Examining the Democratic Platform Part VIII: “Renewing the American Community” Part II: Micro-Level Issues

This is continued from Parts I-VII of my examination of the Democratic Platform.

“Firearms”: Ah, now this is a touchstone issue: is the Second Amendment unassailable, or can we restrict firearm purchases to help keep them out of the hands of criminals and children?

We recognize that the right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans’ Second Amendment right to own and use firearms. We believe that the right to own firearms is subject to reasonable regulation, but we know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact and enforce common-sense laws and improvements – like closing the gun show loophole, improving our background check system, and reinstating the assault weapons ban, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Acting responsibly and with respect for differing views on this issue, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe.

The platform may have been written (in August) before a Supreme Court ruling that was a big victory for the “unassailable” position. Being a city slicker, I’ve never quite understood why some people cling so tightly to their guns, bitterly or otherwise. It’s not like you’re likely to be in a situation where you’ll both need to and be able to shoot someone trying to break in or something. That, combined with my exposure to the “militia-only” interpretation of the Second Amendment, makes me think I might not be in the best position to comment on this, pending more clarification of what I think about the Second Amendment. More on this when we return to the Republicans.

“Faith”: Is it a coincidence that both halves of the infamous “bitter” comment come back to back here? “We honor the central place of faith in our lives. Like our Founders, we believe that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires.” Some people might be a bit confused at the depiction of the Founders as faith freaks.

We believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and that few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. To face today’s challenges–from saving our planet to ending poverty—we need all hands on deck. Faith-based groups are not a replacement for government or secular non-profit programs; rather, they are yet another sector working to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

So… would you attempt to influence the direction the churches would attempt to lead the flock? To say that “faith-based groups are not a replacement for government” might outrage some on the Right who think we should dial down on government as much as possible, and “that which governs best governs least”, but it also works the other way around, and it’s saying we need everything and can’t just dial down government to zero.

We will empower grassroots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy. At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections – because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate. We will also ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work.

The line about how “there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and…our Constitution” sounds like the Democrats taking a stand; if you just parachuted in from a distant planet you might be surprised to learn that this is actually a concession to the Republicans. It only violates the First Amendment if those groups use public funds to only serve their own faith or try to convert others, which begs the question of how you ensure that doesn’t happen, especially considering they probably don’t want to be interfered with. And how can we trust the Democrats to “ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work”? The Republicans have lambasted the Democrats left and right for wasting money on programs that don’t work.

“The Arts”:

Investment in the arts is an investment in our creativity and cultural heritage, in our diversity, in our communities, and in our humanity. We support art in schools and increased public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We support the cultural exchange of artists around the world, spreading democracy and renewing America’s status as a cultural and artistic center.

So you do assure us you won’t reduce school to preparing for the test with nothing but rote learning, but how will art fit in? Is more funding for the arts throwing money away? The “cultural exchange of artists” certainly sounds… okay.

“Americans with Disabilities”: “We will once again reclaim our role as world leaders in protecting the rights of people with disabilities” and will sign the UN convention on the topic. “We will ensure there is sufficient funding to empower Americans with disabilities to succeed in school and beyond.” Sounds good. “We will fully fund and increase staffing for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” Better make sure it works. “We will restore dignity for Americans with disabilities by signing the Community Choice Act into law, which will allow them the choice of living in their communities rather than being warehoused in nursing homes or other institutions.” This certainly sounds like a good idea, but what’s keeping them from “living in their communities” now, and would that mean an unfair burden being placed on those communities?

“Children and Families”: “If we are to renew America, we must do a better job of investing in the next generation of Americans. For parents, the first and most sacred responsibility is to support our children: setting an example of excellence, turning off the TV, and helping with the homework.” Once again, trying to tell parents how to raise their families; I’ve still yet to hear much of an assurance one way or the other on whether the Democrats would actually meddle in home life. “But we must also support parents as they strive to raise their children in a new era. We must make it easier for working parents to spend time with their families when they need to.” The phrase “must also support” seems to imply the previous sentence is somewhat antagonistic to parents… How do you intend to help working parents in this way? “We will make an unprecedented national investment to guarantee that every child has access to high-quality early education, including investments in Pre-K, Head Start, and Early Head Start, and we will help pay for child care.” Covered already.

“We will ensure that every child has health insurance, invest in playgrounds to promote healthy and active lifestyles, and protect children from lead poisoning in their homes and toys.” The investment in playgrounds is the only thing new here. “Improving maternal health also improves children’s health, so we will provide access to home visits by medical professionals to low-income expectant first-time mothers.” Certainly sounds good, but how good will the pros be? “We must protect our most vulnerable children, by supporting and supplementing our struggling foster care system, enhancing adoption programs for all caring parents, and protecting children from violence and neglect.” Sounds good but short on details – of what the problems are. “Online and on TV, we will give parents tools to block content they find objectionable.” Parents already have quite a few tools of this nature, but no one uses the V-chip and successor technologies. Besides, it can breed what seems to be a wild goose chase, especially online. “We also must recognize that caring for family members and managing a household is real and valuable work.” That’s it. Nothing on what follows from that. Perhaps some sort of tax credit for stay-at-home parents? Certainly no mention of that or any other possible reward or load-lightening.

Fatherhood Too many fathers are missing–missing from too many lives and too many homes. Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs, and end up in prison.” Um, maybe that’s because they’re more likely to be in poverty? “We need more fathers to
realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to understand that what
makes a man is not the ability to have a child–it’s the courage to raise one.” Sounds like more meddling in people’s lives. “You’ll believe what we want you to believe!”

We will support fathers by providing transitional training to get jobs, removing tax penalties on married families, and expanding maternity and paternity leave. We will reward those who are responsibly supporting their children by giving them a tax credit and we will crack down on men who avoid child support payments and ensure those payments go directly to families instead of bureaucracies.

“Removing tax penalties on married families”? That serves as reassurance to people who read the part of the Republican platform in my Part III that warned that rolling back the Bush tax cuts would mean “[t]he ‘marriage penalty’ would return for two-earner couples” – but it may be false reassurance. Expanding paternity leave is reasonable, but I’d like to make sure you aren’t just expanding maternity leave to allow more people to escape work. I’m not sure lack of a job is entirely the problem for fathers who leave their kids, but maybe it’s part of it (and covered earlier I believe). What form would the tax credit for “those who are responsibly supporting their children” take? Would it put more money in the pockets of the rich who are more likely to be able to be responsible fathers? Keeping bureaucracies out seems like a paean to people who’ve been reading the Republican platform.

“Seniors”: Compare this to a section late in Part VI of my examination of the Republican platform. “We will protect and strengthen Medicare by cutting costs, protecting seniors from fraud, and fixing Medicare’s prescription drug program.” The Republicans expand on Medicare’s susceptibility to fraud, but neither party provides specifics of their respective plans to fix it. The Democrats described one way they would cut costs in their Part I.

“We will repeal the prohibition on negotiating prescription drug prices, ban drug companies from paying generic producers to refrain from entering drug markets, and eliminate drug company interference with generic competition–and we will dedicate all of the savings from these measures towards closing the donut hole.” Many of these things were covered earlier in the Democrats’ discussion of health care, way back in Part I, although I’m not sure what the “donut hole” is. I presume it probably has something to do with being “in the center”… Other than “the benefits of competition” the Republicans don’t talk about this.

“We will end special preferences for insurance companies and private plans like Medicare Advantage to force them to compete on a level playing field.” Awkward grammar in this sentence. It almost suggests an ulterior motive for the Democrats’ health care reform proposal, perhaps accidentally suggesting a move to get rid of private insurance. Speaking of which, the paragraph ends by calling back to the health care reform plan in relation to “older Americans who are not yet eligible for Medicare”.

The parties have different priorities with regard to Medicare. The Democrats talk about lowering prescription drug prices for seniors and creating “a level playing field” for insurance. The Republicans want to encourage doctors to “coordinate care”, increasing “choice” in doctors, and allowing people in Medicare to add their own funds. Although I’m skeptical of that last one, I think it’s worthy to pick some from column A and some from column B.

“We will take steps to ensure that our seniors have meaningful long-term care options that are consistent with their individual needs, including the option of home care.” Sounds good; might have been mentioned already. “We believe that we must pay caregivers a fair wage and train more nurses and health care workers so as to improve the availability and quality of long-term care.” SGWTM. What wages are caregivers being paid now? “We must reform the financing of long-term care to ease the burden on seniors and their families.” Sounds reasonable… The Republicans don’t seem to have touched on this so far at all. “We will safeguard Social Security. We will develop new retirement plans and pension protections that will give Americans a secure, portable way to save for retirement. We will ensure a safe and dignified retirement.” The Democrats discussed Social Security in my Part II, which this refers to. “We will work to end abuse of the elderly.” But you give that cause a single sentence that’s shorter than this one. “We will safeguard from discrimination those who choose to work past the age of 65.” Good thinking, both to help save Social Security from bankrupting the government as the baby boomers retire and to help keep our economy moving, but will that mean companies won’t be able to kick out employees who legitimately aren’t able to work anymore?

“Choice”: The Republicans will cover this in their section on “values”, which I’m no longer sure I’m going to get to; the Democrats touched on it in (surprise!) their discussion of health care. “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” This is such a strong position it suggests you support it in all circumstances regardless of moral sketchiness. I generally don’t like abortion except in the first three months, in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

“The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives.” The Republicans earlier called for ending “‘family planning’ programs for teens” in order to back abstinence-only sex ed. The Democrats claim that “such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” “The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.” Mostly covered already. I’d be interested in seeing what forms the “programs for… parenting skills [and] income support” take.

This is about where the work I did before dropping off right before the election ends, and the work I ended up doing right before posting this begins. So if my positions start evolving, now you know.

“Criminal Justice”: The Republican position on this will be examined in my Republican Part VIII (which I’ve done no work on, and assuming I get to that), so for now, we’re covering the Democrats alone. “As Democrats, we are committed to being smart on crime. That means being tough on violent crime, funding strategic, and effective community policing, and holding offenders accountable, and it means getting tough on the root causes of crime by investing in successful crime prevention, including proven initiatives that get youth and nonviolent offenders back on track. ” Let’s see if the rest of the section tells us what all this is.

We will reverse the policy of cutting resources for the brave men and women who protect our communities every day. At a time when our nation’s officers are being asked both to provide traditional law enforcement services and to help protect the homeland, taking police off of the street is neither tough nor smart; we reject this disastrous approach. We support and will restore funding to our courageous police officers and will ensure that they are equipped with the best technology, equipment, and innovative strategies to prevent and fight crimes.

This all sounds good, but the way the Democrats so vigorously defend this position, I’m curious to find out how the Republicans could possibly justify the position it implies. With their get-tough stance to everything, how do they not properly fund the “First Responders”? What’s really going on here? On the flip side, this is also a SGWTM situation. Really, how do the Democrats intend to be fiscally responsible with all the stuff they want to “increase funding” to?

“We will end the dangerous cycle of violence, especially youth violence, with proven community-based law enforcement programs such as the Community Oriented Policing Services.” You mentioned COPS already. When I saw “the cycle of violence” I thought it had something to do with poverty, and wondering how “community-based law enforcement”, no matter how laudable, had anything to do with that other than providing jobs, but this certainly sounds good. “We will reduce recidivism in our neighborhoods by supporting local prison-to-work programs.” Do those work, or do they just increase joblessness among the law-abiding citizens? “We believe that the death penalty must not be arbitrary. DNA testing should be used in all appropriate circumstances, defendants should have effective assistance of counsel. In all death row cases, and thorough post-conviction reviews should be available.” Some people would argue the death penalty itself is immoral, and certainly we’re on a shrinking list with some bad company of countries that still use it, and while all of these are good and add up to something formidable I’m not completely certain they’re going to be enough.

“We must help state, local, and tribal law enforcement work together to combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse, which are a blight on our communities. We will restore funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and expand the use of drug courts and rehabilitation programs for first-time, non-violent drug offenders.” Some people would say “drug crime” isn’t really crime and we should stop treating it like one. But the second half of the second sentence sounds good, though I don’t know what the BJAG program is. “We support the rights of victims to be respected, to be heard, and to be compensated.” Sounds good, but who would disagree with it, and why a single-sentence paragraph on that? Truth be told, the Democrats’ education program will have as much of an effect on crime as anything in this section.

“Ending violence against women must be a top priority. We will create a special advisor to the president regarding violence against women.” Really? You’re going that far? “We will increase funding to domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs.” SGWTM. “We will strengthen sexual assault and domestic violence laws, support the Violence Against Women Act, and provide job security to survivors.” This is more no-brainer stuff. On the flip side, you can’t keep strengthening the laws forever, because you reach a point where the remaining abusers are driven by things more powerful than concern for the law. No, I do not know this from personal experience. “Our foreign policy will be sensitive to issues of aggression against women around the world.” No details, of course.

“A More Perfect Union”: This is part summation of the entire part, part miscellaneous section, part section on discrimination in general.

We believe in the essential American ideal that we are not constrained by the circumstances of birth but can make of our lives what we will. Unfortunately, for too many, that ideal is not a reality. We have more work to do. Democrats will fight to end discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and disability in every corner of our country, because that’s the America we believe in.

All an agreeable sentiment, although the forces discriminating on the basis of “sexual orientation [or] gender identity” remain disturbingly strong. “We all have to do our part to lift up this country, and that means changing hearts and changing minds, and making sure that every American is treated equally under the law.” “Changing hearts and changing minds” sounds disturbingly like something the Republicans would say, not to mention something people in an Orwellian government would say. “We will restore professionalism over partisanship at the Department of Justice, and staff the civil rights division with civil rights lawyers, not ideologues.” Some people may have heard the stories about DoJ being used for political purposes under Bush. I’m wondering what the Democrats are talking about regarding the civil rights division, however. Will they be fair, or will they give alleged victims the benefit of the doubt too much? “We will restore vigorous federal enforcement of civil rights laws in order to provide every American an equal chance at employment, housing, health, contracts, and pay. We are committed to banning racial, ethnic, and religious profiling and requiring federal, state, and local enforcement agencies to take steps to eliminate the practice.” All sounds good, though money may be a concern.

“We are committed to ensuring full equality for women: we reaffirm our support for the Equal Rights Amendment, recommit to enforcing Title IX, and will urge passage of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” The ERA is still around??? The Republicans objected to the convention because it dared to mention abortion, as I talked about in my Republican Part II. I’m ambivalent about most of this pending knowing some of what they contain; I know at least a little about Title IX and I am concerned that it may have some negative side effects that no one really sees as necessary or desirable. “We will pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.” What does that involve?

We will restore and support the White House Initiative on Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, including enforcement on disaggregation of Census data. We will make the Census more culturally sensitive, including outreach, language assistance, and increased confidentiality protections to ensure accurate counting of the growing Latino and Asian American, and Pacific Islander populations, and continue working on efforts to be more inclusive.

I have no idea what the Initiative involves. Why do these ethnic groups in particular need more “confidentiality protections”? What’s the problem with how the Census deals with them now? “We will sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That is the America we believe in.” I’m very curious how the Democrats would “restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Has it been strengthened to the point of absurdity, or weakened too much? The former would be something you’d expect the Democrats to carry out, and the Republicans to fix, yet that’s the one I’ve actually heard a little about…

“We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us.” No mention of gay marriage, however. Incidentally, why all the outrage over Prop 8 now, after the election? Where was the outrage when it could have actually influenced the outcome?

“But it is no good to be able to ride the bus when you can’t afford the bus fare. We will work to provide real opportunities for all Americans suffering from disadvantage; we will pioneer new policies and remedies against poverty and violence that address real human needs and we will close the achievement gap in education and provide every child a world-class education.” This all sounds good, if begging for details, especially in the middle part of the second sentence. But: “We support affirmative action, including in federal contracting and higher education, to make sure that those locked out of the doors of opportunity will be able to walk through those doors in the future.” If there’s one thing I unequivocally disagree with the Democrats over, it’s affirmative action, AKA “reverse racism”. I have grown convinced it may be useful if applied solely to the basis of economic standing (poor over rich), because really, all the self-perpetuating differences caused by past discrimination really come down to the advantages rich people have over poor people. Otherwise discriminating on the basis of ethnicity is wrong one way or the other.

We’ve cleared out Part III, and if we get around to Part IV, it could well close out the series for the Dems in one part!

Examining the Democratic Platform Part VII: “Renewing the American Community” Part I: Macro-Level Issues

This is continued from Parts I-VI of my examination of the Democratic Platform. It’s been a long time since the last part in this series, hasn’t it?

For anyone wondering what to expect from the new Administration, on the eve of the Inauguration. To see the rest of the series, click on the Democratic Platform Review label. Part VIII tomorrow, which combine to knock out the Democrats’ Part III. My heading for each part is somewhat arbitrary and a generalization, especially this one, but I think it works.

The platform itself – not just my rendering of the headings – changes format for Part III, “Renewing the American Community”. The section headings I had placed in bold earlier in the platform? They’re gone. Part III cuts straight down two levels of headings to the individual topics without grouping them. The introductory paragraph talks “of the need for compassion, empathy, a commitment to our values, and the importance of being united in order to take on the challenges and opportunities of the new century.”

They said that they valued Barack Obama’s message that alongside Americans’ famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected to each other. We could all choose to focus on our own concerns and live our lives in a way that tries to keep our individual stories separate from the larger story of America. But that is not who we are. That is not our American story. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to us, even if it’s not our child. Similarly, if there’s a senior citizen in Elko, Nevada who has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes our lives poorer, even if it’s not our grandmother. Because it is only when we join together in something larger than ourselves that we can write the next great chapter in America’s story.

Those examples don’t appear, at least, to give this part much of a distinction from Part I. It expresses an agreeable attitude rather than a policy position: “we’re all in this together”. But we’ll press on anyway. “Service”:

The future of our country will be determined not only by our government and our policies but through the efforts of the American people. That is why we will ask all Americans to be actively involved in meeting the challenges of the new century. In this young century, our military has answered the call to serve, even as that call has come too often. We must now make it possible for all citizens to serve. We will expand AmeriCorps, double the size of the Peace Corps, enable more to serve in the military, create new opportunities for international service, integrate service into primary education, and create new opportunities for experienced and retired persons to serve.

Expanding AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and “opportunities for experienced and retired persons” sounds good; hopefully it’s not burning money. By “enable more to serve in the military”, are you referring to increasing the military’s size or just loosening requirements for people to serve? What are these “opportunities for international service” and are they welcomed in those countries or seen as unneeded meddling? Are you really trying to get children to serve their communities somehow?

“And if you invest in America, America will invest in you: we will increase support for service-learning, establish tax incentives for college students who serve, and create scholarships for students who pledge to become teachers.” Some of this you mentioned already. “We will use the Internet to better match volunteers to service opportunities.” What form will this take, a search engine, or would you ask people who want to serve to join a service and be matched? All this will “meet America’s challenges in a uniquely American way.”

“Immigration”: This touches on a topic the Republicans covered all the way back in Part I. It starts with some expected platitudes: we’re a nation of immigrants, you can make it here, immigrants contribute to who we are, and so on. “Like the immigrants that came before them, today’s immigrants will shape their own destinies and enrich our country.”

Nonetheless, our current immigration system has been broken for far too long. We need comprehensive immigration reform, not just piecemeal efforts. We must work together to pass immigration reform in a way that unites this country, not in a way that divides us by playing on our worst instincts and fears. We are committed to pursuing tough, practical, and humane immigration reform in the first year of the next administration.

We cannot continue to allow people to enter the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked. The American people are a welcoming and generous people, but those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law. We need to secure our borders, and support additional personnel, infrastructure, and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.

I’m a bit surprised to see the Democrats be as high on trying to secure the border as the Republicans were, albeit much later in the platform in a way that makes this seem like a “miscellaneous” part. Still, if I gave you the above last three sentences, you might think they came from the Republican platform. They even say that “those who employ [illegal immigrants] disrespect the rule of the law”, which I was concerned about when it came up in the Republican platform. Compare the Republicans’ call for “more effective enforcement, giving our agents the tools and resources they need to protect our sovereignty, completing the border fence quickly and securing the borders, and employing complementary strategies to secure our ports of entry.” No call to add “personnel”, but the Democrats don’t directly say what “infrastructure[] and technology” are referring to. Yet. Of course, that’s arguably more specific than “tools and resources”.

“We need additional Customs and Border Protection agents equipped with better technology and real-time intelligence.” That’s basically a slightly more specific version of the last sentence replacing “infrastructure” with “intelligence”. “We need to dismantle human smuggling organizations, combating the crime associated with this trade.” The Republicans want to “impos[e] maximum penalties on those who smuggle illegal aliens into the U.S., both for their lawbreaking and for their cruel exploitation.” But now comes something that looks to be a bit of a break with the Republicans: “We also need to do more to promote economic development in migrant-sending nations, to reduce incentives to come to the United States illegally.” That pretty much took the words right out of my mouth – from my Republican platform examination, when I suggested that perhaps the best long-term solution to illegal immigration was to help rise Mexico out of abject poverty.

And we need to crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. It’s a problem when we only enforce our laws against the immigrants themselves, with raids that are ineffective, tear apart families, and leave people detained without adequate access to counsel. We realize that employers need a method to verify whether their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States, and we will ensure that our system is accurate, fair to legal workers, safeguards people’s privacy, and cannot be used to discriminate against workers.

“[E]mployers need a method to verify whether their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States” could be considered a backing of the Republicans’ E-Verify system or could be saying that system is flawed enough not to count. Possibly pointing to the latter, the Democrats naturally proceed to throw in a bunch of caveats: it needs to be “fair to legal workers, safeguard[] people’s privacy, and cannot be used to discriminate against workers.” Would that result in making the system ineffective, especially the last two parts? I’m all for privacy and ending discrimination, but…

We must also improve the legal immigration system, and make our nation’s naturalization process fair and accessible to the thousands of legal permanent residents who are eager to become full Americans. We should fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy that hampers family reunification, the cornerstone of our immigration policy for years. Given the importance of both keeping families together and supporting American businesses, we will increase the number of immigration visas for family members of people living here and for immigrants who meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill, as long as appropriate labor market protections and standards are in place. We will fight discrimination against Americans who have always played by our immigration rules but are sometimes treated as if they had not.

The idea of easing access for the many people who become illegal immigrants despite not flouting the law otherwise is one of my touchstones on this issue. Both parties use the exact phrase “dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy”, which by this point is, in the case of the Republicans, part of a larger campaign against Big Bad Gov’ment Bur’cracy that needs to be “simplified”, but the Republicans don’t seem to put much of an emphasis on “family reunification”. Hopefully the Democrats won’t allow family members to be used as a Trojan horse to sneak in lawbreakers.

For the millions living here illegally but otherwise playing by the rules, we must require them to come out of the shadows and get right with the law. We support a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens. They are our neighbors, and we can help them become full tax-paying, law-abiding, productive members of society.

What’s the size of the fine? Is this enough penalty for breaking the law (a sore point for Republicans)? If not, is this a one-time deal to deal with the current crisis (similar to the bailout)? How will you make sure those people that aren’t “otherwise playing by the rules” (or trying to avoid crimes committed in Mexico) don’t sneak into the legal immigration system this way? (Actually, the “back of the line to become citizens” part may be crucial here, because presumably anyone who continued to break the law here could still be deported if they’re still not citizens, and if they stayed law-abiding in this country for long enough they’re probably reformed anyway.) On the plus side, this is the biggest assurance the Democrats have yet given that they won’t let America turn into Quebec, and it’s not quite “en masse legalizations” like the Republicans tried to paint it. I have a number of concerns with both sides’ policies here.

“Hurricane Katrina”: I don’t think the Republicans have touched on Katrina, but I’m not sure what section it would be in – possibly the “Values” section I haven’t gotten to yet. I’m going to cover this paragraph from the perspective of thinking we need to stand by Americans in times of need, and make sure New Orleans can thrive again, and then offer my actual, alternative, opinions.

“The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are heroes for returning and rebuilding, and they shouldn’t face these challenges alone. We will partner with the people of the Gulf Coast to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina and restore the region economically.” Sounds good. “We will create jobs and training opportunities for returning and displaced workers as well as contracting opportunities for local businesses to help create stronger, safer, and more equitable communities.” That’s especially important, that part about offering “opportunities for local businesses”. Hopefully it won’t be Iraq 2.0.

“We will increase funding for affordable housing and home ownership opportunities for returning families, workers, and residents moving out of unsafe trailers.” On top of everything else you want to fund? “We will reinvest in infrastructure in New Orleans: we will construct levees that work, fight crime by rebuilding local police departments and courthouses, invest in hospitals, and rebuild the public school system.” That’s important and it can help create jobs, which also helps with the recovery. The matter of levees will be covered in my alternative opinion below. “We also commit to the rebuilding and restoration of the Iowa communities affected by the floods of 2008.” Kind of a token gesture sentence.

But honestly, I think this is a case where it is possible that the best approach may well be something that no politician – no one, period – in a million years would ever get away with. It would seem too cold, too inhumane. But practically, when you consider how much of New Orleans sits below sea level, and especially global warming potentially melting the ice caps and raising sea levels, it may well be that keeping building bigger and bigger levees is a waste of money and it’s an open question whether or not the city is much worth saving. In the same vein, we need to assess how much our levees on our rivers are helping or hurting. Levees don’t lower the amount of water flowing, just hold it back, and eventually all that water has to go somewhere and it results in megafloods instead of just plain floods. Certainly we need to reconsider using levees to protect agricultural lands, where floodwaters could actually help in some ways, as long as the farmhouses are properly protected and the rivers aren’t being used to dump waste that’s toxic to crops.

“Preventing and Responding to Future Catastrophes”:

We will also work to prevent future catastrophic response failures, whether the emergency comes from hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, wild fires, drought, bridge collapses, or any other natural or man-made disaster. Maintaining our levees and dams is not pork barrel spending—it is an urgent priority. We will fix governmental agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ensure that they are staffed with professionals, and create integrated communication and response plans. We will reform the Small Business Administration bureaucracy, and develop a real National Response Plan.

All important points; “levees and dams” are only “pork barrel spending” if the money is being spent inequitably, so the levees are being maintained in places where powerful politicians come from and not in places where they aren’t. I notice the Democrats are again saying a “bureaucracy” needs to be fixed, and are returning to gimmicks like a “National Response Plan”. “We will develop a National Catastrophic Insurance Fund to offer an affordable insurance mechanism for high-risk catastrophes that no single private insurer can cover by itself for fear of bankruptcy. This will allow states and territories to deal comprehensively with the economic dislocation of natural disasters.” Sounds reasonable and important enough, but where will the money for it come from?

“Stewardship of Our Planet and Natural Resources”: Ah, it’s back to the well of global warming again, back in my wheelhouse! “Global climate change is the planet’s greatest threat, and our response will determine the very future of life on this earth. Despite the efforts of our current Administration to deny the science of climate change and the need to act, we still believe that America can be earth’s best hope.” Once again, the sentiment I like to hear!

“We will implement a market-based cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic change and we will set interim targets along the way to ensure that we meet our goal.” I mentioned last time we talked about climate change that I was a little less skeptical about cap-and-trade than the time before. Why “the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid climate change”? I know you might want to hide from businesses how much you expect them to reduce their carbon emissions, but you could just as easily be hiding from me that you’re not really going to be as aggressive as “scientists say”. Hey, when you consider the lack of aggressiveness in the targets you actually have given, you can’t blame me for feeling this is a bit uncharacteristic.

“We will invest in advanced energy technologies, to build the clean energy economy and create millions of new, good “Green Collar” American jobs. Because the environment is a truly global concern, the United States must be a leader in combating climate change around the world, including exporting climate-friendly technologies to developing countries.” This all repeats stuff talked about in previous global-warming sections. “We will use innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of buildings, including establishing a grant program for early adopters and providing incentives for energy conservation.” Those certainly sound like more good ideas. “We will encourage local initiatives, sustainable communities, personal responsibility, and environmental stewardship and education nationwide.” More good ideas, especially for the long term.

The rest of the section deals mostly with non-global warming environmental issues, by and large not touched on by the Republicans. “We will help local communities in the American West preserve water to meet their fast growing needs.” Some of those are pretty big “communities”, and how are you going to do that? “We support a comprehensive solution for restoring our national treasures—such as the Great Lakes, Everglades, and Chesapeake Bay—including expanded scientific research and protections for species and habitats there.” Not quite sure what the problems are in those places, what those “protections” would involve, or what.

“We will reinvigorate the Environmental Protection Agency so that we can work with communities to reduce air and water pollution and protect our children from environmental toxins, and never sacrifice science to politics.” All sounds good; have you noticed how often the Democrats harp on focusing on “sound science” or the like? “We will protect Nevada and its communities from the high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, which has not been proven to be safe by sound science.” Normally I’d be all over this statement, loving every minute of it, but since you already backed nuclear power earlier in the platform as a way of combating global warming, how do you intend to deal with the waste instead? “We will restore the “polluter pays” principle to fund the cleanup of the most polluted sites, so that those who cause environmental problems pay to fix them.” Certainly a reasonable way to do things – you broke it, you clean it up.

Federal Lands
We will create a new vision for conservation that works with local communities to conserve our existing publicly-owned lands while dramatically expanding investments in conserving and restoring forests, grasslands, and wetlands across America for generations to come. Unlike the current Administration, we will reinvest in our nation’s forests by providing federal agencies with resources to reduce the threat of wildland fires, promote sustainable forest product industries for rural economic development and ensure that national resources are in place to respond to catastrophic wildland fires.

Do you intend to put more lands under federal control? Is this a SGWTM situation? And while the second sentence sounds good, it’s important to remember that wildfires are often natural and should be let burn to reduce the impact of future wildfires and improve the overall ecosystem. Federal authorities should only protect humans living in or near the wilderness and any other important investments. “We will treat our national parks with the same respect that millions of families show each year when they visit. We will recognize that our parks are national treasures, and will ensure that they are protected as part of the overall natural system so they are here for generations to come.” Certainly sounds reasonable. “We are committed to conserving the lands used by hunters and anglers, and we will open millions of new acres of land to public hunting and fishing.” I wouldn’t have expected the Democrats to expand hunting and fishing, which would put them at odds with environmentalists – certainly vegetarians.

“Metropolitan and Urban Policy”: “We believe that strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America.” The Democrats want “equitable development strategies that create opportunities for those traditionally left behind by economic development efforts.” As long as it doesn’t take away most of the motivation to work. “For the past eight years, the current Administration has ignored urban areas. We look forward to greater partnership with urban America. We will strengthen federal commitment to cities, including by creating a new White House Office on Urban Policy and fully funding the Community Development Block Grant.” You notice I haven’t even been pointing out the shots at the Bush Administration. What sort of role will the “Office of Urban Policy” take? Will it be a Cabinet-level position, or more similar to the federal drug commission? Would this mean more bureaucracy? Funding the CDBG was mentioned much earlier, in my Part III.

“We support community-based initiatives, such as micro-loans, business assistance centers, community economic development corporations, and community development financial institutions.” All sound nice, but are they more government meddling? Ideally, when the lower classes start investing in themselves it can help the whole economy, but hopefully these really are “community-based”. “To help regional business development we will double federal funding for basic research, expand the deployment of broadband technology, increase access to capital for businesses in underserved areas, create a national network of public-private business incubators, and provide grants to support regional innovation clusters.” Many of these were mentioned earlier – more broadband and “incubators”, for example. Pretty much all of these are SGWTM, but ideally they can all result in more money for the government as a result of economic advancement. Expanding research, especially, helps all levels of the economy. Not sure what “regional innovation clusters” would be.

“Since businesses can only function when workers can get to their place of employment, we will invest in public transportation including rail, expand transportation options for low-income communities, and strengthen core infrastructure like our roads and bridges.” Ding ding ding! The Democrats just mentioned the “p-t” word! Once again, though, it’s part of a larger clause that also includes “roads and bridges”. Between the first and last items, especially the first, the middle item seems somewhat superfluous, and what does it actually mean? “We will provide cities the support they need to perform public safety and national security functions, reinvest in Community Oriented Policing Services, and keep children off the streets by supporting expanded after-school and summer opportunities.” Helping cities perform vital functions certainly seems important, and for all their “national security” emphasis the Republicans didn’t really hint at anything like helping cities invest in national security. (They probably would have wanted to privatize it.) Everything sounds good from here, as long as it doesn’t invite more government waste and throwing money away.

“Finally, we will work to make cities greener and more livable by training employees to work in skilled clean technologies industries, improving the environmental efficiency of city buildings, and taking smart growth principles into account when designing transportation.” And tying this all back into my own personal big issue! This all sounds good – I wouldn’t quite consider myself a “smart growth” backer but it’s possible I am without knowing it. I hinted at it with my discussion of “transit-oriented development” back when I was on a mass transit kick. There are a couple other things that are rolled up into “smart growth” but one of the things most of them have in common is the idea that the car has ruined things, so this may well be hinting at more emphasis on “public transportation” over “roads and bridges” than the Democrats have so far let on. More on this in a later post (maybe).

Yes, we are splitting the Democrats’ Part III into two parts even though both parts barely top 4,000 words, and this part requires me to write a long concluding paragraph (this one) to carry it over 4,000, but the combined examination topped 8,000 and the split is in an odd place, almost smack-dab in the middle of the discussion of “Firearms”. Be sure to come back tomorrow!

To say this has not been a good year for me is an understatement…

If I were offered the chance to relive the past month over again, with the knowledge that the platform examinations I would work on would take up eight 5,000-word parts per party, and it would take me a day to complete a 5,000-word part after sacrificing most other priorities and with a nagging feeling I could complete two, three, or even more without the distractions and by giving up even more priorities, but I never would… I think I’d take the offer.

Even going back three weeks, when my first attempt at writing Part I of the Democratic examination hit a snag in the form of the belated discovery that Blogger’s post editor “in draft” can still lock up after several successive successful uses of the clipboard, if I had then the foresight not to let the frustration of that stop me from starting over somewhat immediately, or even had the foresight to follow my own motto of “never assume” and had taken the simple step of composing the examination in Notepad in the first place, that would remain a very tempting target to go back to and revive the plans I had in mind all along.

(Or maybe I could have worked on most of my plans in advance like I always thought about in the back of my mind.)

Honestly, the platform examinations were only supposed to be the beginning. Against the backdrop of the ongoing series in Sandsday, I would start out largely as I did start out – proclaiming the urgent importance of global warming and the role of mass transit as being the solution – but would continue into an examination of several large cities’ mass transit plans, any expansion plans, and anything on the ballot today. I would cut into the platform examinations but would spin from that into a deconstruction of every level, big and small, of our political system, including an investigation into what sort of plan we really need to get away from the Bush years and a deconstruction of the positions of those who place themselves outside the two-party political system. Hopefully I could clarify some of my own political positions in the process. (No, my almost-constant agreeing with the Democrats does not mean my positions were fully clarified. That was nothing new.)

If you still need to read up on the platforms before voting (assuming you haven’t voted already), you can read the last two parts of each platform from here and here. I’ve considered pressing on with my platform examinations and trying to salvage something out of my original plans, but it’s kind of pointless after the election, and it might result in a situation where some of you are telling me “Oh, now you tell me about some of these positions!” On the other hand, some of the things I had in mind might still be extant after the election, but it might be considered a bit jarring to launch into them without the structure provided by the platform examinations. (By which I mean the examinations being completed in full.)

So I’m starting a new Da Blog Poll. If you still find the platform examinations useful and want me to complete them, even after you’ve already voted, let me know and I might launch back into them, and try and salvage the rest of my plans as well. If you don’t find them useful anymore, we’ll… move on, I guess.

Examining the Democratic Platform Part VI: “Advancing Democracy, Development, and Respect for Human Rights”, “Protecting our Security and Saving our Planet”, and “Seizing the Opportunity”

This is continued from Parts I-V of my examination of the Democratic Platform. Today was not a good day for work on my platform examinations.

“Advancing Democracy, Development, and Respect for Human Rights”:

No country in the world has benefited more from the worldwide expansion of democracy than the United States. Democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies, and the nations with which we share our deepest values. The United States must join with our democratic partners around the world to meet common security challenges and uphold our shared values whenever they are threatened by autocratic practices, coups, human rights abuses, or genocide.

It sounds like the Democrats may be up for “joining with other democracies” as well – there may be some hints here that the Republican program of expanding democracy and forming a clique of democracies isn’t 100% disagreed to by the Democrats. But really, this sentiment and the actual position taken with it is very reasonable.

“Build Democratic Institutions”: “The Democratic Party reaffirms its longstanding commitment to support democratic institutions and practices worldwide. A more democratic world is a more peaceful and prosperous place. Yet democracy cannot be imposed by force from the outside; it must be nurtured with moderates on the inside by building democratic institutions.” I may have jumped the gun on making this point during my examination of the Republican Platform. We’ve seen what happens when democracy is “imposed by force from the outside” in Iraq: it doesn’t work and creates lingering resentment, and it doesn’t help that Iraq may not have had the cultural values that nurture a democracy.

“The United States must be a relentless advocate for democracy and put forward a vision of democracy that goes beyond the ballot box. We will increase our support for strong legislatures, independent judiciaries, free press, vibrant civil society, honest police forces, religious freedom, equality for women and minorities, and the rule of law.” Does that mean a “strong legislature” in the United States, where even with the opposition party in power Congress has basically rolled over for whatever the President wants? And the “rule of law” makes a comeback! And this all deserves a call back to the Republicans’ statement that “[s]ocieties that enjoy political and economic freedom and the rule of law are not given to aggression or fanaticism. They become our natural allies.” So the US has some interest in all of this!

These are all good goals but they touch on what I mean by being “culturally ready for democracy”. In some societies, “independent judiciaries, free press,” and “civil society” is unheard of; religious freedom is literally heretical; women have defined, inferior roles that are seen as the natural order of things; and minorities are naturally inferior. The cultural underpinnings of democracy, we sometimes forget, are almost all Western; trying to institute democracy on a very different culture with very different values, without understanding that culture and its differences, could be courting disaster. Democracy seems to be working well in India and Israel, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule, as they have had strong, historical Western influence.

“In new democracies, we will support the development of civil society and representative institutions that can protect fundamental human rights and improve the quality of life for all citizens, including independent and democratic unions.” Gotta plug those unions! If you know what civil society is, you may be wondering how government can “promote” it, since it consists mostly of institutions outside of government. This is pretty much all an agreeable platitude. “In non-democratic countries, we pledge to work with international partners to assist the efforts of those struggling to promote peaceful political reforms.” Sounds reasonable. Keep funding our pro-democracy programs as well, because that “reflects American values and serves our interests”. After the Democrats put in all their social programs, will there be any money to fund those programs?

“Invest in Our Common Humanity”:

To renew American leadership in the world, we will strengthen our common security by investing in our common humanity. In countries wracked by poverty and conflict, citizens long to enjoy freedom from want. Because extremely poor societies and weak states provide optimal breeding grounds for terrorism, disease, and conflict, the United States has a direct national security interest in dramatically reducing global poverty and joining with our allies in sharing more of our riches to help those most in need.

This all sounds reasonable and an important point. Compare the Republican statement that “Societies that enjoy political and economic freedom and the rule of law are not given to aggression or fanaticism. They become our natural allies.”

It is time to make the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015, America’s goals as well. We need to invest in building capable, democratic states that can establish healthy and educated communities, develop markets, and generate wealth. Such states would also have greater institutional capacities to fight terrorism, halt the spread of deadly weapons, and build health-care infrastructures to prevent, detect, and treat deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and avian flu.

Sounds good and could help build our own prosperity. Certainly controlling terrorism and stopping weapons trafficking are important goals. “We will double our annual investment in meeting these challenges to $50 billion by 2012 and ensure that those new resources are directed toward worthwhile goals.” Could be considered throwing money away, especially when you consider all the other ways Democrats want to spend money, but then you feel like a bastard for not caring about people in third world countries. But: “We will work with philanthropic organizations and the private sector to invest in development and poverty reduction.” Sounds good – allow entities outside government to do their work – but would the government meddle in their operations? Nudging the private sector into development in third world countries is certainly good, though.

But if America is going to help others build more just and secure societies, our trade deals, debt relief, and foreign aid must not come as blank checks. We will recognize the fragility of small nations in the Caribbean, the Americas, Africa, and Asia and work with them to successfully transition to a new global economy. We will couple our support with an insistent call for reform, to combat the corruption that rots societies and governments from within.

What’s the carrot on the stick that will actually make them reform? At least the Democrats recognize the Republicans’ challenge when they said: “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.” But they don’t answer the Republicans’ “call for… 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 Republicans supported democratization over token gestures of food and monetary aid, and the Democrats supported democratization in the previous section and “development” here. And education:

As part of this new funding, we will create a $2 billion Global Education Fund that will bring the world together in eliminating the global education deficit with the goal of supporting a free, quality, basic education for every child in the world. Education increases incomes, reduces poverty, strengthens communities, prevents the spread of disease, improves child and maternal health, and empowers women and girls. We cannot hope to shape a world where opportunity outweighs danger unless we ensure that every child everywhere is taught to build and not to destroy.

More throwing money away, but “bring[ing] the world together” implies that not all the money would come from the American government. This makes education sound like the “magic bullet” that will solve all the Third World’s problems. The Republicans just list education on a list of “core development programs” to give “greater attention” to, but they also listed “emphasizing literacy and learning” on a list of “high-impact goals” for aid, as part of their “no more handouts” program.

“Our policies will recognize that human rights are women’s rights and that women’s rights are human rights. Women make up the majority of the poor in the world. So we will expand access to women’s economic development opportunities and seek to expand microcredit.” The first half of the first sentence is a tautology; the second is simultaneously a tautology and bound to be controversial. Republicans also called for “microcredit funding for small enterprises” as one of the “foundations of economic development”, but that’s not really what the Democrats are talking about. “Women produce half of the world’s food but only own one percent of the land upon which it is grown. We will work to ensure that women have equal protection under the law and are not denied rights and therefore locked into poverty.” In places primed for the idea of women’s equality, where trying to “make women into men” won’t cause riots, that’s fairly common sense. The Republicans would reject the UN convention on women’s rights because it gave some sort of support to abortion, so the GOP could protect “traditional” “marriage and family”. I’m still smarting from that.

“We will modernize our foreign assistance policies, tools, and operations in an elevated, empowered, consolidated, and streamlined U.S. development agency. Development and diplomacy will be reinforced as key pillars of U.S. foreign policy, and our civilian agencies will be staffed, resourced, and equipped to address effectively new global challenges.” I’m sure Republicans should sound relieved that the development agency would be “consolidated and streamlined”, but I don’t know what needs “modernization”. And there’s a lot of other stuff that needs to be “staffed, resourced, and equipped” as well.

Time to take another shot at Bush: “American leadership on human rights is essential to making the world safer, more just, and more humane. Such leadership must begin with steps to undo the damage of the Bush years. But we also must go much further. We should work with others to shape human rights institutions and instruments tailored to the 21st century.” What are the new challenges of the 21st century that current human rights institutions are not prepared for? “We must make the United Nations’ human rights organs more objective, energetic, and effective.” You already mentioned keeping human rights violators off the Human Rights Council, but good. “The U.S. must lead global efforts to promote international humanitarian standards and to protect civilians from indiscriminate violence during warfare.” Sounds good. “We will champion accountability for genocide and war crimes, ending the scourge of impunity for massive human rights abuses.” Would that include joining the International Criminal Court?

“We will stand up for oppressed people from Cuba to North Korea and from Burma to Zimbabwe and Sudan. We will accord greater weight to human rights, including the rights of women and children, in our relationships with other global powers, recognizing that America’s long-term strategic interests are more likely to be advanced when our partners are rights-respecting.” I’m not 100% sure what the connection is between respecting human rights and advancing “America’s long-term strategic interests”. But as a human rights-advancing move, it certainly sounds like a good idea to restrict negotiations and/or make tougher demands unless human rights abuses are tamped down (an approach the Republicans espouse on several specific occasions). It is worth noting that you just came close to the Republican position of making our diplomats “advance[] America’s values”. Although if you insist on the right to an abortion I know some people who will scream bloody murder. And I notice you finally name-dropped Burma in there.

“Global Health”:

Democrats will invest in improving global health. It is a human shame that many of the diseases which compound the problem of global poverty are treatable, but they are yet to be treated.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a massive human tragedy. It is also a security risk of the highest order that threatens to plunge nations into chaos. There are an estimated 33 million people across the planet infected with HIV/AIDS, including more than one million people in the U.S. Nearly 8,000 people die every day of AIDS. We must do more to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, as well as malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases. We will provide $50 billion over five years to strengthen existing U.S. programs and expand them to new regions of the world, including Southeast Asia, India, and parts of Europe, where the HIV/AIDS burden is growing. We will increase U.S. contributions to the Global Fund to ensure that global efforts to fight endemic disease continue to move ahead.

More potential throwing money away, and this entire section will tie back into the Democrats’ health care plan. I know I’ll sound like a bastard again, but this has the added problem of being of unclear national interest, aside from the “plunge nations into chaos” line. It’s also worth noting that some people, especially Republicans, will tell you that there are cultural problems that make AIDS worse in Africa, and combating it more difficult.

“We also support the adoption of humanitarian licensing policies that ensure medications developed with the U.S. taxpayer dollars are available off patent in developing countries.” Not sure what the practical effect of that would be… “We will repeal the global gag rule and reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).” The “global gag rule” is the Republicans’ policy of refusing to provide any support to organizations that aid abortion in any way, which I tore to shreds in Part II of my Republican examination. “We will expand access to health care and nutrition for women and reduce the burden of maternal mortality.” Sounds good. A lot of good-sounding platitudes in here. “We will leverage the engagement of the private sector and private philanthropy to launch Health Infrastructure 2020a global effort to work with developing countries to invest in the full range of infrastructure needed to improve and protect both American and global health.” Obviously, very gimmicky.

“Human Trafficking”:

We will address human trafficking—both labor and sex trafficking–through strong legislation and enforcement to ensure that trafficking victims are protected and traffickers are brought to justice. We will also address the root causes of human trafficking, including poverty, discrimination, and gender inequality, as well as the demand for prostitution.

The Republicans preferred to take on human trafficking by establishing the gimmicky “Inter-Agency Task Force on Human Trafficking, reporting directly to the President”, prodding other governments to crack down, and extending the American policy of “publicizing the identity of known offenders” to international travel. The Democrats don’t have anything as specific but they do want to focus on the “root causes” in addition to their “strong legislation and enforcement”.

“Protecting our Security and Saving our Planet”: Yes, it’s a return to the topic of climate change, this time specifically focused on climate change and not just “energy independence”! But what does it have to do with national security and foreign affairs?

We must end the tyranny of oil in our time. This immediate danger is eclipsed only by the longer-term threat from climate change, which will lead to devastating weather patterns, terrible storms, drought, conflict, and famine. That means people competing for food and water in the next fifty years in the very places that have known horrific violence in the last fifty: Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. That could also mean destructive storms on our shores, and the disappearance of our coastline.

We understand that climate change is not just an economic issue or an environmental concern–this is a national security crisis.

I almost want to say, you better touch on climate change in both of the remaining parts as well. Before we begin, I want to make some clarifying remarks about “cap-and-trade” schemes. Back in Part II, I said I was deeply suspicious of cap-and-trade schemes but gave a description of them that was not necessarily accurate. At least some cap and trade schemes involve setting a hard limit not on each individual producer’s carbon emissions, but on the emissions of the whole economy. To produce any emissions at all, companies would have to purchase carbon credits from the government, and have to deal not only with other companies producing carbon but also environmentalists buying credits to lower emissions even further. It all sounds like a good way to move us towards a green future while raising money for the government and green research projects, but there are enforceability concerns and it encourages energy efficiency more than new energy sources. Anyway, enough talking; on with the show!

“Establish Energy Security”: The Democrats take an oblique shot at Bush and the Iraq war, saying “achieving energy security in the 21st century requires far more than simply expending our economic and political resources to keep oil flowing steadily out of unstable and even hostile countries and regions.”

Rather, energy security requires stemming the flow of money to oil rich regimes that are hostile to America and its allies; it requires combating climate change and preparing for its impacts both at home and abroad; it requires making international energy markets work for us and not against us; it requires standing up to the oil companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and political contributions; it requires addressing nuclear safety, waste, and proliferation challenges around the world; and more.

For the most part, this all sounds good, but I notice the Democrats are also standing up for nuclear (sigh) but they are calling to address its “challenges”. Not sure what the problem with “international energy markets” is. “Democrats will halt this dangerous trend, and take the necessary steps to achieving energy independence. We will make it a top priority to reduce oil consumption by at least 35 percent, or ten million barrels per day, by 2030. This will more than offset the amount of oil we are expected to import from OPEC nations in 2030.” Once again, the Dems aren’t being ambitious enough. 35 percent by 2030? Ideally we should be able to get rid of our oil consumption almost entirely by then, between electric cars and mass transit – and we should, especially in the likely scenario we start running out of oil.

“Lead to Combat Climate Change”: This is the sort of sentiment I like to see from a major party:

We will lead to defeat the epochal, man-made threat to the planet: climate change. Without dramatic changes, rising sea levels will flood coastal regions around the world. Warmer temperatures and declining rainfall will reduce crop yields, increasing conflict, famine, disease, and poverty. By 2050, famine could displace more than 250 million people worldwide. That means increased instability in some of the most volatile parts of the world.

Never again will we sit on the sidelines, or stand in the way of collective action to tackle this global challenge. Getting our own house in order is only a first step. We will invest in efficient and clean technologies at home while using our assistance policies and export promotions to help developing countries preserve biodiversity, curb deforestation, and leapfrog the carbon-energy-intensive stage of development.

Not only the first sentence of the first paragraph, but most of the policy positions in the second, are “hear, hear” remarks. “[L]eapfrog[ging] the carbon-energy-intensive stage of development” almost takes the words right out of my mouth, and “developing countries” can’t just include third-world countries but also nations like China. I pretty much said as much in my hysterical anti-climate-change rant.

“We will reach out to the leaders of the biggest carbon emitting nations and ask them to join a new Global Energy Forum that will lay the foundation for the next generation of climate protocols.” Gimmicky but sounds like a good idea. “China has replaced America as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Clean energy development must be a central focus in our relationships with major countries in Europe and Asia.” That’s a good approach. “We need a global response to climate change that includes binding and enforceable commitments to reducing emissions, especially for those that pollute the most: the United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia.” Another good idea, but I hope the Democrats really will be willing to limit themselves under international pressure. As should the other nations listed. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats aren’t whining that we shouldn’t “expect the U.S. to carry burdens which are more appropriately shared by all.” “This challenge is massive, but rising to it will also bring new benefits to America. By 2050, global demand for low-carbon energy could create an annual market worth $500 billion. Meeting that demand would open new frontiers for American entrepreneurs and workers.” Let’s try and create that demand and meet it pretty close to right now.

“Seizing the Opportunity”:

It is time for a new generation to tell the next great American story. If we act with boldness and foresight, we will be able to tell our grandchildren that this was the time we confronted climate change and secured the weapons that could destroy the human race. This was the time we defeated global terrorists and brought opportunity to forgotten corners of the world. This was the time when we helped forge peace in the Middle East. This was the time when we renewed the America that has led generations of weary travelers from all over the world to find opportunity and liberty and hope on our doorstep.

Hyperbole much? This “section” is really a summary of the whole part. I have a feeling it’ll be difficult for future generations to grasp the magnitude of the WMD threat today. Similarly, some people may not even realize that “the America that has led generations of weary travelers…to find opportunity and liberty and hope on our doorstep” even needed renewing, except from the Bush years. It sounds good that you’re going to “help[] forge peace in the Middle East”, but well, there’s a reason that would be “the next great American story”. But defeating terrorists and combating the climate crisis? That is the next great American story.

The Democrats devote another two very short paragraphs to a past when America was a beacon of hope around the world instead of a flashpoint of hatred, and call for America to return to the former, but I’m going to “seize the opportunity” to look back on the part and whether the Democrats met their goals. They said “today’s threats” “come from weapons that can kill on a mass scale and from violent extremists who exploit alienation and perceived injustice to spread terror.” So the Democrats will take steps to reduce and hopefully end any worldwide need for nuclear weapons, and secure materials that could be used to make them. They have a superior strategy to the Republicans’ (provisionally) in dealing with Iran, but the Republicans are tougher on North Korea. But my biggest problem I have with the Democrats here is that I’m not sure they’re willing to invest in actually preventing biological and chemical weapon attacks, only in reducing their impact. The Democrats might be soft on cyberterrorism as well. As for terror, the Democrats are superior to the head-in-the-sand Republicans on Pakistan, but their real strength lies in their quest to restore America’s integrity and likability, and in their quest to aid development in countries prone to the message of extremism. The one concern I have is whether the Democrats have a system to monitor terrorists that won’t impinge on America’s civil liberties.

They come from rogue states allied to terrorists and from rising powers that could challenge both America and the international foundation of liberal democracy.” This is a vague sentence, and sometimes the Democrats address it and sometimes they don’t. “They come from weak states that cannot control their territory or provide for their people.” So the Democrats put a focus on development and democratization to build up third world countries – goals the Republicans espouse as well. “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.” And both of those are dealt with in the same way. The Democrats are far superior to the Republicans in combating the urgent matter of climate change. There is plenty of room for improvement and they take a liking to a number of alternative energies I don’t like, but realistically, given the choice between the Democratic or Republican plan, I would rather take the Democrats. I’m just concerned they might not have an urgent enough stance on the problem.

Short part, isn’t it? Well, the Democrats’ Part III is right around the bend – we might be entering the home stretch here as well!

Examining the Democratic Platform Part V: “Revitalizing and Supporting the Military, Keeping Faith with Veterans” and “Working for Our Common Security”

This is continued from Parts I-IV of my examination of the Democratic Platform. To make up for not having an examination yesterday or even shortly after midnight, I guaran-damn-tee two examinations today and maybe even three. So naturally I’m getting a late start with this one…

“Revitalizing and Supporting the Military, Keeping Faith with Veterans”: Well, if it wasn’t obvious before, this section makes it blatantly obvious that the Democrats are not the party of pacifism, especially the Orwellian sentiment that “A strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace.”

Ending the war in Iraq will be the beginning, but not the end, of addressing our defense challenges. We will use this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future. We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests. But we must also become better prepared to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.

We will not hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened. But we will use our armed forces wisely, with others when we can, unilaterally when we must. When we send our men and women into harm’s way, we must clearly define the mission, listen to the advice of our military commanders, objectively evaluate intelligence, and ensure that our troops have the strategy, resources, and support they need to prevail.

We believe we must also be willing to consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability–to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities. But when we do use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others. The consequences of forgetting that lesson in the context of the current conflict in Iraq have been grave.

“Unilaterally if we must”? “We must also be willing to consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense”? Read those two things and you might think there really is no difference between Democrats and Republicans! But both have caveats attached to them: we should always have allies whenever possible, we should make clear exactly what we intend to do, and pay attention to the information we’re given. Common sense stuff; maybe the part about allies isn’t common sense but it’s wise anyway.

“Expand the Armed Forces”: Army +65k, Marines +25k, which “help[s] units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease[s] the strain on military families.” Decreases the strain on military families?!? At least they didn’t earlier claim we already had “the best-manned…military in the world” in the introduction to the section like the GOP.

“Recruit and Retain”:

A nation of 300 million people should not struggle to find additional qualified personnel to serve. Recruitment and retention problems have been swept under the rug, including by applying inconsistent standards and using the “Stop Loss” program to keep our servicemen and women in the force after their enlistment has expired. We will reach out to youth, as well as to the parents, teachers, coaches, and community and religious leaders who influence them, and make it an imperative to restore the ethic of public service, whether it be serving their local communities in such roles as teachers or first responders, or serving in the military and reserve forces or diplomatic corps that keep our nation free and safe.

The Republicans only talk about “retention of combat veterans” and pretty much slide past the issue of recruitment, though they do address it indirectly. The Democrats also sort of slide past the issue of recruitment by going from that to general community service. But all in all, an agreeable sentiment.

“Rebuild the Military for 21st-Century Tasks”:

We will rebuild our armed forces to meet the full spectrum needs of the new century. We will strongly support efforts to: build up our special operations forces, civil affairs, information operations, engineers, foreign area officers, and other units and capabilities that remain in chronic short supply; invest in foreign language training, cultural awareness, human intelligence, and other needed counter-insurgency and stabilization skill sets; and create a specialized military advisor corps, which will enable us to better build up local allies’ capacities to take on mutual threats. We also will ensure that military personnel have sufficient training time before they are sent into battle. This is not the case at the moment, when American forces are being rushed to Iraq and Afghanistan, often with less individual and unit training than is required.

All those seem to be reasonable, if potentially expensive, goals. Although weren’t “advisors” how we first started slipping into Vietnam?

“Develop Civilian Capacity to Promote Global Stability and Improve Emergency Response”:

We will build the capacity of U.S. civilian agencies to deploy personnel and area experts where they are needed, so that we no longer have to ask our men and women in uniform to perform non-military functions. The creation of a volunteer Civilian Assistance Corps of skilled experts (e.g., doctors, lawyers, engineers, city planners, agriculture specialists, police) who are pre-trained and willing to aid in emergencies will involve more Americans in public service and provide our nation with a pool of talent to assist America in times of need at home and abroad.

Sounds reasonable; jobs should be done by the people best suited to do them. And I’m pretty sure the Republicans don’t even acknowledge this issue. But this suggests we might be doing more “nation-building” in the future… Not addressed in the Democrats’ improvements in our military, at least so far: medical care for “injured military personnel”, speeding along the process of National Guardsmen’s return to civilian jobs, women in the military, and military culture. If you’re thinking “damn, the Democrats are secretly kind of heartless”, they may be sliding together care for veterans and care for the active military in the next section or two.

“Do Right by Our Veterans and Their Families”: “We believe that every servicemember is a hero who deserves our respect and gratitude, not just on Veterans Day or Memorial Day, but every day. When they put on their uniforms, these servicemembers all become all of our daughters and all of our sons, and it is time we started treating them as such.” The Democrats then take the opportunity to take yet another shot at the Bush administration for the events at Walter Reed and “growing numbers of homeless and unemployed veterans”.

“We will build a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs that reflects the reality of America’s all volunteer military and has the resources, without returning every year to fight the same battles, to uphold America’s sacred trust with our veterans.” Sounds good, but too vague for me to really consider whether the Republicans are thinking about the same thing. “We will make sure that members of our Armed Forces have a fair shot at the American Dream by implementing the new GI Bill.” Gah, even the Democrats talk about “our Armed Forces”! The Republicans liked the GI Bill as well and wanted to “build” on it. “We will ensure that every veteran has access to quality health care for injuries both physical and mental, and we will require that health professionals screen all servicemembers upon their return from combat.” The Republicans did not specifically reference the latter in their platform, but did come close; they did pretty much copy this sentence into a paragraph.

“We will aggressively address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.” The Republicans did talk about “an unprecedented incidence of traumatic brain injury, which calls for a new commitment of resources and personnel for its care and treatment”, without the obnoxious capitals, but did not directly reference PTSD. “We will work to ensure that every veteran receives the benefits he or she has earned and the assistance he or she needs by making the disability benefits process more fair, efficient, and equitable.” The Republicans wanted the VA to “eliminat[e] its disability backlog and reduc[e] waiting times for treatment”, and that its “current disability compensation formulas need to be restructured and modernized”, but those are the only references to “disabilities” in my Part I. Everything’s too vague for me to properly assess. But the Democrats would also “dramatically reduce the backlog of disability claims”, indicating they would do it themselves instead of palming it off on the VA (bad! Government meddling!), or alternately, would actually get it done instead of saying “the VA must” do it, although for all I know the Republicans would have an actual plan to get something done. So why isn’t it getting done?

“We will combat homelessness, unemployment, and underemployment among veterans and improve the transition for servicemen between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.” The former is good and pretty much something the Republicans said; the latter is good, and not a Republican topic, but short on details on why it’s necessary. “We will continue to honor our promises to all veterans, including the Filipino veterans, especially with regards to citizenship and family reunification.” Well, that’s out of left field; I wonder if the Republicans would object to the “citizenship” line.

“Lift Burdens on Our Troops and Their Families”: “We must better support those families of whom we are asking so much. We will create a Military Families Advisory Board to help identify and develop practical policies to ease the burden on spouses and families.” Sounds gimmicky but reasonable. “We will protect our military families from losing their homes to foreclosure. We will work for pay parity so that compensation for military service is more in line with that of the private sector.” Both of those sound reasonable, again. “We will end the stop-loss and reserve recall policies that allow an individual to be forced to remain on active duty well after his or her enlistment has expired, and we will establish regularity in deployments so that active duty and reserve troops know what they must expect and their families can plan for it.” Sounds good for soldiers and their families, but how does it affect our men and women in the field and how they do? The Republicans basically devoted a sentence to this.

“Support the Readiness of the Guard and Reserve”: “Democrats will provide the National Guard with the equipment it needs for foreign and domestic emergencies and provide time and support to restore and refit between deployments.” Sounds reasonable, and should help our men in the field.

We will also ensure that reservists and Guard members are treated fairly when it comes to employment, health, education benefits, deployment, and reintegration. We will do this by adequately funding reintegration programs to assist returning service members and by enforcing the Service Members Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Service Employment Rights and Readjustment Act, laws too often observed in the breach today.

The above is important because reintegration is the main thing the Republicans focused on in their discussion of the Guard and Reserves. The Republicans, however, “call[ed] for greater transition assistance from employers” but the Democrats are doing something about it. Of course, they’re spending a lot of money in the process, which is typical. “To ensure that the concerns of our citizen soldiers reach the level they mandate, Democrats will elevate the Chief of the National Guard to be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” That’s a good idea, especially if the Guard is being sent to Iraq.

“Allow All Americans to Serve”:

We will also put national security above divisive politics. More than 12,500 service men and women have been discharged on the basis of sexual orientation since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was implemented, at a cost of over $360 million. Many of those forced out had special skills in high demand, such as translators, engineers, and pilots. At a time when the military is having a tough time recruiting and retaining troops, it is wrong to deny our country the service of brave, qualified people. We support the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the implementation of policies to allow qualified men and women to serve openly regardless of sexual orientation

This is a big difference between Democrats and Republicans. Recall that the Republicans declared that “[e]sprit and cohesion are necessary for military effectiveness and success on the battlefield. …we affirm…the benefits of traditional military culture, and the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service.” Democrats say if you keep out the gays, you’re keeping out what could be valuable skills and reducing the military’s manpower when it’s needed most. Republicans say that “homosexuality” is “incompatib[le]” “with military service” and would destroy “traditional military culture”. Which is a bigger loss, the loss of the “necessary” “[e]spirit and cohesion”, or the loss of the raw manpower and skills? Which is more important, camaraderie among the men or more of them? I don’t know. I just don’t know. (But if you put a gun to my head, I’d go for the raw manpower and skills, but then again I’m a hardcore loner.)

“Reform Contracting Practices and Make Contractors Accountable”: “We believe taxpayer dollars should be spent to invest in our fighting men and women, not to fatten the pockets of private companies. We will instruct the Defense and State Departments to develop a strategy for determining when contracting makes sense, and when certain functions are “inherently governmental” and should not be contracted out.” Hopefully they won’t be biased in either direction, and are there cases of “inherently governmental” jobs that are being contracted out? Would government doing those jobs have resulted in waste? “We will establish the legal status of contractor personnel, making possible prosecution of any abuses committed by private military contractors, and create a system of improved oversight and management, so that government can restore honesty, openness, and efficiency to contracting and procurement.” So Democrats would crack down on shoddy contracting jobs and make sure contractors actually do the job they were hired for, and institute other systems to prevent future abuses, but don’t call for an end to no-bid contracts as directly as Republicans. And this issue gets the same paragraph the Republicans gave it.

“Working for Our Common Security”:

To renew American leadership in the world, we will rebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security. Needed reform of these alliances and institutions will not come by bullying other countries to ratify American demands. It will come when we convince other governments and peoples that they too have a stake in effective partnerships. It is only leadership if others join America in working toward our common security.

Makes sense as stated, if possibly distorting of the Republican position. It’s not worth it to have an alliance that says “do what we say or we go ‘regime change’ all over your ass”. That’s not an alliance, that’s a vassal. All this sounds like a good idea, and it’s telling that “alliance” occurs only once in my Republican first two parts. The devil, as they say, is in the details. The Democrats promptly take a shot at Bush (“Too often, in recent years, we have sent the opposite signal to our international partners”) and list some examples of Bush ignorance of the rest of the world: European opposition to the War in Iraq and leadership on climate change; “belittl[ing] South Korean efforts to improve relations with the North” (?), failing to confront the problems of Latin America, and standing idly by while genocide broke out in Darfur.

“Support Africa’s Democratic Development”: While the Republicans started their discussion of Africa by listing the well-known problems and tooting their own horn, the Democrats start things out by reflecting on Africa’s place in the world economy. “We recognize Africa’s promise as a trade and investment partner and the importance of policies that can contribute to sustainable economic growth, job creation, and poverty alleviation. We are committed to bringing the full weight of American leadership to bear in unlocking the spirit of entrepreneurship and economic independence that is sweeping across markets of Africa.” If it’s already “sweeping across markets of Africa”, hasn’t it already been unlocked? Other than that, that’s an incredibly important point.

“We believe that sustainable economic growth and development will mitigate and even help to reverse such chronic and debilitating challenges as poverty, hunger, conflict, and HIV/AIDS. We are committed to bringing the full weight of American leadership to bear to work in partnership with Africa to confront these crises.” A good, compassionate point. (Of course some might argue, “It doesn’t affect me.”) “We will work with the United Nations and Africa’s regional organizations to prevent and resolve conflict and to build the capacity of Africa’s weak and failing states. We must respond effectively when there is a humanitarian crisis–particularly at this moment in Sudan where genocide persists in Darfur and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is threatened.” Sounds like a good approach, although I hope you’re also willing to work with the actual sides in any conflict, and if a state is structurally deficient do you really want to prop it up? Although then the alternative would be barging in and instituting regime change… and how did the Clinton administration deal with the genocide in Rwanda, eh? How would you rather government “respond effectively [to] a humanitarian crisis”?

(Fun fact: I was alive at the time, and still didn’t hear about the Rwanda genocide in a way that made me remember it until I did a research project on the country in middle school.)

Many African countries have embraced democratization and economic liberalization. We will help strengthen Africa’s democratic development and respect for human rights, while encouraging political and economic reforms that result in improved transparency and accountability. We will defend democracy and stand up for rule of law when it is under assault, such as in Zimbabwe.

Ah, so finally the Democrats mention the “rule of law”! You’re basically stating a lot of goals without saying a lot about how you would achieve those goals. Republicans just devoted a sentence to expanding trade with Africa, and that was the extent of their coverage outside Darfur and Zimbabwe. Republicans actually specified they wanted sanctions and pillars of democracy to be reinstated instead of just name-dropping the situation. The Democrats actually want to work things out with other African nations to get them involved in Darfur instead of just demanding it, though.

“Recommit to an Alliance of the Americas”: What? What is it?! Is it NAFTA II?! Is it an American Union?!? “We believe that in the 21st century, the U.S. must treat Latin America and the Caribbean as full partners, just as our neighbors to the south should reject the bombast of authoritarian bullies.” Wow, them’s fighting words! The Democrats blandly call for building on our bond with Canada. “An alliance of the Americas will only succeed if it is founded on the bedrock of mutual respect and works to advance democracy, opportunity, and security from the bottom-up.” I still don’t know what this “alliance of the Americas” is, but those sound like worthy goals independent of how they are to be achieved.

“We must work with close partners like Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia on issues like ending the drug trade, fighting poverty and inequality, and immigration.” Fairly bland, get-done-with-it-and-move-on sentence. Those seem to be worthy goals though, but by “immigration”, do you mean strictly illegal immigration? Are you talking about lowering the need for immigration or are you just saying “help us keep the brownies out”? Certainly not as much of a focus as the Republicans on “narco-terrorism”. “We must work with the Caribbean community to help restore stability and the rule of law to Haiti, to improve the lives of its people, and to strengthen its democracy.” Sounds like a good idea, and not touched on at all by the Republicans.

“And we must build ties to the people of Cuba and help advance their liberty by allowing unlimited family visits and remittances to the island, while presenting the Cuban regime with a clear choice: if it takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners, we will be prepared to take steps to begin normalizing relations.” The Republican approach to Cuba was to call on the other nations in the region to “lay[] the groundwork for a democratic Cuba”, “restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba as a measure of solidarity with the political prisoners and all the oppressed Cuban people”, transmitting American propaganda into Cuba, the gimmicky “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba”, and helping more Cuban refugees into the US. Most of these aren’t really touched on in this sentence by the Democrats, but introducing more Cuban refugees into the US is probably the only part that’s both uncontroversial and substantial.

Republicans want to maintain restrictions on trade and travel to show we’re sticking up for the people of Cuba; Democrats think allowing such travel will “help advance their liberty” and “build ties” and is only using “normaliz[ed] relations” as the carrot on the stick to drag Cuba into democracy and releasing political prisoners. It seems like that’s not enough of a carrot to drag Cuba in, unless there’s a virtual embargo on trade that isn’t travelling in and out but that almost seems to be a loophole. And it’s possible that the current confrontational approach is retarding progress to a Democratic Cuba – isn’t most of the Republican plan what we’ve been doing for the past 50 years? But I’d need to know what’s the base of the Castro government’s power and what the Cuban economy runs on to make a firm decision one way or the other as to what’s the best strategy…

“Lead in Asia”: We need to maintain our relationships with nations with which we have them, and build relationships with “vital democratic partners, like India” to help build “a stable and prosperous Asia”. “We must also forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc diplomatic arrangements.” Good idea, but hopefully it’s one that doesn’t amount to the US lording over Asia. “We need an open and inclusive infrastructure with the countries in Asia that can promote stability, prosperity, and human rights, and help confront transnational threats, from terrorist cells in the Philippines to avian flu in Indonesia.” Those sound like good goals.

We will encourage China to play a responsible role as a growing power–to help lead in addressing the common problems of the 21st century. We are committed to a “One China” policy and the Taiwan Relations Act, and will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Straits issues that is consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan.

A “One China” policy is inherently pro-PRC, because there is no way the government in exile in Taiwan is going to ever become the government in charge of all of China, so that might contradict being committed as well to “the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan”. The Republicans also supported the Taiwan Relations Act and that “all issues regarding the island’s future must…be acceptable to the people of Taiwan.” The Democrats have no call to prevent unilateral steps to shake up the status quo, or pledge of support to Taiwan in defense or as an ally (other than the TRA). Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s time to engage China on common interests like climate change, trade, and energy, even as we continue to encourage its shift to a more open society and a market-based economy, and promote greater respect for human rights, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, uncensored use of the internet, and Chinese workers’ right to freedom of association, as well as the rights of Tibetans.

Good things to support but (unlike the Republicans) short on specifics. “Chinese workers’ right to freedom of association” sounds like a shout-out to unions. Nothing here on Burma or anything more than a name-drop of Japan. The Democrats do want to keep the military junta in Burma under control and/or bring it towards democracy, right?

“Strengthen Transatlantic Relations”: “We support the historic project to build a strong European Union that can be an even stronger partner for the United States.” Hopefully not in a way that threatens the sovereignty of EU members. NATO has done a good job of turning into a peacekeeping organization, “but today, NATO’s challenge in Afghanistan has exposed a gap between its missions and its capabilities. To close this gap, we will invest more in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan and use that investment to leverage our NATO allies to contribute more resources to collective security operations and to invest more in reconstruction and stabilization capabilities.” Shouldn’t other NATO members also invest more in Afghanistan?

(Incidentially, a correction from my Republican Part II, when I said in jest that if “all democratic nations who share our values” could join NATO, so could such far-flung nations as Israel and Australia, but the rest of that sentence, which I quoted, involves “meet[ing] the requirements for NATO membership”. Israel and Australia might not do that.)

“As we promote democracy and accountability in Russia, we must work with the country in areas of common interest–above all, in making sure that nuclear weapons and materials are secure.” A worthy goal, but will that weaken our attempts to “promote democracy and accountability”? “We will insist that Russia abide by international law and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors.” Obviously, but how will you make sure Russia actually does that? The Republicans would try and shut off Russian acceptance in various “world organizations”.

We are committed to active Presidential leadership in the full implementation of the Irish Good Friday Agreement and St. Andrews Accords. We will seek to strengthen and broaden our strategic partnership with Turkey, end the division of Cyprus, and continue to support a close U.S. relationship with states that seek to strengthen their ties to NATO and the West, such as Georgia and Ukraine.

This is more coverage given to Cyprus and Northern Ireland than in the Republican platform.

“Stand with Allies and Pursue Diplomacy in the Middle East”: America has long had the leading role in negotiating peace in the Holy Land. “Our starting point must always be our special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy.” So much for courting the support of groups that want Israel wiped off the face of the Earth.

That commitment, which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense, is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region–a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of Al Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah. We support the implementation of the memorandum of understanding that pledges $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade to enhance and ensure its security.

Gah. And you wonder why people say there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats even use the same “qualitative edge” phraseology as the Republicans, which I tore to shreds in my examination of the Republican platform. At least here it’s “national security” and “self-defense” that are the given reasons for that “qualitative edge”. For Israel to defend itself against those threats is important if it has the right to exist, but…

“It is in the best interests of all parties, including the United States, that we take an active role to help secure a lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a democratic, viable Palestinian state dedicated to living in peace and security side by side with the Jewish State of Israel.” The Democrats want a two-state solution as well! Why don’t we have it already then? But it needs to make sure the people of that Palestinian state are just as dedicated, and that means changing hearts and minds and holding Israel back from antagonizing the Palestinians. It also means, as I said in my Republican examination, making sure Jerusalem is accessible and open to people of all faiths that wish to come there.

To do so, we must help Israel identify and strengthen those partners who are truly committed to peace, while isolating those who seek conflict and instability, and stand with Israel against those who seek its destruction. The United States and its Quartet partners should continue to isolate Hamas until it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and abides by past agreements.

Now “isolating” Hamas is better than just refusing to negotiate with them. Refusing to negotiate prolongs conflict; isolation hastens productive negotiation. But we also need to destroy the underpinnings that strengthen Hamas and its anti-Israel stance, and isolation might make Hamas stronger, not weaker. We need to provide economic development to the Palestinians so they will be less inclined to support terror. It was the Democratic approach everywhere else, why isn’t it here? “The creation of a Palestinian state through final status negotiations, together with an international compensation mechanism, should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees by allowing them to settle there, rather than in Israel.” Well, if we’re going to have a two-state solution that would seem to be a good idea. “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.” The last sentence is pretty much what my stance is, but I remain concerned about naming it the capital of Israel. Almost everything here is virtually identical to the Republican plan, with some details added to ease the concerns I had when the Republicans stated it.

I just passed 5,000 words, but I press on because the last two subsections are very short. “Deepen Ties with Emerging Powers”:

We also will pursue effective collaboration on pressing global issues among all the major powers–including such newly emerging ones as China, India, Russia, Brazil, Nigeria, and South Africa. With India, we will build on the close partnership developed over the past decade. As two of the world’s great, multi-ethnic democracies, the U.S. and India are natural strategic allies, and we must work together to advance our common interests and to combat the common threats of the 21st century. We believe it is in the United States’ interest that all of these emerging powers and others assume a greater stake in promoting international peace and respect for human rights, including through their more constructive participation in key global institutions.

There’s not much for me to say here. Of course working with major powers, including the new ones, is important to properly deal with international issues like climate change. Inserted into this is an empty platitude about our relationship with India of the sort the Republicans broke into an entire heading. Note to the Democrats and Republicans: India does not vote in this election.

“Revitalize Global Institutions”:

To enhance global cooperation on issues from weapons proliferation to climate change, we need stronger international institutions. We believe that the United Nations is indispensable but requires far-reaching reform. The U.N. Secretariat’s management practices remain inadequate. Peacekeeping operations are overextended. The new U.N. Human Rights Council remains biased and ineffective. Yet none of these problems will be solved unless America rededicates itself to the organization and its mission. We support reforming key global institutions —such as the U.N. Security Council and the G-8—so they will be more reflective of 21st century realities.

I’m a bit surprised the Democrats would include a call for UN reform, which is more of a Republican calling. In fact they’re even more specific about the UN’s problems. And now that you mention it, I do recall hearing stories about the HRC being staffed by the fox guarding the henhouse, the sort of people that should be condemned by the HRC instead of being on it. The Republicans didn’t call for America to “rededicate[] itself to the organization and its mission”, so how would they propose solving these problems?

There are areas the parties disagree and I agree with the Democrats. There are areas the parties disagree and I agree with the Republicans (though there aren’t that many). But there are also a good number of places the parties agree. Is there a difference between Democrats and Republicans? Depends on where you look. More climate change fun ahead!

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.)

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 Democratic Platform Part II: “Empowering Families for a New Era”, plus Energy and Education

This is continued from Part I of my examination of the Democratic Platform, which included the part of “Empowering Families for a New Era” that dealt with health care.
“Retirement and Social Security”: Skip the opening sentences of this subsection, which includes a call to “preserve and protect existing public and private pension plans”, and get into the actual changes. Very briefly, about “We will automatically enroll every worker in a workplace pension plan that can be carried from job to job and we will match savings for working families who need the help.” Would this be a government-managed pension plan? Would you require employers to provide some sort of pension plan in addition to health care? How does this affect small businesses and the self-employed?

We will make sure that CEOs can’t dump workers’ pensions with one hand while they line their own pockets with the other. At platform hearings, Americans made it clear they feel that’s an outrage, and it’s time we had leaders who treat it as an outrage. We will ensure all employees who have company pensions receive annual disclosures about their pension fund’s investments, including full details about which projects have been invested in, the performance of those investments and appropriate details about probable future investments strategies. We also will reform corporate bankruptcy laws so that workers’ retirements are a priority for funding and workers are not left with worthless IOU’s after years of service.

And no one will pay any attention to those disclosures, but it’s a nice idea. Of course that means more bureaucracy to enforce the law. And where, exactly, would the increased funding for retirement accounts come from? Wouldn’t this just be throwing more stuff on the heap of stuff reaching for a limited pot? I think insuring retirement accounts somehow would be a better idea, like we insure our savings accounts.
“Finally, we will eliminate all federal income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 per year. Lower- and middle-income seniors already have to worry about high health care and energy costs; they should not have to worry about tax burdens as well.” More money growing on trees; this threatens a drastic reduction in tax revenue. But I’m of the belief that the original point of income taxes is lost when the dirt poor have to pay them, so why stop at seniors making less than 50 grand? Even a hard cutoff of 10-25 grand would work. Of course you’d have to increase other taxes to compensate.
“We reject the notion of the presumptive Republican nominee that Social Security is a disgrace; we believe that it is indispensable. We will fulfill our obligation to strengthen Social Security and to make sure that it provides guaranteed benefits Americans can count on, now and in future generations. We will not privatize it.” Now, now, I don’t think McCain was saying Social Security itself was a disgrace and should be thrown out, only that it’s a disgrace as presently constituted. Notice that the Democrats spend all of two paragraphs on retirement, one of which is very short and non-substantial. They’re treating retirement and social security much as they treated the current economic crisis. Translation: They really care about health care.
“Good Jobs with Good Pay”:

In the platform hearings, Americans expressed dismay that people who are willing to study and work cannot get a job that pays enough to live on in the current economy. Democrats are committed to an economic policy that produces good jobs with good pay and benefits. That is why we support the right to organize. We know that when unions are allowed to do their job of making sure that workers get their fair share, they pull people out of poverty and create a stronger middle class.

That all sounds reasonable enough. But “We will strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions and fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act”? Stop right there! From what I’ve heard and read, the EFCA would take away secret ballot elections for union formation, which could cause as many problems as it solves. You can “strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions” without throwing out the secret ballot, or at least I would hope so.

“We will restore pro-worker voices to the National Labor Relations Board and the National Mediation Board and we support overturning the NLRB’s and NMB’s many harmful decisions that undermine the collective bargaining rights of millions of workers.” Not knowing what these decisions are or what the boards actually look like, this sounds okay, and an example of “strengthen[ing] the ability of workers to organize unions” under the secret ballot model.

“We will ensure that federal employees, including public safety officers who put their lives on the line every day, have the right to bargain collectively, and we will fix the broken bargaining process at the Federal Aviation Administration. We will fight to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so that workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods.” Again, I see nothing wrong with any of this, so I’ll omit some sentences for the rest of the paragraph.

“We will continue to vigorously oppose “Right-to-Work” Laws and “paycheck protection” efforts whenever they are proposed.” Wait, those both sound nice, so what’s wrong with them? “We will stop the abuse of privatization of government jobs.” Doesn’t privatization save money? How is abuse, as implied here, inherent in privatization?

“Our Department of Labor will restore and expand overtime rights for millions of Americans, and will actively enforce wage and hour laws.” Sounds nice. “Our Occupational Safety and Health Administration will adopt and enforce comprehensive safety standards.” Again, sounds nice; the main reason these two things were broken into their own paragraph was to take a shot at Bush.

In America, if someone is willing to work, he or she should be able to make ends meet and have the opportunity to prosper. To that end, we will raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation, and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit so that workers can support themselves and their families. We will modernize the unemployment insurance program to close gaps and extend benefits to the workers who now fall outside it.

Indexing the minimum wage to inflation just makes head-slapping sense. Not sure about the EITC. Hopefully when modernizing the unemployment insurance program you don’t remove any incentive to work.

“Work and Family”: “Over the last few decades, fundamental changes in the way we work and live have trapped too many American families between an economy that’s gone global and a government that’s gone AWOL. It’s time we stop just talking about family values, and start pursuing policies that truly value families.” This little elision of the term “family values” suggests that Democrats see “family values” as little more than a Republican buzzword that’s not worth talking about, ignoring that the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats lost in 2004 because of family values concerns. Still, the sentiment is agreeable.

“We will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to reach millions more workers than are currently covered, and we will enable workers to take leave to care for an elderly parent, address domestic violence and sexual assault, or attend a parent-teacher conference.” Attend a parent-teacher conference?!? Workers better be able to take leave to vote as well or this will just turn the FMLA into an economy-slowing farce.

“Today 78 percent of the workers who are eligible for leave cannot take it because it’s unpaid, so we will work with states and make leave paid. We will also ensure that every American worker is able earn up to seven paid sick days to care for themselves or an ill family member. And we will encourage employers to provide flexible work arrangements—with the federal government leading by example.” I’m tempted to say this is all in the name of making sure no one has to work, but really a lot of this makes sense. Why should your ability to have time off for illness depend on what job you have? This might even motivate employers to create cleaner workplace conditions.

“We will expand the childcare tax credit, provide every child access to quality, affordable early childhood education, and double funding for afterschool and summer learning opportunities for children.” More money growing on trees, although there is something to be said for lowering the burden of a child. There’s those “quality” and “affordable” buzzwords again. Are they just sliding past education after all the time they spent on health? No, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding education centering on No Child Left Behind, they’ve got to come back to it later. And more money growing on trees later the same paragraph. Aren’t most afterschool and summer learning opportunities kind of gimmicky?

“We will provide assistance to those who need long-term care and to the working men and women of this country who do the heroic job of providing care for their aging relatives. All Americans who are working hard and taking responsibility deserve the chance to do right by their loved ones. That’s the America we believe in.” Again, all that sounds nice.

“Poverty”: “Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college.” You’ve mentioned this twice, and neither in the actual context of education. Something tells me you could have stuck your education discussion sooner. “We will develop innovative transitional job programs that place unemployed people into temporary jobs and train them for permanent ones.” A great idea, but is there the money? “To help workers share in our country’s productivity, we’ll expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation.” You mentioned that already – could you have merged this with the previous heading?

“The majority of adults in poverty are women, and to combat poverty we must work for fair pay, support for mothers, and policies that promote responsible fatherhood.” The first two few would argue with, and I know I wouldn’t (though some would wonder if support for mothers is really necessary and wouldn’t slow down the economy, but those people probably don’t understand the issue), but I’d like to know what “policies” you would enact that would “promote responsible fatherhood”.

“We’ll start letting our unions do what they do best again—organize and lift up our workers. We’ll make sure that every American has affordable health care that stays with them no matter what happens.” Two things referring to previous headings. “We will assist American Indian communities, since 10 of the 20 poorest counties in the United States are on Indian lands.” Specifics: Why do you think that is? What would you do with Native Americans that you wouldn’t do with/aren’t applicable to others?

We’ll bring businesses back to our inner-cities, increase the supply of affordable housing, and establish “promise neighborhoods” that provide comprehensive services in areas of concentrated poverty. These will be based on proven models, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, which seeks to engage all residents with tangible goals such as attendance at parenting schools, retention of meaningful employment, college for every participating student, and strong physical and mental health outcomes for children.

I’m wondering how you intend to entice businesses to return to inner cities or how you intend to create more “affordable housing”, especially the latter, which can be difficult to handle without disrupting the larger housing market. The “promise neighborhood” concept sounds good but do we really want government establishing them? Certainly government should encourage such things and provide support to them, I just want to make sure we’re not talking about yet another government program.

“The Democratic Party believes that the fight against poverty must be national priority. Eradicating poverty will require the sustained commitment of the President of the United States, and we believe that the White House must offer leadership and resources to advance this agenda.” Evidently not enough of a “national priority” that you would give it the kind of time you gave health care. I have two concerns about this whole section actually. One is that most of these things can’t have a quantifiable impact, especially before they’re implemented, so saying “we can cut poverty in half within ten years” is meaningless. The other is a sad commentary on Americans, and the Bobby Kennedy quote at the top of the section: the fact is that most people can live their lives without worrying too much about the poor, and are worried that lifting up poor people will result in less wealth for them. I’d like to hear more about how poverty affects middle- and upper-class Americans. (Of course no one’s going to say they won’t vote for someone because they do too much to combat poverty, but I’d like to see studies of a subconscious effect.)

“Opportunity for Women”: “We have produced the first woman Secretary of State, the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, and, in 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman in American history to win presidential primaries in our nation. We believe that our daughters should have the same opportunities as our sons; our party is proud that we have put eighteen million cracks in the highest glass ceiling.” Hmm. I think Clinton herself had a hand in the composition of this section.

“When women still earn 76 cents for every dollar that a man earns, it doesn’t just hurt women; it hurts families and children. We will pass the “Lilly Ledbetter” Act, which will make it easier to combat pay discrimination; we will pass the Fair Pay Act; and we will modernize the Equal Pay Act.” The advent of women in the workforce had the unintended effect of forcing many families to have both parents work. When it became possible, it became necessary. To ensure equal pay for equal work sounds like – and is – a laudable goal, but it might either increase inflation or lower male earnings, probably both to some extent or another, and both will force even more families into two-worker situations. I hope the Democrats are prepared for that possibility.

“We will invest in women-owned small businesses and remove the capital gains tax on startup small businesses.” Hopefully not just women-owned small businesses. I’m not sure what the “capital gains tax on startup small businesses” is. I thought the capital gains tax had something to do with stock. In any case, it’s not specific to the case for women. “We will support women in math and science, increasing American competitiveness by retaining the best workers in these fields, regardless of gender.” Sounds like common sense. The next two sentences might as well read “See previous section”. I’m not entirely sure you need to reassure people “We will work to combat violence against women”, but whatever.

“We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters, and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.” This sentence sounds completely laudable but it’s just weird and vague enough that it leaves open the possibility of using the hammer of political correctness to be overzealous about it.

“Investing in American Competitiveness”:

At a critical moment of transition like this one, Americans understand that, more than anything else, success will depend on the dynamism, determination, and innovation of the American people. But success also depends on national leadership that can move this country forward with confidence and a common purpose. In platform hearings, Americans called on their government to “invest back” in them and their country. That’s what Lincoln did when he pushed for a transcontinental railroad, incorporated our National Academy of Sciences, passed the Homestead Act and created the land grant colleges. That’s what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in creating the Tennessee Valley Authority, electrifying rural America and investing in an Arsenal of Democracy. That’s the kind of leadership we intend to provide.

Once again the Democrats try and reassure people that it’s the people that matter, but we’re still going to go whole hog on the government route. And of course citing Lincoln and FDR makes this concept sound nice. Actually infrastructure investment is important in an economic downturn, so it’s not just blowing smoke and it helps prepare us for the economic downturns of the future.

“New American Energy”: Big Important Alert! Perhaps nothing else in this platform will affect my vote more than the Democrats’ stance on our energy policy.

In the local platform hearings, Americans talked about the importance of energy to the economy, to national security, and to the health of our planet. Speaking loud and clear, they said that America needs a new bold and sustainable energy policy to meet the challenges of our time. In the past, America has been stirred to action when faced with new threats to our national security, or new competitive conditions that undercut our economic leadership. The energy threat we face today may be less immediate than threats from dictators, but it is as real and as dangerous. The dangers are eclipsed only by the opportunities that would come with change. We know that the jobs of the 21st century will be created in developing new energy solutions. The question is whether these jobs will be created in America, or abroad. We should use government procurement policies to incentivize domestic production of clean and renewable energy. Already, we’ve seen countries like Germany, Spain and Brazil reap the benefits of economic growth from clean energy. But we are decades behind in confronting this challenge.

Wait a minute! “Government procurement policies”? Sounds kinda scary. But other than that I pretty much agree with all of this.

“For the sake of our security–and for every American family that is paying the price at the pump–we will break our addiction to foreign oil.” I’m concerned about mixing up goals again… “In platform hearings around the country, Americans called for a Manhattan or Apollo Project-level commitment to achieve energy independence. We hear that call and we Democrats commit to fast-track investment of billions of dollars over the next ten years to establish a green energy sector that will create up to five million jobs.” If the Dems are even paying lip service to that level of commitment I’m on board! I’m willing to forgive the throwing away of money because of the importance of the issue. “Good jobs, like those in Pennsylvania where workers manufacture wind turbines, the ones in the factory in Nevada producing components for solar energy generation plants, or the jobs that will be created when plug-in hybrids start rolling off the assembly line in Michigan” – all things I’ve supported in previous posts. I’m a little more concerned about this: “This transition to a clean-energy industry will also benefit low-income communities: we’ll create an energy-focused youth job program to give disadvantaged youth job skills for this emerging industry.” So we’re only dragging poor people out of poverty by putting them in the green industry?

It will not be easy, but neither was getting to the moon. We know we can’t drill our way to energy independence and so we must summon all of our ingenuity and legendary hard work and we must invest in research and development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies—such as solar, wind, geothermal, as well as technologies to store energy through advanced batteries and clean up our coal plants. And we will call on businesses, government, and the American people to make America 50 percent more energy efficient by 2030, because we know that the most energy efficient economy will also gain the competitive edge for new manufacturing and jobs that stay here at home. We will help pay for all of it by dedicating a portion of the revenues generated by an economy-wide cap and trade program- a step that will also dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and jumpstart billions in private capital investment in a new energy economy.

I’m a little suspicious of geothermal and the “clean coal” scam, and I notice that my big non-wind-or-solar energy source, wave or tidal power, isn’t mentioned (but I don’t know a lot about it or how much energy it would generate). But the most troublesome part of this paragraph is the “cap and trade” program, which I’m deeply suspicious of. “You can only emit this much CO2, but we’ll let you emit more if you give us some money or invest in some cockamamie ‘offset’.” Anything to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, I guess, but why only a “portion” of the revenues? If we’re engaging in a cap and trade program shouldn’t all the revenues from it go towards building our green economy? If people are getting off emitting more greenhouse gases by funding miscellaneous government operations it’s an outrage.

“We’ll dramatically increase the fuel efficiency of automobiles, and we’ll help auto manufacturers and parts suppliers convert to build the cars and trucks of the future and their key components in the United States.” Nice, but what about weaning us off cars entirely? “And we will help workers learn the skills they need to compete in the green economy.” Sounds good if the premise is true. “We are committed to getting at least 25 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025.” Only a quarter in 17 years?!? We need to have declining greenhouse gas emissions within 10 at most; this just won’t cut it!

“Building on the innovative efforts of the private sector, states, cities, and tribes across the country, we will create new federal-local partnerships to scale the success and deployment of new energy solutions, install a smarter grid, build more efficient buildings, and use the power of federal and military purchasing programs to jumpstart promising new markets and technologies.” All good, good, good. But “We’ll invest in advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol which will provide American-grown fuel and help free us from the tyranny of oil”? Not so good, good, good. From what I’ve read cellulosic ethanol is still using up land that would be better used for other purposes. Then it’s back to the good stuff: “We will use innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of buildings.” Their heart is in the right place but every so often they drop in something that very greatly concerns me. Still nothing about transit, by the way.

The first part of the next paragraph is about cracking down on speculation, which is a tangential point, but “we will help those who are hit hardest by high energy prices by increasing funding for low-income heating assistance and weatherization programs, and by providing energy assistance to help middle-class families make ends meet in this time of inflated energy prices.” Good on the first part, but what is this “energy assistance” you speak of? And the last paragraph sums up the subsection – nothing about getting us out of our cars in the whole thing. It all looks very good – they’ve clearly made this a priority – but a concerning amount of outdated thinking is prevalent here.

“A World-Class Education for Every Child”: Finally, we’ll find out what the Democrats mean by a “quality”, “affordable”, “world-class” education!

In the 21st century, where the most valuable skill is knowledge, countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. In the platform hearings, Americans made it clear that it is morally and economically unacceptable that our high-schoolers continue to score lower on math and science tests than most other students in the world and continue to drop-out at higher rates than their peers in other industrialized nations. We cannot accept the persistent achievement gap between minority and white students or the harmful disparities that exist between different schools within a state or even a district. Americans know we can and should do better.

All this makes a lot of sense. We’re talking about making sure the engine that is the American economy keeps grinding along and continues being at least something approaching a world leader.
“The Democratic Party firmly believes that graduation from a quality public school and the opportunity to succeed in college must be the birthright of every child–not the privilege of the few.” Graduation is meaningless if it occurred as a result of grade inflation; it’s arguably worse than people not graduating at all because it lulls us into thinking there are more quality high school graduates than there really are, and creates people “passing off” as real high school graduates. Hopefully the Dems are talking about actual achievement, not just empty graduation rates. But I agree with what they’re trying to say: The rich often have an unfair advantage in education, and if we want a true meritocracy, we need to make up for those advantages. Not sure what to think about the “new era of mutual responsibility in education”, but I am heartened by this: “We must set high standards for our children, but we must also hold ourselves accountable–our schools, our teachers, our parents, business leaders, our community and our elected leaders. And we must come together, form partnerships, and commit to providing the resources and reforms necessary to help every child reach their full potential.”

Early Childhood
We will make quality, affordable early childhood care and education available to every American child from the day he or she is born. Our Children’s First Agenda, including increases in Head Start and Early Head Start, and investments in high-quality Pre-K, will improve quality and provide learning and support to families with children ages zero to five. Our Presidential Early Learning Council will coordinate these efforts.

Yeppers, that’s the entire paragraph on early childhood education. Remember that all three of the above adjectives were used to describe “early childhood” education, and it’s called “quality” and “affordable” again here, with “early childhood care” also thrown in under those words. Yet these moves are arguably empty: boost Head Start, “investments in high-quality Pre-K”, and something called the Presidential Early Learning Council. The “Children’s First Agenda” implies something more, but why isn’t that in the platform?

We must ensure that every student has a high-quality teacher and an effective principal. That starts with recruiting a new generation of teachers and principals by making this pledge–if you commit your life to teaching, America will commit to paying for your college education. We’ll provide better preparation, mentoring and career ladders. Where there are teachers who are still struggling and underperforming we should provide them with individual help and support. And if they’re still underperforming after that, we should find a quick and fair way—consistent with due process—to put another teacher in that classroom.

A high quality teacher? Okay, I initially misread “student” as “school”, but still, when I went to middle and high school I had more than one teacher a day; are the Dems going to scrimp on the other teachers? In all seriousness, this makes a lot of sense if you’re going to put this high a priority on teaching. It sounds like the Dems aren’t in hock to the teachers unions, because they do want to replace underperforming teachers, but look at the caveats: “provide them with individual help and support” first, and then there needs to be a “quick and fair way – consistent with due process” to replace them.
“To reward our teachers, we will follow the lead of school districts and educators that have pioneered innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them.” Increases in teacher pay are “imposed” on them? I’d love to have a raise “imposed” on me! “We will make an unprecedented national investment to provide teachers with better pay and better support to improve their skills, and their students’ learning. We’ll reward effective teachers who teach in underserved areas, take on added responsibilities like mentoring new teachers, or consistently excel in the classroom.” Hear, hear at that last sentence. Although I don’t like the implied message that “it’s okay not to go into the poor communities or mentor tomorrow’s teachers if you’re the sort of teacher we most need to do either of those things.”

We will fix the failures and broken promises of No Child Left Behind–while holding to the goal of providing every child access to a world-class education, raising standards, and ensuring accountability for closing the achievement gap. We will end the practice of labeling a school and its students as failures and then throwing our hands up and walking away from them without having provided the resources and supports these students need.

Of course. Punishing a school for failure only perpetuates and deepens the divide between rich and poor schools. At the same time, you don’t want to reward a school for being crap. Presumably that’s what “raising standards[] and ensuring accountability for closing the achievement gap” means.

But this alone is not an education policy. It’s just a starting point. We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.

Nothing on how you’re going to enforce the standards, at least yet, only a note that you presumably won’t include just rote learning in the ubiquitous standardized tests… although I may well be missing something! Combatting dropouts is of course a noble goal, but…

We will promote innovation within our public schools–because research shows that resources alone will not create the schools that we need to help our children succeed. We need to adapt curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; reform the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; promote public charter schools that are accountable; and streamline the certification process for those with valuable skills who want to shift careers and teach.

“Adapt… the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century”? How, exactly, do you propose changing the school calendar? Let’s see, fix teaching schools, promote charter schools but hold them accountable for results, sounding good – “streamline the certification process for those… who want to shift careers and teach”? A, we need to make sure they actually have the needed skills, and B, we need to make sure they know how to teach. Hopefully you don’t streamline it too much. Still not much on how you’ll hold schools accountable and really fix NCLB.

We will also meet our commitment to special education and to students who are English Language Learners. We support full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. We also support transitional bilingual education and will help Limited English Proficient students get ahead by supporting and funding English Language Learner classes. We support teaching students second languages, as well as contributing through education to the revitalization of American Indian languages.

“English Language Learners”. You can just feel the political correctness seeping through that phrase. And “Limited English Proficient”. I think competing in a global economy requires that we teach our kids second languages (though the most I know any living language is some really basic Spanish) and that the best time to teach such languages is when kids are young (not mentioned here) but you ARE going to maintain English’s status as the primary language and not turn us into Quebec, right? You are funding those “English Language Learner” classes, so I would think so.

We know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for parents who are involved in their children’s education from day one–who make sure their children are in school on time, help them with their homework, and attend those parent-teacher conferences; who are willing to turn off the TV once in a while, put away the video games, and read to their children. Responsibility for our children’s education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them, and spend time with them, and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable.

You definitely can’t mistake Democrats for being the “do-whatever-you-want” party. You want to hold ordinary, private parents “accountable”? How the hell do you intend to do that? That’s a really concerning phrase.
“Higher Education”: (This really belongs as a sub-heading of the prior subsection, not as a separate subsection in its own right, so I’m plowing on even though I’m over 5,000 words again.) This section starts out with a basic statement few would really argue with – colleges and universities are important for our country’s success. “At community colleges and training programs across the country, we will invest in short-term accelerated training and technical certifications for the unemployed and under-employed to speed their transition to careers in high-demand occupations and emerging industries.” Hopefully not at the expense of their quality, but otherwise a noble goal. “We will reward successful community colleges with grants so they can continue their good work” – another laudable goal, but how do we know it’s not NCLB II, and how do we recognize the successful community colleges? Also, throwing money away again. “We support education delivery that makes it possible for non-traditional students to receive support and encouragement to obtain a college education, including Internet, distance education, and night and weekend programs.” Again, sounds good but only if it’s as effective.

We must also invest in training and education to prepare incumbent job-holders with skills to meet the rigors of the new economic environment and provide them access to the broad knowledge and concrete tools offered by apprenticeships, internships, and postsecondary education. We need to fully fund joint labor-management apprenticeship programs and reinvigorate our industrial crafts programs to train the next generation of skilled American craft workers.

(Eyes glaze over.) The first sentence sounds good as long as we’re not losing skills that may not pay well but are nonetheless valuable in the process. The second sentence also sounds good but might be throwing money away again.
“We recognize the special value and importance of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority serving institutions in meeting the needs of our increasingly diverse society and will work to ensure their viability and growth.” Every college needs to be supported but shouldn’t we be getting minorities into the same colleges as everyone else?

We will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit to ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans. In exchange for the credit, students will be expected to perform community service. We will continue to support programs, especially the Pell Grant program, that open the doors of college opportunity to low-income Americans. We will enable families to apply for financial aid simply by checking a box on their tax form.

Sounds like a terrific idea – promote more community service and create more smart college graduates. But “will be expected to” do service, not “required”? And applying for financial aid by checking a box… actually has the chance of reducing fraud on financial aid forms by rolling it up in tax fraud. But it poses a problem when I would prefer if poor people were exempt from the income tax, and it makes me really wonder what the new process would be.
“Our institutions of higher education are also the economic engines of today and tomorrow. We will partner with them to translate new ideas into innovative products, processes and services.” Again, really obvious. Why would anyone oppose a lot of this?
Not all. There is plenty to argue with in the platform so far. I’ve now found out the Democrats’ plan for combating global warming, or at least changing our energy economy, and while there’s a lot that’s laudable in it there are a few flaws – some minor, some possibly telling – that could now open things up for another party to jump in. There are a few points of argument elsewhere in the Democratic platform as well, and I’m finding I’m not being able to properly judge the Democratic platform without having something to compare it to. I think I’m about ready to begin my look at the Republican platform and where it compares and contrasts with the Democratic plan. I’m not giving up on the Democrats, just running both simultaneously. And it may be a problem that we may be slowing down in our progress and I may have to go to more parts than originally planned…

Examining the Democratic Platform Part I: Preamble, the Economic Crisis, and Health Care

(Note: This series should contain curly quotes because I composed it in Word. If it comes out as gibberish instead, or if there’s weird formatting or other unnecessary junk, let me know.)

I mentioned two weeks ago that I was encouraged by Barack Obama’s apparent commitment to fighting global warming at the last debate. (Incidentially, the way the first two presidential debates went down I was kind of hoping for more foreign policy questions at the ostensible domestic policy debate on Wednesday.) But how much is the rest of the Democrats’ platform worth fighting for in other races? In the start of a series, I take a close look at the Democrats’ platform as a public service and find out which party is really the best for me and, perhaps, for most Americans.

The first question, of course, is: Can we get through the 59-page document? We can, but it’s a lengthy work and so this is going to be more than twice the size of any of my prior posts – about 6,000 words – and it’s still going to be a multi-part series that’ll be released in stages (aiming for closer to 5,000 words per post) throughout the week. I’m thinking this’ll be a four-part series just on the Democrats. I’ll also throw in my analysis of the Republican platform (which believe it or not is even longer), probably while this is still going.

The document’s lengthy preamble begins with a bunch of stuff that few would argue with, but presented as the special charge of the Democratic Party:

We believe that every American, whatever their background or station in life, should have the chance to get a good education, to work at a good job with good wages, to raise and provide for a family, to live in safe surroundings, and to retire with dignity and security. We believe that quality and affordable health care is a basic right. We believe that each succeeding generation should have the opportunity, through hard work, service and sacrifice, to enjoy a brighter future than the last.

Few Americans are likely to disagree with any of this. I’m also breaking out this paragraph and its attempt to broadly characterize the American people as a whole, as it shows how the Democrats see America:

A great nation now demands that its leaders abandon the politics of partisan division and find creative solutions to promote the common good. A people that prizes candor, accountability, and fairness insists that a government of the people must level with them and champion the interests of all American families. A land of historic resourcefulness has lost its patience with elected officials who have failed to lead.

These are mostly empty platitudes, although I’m finding myself more tempted to break out some of them and criticize them this go-round than I did on my first attempt. The Democrats then move to the “historic” “list of failures of this Administration”, and while some people might have problems with some of the statements of fact, they probably wouldn’t argue that they’re bad, with the main exception early on being the line about “instigat[ing] an unnecessary war in Iraq before finishing a necessary war in Afghanistan,” which might attract pacifists wondering if any war is “necessary”. The Democrats follow that up with the “false promises that got us here”, and again, few would probably argue with the interpretation of the facts if they agreed on the facts: “They said they would be compassionate conservatives, but they failed to rescue our citizens from the rooftops of New Orleans, neglected our veterans, and denied health insurance to children.”

These are not just policy failures. They are failures of a broken politics –a politics that rewards self-interest over the common interest and the short-term over the long-term, that puts our government at the service of the powerful. A politics that creates a state-of-the-art system for doling out favors and shuts out the voice of the American people. So, we come together not only to replace this President and his party –and not only to offer policies that will undo the damage they have wrought. Today, we pledge a return to core moral principles like stewardship, service to others, personal responsibility, shared sacrifice and a fair shot for all –values that emanate from the integrity and optimism of our Founders and generations of Americans since. Today, we Democrats offer leaders – from the White House to the State House – worthy of this country’s trust.

It all sounds good, but the question we have to constantly keep in mind is, can we trust the Democrats to bring this change? Or is it just trying to campaign for our vote so they can continue the bad old politics of the past? The Democrats immediately launch into an outline of their plan, and while it starts out with stuff no one would disagree with…

The Democratic Party believes that there is no more important priority than renewing American leadership on the world stage. This will require diplomatic skill as capable as our military might. Instead of refusing to confront our most pressing threats, we will use all elements of American power to keep us safe, prosperous, and free. Instead of alienating our nation from the world, we will enable America –once again –to lead.

This makes sense – there’s no reason to piss off the rest of the world, and quite a few reasons not to. We’re willing to use diplomacy to get what we want, but we also have “all elements of American power” at our disposal. Again, “all elements of American power” would probably piss off the pacifists, but overall, this is fairly uncontroversial. But in the next paragraph comes a line where more than just radicals are likely to jump off:

For decades, Americans have been told to act for ourselves, by ourselves, on our own. Democrats reject this recipe for division and failure. Today, we commit to renewing our American community by recognizing that solutions to our greatest challenges can only be rooted in common ground and the strength of our civic life. The American people do not want government to solve all our problems; we know that personal responsibility, character, imagination, diligence, hard work and faith ultimately determine individual achievement. But we also know that at every turning point in our nation’s history, we have demonstrated our love of country by uniting to overcome our challenges—whether ending slavery, fighting two world wars for the cause of freedom or sending a man to the moon. Today, America must unite again –to help our most vulnerable residents get back on their feet and to restore the vitality of both urban centers and family farms –because the success of each depends on the success of the other. And America must challenge us again –to serve our country and to meet our responsibilities –whether in our families or local governments; our civic organizations or places of worship.

Wait, wait, wait. The American ideal of self-reliance is “a recipe for division and failure”? Does that mean we can’t do anything without the intervention of government? But “The American people do not want government to solve all our problems,” they admit. So which is it? Okay, I’m willing to consider that the Democrats are saying they just want government to pick Americans up when they fall down, and let this go for now. But this whole “America must unite again” rhetoric sounds euphemistic, as though the Democrats are painting their impending power-taking as a movement of the people. And how can the Democrats say “America must challenge us again” when they at least want to be part of the “us”? The Democrats then go back to platitudes no one disagrees with:

And so, even when we disagree, we will work together to move this country forward. There can be no Republican or Democratic ideas, only policies that are smart and right and fair and good for America –and those that aren’t. We will form a government as decent, candid, purposeful and compassionate as the American people themselves.

This is the essence of what it means to be a patriot: not only to declare our love of this nation, but to show it –by our deeds, our priorities, and the commitments we keep.

If we choose to change, just imagine what we can do. What makes America great has never been its perfection, but the belief that it can be made better. And that people who love this country can change it. This is the country of Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Rosa Parks – people who had the audacity to believe that their country could be a better place, and the courage to work to make it so. And this Party has always made the biggest difference in the lives of the American people when we summoned the entire nation to a common purpose.

Of course there are people who think that America really is great simply because it’s the best nation that ever was and ever will be, but really, that’s sort of splitting hairs. Citing such legends of American history as Lincoln and MLK is either a brilliant attempt to parry that perfectionist view, or the Democrats trying to elevate their status by trying to equate themselves with these great Americans with that last sentence. Or both. But I’d like to hear more about this idea that “this Party has always made the biggest difference in the lives of the American people when we summoned the entire nation to a common purpose”. When have the Democrats “summoned the entire nation to a common purpose” to make a “difference in the lives of the American people”? World War II was an attempt to prevent a difference in the lives of the American people, and JFK’s go-to-the-moon challenge was more symbolic than difference-making.

That’s essentially the end of the preamble, so let’s move on to Part I, “Renewing the American Dream”. It starts with a review of the state of the economy as of August, when the platform was adopted.

For months the state of our economy has dominated the headlines–and the news has not been good. The sub-prime lending debacle has sent the housing market into a tailspin, and many Americans have lost their homes. By early August, the economy had shed 463,000 jobs over seven straight months of job loss. Health, gas and food prices are rising dramatically.

But the problem goes deeper than the current crisis. Families have seen their incomes go down even as they have been working longer hours and as productivity has grown. At the same time, health costs have risen while companies have shed health insurance coverage and pensions. Worse yet, too many Americans have lost confidence in the fundamental American promise that our children will have a better life than we do.

We are living through an age of fundamental economic transformation. 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.

I quote that not to critique it but solely so we can refer to it when reading not only the Democrats’ answers to these problems, but those of other parties as well. The Democrats promptly take a potshot at Bush while building up their own record:

In the 1990s, under Bill Clinton’s leadership, employment and incomes grew and we built up a budget surplus. However, our current President pursued misguided policies, missed opportunities, and maintained a rigid, ideological adherence to discredited ideas. Our surplus is now a deficit, and almost a decade into this century, we still have no coherent national strategy to compete in a global economy.

I’m tempted to ask what these “discredited ideas” are, but we’ll move on. By the way, if these sound forced, I might have more critiques of the Democrats after looking at the Republicans’ point of view. The rest of the introduction to the part can be summed up by its single-sentence penultimate paragraph: “We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.” The entire part can be summed up by the final paragraph, including the Democrats’ hope for “a new approach. One that is both innovative and faithful to the basic economic principles that made this country great.” So you’re not a bunch of socialists!
“Jumpstart the Economy and Provide Middle Class Americans Immediate Relief”: “We will provide an immediate energy rebate to American families struggling with the record price of gasoline and the skyrocketing cost of other necessities – to spend on those basic needs and energy efficient measures.” What, exactly, would this “energy rebate” entail? Would it come with conditions on how it would be spent – would people have to “spend [it] on those basic needs and energy efficient measures”? How do we know it wouldn’t just be spent on beer and drugs?
“We will devote $50 billion to jumpstarting the economy, helping economic growth, and preventing another one million jobs from being lost. This will include assistance to states and localities to prevent them from having to cut their vital services like education, health care, and infrastructure.” Would it include anything else? Would the federal government have to “cut vital services”? Surely you’re not spending $50 billion solely to keep social services from regressing, are you? Or expect that that alone would “jumpstart[] the economy” or that the impending million lost jobs would all come from state and local governments? That’s ridiculous of course, but how is that $50 billion being spent? How will $50 billion “prevent… one million jobs from being lost”? And aren’t you just throwing another $50 billion onto the national debt?

“We will quickly implement the housing bill recently passed by Congress and ensure that states and localities that have been hard-hit by the housing crisis can avoid cuts in vital services.” You just said states and localities wouldn’t need to cut certain services. Or are you talking about power and water now? And what’s in this housing bill that makes it so great?

“We support investments in infrastructure to replenish the highway trust fund, invest in road and bridge maintenance and fund new, fasttracked projects to repair schools.” Finally, some specifics. But don’t tell me that your idea of infrastructure investment is to build more highways when we need to tackle global warming head-on! Maintaining our existing roads and bridges is fine, I just want to make sure you’re not going to let up on the global warming (and congestion) fight in the face of economic crisis. Transit investment is, ideally, just as good at creating new jobs as freeway investment. And no one disagrees with the idea of repairing schools. All this requires people to maintain the roads and repair the schools, which means jobs, and it gives money to the companies supplying the raw materials and supports the economy that way as well. Not to mention the benefit of the investment itself. But is this all you’re going to do?

“We believe that it is essential to take immediate steps to stem the loss of manufacturing jobs. Taking these immediate measures will provide good jobs and will help the economy today. But generating truly shared prosperity is only possible if we also address our most significant long-run challenges like the rising cost of health care, energy, and education.” This sounds like a summary of the rest of the section – how do you “take immediate steps to stem the loss of manufacturing jobs”? The most vague statement yet!

“Empowering Families for a New Era”: This section makes clear that the Democrats just wanted to glide through the current economic crisis as quickly as possible to get to the part they really care about. Secret-socialist conspiracy theorists, start your engines! It comes complete with its own section introduction, which talks about the changing life of the American worker:

Many Americans once worked 40 hours a week for 40 years for a single employer who provided pay to support a family, health insurance, and a pension. Today, Americans change jobs more frequently than ever and compete against workers around the world for pay and benefits.

The face of America’s families is also changing, and so are the challenges they confront. Today, in the majority of families, all parents work. Millions of working Americans are also members of a new “sandwich generation,” playing dual roles as working parents and working children, responsible not only for their kids but for their aging mothers and fathers. They are working longer hours than ever, while at the same time having to meet a new and growing set of caregiving responsibilities.

Our government’s policies–many designed in the New Deal era–have not kept up with the new economy and the changing nature of people’s lives. Democrats believe that it is time for our policies and our expectations to catch up. From health care to pensions, from unemployment insurance to paid leave, we need to modernize our policies in order to provide working Americans the tools they need to meet new realities and challenges.

Wow! The Democrats are blaming one of their own in FDR! In all seriousness, let’s look at the specifics:
“Affordable, Quality Health Care Coverage for All Americans”:

If one thing came through in the platform hearings, it was that Democrats are united around a commitment that every American man, woman, and child be guaranteed affordable, comprehensive healthcare. In meeting after meeting, people expressed moral outrage with a health care crisis that leaves millions of Americans–including nine million children–without health insurance and millions more struggling to pay rising costs for poor quality care. Half of all personal bankruptcies in America are caused by medical bills. We spend more on health care than any other country, but we’re ranked 47th in life expectancy and 43rd in child mortality. Our nation faces epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases as well as new threats like pandemic flu and bioterrorism. Yet despite all of this, less than four cents of every health care dollar is spent on prevention and public health.

Remember, the Democrats essentially devoted this much effort to talking about our current economic crisis. This subsection even contains two quotes in sidebars later on!

The American people understand that good health is the foundation of individual achievement and economic prosperity. Ensuring quality, affordable health care for every single American is essential to children’s education, workers’ productivity and businesses’ competitiveness. We believe that covering all is not just a moral imperative, but is necessary to making our health system workable and affordable. Doing so would end cost-shifting from the uninsured, promote prevention and wellness, stop insurance discrimination, help eliminate health care disparities, and achieve savings through competition, choice, innovation, and higher quality care. While there are different approaches within the Democratic Party about how best to achieve the commitment of covering every American, with everyone in and no one left out, we stand united to achieve this fundamental objective through the legislative process.

That’s a lot of flaws of the current system in the penultimate sentence, and it sounds from the sentence before that that the Democrats may well support a pseudo-socialist system. I’m not sure how “covering all” can “make our health care system workable and affordable”, which sounds like it’s talking about simplifying the system by assuming if you’re alive, you have coverage, yet still “achieve savings through competition”. That sounds like it’s not socialist after all, it’s perfectly capitalist, so maybe “mak[ing] our health care system workable and affordable” refers to the other flaws on the list. But isn’t “achiev[ing] savings through competition” supposed to be the point of the current health care system? How am I supposed to know your plan will be any different? Oh wait, you don’t have a plan, you have “different approaches within the Democratic Party”. I might be able to take heart in knowing that maybe you can hash out a compromise between all of them that achieves all your goals, “covering every American” while still maintaining a competitive landscape and avoiding the pitfall of government “solv[ing] all our problems”, but for some reason I’m not optimistic.

We therefore oppose those who advocate policies that would thrust millions of Americans out of their current private employer-based coverage without providing them access to an affordable, comprehensive alternative, thereby subjecting them to the kind of insurance discrimination that leads to excessive premiums or coverage denials for older and sicker Americans. We reject those who have steadfastly opposed insurance coverage expansions for millions of our nation’s children while they have protected overpayments to insurers and allowed underpayments to our nation’s doctors.

So, throwing “millions of Americans out of their current private employer-based coverage” is okay if you do provide “an affordable, comprehensive alternative”? There are socialists in the Democratic Party! Then it talks about “our vision of a strengthened and improved health care system for all Americans” – so you do have a plan!

Covering All Americans and Providing Real Choices of Affordable Health Insurance Options. Families and individuals should have the option of keeping the coverage they have or choosing from a wide array of health insurance plans, including many private health insurance options and a public plan. Coverage should be made affordable for all Americans with subsidies provided through tax credits and other means.

So you aren’t socialist! But I could easily argue that this is the system we have now only you can buy into a government health insurance plan if you can’t afford or don’t want to buy into the private options. How do the private options differ from the “coverage they have”? Where do the subsidies go, the private companies or the “families and individuals”? What would the private options have that the government wouldn’t? How can we be sure the private companies would have those things?

Shared Responsibility. Health care should be a shared responsibility between employers, workers, insurers, providers and government. All Americans should have coverage they can afford; employers should have incentives to provide coverage to their workers; insurers and providers should ensure high quality affordable care; and the government should ensure that health insurance is affordable and provides meaningful coverage. As affordable coverage is made available, individuals should purchase health insurance and take steps to lead healthy lives.

Well, I guess this answers my question. I’m guessing the government would provide low-cost health care to everyone, but it would be bare-bones crap so the private “free market” would still exist. I make it sound like a cop to HMOs that don’t wanna be driven out of business, but it also lowers how much money the government spends on health care and thus avoids ratcheting up the tax burden. Not sure what “meaningful coverage” means though, and since private companies would be “affordable” as well, all this may have a more insidious meaning than I’m reading into it. (Although the same sentence lumps “providers” in there as well, so I guess it’s also lowering the need for health insurance at all.) Still, I’m guessing it all means the government plan would be a safe haven from insurance discrimination. And didn’t I hear Obama say at the debate employers would be required to provide coverage somehow? And if it’s only “incentives” – or even if it’s not – how does that maintain the ability of families and individuals to have a choice? Wouldn’t the employer be choosing for them? Or is this talking about the employer paying for the plan the person chooses, so even after choosing the affordable plan the person doesn’t actually have to pay for it? Well, it looks from the heading of the next paragraph my first question may be answered:

An End to Insurance Discrimination. Health insurance plans should accept all applicants and be prohibited from charging different prices based on pre-existing conditions. They should compete on the cost of providing health care and the quality of that care, not on their ability to avoid or over-charge people who are or may get sick. Premiums collected by insurers should be primarily dedicated to care, not profits.

Wha… WHAT? Private insurers “should accept all applicants and be prohibited from charging different prices based on pre-existing conditions”? Either you’re undermining your “affordable” point or private insurers better hope people who actually need their services go to the government, because really, you’re talking about jacking up the premiums of everyone else. The whole point of insurance discrimination, at least the “over-charge” version (of course people shouldn’t be dropped the instant they actually need insurance), is that most of the expense of health insurance is given to a certain class of people with serious diseases (or at risk of them), so it’s only fair they pick up the tab. And “insurers should be primarily dedicated to care, not profits”? Did you even read Adam Smith and what he said makes the capitalist system work? Where’s the profit in private insurance after you’ve adopted this tack, and why would private insurers bother to get into (or stay in) the business if you’ve wiped out the profit? And you know private companies will find ways to circumvent this proposed law, and that you’ll need to jack up the tax burden at least a little to enforce it.
Portable Insurance. No one should have to worry about losing health coverage if they change or lose their job.” They might have to go through a bureaucracy though. It’s still hard to get retirement accounts to come with you to a new job, to the extent I’ve kept seeing “rollover your 401k” ads. That might be what you end up seeing in health care; if we haven’t gotten it right in retirement how are we going to get it right in health insurance the instant we start instituting it?
Meaningful Benefits. Families should have health insurance coverage similar to what Members of Congress enjoy. They should not be forced to bear the burden of skyrocketing premiums, unaffordable deductibles or benefit limits that leave them at financial risk when they become sick. We will finally achieve long-overdue mental health and addiction treatment parity.” And what do members of Congress enjoy? At least it doesn’t sound like you’re imposing this on the private companies, only instituting it in the government plan. But you’re lapsing back into vagueness. (Incidentially, the surprising detail-oriented nature of the last few paragraphs once again underscores how quickly the Dems wanted to skip the present economic crisis.)

An Emphasis on Prevention and Wellness. Chronic diseases account for 70 percent of the nation’s overall health care spending. We need to promote healthy lifestyles and disease prevention and management especially with health promotion programs at work and physical education in schools. All Americans should be empowered to promote wellness and have access to preventive services to impede the development of costly chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Chronic-care and behavioral health management should be assured for all Americans who require care coordination. This includes assistance for those recovering from traumatic, life-altering injuries and illnesses as well as those with mental health and substance use disorders. We should promote additional tobacco and substance abuse prevention.

Starting to move away from insurance. “Health promotion programs at work” that will presumably be funded by the federal government… I smell cheesy gimmickry in the future of the workplace. “All Americans should be empowered to promote wellness”? So we’re all government-funded hucksters now? What “preventative services” are we talking about and are we talking about throwing Yet More Money onto the national debt? When we talk about “additional tobacco and substance abuse prevention” are we talking about more of the same sorts of things that have been going on for decades, yet people my age are, to my amazement, still taking up smoking despite hearing of its bad side nonstop their entire lives? And the lives of the older “cool” kids? Or are we talking about a change in strategy?

A Modernized System That Lowers Cost and Improves the Quality of Care. As Americans struggle with increasing health care costs, we believe a strengthened, uniquely American system should provide the highest-quality, most cost-effective care. This should be advanced by aggressive efforts to cut costs and eliminate waste from our health system, which will save the typical family up to $2,500 per year. These efforts include driving adoption of state-of-the-art health information technology systems, privacy-protected electronic medical records, reimbursement incentives, and an independent organization that reviews drugs, devices, and procedures to ensure that people get the right care at the right time. By working with the medical community to improve quality, these reforms will have the added benefit of reducing the prevalence of lawsuits related to medical errors. We should increase competition in the insurance and drug markets; remove some of the cost burden of catastrophic illness from employers and their employees; and lower drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices, permitting importation of safe medicines from other developed countries, creating a generic pathway for biologic drugs, and increasing use of generics in public programs.

This ties back to the idea that “providers should provide high quality affordable care.” I’d like to know more about this “independent organization”; will it mean the end of misleading drug company commercials leading people to race after a brand name instead of something that might be less expensive and maybe not as side-effect-laden? Will it mean, more likely, more bureaucracy? But do the insurance and drug markets need “more competition”? Why are “safe medicines from other developed countries” currently not importable, and how will you maintain that?
A Strong Health Care Workforce. Through training and reimbursement incentives, there must be a commitment to sufficient and well-qualified primary care physicians and nurses as well as direct care workers.” No real debate here, I think, other than more government involvement. You know what I just realized, though? This goes to page 15 of 59. Now, cutting out extraneous stuff like the cover page, it’s 13 of 57, but still it’s a quarter of the whole document devoted to the preamble and health care! This will be easier than I thought!

Commitment to the Elimination of Disparities in Health Care. We must end health care disparities among minorities, American Indians, women, and low-income people through better research and better funded community-based health centers. We will make our health care system culturally sensitive and accessible to those who speak different languages. We will support programs that diversify the health are [sic] workforce to ensure culturally effective care. We will also address the social determinants that fuel health disparities, and empower the communities most impacted by providing them the resources and technical assistance to be their own agents of wellness. We will speed up and improve reimbursements by the Indian Health Service.

So… American Indians aren’t minorities? How does research reduce health-care disparities? “We will also address the social determinants that fuel health disparities” makes it sound like you can just wave a wand and it’ll disappear.
The next paragraph heading, “Public Health and Research”, is the last heading for three paragraphs:

Health and wellness is a shared responsibility among individuals and families, school systems, employers, the medical and public health workforce and government at all levels. (Wick: You said that already. You devoted a whole paragraph to it if I remember.) We will ensure that Americans can benefit from healthy environments that allow them to pursue healthy choices. Additionally, as childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the last 30 years, we will work to ensure healthy environments in our schools. (Wick: Everybody get vague, get vague, get vague!)

We must fight HIV/AIDS in our country and around the world. We support increased funding into research, care and prevention of HIV/AIDS. We support a comprehensive national strategic plan to combat HIV/AIDS and a Ryan White Care Act designed and funded to meet today’s epidemic, that ends ADAP waiting lists and that focuses on the communities such as African Americans and Latino Americans who are disproportionately impacted through an expanded and renewed minority HIV/AIDS initiative, and on new epicenters such as the Southern part of our nation. We support providing Medicaid coverage to more low-income HIV-positive Americans.

You… kind of lost me with that lengthy middle sentence. I don’t even know what ADAP is. Wikipedia says it stands for “AIDS Drug Assistance Programs”. But it all sounds like nice rhetoric.

Health care reform must also provide adequate incentives for innovation to ensure that Americans have access to evidence-based and cost-effective health care. Research should be based on science, not ideology. For the millions of Americans and their families suffering from debilitating physical and emotional effects of disease, time is a precious commodity, and it is running out. Yet, over the past eight years, the current Administration has not only failed to promote biomedical and stem cell research, it has actively stood in the way of that research. We cannot tolerate any further inaction or obstruction. We need to invest in biomedical research and stem cell research, so that we are at the leading edge of prevention and treatment. This includes adequate funding for research into diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, diabetes, autism and other common and rare diseases, and disorders. We will increase funding to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Cancer Institutes.

Ah yes, returning to taking shots at the House of Bush. I like how this paragraph all but equates the debate over stem cell research to the debate on evolution. I mean, “evidence-based” health care? Does stem-cell research even involve “evidence”? I thought it just involved using it to grow new tissue and plugging it in to patients. And is “biomedical” research even controversial? If so, why? The Democrats obviously feel the need not to roll it up with stem cell research, yet they’re effectively doing so all the same. Oh, and more throwing out money like it grew on trees.
A Strong Partnership with States, Local Governments, Tribes, and Territories. Recognizing that considerable progress in health care delivery has been pioneered by state and local governments, necessary nationwide reform should build on successful state models of care.” This sort of “oh yeah, give a shout-out to the local levels of government” inadvertently points out that these very organs responsible for this progress could get stomped on by a national reform system. I’d like to see what local state systems would look like after the feds got through with them.
A Strong Safety-Net. Achieving our health goals requires strengthening the safety-net programs, safety-net providers, and public health infrastructure to fill in gaps and ensure public safety in times of disease outbreak or disaster.” Par for the course: vague niceties that no one would disagree with.
Empowerment and Support of Older Americans and People with Disabilities. Seniors and people with disabilities should have access to quality affordable long-term care services, and those services should be readily available at home and in the community. Americans should not be forced to choose between getting care and living independent and productive lives.” Solving problems unrelated to health care would do a better job of bringing needed services closer to seniors, but I’m jumping back on my transit high horse.
Reproductive Health Care. We oppose the current Administration’s consistent attempts to undermine a woman’s ability to make her own life choices and obtain reproductive health care, including birth control.” Ding ding ding! Making abortion sound like a general health issue, five yard penalty, still first down! “We will end health insurance discrimination against contraception and provide compassionate care to rape victims. We will never put ideology above women’s health.” I don’t know, it sure seems like you’re shoving a lot of ideology down my throat to me. Actually this is sort of a complex issue, and I really don’t think a discussion of health care is the right place for it. I do support the use of pre-intercourse and morning-after birth control as effective and consistent with religious beliefs.
Fiscal Responsibility. As we improve and strengthen our health care system, we must do so in a fiscally responsible way that ensures that we get value for the dollars that are invested.” Or in other words, “Oh by the way, yes we do know all this will add billions of dollars to the national debt, but don’t worry, we’re gonna get ‘value’ from it so it’s all a wash!”
For the most part, the Democrats’ health-care proposal meets the goals the Dems set for it – but not all of them are guaranteed and there are legitimate concerns that it’ll all cost too much. And if the Dems’ focus on health care seems a bit esoteric to you, you’re not alone. But there are plenty more issues to come – and plenty more of the platform to examine! We’re just getting started!