Friday, March 19, 2004

Well, Anthony Raimondo is no longer Dubya's choice for "manufacturing czar", after John Kerry claimed that his company had shifted jobs to China. But, says the New York Times ...

... it's not that simple. What Mr. Raimondo's company did, experts of all stripes say, has become standard business practice in response to domestic and international pressures.

So, ummm... does that mean that he wasn't shifting jobs overseas? Let's examine further:

The company got its start in China by exporting from Nebraska prefabricated steel framing for commercial buildings, particularly factories.

Its biggest Chinese customer was a company that made automotive glass. "We shipped all the steel framing for four 250,000-square-foot factories," Mr. Raimondo said.

In 2000, however, his big Chinese customer shifted to one of [Raimondo]'s competitors, Butler Manufacturing of Kansas City, Mo., which offered a lower price from a factory it had opened in China in 1996 to manufacture the heavy steel products closer to where they would be used. [Raimondo's company] responded to this competition by shifting from exports to production in China, at a new plant that opened last year in Beijing.

Ah. So in the late '90s, Raimondo had workers in Nebraska producing steel products for the Chinese market. Now, he has workers in Beijing producing steel products for the Chinese market. So, does this not count as shifting jobs overseas? Raimondo further explains:

"We think ours is the ideal dynamic model for American manufacturers," Mr. Raimondo said in a telephone interview. "I talked at length with the Department of Commerce and the White House, and they agreed that [my company]'s competitive response is a tremendous message for all manufacturing. We do not outsource in the sense of bringing product back to the United States."

Ah... the mystery vanishes! Jobs may have been shifted overseas, but the buzzword associated with the current controversy is outsourcing, and since the jobs weren't outsourced "in the sense of bringing product back to the United States", nothing he did should be controversial. Brilliant!

But then, he's missing a better argument. The actual definition of outsourcing is hiring a contractor, domestic or foreign, to do work that a company (or government) formerly did in house. And since Raimondo's outfit owns its plant in Beijing, the jobs there can't have been outsourced no matter where the product goes. Doubly brilliant!

Remember, it's not about whether Americans can find good jobs. It's about which clamshell is covering the pea...

Further note: Part of what passes for "free-trade advocacy" these days is to point to all the jobs that we have in America for producing exports. There's, perhaps, a certain tension between this notion, and having the commerce department encouraging American firms to open factories overseas when selling into markets there...

Before we invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein repeated claimed that he had no weapons of mass destruction. Dubya's crew denounced this as a campaign of lies, invaded, and found no weapons.

Donald Rumsfeld is on the op-ed page of the New York Times today, continuing to claim that we had to invade because Hussein had rejected Dubya's invitation to disarm and -- weasel word alert -- "prove he had done so". It's a short piece, so he doesn't have time to explain what, beyond the thousands of pages of documentation he submitted and allowing UN inspectors free run of the country for months, would have constituted an acceptable standard of proof.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

David Brooks believes the Spanish were irresponsible to hold an election just after a terrorist attack.

How much more irresponsible must Lincoln have been to hold an election in the middle of a frigging civil war?

The Fed isn't raising interest rates for now, but

Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman, has warned that interest rates are too low to be sustainable indefinitely. At its last meeting on Jan. 28, the Fed's policy committee retreated from an open-ended commitment to keep rates low for "a considerable period."

So, sometime in the next few years, Greenspan expects that interest rates will be going up.

But he was also recently, in his usual somewhat oblique way, touting the benefits of adjustable-rate mortgages, observing that holders of fixed-rate mortgages "might have saved tens of thousands of dollars had they held adjustable-rate mortgages" instead. The reason the homeowners would have saved that money, of course, is that interest rates were dropping, and their adjustable rates would have dropped along with them.

Yet he makes his speech touting adjustable rate mortgages at a time when he clearly expects interest rates to be going up over the next few years -- raising the payments of anyone foolish enough to get an ARM now. It seems that Greenspan, the erstwhile disciple of Ayn Rand, has at long last discovered the value of charity. Toward the banks.

Conditions of the War on Terror may, at some points, necessitate easing some of our formerly accustomed standards of due process. As in the case of the four British citizens recently released from Guantanamo after being held there for four years. They have now been released by the British police, who are quite convinced that there's nothing to try them for, and don't even want them back for questions. But, while at Guantanamo, they were subjected to treatment so severe -- they all allege torture -- that three at least made false confessions of terrorist acts.

Well hey, you can't be too sure. They were accused terrorists.

But this strict standard of justice isn't practical to apply everywhere. In Iraq, for example, there are enough civilian victims of unjustified force that we've set up an office to distribute blood money to them, or their surviving relatives -- but we haven't investigated many incidents at all far enough to give the thugs disgracing the uniform of our good troops a proper court martial.

There just isn't time to do every nice thing in the world...

(British police link via Atrios).

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Ever get the feeling that they're all out to get you? Peter Porrino seems to feel like that.

It started when Unilever, the owners of the office building next to him, seemed to have gotten a very quick turnaround on a sweetheart zoning change allowing them to build a new loading dock. The dock which would have rather worsened his view, to say nothing of the diesel fumes. On further investigation, their lawyer, one John Schepisi, turned out to represent just about every other major property developer in town. But then again, he has a very successful record -- he's gotten unanimous approval of everything he's asked for from the town planning board for the past five years. Mayor Joseph Parisi explains, he's a very good lawyer.

And Parisi would know. As it happens, Schepisi isn't just a lawyer who frequently has business before the city council; he's also a client, of the mayor's family insurance business. The town's lawyer announced that much, when the mayor and his son, a city councillor, both recused themselves from further votes on the matter. With the recusal, it no longer mattered that the mayor is also a client of Schepisi's for some legal work, or that they have a joint investment in a shopping center, a taxi business, and a bank, so they didn't bother announcing any of that, leaving it for other folks to discover.

Of course, there are also more neutral arbiters around, like the head of the local planning board. His main connection with this is that he's also a loan officer at the bank, and the son of its president. But hey, that's not unusual -- most of the city council owned shares in the bank. It doesn't matter much; the borough's attorney had ruled those holdings were insubstantial, which conveniently meant that they didn't have to recuse themselves from business brought to the council by their co-owner of the bank, Mr. Schepisi. (And is there anything else?)

Likewise, the fact that Unilever deposited a few million dollars with the bank before getting unanimous approval for their loading dock can't have mattered much. The council members' holdings, after all, were insubstantial. Their lawyer says so.

You can get really carried away talking about casual connections like this as if they were an invitation to corruption. Heck, the lawyer who wrote this all up for the Times himself had a relative who was at one time, a client of Schepisi's.

This is even more true of higher levels of government -- as in Connecticut, where people are trying to sling mud at the good and well-connected people who were staffing that state's trash authority. Nonsense. They're just trying to do the best for the people of Connecticut. They may have taken a bath on that unfortunate $200 million dollar deal with Enron, but it was surely well intentioned. (And while it is, well, unseemly for the Times to be covering the matter at all, at least they didn't make too big a deal of their Republican party affiliations).

And if it's irresponsible to speculate about this sort of thing on a local or state level, how much more irresponsible must it be to speculate about unseemly shenanigans between the heads of the Fortune 500 and members of Congress?

Tuned in to Stern again today, still threatening to go off the air if the Senate passes the broadcast decency bill. He was, in particular, ragging on a columnist for the Daily News who had rather belittled his current plight. At times, he almost started to go into a Pastor Niemoller riff on his fellow broadcasters: "First, they came for the wheel of farts, and they did not speak up. And I'll be gone. Next, they'll come for the stem cell research..."

Except that they came for the stem cell research first, and from what I hear, Stern was supporting Dubya at the time. Well, at least he's kicking up a fuss now that the religious right has come for him.

Monday, March 15, 2004

David Neiwert reflects on the culture of terrorism:

Most of these terrorists see themselves as infinitely smarter than the "dumb cops," and infinitely capable of going uncaught. (Many believe that they are protected by God.) So when they do get away with it at the early stages, it's taken as a clear sign to rise to the next level.

And this shows how naive it is to frame the fight against terrorism solely as a fight against a particular set of thugs and miscreants. It's not just particular bombers that we're up against, it's an entire culture, isolated in its desert fastness, suspicious of outsiders, contemptuous of Western science and democratic politics, and suffused with a dangerous sense of a divine mission -- a culture that breeds these people. And it's not until we come up with a comprehensive strategy for dealing with this unsuccessful, diseased culture that we will be able to effectively cope with the radical Christian fanatics of the American southwest.

So, the Spaniards have turned out a government whose first response to a terrorist attack was self-serving political lies, thus proving that Spain as a nation is not serious about self-serving political lies about terrorism. Or something like that.

In the meantime, the lies did go beyond Spain -- shortly after the attack, the UN Security Council took all of five minutes to debate a resolution condemning the Basque group ETA, which to be sure has a very ugly past, before condemning them unanimously for the attacks. Now that it turns out that ETA has not resumed terrorist activity after all -- at least not yet -- can they get an apology?

At any rate, the new Spanish Prime Minister will try to maintain "cordial" relations with the U.S., whatever their differences on specific issues, and even though he has bluntly referred to the lies from Dubya's crew leading up to the war as, well, lies. There's that word again. That's the kind of leadership that's coming in in Spain. They aren't serious about lies. They don't respect lies. And when politicians stop lying, the terrorists have won.

Or something like that.

More: Of course, there's also fuzzy thinking on the left. There seem to be folks out there trying to spin this series of events like so:

If anything, this is a DEFEAT for al Qaeda, because it puts the lie to Bush's argument that Iraq had any connections to world terrorism. Defeating Iraq has made no difference and has only made things worse, in fact. The Bush doctrine has always been flawed and self-destructive from the start, but now the Spanish people and their government are free to pursue meaningful strategies that DO have a chance of working against terrorism.

(That's from the comments on this Billmon post, which is a great deal more sensible, even if I disagree with it).

So, in brief, al-Qaeda has managed to set off three simultaneous bombings with massive casualties in a major Western country without tipping off anybody in advance, and we are supposed to see the upshot as a defeat for their cause. Say what?