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Saturday, October 25, 2008

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 use", mass transit would be a good place to start, especially for the last. Would those "reforms of environmental reviews and the permitting process" potentially get rid of important aspects of either?
Safeguarding our transportation infrastructure is critical to our homeland security.  An integrated, flexible system – developed and sustained in partnership between state and local governments and the federal government – must also share responsibilities with the private sector.  We call for more prudent stewardship of the nation's Highway Trust Fund to restore the program's purchasing power and ensure that it will meet the changing needs of a mobile nation.
"Privatize! Privatize! Privatize!" Pretty much all covered before. Oddly, this might mean getting the private sector involved in securing the nation's infrastructure, but not in building it like the Democrats. Last sentence... not sure what to make of it, really. No reference to non-transportation infrastructure in the whole thing.

"Entitlement Reform": So this is what "entitlements" are: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which are typically isolated from the rest of the federal budget. "The job of modernizing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid calls for bipartisanship, not political posturing.  Through the last four presidential terms, we have sought that cooperation, but it has not been forthcoming.  The public demands constructive action, and we will provide it." Really means little until we hear more in the next two paragraphs.
Social Security
We are committed to putting Social Security on a sound fiscal basis.  Our society faces a profound demographic shift over the next twenty-five years, from today's ratio of 3.3 workers for every retiree to only 2.1 workers by 2034.  Under the current system, younger workers will not be able to depend on Social Security as part of their retirement plan.  We believe the solution should give workers control over, and a fair return on, their contributions.  No changes in the system should adversely affect any current or near-retiree. Comprehensive reform should include the opportunity to freely choose to create your own personal investment accounts which are distinct from and supplemental to the overall Social Security system.
So no hiking the retirement age, "give workers control over...their contributions", and "personal investment accounts which are distinct from" Social Security proper. This might be what some Democrats are talking about by Republican plans to "privatize" Social Security, and notice that it's rather short on details. The bit on "Medicare and Medicaid" refers to the later discussion of the Republican health care plan, which will involve "rewarding quality care, promoting competition, eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse, and giving patients and providers control over treatment options.  We envision a new Medicaid partnership with the states, improving public health through flexibility and innovation." More reducing the size of government by passing it off to the states. "Improving public health through flexibility and innovation" seems like an empty platitude for now.

"Appointing Constitutionalist Judges for the Nation's Courts":
Judicial activism is a grave threat to the rule of law because unaccountable federal judges are usurping democracy, ignoring the Constitution and its separation of powers, and imposing their personal opinions upon the public.  This must stop.
We condemn the Supreme Court's disregard of homeowners' property rights in its Kelo decision and deplore the Court's arbitrary extension of Americans' habeas corpus rights to enemy combatants held abroad.  We object to the Court's unwarranted interference in the administration of the death penalty in this country for the benefit of savage criminals whose guilt is not at issue.  We lament that judges have denied the people their right to set abortion policies in the states and are undermining traditional marriage laws from coast to coast.  We are astounded that four justices of the Supreme Court believe that individual Americans have no individual right to bear arms to protect themselves and their families.

Republicans will insist on the appointment of constitutionalist judges, men and women who will not distort our founding documents to deny the people's right to self-government, sanction federal powers that violate our liberties, or inject foreign law into American jurisprudence.
I'm withholding judgment until I read the Democratic platform's discussion of this issue. Suffice to say I suspect none of these cases are as black and white as the Republicans indicate. The line about "sanction[ing] federal powers that violate our liberties" actually surprises me a little because it suggests the Republicans at least want to give the appearance that they want to control the abuse that one of their own, Bush, has been accused of. I'm curious what cases the Republicans think "inject[ed] foreign law into American jurisprudence".

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

"We reject the Democrats' view that judicial nominees should guarantee particular results even before the case is filed.  Judges should not be politicians.  Jurists nominated by a Republican president will be thoughtful and open-minded, always prepared to view past error in light of stare decisis, including judicial fiats that disenfranchised the American people." WHAT? You just said you object to the Supreme Court making decisions you didn't like, and now you're trying to claim justices should be free of political pressure?
No qualified person should be denied the opportunity to serve on the federal bench due to race, ethnicity, religion or sex.  In affirming Article VI of the Constitution – that no religious test shall ever be required for any office – we insist that the Senate should never inquire into a nominee's religious convictions and we condemn the opposition, by some members of the Democratic Party, to recent judicial nominees because of their ethnicity or religion.
I agree, but I've heard nothing about this. Presumably "inquir[ing] into a nominee's religious convictions" is part of determining, say, how those convictions might affect how they rule. It's appropriate, and in line with your ranting against judicial activism, to determine if someone's religious convictions will unduly affect how they rule, which applies regardless of specific religion.

"Protecting the Right to Vote in Fair Elections": It's so hard for members of the military to vote in the election! We need "expedited mail delivery to bring ballots to and from our troops abroad, including those serving in areas of conflict, while completing work on an electronic ballot delivery system that will enable our military personnel to receive and cast their ballots in a secure and convenient manner"! What about those screwy voting machines that made such a difference in 2000?
We oppose attempts to distort the electoral process by wholesale restoration of the franchise to convicted felons, by makeshift or hurried naturalization procedures, or by discretionary ballot-reading by election boards.

Preventing voting fraud is a civil rights issue.  We support the right of states to require an official government-issued photo identification for voting and call upon the Department of Justice to deploy its resources to prevent ballot tampering in the November elections.  We support efforts by state and local election officials to ensure integrity in the voting process and to prevent voter fraud and abuse, particularly as it relates to voter registration and absentee ballots.
That all sounds well and good, but there have been reports of voting fraud cases used for political purposes to disenfranchise poor voters, and concern that requiring photo ID for voting either will disenfranchise more poor people or result in the basis of Orwellian tracking.

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

"Guaranteeing a Constitutional Census in 2010":
The integrity of the 2010 census, proportioning congressional representation among the states, must be preserved. The census should count every person legally abiding in the United States in an actual enumeration.  We urge all who are legally eligible to participate in the census count to do so; at the same time, we urge Congress to specify – and to constitutionally justify – which census questions require a response.
What the hell is this all about? It sounds good but I have no idea what it's talking about.

"Working with Americans in the Territories": "We appreciate the extraordinary sacrifices the men and women of the territories are making to protect our freedom through their service in the U.S. Armed Forces." That's basically everything you said about the "Armed Forces" in the previous part, only with "of the territories" added.
We welcome greater participation in all aspects of the political process by Americans residing in Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and Puerto Rico.  We affirm their right to seek the full extension of the Constitution, with all the political rights and responsibilities it entails.
Wait, does this mean you support statehood for all of them? Why am I surprised? "We recognize the valuable contributions made by the people of the United States Virgin Islands to the common welfare of the nation, including national defense, and their contributions to the federal treasury in the form of federal excise taxes paid on products produced in the territory." Why a shout-out specifically to the Virgin Islands for this?

"We support the Native American Samoans' efforts to protect their right to self-government and to preserve their culture and land-tenure system, which fosters self-reliance and strong extended-family values." Calling them "Native American Samoans", which makes them sound like what we call Indians, might not sit well with them. Still, you are showing cultural sensitivity. "We support increased local self-government for the United States citizens of the Virgin Islands, and closer cooperation between the local and federal governments to promote private sector-led development and self-sufficiency." So are you trying to grease a path to independence?
We recognize that Guam is a strategically vital U.S. territory, an American fortress in the western Pacific.  We affirm our support for the patriotic U.S. citizens of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to achieve greater self-government, an improved federal territorial relationship, new economic development strategies, a strong health care system that meets their needs, and continued political self-determination. We support a review to determine the appropriate eligibility of territories as well as states for Supplemental Security Income and other federal programs.
Once again, it sounds like you're moving towards something resembling independence, but this time you still want to keep them as "strategically vital U.S. territor[ies]". All of this, by the way, sounds like perfectly good things, but this in particular makes me scratch my head at the Republicans' small-government reputation.
We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state after they freely so determine.  We recognize that Congress has the final authority to define the constitutionally valid options for Puerto Rico to achieve a permanent non-territorial status with government by consent and full enfranchisement.  As long as Puerto Rico is not a state, however, the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained by means of a general right of referendum or specific referenda sponsored by the U.S. government.
So you're okay with Puerto Rico becoming a state, but you don't want Congress defining so, you want the people to choose from the options Congress provides. As written by the Republicans, this seems reasonable.

"Preserving the District of Columbia":
The nation's capital is a special responsibility of the federal government.  Yet some of the worst performing schools in the country are mere blocks from the Department of Education, and some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country are blocks from the Department of Justice.  Washington should be made a model city. Two major Republican initiatives – a first-time D.C. homebuyers credit and a landmark school choice initiative – have pointed the way toward a civic resurgence, and a third piece of GOP legislation now guarantees young D.C. residents significant assistance in affording higher education.
Sounds good, but sounds like Democratic proposals. Although "school choice" might be a little more Republican. Still, once again casts doubt on your "small government" reputation.
Because Washington's buildings and monuments may be top targets of terrorist groups, the federal government must work closely with local officials to improve security without burdening local residents. We call on the District of Columbia city council to pass laws consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in the Heller case.  We honor the contributions of the residents of the District of Columbia, especially those who are serving honorably, or have served, in our Armed Forces.
Again, sounds good, but I notice there was no mention of the call by DC residents for true voting representation in Congress.

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

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

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

Part I showed the Democrats' commitment to social issues, particularly health care. Part II, "Renewing American Leadership", shows that the Democrats don't want to be seen as slouches in protecting our national security. You'll notice I'll be referring a lot to Parts I and II of my Republican Platform examination, because this will be treading a lot of the same ground. You wouldn't know it from the opening paragraph, which talks about how great leaders have come along at opportune times in American history, how they helped America lead, and it concludes with this very audacious statement: "Just as John Kennedy said that after Hoover we needed Franklin Roosevelt, so too after our experience of the last eight years we need Barack Obama." Obamessiah much? Besides, wasn't the crisis Hoover left FDR with the Depression, which you covered in the last part, not foreign-policy related?
Today, we are again called to provide visionary leadership. This century's threats are at least as dangerous as, and in some ways more complex than, those we have confronted in the past. They come from weapons that can kill on a mass scale and from violent extremists who exploit alienation and perceived injustice to spread terror. They come from rogue states allied to terrorists and from rising powers that could challenge both America and the international foundation of liberal democracy. They come from weak states that cannot control their territory or provide for their people. They come from an addiction to oil that helps fund the extremism we must fight and empowers repressive regimes. And they come from a warming planet that will spur new diseases, spawn more devastating natural disasters, and catalyze deadly conflicts.
That last sentence, of course, is critical. But how will the Democrats deal with these issues?
We will confront these threats head on while working with our allies and restoring our standing in the world. We will pursue a tough, smart, and principled national security strategy. It is a strategy that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Beijing, Berlin, Brasilia and Bamako. It is a strategy that contends with the many disparate forces shaping this century, including: the fundamentalist challenge to freedom; the emergence of new powers like China, India, Russia, and a united Europe; the spread of lethal weapons; uncertain supplies of energy, food, and water; the persistence of poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor; and extraordinary new technologies that send people, ideas, and money across the globe at ever faster speeds.
Barack Obama will focus this strategy on seven goals: (i) ending the war in Iraq responsibly; (ii) defeating Al Qaeda and combating violent extremism; (iii) securing nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists; (iv) revitalizing and supporting our military; (v) renewing our partnerships to promote our common security; (vi) advancing democracy and development; and (vii) protecting our planet by achieving energy security and combating climate change.
Most people would agree with all of those goals except #1. But I hope they're not in order, unless they're in reverse order, because that would imply that combating climate change is the last priority on the board. Unfortunately, they pretty much match up with the section headers.

"Ending the War in Iraq":
To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end. Our men and women in uniform have performed admirably while sacrificing immeasurably. Our civilian leaders have failed them. Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists who struck us on 9-11, and incompetent prosecution of the war by civilian leaders compounded the strategic blunder of choosing to wage it in the first place.
Presumably "civilian leaders" implicitly blames Bush while skirting any blame in the direction of military leaders like David Petraeus.
We will re-center American foreign policy by responsibly redeploying our combat forces from Iraq and refocusing them on urgent missions. We will give our military a new mission: ending this war and giving Iraq back to its people. We will be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely remove our combat brigades at the pace of one to two per month and expect to complete redeployment within sixteen months. After this redeployment, we will keep a residual force in Iraq to perform specific missions: targeting terrorists; protecting our embassy and civil personnel; and advising and supporting Iraq's Security Forces, provided the Iraqis make political progress.
Everything sounds good, but I think some people might be suspicious of the "residual force" you're keeping in Iraq.
At the same time, we will provide generous assistance to Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. We will launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic surge to help broker a lasting political settlement in Iraq, which is the only path to a sustainable peace. We will make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We will encourage Iraq's government to devote its oil revenues and budget surplus to reconstruction and development. This is the future the American people want. This is the future that Iraqis want. This is what our common interests demand.
Again, all sounds well and good. Look back at my Republican Part II: how does this compare with the Republican strategy? They wanted "success" in order to "deny al Qaeda a safe haven, limit Iranian influence in the Middle East, strengthen moderate forces there, and give us a strategic ally in the struggle against extremism." None of those are really mentioned in the Democratic plan, though some may be mentioned later. The Democrats want to "give Iraq back to its people"; depending on the temperament of the Iraqi people that could either be at odds or in line with the Republican goals, and if the former, simply pulling out and letting "the Iraqi people" have their way could prove to be a mistake in the war on terror. But even then, from the standpoint where we like to think of ourselves as a good people, wouldn't turning Iraq into a puppet state be almost as bad if not worse? (Some of the Democrats' other words, like being "as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in", seem to indicate that they will indeed pay attention to "conditions on the ground" and "the essential advice of our military commanders".)

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

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

"We will focus on building up our special forces and intelligence capacity, training, equipping and advising Afghan security forces, building Afghan governmental capacity, and promoting the rule of law." So the Dems do want to boost Afghanistan's own forces. So the GOP is focusing more on "a nationwide counterinsurgency strategy", and keeping the Taliban and al-Qaeda out, and does spend one sentence on work between the "international community" and the government of Afghanistan to fix "illegal drugs, governance, and corruption" problems. Sounds like the Democrats want to take care of the latter two themselves. And while the Republicans vaguely support a "counterinsurgency strategy led by a unified commander", the Dems want to "build[] up our special forces and intelligence capacity". But wait, there's more!
We will bolster our State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams and our other government agencies helping the Afghan people. We will help Afghans educate their children, including their girls, provide basic human services to their population, and grow their economy from the bottom up, with an additional $1 billion in non-military assistance each year–including investments in alternative livelihoods to poppy-growing for Afghan farmers–just as we crack down on trafficking and corruption. Afghanistan must not be lost to a future of narco-terrorism–or become again a haven for terrorists.
So the Democrats also want to crack down on drugs, and they spend half a sentence on keeping out the Taliban and al-Qaeda, neither of which are mentioned by name. So the Democrats pretty much agree with all the Republicans' priorities but they would add one more: economic development. That may make up for the short shrift given to keeping out terrorists, since wealthy nations tend not to have a lot of terrorists (and when they do it tends to be in poor communities).

"Seek a New Partnership with Pakistan":
The greatest threat to the security of the Afghan people–and the American people–lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train, plot attacks, and strike into Afghanistan and move back across the border. We cannot tolerate a sanctuary for Al Qaeda. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO–including necessary assets like satellites and predator drones–to better secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents.
The GOP section on Pakistan was literally as long as I put it in Part II of my examination: two sentences long and with absolutely nothing challenging the government or suggesting it's been less than cooperative in cracking down on Al Qaeda forces within its borders. Nothing on any of this. And the Dem solution seems to make sense. "We must help Pakistan develop its own counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capacity. We will invest in the long-term development of the Pashtun border region, so that the extremists' program of hate is met with an agenda of hope." All important things (investing in economic development again!) and all things the GOP doesn't touch with a twelve-foot pole.
We will ask more of the Pakistani government, rather than offer a blank check to an undemocratic President. We will significantly increase non-military aid to the Pakistani people and sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we provide is actually used to fight extremists. We must move beyond an alliance built on individual leaders, or we will face mounting opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror, extremism, and the instability wrought by autocracy.
Compare that to the Republicans "support[ing] their efforts to improve democratic governance and strengthen civil society". Everything the Democrats say here makes sense based on what I know about Pakistan – if we give too much outward support to an unpopular dictator we risk becoming unpopular ourselves, and that certainly can't help our efforts in the war on terror there. Yet the Republicans just say "Pakistan? Yeah, they're good people, a good strategic ally on the war on terror. Can we talk about something else?"

"Combat Terrorism":

Beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, we must forge a more effective global response to terrorism. There must be no safe haven for those who plot to kill Americans. We need a comprehensive strategy to defeat global terrorists–one that draws on the full range of American power, including but not limited to our military might. We will create a properly resourced Shared Security Partnership to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation with countries around the world, including through information sharing as well as funding for training, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology, and targeting terrorist financing.
"Shared Security Partnership", from the party that brought you "English Language Learners". Clearly the Democrats are still committed to fighting the war on terror, and they're willing to use the military to do so, among other approaches. The SSP is really just enhancing relationships with other nations' security and intelligence agencies.
We will pursue policies to undermine extremism, recognizing that this contest is also between two competing ideas and visions of the future. A crucial debate is occurring within Islam. The vast majority of Muslims believe in a future of peace, tolerance, development, and democratization. A small minority embrace a rigid and violent intolerance of personal liberty and the world at large. To empower forces of moderation, America must live up to our values, respect civil liberties, reject torture, and lead by example. We will make every effort to export hope and opportunity–access to education, that opens minds to tolerance, not extremism; secure food and water supplies; and health care, trade, capital, and investment. We will provide steady support for political reformers, democratic institutions, and civil society that is necessary to uphold human rights and build respect for the rule of law.
So the Democrats think that by being good guys who practice what we preach and don't offend Muslims, they can undermine the intellectual underpinning of extremism. Oh, and economic development is good as well, as is providing support for democratization. Which might undermine the otherwise-reasonable don't-offend-and-develop approach, for reasons I covered when examining the Republican Platform: is the Muslim world culturally ready for democracy? Perhaps a successfully democratic Iraq could help make it so. And maybe the Democrats only want to support pre-existing "democratic institutions" and "political reformers" that are working within the system. The closest thing the Republicans had to this was their "Middle East" section, which was as much concerned with the state of Israel and organizations like Hamas and the Arab nations as it was with Islam in general; they had a one-sentence acknowledgement that there are "good" Muslims and praised the pre-existing movement towards democratization and development, which might be seen as claiming the Democrats shouldn't throw money away on something happening already.

"Secure the Homeland":
Here at home, we will strengthen our security and protect the critical infrastructure on which the entire world depends. We will fully fund and implement the recommendations of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission. We will spend homeland security dollars on the basis of risk. This means investing more resources to defend mass transit, closing the gaps in our aviation security by screening all cargo on passenger airliners and checking all passengers against a reliable and comprehensive watch list, and upgrading plant security and port security by ensuring that cargo is screened for radiation. To ensure that resources are targeted, we will establish a Quadrennial Review at the Department of Homeland Security to undertake a top to bottom assessment of the threats we face and our ability to confront them. And we will develop a comprehensive National Infrastructure Protection Plan that draws on both local know-how and national priorities. We will ensure direct coordination with state, local, and tribal jurisdictions so that first responders are always resourced and prepared.
Aside from defending mass transit, which sounds like a waste of money more suitable in an absolute war zone like Israel (unless of course you build the mass transit we need), and the fact that the watch list needs to not contain people added for what appears to be pure political purposes, this is all good. We need to look at Part I of my Republican platform examination for the GOP plan, and the GOP "homeland security" section has nothing whatsoever to do with the Democrat "secure the homeland" section. The GOP does "acknowledge and appreciate the significant contributions of all of America's First Responders, who keep us safe and secure and who are ever ready to come to our aid", but mentions nothing to support them.

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

"Pursue Intelligence Reform":
To succeed, our homeland security and counter-terrorism actions must be linked to an intelligence community that deals effectively with the threats we face. Today, we rely largely on the same institutions and practices that were in place before 9-11. Barack Obama will depoliticize intelligence by appointing a Director of National Intelligence with a fixed term, create a bipartisan Consultative Group of congressional leaders on national security, and establish a National Declassification Center to ensure openness. To keep pace with highly adaptable enemies, we need technologies and practices that enable us to efficiently collect and share information within and across our intelligence agencies. We must invest still more in human intelligence and deploy additional trained operatives with specialized knowledge of local cultures and languages. And we will institutionalize the practice of developing competitive assessments of critical threats and strengthen our methodologies of analysis.
Let's see... gimmicks... supporting improved information collection systems and more sharing of information... make sure our agents have better knowledge of the places they're going to be deployed to... and a last sentence that's kind of hard to parse. The Republicans supported beefing up intelligence agencies with raw numbers, "integrat[ing] technical and human sources", and getting intelligence information to the President and generals quicker. They also supported the formation of a "Joint Committee on Intelligence". The speedier rate of getting information to "the warfighter and the policy maker" is probably the best part of all of that, and some parts of the Democratic plan, such as the NDC, may have that in mind.

"Preventing the Spread and Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction":

We will urgently seek to reduce dramatically the risks from three potentially catastrophic threats: nuclear weapons, biological attacks, and cyber warfare. In an age of terrorism, these dangers take on new dimensions. Nuclear, biological, and cyber attacks all pose the potential for large-scale damage and destruction to our people, to our economy and to our way of life. The capacity to inflict such damage is spreading not only to other countries, but also potentially to terrorist groups.
In other words, "See, Republicans? We care about bioterrorism and cyberwarfare too!" But what about chemical weapons, and are you focusing too much on nations and saying "oh, yeah, and these days these sorts of things are getting in the hands of terrorists too"?

"A World Without Nuclear Weapons":
America will seek a world with no nuclear weapons and take concrete actions to move in this direction. We face the growing threat of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons or the materials to make them, as more countries seek nuclear weapons and nuclear materials remain unsecured in too many places. As George Shultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn have warned, current measures are not adequate to address these dangers. We will maintain a strong and reliable deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist, but America will be safer in a world that is reducing reliance on nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminates all of them. We will make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
This is a paean to pacifists, but the Democrats have already shown they aren't a pacifist party by leaving a "residual force" in Iraq and increasing our presence in Afghanistan, among other things, and it starts to make people think the Democratic Party is a bunch of goody-two-shoes who are soft on confronting other nations when necessary. But nuclear weapons are possibly the most dangerous weapons out there, and we need to have a "deterrent" while reducing the worldwide number of nuclear weapons to zero. The Republicans also called for "reducing the world's nuclear stockpiles and preventing proliferation" and "reducing the size of our nuclear arsenal to the lowest number consistent with our security requirements and working with other nuclear powers to do the same", so they may have the same goal.

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

Well, that question may be answered, because the next subsection is "Secure Nuclear Weapons and the Materials to Make Them":
We will work with other nations to secure, eliminate, and stop the spread of nuclear weapons and materials to dramatically reduce the dangers to our nation and the world. There are nuclear weapons materials in 40 countries, and we will lead a global effort to work with other countries to secure all nuclear weapons material at vulnerable sites within four years. We will work with nations to increase security for nuclear weapons. We will convene a summit in 2009 (and regularly thereafter) of leaders of Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council and other key countries to agree on implementing many of these measures on a global basis.
Well then. More specifics, but is four years (oh look, just in time for Obama's reelection campaign) going to take too much time, and how will you improve America's ability to perform its role in the nuclear security regime? Both parties seem to support much the same things, but the Democrats seem to place a higher priority on it, because the Republicans just move along to their missile defense scheme.

"End the Production of Fissile Material":
We will negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. We will work to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology so that countries cannot build–or come to the brink of building–a weapons program under the guise of developing peaceful nuclear power. We will seek to double the International Atomic Energy Agency's budget, support the creation of an IAEA-controlled nuclear fuel bank to guarantee fuel supply to countries that do not build enrichment facilities, and work to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It's a short paragraph, but the entirety of the coverage it gets in the Republican platform is "In cooperation with other nations, we should end the production of weapons-grade fissile material". This is essentially the same thing with more details and a pledge to work within the existing framework through the IAEA and NNPT, while not cutting off nuclear supplies for nations that want peaceful power entirely. In previous posts, I have listed my concerns with peaceful nuclear power; it doesn't entirely stop global warming and it has its own concerns. Clearly the Democrats place a higher priority on controlling nuclear proliferation. Republicans just wanna build missile defense and tap our phones. Which is the real national security party? And they aren't done! "End Cold War Nuclear Postures":
To enhance our security and help meet our commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we will seek deep, verifiable reductions in United States and Russian nuclear weapons and work with other nuclear powers to reduce global stockpiles dramatically. We will work with Russia to take as many weapons as possible off Cold War, quick-launch status, and extend key provisions of the START Treaty, including its essential monitoring and verification requirements. We will not develop new nuclear weapons, and will work to create a bipartisan consensus to support ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which will strengthen the NPT and aid international monitoring of nuclear activities.
This gets no coverage in the Republican platform at all, and it's really following up on the prior anti-nuclear planks and helps complete the anti-nuclear program.

"Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons": "The world must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That starts with tougher sanctions and aggressive, principled, and direct high-level diplomacy, without preconditions." Whoa, whoa, whoa. I hope you're prepared for the complaints from Republicans about the "without preconditions" line. Tougher sanctions? Good. Diplomacy, in and of itself? Good. "Without preconditions"? Who would have to fulfill the preconditions? Would Iran want the United States to, say, ensure Iran can continue its nuclear program, or would the Republicans want to demand Iran stop it? Actually there's something to be said for both sides here; the Republicans want Iran to "improve its behavior" first, but that may just allow Iran to hold any negotiations hostage by not doing so. The Democrats want to launch into negotiations right away, but that might allow Iran to continue its bad practices. I'd need to get the opinion of experts: what do they think is the best approach here? I'm not sure about this one. Regardless, sanctions are important.
We will pursue this strengthened diplomacy alongside our European allies, and with no illusions about the Iranian regime. We will present Iran with a clear choice: if you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime. The Iranian people and the international community must know that it is Iran, not the United States, choosing isolation over cooperation. By going the extra diplomatic mile, while keeping all options on the table, we make it more likely the rest of the world will stand with us to increase pressure on Iran, if diplomacy is failing.
That sounds all well and good. The Republicans want to make clear that "the U.S. government, in solidarity with the international community, will not allow the current regime in Tehran to develop nuclear weapons." Their strategy involves "a significant increase in political, economic, and diplomatic pressure to persuade Iran's rulers to halt their drive for a nuclear weapons capability, and we support tighter sanctions against Iran and the companies with business operations in or with Iran." So they won't negotiate at all until Iran "improves its behavior", and the Democrats are providing an incentive for the Iranians to improve their behavior. I actually like the Dems' strategy better here.

"De-Nuclearize North Korea":
We support the belated diplomatic effort to secure a verifiable end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program and to fully account for and secure any fissile material or weapons North Korea has produced to date. We will continue direct diplomacy and are committed to working with our partners through the six-party talks to ensure that all agreements are fully implemented in the effort to achieve a verifiably nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
The Republicans don't even give Korea its own heading, after putting North Korea in the "axis of evil" six years ago. The Democrats only want to "secure" North Korea's nuclear materials, the Republicans want their "dismantlement". But they do want a "nuclear-free Korean peninsula", but then again they want a nuclear-free world as well. It sounds good but for how little the Republicans say on this issue, it may be tougher.

"Biological and Chemical Weapons":
We will strengthen U.S. intelligence collection overseas to identify and interdict would-be bioterrorists before they strike. We will also build greater capacity to mitigate the consequences of bio-terror attacks, ensuring that the federal government does all it can to get citizens the information and resources they need to help protect themselves and their families. We will accelerate the development of new medicines, vaccines, and production capabilities, and lead an international effort to detect and diminish the impact of major infectious disease epidemics. And we will fully fund our contribution to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and work to ensure that remaining stockpiles of chemical weapons are destroyed swiftly, safely, and securely.
Intriguing and concerning. A sentence on strengthening US intelligence that's short on details on how they'll do so without getting into sketchy Constitutional territory. But ignoring the old line on how "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", they then talk about "mitigat[ing] the consequences of bio-terror attacks," and then almost goes into a tangent; I'm surprised they don't try and tie this back to health care reform. I mean, "an international effort to detect and diminish the impact of major infectious disease epidemics"? That's hardly only a terror thing. Certainly a worthy goal, but I'm not convinced the Democrats will make prevention enough of a priority. "Chemical weapons" are not mentioned anywhere in the first part of the Republican platform.

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 10/25-26

All times PDT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, what, 20 pages later?, those "immediate steps to stem the loss of manufacturing jobs":
Our manufacturing communities need immediate relief. And we will help states and localities whose budgets are strained in times of need. We will modernize and expand Trade Adjustment Assistance. We will help workers build a safety net, with health care, retirement security, and a way to stay out of crippling debt. We will partner with community colleges and other higher education institutions, so that we're training workers to meet the demands of local industry, including environmentally-friendly technology.
Trade Adjustment Assistance is basically all about making sure workers have a smooth transition to a new job if their old one lays them off and/or ships their job overseas, so it's of vital importance, as is making sure workers get the training they need from higher education (and another shout-out to me again!). But the safety net – while it is potentially important to back people up in a time of economic crisis (a new Great Depression needs a new New Deal), it needs to make sure it's not a disincentive to work.

"Creating New Jobs by Rebuilding American Infrastructure": Will this make me feel better about the Democrats' commitment to fighting global warming?
A century ago, Teddy Roosevelt called together leaders from business and government to develop a plan for the next century's infrastructure. It falls to us to do the same. Right now, we are spending less than at any time in recent history and far less than our international competitors on this critical component of our nation's strength. We will start a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that can leverage private investment in infrastructure improvements, and create nearly two million new good jobs. We will undertake projects that maximize our safety and security and ability to compete, which we will fund as we bring the war in Iraq to a responsible close. We will modernize our power grid, which will help conservation and spur the development and distribution of clean energy. We need a national transportation policy, including high-speed rail and light rail. We can invest in our bridges, roads, and public transportation so that people have choices in how they get to work. We will ensure every American has access to highspeed broadband and we will take on special interests in order to unleash the power of the wireless spectrum.
Well, you did throw in a shout-out to public transportation, but it was part of "bridges, roads, and public transportation", but you also mentioned that people should "have choices in how they get to work", which hopefully means a choice that's not between a Ford or a Dodge, or between the 5 or the 405. Better, you preceded it with a call for "a national transportation policy, including high-speed rail and light rail". More stuff I like. Infrastructure investment is, indeed, vitally important, yet one of the things I like best here is the "leverag[ing]" of "private investment in infrastructure improvements", so it's not all the government throwing money away. You bring up your quest to end the war in Iraq almost in passing, in a seemingly irrelevant topic, as part of a funding plan for infrastructure improvements – which scares me as to what your plan is for funding everything for which you don't mention a funding source. Modernizing the power grid is even more important than the Dems let on, because some of the cleanest technologies, such as solar power with mirrors, work best in select, centralized locations. The last sentence sounds good and the wireless spectrum is ideally free, so we should be getting as much use out of it as possible. Overall, it's disappointing that it's only a paragraph, but it's a very good paragraph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Real Leadership for Rural America": Begins with a typical shout-out to the agricultural sector, which "we depend on... to produce the food, feed, fiber, and fuel that support our society. Thankfully, American farmers possess an unrivaled capacity to produce an abundance of these high-quality products. In return, we will provide a strong safety net for family farms, a permanent disaster relief program, expansion of agriculture research, and an emphasis on agricultural trade." Protecting family farms is important to halt the McDonaldization of agriculture, and everything else falls under my constant refrain: sounds good, but where's the money? (For the rest of this review, I'll shorten that to SGWTM.)
We will promote economic development in rural and tribal communities by investing in renewable energy, which will transform the rural economy and create millions of new jobs, by upgrading technological and physical infrastructure, by addressing the challenges faced by public schools in rural areas, including forest county schools, supporting higher education opportunities and by attracting quality teachers, doctors and nurses through loan forgiveness programs and other incentive programs.
How's that for a long sentence? The goal is good and you know I love renewable energy, which hopefully isn't just weaning ourselves off foreign oil but is also doing as much as we can to combat global warming. Upgrading infrastructure sounds good, as is the bit about improving the schools (though I don't know how you do that), and all the rest of the education investment, but do you want to attract "quality teachers, doctors and nurses" to poor ghettos or rural areas? Which is the priority? Both sound important, but...

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

"Economic Stewardship": This section begins with a very lengthy introduction when you consider the two paragraphs right before the meat, once again reassuring people they aren't socialist.
Since the time of our Founders, we have struggled to balance the same forces that confronted Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson–self-interest and community; markets and democracy; the concentration of wealth and power, and the necessity of transparency and opportunity for each and every American. Throughout our history, Americans have pursued their dreams within a free market that has been the engine of America's progress. It's a market that has created a prosperity that is the envy of the world, and opportunity for generations of Americans. A market that has provided great rewards to the innovators and risk-takers who have made America a beacon for science, technology, and discovery.
But the American experiment has worked in large part because we have guided the market's invisible hand with a higher principle. Our free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it. That is why we have put in place rules of the road to make competition fair, open, and honest. We have done this not to stifle–but rather to advance – prosperity and liberty.
This is a very effective defense of the Democratic approach against the idea of straight-up laissez-faire economics.
In this time of economic transformation and crisis, we must be stewards of this economy more than ever before. We will maintain fiscal responsibility, so that we do not mortgage our children's future on a mountain of debt. We can do this at the same time that we invest in our future. We will restore fairness and responsibility to our tax code. We will bring balance back to the housing markets, so that people do not have to lose their homes. And we will encourage personal savings, so that our economy remains strong and Americans can live well in their retirements.
After everything you've talked about so far, I'm maintaining a healthy amount of skepticism about your pledge to "fiscal responsibility", and you're making me think I should be even more concerned about your acting like money grows on trees to this point. Does "restoring fairness and responsibility to our tax code" mean simplifying it, and what exactly are you going for? Never mind, I'm getting ahead of myself and I should look at the specific subsections, although I do like the idea of encouraging personal savings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The personal saving rate is at its lowest since the Great Depression. Currently, 75 million working Americans—roughly half the workforce—lack employer-based retirement plans. That's why we will create automatic workplace pensions. People can add to their pension, or can opt out at any time; the savings account will be easily transferred between jobs; and people can control it themselves if they become self-employed. We will ensure savings incentives are fair to all workers by matching half of the initial $1000 of savings for families that need help; and employers will have an easy opportunity to match employee savings. We believe this program will increase the saving participation rate for low- and middle-income workers from its current 15 percent to 80 percent. We support good pensions, and will adopt measures to preserve and protect existing public and private pension plans. We will require that employees who have company pensions receive annual disclosures about their pension fund's investments. This will put a secure retirement within reach for millions of working families.
Too much information! If someone doesn't have an "employer-based retirement plan" but has a retirement plan someplace else, someplace that won't require them to go through a hassle if they change jobs, why lump them in with people that don't have plans at all? Those "automatic workplace pensions" seem like they could add new layers of bureaucracy and expense. For some reason, something rubs me the wrong way about this sort of thing; maybe it's a certain distrust of people's ability to manage their pensions properly. But people love their freedom. Go from 15 percent to 80 percent?!? Actually boosting the savings rate is a good idea from an economic perspective; we've been taught to buy stuff to boost the economy, but money put into savings accounts can be reinvested in loans to help companies get off the ground. But this would seem to require a pretty big shift in American culture, and I'm not sure it's one we're ready for. Baby steps! The third-from-last sentence is eminently agreeable, and I covered the whole disclosures-for-company-pensions bit earlier. This really all retreads ground already trod in the discussion of retirement in Part II.

"Smart, Strong, and Fair Trade Policies":
We believe that trade should strengthen the American economy and create more American jobs, while also laying a foundation for democratic, equitable, and sustainable growth around the world. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development, but we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few rather than the many. We must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably.
Well, this all seems to make sense. Trade's good, but it's not always good. Judging by some of the stuff I've heard recently, although all this seems to be a paean to the free market, "share its benefits more equitably" just might be hinting at socialism.
Trade policy must be an integral part of an overall national economic strategy that delivers on the promise of good jobs at home and shared prosperity abroad. We will enforce trade laws and safeguard our workers, businesses, and farmers from unfair trade practices–including currency manipulation, lax consumer standards, illegal subsidies, and violations of workers' rights and environmental standards. We must also show leadership at the World Trade Organization to improve transparency and accountability, and to ensure it acts effectively to stop countries from continuing unfair government subsidies to foreign exporters and non-tariff barriers on U.S. exports.
I agree with the laundry list in the second sentence, but what's the problem with "illegal subsidies"? Same question I have with regards to the GOP's call for China to end their subsidies. There's a hint of what both parties mean in the last sentence, where subsidies are "unfair" because they upset the balance of trade. So the subsidies involved aren't what I would think of from the microeconomics class I'm taking – general subsidies within a market to improve economic advancement – but are subsidies to boost your own industries and keep out other nations'. It's sort of cheating to get a leg up. Now both sides' claims are more understandable, but still, I would greatly appreciate any promise to lower any of our own trade-barrier subsidies that may exist. But what are "non-tariff barriers on U.S. exports", and what makes tariffs okay but other controls on trade aren't? But at least the Democrats do support trade.

Lengthy paragraph ahead. A familiar refrain for people following the Obama campaign: we need "bargains that are good not just for Wall Street, but also for Main Street. We will negotiate bilateral trade agreements that open markets to U.S. exports and include enforceable international labor and environmental standards; we pledge to enforce those standards consistently and fairly." So what's your stance on imports? It would be nice if everyone exported everything, but there needs to be some importers as well, even though that means some jobs aren't held by Americans.
We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; require the privatization of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications.
The first and last seem to be fair points. The second is acceptable as long as you're not pushing for US investors to get greater rights than foreign ones, because that'll just tick people off. The Republicans would probably say no to any trade agreement that didn't allow "the privatization of...public services", and there's some debate as to which is better, but do you have any complaints about your water, sewer, power, or fire services? "We will stand firm against bilateral agreements that fail to live up to these important benchmarks, and will strive to achieve them in the multilateral framework." Whatever that means; you're going to try and bring in third parties to achieve your demands?
We will work with Canada and Mexico to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement so that it works better for all three North American countries. We will work together with other countries to achieve a successful completion of the Doha Round Agreement that would increase U.S. exports, support good jobs in America, protect worker rights and the environment, benefit our businesses and our farms, strengthen the rules-based multilateral system, and advance development of the world's poorest countries.
Well, it certainly sounds like the Democrats are perfectly for good trade policies. They think NAFTA can be improved so it works better for everyone, whatever that means. Disturbingly vague, that one. The Doha Round is intended to "lower trade barriers" and increase trade, possibly to the benefit of developing nations. The Democrats would support a Doha agreement "that would increase U.S. exports", keep American jobs, protect workers, protect the environment, help US business and farms, and oh yeah, help developing nations. And "strengthen the rules-based multilateral system". All the things the Dems want are fairly reasonable from our perspective, but it almost adds up to "we want everything". This sort of thing is why the Doha Round has stalled. Do you have an idea of how to achieve all those things that would be acceptable to the other parties?

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

We're over 5,000 words yet again and I'm getting tired but let's go ahead and press on with the disturbingly small last section, "Fiscal Responsibility", which begins with an admission of a concern you've heard me repeat time and time again: "Our agenda is ambitious–particularly in light of the current Administration's policies that have run up the national debt to over $4 trillion." Ah, taking another shot at the Bush Administration. The Dems then have the audacity, having granted the above, to say
Just as America cannot afford to continue to run up huge deficits, so too can we not afford to short-change investments. The key is to make the tough choices, in particular enforcing pay-as-you-go budgeting rules. We will honor these rules by our plan to end the Iraq war responsibly, eliminate waste in existing government programs, generate revenue by charging polluters for the greenhouse gases they are releasing, and put an end to the reckless, special interest driven corporate loopholes and tax cuts for the wealthy that have been the centerpiece of the Bush Administration's economic policy.
Elimination of waste is head-slappingly obvious, as is closing loopholes (something covered earlier), and I'd like to see what ending the war in Iraq "responsibly" means; does it respond to the Republican charge that Democrats would throw away the "victory" they believe is in reach? Something new introduced here that, surprisingly, isn't brought up earlier in the part in topical discussions: the introduction of a carbon tax for polluters. This would be an effective way of spurring greener development and paying for more proactive anti-global warming action, but I have two concerns: it gives the government an interest in not cutting greenhouse gases, and it could conceivably be applied to private citizens for driving in petroleum-belching cars. And how are you going to enforce it so polluters won't lowball their emissions and try and get around it?

A repeat of the Democratic tax policy follows; now seniors would only be exempt from paying income tax if they make less than $50,000. "We recognize that Social Security is not in crisis and we should do everything we can to strengthen this vital program, including asking those making over $250,000 to pay a bit more." Is not in crisis?!? That's... that's incredibly odd to bring that up here and especially to then say we need to "do everything we can to strengthen" it. But we really do need to make sure Social Security won't bankrupt the government as the baby boomers retire, even if that means hiking the retirement age up a little.
The real long-run fiscal challenge is rooted in the rising spending on health care, but we cannot address this in a way that puts our most vulnerable families in jeopardy. Instead, we must strengthen our public programs by bringing down the cost of health care and reducing waste while making strategic investments that emphasize quality, efficiency, and prevention. In the name of our children, we reject the proposals of those who want to continue George Bush's disastrous economic policies.
And the part ends as it (almost) began: a reiteration of the Democrats' top priority. You'd almost think they were the Health Care Party.

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

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

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