February 2004
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Month February 2004

The attack on science continues, part 2

 Thanks to Kevin Drum for the reference.  Bush has replaced two members of his Council on Bioethics yesterday – Elizabeth Blackburn from UC San Francisco, and moral philosopher William May of SMU – who were both advocates for stem cell research.  White House spokesperson Erin Healy said that “we’ve decided to go ahead and appoint other individuals with different expertise and experience.”


In fact, she was correct.  The new folks do have different expertise and experience.  The kind that should scare the living crap out of anybody who does biological or medical research.  Or anybody who eventually wants a cure for cancer.

The first new appointee is Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.  Carson is also a motivational speaker who talks about how “we live in a nation where we can’t talk about God in public.”  The second appointee is Diana Schaub, chairman of Pol Sci at Loyola College.  In a 2002 public forum on cloning, she discussed research in which embryos are used as “the evil of the willful destruction of innocent human life.”  The third appointee is Peter Lawler, chairman of Government at Berry College in Georgia.  For those of us who don’t know Berry College, it’s an undergraduate college which “emphasizes a comprehensive, educational program committed to high academic standards, Christian values, and practical work experience…” 

Lawler is a piece of work, which is why I saved him for last.  In a more coherent moment, Lawler wrote in the conservative Weekly Standard in 2002 that if the US doesn’t “become clear as a nation that abortion is wrong,” then women would eventually be compelled to abort babies with genetic defects.  In his less coherent moments, Lawler is known for his hilarious classroom comments.  Among the gems in his “top 50”:

“Reading the introduction to books will make you dumber.”

“If a country is bad enough to embargo, it is bad enough to conquer.”

“I don’t want to point fingers, but women stay alive a lot longer than they need to.”  

“Darwin is kinda corny.”

“Machiavelli is a Sinatra kind of guy.”

We just turned over our country’s bioethics policy to these people?  I’m speechless.  I had to rewrite this sentence a couple of times to remove all of the swear words, in fact.  

If you’re not scared yet, you’re not paying attention.

Washington Post link

Employee layoff numbers still trending in alarming direction

It’s pretty obvious that jobs will be the aspect of the economy which drives the election.  Most Americans equate the health of the economy with the availability of suitable and decently-paid employment, naturally enough.  It’s tough for most people, therefore, to believe that the economy is actually “recovering.”  The stock markets have certainly recovered from a year ago (whether this is only temporary is another question entirely), but it’s arguable that the “economy” as a whole is still in the “trough” of a U-shaped recession/recovery cycle.  

An obvious point, maybe, but data reported this week from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics underscores its reality.  Mass layoff actions were higher in January 2004 than YTY from Jan 2003, despite the fact that month-to-month trends have been declining throughout 2003.  But 2428 mass layoff actions in January, affecting 239,454 workers suggest that the month-to-month trend isn’t telling the whole story.  January is typically a month with a layoff “bump” anyway, due to seasonal employment during Q4, but the increase in January 2004 is higher than can be accounted for by seasonal trends.  It’s also only the third time in the last two years that initial unemployment claims increased, rather than decreasing.  

The industry-specific numbers tell the tale:  35% of mass layoff events in January and 37% of initial claims come from manufacturing.  8%/9% came from retail trade, where you might expect it due to seasonality.  The largest decrease YTY in initial claims were reported in computers and electronics (-3816 YTY) and air transportation (-3695 YTY).  

Regionally, the highest number of initial claims came in the Midwest with 68,404 workers laid off.  In particular, after a brief respite in Q3/4 2003, Ohio is back at Jan 2003 levels of layoffs and initial claims.  And folks in Ohio are pissed off, and for the first time in his presidency, Bush is below 50% approval in that state.  Rep.  Ted Strickland (D-OH) is quoted in the Washington Post as saying “there is a dissatisfaction and anger with this administration I haven’t witnessed since I don’t know when.  Unemployment and health care are huge concerns.  The veterans are angry with their treatment.” 

Kerry needs to get into Ohio and provide these folks with concrete reasons to support him.  I don’t know much about whether Kerry’s proposed manufacturing jobs credit will specifically help the Ohio situation, but it seems like it’s gotta work better than simply assuming that retraining programs (the cornerstone of Bush’s program) will benefit folks in rural Southeastern Ohio.  Retraining is great – I’m not knocking it – but without a reservoir of knowledge-worker companies located in SE Ohio ready to hire the retrained workers, it’s not a concrete solution. 

And while it may seem a bit crass to look at layoff numbers and then talk electoral strategy, it may be that the best thing we can do to help laid off manufacturing workers is focus on electing Kerry and letting him try to put his “first 100 days” plan into action.

The FMA is essentially dead in the Senate!

Well, that didn’t take long.
Oxblog posted a nose count
on likely Senate votes on the Federal
Marriage Amendment, and unless something changes radically between now and a
vote, the FMA is toast. 

The nose count has
41 Senators already announcing positions against the amendment, only 28
supporting it publicly, 6 issuing wishy-washy statements which are equivocal,
and 4 undecideds (plus a couple whose opinions are yet unknown).  The list
of folks opposing the amendment includes Washington’s Senators Murray and
Cantwell, along with Chris Dodd, Max Baucus from Montana, Joe Lieberman, Dianne
Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Tom Daschle, and Republican John McCain (among
others).  Naturally, Democratic candidates Kerry and Edwards are both
opposing the amendment. 

The folks indicating
their support for the amendment are, sadly, exactly as you’d expect: 
Trent Lott, Saxby Chambliss, Orrin Hatch, Elizabeth Dole, Bill Frist, Rick
Santorum, and Zell Miller (again, among others). 

Sadly, Olympia Snowe
of Maine, normally a courageous person who speaks her mind, has issued a
“cop-out” statement which neither indicates support nor opposition. 

So again, unless
something radically changes, the FMA will not pass the Senate with the required
super-majority (67 votes), and thus is essentially dead.  Hmmm…that took
about 24 hours.  What will Bush and his team try next?

Bush/Rove: fiendishly clever or losing their grip?

I haven’t written as much about the election itself lately because a lot of things are just brewing in the back of my mind, and I keep waiting for them to crystallize. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m missing something here. Here’s what the Administration has been doing lately, presumably with an eye towards the election:

  • Advocated a possible cut in Social Security benefits, or raising the mandatory retirement age. Granted, Greenspan did the talking, but since Alan didn’t mention the possibility of rescinding some of the tax cuts as an option, there is definitely the hand of the White House involved. Especially since Greenspan (according to Paul O’Neill) wasn’t necessarily a fan of the tax cuts in the first place.
  • Launched a public call for the Federal Marriage Amendment, enshrining discriminatory distinctions in the Constitution for the first time in our history.
  • Backed off publicly from their own economic forecasts and report, without providing a clear path to something else, and no clear answer on jobs, and a continuing parade of knowledgeable folks who say that the deficit is going to worse even than projected.
  • Still has no firm explanation for the June deadline to get out of Iraq, despite the fact that everyone else involved has said that elections aren’t possible, the country won’t yet be stable, and we won’t have created a democracy yet. Are we going to run out of money? Would it ruin some campaign event Bush has planned if we stay longer?

Well, there’s undoubtedly more, but it’s instructive to look at this list. If Bush and Rove are so fiendishly brilliant, who exactly are these actions designed to attract? Certainly not centrist or moderate Republicans – the FMA isn’t going to play well there, and the deficit and general bungling of economic policy will be a major stumbling block. And with an attack on Social Security when every other first-term incumbent president avoids the issue like the plague before their second-term inauguration risks problems from lobbies like the AARP, not to mention individual Americans who are counting on their benefits.
And even if the FMA was an attempt to court solid voting from the Religious Right, it may not work. Two reasons:

  1. Nobody likes a loser, as has been extensively pointed out in the last couple of days. Given the lack of super-majority support in Congress the FMA is likely to face, Rove has to be hoping that the thing won’t come to a vote any time soon. As soon as the FMA is dead in Congress, Bush takes a hit for supporting a failed amendment – from his foes but even more importantly, from the people who were counting on him to push it through.
  2. There’s a chunk of the Religious Right that thinks Bush is still too wishy-washy on the issue. Hard to believe, but I recommend you check out IntellectualConservative.com for some truly frightening material. In particular, check out Dr. Patrick Johnston’s article (or “screed”, depending upon your inclination) “Why Christians Should Not Vote for George W. Bush.”

So what’s the plan here? If we’re still operating under the assumption that Karl Rove is the modern-day avatar of Niccolo Machiavelli, then I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. Everything I’m seeing here looks like it’ll erode mainstream Republican support for Bush, leaving him a narrower and narrower constituency.

And given the molecularly-thin nature of his victory in 2000, wouldn’t you imagine that Bush will probably need every single Republican vote he can get, plus a sizeable share of independents? It’s way too early to conclude that optimism should be breaking out within Democratic circles, but thus far I’m not impressed by Bush’s early campaign moves.

Rep. Dingell Challenges Mankiw on Fast-Food “Manufacturing” jobs

Again, thanks to Atrios for the pointer.  Rep. John Dingell, of Michigan, wrote a letter to CEA Chairman Mankiw this week, not only challenging the absurd classification of fast-food workers as “manufacturing jobs” but doing so with such humor that I rolled on the floor laughing – a rare thing when reviewing the Administration’s hijinks these days.   Here are some fun quotes, but I recommend reading the whole thing:

I am sure the 163,000 factory workers who have lost their jobs in Michigan will find it heartening to know that a world of opportunity awaits them in high growth manufacturing careers like spatula operation, napkin restocking, and lunch tray removal.  

Dingell goes on to ask key questions about this new trend in job creation, however:

Will federal student loans and Trade Adjustment Assistance grants be applied to tuition costs at Burger College?

Will special sauce now be counted as a durable good?

It’s nice to see that we have elected officials who can fight back at the Administration, and do it in a positive way.  This made my whole day. 

Just brilliant….fidelity pledges for FMA supporters

Thanks to Atrios for linking this one:  The Rocky Mountain Progressive Network has decided that since supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment are believers in the sanctity of marriage, they ought to be willing to sign a pledge that they practice fidelity themselves.  After all, Focus on the Family cites a 2002 study by the University of Oklahoma showing that infidelity as a major threat to the institution of marriage.  The pledge was given to each Colorado state and federal lawmaker who publicly supports the Federal Marriage Amendment.  You can see the pledge and track which lawmakers sign and return it.  This ought to be fun to watch…