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Friday, May 02, 2003

Neil Cavuto: "Common Sense", or Nonsense?

Tony Adragna
So, I'm not a fan of FOX News Channel, and never have been. But, I do appreciate the lack of feigned objectivity. And the commentary — WOW! — it doesn't get any better for somebody who, like me, enjoys bad demagoguery as much as good argument.

Demagoguery at the "fair and balanced" FNC? Certainly. Just look at Neil Cavuto's May 1st Common Sense
Have you ever heard something that just so ticks you off, you have to respond?
Yes, Neil: see below.
Well, I have.

Some senator -- I don't even remember who – said this whole tax cut (search) was irresponsible.
Bad start, Neil — you can't remember "who" said "what", so how are we to judge for ourselves on the record of what was actually said?
Irresponsible? To whom? To you? Because you can't spend the money? Or to us, because we can? Why is it reckless to give people their money back, but okay for you to keep it?

Are you saying we're too stupid to know what to do with our money? So you'll decide what we get and when we get it? If we ever get it, because -- truth be told -- you don't want to give it.

You use the war to say we can't afford it. You said the same damn thing before the war for not even offering it.
Classic straw man argumentation — instead of quotage, we get rhetorical questions making worst-read suggestions of what the "Senator" said, and the response follows
You were shameless and phony then. You're shameless and phony now.

I'd sooner trust the single mother raising kids, struggling to put food on the table with her money, than "you" with her money.

I'd like you to tell her to her face that she'd be irresponsible with that money.

That it's reckless for her to spend some extra dough on her kids. Reckless for her to put a little extra cash in the bank. And reckless for her to treat herself and not you.

I'd like you to tell her she's too ignorant to know what's best.

I'll tell you this, you tax-sucking, boondoggle-spending, pork-barrel-pushing fiscal pimp: she has more common fiscal sense in her pinky than you have in your entire rolodex of feeding-at-the-trough lobbyists.

I say, let them stew. Let her spend. And before you dare talk about class warfare, consider for once in your life, some class, period. You wouldn't know it. That single mother lives it.

Pay up then, please shut up.
Problem is that we still don't know exactly "who" said "what". There are several different arguments against Mr. Bush's tax plan, ranging from the "class warfare" opposition to elimination of dividend & estate taxes, to plain 'ol vanilla fiscal discipline. Which argument did the "Senator" make?

The "fiscal discipline" argument is that on which it's easier to make the case for "irresponsibility". Cavuto knows — he mighta been born at night, but not last night — that the argument is against structural deficits. The GOP's unseriousness at addressing how to pay for more government — the "less government" mantra plays well to the crowd, but is disingenuouss — while taking in less revenue, truly is irresponsible. Cavuto's argument to give his hypothetical single mother a break doesn't seem to care about the out year effect on that mother's children — intergenerational debt.

We're not just talking about the need for more government revenue to cover spending in the out years — i.e. the looming Social Security system funding needs vis a vis baby boomers — but current growth in government spending related to homeland security, defense, and foreign affairs [while we're at it, let's not forget airline bailouts, terrorism insurance bailouts, etc.].

As for "boondoggle-spending" & "class warfare", there's some validity to Cavuto's criticism. The GOP has argued for some reductions in spending on social welfare programs, and liberals & progressives have argued that tax cuts are irresponsible in light of current conditions — those programs need the revenue more than shareholders need a tax break. I agree with Cavuto that some of those programs are boondoggles — not just in the sense of wasteful, but also insofar as they perversely work to keep people dependent upon welfare — and ought be reduced out of existence. There's where Cavuto's hypothetical single mother ought object to the government taking her money.

But liberals & progressives aren't the only folks who favour boondoggle-spending — the Department of Homeland Security comes to mind. And how 'bout funding the type of law enforcement that we get from the FBI, DEA, BATF — don't even get me started on funding to enforce provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act — boondoggles all!

And I've got to admit that in the tax fairness context, I'm a liberal partisan in this "class warfare".

These questions of how much government, what its priorities should be, and how to fund it are all valid matters of political debate. Mr. Cavuto's demagogic straw man argumentation is worse than unhelpful — it's counteproductive.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Iraq Sanctions Watch (cont.): НЕТ Means Äà

Tony Adragna
For those who don't know the Cyrillic alphabet [that includes moi] the above transliterates "Nyet Means Da" [Do I need to translate, too? Maybe for the French - ed But, don't they get it? Yes, they do, but you know the French: If you don't say it in French, they'll pretend they don't understand - ed Oh, I give up! Oughtn't you get to the point of today's entry -ed Of course, thanks!]

Instapundit points to a Mark Steyn piece which notes a bit of Russian disingenuousness
Got that? Last month, the Russians were opposed to war on the grounds that there was no proof Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This month, the Russians are opposed to lifting sanctions on the grounds that there's no proof Iraq doesn't have weapons of mass destruction.
Last night's AP report of Putin's position makes clear how farcical this is. Putin says he's about countering the "one member" seen as calling upon the "whole community [...] to serve [its] interests." But, what's this really about?

In my opinion, it's less about concerns over the threat of "U.S. hegemony" than about resisting the call to effective international cooperation. After all, what the U.S. has called the community of nations to do is live up to its obligations — that should be recognized as in the whole community's interest. At the United Nations last September, Mr. Bush made very clear that the international community has a choice: Join us in making the world a better place for everybody, or stand against us in the same old game of international power politics.

Mr. Putin is making a play at egging the U.S. president's face
[...] Putin said the U.S.-led coalition based its war in Iraq on the belief that Baghdad had such weapons and said the issue must be clarified before sanctions can end...

Putin noted that Saddam Hussein's fate is unknown. "Where is Saddam? Where are these arsenals, if they were really there, and what is happening with them?" Putin asked. "Maybe Saddam is sitting somewhere in a secret bunker and plans to blow all this stuff up soon at the last second, threatening hundreds of human lives."
These questions ought be read as rhetorical — the plan is to make the U.S. lose face so that we'll be more amenable to a return of status quo ante fecklessness. The UN needs reforming, not strengthening! The role assigned has long been abandoned in favour of playing the bumbling fool — such a character can only be "central" in a comedy.

But there's actually nothing funny 'bout what the UN is up to. Tragic is more like it. Take, for instance, what the UN Economic and Social Council did yesterday
Cuba was reelected without opposition today to the United Nations' top human rights body, prompting a fierce response by the Bush administration.

The voting took place in the 54-nation U.N. Economic and Social Council, which two years ago ousted the United States from the Human Rights Commission for the first time since Washington helped found it in 1947. The United States was reinstated in a vote the following year.
This is the type of body that Putin wants "strengthened"? Well, of course, since it's the same body that gave Russia a pass, too.

See, the opposition to lifting sanctions isn't about containing the U.S. pursuit of U.S. interests. It is about making sure that U.S. calls to concerted action on common interests don't get in the way of pursuing parochial interests. It's about the Russians et al dictating to the "whole community" that nothing will happen unless those parochial interests are secured — completely the opposite of Putin's declared goal.

At this point you'd think that I'm now more concerned 'bout the fate of our proposal to lift sanctions on Iraq. But, this is another of those counterintuituve moments where what to most looks like reason to despair, is actually a ray of hope. No, I haven't lost my mind — "No" really does mean "Yes" at the end of diplomacy with Russia. It's when the Russians are saying "Yes" that you've got to watch you back...

Correction: Somehow I originally copied the wrong Russian word from my cheat sheet - 'tis fix-ed now

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Citigroup Takes $400MM Slap on the Wrist,
Sanford Weill Still In Charge

Tony Adragna
I admit to a bias against Sandy Weill [see my previous comments, disclosure included]. But I think my bias well founded — Weill's Solomon Smith Barney put the nation's largest financial institution in position to pay the largest share of the $1.4 billion settlement of civil claims. This settlement ends the "conflict of interest" probes without any admission of guilt, but this story isn't over yet
The Wall Street firms are hiring extra lawyers for what could be years of litigation generated by the settlement. Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup were each charged with fraud as part of the agreement, key terminology that could provide more ammunition for plaintiffs...
And even though Weill brokered himself a deal — I'll settle if you don't charge me — he may yet end up being defenestrated.

No downfall of a CEO would warm my heart more than Mr. Sanford Weill's downfall — I can still be hopeful, right?

Monday, April 28, 2003

Iraq Needs "Nation Building", Not "Coalition Building"!

Tony Adragna
What value does an international effort bring to the rebuilding of Iraq? Do those policy makers who argue for the UN to have a central role think it best for rebuilding Iraq? Or, is the argument more in line with what's best for rebuilding "coalition", "America's image", etc? If the former, I've no objection to making such an argument. The latter I must reject unless it's put forth as a secondary consideration — answer me first the best way to rebuild Iraq, and if that involves not a coalition, so be it.

I've no objection to doing both Iraq building & coalition building at the same time if the latter isn't a hurdle on the road to the former. It's just that I see the the record on international efforts in nation building doesn't look good
The failure of these efforts [in Bosnia, Kosov, and Afghanistan] to build autonomous, sovereign democracies lies in the very structure of international coalitions. Coalitions diffuse responsibility. When Bosnia failed to arrest war criminals, each coalition member could blame its compatriots. No one felt responsible for ensuring the legitimacy of the coalition -- or the success of the country. Slow funding from a coalition is also inevitable, given the multiple money streams and organizations that must be coordinated. Yet lack of disposable funds causes pro-Western politicians to lose ground to more shady leaders, often funded by less-savory states and criminal organizations, who can deliver results to the citizenry more quickly.

Reconstruction efforts often become the battlefields for unconnected struggles between coalition members. To gain the upper hand, "internationals" dissipate their time and energy playing politics against one another. Unable to agree on clear values and goals, and needing local allies for their fights, international organizations leave themselves at the mercy of local politicians. The locals who rise to the top after a war -- rarely the best of characters -- play agencies against one another to achieve their own purposes. As foreign countries beat out the local citizenry for the role of primary constituent, domestic politics is impoverished and viable democracy is delayed.

Poor political planning is one manifestation of bureaucratic international organizations' inability to think strategically. Broad goals and values for rebuilding government institutions are lost in the tactics of establishing and funding particular programs. As they run their small efforts, international organizations ignore strategic political junctures and critical pressure points crucial to moving a country toward self-rule and democracy.

Finally, coalitions overwhelm nascent, struggling local governments. Distrusting one another's information, international organizations send their own fact-finding missions, hold their own meetings with local politicians and publish their own reports. Local ministries, understaffed after purges of former party members, are barely able to meet the demands of their international overseers, much less undertake the actual work of running a country.
That was all before the Security Council fell apart over Iraq.

I think the way out, as Zathras suggests, is for the UN & EU to "face now the fact that the agendas of building a stable Iraq and trying to strengthen international institutions as a means of checking American power are not compatible." If we can build first a consensus around the primacy of "building a stable Iraq", and can put aside the power play planning, then I'm all for doing this thing internationally.

But, if the international community & those US policy makers advocating international action want more of the same, I'm not having it...