Friday, August 06, 2010

I pledge allegiance
to the principles
of the United States of America

and to the republic
that holds them true
one nation, indivisible
with liberty and justice for all

Friday, August 31, 2007

Inspired by Juan Cole's recent request to his readers, a chart of US military fatalities in Iraq since the beginning of 2007 (the period of the so-called "surge") and the same period in 2006.

At least from the standpoint of US casualties, if this is success I'd hate to see failure. Of course, if you look at Iraqi deaths nationwide, those are up too.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

2008: Ending the Imperial Presidency

Most of the media attention for the 2008 election focuses on a single job, that of President of the United States. This is understandable, because the presidency is a powerful position, and most of the country is thoroughly fed up with the current occupant of the White House. Even many largely apolitical people are probably impatient with Bush and want to see someone else talking at them on their television sets and being made fun of by the late-night talk shows.

This focus on the presidency is, in fact, a sympton of a huge underlying problem. For decades, there has been an increasing focus on the presidency and a decline of both the power of Congress and the power of the Cabinet. Particularly since 1947, power has shifted away from Cabinet to White House-appointed positions such as the White House Chief of Staff and the National Security Council. This has meant an erosion of Constitutional checks on executive power, and a shift from policy implementation by competent administrators to policy by small coteries of partisans devoted to a charismatic or folksy lelected eader who is the voice of imperial powers that are largely driven by those same unelected advisers. This also tends to marginalize Cabinet-level departments and squander the institutional memory and expertise of thousands of government officials and workers.

This trend has reached its nadir under the current presidency. The Vice President, technically elected but with little popular support, acts internally as the de facto chief of staff, while blocking the independent power of the Cabinet and the oversight powers of the courts and Congress, all in the service of a private agenda. That agenda is opposed by the majority of the people, a majority of Congress, and most of the career officials in various government agencies.

This is a crisis of government that will not be fixed simply by electing a new president, of whatever party or platform. What's needed is a conscious break with the imperial presidency itself, and a strengthening of civil administration through Cabinet departments and the power of Congress.

This is why I can't get excited about the presidential field, if it's seen only as a field of potential imperial presidents, prone to the same abuses of power as the current president, even if they are much more likely to exercise restraint in their abuses. However, if the same field of candidates is viewed as a slate of Cabinet officials who will be delegated real powers over policy by a president who focuses on the big picture, it suddenly looks promising.

Take Joe Biden as a good first example. The guy's largely a tool of special interests such as banks. He's not alone in this, but he's a particularly good example of the type. His ego is enormous and one can only ponder what he would do with the imperial powers of the presidency. On the other hand, Biden has years of experience on the Foreign Relations committee and shows an acute understanding of military issues. He would be an effective Cabinet officer as Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense.

Bill Richardson is another excellent example. He was ambassador to the UN. He has been a broker in negotiations with other countries. He's already got executive experience as Governor and as former Secretary of Energy, though his record in the latter case is weak. But he would make an excellent Secretary of State.

So let's continue this exercise and think through all of the Cabinet offices, in order of precedence:

Secretary of State -- Bill Richardson
Secretary of the Treasury -- Chris Dodd, who is currently Chairman of the Senate Banking committee. Dodd also has committee experience that would make him a good choice for Commerce, Labor, and State.
Secretary of Defense -- Joe Biden
Attorney General -- You want a good legal administrator here, with a record of standing up for the people more than for elected officials. I'd pick Elliot Spitzer.
Secretary of the Interior -- Public lands, Indian and territorial affairs, and wildlife management. This started as a catchall department. To streamline government, all management of public lands, resources, and the environment should be folded into a single department. Because the EPA is granted Cabinet status, I'd merge Interior, EPA, and Agriculture into a single Department of Land and the Environment. This department would balance the protection of the public and public resources against commercial and recreation uses of land, and the combined department could develop an integrated federal land policy that views forests, farms, and environmental concerns in developed areas as part of the same land use system. The Indian and territorial affairs functions might make more sense moved under State.
Secretary -- Al Gore
Secretary of Agriculture -- Al Gore, within the new Department of Land and the Environment.
Secretary of Commerce -- This should be recombined with the Labor Department, so that one agency manages rules that affect businesses and their employees. Secretary -- John Kerry, who currently serves on various commerce-related committees.
Secretary of Labor -- John Kerry, if combined with Commerce. If standalone, Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards.
Secretary of Health and Human Services -- Barack Obama, if he's not VP. He's got the committee experience.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development -- consider rolling this office into HHS, adding the Social Security Administration, and possibly rebranding it as a Department of Social Security.
Secretary of Transportation -- ?
Secretary of Energy -- ?
Secretary of Education -- Dennis Kucinich, if he's not already running Labor. He has committee experience in both labor and education. Consider recombining with HHS.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs -- Obama, if he's not VP or Secretary of HHS. It would make sense to combine this into one agency.
Secretary of Homeland Security -- If possible, this should be abolished and its functions returned to other departments.

Hillary Clinton has experience appropriate for many of these offices. She's on a health, education, and employment committee, the Armed Services committee, and some environmental committees, so she would be a good choice for EPA, Labor, HHS, Education, or even Defense. But really, I think her talents are best suited for the job she's currently seeking, president. So long as her power was checked by strong Cabinet officers and a reenergized Congress, she would be a good choice for a strong leader who nevertheless can oversee a transition away from the imperial presidency. The biggest concern is the danger of a dynastic presidency.

So, within the eight Democratic candidates, seven have experience that would serve them well on the Cabinet. The eighth, Mike Gravel, served on several environmental committees and would be a good choice for EPA or Interior or a combined agency, though my guess is that he doesn't want the job and might not be a great administrator, and would prefer to spend time in retirement after his campaign is complete.

If all of them accepted positions, this would take five Democratic Senators and eliminate their majority, so the results of the 2008 Senate elections are crucial. But leaving aside those political calculations, the central idea is sound. Don't just elect one person and hope that person can change the tone of the executive branch--elect one person who will appoint the others according to expertise, so there's a range of informed opinions channeled through a single competent president who gives each Cabinet official freedom to enact policy and reserves her role for arbitrating disputes and gaining public support for the policies of that Cabinet.

Imagine a general election campaign that lays out a whole shadow cabinet ready to hit the ground running on Inauguration Day, with specific policies controlled by each shadow official, with an overall message coordinated by the presidential candidate consistent with the efforts of each official. The theme could be competence and restoration of a government that works for the country as a whole instead of narrow interests.

Key policies for each department could include:

State: Lead the efforts for peace in the Middle East, starting with an end of the Iraq war and a settlement of related regional issues.
Treasury: Progressive income tax reform by raising the standard deduction and adjusting marginal rates to maintain revenue.
Defense: Rebuild the armed forces after a withdrawal from Iraq, and redeploy to domestic defense and international anti-terrorist efforts.
AG: A restoration of habeas corpus, an end to torture and extraordinary rendition, and the abolition of many parts of the Patriot Act.
EPA: A national carbon tax, offset by tax reductions elsewhere.
Interior: No commercial use of private land at taxpayer expense. Mining and logging, etc. without government subsidy, and within stricter environmental protections.
Agriculture: Phase out price supports that favor agro-corporations and hurt family farms, and use the saved money to buy up land to preserve agricultural uses against suburban sprawl.
Commerce: Work with other departments to encourage energy efficiency, environmental protection, and economic growth.
Labor: Improved enforcement of labor laws and better funding for worker retraining.
HHS: National health care
Social Security Administration: Move to pay-as-you-go by freezing the trust fund to limit the liabilities in the general account, and then use existing revenues to raise benefits. Then index the future payroll tax rate to the number of beneficiaries, while eliminating the income cap, creating and gradually raising an income floor, and shifting the tax rate to upper incomes. This saves Social Security with minimal tax changes and minimal effect on national debt.
HUD: Shift public housing dollars to support creation of low-income housing within private housing developments, favoring mixed-used developments. Work with Labor to create new job opportunities in cities.
Transportation: Invest in national rail network upgrades, including long-range plans for high-speed rail. Eliminate federal road funding, shift to tolls for maintenance and expansion of roads, and shift federal funding into mass transit infrastructure.
Energy: Plan for full energy independence by 2050, using conservation, renewable energy, and nuclear power. Work with EPA carbon tax and transportation and housing investments.
Education: Rework NCLB so that failing schools receive greater investment rather than being closed punitively.
Veterans: Full funding for physical and mental health care; free work retraining; free college education.
Homeland Security: Disband.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Over on Metroblogging, a contributor muses about planting ivy to cover up the ugliness of the viaduct on the Seattle waterfront. The idea is silly even without considering that ivy is an invasive species that is illegal to plant locally. One of the commenters mentioned covering it in moss instead, which sparked in me the following vision:

Because Seattleites can never agree on what to do with the viaduct, its likely fate is to slowly decay over the years. An earthquake might topple some of the columns, but others will remain. As we continue to argue about how to properly tear a broken viaduct down, it will slowly be retaken by nature.

Moss will cover the columns and dandelions and horsetail weeds will insert themselves in the cracks. Invasive blackberries will cover the old road surface, providing habitat for rodents and adventurous vagabonds. Seeds from fir trees will eventually find a niche among the weeds, slowly transforming concrete into a new urban forest along the waterfront.

Three hundred years from now, the viaduct will remain as a ruin of our time, eternally demonstrating the inaction and stupidity endemic to our way of life.

The only question is whether our descendants will be buzzing around the Viaduct Forest in electric cars powered by renewable energy, or living primitive lives amid the ruins.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced a proposal for congestion pricing in Lower Manhattan. The system would add an $8 toll to the existing tolls for bridges and tunnels into the city, using cameras that can record the license plate of cars. The idea is modeled upon a successful congestion pricing plan in London introduced by Mayor Ken Livingstone.

This is a great idea that uses modified market incentives to discourage driving, while raising money for road maintenance. It shifts costs from general taxpayers to drivers. The question isn't why New York City and London are doing this, but why other cities around the world aren't.

The typical objections are:
  • This is an attack on drivers, and thus politically unviable in cities dominated by driving.
  • This makes sense if there is mass transit, but most cities don't have enough mass transit.
  • Damn liberals and their freaking taxes and big government!
  • Tolls are inconvenient or intrusive.

These reasons are actually closely related, as becomes clear when the idea is examined. It's true that congestion pricing affects drivers. But the flip side of this is that congestion pricing raises revenue for roads. This isn't a raise in taxes but a shift in taxes from the general population to the people who actually put a strain on the road network. That means that there is more room in the general budget for other projects, or for a drop in taxes if people decide that's a better policy. Congestion tolls are an avoidable tax, because people always have the option to use mass transit. Tolls also direct government taxation at a smaller group of people, and acknowledge the usefulness of markets, making them superior to general taxes and policies based on mandates rather than incentives. Those opposed to a high degree of regulation should be happy to support an alternative that reduces regulation. Modern tolls can avoid slowing down traffic by using cameras to identify vehicles, sending a bill every so often to the owner of each vehicle. These cameras are no more intrusive than the transportation cameras that are already in use in most cities.

That leaves the question as to how much public transportation is required for congestion pricing to work. Cities with poor public transportation provide few options for commuters, most of whom will have no choice but to pay the toll, move, or change jobs. Most will simply pay. But that's not a bad thing. Even in a city with no public transportation, tolls represent a fairer way to pay for road maintenance. They encourage people to move closer within the toll boundary, or to get a job closer to their home, completely outside the toll boundary. In either case, transportation is made more efficiently. As for bringing better public transportation, by shifting road costs to tolls, more money is available in the budget of cities to improve mass transit.

Only if the toll is so onerous that it impacts the overall economy of a city is it a bad idea. So setting the level of the toll is important. The toll should encourage more efficient use of roads and increased use of mass transit without being an economic burden. One way to ensure this is to exempt certain vehicles from the toll, such as trucks delivering freight to and from major ports. Another is to start with a relatively low toll, measure the effect, and then modify the toll based upon the results on traffic and economic development.

Here's what I envision for Seattle. The city of Seattle is geographically constrained, particularly on the north, west, and east. While the worst traffic areas might be in the downtown core, it's actually easier to set tolling cameras based on geographic features. The Lake Washington Ship Canal is crossed at only six points--I-5, SR 99, Montlake, University, Fremont, and Ballard. The two floating bridges are the only points in from the east. Most of the west side of the city is on Elliott Bay, except for West Seattle across the Duwamish. There are two bridges that cross here--the West Seattle Bridge and the bridge for SR 99/509. Boeing Field takes up most of the rest of the city to I-5, and toll cameras at the correct points on East Marginal Way and Airport Way, and northbound I-5, complete the tolling system on that side of the city. The southeast part of the city is a little more difficult, but a close look at the map shows that putting in four cameras along the four major roads that cross at or near Henderson Street north of the Rainier Beach neighborhood is sufficient to cover every route into the city.

Seventeen cameras. WSDOT already has cameras in the right spots north and southbound on I-5, on I-90, on 520, and several close to other locations, and it would not be difficult to upgrade these cameras for tolling purposes and add fourteen more in the other locations. Beyond that, all that is needed is an administrative system to mail bills and collect tolls.

Set the toll to start at $1.50, which matches the one-zone peak fare for Metro and Sound Transit buses. Reduce or eliminate the tolls for off-peak and low-congestion hours. Incorporate the existing local MVET (motor vehicle excise tax) fees into this toll, to simplify local taxes. When the light rail trains open, make sure that the toll is at least as high as the light rail fare. Direct 50% to road maintenance and 50% to transit.

If the early system is successful, add an additional dynamic toll above the flat congestion price rate that rises and falls with congestion on each major regional highway, and signs in key locations that advertise the current price. This way, motorists can choose the cheaper and less congested routes based on live information about traffic. This increases efficiency of the roads while raising even more revenue for road and transit projects.

Finally, as state and federal carbon mandates are introduced, adjust the system to ensure compliance with those mandates. If there's a carbon tax, it will be possible to distribute the tax according to road use, if that's allowed. If there's a carbon cap and trade, the tolls can be used to reduce the city's use of greenhouse gases and possibly generate carbon credits that can offset the additional tolls. During economic downturns, the tolls could be adjusted downward temporarily to help ease the impact on lower-income commuters and encourage short-term economic growth.

When I briefly outlined this idea over at the Slog, I was told that this was tantamount to banning cars from the city, and that I was better off voting for Kucinich and Nader in 2008. To the contrary, I think this is an achievable and moderate step that could be sold politically, while also actually making a difference for the city of Seattle.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fixing the United Nations

Over at Angry Bear, contributor Stormy wrote a post about a British attempt to empower the United Nations Security Council to act on issues relating to global climate change. The logic is that changes to climate can affect the security of nation states, with war among the possible consequences.

I think this is a commendable effort to create credible international action in an area where other efforts have failed. Despite the limits to its power, particularly its inability to prevent member nations with a veto from acting without UN consent as in the case of Iraq, the Security Council is nevertheless one of the few parts of the UN capable of producing effective action that would not be possible otherwise.

The British effort to create novel powers for the Security Council demonstrates many of the deficiencies of the UN, among them:

  • The UN's powers are focused around narrow security issues, and larger global problems such as climate change, global pollution, poverty and underdevelopment, disease and natural disaster management, immigration, and trade are pushed to the margins.
  • The Security Council is the only part of the UN with some teeth to its decisions, but only if no permanent members use a veto.
  • The countries that can exercise a veto do not represent the balance of power, economics, or population around the world.
  • UN funding is inconsistent and largely voluntary, and there are few consequences for failing to pay dues in a timely fashion. Overall funding is too low to effectively make a difference on most international issues, even those closely related to the core security functions of the organization.
  • There is no popular accountability. Governments appoint UN ambassadors with no public input, and UN decisions are not subject to popular approval. Thus, the UN is an organization of government elites.
  • The UN is largely disconnected from theoretically related international organizations and treaties, and has no power to enforce them. The lack of a central enforcement mechanism for international law weakens the ability to deal with international problems.
I think the seriousness of global problems and the failure of nations to deal with those problems alone or through ad hoc agreements argues strongly in favor of fundamental reform of the UN. Here's what I would like to see:

First, the UN should be given explicit powers to address global issues other than security. Real power requires more than a change in the UN articles stating the new priorities. It requires money, popular accountability, legislative power, a singular international legal framework to interpret that power, and a credible enforcement mechanism. In short, the UN needs to become a limited global government, with the primary responsibility for acting on international issues.

All of these changes ultimately depend upon the consent of the global population, as well as the consent of member states. So any serious effort at fundamental reform starts with a UN constitution that describes its powers as well as the rights retained by individuals and nations. This should not be a global version of national constitutions. It should focus on the international mandate of the UN. Rights critical at the national level in representative democracy, such as the individual right to free speech or social rights such as guaranteed housing and medical care, would not be appropriate. What is appropriate is a description of the rights that exist in the absence of these national rights. What rights are so fundamental that they transcend cultures, and should be protected internationally?

Here are the rights I think should be recognized:

  • Citizenship. Every person is a citizen of the planet, and of the United Nations, separate from their national citizenship, not revokable by any nation state, and regardless of whether their nation is a member of the UN. This citizenship entitles everyone to a vote in any popular election by the UN.
  • National Citizenship. Each nation has the right to define its rights of national citizenship, and what privileges extend only to citizens, including access to government services, so long as UN rights are respected.
  • Travel. Every person has the right to travel, within his or her means, to any member nation, for a temporary period that is the same duration for all travelers.
  • Border Security. Each nation has the right to limit travel by criminals, citizens of countries from hostile nations, and any individuals reasonably suspected of substantial association with criminal or hostile agents. Each nation has the right to limit the duration of travel visas, except in the case of refugees.
  • Refuge. Each person has the right to enter the territory of any member nation to flee from war, repression, or genocide, or when deprived of national citizenship. Each refugee has the right to stay for the duration of the event that led to his or her refuge. Each refugee has full rights of return to his or her country of origin.

    To preserve these rights, member nations are compelled to accept a portion of the global refugee population proportional to each nation's population compared to the global population. Member nations are also compelled to accept refugees returning to their country or region of origin, regardless of national citizenship or changes in the national government.
  • Selective Refuge. Each nation has the right to refuse admission to specific individuals or groups of refugees, but the total number of admitted refugees must meet or exceed their proportional quota.
  • Work. Each person has the right to seek and accept work in any member nation, and may remain in the nation for the duration of his or her work permit. Each person who loses his or her job in another nation has the right to a full-length travel visa, and can stay in a foreign country until the travel visa expires. Every person with a travel visa can seek employment, at which time they are eligible for a work visa.
  • Employment Security. Each nation can limit the length of work visas, so long as the duration is the same for all foreign workers. Each nation can require foreign workers to leave at the expiration of all work and travel visas for a period not to exceed the combined length of such visas.
  • Legal rights. Each person has the right to legal redress at the UN to protect their other stated rights. Specific legal rights include a right to counsel, a right against self-incrimination, and a right to a hearing. Each nation has a similar right to legal redress before UN courts, with the same legal rights as individuals.
  • Freedom from prosecution. The UN has no power to enforce criminal actions against individuals, except to return individuals to face legitimate criminal charges in a member nation. The UN can only enforce the compliance of member nations, by assessing penalties, limiting national voting rights, or suspending or revoking membership for the duration of non-compliance.

To protect these rights, the UN needs power and funding corresponding to each right:

  • Global Citizenship. The UN will establish full diplomatic missions in every member nation. The UN will offer passport services to anyone who prefers to travel under an international passport. The UN will administer popular UN elections through agreements between its embassies and each national government.
  • Refugees. The UN will pay to transport and house refugees for the duration of the precipitating crisis for each group of refugees.
  • Travel and work. The UN will monitor travel and work visas by each member nation, to ensure that the rights of each traveler and worker are respected.
  • Legal system. The UN will create and adminster a legal framework for defending global citizen rights, and for defending the international treaty rights of member nations, acting as an impartial mediator and arbitrator. Member nations must abide by legal decisions to remain in good standing and retain full member rights.

After establishing rights of individuals and nations, and creating a legal system, the next step would be planning for legislation and administration. The legislative function of the UN would have powers both to raise money and to define international standards and regulations for all member nations. The scale of what the UN can accomplish and how much power it can wield is in large part determined by its funding. To acknowledge the scope of global problems, its budget should at least be on par with the typical nation state. I'd like to see the UN funded relative to member GDP, and fixed at 1% of global GDP, so that each member nation would direct 1% of its GDP to the UN. With current global GDP of over $60 trillion (using PPP figures, for those who care), that would work out to a budget of $600 billion per year, some 30 times the current budget. Jeffrey Sachs has estimated that .7% of world GDP would be sufficient to eliminate global poverty by 2025, leaving some $120 billion for other UN projects.

The structure of the decision-making bodies of the UN is the next big question. Currently, there is a General Assembly of UN ambassadors from each country that has little formal power at all, and a Security Council that can act on security matters alone with the consent of all permanent, veto-wielding nations, and a clear majority of the whole Security Council, which also includes 10 rotating members.

I do think the power of the UN should remain limited by allowing vetoes. However, I think the vetoes should be balanced by population, by wealth, and by regional distribution, and that each veto should be exercised regionally and not by a specific member nation. Each region would then decide how to select a representative to wield its regional veto (or affirmative vote), through a process of discussion and election among the UN ambassadors for each nation in the region. So the Security Council of today would be superseded by Regional Councils of Nations and an Executive Council. Each member of the Executive Council could propose resolutions suggested by members of his or her Regional Council.

To counter the power of the councils, the General Assembly would be made up of popularly elected representatives, each representing a similar number of people (say, 1% of the population, or currently about 70 million people.) The General Assembly could submit resolutions to the Executive Council, and ratify the election of UN officials including the UN President. It could also override one or more Executive vetoes by a margin representing double the population represented by the vetoing regional councilors.

The exact implementation details are not important, though the apportionment should consider both population and GDP of regions and attempt to roughly balance them. Here's one quick take on the Executive Council:

Americas (Currently the US slot): One position, over 850 million people, $16-17 trillion GDP.

Europe (Currently the French slot): One position, almost 500 million people, $12-13 trillion GDP.

Asia, including Australia (Currently the Chinese and Russian slots): Two positions, 4 billion people, $18 trillion GDP.

Africa (Currently the UK slot): One position, 900 million people, $1.6 trillion GDP.

Another approach would be to add more veto slots, with some representing combined national populations in a region, and other representing combined economic zones.

Another alternative would be to grant vetos to the highest population and/or wealthiest countries, enable each veto-holder to form a voting coalition with other nations including other veto-wielding nations, and then weight the vetoes or votes according to the combined population and/or weight of each coalition. Because veto overrides would require a number of General Assembly members representing twice the population and wealth of the nations represented by the veto, it's OK if the weight of each voting coalition is different.

Top five countries by GDP, representing over 68% of the world's production:

  • EU: $13.1 trillion (separately Germany at 2.4 is the only European country in the top 5)
  • USA: $12.2 trillion
  • China: $8.8 trillion
  • Japan: $3.9 trillion
  • India: $3.7 trillion

Top countries by population, representing over 52% of the world's people:

  • China: 1.3 billion
  • India: 1.1 billion
  • EU: 500 million (no European country alone is in the top 13, unless you include Russia @ #8)
  • USA: 300 million
  • Indonesia: 230 million

That's six countries, four of which are on both lists. If an even ten was preferred, the next countries on the list would be Brazil, Russia, and two of the following: Pakistan, Bangladesh (by population), Canada, Mexico, South Korea (by GDP).

If we start with the current veto holders and then expand based on these stats, we'd have something like:

  • Europe (previously France): 1
  • USA: 1
  • China: 1
  • Russia: 1
  • (UK: 1, surrenders veto)
  • India (takes UK's veto): 1
  • Japan: 1
  • Indonesia: 1

Final three to make 10, based on population:

  • Brazil: 1
  • Pakistan: 1
  • Bangladesh: 1

And finally, selecting next on the population list so that Africa is represented:

  • Nigeria: 1

Interestingly, this same list of eleven countries can be generated by considering the top eleven nations by population alone, as Japan is the 11th most populous nation. These ten nations represent the top ten nations by both GDP (European nations considered separately) and top eleven by population (EU considered as one), and every continent on Earth. They represent 73% of GDP and almost 65% of the world's population. On every vote, each of these countries could wield its veto or affirmative vote alone, or with the added weight of other countries. Because each nation would tend to have more ties with regional neighbors, regions would often join together in a bloc. By continent, then, including only the ten veto-wielding countries, the regions would be:

  • Asia, six vetos: China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan; 47.3% population and 29.5% GDP.
  • Europe, two vetos: EU and Russia; 9.7% population and 23.9% GDP.
  • North America, one veto: USA, 4.6% population and 19.9% GDP (23.5% with Canada & Mexico).
  • South America, one veto: Brazil, 2.8% population and 2.6% GDP.
  • Africa, one veto: Nigeria, 2% population.

In practice, the countries in the first three regions would be able to wield their vetoes as a group and even individually in some cases without soliciting the help of smaller nations. South America and Africa would be better off forming semi-permanent continental blocs, or even a combined bloc. South America as a whole has 5.6% of the population and 4.3% of GDP. Africa as a whole has 13.7% of the population and 2.7% of GDP. Together, at 19.3% population and 7% GDP, they represent a formidable force, particularly if GDP is removed from the equation.

In terms of people on the ground, each nation should be responsible for committing a percentage of the overall effort proportional to the percentage of its population. This would be true both for peacekeepers, and for non-soldier employees in the field.

Getting from here to there is the hard part. I think it actually makes sense to start with reworking the veto, and then once the balance of power is changed, work on increasing funding and the scope of operations. In short, these are the steps:

  1. Britain transfers its veto to India, but retains veto influence within the EU.
  2. France transfers its veto to the European Union as a whole.
  3. Six more vetos are created for the six most populous nations without a current veto: Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Japan. (The elected, rotating members of the Security Council are reduced to four, two for Africa, one for Latin America, and one for the Arab or Persian Middle East.)
  4. The Security Council weights votes by population as a symbolic first step, and allows the elected SC members to add their population weight to any vote or veto by a permanent member.
  5. The Security Council allows General Assembly members to add their weight to any vote by a permanent member, effectively replacing the elected members of the SC.
  6. The Security Council introduces a Security Council override, where the population-weighted votes of the nations voting yes must be at least twice the weighted vote of the vetoing countries.
  7. The Security Council votes to broaden the charter language on security to explicitly include other global issues.
  8. The Security Council submits a new charter with an article of rights, a popularly elected General Assembly, and a taxation system built into trading measures, designed to collect 1% of world GDP for UN projects. As part of this charter, the Security Council becomes the Executive Council. To give legitimacy, the charter must be approved by a majority of all global citizens worldwide, and a veto-proof majority of nations. Any nation that disagrees has the option of leaving the UN and negotiating unilateral agreements with other nations.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Misplaced priorities
Governor Gregoire announced yesterday that the revised tunnel option proposed by Mayor Nickels for the SR 99 corridor is no longer under consideration. She and the DOT gave several reasons, but the bottom line is that the DOT is more concerned with building a highway than with the effect upon the people who live and work in Seattle.

Transportation policy in Seattle continues to be driven--I choose that metaphor carefully--by the need to push as many cars as possible through the state-owned concrete pipelines called highways. While highways aren't going away and we can't ignore the fact that most people still drive to work, it is foolishly shortsighted to continue to prioritize the movement of cars over the movement of people.

The misplacement of priorities can be seen by comparing funding for public transit compared to funding for highway construction. Highways, including ferries (which are legally highways and almost entirely move cars) together collect 86% of state taxes and receive the same percentage of state funding. About 3% of state transportation revenue is federal and affects the general population. The remaining 11% of taxes, taken from general taxes that apply to everyone in the state whether they use state transportation facilities or not, goes to public transit (8%) and heavy rail (3%). Superficially, this might seem fair, until you realize that public transit serves many of the same transportation corridors as state highways, and that every person using transit represents one less person in a car--and on average almost one less car. Car users are receiving the benefits of transit for free.

The situation seems even less fair when you include local transit funding, which collects anywhere from 20% to 40% of its funding directly from transit fares, and none from car or fuel fees. Now, certainly a portion of these fares account for fuel and other operating costs that in the case of cars on highways are borne privately by drivers. But it's by no means proportional, because the typical $1.50 one-way, one-zone Sound Transit fare is roughly comparable to the amount the average commuter spends on gas each way on their commute. Even including privately-borne insurance and maintenance fees for cars, drivers are paying a much smaller proportion of the marginal costs of their commuting than transit users, who split costs among dozens of people per vehicle trip. In effect, cars are being subsidized by transit users.

Looking at state totals bears this out. The 86% of WSDOT revenue that is paid by highway and ferry users totaled a billion dollars in the last biennium. That's $500 million per year divided among more than 4 million drivers. The out-of-pocket cost in taxes for each driver averages $125/year, or less than $3 per week, on top of the private costs of driving.

A transportation model that fairly balanced costs and benefits and used an integrated roads and transit approach designed to move people rather than cars would result in a completely different funding mechanism. General construction and capital costs for all systems would come equally from general funding, since everyone benefits from transportation infrastructure. The combination of roads and transit would favor transit in order to move more people more cost effectively. Revenue for operational costs would come from people in proportion to how much they contributed to those costs.

In practice, this would work out to a system of highway tolls that collected enough revenue from each vehicle to represent the operational costs of that vehicle to the transportation system. In the case of transit vehicles, that cost would be passed on in the form of fares, as it is now. But drivers would have to pay more. This would also create a situation where the cost per transit trip would fall below the toll cost for a private vehicle. It would also enable transportation projects to move forward more quickly, as rises in highway operations and maintenance costs would be reflected immediately in the cost of tolls to cover the difference.

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