarity with the international community, will not allow the current regime in Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.” Their strategy involves “a significant increase in political, economic, and diplomatic pressure to persuade Iran’s rulers to halt their drive for a nuclear weapons capability, and we support tighter sanctions against Iran and the companies with business operations in or with Iran.” So they won’t negotiate at all until Iran “improves its behavior”, and the Democrats are providing an incentive for the Iranians to improve their behavior. I actually like the Dems’ strategy better here.

“De-Nuclearize North Korea”:

We support the belated diplomatic effort to secure a verifiable end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and to fully account for and secure any fissile material or weapons North Korea has produced to date. We will continue direct diplomacy and are committed to working with our partners through the six-party talks to ensure that all agreements are fully implemented in the effort to achieve a verifiably nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

The Republicans don’t even give Korea its own heading, after putting North Korea in the “axis of evil” six years ago. The Democrats only want to “secure” North Korea’s nuclear materials, the Republicans want their “dismantlement”. But they do want a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula”, but then again they want a nuclear-free world as well. It sounds good but for how little the Republicans say on this issue, it may be tougher.

“Biological and Chemical Weapons”:

We will strengthen U.S. intelligence collection overseas to identify and interdict would-be bioterrorists before they strike. We will also build greater capacity to mitigate the consequences of bio-terror attacks, ensuring that the federal government does all it can to get citizens the information and resources they need to help protect themselves and their families. We will accelerate the development of new medicines, vaccines, and production capabilities, and lead an international effort to detect and diminish the impact of major infectious disease epidemics. And we will fully fund our contribution to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and work to ensure that remaining stockpiles of chemical weapons are destroyed swiftly, safely, and securely.

Intriguing and concerning. A sentence on strengthening US intelligence that’s short on details on how they’ll do so without getting into sketchy Constitutional territory. But ignoring the old line on how “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, they then talk about “mitigat[ing] the consequences of bio-terror attacks,” and then almost goes into a tangent; I’m surprised they don’t try and tie this back to health care reform. I mean, “an international effort to detect and diminish the impact of major infectious disease epidemics”? That’s hardly only a terror thing. Certainly a worthy goal, but I’m not convinced the Democrats will make prevention enough of a priority. “Chemical weapons” are not mentioned anywhere in the first part of the Republican platform.

“Stronger Cyber-Security”: “We will work with private industry, the research community and our citizens, to build a trustworthy and accountable cyber-infrastructure that is resilient, protects America’s competitive advantage, and advances our national and homeland security.” That’s it. One single solitary sentence on cyber-security. To be fair, about the only thing the Republicans want to do to protect us from cyber-attack is passed a beefed-up FISA bill, and here it’s more efficient to adopt a cyber-fortress to keep cyber-attacks from breaking into our critical infrastructure. The Democrats are the only ones who – so far – have come close to supporting that, but it’s clearly far from a top priority. Perhaps I should look to the last part for more assurance of Democratic leadership on this issue – but even there the closest they came to touching on beefing up security was “establishing a national interoperable public safety communications network to help first responders at the local, state and national level communicate with one another during a crisis” and something about “strengthening privacy protections”.

It’s the same old story with the Democrats. By and large, I agree with them more than I do the Republicans, but there are enough areas of concern that you can see why a little less than half the country – and sometimes, even more – vote for the GOP every election. Oh, and I’m already over 5000 words – I warned you we were going to slow down once we reached a part where the Democrats and Republicans were covering the same ground… (To be fair, I’m stopping well short of 6000 words this time, unlike previous examinations.)

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 10/25-26

All times PDT.

9:30-1 PM: College Football, #24 Kentucky @ defending 2008 BCS titleholder #5 Florida (Raycom Sports). Raycom always seems to get unusually good games from the SEC… too bad that’s about to end.

12:30-4 PM: College Football, defending Princton-Yale titleholder #6 Oklahoma State @ #1 Texas (ABC). The Northeast is getting this game. The Rockies are getting this game. Parts of the South are getting this game. But seriously, you couldn’t have found some way to get this better national distribution? The Pac-10 and Big 12 really need better contracts; the SEC and Big 10 are almost guaranteed to have their top game going out nationally every week. Surprised the Big 12 resigned almost an identical deal last year after the Big 10 got a reverse-mirror deal.

Alternately: 12:30-4 PM: College Football, #12 Georgia @ LSU (CBS) or Virginia Tech @ Florida State (ABC/ESPN2). You have to live on the West Cosat (like me) to be completely reduced to Georgia-LSU.

3:30-7 PM: College Football, Colorado @ #11 Missouri (FSN). Really just a gapfiller.

7-9:30 PM: Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC 90 (PPV). Isn’t this an awfully quick turnaround from UFC 89?

10-3 PM: NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, Pep Boys Auto 500 (ABC). Does NASCAR need to move the Chase away from NFL season?

5-8:30 PM: MLB Baseball, Rays @ Phillies (FOX). Sorry, no NFL this week.

8-10 PM: IndyCar Racing, Gold Coast IndyCar 300 (ESPN2). Does this really count? I mean, it’s so far after the end of the season…

Examining the Democratic Platform Part III: “Investing in American Competitiveness” and “Economic Stewardship”

This is continued from Parts I and II of my examination of the Democratic Platform, the latter of which included the part of “Investing in American Competitiveness” that dealt with energy and education.

I told you we’d return to the Democratic platform! And we’re not done with the Republicans either.

“Science, Technology and Innovation”: This section arguably directly leads out of the prior one, and so I could have conceivably included it in Part II, but I had to cut it off at some point. It starts by taking another shot at the Bush Administration, claiming “America has long led the world in innovation. But this Administration’s hostility to science has taken a toll. At a time when technology helps shape our future, we devote a smaller and smaller share of our national resources to research and development.”

“We will make science, technology, engineering, and math education a national priority. We will double federal funding for basic research, invest in a strong and inspirational vision for space exploration, and make the Research and Development Tax Credit permanent.” All sounds good, although it’s arguably throwing money away once again, and what exactly is your “strong and inspirational vision for space exploration”? How about letting it start inspiring us now? Or do you not want the Republicans to steal it?

“We will invest in the next generation of transformative energy technologies and health IT and we will renew the defense R&D system.” Several important modern technologies have come from the military, so this is all good. I especially like the call back to my own personal favorite topic. “Health IT” comes off as especially money-grows-on-trees to me, though. I hope you’re not letting things get too frivolous.

“We will lift the current Administration’s ban on using federal funding for embryonic stem cells–cells that would have otherwise have been discarded and lost forever–for research that could save lives.” Love how you completely ignore the reason Bush and Co. would impose such a ban. Still, I agree with the basic sentiment.

“We will ensure that our patent laws protect legitimate rights while not stifling innovation and creativity. We will end the Bush Administration’s war on science, restore scientific integrity, and return to evidence-based decision-making.” First sentence sounds good while not stipulating which clause is the problem. Second sentence sounds too hyperbolic to have a grounding in reality. The last sentence-paragraph has a call to “treat science and technology as crucial investments” that’s hard to argue with, to tell you the truth.

“Invest in Manufacturing and Our Manufacturing Communities”: Recall from Part I that the Democrats promised to “take immediate steps to stem the loss of manufacturing jobs” as part of their plan to fix the economy. Here they again vow to “invest in American jobs and finally end the tax breaks that ship jobs overseas. We will create an Advanced Manufacturing Fund to provide for our next generation of innovators and job creators; we will expand the Manufacturing Extension Partnerships and create new job training programs for clean technologies.” All sounds good, though some of it is empty buzzwords, and it’s arguably more throwing money away.

“We will bring together government, private industry, workers, and academia to turn around the manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy and provide assistance to automakers and parts companies to encourage retooling of facilities in this country to produce advanced technology vehicles and their key components.” Again, sounds good, keeping American jobs and greening our cars, but you have to consider some points of basic economics, and the idea that trade leads to better conditions for all. If the world economy is better off having Indians or Koreans filling certain roles, perhaps they should be able to fill those roles so the economy advances as far as it can. If the “tax breaks” mentioned earlier actually streamline the process of shipping jobs overseas, they should be repealed, but that would be insane; if they just put things on an even footing, that’s less objectionable. Although there is a point to be made that it may be better to have Americans do certain jobs, even if they’re worse at doing them compared to other potential jobs, if it prevents suffering in Asian sweatshops.

“We will support efforts like the recently proposed Senate Appropriations measure that gives manufacturers access to low-interest loans to help convert factories to build more fuel-efficient vehicles. And we will invest in a clean energy economy to create up to five million new green-collar jobs.” You’re playing my song again! But not only are you still pushing cars, you’re only making them “more fuel-efficient”, not completely weaning them off oil and onto low-impact biofuels and primarily-plug-in. And where did that five-million number come from, your ass?

Finally, what, 20 pages later?, those “immediate steps to stem the loss of manufacturing jobs”:

Our manufacturing communities need immediate relief. And we will help states and localities whose budgets are strained in times of need. We will modernize and expand Trade Adjustment Assistance. We will help workers build a safety net, with health care, retirement security, and a way to stay out of crippling debt. We will partner with community colleges and other higher education institutions, so that we’re training workers to meet the demands of local industry, including environmentally-friendly technology.

Trade Adjustment Assistance is basically all about making sure workers have a smooth transition to a new job if their old one lays them off and/or ships their job overseas, so it’s of vital importance, as is making sure workers get the training they need from higher education (and another shout-out to me again!). But the safety net – while it is potentially important to back people up in a time of economic crisis (a new Great Depression needs a new New Deal), it needs to make sure it’s not a disincentive to work.

“Creating New Jobs by Rebuilding American Infrastructure”: Will this make me feel better about the Democrats’ commitment to fighting global warming?

A century ago, Teddy Roosevelt called together leaders from business and government to develop a plan for the next century’s infrastructure. It falls to us to do the same. Right now, we are spending less than at any time in recent history and far less than our international competitors on this critical component of our nation’s strength. We will start a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that can leverage private investment in infrastructure improvements, and create nearly two million new good jobs. We will undertake projects that maximize our safety and security and ability to compete, which we will fund as we bring the war in Iraq to a responsible close. We will modernize our power grid, which will help conservation and spur the development and distribution of clean energy. We need a national transportation policy, including high-speed rail and light rail. We can invest in our bridges, roads, and public transportation so that people have choices in how they get to work. We will ensure every American has access to highspeed broadband and we will take on special interests in order to unleash the power of the wireless spectrum.

Well, you did throw in a shout-out to public transportation, but it was part of “bridges, roads, and public transportation”, but you also mentioned that people should “have choices in how they get to work”, which hopefully means a choice that’s not between a Ford or a Dodge, or between the 5 or the 405. Better, you preceded it with a call for “a national transportation policy, including high-speed rail and light rail”. More stuff I like. Infrastructure investment is, indeed, vitally important, yet one of the things I like best here is the “leverag[ing]” of “private investment in infrastructure improvements”, so it’s not all the government throwing money away. You bring up your quest to end the war in Iraq almost in passing, in a seemingly irrelevant topic, as part of a funding plan for infrastructure improvements – which scares me as to what your plan is for funding everything for which you don’t mention a funding source. Modernizing the power grid is even more important than the Dems let on, because some of the cleanest technologies, such as solar power with mirrors, work best in select, centralized locations. The last sentence sounds good and the wireless spectrum is ideally free, so we should be getting as much use out of it as possible. Overall, it’s disappointing that it’s only a paragraph, but it’s a very good paragraph.

“A Connected America”: “In the 21st century, our world is more intertwined than at any time in human history. This new connectedness presents us with untold opportunities for innovation, but also new challenges. We will protect the Internet’s traditional openness and ensure that it remains a dynamic platform for free speech, innovation, and creativity.” Considering some of the concerns people have about special interests trying to corporatize the Internet, this is very good stuff. “We will implement a national broadband strategy (especially in rural areas, and our reservations and territories) that enables every American household, school, library, and hospital to connect to a world-class communications infrastructure. We will rededicate our nation to ensuring that all Americans have access to broadband and the skills to use it effectively.” Aside from a question as to how this is going to be paid for, this continues to be very good. One of the most agreeable parts of the platform I’ve read overall.

It continues: “In an increasingly technology-rich, knowledge-based economy, we understand that connectivity is a key part of the solution to many of our most important challenges: job creation, economic growth, energy, health care, and education.” Not entirely sure how, but okay. “We will establish a Chief Technology Officer for the nation, to ensure we use technology to enhance the functioning, transparency, and expertise of government, including establishing a national interoperable public safety communications network to help first responders at the local, state and national level communicate with one another during a crisis.” The first part of that sentence sounds like typical government unnecessary spending, but the second sentence sounds like it’s of vital national security importance.

“We will toughen penalties, increase enforcement resources, and spur private sector cooperation with law enforcement to identify and prosecute those who exploit the Internet to try to harm children.” Sounds good, relatively cheap, and important. “We will encourage more educational content on the Web and in our media.” How do you know people will find the educational content, or even look for it? And what does “encouragement” mean, anyway? “We will give parents the tools and information they need to manage what their children see on television and the Internet – in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment.” In other words, “don’t worry about us running roughshod over the First Amendment. It’ll all work out, don’t worry.”

“We will strengthen privacy protections in the digital age and will harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy.” Sounds good, but what will this “accountability” consist of, and who will hold the government accountable for this? “We will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.” Sounds like reasonable goals, but how will you accomplish the first goal? Hopefully not a form of affirmative action. “Diverse viewpoints” sounds like a good thing to have, but what do you mean by “clarify[ing] the public interest obligations”? Enforcing and improving them, or loosening them?

“Support Small Business and Entrepreneurship”: “Encouraging new industry and creating jobs means giving more support to American entrepreneurs. We will exempt all start-up companies from capital gains taxes and provide them a tax credit for health insurance.” Both of these were mentioned already, but this reminds me to look up capital gains taxes and how small businesses would be subject to them. According to Wikipedia, capital gains taxes are assessed on the sale of any asset that’s sold at a profit, so if you bought a plot of land, say for a store, at $100,000, and sold it for $500,000, you’d get taxed on the profit you made on the sale. So it makes some sense to exempt small companies from them, especially under the same logic as exempting poor people from the income tax, but where’s the cut-off?

“We will provide a new tax credit for small businesses that offer quality health insurance to their employees.” Isn’t this a repeat of the end of the previous sentence? Makes some sense, though. “We will help small businesses facing high energy costs.” Perhaps by helping them green, I hope? “We will work to remove bureaucratic barriers for small and start-up businesses–for example, by making the patent process more efficient and reliable.” Hopefully you have a way to make the patent process “efficient and reliable”. But that’s something most people can probably get behind, assuming there’s enough bloat that cutting bureaucracy would have a substantial net positive effect. “We will create a national network of public-private business incubators and technical support.” Sounds good but potentially throwing money away. I’m sounding like a broken record at this point, aren’t I?

“Real Leadership for Rural America”: Begins with a typical shout-out to the agricultural sector, which “we depend on… to produce the food, feed, fiber, and fuel that support our society. Thankfully, American farmers possess an unrivaled capacity to produce an abundance of these high-quality products. In return, we will provide a strong safety net for family farms, a permanent disaster relief program, expansion of agriculture research, and an emphasis on agricultural trade.” Protecting family farms is important to halt the McDonaldization of agriculture, and everything else falls under my constant refrain: sounds good, but where’s the money? (For the rest of this review, I’ll shorten that to SGWTM.)

We will promote economic development in rural and tribal communities by investing in renewable energy, which will transform the rural economy and create millions of new jobs, by upgrading technological and physical infrastructure, by addressing the challenges faced by public schools in rural areas, including forest county schools, supporting higher education opportunities and by attracting quality teachers, doctors and nurses through loan forgiveness programs and other incentive programs.

How’s that for a long sentence? The goal is good and you know I love renewable energy, which hopefully isn’t just weaning ourselves off foreign oil but is also doing as much as we can to combat global warming. Upgrading infrastructure sounds good, as is the bit about improving the schools (though I don’t know how you do that), and all the rest of the education investment, but do you want to attract “quality teachers, doctors and nurses” to poor ghettos or rural areas? Which is the priority? Both sound important, but…

But what’s this? A quote from an Indiana farmer in a sidebar that boasts “We, the American farmer, have the ability, the enthusiasm, the skills, the tools, and the fierce sense of patriotism to win the war on foreign oil and still provide the food and fiber in a safe manner for not only for this country, but for the rest of the world.” Oh god, you really are high on the biofuels hog, aren’t you? This is what you meant by “investing in renewable energy” – not energy for farmers, energy from farmers! You see global warming as an excuse to give pork to the agriculture community!

“Economic Stewardship”: This section begins with a very lengthy introduction when you consider the two paragraphs right before the meat, once again reassuring people they aren’t socialist.

Since the time of our Founders, we have struggled to balance the same forces that confronted Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson–self-interest and community; markets and democracy; the concentration of wealth and power, and the necessity of transparency and opportunity for each and every American. Throughout our history, Americans have pursued their dreams within a free market that has been the engine of America’s progress. It’s a market that has created a prosperity that is the envy of the world, and opportunity for generations of Americans. A market that has provided great rewards to the innovators and risk-takers who have made America a beacon for science, technology, and discovery.

But the American experiment has worked in large part because we have guided the market’s invisible hand with a higher principle. Our free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it. That is why we have put in place rules of the road to make competition fair, open, and honest. We have done this not to stifle–but rather to advance – prosperity and liberty.

This is a very effective defense of the Democratic approach against the idea of straight-up laissez-faire economics.

In this time of economic transformation and crisis, we must be stewards of this economy more than ever before. We will maintain fiscal responsibility, so that we do not mortgage our children’s future on a mountain of debt. We can do this at the same time that we invest in our future. We will restore fairness and responsibility to our tax code. We will bring balance back to the housing markets, so that people do not have to lose their homes. And we will encourage personal savings, so that our economy remains strong and Americans can live well in their retirements.

After everything you’ve talked about so far, I’m maintaining a healthy amount of skepticism about your pledge to “fiscal responsibility”, and you’re making me think I should be even more concerned about your acting like money grows on trees to this point. Does “restoring fairness and responsibility to our tax code” mean simplifying it, and what exactly are you going for? Never mind, I’m getting ahead of myself and I should look at the specific subsections, although I do like the idea of encouraging personal savings.

“Restoring Fairness to Our Tax Code”: “We must reform our tax code. It’s thousands of pages long, a monstrosity that high-priced lobbyists have rigged with page after page of special interest loopholes and tax shelters. We will shut down the corporate loopholes and tax havens and use the money so that we can provide an immediate middle-class tax cut that will offer relief to workers and their families.” Yes! You are simplifying the tax code AND you believe it will help pay for your social projects! “We’ll eliminate federal income taxes for millions of retirees, because all seniors deserve to live out their lives with dignity and respect.” Good, but again, why not all poor people?

“We will not increase taxes on any family earning under $250,000 and we will offer additional tax cuts for middle class families. For families making more than $250,000, we’ll ask them to give back a portion of the Bush tax cuts to invest in health care and other key priorities.” Well, now we know a significant part of how the Dems intend to pay for their social programs. As of April, only 2% of households were to make $250,000 next year, so this shouldn’t impact most people. Still, it does make the Democrats seem like typical tax-and-spenders. “We will end the penalty within the current Social Security system for public service that exists in several states.” What’s that about? Why would there be a “penalty…for public service”? “We will expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and dramatically simplify tax filings so that millions of Americans can do their taxes in less than five minutes.” Once again, simplifying the tax code the right way!

“Housing”: Minorities are especially hard-hit by the housing crisis. “We will ensure that the foreclosure prevention program enacted by Congress is implemented quickly and effectively so that at-risk homeowners can get help and hopefully stay in their homes.” I would hope that can be done in such a way that it doesn’t involve a catastrophic loss of money by the banks. Maybe an extension of payoff terms and lowered minimum payments? “We will work to reform bankruptcy laws to restore balance between lender and homeowner rights.” Sounds, ah, fair, assuming there is such an imbalance. “Because we have an obligation to prevent this crisis from recurring in the future, we will crack down on fraudulent brokers and lenders and invest in financial literacy.” Good thinking, though what exactly is “financial literacy”? It certainly sounds good, no matter what.

“We will pass a Homebuyers Bill of Rights, which will include establishing new lending standards to ensure that loans are affordable and fair, provide adequate remedies to make sure the standards are met, and ensure that homeowners have accurate and complete information about their mortgage options.” A favorite gimmick: the (blank) Bill of Rights. Everything looks good but you and I both know people won’t read that “accurate and complete information”. “We will support affordable rental housing, which is now more critical than ever” – of course. “We will implement the newly created Affordable Housing Trust Fund to ensure that it can start to support the development and preservation of affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods throughout the country, restore cuts to public housing operating subsidies, and fully fund the Community Development Block Grant program.” As part of my research into the role of mass transit I’ve come to get a bit of an appreciation for “mixed-income neighborhoods”, so that’s something I’m encouraged by, but this is sort of eyes-glaze-over stuff, and it’s also subject to SGWTM.

“We will work with local jurisdictions on the problem of vacant and abandoned housing in our communities” – an important problem, and shows an openness to ideas and protection of local authority. “We will work to end housing discrimination and to ensure equal housing opportunity” – sounds good, but does it mean affirmative action? “We will combat homelessness and target homelessness among veterans in particular by expanding proven programs and launching innovative preventive services.” Like much else here, this is something no one can disagree with, very vague on specifics (“expanding proven programs and launching innovative preventive services”?), and it’s very much SGWTM, but it also deflects charges that the Dems aren’t patriots (absurd as that sounds) and shows that they too realize there’s a special obligation out there to care for our veterans.

“Reforming Financial Regulation and Corporate Governance”: “We have failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practices. We have let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales.” Hardly a positive sentiment, but one many can sympathize with. “We do not believe that government should stand in the way of innovation, or turn back the clock to an older era of regulation” – an important sentiment to articulate and a concession to free-market Republicans. “But we do believe that government has a role to play in advancing our common prosperity: by providing stable macroeconomic and financial conditions for sustained growth; by demanding transparency; and by ensuring fair competition in the marketplace.” The last two roles are just common sense, and the first is a good point as well: you want to make sure growth continues apace. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of financial micromanagement like cutting or raising interest rates at the first sign of crisis, however.

“We will reform and modernize our regulatory structures and will work to promote a shift in the cultures of our financial institutions and our regulatory agencies.” Not even a sign as to what a “shift in the cultures” means? Might imply sinister intentions. What needs “reform” and “moderniz[ation]”? “We will ensure shareholders have an advisory vote on executive compensation, in order to spur increased transparency and public debate over pay packages.” Sounds good, but either it won’t have that effect or most people won’t participate or even know they can. “To make our communities stronger and more livable, and to meet the challenges of increasing global competitiveness, America will lead innovation in corporate responsibility to create jobs and leverage our private sector entrepreneurial leadership to help build a better world.” That’s just an empty platitude intended to make people feel good about the Democrats’ plan. The lack of details suggests it means nothing.

“Consumer Protection”: “We will establish a Credit Card Bill of Rights to protect consumers and a Credit Card Rating System to improve disclosure.” What did I just say about (blank) Bills of Rights? This sounds really gimmicky. “Americans need to pay what they owe, but they should pay what’s fair.” Again, meaningless but sounds reasonable. “We’ll reform our bankruptcy laws to give Americans in debt a second chance. If people can demonstrate that they went bankrupt because of medical expenses, they will be able to relieve that debt and get back on their feet.” Again, sounds humane on both counts. “We will ban executive bonuses for bankrupt companies.” Hear hear! If you drove your company into the dumper you shouldn’t be rewarded for it! “We will crack down on predatory lenders and make it easier for low-income families to buy homes.” Sounds decent, but wasn’t it “mak[ing] it easier for low-income families to buy homes” what drove us into this crisis in the first place? “We will require all non-home-based child care facilities to be lead-safe within five years.” But home-based facilities can have all the lead they want! Seriously, this seems to be coming out of left field but it’s fairly common sense. Hardly a deal-breaker though. “We must guarantee that consumer products coming in from other countries are truly safe, and will call on the Federal Trade Commission to ensure vulnerable consumer populations, such as seniors, are addressed.” Sounds important enough to take care of.


The personal saving rate is at its lowest since the Great Depression. Currently, 75 million working Americans—roughly half the workforce—lack employer-based retirement plans. That’s why we will create automatic workplace pensions. People can add to their pension, or can opt out at any time; the savings account will be easily transferred between jobs; and people can control it themselves if they become self-employed. We will ensure savings incentives are fair to all workers by matching half of the initial $1000 of savings for families that need help; and employers will have an easy opportunity to match employee savings. We believe this program will increase the saving participation rate for low- and middle-income workers from its current 15 percent to 80 percent. We support good pensions, and will adopt measures to preserve and protect existing public and private pension plans. We will require that employees who have company pensions receive annual disclosures about their pension fund’s investments. This will put a secure retirement within reach for millions of working families.

Too much information! If someone doesn’t have an “employer-based retirement plan” but has a retirement plan someplace else, someplace that won’t require them to go through a hassle if they change jobs, why lump them in with people that don’t have plans at all? Those “automatic workplace pensions” seem like they could add new layers of bureaucracy and expense. For some reason, something rubs me the wrong way about this sort of thing; maybe it’s a certain distrust of people’s ability to manage their pensions properly. But people love their freedom. Go from 15 percent to 80 percent?!? Actually boosting the savings rate is a good idea from an economic perspective; we’ve been taught to buy stuff to boost the economy, but money put into savings accounts can be reinvested in loans to help companies get off the ground. But this would seem to require a pretty big shift in American culture, and I’m not sure it’s one we’re ready for. Baby steps! The third-from-last sentence is eminently agreeable, and I covered the whole disclosures-for-company-pensions bit earlier. This really all retreads ground already trod in the discussion of retirement in Part II.

“Smart, Strong, and Fair Trade Policies”:

We believe that trade should strengthen the American economy and create more American jobs, while also laying a foundation for democratic, equitable, and sustainable growth around the world. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development, but we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few rather than the many. We must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably.

Well, this all seems to make sense. Trade’s good, but it’s not always good. Judging by some of the stuff I’ve heard recently, although all this seems to be a paean to the free market, “share its benefits more equitably” just might be hinting at socialism.

Trade policy must be an integral part of an overall national economic strategy that delivers on the promise of good jobs at home and shared prosperity abroad. We will enforce trade laws and safeguard our workers, businesses, and farmers from unfair trade practices–including currency manipulation, lax consumer standards, illegal subsidies, and violations of workers’ rights and environmental standards. We must also show leadership at the World Trade Organization to improve transparency and accountability, and to ensure it acts effectively to stop countries from continuing unfair government subsidies to foreign exporters and non-tariff barriers on U.S. exports.

I agree with the laundry list in the second sentence, but what’s the problem with “illegal subsidies”? Same question I have with regards to the GOP’s call for China to end their subsidies. There’s a hint of what both parties mean in the last sentence, where subsidies are “unfair” because they upset the balance of trade. So the subsidies involved aren’t what I would think of from the microeconomics class I’m taking – general subsidies within a market to improve economic advancement – but are subsidies to boost your own industries and keep out other nations’. It’s sort of cheating to get a leg up. Now both sides’ claims are more understandable, but still, I would greatly appreciate any promise to lower any of our own trade-barrier subsidies that may exist. But what are “non-tariff barriers on U.S. exports”, and what makes tariffs okay but other controls on trade aren’t? But at least the Democrats do support trade.

Lengthy paragraph ahead. A familiar refrain for people following the Obama campaign: we need “bargains that are good not just for Wall Street, but also for Main Street. We will negotiate bilateral trade agreements that open markets to U.S. exports and include enforceable international labor and environmental standards; we pledge to enforce those standards consistently and fairly.” So what’s your stance on imports? It would be nice if everyone exported everything, but there needs to be some importers as well, even though that means some jobs aren’t held by Americans.

We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; require the privatization of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications.

The first and last seem to be fair points. The second is acceptable as long as you’re not pushing for US investors to get greater rights than foreign ones, because that’ll just tick people off. The Republicans would probably say no to any trade agreement that didn’t allow “the privatization of…public services”, and there’s some debate as to which is better, but do you have any complaints about your water, sewer, power, or fire services? “We will stand firm against bilateral agreements that fail to live up to these important benchmarks, and will strive to achieve them in the multilateral framework.” Whatever that means; you’re going to try and bring in third parties to achieve your demands?

We will work with Canada and Mexico to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement so that it works better for all three North American countries. We will work together with other countries to achieve a successful completion of the Doha Round Agreement that would increase U.S. exports, support good jobs in America, protect worker rights and the environment, benefit our businesses and our farms, strengthen the rules-based multilateral system, and advance development of the world’s poorest countries.

Well, it certainly sounds like the Democrats are perfectly for good trade policies. They think NAFTA can be improved so it works better for everyone, whatever that means. Disturbingly vague, that one. The Doha Round is intended to “lower trade barriers” and increase trade, possibly to the benefit of developing nations. The Democrats would support a Doha agreement “that would increase U.S. exports”, keep American jobs, protect workers, protect the environment, help US business and farms, and oh yeah, help developing nations. And “strengthen the rules-based multilateral system”. All the things the Dems want are fairly reasonable from our perspective, but it almost adds up to “we want everything”. This sort of thing is why the Doha Round has stalled. Do you have an idea of how to achieve all those things that would be acceptable to the other parties?

The last paragraph mostly retreads previous promises. Some of the more noteworthy items: “We will end tax breaks for companies that ship American
jobs overseas, and provide incentives for companies that keep and maintain good jobs here in
the United States.” The first part makes sense, but the second part, while likely to be popular, almost amounts to one of those protectionist “subsidies” you earlier said other countries needed to lower. “The United
States should renew its own commitment to respect for workers’ fundamental human rights, and
at the same time strengthen the ILO’s ability to promote workers’ rights abroad through technical assistance and capacity building” – that’s also an important humanitarian consideration.

We’re over 5,000 words yet again and I’m getting tired but let’s go ahead and press on with the disturbingly small last section, “Fiscal Responsibility”, which begins with an admission of a concern you’ve heard me repeat time and time again: “Our agenda is ambitious–particularly in light of the current Administration’s policies that have run up the national debt to over $4 trillion.” Ah, taking another shot at the Bush Administration. The Dems then have the audacity, having granted the above, to say

Just as America cannot afford to continue to run up huge deficits, so too can we not afford to short-change investments. The key is to make the tough choices, in particular enforcing pay-as-you-go budgeting rules. We will honor these rules by our plan to end the Iraq war responsibly, eliminate waste in existing government programs, generate revenue by charging polluters for the greenhouse gases they are releasing, and put an end to the reckless, special interest driven corporate loopholes and tax cuts for the wealthy that have been the centerpiece of the Bush Administration’s economic policy.

Elimination of waste is head-slappingly obvious, as is closing loopholes (something covered earlier), and I’d like to see what ending the war in Iraq “responsibly” means; does it respond to the Republican charge that Democrats would throw away the “victory” they believe is in reach? Something new introduced here that, surprisingly, isn’t brought up earlier in the part in topical discussions: the introduction of a carbon tax for polluters. This would be an effective way of spurring greener development and paying for more proactive anti-global warming action, but I have two concerns: it gives the government an interest in not cutting greenhouse gases, and it could conceivably be applied to private citizens for driving in petroleum-belching cars. And how are you going to enforce it so polluters won’t lowball their emissions and try and get around it?

A repeat of the Democratic tax policy follows; now seniors would only be exempt from paying income tax if they make less than $50,000. “We recognize that Social Security is not in crisis and we should do everything we can to strengthen this vital program, including asking those making over $250,000 to pay a bit more.” Is not in crisis?!? That’s… that’s incredibly odd to bring that up here and especially to then say we need to “do everything we can to strengthen” it. But we really do need to make sure Social Security won’t bankrupt the government as the baby boomers retire, even if that means hiking the retirement age up a little.

The real long-run fiscal challenge is rooted in the rising spending on health care, but we cannot address this in a way that puts our most vulnerable families in jeopardy. Instead, we must strengthen our public programs by bringing down the cost of health care and reducing waste while making strategic investments that emphasize quality, efficiency, and prevention. In the name of our children, we reject the proposals of those who want to continue George Bush’s disastrous economic policies.

And the part ends as it (almost) began: a reiteration of the Democrats’ top priority. You’d almost think they were the Health Care Party.

Remember how Part I, “Renewing the American Dream”, began? It began, way back in Part I of this review, with an all-over-the place overview of the situation. “Families have seen their incomes go down even as they have been working longer hours and as productivity has grown.” So the Democrats needed to do something to boost incomes, or at least stop the sliding, and it’s hard to tell even whether they tried to do that. I might re-read all three parts I’ve written so far. “At the same time, health costs have risen while companies have shed health insurance coverage and pensions.” The Dems are setting out to fix that problem, but it’s an open question whether it’ll succeed, whether it’ll cost too much, or whether it’ll keep private health care alive. “Worse yet, too many Americans have lost confidence in the fundamental American promise that our children will have a better life than we do.” This is a general point, and it’s certainly one the Democrats try to take care of.

“Technology has changed the way we live and the way the world does business. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the advance of capitalism have vanquished old challenges to America’s global leadership, but new challenges have emerged. Today, jobs and industries can move to any country with an Internet connection and willing workers.” And I’m not sure the Democrats are doing enough to stop it. It’s nice that you’re going to stop jobs going overseas, but how about allowing America to compete in the global marketplace? Outside of agricultural, military, and service jobs (the latter two of which pretty much need to be in the country they’re serving), I’m hard-pressed to think of a single field where America isn’t under siege from foreign workers somehow. Even in the innovative field of technology, many of our top professionals are coming in from India. In that vein, perhaps some of the most important things in the platform so far are the relatively unheralded ones: bolstering TTA, creating green-collar jobs, and investing in infrastructure. This is another reason I’m such a strong proponent of mass transportation: it can be hard to grasp just how much traffic can choke a city’s economy, especially as it relates to the rest of the world.

Stay tuned, because my next post will finally involve crossover of topic between the platforms! The Review might be due for a significant change of format, some of which has already been hinted at… we’re about halfway through but we might be set for more than three more parts.

Examining the Republican Platform Part II: “Securing the Peace”

This is continued from Part I of my examination of the Republican Platform, which actually drew a comment ostensibly from the executive director of the Platform Committee. Which considering some of the stuff I’ll have to say about the platform today, is supremely ironic.

“Securing the Peace”: You can learn a lot not only from the order of the topics of each part of the respective parties’ platforms, but on the order of topics within those parts and how much time is spent on them. The Democrats, aside from a paragraph on the current economic crisis, hit the ground running with a very long dissertation on health care, which tells you that’s the issue they care about most of all. The Republicans start out talking about foreign affairs, and specifically national security and beefing up our military, before moving on to foreign relations and diplomacy, which would seem to show you they’re very gung-ho and macho. Yet “Securing the Peace” is probably longer than the other two sections of the first part put together.

“The Republican vision of peace through strength requires a sustained international effort, which complements our military activities, to develop and maintain alliances and relationships that will lead to greater peace and stability.” So to some extent, you believe in speaking softly and carrying a big stick, but you’re also willing to use said stick to get your peace along with getting everyone to help you in your “military activities”. Should I be scared that you intend to try and achieve peace through “military activities”?

“Promoting Human Rights and American Values”: “The international promotion of human rights reflects our heritage, our values, and our national interest. Societies that enjoy political and economic freedom and the rule of law are not given to aggression or fanaticism. They become our natural allies.” Sounds good, but there is evidence that spreading “American values” has met resistance in some parts of the world, and we need to be aware of that and know how to deal with it.

Republican leadership has made religious liberty a central element of U.S. foreign policy. Asserting religious freedom should be a priority in all America’s international dealings. We salute the work of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and urge special training in religious liberty issues for all U.S. diplomatic personnel.

To be successful international leaders, we must uphold international law, including the laws of war, and update them when necessary. Our moral standing requires that we respect what are essentially American principles of justice. In any war of ideas, our values will triumph.

I’m… not sure what the first paragraph is trying to say. I’m not even sure what it means. I mean, of course religious liberty is a good thing, but are we going to try and impose it everywhere like we tried to impose “democracy” on Iraq, or are we going to avoid offending nations that don’t have it? What did the USCIRF find, exactly? The first sentence of the second paragraph starts out well, but “update them when necessary”? You can’t do that unilaterally, you have to get international cooperation, that’s why it’s called international law. If I knew what you had in mind I might feel a bit better about it, because it might just be common sense for all I know.

State Department Reform
Advancing America’s values should be the core mission of every part of the federal government, including the Department of State. America’s diplomatic establishment must energetically represent our country’s agenda to the world. We propose a thorough reform of its structure to ensure that promotions and appointments are based on performance in supporting the nation’s agenda. Our diplomats must be the best our country has to offer, and America’s diplomatic abilities must be an integral part of America’s national security system.

Hopefully “advancing America’s values” doesn’t mean you’re going to use an organ devoted to diplomatic relations with other nations and use it to try and convert other nations, other cultures, to our way of life unilaterally. I’m not sure what “represent[ing]” and “supporting the nation’s agenda” means – does it mean that, or does it simply mean representing American interests to other nations? If the latter, good; if the former, it would seem to imply a misunderstanding of the role of diplomats. I’m tentatively hoping it does mean the latter, but the unclear wording concerns me.

Public Diplomacy
Throughout the Cold War, our international broadcasting of free and impartial information promoted American values to combat tyranny. It still does, through Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio/TV Marti, and it remains an important instrument in promoting a modernizing alternative to the culture of radical terror. Getting America’s message out to the world is a critical element in the struggle against extremism, and our government must wage a much more effective battle in the war of ideas.

Wow. A plank of a major party platform outwardly supporting international propaganda. I mean, I don’t want to say that I don’t want to continue programs that help deter people from terror, but is it not possible that the idea that America is trying to indoctrinate the youth and subvert them into good little American operatives is serving as a piece of propaganda for extremists and actually serving as a recruiting tool? I’d like to see the actual numbers and studies analyzing the effectiveness of this sort of thing. And you’re still trying to propagandize Europe?

Human Trafficking
Generations after the end of slavery in America, new forms of bondage have emerged to exploit men, women and children. We salute those across the political spectrum who have come together to end the commerce in our fellow human beings. We advocate the establishment of an Inter-Agency Task Force on Human Trafficking, reporting directly to the President, and call for increased diplomatic efforts with foreign governments that have been negligent toward this evil. The principle underlying our Megan’s Law – publicizing the identities of known offenders – should be extended to international travel in order to protect innocent children everywhere.

Finally, a plank in this section I unequivocally support. My only concern has to do with the “Inter-Agency Task Force on Human Trafficking” and its status as something close to a Cabinet-level agency. There might be other examples of this sort of thing, I don’t know, but are you really going to take away that much in the way of resources that could have, I don’t know, gone towards national security?

“Sovereign American Leadership in International Organizations”: “The United States participates in various international organizations which can, at times, serve the cause of peace and prosperity, but those organizations must never serve as a substitute for principled American leadership.” If you’re saying they can’t serve as a substitute I’d agree with you pending agreement with the premise; if you’re saying they shouldn’t, I say if they’re better than “principled American leadership” at “serv[ing] the cause of peace and prosperity”, then by all means cut them loose!

“Nor should our participation in them prevent our joining with other democracies to protect our vital national interests.” That certainly sounds good but it almost seems to be pointing towards going over the head of the UN and other international organizations to do whatever we want. If a nation is using the UN to block action against them (or even an ally) that the rest of the world backs, of course we should be able to join with the rest of the world in taking that action anyway, but that’s almost a specialized case. The UN is at least supposed to be representative of the world, and if we decide we’re going to go over their heads we should be ready to face the consequences. And this “joining with democracies” better not be of the form “you’re with us or against us”.

“At the United Nations, our country will pay a fair, but not disproportionate, share of dues, but we will never support a UN-imposed tax.  The UN must reform its scandal-ridden and corrupt management and become more accountable and transparent in its operations and expenses.  As a matter of U.S. sovereignty, American forces must remain under American command.” First sentence makes sense, but I might be swayed by some of the reasons the UN might “impose” a “tax”. I have never heard of the UN’s “scandal-ridden and corrupt management”; if it exists it should be fixed, but where did that come from? And will you also support, say, Canadian forces having to remain under Canadian command, or Chinese forces remaining under Chinese command?

“Discrimination against Israel at the UN is unacceptable.  We welcome Israel’s membership in the Western European and Others Group at the UN headquarters and demand its full acceptance and participation at all UN venues.” The UN kind of has to walk a tightrope here between supporting Israel and courting the support of nations that hate Israel’s guts. The UN needs to take an impartial stance in the Middle East, condemn all atrocities by both sides, and not be seen as supporting one side or the other, because that’s its role in all conflicts, to be an impartial mediator. Of course “discrimination against Israel” should be out, but hopefully it doesn’t mean treating Israel as a perfectly 100% legitimate state that’s not the subject of constant controversy over its very existence either. And I have no idea what “the ideological campaign against Vatican participation in UN conferences and other activities” is.

“Because the UN has no mandate to promote radical social engineering, any effort to address global social problems must respect the fundamental institutions of marriage and family. We assert the rights of families in all international programs and will not fund organizations involved in abortion.” I think most “organizations involved in abortion” don’t require people to have abortions in any way. They simply provide them. “Social engineering” would be taking that away. You would refrain from funding any perfectly legitimate organization that did a gazillion things to help developing countries rise themselves out of poverty just because they performed abortions? Or were even “involved in abortion”? (In fact, there are concerns that this policy actually breeds abortions by cutting off supplies of other forms of birth control, but those organizations should just suck up and follow it, right? I mean, this is blackmail!) Or are you concerned that the UN is promoting homosexuality, a more legitimate concern? I mean, how is the UN not respecting the “fundamental institutions of marriage and family”? And how would you deal with a culture where the “fundamental institutions of marriage and family” are very different? Would you “respect” them or attempt to impose a Western model?

You’d even “reject any treaty or agreement that would violate those values”? Even ones dealing with other topics, like “the UN convention on women’s rights, signed in the last months of the Carter Administration, and the UN convention on the rights of the child”? So you won’t support women’s rights because the document proclaiming them dared to mention abortion? Is it that much of a poison pill? You’re not even objecting on religious or moral grounds, you’re talking about “the fundamental institutions of marriage and family”. That’s scary; maybe you don’t support women’s rights beyond abortion, because you’re saying “if you have sex before marriage [presumably even by rape] tough bupkis, you gotta carry the baby to term”, which hardly protects “the fundamental institutions of marriage and family”. Worse, you’re screwed if you have an unintended baby after marriage, which implies the Republicans might believe in a “traditional marriage” scheme where the woman is subservient. Not saying it’s necessarily the case, and I don’t even like abortion, but this is just a little concerning.

“For several reasons, particularly our concern for US sovereignty and America’s long-term energy needs, we have deep reservations about the regulatory, legal, and tax regimes inherent in the Law of the Sea Treaty.” See here for what this is all about. Oddly, outright objection may be a minority opinion even within the Republican Party, as the Bush Administration supports ratification. Still, I can’t say the anti-ratification side doesn’t have good points.

“To shield the members of our Armed Forces and others in service to America from ideological prosecutions, the Republican Party does not accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over Americans.” That’s been a big bone of contention with other nations in the world, because it effectively lets our “Armed Forces” get away with bloody murder without having to go through an international tribunal. Still, shielding the military from “ideological prosecutions” – prosecutions designed solely to embarrass America – is a legitimate concern… “We support the American Servicemembers Protection Act, to shield U.S. personnel and officials as they act abroad to meet global security requirements.” …but if this still calls back to the previous sentence, this really does say we can get away with bloody murder, at least as phrased. Unless and until the United States submits to some sort of controls against war crimes, we’ll never have the standing in the world we should.

“Helping Others Abroad”: Begins with some empty praise for the people who “combat disease and poverty around the world”, and a call to “[i]nclud[e] the world’s poor in an expanding circle of development” through “the Republican approach to world trade through open markets and fair competition”.

It must also be a top priority of our foreign policy.  Decades of massive aid have failed to spur economic growth in the poorest countries, where it has often propped up failed policies and corrupt rulers. We will target foreign assistance to high-impact goals: fostering the rule of law through democratic government; emphasizing literacy and learning; and, concentrating on the foundations for economic development—clean water, agricultural improvement, and microcredit funding for small enterprises.  Maternal and child health, especially safer childbirthing and nutrition, must be priorities, especially in countries affected by epidemics of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

So the Republican idea of aid to developing countries is not just ordinary charitable donations of food and money, but trying to institute democracy and actual, substantive infrastructure improvements that can actually have a long term impact. I agree with all of that, except once again, we need to make sure that if our democratization attempts meet resistance, we can identify it and deal with it and not have a repeat of Iraq.

Further, we call for the development of a strategy for foreign assistance that serves our national interest.  Specifically we call for a review and improvement of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 oriented toward: alignment of foreign assistance policies, operations, budgets and statutory authorities; development of a consensus on what needs to be done to strengthen the non-military tools to further our national security goals; greater attention to core development programs – education, child survival, and agricultural development; and greater accountability by recipient countries so as to ensure against malfeasance, self-dealing, and corruption, and to ensure continued assistance is conditioned on performance.

The last clause is the only one I would worry about. The accountability measures need to be effective and themselves not prone to “malfeasance, self-dealing, and corruption”.

“Strengthening Ties in the Americas”:

Faith and family, culture and commerce, are enduring bonds among all the peoples of the Americas. Republicans envision a western hemisphere of sovereign nations with secure borders, working together to advance liberty and mutually-beneficial trade based on sound and proven free enterprise principles.  Our relations with our immediate neighbors, Canada and Mexico, are grounded on our shared values and common purpose, as well as our steadily increasing trade. We pledge to continue this close association and to advance mutually beneficial trade agreements throughout Latin America, promoting economic development and social stability there while opening markets to our goods and services. Our strong ties with Canada and Mexico should not lead to a North American union or a unified currency.

Your second and penultimate sentences wouldn’t be talking about the eminently controversial NAFTA and successors, would it? Most of this is good, at least if you accept the underlying principles, most of which are basic economics. I know the last sentence should be reassuring to some people…

Two factors distort this hemispheric progress.  One is narco-terrorism, with its ability to destabilize societies and corrupt the political process.  In an era of porous borders, the war on drugs and the war on terror have become a single enterprise. We salute our allies in the fight against this evil, especially the people of Mexico and Colombia, who have set an example for their neighbors. We support approval of the free trade agreement with Colombia, currently blocked by Capitol Hill Democrats and their union boss supporters, as an overdue gesture of solidarity for this courageous ally of the United States.

Wait, so do Republicans think if Democrats are concerned about Columbian crackdowns on unions, it must be because they’re in hock to “union boss[es]” and not out of general concern for the welfare of the people of Columbia? I certainly think your concern is appropriate…

“The other malignant element in hemispheric affairs is the anachronistic regime in Havana, a mummified relic from the age of totalitarianism, and its buffoonish imitators.” I never thought I’d see a phrase like “buffoonish imitators” in a major party platform. Didn’t Castro take power in the late 50s? By “the age of totalitarianism” are you basically referring to the Cold War? Because for some reason I’d go further back with that term…

We call on the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean to join us in laying the groundwork for a democratic Cuba.  Looking to the inevitable day of liberation, we support restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba as a measure of solidarity with the political prisoners and all the oppressed Cuban people. We call for a dedicated platform for transmission of Radio and Television Marti into Cuba and, to prepare for the day when Cuba is free, we support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.  We affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communist tyranny, and support efforts to admit more of them through a safe, legal, orderly process.

Most of this sounds good, but it’s not entirely without controversy. I mentioned my issues with transmission of American propaganda into foreign nations earlier.

“Advancing Hope and Prosperity in Africa”: This section follows what’s becoming a pattern: three paragraphs, the first of which describes the situation and the US role, followed by two paragraphs of policy positions. In this case, the first paragraph contains a recognition of the sad situation in Africa, with almost as much of the Republicans tooting their own horn: “Republicans have faced up to each of those challenges because, in addition to humanitarian concerns, the U.S. has important security interests in the stability and progress of African nations.” “Republican-sponsored legislation has brought jobs and investment to sub-Saharan Africa. To continue that progress, we advocate continued expansion of trade with African nations.” That’s important, but it’s not much better if Africa becomes the new Taiwan.

The second paragraph is basically a condemnation of the situation in Darfur, a call for a stronger response from African leaders, and a pledge to support them and “secure a comprehensive and humane settlement for the people of the southern and western Sudan.” Military involvement is not mentioned. Maybe the Republicans do realize that war is not always the answer. The third paragraph condemns the situation in Zimbabwe, and a call for sanctions against the Mugabe government, “free elections, and the restoration of civil government in Zimbabwe.” Well, that’s just head-slapping common sense.

“Partnerships across the Asia-Pacific Region”: A change in format here. For the next three sections, we start with an overview paragraph and then sub-headings for several different nations. Skip the praising of several different nations, including Australia and “our Freely Associated States in the Pacific Islands”, which makes “English Language Learners” sound like normal English. Actually, I take that back. Praising Japan and “look[ing] for Japan to forge a leadership role in regional and global affairs.” Praising South Korea and its vigilance “against the tyranny and international ambitions of the maniacal state on its border.” America wants “the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, with a full accounting of its proliferation activities.  We look toward the restoration of human rights to the suffering people of North Korea and the fulfillment of the wish of the Korean people to be one in peace and freedom.” Praiseworthy goals, and hopefully international cooperation is part of this in the Republicans’ minds. But it’s telling that this sentiment is placed in the introductory paragraph and isn’t broken out into a sub-heading.

India We welcome America’s new relationship with India, including the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Accord. Our common security concerns and shared commitment to political freedom and representative government can be the foundation for an enduring partnership.” Korea doesn’t get broken out into its own heading but this sort of empty platitude does? Note to self: Look up “US-India Civil Nuclear Accord”.

Pakistan We must expand our ties with the government and the people of Pakistan.  We support their efforts to improve democratic governance and strengthen civil society, and we appreciate the difficult but essential role Pakistan plays in the fight against terror.” And we also need to make sure Pakistan is playing that role, and not giving safe haven to terrorists without pursuing them. Otherwise worthy goals.

Our policy toward Taiwan, a sound democracy and economic model for mainland China, must continue to be based upon the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act. We oppose any unilateral steps by either side to alter the status quo in the Taiwan straits on the principle that all issues regarding the island’s future must be resolved peacefully, through dialogue, and be agreeable to the people of Taiwan. If China were to violate these principles, the U.S., in accord with the Taiwan Relations Act, will help Taiwan defend itself.  As a loyal friend of America, the democracy of Taiwan has merited our strong support, including the timely sale of defensive arms and full participation in the World Health Organization and other multilateral institutions.”

The bit about “oppos[ing] any unilateral steps by either side to alter the status quo” seems odd until you focus on the “unilateral” part, and the second half of the sentence: the line is a paean to the PRC that the United States is serving as an impartial mediator and will make sure that if the status quo does change, it changes in a multilateral, peaceful way. But it’s still odd, because the rest of the paragraph is praising Taiwan’s status as a “democracy” (twice) and “a loyal friend of America”. Everything here makes sense, though. Individual citizens might object to the tightness between Taiwan and the United States, especially as described in the last sentence, but if you take it as given you see how important it is to stand by Taiwan’s side.

We will welcome the emergence of a peaceful and prosperous China, and we will welcome even more the development of a democratic China.  Its rulers have already discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth; the next lesson is that political and religious freedom leads to national greatness. That is not likely to be learned while the government in Beijing pursues advanced military capabilities without any apparent need, imposes a “one-child” policy on its people, suppresses basic human rights in Tibet and elsewhere, and erodes democracy in Hong Kong.  China must honor its obligations regarding free speech and a free press as announced prior to the Olympics.

All of this is worth supporting for a variety of reasons – the Tiananmen Square riots suggest China may well be culturally ready for democracy, even though they were, what, 20 years ago? And China is just too big for America to plausibly turn it into a vassal state.

The next paragraph starts with noting how “trade with China has created export opportunities for American farmers and workers” (some people might disagree with that statement), while the WTO and the world community (okay, technically the “marketplace”) have helped with “openness and the rule of law”. “We must yet ensure that China fulfills its WTO obligations, especially those related to protecting intellectual property rights, elimination of subsidies, and repeal of import restrictions.” The first half of the sentence and the first obligation listed, and to a lesser extent the last obligation, are all eminently agreeable, but… doesn’t the United States use subsidies? How much of the last two “obligations” are just “we want a bigger piece of the China pie”? In foreign affairs, the United States has two primary goals: to further our national interests, and to lift up all the people of the world. These last two “obligations” are aimed at the first goal, but their role in the second, especially the elimination of subsidies, is questionable. Certainly China would benefit from free trade, and the “repeal of import restrictions” is actually noble even when viewed from the eyes of the first goal.

A paragraph on Vietnam focuses on “accounting for, and repatriation of the remains of” Americans who were killed there, and continued repression of human rights and religious freedom, and the retribution by the government of Vietnam against its ethnic minorities and others who assisted U.S. forces there.” Both of these are important matters.

Burma We urge all the nations of East Asia to join the world-wide effort to restore the suffering people of Burma to the democratic family of nations. The military dictatorship in Burma is among the worst on the planet.  Its savagery demands a strong response from the world community, including economic and financial sanctions and isolation of the illegitimate regime.” This is a strong position, but fairly recently stories about how little the military junta cares about its people were all over the news. So I agree with this in full, assuming the Burmese people are primed and yearning for democracy, and we don’t attempt to turn Burma into a vassal state.

“Strengthening Our Relations with Europe”: We have “shared culture and values” with the people of Europe, and the Republicans want to especially give a shout-out to our friends in Great Britain. “The enduring truth – that America’s security is inseparable from Europe’s – was reaffirmed by our European allies after September 11, 2001.” NATO is stronger by the addition of new members in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Republicans want to leave NATO membership open for “all democratic nations who share our values and meet the requirements for NATO membership”. Would that include countries like Israel and Australia? In all seriousness, the Republicans move on to playing up missile defense systems again, this time “NATO-endorsed” ones to protect European allies from missiles from Iran, and gives a shout-out to Poland and the Czech Republic for allowing such systems in their countries (and condemns Russia for trying to intimidate former Soviet bloc nations into not doing so). That’s not the best thing for Russia to be doing, but again, are these missile defense systems effective or are they a waste of resources that would be better spent on things like intelligence and diplomacy?

There’s a two-sentence short paragraph supporting “reconciliation efforts in Cyprus and Northern Ireland” and condemns rising violent anti-Semitism “in Europe and other areas of the world”, both noble causes.

Americans and the Russian people have common imperatives: ending terrorism, combating nuclear proliferation, promoting bilateral trade, and more.  But matters of serious concern remain, particularly the Russian government’s treatment of the press, opposition parties, and institutions of civil society. It continues its aggressive confrontations with its neighbors, from economic intimidation to outright warfare, and has aligned with dangerous anti-democratic forces in the Middle East.  As a condition for its continued acceptance in world organizations, Russia must respect the independence and territorial integrity of all the nations of the former Soviet Union, beginning with the republic of Georgia, and move toward a free and democratic society.

All important causes and good things to be supporting. There is some reason to think that Russia may have had reason to intervene in Georgia and overstepped its bounds, using a territorial dispute as a pretense for a full-on invasion, so hopefully the United States will also not abandon its role as an impartial mediator, and won’t let Russia start a new Cold War.

I’m fast approaching five thousand words, if I’m not over it already, and I’m losing more sleep tonight, but I’m almost near the end of the whole part. But bear with me if this last subsection is a little rushed. “The Middle East”: Starts with praising the democratizing direction of change in the Middle East, where “the overall trend has been toward cooperation and social and economic development, especially with regard to the rights of women.” Most governments in the region have supported the war on terror, and the Republicans give a shout-out to nations that have reached some sort of peace with Israel, tentative though they may be.

Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah should be isolated because “they do not meet the standards of the international community.” If so, I agree. “We call for the restoration of Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty and the full implementation of all UN resolutions concerning that country.” Not sure what’s even going on there, but sounds good as the GOP describes it. Finally, the GOP reassures people that they are not against Islam or the Arabs, that “the extremists we face are abusers of faith, not its champions”, and gives a shout-out to the contributions of “American Arabs and Muslims”.

Israel Israel is a vigorous democracy, unique in the Middle East. We reaffirm America’s commitment to Israel’s security and will ensure that Israel maintains a qualitative edge in military technology over any potential adversaries.” Well, that’s not going to help you build your relations with the surrounding Arab nations. I hope you’re also going to make sure Israel doesn’t get aggressive. I mean really, “a qualitative edge in military technology over any potential adversaries”? Is Israel part of the United States now? “Israel must have secure, defensible borders and we support its right to exist as a Jewish state able to defend itself against homicide bombings, rocket and mortar fire, and other attacks against its people.” Some people might not support that, and at the moment I’m neutral, but if it does have the right to exist of course it has the right to defend itself.

We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine. For that to become a reality, the Palestinian people must support leaders who reject terror, embrace the institutions and ethos of democracy, and respect the rule of law.  We call on Arab governments throughout the region to help advance that goal. We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.

No. F*** no. A two-state solution with “Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel” will not work. Period. The Arab world will not stand for it. It is too pro-Israel, unless Israel becomes a place welcoming to all faiths and ethnicities. The only solution that will work in a million years is one that includes Jerusalem – and by extension, Israel/Palestine – being a place of openness to all faiths. It is too important to at least three religions for it to be otherwise. For that to become a reality, the Republicans’ middle two sentences are still of immense importance, perhaps even more so, so believe it or not I by and large support this part, I just think the underlying plan needs quite a bit of work. Maybe the Republicans are willing to put in that work, or at least throw out their plan if political realities prove it infeasible:

The U.S. seeks a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, negotiated between the parties themselves, without the imposition of an artificial timetable, and without the demand that Israel deal with entities which continue to pledge her destruction.  At the heart of any peace process must be a mutual commitment to resolve all issues through negotiation.  Part of that process must be a just, fair, and realistic framework for dealing with the Palestinian refugee issue.  Like all other elements in a meaningful agreement, this matter can be settled only on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect today’s realities as well as tomorrow’s hopes.

First of all, you need to make sure all parties aren’t stalling, so if you don’t have an “artificial timetable” you need accountability. Second, unfortunately, Hamas and Hezbollah are too powerful for Israel to ignore. Either you suck up and negotiate with terrorists or you don’t negotiate at all until you’ve crippled them, because if Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations, that means they have one heck of a trump card and can hold up negotiations they don’t recognize. The rest is eminently agreeable.


A stable, unified, and democratic Iraqi nation is within reach.  Our success in Iraq will deny al Qaeda a safe haven, limit Iranian influence in the Middle East, strengthen moderate forces there, and give us a strategic ally in the struggle against extremism.  To those who have sacrificed so much, we owe the commitment that American forces will leave that country in victory and with honor.  That outcome is too critical to our own national security to be jeopardized by artificial or politically inspired timetables that neither reflect conditions on the ground nor respect the essential advice of our military commanders.  As the people of Iraq assume their rightful place in the ranks of free and open societies, we offer them a continuing partnership.

Wow, only a single paragraph on the ongoing situation in Iraq. Didn’t I hear that Iraq was demanding some sort of timetable for withdrawal? Hardly “politically inspired” I would hope, and at least partly driven by “conditions on the ground”. Most of the sentiment is hard to disagree with as phrased, actually.

In the seven years since U.S. troops helped topple the Taliban, there has been great progress – but much remains to be done.  We must prevail in Afghanistan to prevent the reemergence of the Taliban or an al Qaeda sanctuary in that country.  A nationwide counterinsurgency strategy led by a unified commander is an essential prerequisite to success.  Additional forces are also necessary, both from NATO countries and through a doubling in size of the Afghan army.  The international community must work with the Afghan government to better address the problems of illegal drugs, governance, and corruption.  We flatly reject the Democratic Party’s idea that America can succeed in Afghanistan only by failure in Iraq.

Pacifists probably hate this part, but they probably gave up long ago. The first two and penultimate sentences are the most agreeable. So is the part about doubling Afghanistan’s own army, which would seem to indicate a strengthening of Afghan sovereignty. I’m not qualified to talk matters of military strategy, but the third sentence certainly sounds good. We’re already pulling out our troops from Iraq anyway, and we’re close enough to achieving our goals there we can knock that out and then jog over to Afghanistan. If you’re thinking the last sentence is probably a distortion of the Democratic position, you’re probably right.

We close out with “Iran”, where the Republicans claim the Iranian people “seek peace and aspire to freedom. Their current regime, aggressive and repressive, is unworthy of them.  The Iranian people, many of whom risk persecution to speak out for democracy, have a right to choose their own government.” Which certainly seems to be saying Iran is ready for democracy. Certainly it’s ready for something better than its current government. “As a rogue state, Iran’s leadership supports terror, threatens its neighbors, and provides weapons that are killing our troops in Iraq.  We affirm, in the plainest words we can use, that the U.S. government, in solidarity with the international community, will not allow the current regime in Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.” Certainly an agreeable point.

We call for a significant increase in political, economic, and diplomatic pressure to persuade Iran’s rulers to halt their drive for a nuclear weapons capability, and we support tighter sanctions against Iran and the companies with business operations in or with Iran. We oppose entering into a presidential-level, unconditional dialogue with the regime in Iran until it takes steps to improve its behavior, particularly with respect to support of terrorism and suspension of its efforts to enrich uranium.  At the same time, the U.S. must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the safety of our friends.

Wouldn’t some sort of dialogue be necessary to speed along the process of lowering support of terrorism and suspending uranium enrichment? To be sure, tighter sanctions – to instill a drive to negotiate – would certainly help. The wording and position of the last sentence indicates that the Republicans would be willing to engage in “unconditional dialogue” if things got desperate, but it could also indicate we really could be singing about “bombing Iran”…

Whew! Was that a long one or what? But we’ve cleared out this part and there’s still plenty more to come!

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 7

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was written with last season in mind):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 11
  • In effect during Weeks 11-17
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET. (Note: Last year, NBC listed a tentative game for Week 17; they are not doing so this year.)
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night. (Note: Again, excluding Week 17.)
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks, and could not protect any games Week 17 last year. Unless I find out otherwise, I’m assuming that’s still the case this year, especially with no tentative game listed Week 17, and that protections were scheduled after Week 4.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 4 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 16):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Washington
  • Prospects: This game may be sliding with Tony Romo’s injury; if the Cowboys go on a losing tear the next two weeks it could cost the NFL’s greatest rivalry a Sunday night spot.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Giants, Titans-Jaguars, or nothing (CBS) and Bears-Packers (FOX)
  • Other possible games: Chargers-Steelers is looking lopsided and is another nominee for protection. Broncos-Falcons doesn’t look that hot. For the moment, this game still has the best chance to keep its spot.

Week 12 (November 23):

  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ San Diego
  • Prospects: A 3-3 v. 3-4 matchup that pits #16 v. #19 in NBCSports.com’s power rankings. Suddenly looks decidedly mediocre and prone to losing its spot.
  • Likely protections: Eagles-Ravens (Fox) and Jets-Titans (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Falcons still looks good, but the Falcons are 13th in NBC’s power rankings. Giants-Cardinals is probably in front. Patriots-Dolphins is fading again. Too close to call right now.

Week 13 (November 30):

  • Tentative game: Chicago @ Minnesota
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-4, Chicago is 12th in NBCSports.com’s latest power rankings, and a big game with big NFC North implications. The Vikings probably need to improve, however.
  • Likely protections: Giants-Redskins (Fox) and either Steelers-Patriots or Broncos-Jets (CBS).
  • Other possible games: It’s Thanksgiving Weekend, so more teams like the Cowboys and Titans aren’t available. Panthers-Packers is suddenly a strong candidate again. On the off chance Steelers-Patriots isn’t protected it might still have to deal with Panthers-Packers. If it is, Broncos-Jets is no longer much of a draw. Falcons-Chargers is fading with the Chargers. Look for Saints-Bucs to potentially emerge as a dark horse.

Week 14 (December 7):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Seattle
  • Prospects: The Seahawks are just too terrible for this game to keep its spot.
  • Likely protections: Cowboys-Steelers (FOX) and if anything, Jags-Bears (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Redskins-Ravens is probably out with the Ravens’ losing streak, which means the Eagles and Giants may have a Sunday Night date to look forward to. Jags-Bears is a very dark horse if it’s unprotected, and Falcons-Saints could emerge as one.

Week 15 (December 14):

  • Tentative game: NY Giants @ Dallas
  • Prospects: This is why I had Fox protect Bears-Packers Week 11: so they could leave this week protection-free and maximize their chances of getting a marquee NFC East matchup back. However, this game may be starting to fade if Tony Romo is out a while.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Ravens, Broncos-Panthers, Bills-Jets, or nothing (CBS).
  • Othe possible games: Packers-Jaguars has rebounded a little, but Bucs-Falcons is looking terrific. None of the potentially protected games looks all that great at the moment.

Week 16 (December 21):

  • Tentative game: San Diego @ Tampa Bay
  • Prospects: It’s 3-4 @ 5-2, and the Chargers are fading fast. Way too lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Panthers-Giants or Eagles-Redskins (FOX) and Steelers-Titans (CBS).
  • Other possible games: Cardinals-Patriots is still strong, but Falcons-Vikings and Bills-Broncos are both fading, so the only thing stopping Cardinals-Pats could be the game Fox didn’t protect.

Week 17 (December 28):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.