Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hats off to the Democrats who supported the Alito Filibuster

It was a losing battle, but we need to congratulate the 24 Senate Democrats (plus independent Senator Jeffords from Vermont) who voted to sustain the Filibuster against Alito. Thanks for showing that at least a few Democrats still have spines.

This votes goes to show you how low the Democrat Party has sunk (or slunk or slithered).

Alito was bound to be confirmed, but there was no excuse for going along with it.

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sen. John Kerry gets a spine implant, supports Alito filibuster

Way to go Sen. John Kerry! He's on board with my call for the Democrats to filibster the Alito confirmation vote ("Should the Democrats filibuster the Senate confirmation vote on Alito?").

Let's just hope that Sen. Kerry's "spine implant" is not rejected by the Democratic body politic.

Actually, this is almost a bigger surprise than the Hamas victory in Palestine.

-- Jack Krupansky

The New York Times concurs: Democrats should filibuster Alito

For the most part, I've lost faith in the New York Times, but today they happen to agree with what I wrote yesterday in a post entitled "Should the Democrats filibuster the Senate confirmation vote on Alito?". In their editorial entitled "Senators in Need of a Spine", they agree that a filibuster is needed in this case:
A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.
-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Should the Democrats filibuster the Senate confirmation vote on Alito?

What should the Democrats do now that Alito's confirmation is virtually "assured"? Some argue that a filibuster would be inneffective, but I think it would serve some value.

Sure, the Republican majority can (and would) pursue "the nuclear option" and change the rules for the Senate to override the filibuster, but that would allow the Democrats to take the moral high ground and note that they had no other acceptable choice. The only other choice open to them now is to simply roll over and play dead and vote along party lines. To me, that's less effective than doing a filibuster, which let's them stand tall and say "We tried" and not go down without a fight.

So, my advice to the Senate Democratic leadership is simple: Go for it. Filibuster the confirmation vote for Alito.

Note: a filibuster could disrupt the administration's plans to get the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (Ben Bernanke) confirmed on Tuesday, January 31, which is the end of Greenspan's term. It's not a big problem for Greenspan to serve a few more days or weeks beyond the end of his term, but delaying the vote on Bernanke would surely raise some conservative hackles.

At a minimum, the Democrats should cause the administration at least a little real pain before giving up the fight.

So, come on guys, Go for it.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Who's speaking more effectively for the Democrats and non-conservatives, Howard or Hillary?

Although Howard Dean heads the Democractic National Committee, he's being excrutiatingly ineffective. He can talk all he wants, but he's not scoring any points. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on the other hand makes a few carefully crafted comments and the entire right-wing body politic responds as if their very survival was at stake. Her every word scores a few lots of points.

I still don't think Hillary has a credible plan for winning back everything that has been lost in recent years, but at least she has a credible voice and knows how to really draw blood in a political battle.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the key issue right now is not who wins what election, but putting forth an idea campaign that can truly capture the hearts and souls of three-quarters of likely American voters. This shouldn't be about who wins some more seats in the Senate or House/Plantation or even the Presidency, but having a plan that can garner enough support so that there will be sufficient support for good programs and good policies.

Howard should just sit down and shut up, or do something useful like offer to carry Senator Clinton's bags.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Michael Ledeen on Iran: Do the Right Thing: Let's Avoid Making a Catastrophe Out of an Embarrassment

I certainly don't concur with Michael Ledeen's overall arch-neocon agenda and philosophies, but even if believe that the neocons are pure evil, it still makes sense to find out what they are actually saying, since that's what a lot of Washington policymakers are hearing, so that's what you need to be prepared to combat.

Michael has an article on the "showdown" with Iran in the National Review Online dated January 18, 2006 entitled "Do the Right Thing: Let's Avoid Making a Catastrophe Out of an Embarrassment."

Interestingly, he argues that sanctions won't work, but he doesn't argue for immediate military action. I can't disagree with him there.

He even argues that bombing Iranian nuclear facilities won't work, saying:
Do you really believe that our intelligence community is capable of identifying them? The same crowd that did all that yeoman work on Saddam's Iraq? The CIA that once received accurate information on Iranian schemes in Afghanistan, only to walk away from the sources that provided it? The CIA that, three times in the past 15 years or so, seems to have had its entire "network" inside Iran rolled up by the mullahs? And even if you believe that we have good information about the nuclear sites, are you prepared to deal with the political consequences, in Iran and throughout the region? Do we even know, with any degree of reliability, what those are? Look at the problems we now face in Pakistan, after a handful of innocents were killed in an assault against a presumed terrorist gathering. Then imagine, if you can, the problems following hundreds, or thousands of innocents killed in raids inside Iran. Are you prepared for that?
Again, I can't disagree with any of what he says there.

Instead, Michael continues to lobby for supporting "democratic revolution" in Iran. Here things get very vague, but partly that's because this relates to a lot of covert activity that a lot of people really want to keep out of the hands of the government in Iran at this time. And partly it may be vague since the approach simply isn't yet all "there."

But the real bottom line is that supporting efforts like we saw in the Ukraine are relatively cheap and nowhere near as messy as long, drawn-out sanctions and big-bang wars.

Personally, I don't know what the right answer is, yet, but I sure know that we're not heaving about any right answer from Washington these days.

Anybody know what Howard Dean or John Kerry think we should be doing (besides toothless "diplomacy")?

Personally, I don't know anybody who is more knowledgable about the geopolitics of Iran than Michael Ledeen. Although I don't concur with all or even ncessarily very much of Michael's thinking, at least he's not spouting the kind of complete nonsense such as we've been hearing lately from so many politicians, unelected government officials, pundits, and the media.

Take a look at what Michael has to say and then draw your own conclusions. Hopefully you'll be able to transcend all of this stuff and come up with your own new ideas which will likely be a lot more enlightening than "the general consensus".

Addressing the issues surrounding Iran will take a lot of clear thinking. Is that clear?

-- Jack Krupansky

Howard Dean says the government is for sale

I just got an email from Howard Dean. Well, I supposed he sent it to a few (hundred thousand) people besides me, but he informs me that the government is for sale. Cool.

If Howard is right about this, then all we have to do to "take back our government" is simply collect a little money and then it will be ours again. Cool. What could be simpler?

So, why doesn't he simply buy it and be done with the Republicans once and for all. He doesn't need to ask my permission. Or, maybe even he himself doesn't believe that the government is really for sale.

Or, maybe he's trying to suggest that if we all pitch in, we can bribe the Republicans to do what we want.

I wonder how much a "Plantation" costs, anyway... does anyboday know?

-- Jack Krupansky

He didn't give an actual price.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Iran, "nuclear ambitions", and the "War of Words"

Yes, there are legitimate concerns about Iran, particilarly its determination to become a nuclear power and its support of Middle East terrorism.

Yes, the international community should do everything (legitimately) in its power to encourage Iran to back off of its aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support of terrorists in the region.

But, let's get real.

The U.S. neocons have no legitimate faith in the UN or diplomatic efforts. That is all a ruse. Their original, stated approach to Iran was to agitate for internal unrest with the goal of causing "regime change" from within. That approach wasn't working very well, or at least not very fast.

And with the quagmire in Iraq, an outright military "liberation" is a non-starter.

And with the limited hard intelligence about Iran's WMD programs hardly being more credible than our horrendous intelligence incompetence in Iraq, the idea of some precise, pinpoint, surgical strikes reliably knocking out all of Iran's nuclear capabilities is also a non-starter.

Sure, the Israeli's have made plenty of noise to the effect that if the U.S. doesn't "do it", they will, but their bluster is based in large part on the kind dubious "intelligence" that got us in trouble in Iraq in the first place.

UN sanctions are another non-starter. Sure, you can easily put some sanctions in place, but their effectiveness will be laughable. Total export sanctions are out of the question. since too many major economies depend on Iran's oil exports, including Japan and China. Partial sanctions could be put in place, but since they are only partial they're unlikely to apply much pressure on Iran.

Unlike Iraq, Iran has a fairly diverse and vibrant economy. If anything, a moderate amount of external pressure from UN sanctions will most likely inspire a new level of self-sufficiency, and even cause Iranians to actually see the merit of a completely indiginous nuclear power program.

And if sanctions are tight enough to cause some actual pain, it's just as likely that Iranians will blame the UN, the US, Israel, Europe, et al for their meddling, and support for the Iranian hardliners is only likely to increase, sabotaging US efforts to inspire internal Iranian dissent.

Only if sanctions caused excrutiating pain would the Iranian hardliners begin to feel some heat, but the UN and Iranian export customers are very unlikely to be able to stomache such an extremeeffort.

There is also the possibility that if some sanctions are put in place and Iran finds them too offensive, we could see a retalitory oil embargo by Iran, which will cause everybody else a lot more pain than any benefit they think they are getting.

Any efforts that might result in significant downside to national economies simply is not going to find any significant support, other than with the neocons and the pro-Israel lobby.

So, for now, "the international community" will continue its "War of Words" against Iran and Iran will respond in kind. The effect of this "war" will be to strengthen the resolve of the Iranian hardliners and strengthen their support from the citizens of Iran.

How long will this ineffective "war" continue and what might cause it to come to an end? That's the great unanswered question. Without a lot of hard evidence of an actual nuclear weapons program, which we don't have, there isn't a lot of action that can or should occur. Sure, Israel might make some strikes at some point, but otherwise there will be no action.

One big wildcard is Iraq. It's unclear whether Iraq will really develop as a reliable U.S. satellite (puppet?). The Iraqis might decide that a coalition with Iran has more benefits than an association with the U.S., particularly if the association with the U.S. comes with the "gift" of implying implicit support for unacceptable actions on the part of Israel against the Palestinians.

Even if Iraq does not formally align itself with Iran, it may choose a position of relative neutrality that works to Iran's benefit rather than the U.S. For example, if sanctions or an embargo against Iranian exports does occur for whatever reason, Iraq could simply turn a blind eye (and a nod and a wink) to a significant level of smuggling from Iran to Iraq and then Iraq could do the exporting or internal consumption.

Finally, there is a core question of equity at stake here as well. If their neighbors India, Pakistan, and Israel have nuclear weapons, what approach to equity argues that Iran may not have nuclear weapons? Sure, there is no question that we don't want them to have such weapons, and it is to our advantage for them not to have such weapons, but why is that enough to argue that as a matter of international law (equity) that Iran may not have such weapons?

By the way, I do not buy the argument that Iran (or the old Iraq) will by definition automatically hand nuclear weapons over to terrorists once they get them. Did Pakistan ever hand nuclear weapons over to the terrorists that they support in their skirmishes with India? Has North Korea offered to give nuclear weapons to any terrorist groups? I don't think so. Nuclear weapons are crown jewels. Nobody gives away crown jewels. Yes, you can superficially make the argument that a country might give nuclear weapons away, but that doesn't mean that the argument has any validity.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and the next PM of Israel

If for some reason Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is unable to resume his duties after his stroke, I have every confidence that Ehud Olmert will do a fine job in his stead. I heard him speak at a luncheon at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C., a few years ago and although he is a bit arrogant, he's smart, clever, crafty and energetic enough to be able to navigate the turbulent waters of Israeli and Middle East (and U.S.) politics.

He may not beat Netanyahu (who I've also heard speak at AEI a few years ago) in the upcoming election, but he'll certainly give hime a run for his money.

I'd lean in favor of Sharon/Olmert and their centrist Kadima party than Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, but I have no ideal how the Israeli people themselves are leaning these days. I'm not sure they do either.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Nobody favors torture... or do they?

I was reading a little blurb on the "Other Comments" page of the latest issue of Forbes magazine (January 9, 2006) by Andrew C. McCarthy and Clifford D. May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) (the blurb is actually from an op-ed piece in the December 14, 2005 issue of USA TODAY) in which they start with the startling claim that "No one favors torture." Huh?!?!? Maybe they believe that, but it's not a factually correct statement. To wit, neocon Charles Krauthammer wrote earlier in the December 5, 2005 issue of The Weekly Standard in an article entitled "The Truth about Torture - It's time to be honest about doing terrible things" the following:
And even if the example I gave were entirely hypothetical, the conclusion--yes, in this case even torture is permissible--is telling because it establishes the principle: Torture is not always impermissible. However rare the cases, there are circumstances in which, by any rational moral calculus, torture not only would be permissible but would be required (to acquire life-saving information). And once you've established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that's left to haggle about is the price. In the case of torture, that means that the argument is not whether torture is ever permissible, but when--i.e., under what obviously stringent circumstances: how big, how imminent, how preventable the ticking time bomb.
Mr. Krauthammer is quite a ways down the slippery slope. He does favor torture, provided that his own personal "stringent circumstances" are met. That's the rub; who is to say where that line is?

I would offer the following "law": If you propose a standard that invites abuse, you will get abuse.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, January 2, 2006

Minimum wage

I saw an article in the NY Times today on state-specific attempts to raise the minimum wage. Let me make my position perfectly clear, we *do* need to raise the minimum wage nationwide, whether through a federal mandate or state-specific approaches. This is a *key* issue of social fairness. Businesses and economists offer their rationales for resisting minimum wage hikes, but they are not sufficient to sway my opinion.

Greenspan has argued repeatedly that raising the minimum wage will put some unskilled workers out of work. I actually agree with him. That economic "fact" is *true*. But, that's not the end of the story. Social safety net to the rescue. Here's "The Answer"... Yes, some unskilled workers *will* lose their jobs, and others will never have those "lost" job opportunities. But... BUT... lets look at the social costs. Each of the workers that doesn't lose their job will be that much less financially dependent on our social safety net and that much less likely to turn to crime to supplement (or replace) their wages. Those *savings* can then be spent on offering assistance (including meal subsidy, housing subsidy, counseling, and job training) to the *minority* of workers who are out of jobs due to the cold economic impact of raising the minimum wage. Just be sure not to set the non-worker subsidy so high that it is more appealing than the minimum wage job. Or, simply make sure that the minimum wage job is economically more attractive than the non-job (subsidized) alternative). And, if partial subsidies are still available to the minimum-wage worker, make sure that the subsidy is even more attractive than if the worker was a non-worker. The real bottom line here is to eliminate or counter or compensate for the Greenspan economic argument against minimum wage.

I would also put forward the possibility that a state or county government might offer to partially subsidize the minimum wage for businesses deemed to be socially significant, but in difficult economic situations. After all, the alternative is that the local social agencies will have to pay "full fare" for the social impact of workers without any work.

Administering such programs may be a little messy, but it *is* a matter of social fairness, and we need to recognize that having a reasonably-decent paying job is in fact valued by most people.

Here's one angle on administration. Allow businesses to apply for a subsidy for low-paid workers. If a business is in such dire circumstances that it can't afford to pay the full minimum wage, they could apply for the subsidy, through an accredited business-review professional who can "certify" the subsidy need and value to the community of the business offering the jobs.

Final note: for all those restaurants fighting against minimum wage, my view is that tips (actual or estimated) *should* be counted as part of the minimum wage. In other words, many if not most of the tip-oriented businesses should *not* be required to raise their minimum wage. If anything, the minimum wage in tip-oriented businesses should simply be "the cost of doing business" to compensate those workers for simply showing up on slow days when the lack of business gives them no economic incentive to show up at all.

-- Jack Krupansky