Guest blogging for Glenn this week is Austin Bay, an author and nationally-syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate.

August 12, 2005 | 3:46 PM ET

The other day Michael Totten linked to a fascinating “ Washington Prism” interview with Christopher Hitchens.  The question that caught Totten’s eye caught mine as well: When asked if a Democrat were president on 9/11 would the "American left" have a different take on Afghanistan and Iraq, Hitchens replied:

…in the mainstream of the Democratic and Republican parties, you would have seen an exact switch…The ones in the middle would have just done a switch, finding arguments to support or criticize the war.  In fact, I remember that people in the Clinton administration spoke of an inevitable confrontation coming with Saddam.  They dropped this idea only because it was a Republican president.  That is simply disgraceful.  It is likewise disgraceful how many Republicans ran as isolationists against [former Vice-President] Al Gore in the 2000 elections.

I’ve argued —frequently— that a Democratic president would have been at most a year behind the Bush Administration’s track in the War on Terror, but ultimately following the same offensive strategy.  After lag time for the psycho-drama of left-wing angst, President Gore would be carrying the war to the politically dysfunctional Arab Muslim Middle East-- creating and sustaining political alternatives to tyranny and terror.  And that means nation building.  Republicans, Democrats, and independents who opposed democratic nation building in the post-Cold War era were wrong in their assessment of what it takes to insure U.S. security.

As for Hitchens' “role reversal,” the spaghetti-spined members of the political class will always play the “nay game.”  Angry accusations of incompetence, dereliction, and stupidity attract television cameras.  A substantial number of conservatives supported democratic expansion and development—I know them, in part because I am one.  (Note to Hitchens: none of us have “Marxist backgrounds.”)  November 9, 1989 —that day the Berlin Wall cracked—presented liberal democracy with an extraordinary opportunity to change oppressive conditions throughout the world.  Some of us took barbs from left and right wing isolationists – to the Left we were imperialists, to the Right, do-good dreamers.

In the 1990s I doubted Clinton’s decisiveness and his interest in sustaining military, political, and economic commitment, though I hoped for the best.  I’ll give two examples from my own paper trail: In 1993 I wrote a long essay for The Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News urging the Clinton Administration to take focused military and political action in the Balkans and pinpointed Milosevic as the target.  Clinton would have won a Nobel Peace Prize if he had followed through on his campaign rhetoric of 1992 regarding the Bush Administration’s neglect of Bosnia.  In 1998 one of my Morning Edition commentaries urged the Clinton Administration to conclude Desert Storm—Hitchens' “inevitable confrontation” with Saddam.

The truth is, after 9/11 we’re not engaged in nation building – we’re engaged in planet building ( see here).  I completely agree with Hitchens on this point.  We should “consistently act” against internationalist totalitarian ideologies out of both principle and realism.  “…[I]f you don’t fight them now you fight them later...  We can't live on the same planet as them and I'm glad because I don’t want to.”

That’s precisely why I went back on active duty and served in Iraq.

Bay’ 1993 essay can be found here.

August 10, 2005 | 10:01 AM ET

Guest blogging for Glenn this week is Austin Bay, an author and nationally-syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate.

Slicing and dicing Canada

Canada is going through another spate of separation anxiety.  Usually it’s the product of Quebec’s Parti Quebecois' cultural and political demands, but according to CNEWS, a chunk of Western Canadians have had it with the Maple Leaf.  Disgust with the ruling Liberal Party's " Adscam" money-laundering scandal, elements of which reach to Canadian Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Paul Martin, has spurred some of the grumbling.

Western Canadians also have a real beef with “Ontario and Quebec.”  Ontario, with its population and industrial might, dominates Canadian politics.  Quebec “balances” Ontario, but that has meant kowtowing to French Canadian radicals.  Parti Quebecois firebrands regard themselves as culturally unique, prime ethnic candidates for their own nation state and United Nations seat.

But Western Canadians can also play “the goodbye game.”  During the 2004 Canadian election, Martin promised to address “western alienation.”  According to CNEWS, “alienation” thrives: 

35.6 percent of respondents from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia agreed with the statement: [that] Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own country.  Albertans, at 42 percent, were most apt to consider independence, followed by Saskatchewan at 31.9 per cent. Residents of B.C. and Manitoba were the least likely to consider separation, at 30.8 and 27.5 percent respectively.

In April of this year I wrote a column for Creators Syndicate that examined Canadian political fragmentation.  It leveraged a “Canadian break-up scenario” Jim Dunnigan and I produced for the 1991 edition of “A Quick and Dirty Guide to War.”  The column was more than a bit cheeky—a Canadian break-up is unlikely, though playing “what-if” cartography sliced and diced North America in several provocative and entertaining ways.  Western Canadians, however, are fed up. 

We know polls often (usually?) exaggerate.  Still, if only one in five of oil-rich Alberta’s population “wants out,” that’s a hot social and economic flare.  Coddling the Parti Quebecois is no longer in Canada’s political cards.  The Liberal Party machine, based in Ontario, is corrupt, and with “Adscam” everyone knows it.  The stage is set for a revitalizing Canadian political rebellion, led by Western Canada.

August 8, 2005 | 10:03 AM ET

Guest blogging for Glenn this week is Austin Bay, an author and nationally-syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate.

Mind the gap

A recent essay by Arnaud de Borchgrave caught my eye.  Appearing in the Washington Times (August 5) under the title, " Grapeshot For Class Warfare,” the essay echoed a discussion I had fifteen years ago with my brother-in-law.  As an executive with a large multinational corporation, he spoke with an insider's authority.  "What's the biggest problem plaguing corporate America?" he asked rhetorically.  “Weak corporate boards that fail to protect shareholders rights."

One of his indicators of weakness: the prevalence of “golden parachutes” for executives.

“There's no penalty for executive failure,” he said.  “The board members think it’s easier to cave in and pay off a failed CEO.  Shareholders lose.”

Another indicator we discussed: the dramatic rise in senior executive pay and perks.

“Shareholders pay for those, too,” he said. "Pay needs to be based on corporate performance."

De Borchgrave makes a similar argument, with a bevy of new facts and figures:

“…Over the last three decades, the share of national income going to the top 1 percent of households has almost doubled -- from 7.7 percent to 14.7 percent.  It reached 20 percent in 1928, the year before Wall Street's grim reaper brought on the Great Depression.  Sliced another way, between 1979 and 2000, real income of the poorest fifth rose 6.4 percent while the top fifth shot up 70 percent.”

Then de Borchgrave makes the same point my brother-in-law made: Doing a lousy job in Big Time Corporate America can still be lucrative for senior officers.

“Nonperforming CEOs who lose the confidence of the boards also do very well.  The golden parachutes are worked out before they even start work at the top.  Morgan Stanley CEO Phil Purcell's severance and retirement cushion were worth more than $100 million, including a $44 million cash bonus that came with the pink slip.  Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina's walking papers were worth $14 million, plus a $7 million bonus and $23.5 million in stock and pension payouts.

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, hardly a leftist agitator, warned against the largest disparity between wage earners and high-income executives since the "Roaring 20s," which he described as "a very disturbing trend."

Disturbing indeed.  The figures de Borchgrave cites indicate the gap is a trend in the same sense The Grand Canyon is a chasm.

De Borchgrave concludes that the “executive incomes gap” and jobs lost to globalization will fire new labor militancy.  He’s right.  Ultimately, globalization makes economic sense, but greed does not.  When executive pay is not linked to sustained, superior performance, rapacious greed has replaced business sense and common sense.  That’s de Borchgrave’s “political grapeshot” — ammo for the labor militant and every employee who’s weathered a performance review.

August 5, 2005 | 9:59 AM ET

Fat — and stupid?

As I mentioned below , lots of people think Americans are fat.  Some of them must think we're stupid, too.  Why else would they be pushing ideas like a "fat tax?"

But that's what many people in the policy-entrepreneur community have been doing.  Writing in The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn notes the arguments:

Bad medicineColor me unimpressed with the claims of this critic of the pharmaceutical industry.  I'm supposed to be shocked that drug companies use celebrity spokespeople, or that they make drugs to improve the function of people who aren't deathly ill?  That's not a problem, that's progress.

As I wrote elsewhere a while back:

I hear a lot of complaint from people who object to the pharmaceutical industry's work on what are often described as frivolous products, like Viagra or drugs for treating acid reflux disease.  I'm not sure that these drugs account for a major part of prescription drug costs — among the best selling drugs most are for treating heart disease or mental illness — but I do wonder just how frivolous such matters are.  The term "dyspeptic," after all, describes an irritable disposition arising from stomach pain. As somebody who suffers from reflux myself, I can attest that acid-lowering drugs like aciphex and prilosec are lifesavers.

In terms of quality of life, they're certainly that. (In terms of reduced risk of stomach and esophageal cancer, they may be lifesavers down the line as well, with concomitant savings in medical costs).  What's the dollar value of a life spent without stabbing pains in one's midsection? I don't know, but most people who take acid-lowering drugs consider the relief cheap at the price.

Viagra seems more frivolous, though I'm not sure why. My grandfather, suffering from impotence because of heart problems, submitted to coronary bypass surgery when it was still very new and risky.  The surgery was expensive, and he wound up dying from complications.  He knew the risk, but preferred to take the chance rather than live with impotence.  My father has remarked that if Viagra had been invented then, his father might have lived considerably longer.

Was he silly to feel that way?  Some people might say so, of course.  But whether you think that his choice was one you might make, it's a clear indicator of just how important the benefits that drugs like Viagra bring are to some people.  Not frivolous.

Likewise, although drugs that relieve depression are viewed by some as being frivolous -- standing in the path of the "authentic" existence that intellectuals always seem to define in terms of sadness rather than joy -- they are quite literally lifesavers for some people who might otherwise commit suicide. And even for those who wouldn't, they're an alternative to a life of misery. If you're pro-misery, I guess that's bad, but I'm not.

So as the debate goes on regarding pharmaceutical prices, I hope that the debaters will keep their eye on the ball -- how to promote progress in producing new drugs that solve long-standing problems -- and not engage in elitist talk about which problems are worthy of solution, and which are not. A cure for cancer may take longer than a cure for heartburn, but both are cures - which is more than the drug-price critics have managed to come up with.

I still think that's true.  But I also have to note that they're managing to produce some drugs for major problems, too.  My wife -- who suffers from heart-rhythm problems severe enough that she had to have an implantable defibrillator put in this year -- has gotten tremendous relief from a drug called Tikosyn.  It's a relatively new drug, and it's a fairly dangerous one:  Doctors have to have special certification to prescribe it, and because of that (there are only two cardiologists in the Knoxville area who are so certified, despite a metro population of over 600,000).  I doubt it's very profitable.  But Pfizer made it, and it's been a godsend for my wife.  Given its dangers, we're lucky that it wasn't blocked from approval by the fears and complaints of drug critics who thought it was too dangerous.

The pharmaceutical industry isn't beyond criticism, of course.  But I find most of the criticism rather strained, and all of the critics far too slow to give the industry the credit it deserves for the tremendous good it does.

August 2, 2005 | 12:58 PM ET

Do I look fat?

George W. Bush and I have a problem.  According to the government we're overweight, even though both of us work out regularly and pay attention to our diets.  (I'm writing this at Kingston Alley, a Knoxville restaurant that has free wi-fi, as I wait on an order of grilled tilapia; I've just finished a salad with fat-free dressing.)

I'm not as fit as Bush, who exercises six times a week:  I average three or four times a week.  But both of us have Body Mass Indexes over 25.  And according to the government, that makes us overweight.

Or maybe it makes the Body Mass Index a load of hooey.  I think it is, since it doesn't distinguish between weight that comes from muscle and weight that comes from fat.  As Radley Balko notes:

Critics of critics of the BMI often counter such claims by saying they're aberrations -- that when we talk about how the government classifies world-class athletes as "obese," we're being disingenous because most people don't have the muscle mass of world-class athletes.

But the president isn't a world-class athlete.  He's a guy who exercises six times per week.  He is exactly what the government says we should aspire to.  And yet the government still says he's overweight.  Which means if we all worked out as often as the government says we should, we'd probably add to the government's overweight and obesity statistics, not subtract from them.  Which means the statistics are wrong.  Which means 2/3 of Americans probably aren't "overweight," as we've been told.

Plenty of Americans are overweight.  But they're consuming a lot of junk science along with their junk food, and this is just more evidence.

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