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 Republican Platform Part VII: “Education Means a More Competitive America”

This is continued from Parts I-VI of my examination of the Republican Platform. If you saw Sports Watcher Friday after I reposted it, you know I made a big understatement there.

We move on to Part VII, “Education Means a More Competitive America”, and what funny buzzwords the Republicans have for bilingual students that can measure up to “English Language Learners”! “Maintaining America’s preeminence requires a world-class system of education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential. That requires considerable improvement over our current 70 percent high school graduation rate and six-year graduation rate of only 57 percent for colleges.” That certainly sounds bad and needing improvement. That’s a C (maybe D) and an F respectively. But as with the Democrats, let’s make sure we’re not using grade inflation to improve them.

Education is essential to competitiveness, but it is more than just training for the work force of the future. It is through education that we ensure the transmission of a culture, a set of values we hold in common. It has prepared generations for responsible citizenship in a free society, and it must continue to do so. Our party is committed to restoring the civic mission of schools envisioned by the founders of the American public school system. Civic education, both in the classroom and through service learning, should be a cornerstone of American public education and should be central to future school reform efforts.

This is almost a bizarre paragraph for the admissions it makes. Education is responsible for the transmission of “a set of values”? The family has nothing to do with it? The meat of the paragraph – about preparing people to be good citizens – is pretty much all stuff you can say “hear, hear!” to, it’s just, I don’t know what the stuff about “values” is about.

“Principles for Elementary and Secondary Education”:

All children should have access to an excellent education that empowers them to secure their own freedom and contribute to the betterment of our society. We reaffirm the principles that have been the foundation of the nation’s educational progress toward that goal: accountability for student academic achievement; periodic testing on the fundamentals of learning, especially math and reading, history and geography; transparency, so parents and the general public know which schools best serve their students; and flexibility and freedom to innovate so schools and districts can best meet the needs of their students.

Odd to see some of those things called the “foundation” of the education system, but okay. These things sound like good principles, but it’d be nice to see how they come forth in practice, especially the one about testing.

We advocate policies and methods that are proven and effective: building on the basics, especially phonics; ending social promotion; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals. We reject a one-size-fits-all approach and support parental options, including home schooling, and local innovations such as schools or classes for boys only or for girls only and alternative and innovative school schedules.

What the heck is “social promotion”? Most of these seem to be good approaches, pending whatever “social promotion” is. Do any of these give any unfair advantages to the rich over the poor? It sounds like home schooling does. One-gender education sounds risky. “[A]lternative and innovative school schedules” seem worth trying though. “We recognize and appreciate the importance of innovative education environments, particularly homeschooling, for stimulating academic achievement.” Wow, it seems so odd to see the Republicans so high on homeschooling, dropping it twice in as many sentences. It’s damn near impossible for the poor to implement, so do you have any help for them there? Would any help even be possible? “We oppose over-reaching judicial decisions which deny children access to such environments.” Well, that helps explain the emphasis on homeschooling. I’d like to know what these “over-reaching judicial decisions” were and what the grounds for them were.

“We support state efforts to build coordination between elementary and secondary education and higher education such as K-16 councils and dual credit programs.” Sounds good. “To ensure that all students will have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ future potential. All students must be literate in English, our common language, to participate in the promise of America.” The Democrats never directly say they would keep us from turning into Quebec, but at least nominally, their early-stage second language program is intended to raise students’ future potential and allow them to compete in the global economy. So Democrats support teaching kids second languages but neglect to reassure us sufficiently they will protect English as the primary language, while the Republicans reject such programs altogether as “divisive” (a valid point, maybe not necessarily sound, but valid) and don’t suggest they would do anything to help Americans compete in the global economy like kids in Europe learn English.

“Early Childhood Education”:

The family is the most powerful influence on a child’s ability to succeed. As such, parents are our children’s first and foremost teachers. We support family literacy, which improves the literacy, language, and life skills of both parents and children along with the continued improvement of early childhood programs, such as Head Start, from low-income families. We reaffirm our support for the child care tax credit that helps parents choose the care best for their family.

Not sure what “family literacy” means in this sense. Democrats proposed their “Children’s First Agenda” to boost Head Start and invest in Pre-K, among other things – it was short on specifics and long on buzzwords. Democrats want “quality, affordable early childhood care and education” but don’t say much about how, other than the above, and the Republicans back the existing “child care tax credit”. Neither party seems to make this much of a priority, to say the least.

“Giving Students the Best Teachers”:

For students to meet world class standards, they must have access to world class teachers, whether in person or through virtual public schools that can bring high-quality instruction into the classroom. School districts must have the authority to recruit, reward, and retain the best and brightest teachers, and principals must have the authority to select and assign teachers without regard to collective bargaining agreements.

These are all valid points. We need to be able to keep the best teachers and not keep bad ones just because the union would complain. The Democrats also recognized this need, but would fix it by providing more support and training, and even where there are lost causes “find a quick and fair way—consistent with due process—to put another teacher in that classroom.”

“Because qualified teachers are often not available through traditional routes, we support local efforts to create an adjunct teacher corps of experts from higher education, business, and the military to fill in when needed.” Well, that’s a bizarre idea. “Kids, we couldn’t find enough teachers to staff the school today. Here’s a college professor who knows so much he’d probably die if he had to bring himself to your level! Or, here’s a businessperson who wants to get back to the office and has no teaching experience whatsoever! Or, here’s a soldier! Don’t you love getting the same educational experience as a third world country?” Wouldn’t encouraging more people to become teachers like the Democrats propose be a better approach in the long term? (Although that might create a bunch of crap teachers… and the Democrats did want to “streamline the certification process for those with valuable skills who want to shift careers and teach”, which I was concerned about causing more wannabe teachers slipping through the cracks and coming out crap.)

BAM BAM BAM! You know what that sound means! Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s Take A Shot At Trial Lawyers Time! “Teachers must be protected against frivolous litigation and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom.” As always, what about legit lawsuits? “We encourage the private-public partnerships and mentoring that can make classroom time more meaningful to students by integrating it with learning beyond school walls. These efforts are crucial to lowering the drop-out rate and helping at-risk students realize their potential.” Privatize! Privatize! Privatize! Actually this is all pretty much agreeable and arguably important, and the Democrats want to “address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools”, once again ignoring the line about how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (I don’t see the word “tutor” in either party’s discussion of education.)

“We encourage state efforts to ensure that personnel who interact with children pass thorough background checks and are held to the highest standards of conduct.” Well, that’s just common sense.

Partnerships between schools and businesses can be especially important in STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. The need to improve secondary education in those fields can be measured by the number of remedial courses now offered at the college level. Our country’s reliance upon foreign talent in those areas begins with insufficient emphasis upon them in the high school years. We applaud those who are changing that situation by giving young people real-world experience in the private sector and by providing students with rigorous technical and academic courses that give students the skills and knowledge necessary to be productive members in a competitive American workforce.

The first half of this paragraph makes some very good points and pretty much convinces me of more investment here. Not sure if we need to go all the way to “real-world experience in the private sector” and other things that seem to have college more in mind, especially when you consider the “remedial” courses which suggests bringing our secondary-school courses back to “normal” would be a more important first step. Does someone who’s going to become a journalist need to go through “rigorous technical and academic courses” in high school? Or are you only addressing ways to fix the problem in college? Because it seems like from your own assessment of the problem, let’s see what happens when we fix secondary teaching of these subjects first. Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t really touch on this at all. The Democrats don’t touch on most of these things, in fact. On the other hand, the Republicans aren’t as concerned at creating more “best and brightest” teachers, or about making sure the poor have the best teachers they can. Bringing up the poor, after all, is part of the point of the public school system.

“Asserting Family Rights in Schooling”: “Parents should be able to decide the learning environment that is best for their child. We support choice in education for all families, especially those with children trapped in dangerous and failing schools, whether through charter schools, vouchers or tax credits for attending faith-based or other non-public schools, or the option of home schooling.” Harping on home schooling again. It certainly sounds like a worthy goal to get kids out of “dangerous and failing schools” whenever possible, even though it sounds like you would abandon them instead of trying to reform them; I said in my Democratic platform examination (Part II) that “[p]unishing a school for failure only perpetuates and deepens the divide between rich and poor schools”, but it sounds like you may have something in mind to get around that problem. But I’ve heard there’s some debate on the topic of vouchers, and you’re getting into dodgy territory if you’re helping people get into “faith-based” schools, both on First Amendment grounds and on whether “faith-based” schools are really the best education. But charter schools sound good – and were proposed by the Democrats as well.

“We call for the vigilant enforcement of laws designed to protect family rights and privacy in education.” Sounds good; if you’re not going to enforce them, change them. “We will energetically assert the right of students to engage in voluntary prayer in schools and to have equal access to school facilities for religious purposes.” As long as that prayer is voluntary and respected yet not overly supported, and as long as it respects Muslim prayer to the same extent as Christian prayer (to the same extent as atheist non-prayer).

We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with increased funding for abstinence education, which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and expected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception.

If only abstinence education, you know, worked. Turns out teens don’t stop being horny just because they’re told not to. It’s understandable that you would oppose offering abortion services, but at least tell kids “if you do give in to temptation, at least have a condom handy”. “Schools should not ask children to answer offensive or intrusive personal non-academic questionnaires without parental consent.” Sounds like a good stance to take, but what are these “offensive or intrusive…questionnaires” actually asking? “It is not the role of the teacher or school administration to recommend or require the use of psychotropic medications that must be prescribed by a physician.” Again, sounds reasonable.

“Reviewing the Federal Role in Primary and Secondary Education”:

Although the Constitution assigns the federal government no role in local education, Washington’s authority over the nation’s schools has increased dramatically. In less than a decade, annual federal funding has shot up 41 percent to almost $25 billion, while the regulatory burden on state and local governments has risen by about 6.7 million hours – and added $141 million in costs – during that time. We call for a review of Department of Education programs and administration to identify and eliminate ineffective programs, to respect the role of states, and to better meet state needs. To get our schools back to the basics of learning, we support initiatives to block-grant more Department of Education funding to the states, with requirements for state-level standards, assessments, and public reporting to ensure transparency.

This goes along with all the Republicans’ emphasis on curbing government waste. Also pushing a “states’ rights” tack. This all seems reasonable as stated, although “block-grant”? And more pushing for “standards” and “assessments” that have been pushed for years. “Local educators must be free to end ineffective programs and reallocate resources where they are most needed.” Hopefully they would also be free to fix those ineffective programs if they’re fixable.

“Maintaining Our Commitment to IDEA”: “Because a federal mandate on the states must include the promised federal funding, we will fulfill the promise of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to cover 40 percent of the costs incurred because of that legislation. We urge preventive efforts in early childhood, especially assistance in gaining pre-reading skills, to help many youngsters move beyond the need for IDEA’s protections.” The Democrats also “support full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” and I’m not sure the Republicans are pushing “full funding” here. So either the Republicans aren’t giving enough support to “individuals with disabilities” or the Democrats are throwing more money away. I hope the Republicans aren’t brushing off learning disabilities in that last sentence.

And why are Republicans seemingly completely unconcerned about bridging the gap for minority and poor students? The Democrats also gave more emphasis to special education (beyond IDEA) and those “English Language Learners” – other than that bit of “learn English” at the start, which was aimed for native-born Americans, the Republicans never mentioned bilingual students at all. On the flip side, the GOP vowed to allow teachers to maintain order without threat of frivolous lawsuit, help students see the things they’re learning in action, make sure we’re not hiring sex offenders as teachers, and make us more competitive in our math and science education. The Democrats also don’t address prayer in schools, sex education, or (so far) cutting Department of Education waste. Republicans also refrain from trying to “hold [parents] accountable”, as the Democrats did, but other than their fixation on home schooling, neither do they take the opposite tack and say what would have been an easy line: “we do not believe government should tell parents how to raise their kids” or “government should not interfere in parenting”.

Had I included this section in Part VI it would have been around 6,000 words.

“Higher Education”: The GOP praises higher education of all stripes “for its excellence, its diversity, and its accessibility. …Post-secondary education not only increases the earnings of individuals but advances economic development. Our colleges and universities drive much of the research that keeps America competitive. We must ensure that our higher education system meet the needs of the 21st century student and economy and remain innovative and accessible.” Certainly important points and good sentiments.

“Meeting College Costs”: College costs are outpacing inflation, and seem immune to normal market forces (something I’d like to see explored further if true). “We commend those institutions which are directing a greater proportion of their endowment revenues toward tuition relief.”

The Republican vision for expanding access to higher education has led to two major advances, Education Savings Accounts and Section 529 accounts, by which millions of families now save for college. While federal student loans and grants have opened doors to learning for untold numbers of low- and middle-income students, the overall financial aid system, with its daunting forms and confused rationales, is nothing less than Byzantine. It must be simplified. We call for a presidential commission to undertake that task and to review the role of government regulations and policies in the tuition spiral. We affirm our support for the public-private partnership that now offers students and their families a vibrant marketplace in selecting their student loan provider.

Here’s an idea for a drinking game. Start from Part I of this examination and continue going through part by part, or just read the platform itself. Drink once every time the Republicans take a shot at trial lawyers and “frivolous lawsuits”, once every time the Republicans propose privatizing something, and twice for any permutation of the exact phrase “public-private partnership” (or “private-public partnership”). You’ll be stoned in no time. Throw in a drink for any permutation of the phrase “___ Savings Accounts” for good measure. Throw in a drink for any time the Republicans complain something has gotten too complex and wasteful and must be “simplified” or otherwise reformed.

The only policy position listed is this “presidential commission” to review the financial aid process; the rest is affirming policies and practices that already exist. The Democrats wanted to create a gimmicky “American Opportunity Tax Credit” of $4,000, with the “expectation” of community service attached (Republicans may have taken a shot at this requirement much earlier in the platform, and they see the GOP’s “presidential commission” and raise them a checkbox on the tax form. I had doubts about the checkbox at the time, but now it just sounds like actually doing something about a problem instead of talking about it like the GOP wants to do. Think about that as you look back on previous parts and previous “studies” and “commissions”.

“Innovation Will Lead to Lifelong Learning”:

The challenge to American higher education is to make sure students can access education in whatever forms they want. As mobility increases in all aspects of American life, student mobility, from school to school and from campus to campus, will require new approaches to admissions, evaluations, and credentialing. Distance learning propelled by an expanding telecommunications sector and especially broadband, is certain to grow in importance – whether through public or private institutions – and federal law should not discriminate against the latter. Lifelong learning will continue to transform the demographics of higher education, bringing older students and real-world experience to campus.

To truly assess any of this we need to compare it to Democratic positions. The Democrats “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.” The Republicans don’t really mention the first and last on that list. The Democrats don’t address student mobility, though, and sort of talk around the idea of “lifelong learning” in two sentences: “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” and a call to “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.”

“Community Colleges Continue to Play a Crucial Role”: (Who says political parties are shy to adopt literary conventions like alliteration?) This is really just a shout-out to community colleges, not stipulating any policy positions whatsoever. The Republicans praise community colleges’ role as a “bridge[] between the world of work and the classroom”, a place for veterans to gain needed skills to transition to civilian life, and in a weird analogy (especially considering the relatively recent vintage of the key phrase), “[a]s the first responders to economic development and retraining of workers”. But unlike the Democrats, they don’t “reward successful community colleges with grants so they can continue their good work”. Of course, that might be considered throwing money away.

“Special Challenges in Higher Education”: “Free speech on college campuses is to be celebrated, but there should be no place in academia for anti-Semitism or racism of any kind.” What “anti-Semitism” is this referring to? Are Republicans concerned about professors being critical of Israel? Is “racism” referring to affirmative action, or “whitey sucks”? Do Republicans want institutions of higher education to say Israel and white people can do no wrong, or do they just want to kick out the “death to Israel” and “whitey sucks” people?

We oppose the hiring, firing, tenure, and promotion practices at universities that discriminate on the basis of political or ideological belief. When federal taxes are used to support such practices, it is inexcusable. We affirm the right of students and faculty to express their views in the face of the leftist dogmatism that dominates many institutions. To preserve the integrity and independence of the nation’s colleges, we will continue to ensure alternatives to ideological accrediting systems.

This certainly sounds like a good idea, but what about universities that kick out any professors who espouse any “political or ideological belief”, on the grounds that they’re “indoctrinating their students”? The “affirm[ation]” of “the right of students and faculty to express their views” suggests the Republicans would indeed protect those people, at least if they’re on the right. What “alternatives to ideological accrediting systems” do you propose/want to sustain? Regardless, the Democrats haven’t touched on this issue at all.

Because some of the nation’s leading universities create or tolerate a hostile atmosphere toward the ROTC, we will rigorously enforce the provision of law, unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court, which denies those institutions federal research grants unless their military students have the full rights and privileges of other students. That must include the right to engage in ROTC activities on their own campus, rather than being segregated elsewhere.

For the most part, this sounds good, but what are “ROTC activities”, trying to recruit other students? The Republicans didn’t really pledge their support for colleges’ and universities’ research role here either.

This is another short part, but because of going longer than anticipated. The discussion of education passed 3,000 words all on its own, and I made special emphasis to look at the Democratic plan in order to stretch it out, which was good for making it longer than the last part on health care. This last paragraph is carrying us past 4,000. We keep pressing on towards the end of the Republican platform – only two more parts to go! (A note on the Democratic platform series: I may wait to post the last two parts until I have both done…)

Examining the Republican Platform Part VI: “Health Care Reform: Putting Patients First”

This is continued from Parts I-V of my examination of the Republican Platform. I say I made good on my guarantee because this is before I went to bed.

The rest of the Republican platform deals with social issues, starting with Part VI, “Health Care Reform: Putting Patients First”, which will cross over with the Democrats’ favorite topic. The Republicans’ treatment of it begins with empty praise for the personnel and resources of the medical system, and the need “to build around them the best health care system. Republicans believe the key to real reform is to give control of the health care system to patients and their health care providers, not bureaucrats in government or business.” Does that mean you would junk the current private health care system that even Democrats want to retain? Is this something where privatization is not the answer?? Here are the problems the Republicans see with the current health care system:

  • Most Americans work longer and harder to pay for health care. 
  • Dedicated health care providers are changing careers to avoid litigation.
  • The need to hold onto health insurance is driving family decisions about where to live and work. 
  • Many new parents worry about the loss of coverage if they choose to stay at home with their children.
  • The need – and the bills – for long-term care are challenging families and government alike.
  • American businesses are becoming less competitive in the global marketplace because of insurance costs.
  • Some federal programs with no benefit to patients have grown exponentially, adding layers of bureaucracy between patients and their care.

Gotta love the shots taken at trial lawyers and the size of the bureaucracy. The Republicans claim “It is not enough to offer only increased access to a system that costs too much and does not work for millions of Americans. The Republican goal is more ambitious: Better health care for lower cost.” Your stance intrigues me, and I wish to learn more.

“First Principle: Do No Harm”: “The American people rejected Democrats’ attempted government takeover of health care in 1993, and they remain skeptical of politicians who would send us down that road.  Republicans support the private practice of medicine and oppose socialized medicine in the form of a government-run universal health care system.  Republicans pledge that as we reform our health care system:

  • We will protect citizens against any and all risky restructuring efforts that would complicate or ration health care.” The Republicans seem to think it’s impossible to “cover all”, as the Democrats want, and still offer complete coverage, as the Democrats want. Not sure how the Democratic plan would really “complicate” things – you choose between a number of providers.
  • “We will encourage health promotion and disease prevention.” So do the Democrats; this is presumably a defense against the notion that they wouldn’t do those things.
  • “We will facilitate cooperation, not confrontation, among patients, providers, payers, and all stakeholders in the health care system.” I’m intrigued as to how.
  • “We will
    not put government between patients and their health care providers.” Unless “health care providers” refers to private insurers instead of doctors and hospitals, I’m not sure how the Democratic plan “puts government between patients and their health care providers”.
  • “We will
    not put the system on a path that empowers Washington bureaucrats at the expense of patients.” Fair point.
  • “We will
    not raise taxes instead of reducing health care costs.” The Democrats did say their rollback of the Bush tax cuts would pay for their health care plan, but they are also concerned about “reducing health care costs” if I recall correctly.
  • “We will
    not replace the current system with the staggering inefficiency, maddening irrationality, and uncontrollable costs of a government monopoly.” Given some of the weak spots in the Democratic plan, fair point.

    Radical restructuring of health care would be unwise.  We want all Americans to be able to choose the best health care provider, hospital, and health coverage for their needs.  We believe that real reform is about improving your access to a health care provider, your control over care, and your ability to afford that care. 

    We will continue to advocate for simplification of the system and the empowerment of patients.  This is in stark contrast to the other party’s insistence on putting Washington in charge of patient care, which has blocked any progress on meeting these goals.  We offer a detailed program that will improve the quality, cost, and coverage of health care throughout the nation, and we will turn that plan into reality.

Very intrigued. You want further simplification of the system and you think the Democratic plan complicates it? Your – presumably very different – plan follows the “quality, affordable” tenets of the Democratic plan, but with less reliance on government? I want to know more!

“Patient Control and Portability”: “Republicans believe all Americans should be able to obtain an affordable health care plan, including a health savings account, which meets their needs and the needs of their families.” Well, here’s the beginnings of it, but I still want to learn the details of this “health savings account” Where would the money come from, how does it differ from a regular savings account? “Families and health care providers are the key to real reform, not lawyers and bureaucrats. To empower families, we must make insurance more affordable and more secure, and give employees the option of owning coverage that is not tied to their job.  Patients should not have to worry about losing their insurance. Insurance companies should have to worry about losing patients’ business.” The substantive parts of all of that sound good, but they sound similar to the Democratic plan. Although I don’t know how easy the Democrats make it to change health care providers.

“The current tax system discriminates against individuals who do not receive health care from their employers, gives more generous health tax benefits to upper income employees, and fails to provide every American with the ability to purchase an affordable health care plan.” Democrats did call for employers to “have incentives to provide coverage to their workers”, and all of these are fair points – and only the last, vague one mirrors the Democratic plan. “Republicans propose to correct inequities in the current tax code that drive up the number of uninsured and to level the playing field so that individuals who choose a health insurance plan in the individual market face no tax penalty.” The Democrats did say that “[c]overage should be made affordable for all Americans with subsidies provided through tax credits and other means”, but didn’t directly address “inequities in the current tax code”. “All Americans should receive the same tax benefit as those who are insured through work, whether through a tax credit or other means.” Sounds fair, but I see no incompatibility with the Democratic plan.

“Individuals with pre-existing conditions must be protected; we will help these individuals by building on the experiences of innovative states rather than by creating a new unmanageable federal entitlement.” Democrats wanted to bar insurers from barring people with “pre-existing conditions”, so they wouldn’t necessarily have to enter the “federal entitlement”, but it does consist of more of that “regulation” Republicans hate so much. I want to know what these “innovative states” have come up with; the Democrats had a similar line there as well. “We strongly urge that managed care organizations use the practice patterns and medical treatment guidelines from the state in which the patient lives when making medical coverage decisions.” Sounds somewhat obvious.

Then the Republicans start harping on semi-tangential “values” issues. “Because the family is our basic unit of society, we fully support parental rights to consent to medical treatment for their children including mental health treatment, drug treatment, alcohol treatment, and treatment involving pregnancy, contraceptives, and abortion.” Some people might disagree, but this seems reasonable to me.

“Improving Quality of Care and Lowering Costs”: And “help[ing] Americans – men, women, and children – live longer and healthier lives”.

“Prevent Disease and End the ‘Sick Care’ System”: Sound like Obama calling for “a health care system, not a disease care system”? “Chronic diseases – in many cases, preventable conditions – are driving health care costs, consuming three of every four health care dollars. We can reduce demand for medical care by fostering personal responsibility within a culture of wellness, while increasing access to preventive services, including improved nutrition and breakthrough medications that keep people healthy and out of the hospital.” The Democrats cited a similar stat and vowed 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.” How would the Republicans “foster[] personal responsibility within a culture of wellness”? Why do I have a sinking feeling those “breakthrough medications” are a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies? If you need them great; ideally, you don’t need them.

“To reduce the incidence of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke, we call for a national grassroots campaign against obesity, especially among children.” The “party of small government” should know that a “grassroots campaign” started by government is a contradiction. “We call for continuation of efforts to decrease use of tobacco, especially among the young.” I will never understand how people my age could possibly start smoking despite being bombarded all their lives by messages about how bad it is and considering how bad it stinks. We’ve been on an anti-tobacco crusade since, what, the 70s now? Do you think maybe we should start thinking about changing tactics, or at least adopting new ones?

“A culture of wellness needs to include the treatment of mental health conditions.  We believe all Americans should have access to affordable, quality health care, including individuals struggling with mental illness.  For this reason, we believe it is important that mental health care be treated equally with physical health care.” These three sentences are almost redundant and give the impression that the Republicans are committed to mental health when they give no specifics.

“Empower Individuals to Make the Best Health Care Choices”: “Clear information about health care empowers patients.  It lets consumers make better decisions about where to spend their health care dollars, thereby fostering competition and lowering costs.  Patients must have information to make sound decisions about their health care providers, hospitals, and insurance companies.” Question is, will they even look at that information? I don’t think I saw anything in the Democratic platform concerning this. This may be the most substantive part of the Republicans’ alternate plan so far, but because many Americans get their coverage from their employer, it lacks a foundation.

“Use Health Information Technology to Save Lives”:

Advances in medical technology are revolutionizing medicine. Information technology is key to early detection and treatment of chronic disease as well as fetal care and health care in rural areas – especially where our growing wireless communications network is available.  The simple step of modernizing recordkeeping will mean faster, more accurate treatment, fewer medical errors, and lower costs.  Closing the health care information gap can reduce both under-utilization (the diabetic who forgets to refill an insulin prescription) and over-utilization (the patient who endures repetitive tests because providers have not shared test results).

There’s a germ of substantive policy in there. The Democrats did call for, more specifically, “driving adoption of state-of-the-art health information technology systems, [and] privacy-protected electronic medical records”. All pretty common sense stuff.

“Protect Good Health Care Providers from Frivolous Lawsuits”: It’s Take-Shots-At-Trial-Lawyers Time!

Every patient must have access to legal remedies for malpractice, but meritless lawsuits drive up insurance rates to outrageous levels and ultimately drive up the number of uninsured.  Frivolous lawsuits also drive up the cost of health care as health care providers are forced to practice defensive medicine, such as ordering unnecessary tests.  Many leave their practices rather than deal with the current system. This emergency demands medical liability reform.

And that medical liability reform would be…? This is another thing the Dems don’t touch on, and it’s starting to form the germ of lowering the cost of health care, at least as described. But more is still to come.

“Reward Good Health Care Providers for Delivering Real Results”:

Patients deserve access to health care providers they trust who will personalize and coordinate their care to ensure they receive the right treatment with the right health care provider at the right time.  Providers should be paid for keeping people well, not for the number of tests they run or procedures they perform.   The current cookie-cutter system of reimbursement needs restructuring from the view of the patient, not the accountant or Washington bureaucrat.

That certainly sounds reasonable – do you reimburse providers more for keeping costs down? Well, you don’t say that. And what about what the Democrats call “insurance discrimination”? This sounds like a way of doubling that – one way to get “paid for keeping people well” is to keep out the people who aren’t!

“Drive Costs Down with Interstate Competition”:

A state-regulated national market for health insurance means more competition, more choice, and lower costs.  Families – as well as fraternal societies, churches and community groups, and small employers – should be able to purchase policies across state lines.  The best practices and lowest prices should be available in every state.  We call upon state legislators to carefully consider the cost of medical mandates, and we salute those Republican governors who are leading the way in demonstrating ways to provide affordable health care options.

Um… okay, this is an odd proposal. Does this mean that one or two states will be providing the health care for the entire nation? Wouldn’t this render state-by-state policies meaningless? Why don’t you just take away the state-by-state policies and pass the best ones on a national level? Don’t you like the states?

“Modernize Long-Term Care Options for All”:

The financial burdens and emotional challenges of ensuring adequate care for elderly family members affect every American, especially with today’s aging population.  We must develop new ways to support individuals, not just institutions, so that older Americans can have a real choice whether to stay in their homes. This is true not only with regard to Medicaid, where we spend $100 billion annually on long-term care, but also for those who do not qualify for that assistance.

And those new ways would be…? I’m not even sure what you would look at here.

“Encourage Primary Care as a Specialty”: “We believe in the importance of primary care specialties and supporting the physician’s role in the evaluation and management of disease.  We also encourage practice in rural and underserved areas of America.” No word on how, though. The Democrats provided more detail on how they would support primary care workers, but surprisingly, didn’t mention the last sentence either in my Part I or in their “rural America” section.

“Funding Medical Research”:

We support federal investment in basic and applied biomedical research.  This commitment will maintain America’s global competitiveness, advance innovative science that can lead to medical breakthroughs, and turn the tide against diseases affecting millions of Americans – diseases that account for the majority of our health care costs. The United States leads in this research, as evidenced by our growing biotechnology industry, but foreign competition is increasing.  One way government can help preserve the promise of American innovation is to ensure that our intellectual property laws remain robust.

So, would big bad government actually directly fund this research? Certainly the Democrats talk about that. “[E]nsur[ing] that our intellectual property laws remain robust” certainly sounds good. The Democrats support research as a way of enhancing their health care plan, not so much as a way to fight diseases in and of itself. They accused the Republicans of stonewalling “biomedical and stem cell research”, but the GOP mentions “biomedical research” here and doesn’t mention anything that looks like a control (although I’m not done with the section yet).

“Federal research dollars should be spent as though lives are at stake – because, in fact, they are.” I guess big bad government is getting into the spending business, but this certainly makes it sound like a worthy cause. “Research protocols must consider the special needs of formerly neglected groups if we are to make significant progress against breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, and other killers.” What are these “formerly neglected groups”? Are they Democratic special interests? What are we talking about here?

Now come the political flashpoint issues.

Taxpayer-funded medical research must be based on sound science, with a focus on both prevention and treatment, and in accordance with the humane ethics of the Hippocratic Oath. In that regard, we call for a major expansion of support for the stem-cell research that now shows amazing promise and offers the greatest hope for scores of diseases – with adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and cells reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells – without the destruction of embryonic human life.  We call for a ban on human cloning and for a ban on the creation of or experimentation on human embryos for research purposes.

“Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Democrats? We love stem cell research! We just don’t like embryonic stem cell research that destroys life.” No permutation of the word “clone” appears in the Democratic platform, but I don’t know enough about cloning to know where the controversy is, other than religious and philosophical questions. What’s your position on “embryonic human life” that would be “destroyed” anyway? There are no mentions of assisted suicide in the Democratic platform either: “We believe medicines and treatments should be designed to prolong and enhance life, not destroy it.  Therefore, federal funds should not be used for drugs that cause the destruction of human life.  Furthermore, the Drug Enforcement Administration ban on use of controlled substances for physician-assisted suicide should be restored.” What’s your stance on people suffering from incurable terminal illness, other than brushing it off with “let’s do more research so it becomes curable”?

“Protecting Rights of Conscience”:

The health care profession can be both a profession and a calling.  No health care professional – doctor, nurse, or pharmacist – or organization should ever be required to perform, provide for, or refer for a health care service against their conscience for any reason.  This is especially true of the religious organizations which deliver a major portion of America’s health care, a service rooted in the charity of faith communities.

What’s this referring to, abortion? Since most of these services can be gotten elsewhere this seems reasonable, especially as a logical outgrowth of the First Amendment.


Its projected growth is out of control and threatens to squeeze out other programs, while funding constraints lead to restricted access to treatment for many seniors.  There are solutions. Medicare can be a leader for the rest of our health care system by encouraging treatment of the whole patient. Specifically, we should compensate doctors who coordinate care, especially for those with multiple chronic conditions, and eliminate waste and inefficiency.

Most of the Democrats’ talk about Medicare comes closer to the end of their platform, in a part I haven’t gotten to yet. For now know that they want to “allow[] Medicare to negotiate for lower prices” which would be one way to cut costs. This proposal sounds reasonable and logical so far. “Medicare patients must have more control of their care and choice regarding their doctors, and the benefits of competition must be delivered to the patients themselves if Medicare is to provide quality health care.” Sounds good, but don’t know what to make of it and keep in mind we’re talking about seniors. “And Medicare patients must be free to add their own funds, if they choose, to any government benefits, to be assured of unrationed care.” That sounds reasonable as well, at first glance, but it means rich people would get better care than poor people. “Finally, because it is isolated from the free market forces that encourage innovation, competition, affordability, and expansion of options, Medicare is especially susceptible to fraud and abuse.  The program loses tens of billions of dollars annually in erroneous and fraudulent payments.  We are determined to root out the fraud and eliminate this assault on the taxpayer.” Sounds good, but how do you plan to do that and what long-term structural reforms do you plan to institute without rendering Medicare at risk to economic downturns and changes in government? And didn’t you just say “the benefits of competition must be delivered to the patients” and now you’re calling Medicare “isolated from…free market forces”?


Our Medicaid obligations will consume $5 trillion over the next ten years.  Medicaid now accounts for 20-25 percent of state budgets and threatens to overwhelm state governments for the indefinite future.  We can do better while spending less.  A first step is to give Medicaid recipients more health care options.  Several states have allowed beneficiaries to buy regular health insurance with their Medicaid dollars.  This removes the Medicaid “stamp” from people’s foreheads, provides beneficiaries with better access to doctors, and saves taxpayers’ money.  We must ensure that taxpayer money is focused on caring for U.S. citizens and other individuals in our country legally.

The Democrats have even less to say about Medicaid; they mention extending it to more HIV-positive Americans and then don’t mention it again until a section titled “Virgin Islands” virtually at the end of the entire platform! So presumably they’re willing to let the Republicans’ doomsday scenario happen. The idea of letting Medicaid beneficiaries buy whatever health insurance they want with their Medicaid dollars certainly sounds like a good idea. One more sentence of harping on illegal immigration at the end there.

“Building a Health Care System for Future Emergencies”:

To protect the American people from the threats we face in the century ahead, we must develop and stockpile medicines and vaccines so we can deliver them where urgently needed.  Our health care infrastructure must have the surge capacity to handle large numbers of patients in times of crisis, whether it is a repeat of Hurricane Katrina, a flu pandemic, or a bioterror attack on multiple cities.  Republicans will ensure that this infrastructure, including the needed communications capacity, is closely integrated into our homeland security needs.

I seem to recall the Republicans may have mentioned this before, back in their national security discussion. This sounds like an important thing to do, to the extent you kind of wonder why we’re not doing it already.

We’re under 4,000 words, let alone 5,000, but the section on education started going so long it wasn’t particularly plausible to stick it in this part without either threatening the 7,000 word barrier, or causing a contradiction by breaking in the middle of the education section for the GOP but not for the Democrats (with a firmer break with the latter to boot). So more Republican fun is still to come… and you may see two Democratic examinations before the next Republican examination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Growing Our Energy Supply”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Clean Coal”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Addressing Climate Change Responsibly”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Continuing Our Stewardship over the Environment”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Republican Tax Policy: Protecting Hardworking Americans”:

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

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

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

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

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

Lower Taxes on Families and Individuals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Technology and Innovation”:

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

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

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

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

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

“The Failed Model of Employer-Employee Relations”:

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

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

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

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

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

“Individual-Based Unemployment Insurance and Training”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Empowering the States, Improving Public Services”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Restoring Our Infrastructure”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Guaranteeing a Constitutional Census in 2010”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Preserving the District of Columbia”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Strengthening Ties in the Americas”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examining the Republican Platform Part I: Preamble, “Defending Our Nation” and “Supporting Our Heroes”

We’re far from done examining the Democratic platform, but as I’ve found out most of what I need to know on my principal issue and as this experiment is taking WAY longer than I had hoped, and as I’m having trouble properly critiquing the Dems when I’m only being exposed to their side, we’re moving on to the Republican platform and the wonders it may have in store for us, and how Americans may assess both parties’ platforms. The first thing I notice, aside from the longer length (which is really due to more page breaks), is that the Republicans, at least superficially, make their platform read more like a book. In addition to the PDF I’m working off, you can also read the platform as a series of HTML pages, and in the PDF everything is in a two-column format. The Democrats appear to use Times New Roman for their preamble, and a web-style form where extra spacing, not indents, mark paragraphs; the Republicans use a more stylish font and use indents to mark paragraphs. The preamble comes before the table of contents and reads more like an introduction than the summary-cum-speech the Democratic preamble reads like, and the table of contents lists just each part and not a full outline of each part like the Democratic platform.

But what about the preamble itself? Like the Democrats, the Republicans proclaim their platform

the product of the most open and transparent process in American political history. We offer it to our fellow Americans in the assurance that our Republican ideals are those that unify our country: Courage in the face of foreign foes. An optimistic patriotism, driven by a passion for freedom. Devotion to the inherent dignity and rights of every person. Faith in the virtues of self-reliance, civic commitment, and concern for one another. Distrust of government’s interference in people’s lives. Dedication to a rule of law that both protects and preserves liberty.

To this list, there is not really a good equivalent in the Democratic preamble; there are a couple of lists that come close but perhaps the best example may be the preamble as a whole, or maybe its own first paragraph. I would quibble with a couple of things – I don’t want an overly optimistic patriotism that fails to recognize certain flaws. Other than that all of this at least sounds good, but again, can we trust the Republicans to bring any of it? And I’m not sure our “faith in the virtues…” is particularly well placed at this moment.

The Republicans are no less scared of taking a shot at the Democrats as the Democrats are of taking shots at Bush:

We present this platform at an uncertain point in time. Our country remains at war and committed to victory, but reckless political forces would imperil that goal and endanger our nation. In the economy and in society at large, it is a time of transformation. But the American people will meet these challenges. Even with its uncertainties, they embrace the future, but they are also too wise to rush headlong into it. We are an adventurous, risk-taking people, but we are not gamblers. A sound democracy trusts new leadership but insists that it demonstrate the old virtues: the character and the command that, in times of conflict and crisis, have led the Republic through its trials.

The Republicans proclaim their foundation on “proven truths and tested wisdom” and that the platform “shows what the American people can accomplish when government respects their rights, conserves their resources, and calls upon their love of country. It is not a tribute to bigger government.” (Man, for a party that was in power for 12 years in Congress and the last 8 years in the presidency, they sure do love their small government tack!) These sort of even emptier platitudes continue for a while, including proclaiming themselves “a party – as we are a nation – of mavericks” and “the one party that speaks to all Americans – conservatives, moderates, libertarians, independents, and even liberals.” This sort of thing continues for a while, with no overview of the current situation or overview of what the Republicans are actually proposing, as in the Democratic preamble. It does end “[w]ith gratitude for eight years of honorable service from President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the Republican Party now stands united behind new leadership, an American patriot, John McCain” and an invocation to the Almighty.
So I’ll move right along into Part I, “Defending Our Nation, Supporting Our Heroes, Securing the Peace”. Unlike in the Democratic platform, parts aren’t given numbers so I’ve added them. It’s telling that the Democrats start with the economic crisis and helping the American family, and the Republicans start with military matters.

Three decades ago, in a world as dangerous as today’s, Americans of all stripes came together to advance the cause of freedom. They had witnessed the wreckage of inexperienced good intentions at the highest levels of government, the folly of an amateur foreign policy. And so, in defiance of a world-wide Marxist advance, they announced a goal as enduring as the vision of Isaiah, to “proclaim liberty to the captives,” and summed up America’s strategy for achieving that end in a timeless slogan: Peace through strength – an enduring peace, based on freedom and the will to defend it.

That goal still requires the unity of Americans beyond differences of party and conflicts of personality. The rancor of past years must now give way to a common goal of security for our country and safety for our people. For seven years, the horror of September 11, 2001 has not been repeated on our soil. For that, we are prayerfully grateful and salute all who have played a role in defending our homeland. We pledge to continue their vigilance and to assure they have the authority and resources they need to protect the nation.

The last sentence is the only really “overview” part of this brief introduction.
“Defending Our Nation”: “The Current Conflict Abroad”: “Our first obligation is the security of our country.” There, I’ve affirmed it. Keeping us safe keeps everyone safe to enjoy everything else.

The waging of war – and the achieving of peace – should never be micromanaged in a party platform, or on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives for that matter. In dealing with present conflicts and future crises, our next president must preserve all options. It would be presumptuous to specify them in advance and foolhardy to rule out any action deemed necessary for our security.

Um. Okay. I get your point, but can I get at least a broad idea of what approach you’d take? Would you favor diplomacy first, or just charge in with guns a-blazin’? Are you really willing to throw out any principles if it’s “necessary for our security”? Come to think of it, you don’t really make the point that it would be dangerous to “specify them in advance”, so you’re basically saying, you don’t have a plan and you’d just like to do whatever you want. After the unpopular Iraq war, how can we trust you with that power? Or is this like the Democrats and the economic crisis?
“Homeland Security”: “The security of the country is now everyone’s responsibility,” proclaim the Republicans. “The fact that eighty percent of our critical infrastructure is in private hands highlights the need for public-private partnerships to safeguard it, especially in the energy industry.” I’ll keep this in mind; I can certainly see the thinking behind it.

Along with unrelenting vigilance to prevent bioterrorism and other WMD-related attacks, we must regularly exercise our ability to quickly respond if one were to occur. We must continue to remove barriers to cooperation and information sharing. Modernized 9-1-1 services must be made universally available and be adequately funded. We must be able to thwart cyber attacks that could cripple our economy, monitor terrorist activities while respecting Americans’ civil liberties, and protect against military and industrial espionage and sabotage. All this requires experienced leadership.

All well and good – you better make sure you do respect Americans’ civil liberties, is all I have to add. Presumably the “experienced leadership” line is taking a shot at Obama.
“Terrorism and Nuclear Proliferation”: Man, the Republicans are not shy about taking shots at Democrats:

The attacks of September 11, 2001 were a pivot point in our national experience. They highlighted the failure of national policy to recognize and respond to the growth of a global terror network. They should have put an end to the Democrats’ naïve thinking that international terrorists could be dealt with within the normal criminal justice system, but that misconception persists.

Um… first of all, 9/11 happened on Bush’s watch. Whose “failure of national policy” was it? And since the terrorists weren’t even pursued prior to 9/11, how did 9/11 prove they couldn’t be “dealt with within the normal criminal justice system”? There’s a point to be made that “international terrorists” should be dealt with internationally, but the Republicans don’t really say so, so for all I know they just want to deal with terrorists or even people they think might have a tiny chance of being terrorists however they want.
“The gravest threat we face – nuclear terrorism – demands a comprehensive strategy for reducing the world’s nuclear stockpiles and preventing proliferation. The U.S. should lead that effort by 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.” Sounds all well and good. “In cooperation with other nations, we should end the production of weapons-grade fissile material, 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.” Again, can’t argue with that.

But that is not enough. We must develop and deploy both national and theater missile defenses to protect the American homeland, our people, our Armed Forces abroad, and our allies. Effective, layered missile defenses are critical to guard against the unpredictable actions of rogue regimes and outlaw states, reduce the possibility of strategic blackmail, and avoid the disastrous consequences of an accidental or unauthorized launch by a foreign power.

Ooo…kay. I’ve heard bad things about the effectiveness and expense of such schemes. But we do need to protect against, say, an unprovoked, out-of-nowhere attack from North Korea, not let ourselves be blackmailed, and not let dumb mistakes start World War III. The middle option, and to some extent the first suggests just the opposite of what the Republicans had proposed in the previous paragraph – improving our military power – but mistakes could happen (although World War III hasn’t started yet) and I’d like to make sure we have a strategy. I’ll see if the Democrats propose anything that might actually work.
But oh look! We have an answer to at least the first! “Better Intelligence – the Key to Prevention”: “Intelligence is America’s first line of defense. We must increase the ranks and resources of our human intelligence capabilities, integrate technical and human sources, and get that information more quickly to the warfighter and the policy maker. The multi-jurisdictional arrangements that now prevail on Capitol Hill should be replaced by a single Joint Committee on Intelligence.” All very well and good, though I don’t know what the real impact of creating a “Joint Committee on Intelligence” would be.

Intelligence is Key to Fighting Bioterrorism and Cyberterrorism
Bioterrorism and cyberterrorism, once the stuff of science fiction films, are immediate threats to our nation’s health and safety. Our food and water distribution systems require special vigilance. By the same token, a well-placed cyber-attack could cripple our economy, shut down our energy and transportation systems, wreck our health care delivery systems, and put millions of lives at risk. Although our country has thwarted new terrorist attacks since 2001, those threats do persist. That is why our reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was so vital, and why the Democrats’ opposition to it was so wrong.

This makes it sound like the GOP reformed FISA to improve our intelligence agencies’ ability to stop bioterrorism and cyberterrorism, a laudable goal, and nothing more. But without details, I don’t know if there aren’t good reasons for the Dems to oppose it.
“Immigration, National Security, and the Rule of Law”: “Immigration policy is a national security issue, for which we have one test: Does it serve the national interest? By that standard, Republicans know America can have a strong immigration system without sacrificing the rule of law.” Which means we can continue letting in the immigrants that make this country great, but presumably we aren’t letting in criminals and terrorists. Or, as they put it later, “terrorism, drug cartels, and criminal gangs”. So of course the first subheading is “Enforcing the Rule of Law at the Border and Throughout the Nation”, which lets you know where the GOP’s real priorities lie. Still, this subheading talks about laudable goals: “allowing millions of unidentified persons to enter and remain in this country poses grave risks to the sovereignty of the United States and the security of its people. We simply must be able to track who is entering and leaving our country.” I don’t disagree with any of that, although if they’re perfectly innocent and not a threat to our sovereignty they shouldn’t just be kicked out.

Our determination to uphold the rule of law begins with 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. Experience shows that enforcement of existing laws is effective in reducing and reversing illegal immigration.

So the Republicans are all about enforcing the law. Support our border agents, fence ourselves off, “secure our ports of entry”. “Reducing and reversing illegal immigration” might hint at a disdainful attitude towards immigrants. Rather than track down the bad apples that would undermine the rule of law, the Republicans just want to seal ourselves off. This perhaps becomes especially pronounced in the next paragraph:

Our commitment to the rule of law means smarter enforcement at the workplace, against illegal workers and lawbreaking employers alike, along with those who practice identity theft and traffic in fraudulent documents. As long as jobs are available in the United States, economic incentives to enter illegally will persist. But we must empower employers so they can know with confidence that those they hire are permitted to work. That means that the E-Verify system – which is an internet-based system that verifies the employment authorization and identity of employees – must be reauthorized. A phased-in requirement that employers use the E-Verify system must be enacted.

It’s clear that the Republicans’ concern is not solely with the rule of law. Crack down on illegal workers whether they want to destroy America or not – and their employers as well. “Those who practice identity theft and traffic in fraudulent documents” I’m okay with cracking down on, but let’s also make it less necessary. It’s also clear from the bit about E-Verify that by “employers” in the first sentence the GOP means employers who knowingly employ illegals, presumably out of fear those employers are trying to undermine the “rule of law”. Never mind that those illegals might be contributing to our economy. I agree with the whole E-Verify bit but I think I see it very differently than the Republicans see it.
“The rule of law means guaranteeing to law enforcement the tools and coordination to deport criminal aliens without delay – and correcting court decisions that have made deportation so difficult.” Of course due process should be in place here, but if someone is convicted with a crime serious enough to warrant deportation of course we should do so. “It means enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas, rather than letting millions flout the generosity that gave them temporary entry.” Of course, but maybe we should find out why people overstay their visas instead of renewing them if they need to. “It means imposing maximum penalties on those who smuggle illegal aliens into the U.S., both for their lawbreaking and for their cruel exploitation.” Agreed, but what do you mean by “maximum penalties”, and are you willing to scale it to the level of exploitation? For example, if a bunch of people form a cooperative to sneak across the border, is there any “exploitation” here?

It means requiring cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement and real consequences, including the denial of federal funds, for self-described sanctuary cities, which stand in open defiance of the federal and state statutes that expressly prohibit such sanctuary policies, and which endanger the lives of U.S. citizens. It does not mean driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, nor does it mean that states should be allowed to flout the federal law barring them from giving in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens, nor does it mean that illegal aliens should receive social security benefits, or other public benefits, except as provided by federal law.

So much for states’ rights! Seriously, the idea that it’s OK to be an illegal alien in some places and not in others is kind of ridiculous (not to mention, really does undermine the “rule of law”), but I would think what would be needed is some sort of reform that reduces the demand for such cities. Rewarding illegal aliens is not exactly okay, but shouldn’t we have a process for verifying them and making them legal? I mean, when I think of a “strong immigration system” I think of a system that welcomes the world’s detritus with open arms, “your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but still puts them through a system that keeps the country safe and secure, allowing immigrants to contribute to the American economy without undermining our security. Or am I just stuck in the 19th century?
“We oppose amnesty. The rule of law suffers if government policies encourage or reward illegal activity. The American people’s rejection of en masse legalizations is especially appropriate given the federal government’s past failures to enforce the law.” “Assume legality first and ask questions later” certainly is not a good idea, but it seems that “the federal government’s past failures to enforce the law” is part of the reason some people are proposing amnesty, because it would take forever to process all the legalization requests. Here’s a thought: How about if we work to help Mexico improve its economy and living standards, so we’re no longer half of one of the largest disparities in living standards across a border on Earth and so we don’t have the entire population of Mexico looking to hop the fence?
Fortunately, the Republicans are also at least willing to pay lip service to my idea of a “strong immigration system”, because the next subheading is “Embracing Immigrant Communities”, and it’s full of the sort of empty platitudes you’d expect from people campaigning for immigrant votes. Here are the actual points of policy: “Both government and the private sector must do more to foster legally present immigrants’ integration into American life to advance respect for the rule of law and a common American identity. It is a national disgrace that the first experience most new Americans have is with a dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy defined by delay and confusion; we will no longer tolerate those failures.” Amen! “In our multiethnic nation, everyone – immigrants and native-born alike – must embrace our core values of liberty, equality, meritocracy, and respect for human dignity and the rights of women.” Ideally, yes please!*

One sign of our unity is our English language. For newcomers, it has always been the fastest route to prosperity in America. English empowers. We support English as the official language in our nation, while welcoming the ethnic diversity in the United States and the territories, including language. Immigrants should be encouraged to learn English. English is the accepted language of business, commerce, and legal proceedings, and it is essential as a unifying cultural force. It is also important, as part of cultural integration, that our schools provide better education in U.S. history and civics for all children, thereby fostering a commitment to our national motto, E Pluribus Unum.

Ah, here’s a way to say “we support immigration” while still scoring political points! I smell an undercurrent of “durn forinners and their durn gib’rish”. Ideally, if English “has always been the fastest route to prosperity in America”, immigrants would learn English of their own accord. This ties in with what the Democrats were talking about with regards to multiculturalism and learning new languages. I can tell the Republicans are probably greatly concerned about the Democrats’ proposal for children to learn at least one other language.
So let’s see… I hope we can all support the Democrats’ proposal for increased funding for bilingual “English Language Learner” classes. But should we also ask our own kids to learn one other language? Dems would say we should in order to compete in the global economy, Republicans would say it would undermine English’s central status as our national, “unifying” language. But nothing says everyone has to learn Spanish; some people could learn French, some German, some Japanese, some Farsi. English could remain the one language that unifies us all as Americans, but at the same time we can also compete and trade with nations that aren’t part of the British Commonwealth.
The last sentence is certainly something no one could disagree with if they consider themselves patriots, although hopefully the US history lesson is a bit deeper than “we’re so great, we’re greatly greatly great”. This subheading ends with a thank-you to immigrants in the military, and how it’s a reminder to “the institutions of civil society of the need to embrace newcomers, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid patterns of isolation.” I’m not sure how that squares with all the roadblocks the Republicans threw up in the first subheading.
(*=trying to stifle guffaws of laughter)
Finally: “Welcoming Refugees Our country continues to accept refugees from
troubled lands all over the world. In some cases,
these are people who stood with America in dangerous
times, and they have first call on our hospitality.
We oppose, however, the granting of refugee status on the basis of lifestyle or other non-political factors.” What? What does this even mean? Are you saying that if someone is kicked out of, say, Saudi Arabia because they’re gay you wouldn’t grant them safe haven? Or does it mean something else? Because if you’re saying that, you’re kind of breaking the spirit of our reputation of welcomeness for the sake of paltry political disputes… I hate to bring Hitler into this sort of discussion, but it’s kind of like refusing to take in refugees of the Holocaust…
“Supporting Our Heroes”: Unlike the last section, this section contains an introduction of sorts, trying to take credit for “the best-manned, best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led military in the world” and accusing Clinton of “neglect[ing] and under-fund[ing]” it. “Our Armed Forces today are modern, agile, and adaptable to the unpredictable range of challenges in the years ahead. We pledge to keep them that way.”
“Providing for the Armed Forces”:

The men and women who wear our country’s uniform – whether on active duty or in the Reserves or National Guard – are the most important assets in our military arsenal. They and their families must have the pay, health care, housing, education, and overall support they need. We must significantly increase the size of our Armed Forces; crucial to that goal will be retention of combat veterans.

No one, certainly no patriot, would disagree with the first two sentences, but “significantly increase the size of our Armed Forces”? “[R]etention of combat veterans” that just want to go home? I thought pacifists would hate the Democratic preamble, but this makes the Dems sound like kumbaya-chanting hippies! Didn’t the Republicans already make our military “the best-manned… military in the world”? Why do they feel the need to add more people to “our Armed Forces”? I really want to find out what it is that makes the Republicans think we need to boost our military even more because I don’t want some sort of militaristic bully as a home country and I want a reassurance the Republicans want peace. And this is in their public party platform? Really, what is it?

Injured military personnel deserve the best medical care our country has to offer. The special circumstances of the conflict in Iraq have resulted in an unprecedented incidence of traumatic brain injury, which calls for a new commitment of resources and personnel for its care and treatment. We must make military medicine the gold standard for advances in prosthetics and the treatment of trauma and eye injuries.

Absolutely agreeable from top to bottom, but you haven’t exactly answered my question… “We must always remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice; their families must be assured meaningful financial assistance. It is the solemn duty we owe and honor we give to those who bravely don the uniform of freedom.” Again, completely agreeable.

National Guard and Reserves
We pledge to maintain the strength of the National Guard and Reserves and to ensure they receive pay, benefits, and resources befitting their service. Their historic role as citizen-soldiers is a proud tradition linking every community with the cause of national security. We affirm service members’ legal right to return to their civilian jobs, whether in government or in the private sector, when their active duty is completed, and we call for greater transition assistance from employers across the nation to smooth their return to the work force.

Once again, completely agreeable, though the significant presence of National Guard troops in Iraq is a cause for concern.

Personnel policies
The all-volunteer force has been a success. We oppose reinstituting the draft, whether directly or through compulsory national service. We support the advancement of women in the military and their exemption from ground combat units. Military priorities and mission must determine personnel policies. Esprit and cohesion are necessary for military effectiveness and success on the battlefield. To protect our servicemen and women and ensure that America’s Armed Forces remain the best in the world, we affirm the timelessness of those values, the benefits of traditional military culture, and the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service.

I can’t help but wonder if “through compulsory national service” is a shot at the Democrats’ attempts to mandate community service. If so, it’s actually a decent point. Not sure whether I like or dislike the exemption of women from “ground combat units”. For the most part, the last couple of sentences sound good, saying we need camaraderie to have the strongest military we can, but I’m not sure how government policies can benefit that goal – and the one specific they provide, “the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service”, is kind of scary. That, like the need to exempt women from “ground combat units”, is a real difference of opinion and it’s probably on shakier ground.
“Fulfilling our Commitment to our Veterans”: “To military personnel who have served honorably and then retire or leave active duty, we owe a smooth transition to civilian life. Funding for the programs that assist them should be sufficient, timely, and predictable and never be subject to political gamesmanship.” As always seems to be the case, I can’t disagree.

Economic Opportunity for Veterans
Returning veterans must have access to education benefits, job training, and a wide variety of employment options. We want to build on the bipartisan expansion of the GI Bill by encouraging private colleges to bridge the gap between GI Bill education benefits and tuition costs. We will strongly enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act so that returning veterans can promptly return to their former jobs. Our existing “veteran preference” regulations must lead to real action, not hollow promises. We encourage private businesses to expand their outreach to the veterans community, especially disabled veterans.

All sounds good, assuming there isn’t anything insidious behind it, and while “veteran preference” sounds like a version of affirmative action, if you’re a patriot you probably think it’s a fair one.

Veterans’ Health Care and Disability System
We will hold the VA accountable for tangible results and steady improvement of its services. The VA must become more responsive and more efficient by eliminating its disability backlog and reducing waiting times for treatment. To ensure that the VA provides veterans with world class medical care, both at its own facilities and through partnerships with community providers, we must recruit the next generation of highly qualified medical professionals.

I hope you have a real plan to make the VA more efficient that doesn’t involve shortchanging veterans receiving treatment. I’ll keep in mind that you want top-flight medical professionals to go to the VA; can’t quite remember if the Dems took a stand on where the best doctors should go when they were spouting off about health care. “Where distance or crowding is an obstacle to traditional
VA facility-based care, our veterans should be
provided access to qualified out-of-network
providers.” And of course, the Republicans’ solution to everything, as always, is privatization! To be fair, this talks about cases where the VA isn’t available anyway, so ideally veterans would get the next best alternative. “We call for greater attention by the VA to
the special health care needs of women veterans,
who will comprise an even larger percentage of VA patients in the future.” Sounds fair enough, though ideally the VA is already making plans.
“The VA’s current disability compensation formulas need to be restructured and modernized. Those who have borne the burden of war must have access to training, rehabilitation, and education. Their families and caregivers deserve our concern and support.” For a patriot, the last two sentences make sense, but I’m not sure what you think is wrong with the current formulas for these purposes…

We pledge special attention to combat stress injuries. There must be adequate counseling when veterans return home – for them and their families. They should have ongoing professional care, whether in a VA facility or closer to home, so that the natural and usually temporary responses to the horrors of war do not become permanent conditions. We recognize the need for more mental health professionals who can give the highest quality treatment to our veterans.

This may be one of the most important parts of VA care, so I applaud this sentiment as well. The mental and psychological scars of war may be as bad if not worse than the physical scars. This heading ends with applause and a call for support for non-profit organizations that provide their own help to “veterans and their families”.
The last subsection is very short so I’ll plow on even though it may put this post further past 5,000 words than it would have been short of that number if I had stopped before talking about veterans, if that makes any sense. “Procurement Reform”:

The military’s partners are the men and women who work in the defense industry and civilian sector, supplying the Armed Forces with weapons and equipment vital to the success of their mission. To ensure that our troops receive the best material at the best value, we must reform the defense budgeting and acquisition process to control costs and ensure vigorous and fair competition. We will not allow congressional pork to take the place of sound, sustained investment in the nation’s security.

Ah yes, once again big praise for the private sector, specifically the infamous military-industrial complex! Actually “control[ling] costs” is very important because I’ve heard too many horror stories about no-bid contracts resulting in poor treatment for our men and women in Iraq, but “control[ling] costs” is the closest the Republicans come to recognizing those shoddy conditions and their cause. Well, and “vigorous and fair competition” presumably means no more no-bid contracts either. But do we really need to change the system or just install controls to prevent bypassing it? And is it telling that this issue gets a single paragraph?
Hopefully with just this one post, and the first two for the Democrats, you already see a significant difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats hit the ground running with as many social issues as they can shake a stick at, with a very long section on health care reform. Republicans are all about national security and our military. We’ll see what happens when both parties dabble into each other’s fields later in the week. As for how long we’re going, we’ve made it to what Acrobat calls page 13 of 67, so we could be good for five parts… but a significant number of those pages contain nothing of substance. Stay tuned.