Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hill panders on the price of gas

Hill won't be able to use his simplistic line this time-- that gas prices rose so much during Sodrel's term, since they've risen much more during his most recent term.

So, now, he's taking a poke at President Bush's decision to purchase oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Hill, Yarmuth, and Co. may have the correct policy position. But it's difficult to imagine their empirical claim-- that this could lower the price of gas by a quarter per gallon. I don't know much about this particular market, but I'd be surprised if the impact was that large.

Here's James Carroll in the C-J, reporting on their efforts...

32 lawmakers, including Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky's 3rd District and Baron Hill of Indiana's 9th, have sent a letter to President Bush urging him to delay purchasing more oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

That could increase the amount of oil on the market and perhaps reduce prices.

Such a move, they said, "can have temporary benefits that would go a long way towards helping American families who are being squeezed, and also stimulate the economy."

There's disagreement among economists about how much impact -- if any -- such a move would have.

But the lawmakers cite an investment firm's analysis that gas prices -- now in the $3.25-a-gallon range around Louisville -- could be cut by 25 cents.

Again, it's difficult to imagine that such a small decision (relative to the entire market-- and the entire cost of a gallon of gas) would make that big of a difference!

If Bush doesn't take the step voluntarily -- and the White House says it won't, even though it did briefly halt purchases two years ago -- Yarmuth and fellow Democrats plan to push legislation.

It would require a suspension in oil purchases for the reserve this year, or until the average price of crude oil falls below $50 a barrel, whichever comes first. Oil prices recently have been around the $100-a-barrel level.

Again, maybe it's the right decision-- you know, buy low and sell high-- but that doesn't mean it will have a significant impact on the price of gas.

I wish Congress were this aggressive about ending the War in Iraq-- or dealing with issues that impact us much more (e.g., payroll taxes and Social Security).

OK, here's the numbers:

The Department of Energy is scheduled to take in 12.3 million barrels of oil for the reserve over the next six months -- an amount that's less than two-thirds the daily U.S. consumption.

Less than 2/3rds of one day's consumption: less than .2% of our annual consumption....

In an interview, Yarmuth said he doesn't think postponing oil purchases for the reserve is a long-term solution to rising gasoline prices.

OK, Yarmuth seems to get it.

Hill said the White House doesn't get it.

"It may not be an emergency for Bush, but people are hurting out here," he said. "I think we ought to be offering some relief to the common folks. That to me is an emergency."

Hill doesn't seem to get it-- at least the policy angle. He does seem to have a clearer understanding about the usefulness of this issue for his political ambitions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hill, Sodrel and "fiscal conservatism"

According to the National Taxpayers Union,

Baron Hill received 4 F's and 2 D's in his first six years in Congress. (Data are not yet available for 2007.)

Mike Sodrel received grades of B and C+ for his two years in Congress.

(In contrast, Mike Pence received 5 A's and a B for his first six years in Congress.)

If you want a fiscal conservative, fortunately my candidacy gives you that choice.

The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism

This is the longer version of an essay that was published in the Jeff/NA News-Tribune...

In this essay, I don't deal with the cost of the War in terms of lives (4000 American troops and an untold number of Iraqis) or in terms of dollars ($500 billion-- $6500 from the average family of four, financed by debt [i.e. credit cards]).

On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the War in Iraq, it’s worth a look at what we’ve accomplished and what it has cost us.

The best news is that we toppled Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime in six weeks. In other words, we won “the war” easily.

But since then, we have been trying to “build a nation” in Iraq—a much more difficult task. Our attempts to establish a new State in Iraq have been a (very) mixed bag—with uncertain benefits and substantial costs in terms of lives and money.

A more sobering cost is that our efforts in the Middle East since the Persian Gulf War have almost certainly encouraged more terrorism. 9/11 seems to have been caused, at least in part, by our post-Persian Gulf troop levels in the Middle East. And our military efforts in Iraq may well be making another 9/11 more likely.

This is the thesis of a 2005 book by University of Chicago political science professor, Robert Pape: Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape’s research is based on a study of the 315 acts of suicide terrorism (ST) world-wide between 1980 and 2003.

(Pape also discusses three historical examples of ST: Jewish “Zealots” in opposition to the Roman Empire; 11th-12th Century Ismaili “assassins” [the group that inspired the word “assassination”], and the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II. The practice did not recur again until 1980.)

Since many suicide attacks have been done by Muslims, it’s been easy to assume that ST is a “Muslim fundamentalist” thing. But Pape finds that this characteristic is involved in only about half of the cases. The leading instigators of ST—nearly one-fourth of the cases—are the Tamil Tigers, a secular group in Sri Lanka. Even among Muslims who engage in ST, about one-third of them are secular.

If religion is not the primary cause, then what is? Pape observes that the “logic” of ST is strategic, social, and individual. In terms of strategy, ST is an organized effort to leverage coercive power through a series of planned attacks. Of course, ST requires an individual who is willing to give his life for a greater cause. ST also has a social component in that it strives for and relies upon community support. (This promotes recruitment, helps ST groups avoid detection, and provides social praise and financial support for those left behind.)

Pape’s most profound observations relate to the “strategy” of ST. First, all acts of ST have been committed by members of a weaker group against a much stronger military force. In other words, they believe that traditional warfare—and even guerilla warfare—will almost certainly be ineffective. And so, ST is seen as a military option of last resort.

Second, almost all acts of ST have been committed against democracies. This form of government is seen as more vulnerable or “soft” politically (as opposed to dictatorships). Democracies can be leveraged more effectively and are more likely to be restrained in their response. (As evidence of this, one might recall that the PKK engaged in ST against democratic Turkey rather than Saddam’s Iraq. Note also that ST sends an impressive signal about their willingness to inflict damage, even on innocents. It is useful for them to intentionally violate seemingly universal norms about violence.)

Third, and most important, acts of ST have always been connected to a perception that the stronger power is engaged in an occupation of the weaker party’s territory. (Note that this is the weaker party’s perception—regardless of the stronger party’s motive or intent.) ST then is primarily a nationalistic response to a foreign power’s control over its land.

Although religion is not a primary explanation, religious differences can make ST more likely. Religious differences lead to more fear that the occupiers intend to transform their culture. It is easier to demonize “the pagans”. And with religion, it is easier to transform a taboo like suicide into a glorified occasion for martyrdom. As Pape puts it: “Religion matters, but mainly in the context of national resistance.” (Even within Al-Queda, Pape finds that those who engage in ST are more likely to come from lands that are “occupied” than to hold Muslim fundamentalist or Salafist beliefs.)

It is common to argue that Al-Queda attacks us because they hate us or our culture. But think about the timing of the attacks. We’ve had a similar culture for at least 40 years. But Al-Queda’s attacks coincide with our significant (and seemingly unending) troop presence in the Persian Gulf. We averaged nearly 700 troops in the 1980s. But in the ten years after the Persian Gulf War (1992-2001), we averaged nearly 7,000—ten times more.

Moreover, this is the primary reason Bin Laden gives for fighting us: “There is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land.” Bin Laden has also expressed concern that all six Gulf States are occupied by American military bases. While he may have other private motives, it is the core of his public case for support.

Likewise, attacks began against European countries in 2002 and 2003—but only against those which had sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. And the use of ST was clearly instrumental in getting Spain to withdraw its troops. (See also: the Taliban’s recent kidnapping of missionaries from South Korea to get them to leave Afghanistan.)

While Muslim fundamentalists certainly do not like our culture, this is insufficient to promote the social support and individual motives necessary for ST. Moreover, polling data indicates that Muslims with “a favorable view of the United States” has fallen significantly in recent years—indicating that many of them liked us before we were so heavily involved militarily in their region! In a word, it’s not so much who we are culturally as what we do (or are perceived as doing) militarily.

ST is not just a 9/11 thing. The horrible events of 9/11 are easiest to remember. But Hezbollah used ST to kill 243 Marines and drive the U.S. out of Lebanon. Palestinian terrorists have used ST to try to force Israel from the West Bank and Gaza. The Tamil Tigers have used it to encourage an independent Tamil homeland. And Al-Queda has used it to try to pressure us to leave the Persian Gulf region.

At minimum, understanding Pape’s work is helpful in trying to understand the issues—and in particular, why “fixing” the Middle East is not at the heart of this problem. Pape’s policy conclusions are not those of an ideologue. He is not digging for reasons to leave the region and is actually quite open to staying—as long we understand all of the significant costs involved. (As an economist, I love hearing people talk about all of the costs and benefits!)

Pape observes the difficulties inherent in defeating current terrorists without creating conditions that will encourage more terrorism. And he leaves his readers with this warning: “The sustained presence of heavy American combat forces in Muslim countries is likely to increase the odds of the next 9/11.” Is that a cost we really want to pay?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

anti-war rallies in Louisville and Bloomington

I enjoyed two opportunities to speak about the need to end our efforts in Iraq. (We won the war, easily, in six weeks. We've not done so well with our attempt to build a nation.)

The event in Louisville was smaller (about 20 people) and more somber. The event in Bloomington was far larger (about 200 people) and more energetic. Both events were dampened by the rain and cold weather.

The former was more in the style of a memorial service; the latter was billed as a rally or demonstration. The former was not overtly partisan; the latter had many references to the 9th District's Congressional race.

I enjoyed the speeches-- and especially, the partisan punchline I could deliver in Bloomington-- about the three choices that voters have in this district.

I asked the audience whether it was good enough to have someone who would pursue the status quo in Iraq (or McCain's 100-year war). They yelled no. But I said, "if there's anyone here who wants that, you can vote for Sodrel".

Then I asked the audience whether it was good enough to have someone who would vote for non-binding resolutions but then vote to fund the War over and over. Again, they yelled no. But I said, "if there's anyone here who wants that, you can vote for Hill".

I closed by noting that there were three candidates who support the third option: working hard to get our troops out of Iraq quickly (me and two Dem primary candidates-- Gretchen Clearwater and John Bottorff). That's what this crowd was looking for. Hopefully, they're principled enough to stick with the same level of commitment they're asking from candidates. How can it be any other way?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Press Release: Schansberg to speak at events commemorating the 5th anniversary of the War in Iraq

March 14, 2008


Schansberg to speak at events commemorating the 5th anniversary of the War in Iraq

On Wednesday, March 19th, Dr. Eric Schansberg will speak at the memorial event organized by the Louisville Peace Committee and the demonstration organized by the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition. Schansberg will probably speak between 11:30 and 12:00 in Louisville (at the Jefferson County Courthouse)—and will speak between 6:00 and 6:30 in Bloomington (at Showers Plaza).

In Bloomington, Schansberg will be joined by the other two active anti-war candidates for the 9th District seat—two competitors in the Democratic primary, Gretchen Clearwater and John Bottorff.

Schansberg advocates a “rapid, safe and complete withdrawal” of American troops: “This is in our best interests strategically. We should have imminent troop reductions and complete withdrawal within the next 6-12 months.”

Schansberg pointed to the immense cost of the War and its contribution to our growing national debt: “The debt will be paid by our children and grand-children. In the meantime, we have a weakening dollar and its contributions to a weaker economy and higher gas prices.”

Beyond the cost of the War in terms of dollars and lives, Schansberg emphasized it as a catalyst for further terrorism: “As Robert Pape’s book Dying to Win makes clear, suicide terrorism occurs when people who are weak militarily believe that their land is being occupied. We promised to get out of the Middle East after the Persian Gulf War. We didn’t do that. Al-Queda sees us as imperialistic occupiers of their Holy Land. And until we leave, they will continue to attack us—in Iraq and here if possible. The best thing we can do is to leave Iraq and the Middle East as soon as possible.”

Schansberg criticized Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN) in particular. “He votes for non-binding resolutions and his rhetoric is pretty good. But he votes to finance the War over and over again. So we know that he’s not at all serious about bringing the troops home.”

For more information, contact Eric Schansberg at (812) 218-0443, Melanie Hughes at (502) 432-1930, or send an email to SchansbergForCongress@gmail.com.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

different kinds of Liberals

The third op-ed from my most recent essay in the Jeff/NA News-Tribune-- on political labeling, and here, in particular, on the different types of liberals. (The first essay was on labeling in general and different types of libertarians. The second essay was about different types of conservatives.)

In two previous submissions, I described how political labels are unclear but still popular. I recommended that we move away from describing politics along a spectrum of left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative-and noted that people have different beliefs about the role of government in the economic and social/personal realms.

That said, the terms liberal and conservative are still useful — as long as they are modified to give them more precision. In my previous submission, I described various types of conservatives. Here, I will describe various types of liberals.

The term liberal was originally connected to those who were free. (Our English word derives from the Latin word liber.) For example, the development of the “liberal arts” was a body of knowledge related to what free people should know in order to exercise their freedom properly as good citizens.

Under John Locke, the term was expanded to encompass “natural” rights or liberties-to life, property, religious beliefs, and so on-as eventually enshrined in our country’s founding documents. The term was expanded further in the 19th and 20th centuries as an extension of freedoms to previously excluded classes-women and ethnic minorities.

Under FDR and his “New Deal,” in the shadow of the Great Depression, the predominant view of government turned from protection of freedoms toward provision of resources. These new policy goals were more economic than political-and they were increasingly seen as “rights.” (FDR described his policies as “a second Bill of Rights.”) In a time of growing faith in the government’s ability, “liberals” increasingly embraced government. (The length and the depth of the Depression are best explained by a set of bone-headed government policies. But that’s a different essay.)

Ironically, people have been “liberal” with the definition of liberal and so it has come to mean very different things. What used to be called “liberal” is now occasionally called “classical liberalism”-an emphasis on freedom, and in particular, freedom from an oppressive state.

But typically, the term means something nearer the other end of the spectrum-the avid use of government solutions as a means to whatever ends. Mostly, the term is avoided by those it would best describe and used by their opponents as an insult. (Often “liberals” prefer to use the term “progressive.”)

As there are different types of conservatives, so there are different types of liberals. Clarity requires more precise language.

Some so-called liberals are members of special interest groups that seek to benefit themselves at the expense of others. Labor unions are the most obvious examples of this. In manufacturing, they pursue a range of labor and product market interventions that lock out potential competitors. In education, teacher unions want to preserve the monopoly power of the government schools. Restricting competition is a common way to make one group better off at the expense of others.

Other groups perceive that they are better off with “liberal” policies-most notably, the elderly and African-Americans. Both groups also feel an historical connection to liberalism-the elderly to the New Deal and African-Americans to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

Many people in all three of these groups-unions, the elderly, and African-Americans-are moderate or even conservative on social or military issues. But their perceived economic (or social) interests trump those issues.

Other liberals are primarily focused on a single issue such as poverty, abortion, the war in Iraq, the environment, “gay rights,” and so on. There is often overlap between these categories, but the primary focus is one issue over the others.

One other distinction is worth making. It’s interesting that some liberals value freedom for the most marginal in society-while others are not comfortable with additional freedoms (because they don’t trust the way that the freedom will be used). The result is that some liberals seek less government intervention and are relatively attracted to markets while others fundamentally distrust the market and want much more government.

The former are more truly liberal or progressive while the latter are better described as elitists or statists. Two examples will help draw the distinction. Elitists don’t like WalMart, but liberals do-for what the company offers in terms of opportunity for workers and especially for consumers. And liberals want the inner city poor to have educational choice through vouchers or charter schools. But such freedom makes statists nervous and so they prefer the status quo-with government’s monopoly provision of schooling services to the poor.

Most “liberals” find a home within the Democratic Party-and so, it is common to equate Democrats with liberals. But a recognition of the various types of liberals makes clear that those within the Party are driven by different issues and different worldviews. In any case, discussions about politics would have more clarity if we chose more precise labels.

different kinds of Conservatives

The second op-ed from my most recent essay in the Jeff/NA News-Tribune-- on political labeling, and here, in particular, on the different types of conservatives. (The first essay talked about political labeling in general and different types of libertarians.)

In my previous submission, I described how political labels are unclear but still popular. I advocated the use of “two dimensions” — determining whether one is conservative or liberal in the economic and social/personal realms-as modeled by the political quiz at www.theadvocates.org/quiz. But I also noted that these two dimensions are still quite limited, since the terms conservative and liberal are used by so many different groups.

Here, I will describe the various types of conservatives. And in an essay to follow, I will describe different types of liberals.

Throughout the Republican presidential primaries, it was quite obvious that Republicans have different ideas of who is (and is not) conservative. As John McCain began to emerge as the front-runner, conservative talk-radio went ballistic about McCain’s supposed lack of conservative credentials. Now, President Bush says that McCain is a “true conservative.” But many people don’t think that Bush is a conservative! So, how can one know? Again, the problem is that the one label has a variety of meanings.

At its root, a conservative is, literally, one who conserves-who works to preserve the status quo in terms of social order, politics and economics. But over time, this definition has become less helpful. For example, conservatives seek a certain kind of social order-one which, in many ways, is not the dominant order today. So, in a sense, conservatives are conservative in that they hearken back to what they see as glory days of a more distant past. But they are progressive in that they work earnestly to change the current status quo.

For example, conservatives don’t want to preserve today’s status quo on abortion. So, they are conservative in wanting to go back to a pre-Roe v. Wade world. But they are progressive in that they want to change laws and social practices to pursue what they see as social justice.

Beyond the single term “conservative,” there are many subsets within that group. Simply adding an adjective in front of the term can add a lot of clarity.

For example, social conservatives are quite interested in social issues. They want to restrict or eliminate the practice of abortion. They are opposed to cloning and euthanasia. They are opposed to “gay rights” and “same-sex unions.” They want strong enforcement against porn-centered businesses. They usually oppose legalized gambling.

Fiscal conservatives are interested in some combination of smaller taxes, less government spending, and balanced budgets. They worry about the disincentives caused by high tax rates. They are unimpressed with the practical impact of government programs. And they are philosophically opposed to most forms of government intervention within the economy.

Beyond a negative criticism of government in the economic realm, fiscal conservatives positively applaud the effectiveness of free markets and they value individual freedom as expressed in a market economy. As a result, they are also called “free market” conservatives.

In contrast, there are “America First” conservatives. These people are the most literally conservative in that they want to preserve the social and economic status quo. They are the loudest on efforts to restrict illegal immigration-what they see as the most important issue today. They are typically interested in restricting legal immigration as well. And they are often willing to use trade protectionism to protect certain U.S. industries.

Finally, there are military conservatives. They value a strong national defense. They also tend to value a stronger version of law and order-enforcement and punishment of domestic crimes. Most of these are “neo-cons”— those who applaud the continuing efforts in Iraq and see those as helpful for defending our own country from additional terrorism.

A much smaller group of military conservatives points to the non-interventionist roots of conservatism and wants the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. They believe that our significant troop presence in the Middle East since the Persian Gulf War has given terrorists the impression that we’re occupying their land. These conservatives want the U.S. military to defend our country-rather than trying to build nations or extend democracy across the world.

Of course, there are combinations of the above. But often, the categories are unrelated. And this is what leads to the confusion. For example, social conservatives are relatively unconcerned with other public policies and alternative forms of conservatism. The result is that social conservatives are often moderate or liberal on other policy matters.

Most of these groups find a home within the Republican Party-and so, it is common to equate Republicans with conservatives. But a recognition of the various types of conservatives makes clear that there are tensions within the Party-as the particular interests of the sub-groups are addressed well (or not). In any case, discussions about politics would have more clarity if we chose more precise labels.

different kinds of Libertarians

Here's the second part of the first of three op-eds in the Jeff/NA News-Tribune on political labels. In this part, I distinguish between different kinds of Libertarians...

...I’d like to bring some clarity to our political categories by describing the three primary labels used today. I’ll describe “libertarian” in the remainder of this essay, because it is relatively easy to do. And in two essays to follow, I’ll describe the terms “conservative” and “liberal.”

Libertarians are easiest to describe because their political philosophy is well-defined. They believe that people should be allowed to do what they want-as long as they don’t cause significant harm to other parties. The role of government is, thus, easy to define. It should be ready to intervene in preventing or punishing those who do significant harm to others.

This worldview results in a small but strong government — along the lines described in the Constitution. The government should aggressively protect the people from external threats and internal thieves. But it should not protect people from themselves. So, for example, if people want to gamble, that should be their prerogative. Likewise, the government shouldn’t be used to help some at the expense of others — for example, by restricting markets for goods through trade protectionism or redistributing income to all sorts of people.

There are different types of Libertarians — or at least, significant differences between Libertarians on key policies. For example, many Libertarians are pro-choice on abortion. If life does not begin early on in the womb, then Libertarians adamantly defend the rights of the woman. But many Libertarians are pro-life. Since they believe that life begins in the womb, they adamantly defend the rights of the baby.

There is room for additional disagreement between Libertarians in other policy areas — for example, the extent to which illegal immigrants are prosecuted and the ways in which one would best try to prevent a terrorist attack. But such disagreements are relatively infrequent.

The term Libertarian is relatively clear. To describe conservatives and liberals, I’ll need two more essays!

Political Labeling: What’s in a Name? Not much

Here's my most recent essay-- a set of three op-eds in the Jeff/NA News-Tribune on political labels. This is the first part of the first essay-- on the use of political labels...

One of the most frustrating things about politics is the use of simplistic labels to categorize political beliefs-in particular, the terms “conservative” and “liberal.”

Instead of a “left-right” political spectrum, Libertarians are quick to note that people embrace various degrees of freedom (or government) in two separate realms: economic markets and personal or social behaviors. A popular and useful “two-dimensional” quiz along these lines is available at www.theadvocates.org/quiz.

A two-dimensional quiz results in four categories. Conservatives are described as those who prefer a large degree of economic freedom, but significant limits on personal freedom. Liberals are those who prefer a large degree of personal freedom, but significant limits on economic freedom. “Statists” want a lot of government intervention in both realms. Libertarians favor minimal government involvement in both realms.

While a two-dimensional quiz is preferable to a one-dimensional spectrum, it still falls short in that it reduces complex policy preferences into relatively narrow categories.

In particular, the terms “conservative” and “liberal” are immediately complicated by the fact that there are various types of each. At the end of the day, unless adjectives are added to these one-word labels, they are not particularly helpful for drawing lines in shifting political sands.

Some pundits are quick to make such distinctions. And so, for example, they commonly make references to more specific groups like fiscal conservatives and environmentalists.

But many others use the simple but muddy terms, adding to the confusion. Perhaps it is a desire to unify things under a single label. Perhaps it is driven by a desire to make politics into an “us vs. them” (conservative vs. liberal) contest. In any case, the tendency to use simplistic labels is more tempting under three circumstances.

First, when the general public does not pay much attention to politics (as is common), then labels are a convenient though flawed way to communicate about politics with most people. At some level, this is as unavoidable as the 30-second “sound-bite.” The fact of the matter is that most people are busy mowing their lawns and raising their kids and aren’t going to give much time to thinking about politics. Thankfully, we live in a country where this is possible!

Second, labels will be more prevalent when politics are not likely to solve much in terms of policy. Quick labels allow politicians to distract the general public from the inability of politics to address certain problems.

Third, when much is at stake in terms of political power, labels allow a political party to shore up its base and demonize its opponents. When combined with a general inability of politics to address our problems, the result will be more demonization — and shoring up the base indirectly by criticizing “them.”

As such, labels often encourage people to focus on who (or what) they oppose instead of who (or what) they support. We see a lot of this today. For example, people routinely vote for “the lesser of two evils”rather than avidly supporting a certain candidate....