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Purple politics, muscular liberalism, principled pragmatism

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Afghanistan's trillion dollar curse: lithium

Mon, 14 Jun 2010 04:01:00 +0000

The New York Times reports that a small team of American geologists and military personnel have discovered vast reserves of precious metals and minerals in Afghanistan, which profoundly transforms the destiny of this battered nation overnight:The previously unknown deposits - including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium - are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and Blackberries.(...) The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan's existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan's gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.The value of the reserves just discovered is already estimated at about a trillion dollars - and there's probably more where that came from.What does this portend for Afghanistan, and the war? That's the, ahem, trillion dollar question.The geopolitics of this are predictable: Afghanistan will be courted aggressively by the United States and China, in competition to secure the mining rights and obtain strategic control over these essential materials. Note that China already has supply dominance over most rare-earth metals, with 95% of the world's supply, and has been far more successful in Africa by virtue of being more aggressive and unconcerned with human rights niceties.That competition probably means an end to any hope of reform of Hamid Karzai's government or meaningful pressure from the United States on the human rights front. The relationship between Washington and Kabul was strained to begin with, but the prospect of China is enough to utterly negate any leverage the US has by our troop presence. The conventional wisdom is already settling in that this means Obama will not wind down our troop presence in Afghanistan as a result, but to be honest I can see Karzai being emboldened to demand that the US withdraw all the more sooner now.The Taliban's reaction to this will be particularly interesting. They have always been pragmatic, willing to ignore Islamic injunctions against addictive narcotics when it suited them financially to support the opium trade. But opium is something that mere farmers can grow, with a classic protection racket to bring in the cash. Minerals on the other hand require heavy industry, multinational companies, and political "stability" (usually in the form of a police state - case in point, the coltan industry in the Congo). The Taliban will probably seek to position themselves as the better alternative to Karzai's cronyism - recall that prior to 9-11, they presented a civilized face to the West while being courted by western oil companies for rights to oil pipelines - even sending a delegation to Texas to talk logistics.The dynamics within Afghanistan are probably going to be too complex to predict. For example, the central government and the provincial and tribal leaders will be at odds, and the Taliban will try to exacerbate those conflicts. The NYT article delves into more detail:The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan's minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national minin[...]

A fair solution to Jerusalem

Wed, 12 May 2010 04:41:00 +0000

I remember reading one of the books by Tom Clancy in which Jack Ryan was credited with coming up with a solution for Middle East peace which was pointedly never actually detailed in the novel. It was just a way to give his character some foreign policy cred, but ended up like that mysterious suitcase in Pulp Fiction.I couldn't help but be reminded of that, though, when I read former New York mayor Ed Koch's innovative solution to resolving the status of Jerusalem.Instead of putting the hot-button issue of Jerusalem last on the agenda, the issue should be addressed first. If the Jerusalem question is solved, everything else should fall into place more easily.I believe there is a way to keep Jerusalem unified. I am talking not only of the old walled city, which is a very small part of the city of Jerusalem, but the whole city, east, west, north and south.[...]My suggestion is to situate the new Palestinian capital in that part of East Jerusalem that is occupied overwhelmingly by Palestinians, allow the inhabitants of East Jerusalem -- Jews, Christians, Muslims and those living elsewhere in the city -- to pick the state to which to pledge their allegiance and to cast two votes - one in municipal elections for one mayor to govern the entire city of Jerusalem, and a separate vote in national elections related to the Jewish and Palestinian states living peacefully side by side.Jerusalem is now roughly two-thirds Jewish and one-third Muslim. The Christian population is about 2 percent. All under the proposal would be voting for a single city council and one mayor. Based on the current population, the mayor would be Jewish. If the demographics changed over the years in favor of the Muslims, a Muslim mayor could be elected.New York City with its model of five borough presidents is a good model to emulate with Muslim and Jewish areas electing borough presidents to respond to the local needs of the inhabitants. If I could live and govern when I was mayor with Andy Stein as borough president of Manhattan, the mayor of Jerusalem can live and govern with a borough president elected in the Palestinian part of East Jerusalem.My only quibble is the purely gratuitous recounting of selective historical injustices, with which Koch actually undermines his own argument by providing a preview of the reasons the Israelis will use to reject the proposal out of hand. But the proposal itself is fair and realistic.This came to my attention via MJ Rosenberg's excellent email newsletter. He comments further,Koch's idea eliminates the possibility that Jerusalem would be divided. It would not be, except in the sense that New York City is divided into Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.At the same time it enables East Jerusalem to be established as capital of the Palestinian state, while protecting the right of East Jerusalem's Jews to essentially ignore its status as Palestinian and remain full-fledged Israeli citizens. Naturally, Arabs and Jews would be able to live in any part of the city while retaining their status as both citizens of Jerusalem and of their respective Israeli or Palestinian state.This is something that would be ideally incorporated into a peace plan by Obama presented to both sides, as honest broker. The key though is to make the issue a starting point, not part of "final status" negotiations. And frankly this idea of "proximity talks" is pretty pointless. [...]

I am beginning to notice a disturbing pattern

Fri, 30 Apr 2010 13:12:00 +0000

There's something strange going on...

Recall that at the height of the health reform fight, after Senator Brown was elected in MA and the Democrats looked like they were on the verge of total failure. It looked like Obama's signature domestic policy achievement would indeed be his Waterloo... and then, Anthem Blue Cross raised rates by 40%.

On the verge of the financial reform fight, Goldman Sachs was sued by the FEC and grilled mercilessly by a bipartisan Senate committee for it's shenanigans of knowingly selling "sh$%ty" securities to customers and profiting from their failure.

The next big fight is immigration reform, and Arizona passes a draconian law essentially legalizing racial profiling of its Hispanic population - soon to be a majority. (It also revealed the Tea Party to be hypocrites when it comes to big government and Constitutional fidelity).

And of course, with the climate bill coming down the line, we have a gargantuan oil spill in the Gulf of mexico that is shaping up to be the worst environmental disaster since the Exxon Valdez.

Let's even throw in the observation that President Obama is about to select a new justice for the Supreme Court - mere months after the universally reviled Citizens United case opened the floodgates to infinite corporate money over our elections.

Notice any pattern?

If I were Glenn Beck, these dots would now duly be connected by a conspiracy theory line of outlandish proportion. But I think that it's really more likely that the convergence of reality with policy and reform is a "happy" coincidence - though of course these disasters all have real tragic consequences for ordinary people caught in the middle of them. It would be better if these tragic events could have been prevented, but by occurring, they demonstrate the lack of any preventative mechanism. And thus make the case for the reforms in President Obama's domestic agenda far more forcefully than any speech or campaign ad.

Let's just hope that the pattern doesn't hold when it's time to ratify the new START treaty.


Conservatism's shari'a, liberalism's ijtihad

Mon, 26 Apr 2010 18:04:00 +0000

An interesting meta-debate by intellectual conservatives over conservatism's future is playing out. It started with David Frum's Waterloo essay, which led to his political excommunication. Julian Sanchez observed that this represented an epistemic closing of the conservative mind, a thesis that was validated by the retribution visited upon Jim Manzi for daring to suggest that conservatives will achieve more persuasion by using honest, strong arguments instead of weak, emotional ones.All of this has led John Quiggin at Crooked Timber to argue most wisely that as conservatism implodes, liberalism needs to find its own rationale that is more than just "not conservatism". Quiggin has a list of priorities for the liberal movement to address, and closes with the general plea,...the left has to stand for something more than keeping the existing order afloat with incremental improvements. We need to offer the hope of a better world as an alternative to the angry tribalism that threatens to engulf us.I'm sympathetic to this argument, because it was actually one of my own critiques of then-candidate Obama in the 2008 election. I consistently argued for "transformative" change because I genuinely thought such change was achievable. However, since Obama's election, and the realities of the limitations imposed by the legislative system and a staunchly obstructionist Republican minority, I've come around to the incrementalist approach. I think that Obama represents a step back from the rightmost brink, to the center, and that the time for broader strides leftwards will have to wait until after Obama has finished restoring balance. mDougJ at Balloon Juice also takes issue with Quiggin's last point, pointing out that incrementalism is a good thing, relative to the alternative:It's true that pragmatic liberalism has its shortcomings as a political strategy. Much of the appeal of conservatism comes from how thorough-going its dictates are. Contemporary liberal discussion (at least as I see it on blogs and in opinion columns) mostly confines itself to governmental policies. The conservosphere gets involved with what movies you should watch, what kinds of scarves you should wear in Dunkin' Donuts ads, what kinds of countertops you should have in your house, and so on. (I'm not saying liberals can't be preachy, mind you, but it's one thing for your friend to lecture you about recycling, it's another for prominent political columnists to devote multiple columns to Avatar.) That's seductive in the same way that religion is.That's a good insighgt and it's worth exploring that religion analogy further (even though I likely disagree with DougJ on the value of religion as a whole). The analogy I would make is that movement conservatism is a lot like the stereotypical Shari'ah (as envisioned in the fevered dreams of the islamophobes). It demands total subjugation and defines all aspects of life to fall within its purview. Everything must be judged on the binary scale and assessed by the orthodoxy as Good or Evil; the good must be enjoined and the evil must be repudiated. There is no moderation or middle ground.Liberalism, in contrast, is how Islam is practiced by ordinary muslim folk - in essence, ijtihad. We go about our lives and try to live our lives as best we can in accordance with our principles and cultural tradition. It is inherently incrementalist; there's no master Plan, but as we become aware of ways in which we can conform our actions to our beliefs, we make adjustments. It's inherently an individual movement, because of our personal interpretations and decisions - for example, I might abstain from fish oil supplements on the basis of halal rules, but eat at McDonalds, and another may do the exact opposite. There's no central authority dictating the details, though there are authorities dictating teh rules which we have to interpret and apply to the unique context of our individual lives.Conservatism looks at Islam and sees only[...]

Iran's nuclear ambiguity

Fri, 16 Apr 2010 13:44:00 +0000

It seems that every year, there's a breathless report that Iran is a year ortwo away from having nuclear weapons. Once again:Two of the nation's top military officials said Wednesday that Iran could produce bomb-grade fuel for at least one nuclear weapon within a year, but would most likely need two to five years to manufacture a workable atomic bomb.The time frame ... was roughly in line with the finding of a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. That document, which is about to be updated, said that Iran would probably be able to produce a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015, while cautioning that there was no evidence that the Iranian government had decided to do so.(...) The generals offered a number of significant caveats about their assessment of Iran's capabilities. When asked, for example, how long it would take Iran to convert its current supplies of low-enriched uranium into bomb-grade material, General Burgess said, "The general consensus - not knowing again the exact number of centrifuges that we actually have visibility into - is we're talking one year."(...) Even if Iran produced a weapon's worth of material in a year, it would not necessarily mean the country was ready for what experts call "breakout" - renouncing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and declaring, as North Korea did, that the country was now a nuclear power.I am not a foreign policy or nonproliferation expert, so take this post as purely speculative. But it occurs to me after reading the above that Iran's nuclear strategy may be inspired by Israel's policy of "nuclear ambiguity" - to neither confirm nor deny that they possess nuclear weapons, and thus remain free of pressure to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. This gives Israel (and thus, potentially, Iran) all the benefits of nuclear deterrence against its hostile neighbors, but avoids the legal and diplomatic pressures on a nuclear state that come with being a non-signatory to the NNPT (such as India and Pakistan).Israel's argument for this is that it is uniquely isolated as a small nation surrounded by "enemies" and thus must rely on any strategic advantage it can. The same argument, however, applies to Iran, which is surrounded on both sides by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, has hostile relations with a nuclear-armed Israel, and is also facing serious Arab nation hostility and fear (which currently manifests as anti-Shi'a policies, but is also spurring an Arab nuclear arms race.At Talk Islam, a commenter observed that "the middle east has Israel to bind them together." While true, the same could be said of Iran - Israel already has diplomatic relations with Egypt, and Saudi Arabia shares Israel's paranoia about Iran. There's even reason to be optimistic about Syrian-Israeli relations. Ultimately, Iran is competing with Israel for regional hegemony, Persian Shi'a and Jews in a predominantly Sunni Arab milieu. And while the ignorant masses may hate Israel, their cynical leaders fear Iran more.Nuclear ambiguity also gives Iran a useful loophole with respect to President Obama's new nuclear posture. That policy was written with Iran and North Korea in mind, stating that any state that is either (a) non-nuclear or (b) nuclear, but signs the NNPT will be exempt from American nuclear attack, but makes specific exception for any nuclear state that does not sign the NNPT. If Iran's nuclear status is ambiguous, however, then Iran can legally argue that it should qualify as exempt. This gives Iran additional diplomatic and legal cover.Ultimately, Iran has as many enemies as Israel does - with the significant difference being that Israel calls the world's remaining superpower an ally. Therefore all the logic of Israel's nuclear ambiguity fully applies.Related: Nuclear policy blogger Page van der Linden has two excellent summary articles at DailyKos, providing a recap of the START treaty and the revised nuclear posture, and a wrap-up analysis of the [...]

Tea party? I'm proud to pay my taxes

Thu, 15 Apr 2010 19:11:00 +0000

This year, I won't be getting a refund - in fact I had to cut two sizable checks to the Department of Revenue and the Wisconsin Treasury. Yes, it was indeed painful.Fundamentally, the idea of sending your money to faceless bureaucrats is one that provokes some resentment in even the most mild-mannered citizen. In fact, there's a Tea Party rally going on right now in Capitol Square here in Madison full of people who are really angry about it, who think that taxes are a form of tyranny, who are holding signs evoking the Revolutionary War ("Don't Tread on Me", etc.) and who fervently believe that Barack Obama is a socialist/muslim/fascist/communist dedicated to destroying this nation, who will throw you in jail if you don't buy health insurance.That's patriotism, in a way. These people believe that their liberty is being threatened, and they are making their voices heard in defense of what they believe.However, my understanding of patriotism is that freedom isn't free. I know that taxes are actually a fantastic deal; for my taxes, I get roads and schools, water and national defense, the Internet, NASA, and of course a social safety net that keeps millions of Americans out of poverty and in health. Here's a fantastic, interactive graphic from the New York Times that makes it clear exactly where our federal tax dollars will be going in 2011.In fact, most of the people at the Tax Day Tea Party rallies today would vigorously object if told that many of these things that are funded by their taxpayer dollar were to be cut. In fact there's a huge disconnect between what people say should be cut from the budget and how much we actually spend on those things. And often, the people most up in arms about government handouts are the ones who benefit from fedderal spending the most.Without getting into issues of race and class - even though these are at the very heart of the Tea Party anger - it's simple to observe that most of the anger playing out today is due to a lack of information, and a deliberate strategy of mis-information. Tea Partyers are mad about lots of things that simply are not true, like being thrown in jail for not having health insurance, or about how the poor supposedly pay no taxes at all, or that the average person works four months of the year to pay off Uncle Sam.In reality, tax rates today are the lowest in 60 years - 98% of Americans got tax cuts, directcly thanks to President Obama's stimulus plan. And the majority of Americans think taxes are fair, putting the Tea Partiers way outside the mainstream.Ultimately, it boils down to a question of responsibility. In a strange way, the Tea Partiers marching out on Capitol Square this afternoon view freedom and liberty, ironically, as an entitlement. I view it as something worth paying for. Who between us values it more?I paid my taxes, and I'm proud.Related: a new poll from the New York Times and CBS about Tea Partiers' beliefs. (handy interactive graphic, too). Bottom line: lots of misinformation, leading to extreme views on pretty much everything. And Fox News is the primary engine for their anger and deception. And let's not forget that the systematic and deliberate lies being fed to the Tea Partiers today has already had direct, and tragic, consequences. [...]

Confessions of an Obama-bot

Fri, 09 Apr 2010 17:36:00 +0000

President Obama has been riding high the past few weeks, moving forward on his agenda from health care to nuclear arms reduction to the prospect of appointing another judge to the Supreme Court. However, there's a dark lining to this fluffy white cloud of hope and change - his record on civil liberties. Specifically, the problem is that the Obama Administration still reserves to itself the power to indefinitely imprison - and even outright kill - and American citizen, without public trial or evidence or due process of law. Two cases in particular stand out: the first is the case of Syed Fahad Hashmi, who has been held for three years in solitary confinement in a a New York City prison, and the second is the decision to add Anwar al-Awlaki to a CIA "target list" which permits US forces to essentially kill him on sight. Neither of these men are the type I'd want to invite over to dinner, but the fact remains that as US citizens they are guaranteed - in fact, not theory - the due process of law.The conservative movement is unsurprisingly utterly silent about this1. However, the Left is rightly pushing back hard. The best critiques of Obama on this front have consistently been from Glenn Greenwald at Salon, and his latest piece builds on his arguments over the past year:In Barack Obama's America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens -- and a death penalty imposed -- is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone's guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America's newspapers -- cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they're granted -- to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist... nd the punishment is thus decreed: this American citizen will now be murdered by the CIA because Barack Obama has ordered that it be done. What kind of person could possibly justify this or think that this is a legitimate government power?(read the whole thing, and click his supporting links as well).Glenn's question isn't just rhetorical, but aimed directly at people like me who are generally supportive of President Obama's agenda. While I do not "justify" these actions, nor do I think they are legitimate, I do not consider them a deal-breaker for my support of the President, which is probably enough to convict me in the eyes of the Progressive Left as an Obama fanatic, or "Obama-Bot"2 (essentially, that I am an unthinking robot, blindly following programming to love Dear Leader instead of seeing the Truth).The key issue here of disconnect seems to be a misunderstanding of how the American government operates. Most of the critique from the Leftf takes the form of, "Obama should ..." or "Obama didn't..." - usually indicating a desire to essentially reverse every decision or process implemented by the Bush Administration, on the theory that 100% of the Bush actions were wrong because they were perfomed by Bush. The idea that Obama might have evaluated Bush policies on their merits, and that Obama might actually be constrained in adjusting even the ones he disagrees with, is an alien one to cynical observers on the Left.No President is a dictator. The President is actually a centrally-located decision making node in a hierarchy of nodes, many of which form networks within the overall structure that serve to counteract his influence (often by design). Ultimately, everything the President does is a dance - much like the classic game of a wooden box with a marble - balancing everything to enact policy/move the ball - towards some specific goal.Actually, two goals: re-election, and the welfare of the nation as a whole, in about equal measure of importance. President Obama and President Bush were no different from their predeccesors in this regard3.President Bush appeared to have a lot of power solely because he had a Legisl[...]

Signing health reform into law

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 17:41:00 +0000

And there it is - officially the law of the land:Television networks actually broke their daytime coverage to show the historic signing. Vice President Biden is reputed to have added, "This is a big f$%king deal" - seriously! (no s^!t, Joe.)There was a moment yesterday of well-deserved recognition for Speaker Pelosi, who has cemented her place in the ranks of the greatest Speakers of the House in history:And the Republicans held a press conference of their own today:heh.Also, The Republicans have officially introduced legislation to repeal the health reform. That legislation reads, in full,Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,SECTION 1. REPEAL OF PPACA.Effective as of the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, such Act is repealed, and the provisions of law amended or repealed by such Act are restored or revived as if such Act had not been enacted.Dante at Daily Kos summarizes the consequences of such a repeal-health-reform bill should it ever pass:Make a whole ton of young voters ineligible to be on their parents' insurance plans.Allow health insurers to commit rescission of policyholders at any time.Allow health insurers to deny coverage to anyone, including children, based on pre-existing conditions.Allow health insurers to charge women higher rates simply because they're women.good luck with that! [...]

Victory Hug

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 15:05:00 +0000

President Obama is congratulated by an ecstatic Hillary Clinton for finally achieving the goal of health reform. Hillary was the chief architect of President Clinton's own failed bid to reform health care back in 1993, so for her this victory must be especially sweet. Its literally been one of her policy goals for 20 years.

Do doctors oppose health care reform?

Thu, 18 Mar 2010 18:35:00 +0000

Conservative opponents to health reform have been pushing a recent poll ostenibly conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine which claims that doctors are indeed opposed to health reform. This even got play on Fox News by Bill O'Reilly a couple days ago:This seems to contradict an earlier poll by NEJM that found that doctors actually did support health care reform, including both public and private options, by an overwhelming majority of 69%. In fact, that NEJM poll found that support dropped to only 27% when the public option was removedn and only private options remained.So what's the deal with this new NEJM poll? Well, as it turns out, it wasn't actually by NEJM - but rather by a physician recruitment firm, The Medicus Firm, and published in Recruiting Physicians Today, a free advertiser newsletter dedicated to physician employment headhunting. NEJM strongly distanced itself from any affiliation with this poll:Media Matters for America contacted the New England Journal of Medicine, which confirmed it neither conducted nor published the "survey."NEJM spokesperson Jennifer Zeis told Media Matters that the study had "nothing to do with the New England Journal of Medicine's original research." She also made clear that the study "was not published by the New England Journal of Medicine," and said that "we are taking steps to clarify the source of the survey."The survey - published on The Medicus Firm's website - was not a conducted using rigorous polling methodology, but instead on email from a marketing database:"The survey sample was randomly selected from a physician database of thousands. The database has been built over the past eight years by The Medicus Firm (formerly Medicus Partners and The MD Firm) from a variety of sources including, but not limited to, public directories, purchased lists, practice inquiries, training programs, and direct mail responses. The survey was conducted via emails sent directly to physicians."In addition to the statement given to Media Matters by NEJM, they have also posted this on their own website to emphasize that they had nothing to do with this survey:Recruiting Physicians Today is a free advertiser newsletter published by the Worldwide Advertising Sales and Marketing Department in the publishing division of the Massachusetts Medical Society... The Medicus Firm, a national physician search firm based in Dallas and Atlanta, published the results of a survey they conducted with 1,000 physicians regarding their attitudes toward health reform. To read their survey results at The Medicus Firm website, click here.The opinions expressed in the article linked to above represent those of The Medicus Firm only. That article does not represent the opinions of the New England Journal of Medicine or the Massachusetts Medical Society.So, in summary: NEJM actually scientifically polled doctors via mail and found support for reform. A marketing firm involved in physician recruiting, did an email survey using a (totally unscientific) marketing database that found a lack of support. But even in that survey, Medicus notes:It's probably not likely that nearly half of the nation's physicians will suddenly quit practicing at once... Skeptics may suspect that physicians exaggerate their intent to leave medicine due to health reform. Some experts point to the malpractice crisis of years ago, when many doctors also expressed a desire to leave medicine. Some did quit; many did not.(...) Do physicians feel that health reform is necessary? The survey indicates that doctors do want change. Only a very small portion of respondents - about four percent - feel that no reform is needed.Yes, there probably are a lot of physicians that are nervous about reform - especially if those physicians are misinformed about what it will entail. But re[...]

forget the public option - I want Medicare

Thu, 11 Mar 2010 16:49:00 +0000

The public option is almost assuredly not going to be in the final package for health reform, and that's a good thing because it's existence imperils passage of this historic and incredibly progressive legislation. It represents a huge - and long overdue - leftwards shift for American social policy, despite the public option's absence. And note again that the PO would not have been available to everyone anyway, so how progressive was it really?

The ultimate progressive health reform would have been single-payer insurance, but that was taken off the table (with good reason) by President Obama. However, since Medicare is already a single-payer system, it's possible to leverage that existing system for creating a "single payer option" which would not be as disruptive as true single payer, would provide a more genuinely public option than the public option, and possibly even help reduce structural deficits. That would simply be to allow people under age 65 to "buy-in" to Medicare.

Think about this. Medicare caters to people over 65, whose medical expenses cost more than young peoples'. By allowing yong people to buy in, who presumably will have less demands on payouts due to better health, then the financial situation of Medicare actually improves.

And legislation to achieve Medicare buy-in is quite a simple change, which can exist separate from the comprehensive (and still necessary) reform in the broader health care package. In fact it's already been introduced to the House by Rep Alan Grayson - clocking in at only 4 pages.

In fact, there's an online petition by Rep Grayson to encourage Speaker Pelosi to bring the Medicare buy-in to a vote - just go to to sign it.


reconciliation and healthcare - the R in COBRA

Wed, 24 Feb 2010 18:32:00 +0000

Have you ever had COBRA health insurance coverage? It's the stopgap insurance coverage you get after you leave a job, intended to fill the gap in your coverage until you find a new job (and doesn't last forever, which is why extended unemployment still leaves people uninsured. This in a nutshell why single-payer/Medicare for all is a better system than our employer-provided insurance model, and why since we are stuck with employer-provided insurance, why we need universal insurance coverage reform.)As NPR - exclusively - reminded us today, the "R" in COBRA stands for none other than budget reconciliation, the very process currently being painted as a "nuclear option" by establishment Republicans desperate to stop the health reform train. In fact, as it turns out, budget reconciliation has a long history of being used for health care legislation:health care and reconciliation actually have a lengthy history. "In fact, the way in which virtually all of health reform, with very, very limited exceptions, has happened over the past 30 years has been the reconciliation process," says Sara Rosenbaum, who chairs the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University.For example, the law that lets people keep their employers' health insurance after they leave their jobs is called COBRA, not because it has anything to do with snakes, but because it was included as one fairly minor provision in a huge reconciliation bill, she says."The correct name is continuation benefits. And the only reason it's called COBRA is because it was contained in the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985; and that is how we came up with the name COBRA," she says.It's not just COBRA - children's health insurance has also been implemented via reconciliation:The expansion of health insurance coverage for low-income children is a prime example."In 1980, children who were living at less than half the poverty level in the United States could not get a Medicaid card in half the states if they had two parents at home," she says.But via a series of budget reconciliation bills, beginning in 1984, Congress began expanding Medicaid coverage. In 1997, also in a budget reconciliation bill, it created the Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. Today, says Rosenbaum, who helped write many of the children's health provisions in those bills, Medicaid and CHIP together cover 1 in every 3 children in the United States."So literally we've changed everything about insurance coverage for children and families, and we've changed access to health care all across the United States all as a result of reconciliation," she says.What about Medicare? Yup, also via reconciliation:Budget reconciliation has also been an important tool for changing the Medicare program."Going back even close to 30 years, if you start say in 1982, the reconciliation bill that year added the hospice benefit, which is very important to people at the end of life," says Tricia Neuman, vice president and director of the Medicare Policy Project for the Kaiser Family Foundation.Over the years, budget reconciliation bills added Medicare benefits for HMOs, for preventive care like cancer screenings; added protections for patients in nursing homes; and changed the way Medicare pays doctors and other health professionals.Because the point of budget reconciliation was usually to cut the deficit, the huge Medicare program was nearly always on the chopping block.NPR even provides a helpful list summarizing all the health-care legislation over the past 30 years that was passed via the reconciliation process - see below. The bottom line is that reconciliation is a valid legislative process - one used by every President, including Presidents Bush, Clinton, and R[...]

The view from inside Israel

Fri, 12 Feb 2010 18:26:00 +0000

This is a pretty depressing assessment by Joel Rubin at Democracy Arsenal, who just returned from the Herzliya conference in Israel (the premier security summit attended by all major Israeli politicians).It was clear, after attending this conference, that the weight of a decade of American neoconservative failure in the Middle East had brought Israelis neither security nor peace of mind.This situation is problematic for Israeli political elites, who are also concerned that President Obama, unlike his predecessor, will not indulge conservative Israeli politicians in their greatest self-destructive behaviors anymore, especially when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Compounding this dilemma is the irony that the population supports a hard-line government, despite being frustrated by the policies that it is advancing.For example, the citizens of Tel Aviv loathe settlers, whose representatives hold sway over the Netanyahu government. While settlers hold on to their vision of maintaining control over the West Bank and the Palestinians that live there, Tel Avivis understand that they are being sucked in to their dangerous, apocalyptic views.My Tel Aviv cousins, for example, pay more than half their income to national taxes, with a significant portion dedicated to supporting these settlers. They are infuriated by the reality that they are subsidizing the lifestyle of a group of people that has no interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution, relegating Israelis to unending conflict.Worse, while the people of Tel Aviv know that the settlers are holding the country's politics hostage, they have no idea how to change this.As for the political elites, despite repeated calls at Herzliya by prominent Israeli politicians, such as Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Dan Meridor, for a two-state solution, it is becoming clear that the Israeli political system is incapable of getting there.Compounding this dysfunction, there is a fear in Israel that the United States is a waning power. Israelis have thrown in their lot with America, and they are now beginning to worry about whether the U.S. will still be able to carry them on its back.I left feeling that I had never seen such a demoralized Israel. Both the elites and the population looked tired, frustrated and uncertain.It should be noted that right now there isn't an active intifada, there aren't missiles raining down on Israeli towns, or any other active security threat right now. It's as quiet as it has ever been, with the Palestinians more focused on internal affairs (like Hamas policing the Gaza Strip against Al Qaeda operatives) and Israel more obsessed with Iran.I think that we are passing through an inflection point here. It's quite possible that 5 years from now we will look back at the winter of 2008-1009 and realize that was when the two-state solution died quietly in its sleep. [...]

is there a "right" to health care?

Tue, 26 Jan 2010 17:25:00 +0000

In the debate over health care, and the associated debate over illegal immigration, I've often heard the argument that "health care isn't one of the rights defined in the Constitution." This argument seems to me to deny the very concept of human rights itself.Let's make no mistake - the present era is 100% different from the world just 60 years ago. The passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions mark a major turning point in the entire history of humanity and civilization. That is the world we live in now and that world is better in every respect than the previous one.The Constitution of the United States was written in that old world - but what makes it such a brilliant document is that it anticipated the new world, even though at its draftin it was still saddled with language that was a compromise to the old (in particular, the slaves are 3/5ths of a human being clause, the silence on slavery, etc.)No, health care is not an explicit constitutional right. So what? Here's the genius of our Fonding Fathers: rights are not defined by whether they are in the Constitution or not. No government has authority to "grant" us rights. Rights are inalienable and can be generalized as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It took almost 200 years for that basic truth to be made explicitly universal by the UDHR but we, as a planetary civilization, have finally managed to complete the work the Founders started.By that standard, basic health care (ie, emergency room to treat a gunshot wound or antibiotics to cure a child's raging fever - not sex changes or botox) is clearly a right - obviously health is the key to Life. But it's also Liberty, in that being too poor to afford health care is in essence an economic oppression. And it's equally obvious that being ill is an obstacle to the Pursuit of Happiness, not the hedonistic kind but rather the betterment of home and hearth, and pursuit of opportunity and self-betterment.A basic minimum standard of care is thus in my view a universal human right as critical if not more so than free speech or religious freedom.We are a nation founded on explicitly humanistic and moral principles, therefore we have a duty to extend these rights to all persons, not just those who are citizens. We cannot argue on one hand that rights are universal and then on the other hand argue that only a priveleged class may be afforded them.Health care can be delivered by the private secctor, of course. But insurance is the mechanism by which health care is made affordable to all, irrespective of class or status. The details are of course subject to political reality (and leadership) but denying even a basic level of coverage to any group is tantamount to a betrayal of our core values. Not liberal or conservative values, mind you, but our Founding values as a nation. [...]

Massachusetts Senate Race post-mortem: a progressive failure

Wed, 20 Jan 2010 15:35:00 +0000

Congratulations to Senator-elect Brown - in the end, he was a better candidate and ran a better campaign against the hapless Martha Coakley, who thought she could coast on Kennedy-Obama coat-tails into office. A single statistic explains all - @marcambinder notes that "Coakley had 19 events after the primary through Sunday; Scott Brown had 66." And more than anything else, the election outcome last night was not because of governing philosophes or political ideologies, but simply the economy, stupid.The political blogsphere is of course consumed with the significance of MA-SEN as pertains to Obama's anniversary in office, and the conventional wisdom is gelling across the usual lines. The GOP in full concern-troll mode says that Obama has governed as a leftist and thus must seek bipartisanship; of course it's precisely because of Republican ideological obstructionism, filibustering every bill in the Senate and negotiating over health care in bad faith, that the Democrats have needed 60 votes to pass any bill instead of a simple majority. Then again, when your 60 vote "super majority" includes Democrats who also negotiate in bad faith, like Joe Lieberman, then you never really had 60 votes to begin with.The simple truth is that Obama has sought a middle ground on health care insurance reform and pursued a bipartisan approach from the beginning, taking single payer off the table right off the bat, making a (in retrospect, also bad faith) deal with the industry on drug reimportation/price negotiation, and favoring but not drawing the line on a public option. As David Leonhardt points out at the NYT, the health-care reform bills before Congress are substantially more conservative than Bill Clinton's 1993 bill or even Richard Nixon's 1971 bill!Meanwhile, the progressive left, immune to the irony inherent in their own ideological posturing, interpret last night as vindication of their argument that Obama hasn't been progressive enough. In one sense, they are right - Obama has certainly not been governing as a leftist (in a sane world, this critique by the left wing would serve as sufficent rebuttal to the GOP's claim that Obama has been too partisan, but...). But they also seem to think that Barack Obama is Howard Dean, when Obama explicitly campaigned as a moderate in all respects. Obama spoke of change, and the progressive Left translated this as "do everything the opposite of Bush" because from their perspective, that Bush was wrong on every decision and policy is an absolute political axiom. (I'm happy to list Bush policies that I agree with in a future post, but not right now).Last night's loss by Coakley was Coakley's fault alone and as I have argued was in no way a referendum on Obama's first year in office; it should be noted that Scott Brown even won Ted Kennedy's home district of Hyannis, which suggests that the MA electorate (which is predominantly Purple, not blue or red) was looking for a Senator who respected them, not one who saw the seat as a birthright. As Mike Allen also noted on MSNBC, Coakley was leading Brown by 15 points only one week ago, which would not have been the case if this were a referendum on Obama or the Democrats.And yet the race does indeed materially change the political environment under which Obama must labor for his second year. In some ways this is a preview of November, where the Democrats are guaranteed to lose more seats, so at some point Obama was going to have to figure out a way to govern without a supermajority in the Senate anyway. The question is what strategy to use.The choice facing Obama and the Democratic leadership is to either a. pursue transformative, partisan, progressi[...]

Is the Massachusetts Senate race a referendum on Obama's first year?

Tue, 19 Jan 2010 14:09:00 +0000

Today, Massachusetts votes for a Senator to replace Ted Kennedy in a special election scheduled on the eve of President Obama's first anniversary in office. The expectation is, to put it bluntly, that Republican challenger Scott Brown will probably defeat incumbent Martha Coakley (who was appointed to fill the empty seat after Sen. Kennedy's passing last winter). The immediate impact of a Coakley loss would be to reduce the Democratic coalition by one, from a filibuster-proof 60 to merely 59. The thinking goes that this imperils President Obama's entire governing agenda, kills health care reform, and is a preview of further losses this November (where the Dems are already expected to lose seats in both the House and the Senate).The spin from the right is that a Coakley defeat is a victory for the oppressed masses who reject Obama's socialist agenda and vindication of the Tea Party movement. But a Brown victory is more likely to come from depressed Democratic turnout, and a split independent vote, than any conservative surge. Brown himself is only a transient darling of the conservatives for the black eye he will give Obama; the moment he casts his first pro-choice vote, he'll be labeled a RINO. That's the reality of blue-state politics.The question is, why is the Democratic base depressed? The spin from the left is that Obama hasn't been liberal enough. In this argument, Obama's failures to close Guantanamo immediately, put the single-payer reform on the table, etc - basically, Obama's failure in their eyes to govern as a far-left ideological progressive instead of the center-left liberal pragmatist he has been his whole life and actually campaigned as - is the cause.And yet, as I have argued before, it is precisely the far left who have failed to learn the central lesson of the Bush era - that ideology is the antithesis of policy. The change that Obama talked about bringing to Washington was not a promise of knee-jerk reactionism to Bush, and govern purely in ABB mode. Rather, it was to stop ideological governance entirely and bring an intellectual, pragmatic, and principled Administration to power in the hope and belief that genuine progress on our various policy ills can be found. But what progressives demand instead is a repeat of the Bush era, only skewed the other way. Yes, that too would technically be Change, but not Hope. Certainly that sort of change is nothing to believe in.The true culprit of a Coakley loss is that the independent vote - who represent a majority of registered voters in Massachusetts and the silent majority of citizens in the United States as a whole - was lost. Not by Obama per se but by the very far left who sought to turn every victory into a defeat. The battle for the public option is a perfect example of this, which is a case study for the aphorism, "the perfect is the enemy of the good."So, is MA-SEN a referendum on Obama? The far left has already concluded it is, and will seek to push Obama further left. But in many ways, the loss of the 60 vote majority is freedom for Obama. No longer does Joe Lieberman have veto rights over the agenda; a Republican like Brown is someone who might actually be willing to work across the aisle. With 59 seats the validation of Obama's strategy to seek common ground is a reality - and a neccessity. And Obama would have had to seek this common ground in November anyway; as the Dems woudl surely have lost seats then too. But now, he has a year to really show how much he can do.This race isn't a referendum on Obama's past, it's a liberation instead. Moderate Republicans like Snowe and Brown will now be empowered the way Lieberman [...]

Devil's advocate: Pat Robertson and Haiti's curse

Fri, 15 Jan 2010 16:30:00 +0000

There's really no better term for Pat Robertson than "Christian extremist" - there's not much point in going over his long history of public outbursts of intolerance, racism, and hatred, except in noting that ordinary Christians (and evangelicals in particular) bear as much responsibility for his ravings as ordinary muslims do for the sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki. That is to say, none.But Robertson's recent comments about Haiti were particularly cruel and (if I may offer my opinion) un-Christian, even by his standards. During his televised 700 Club program, he said,"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about. They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another."Here's video of Robertson making the remarks:There's pretty righteous outrage from the Christian sphere about this - for example, see Burke's Corner - so I'll leave the theological remonstrations to them. And for what it's worth (YMMV) Robertson did urge his millions of listeners to donate to Haitian relief - unlike the utterly reprehensible Rush Limbaugh.But it also is worth noting that Robertson makes a historical libel against Haiti as well, one rooted in a colonialist mindset. A spokesman for Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network attempted to do damage control by releasing a statement which actually served to emphasize the historical libel all the more:On today's The 700 Club ... Dr. Robertson also spoke about Haiti's history. His comments were based on the widely-discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French. This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed. Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God's wrath.This is a common theme in the post-colonial narrative about Haiti, which is always described as a "broken nation" or "failed state" in a historical vacuum, as if the woes of this island nation were entirely of its own making. But if you look at the actual history of Haiti, a different picture emerges. In many ways, Haiti is the living proof of the universality of human rights and the true birthplace of freedom in the Western hemisphere.This history of Haiti is a long one, and so deserves serious scholarship instead of a blog summary. There's in fact a brilliant three-part series published 5 years ago by licensed minister Jean R. Gelin, Ph.D., who was born in Haiti and makes a passionate and inspiring case for his homeland's true history, not as some land of devil-worshipping savages but as a Christian nation, founded in Enlightenment values, and then ravaged and exploited by the imperial powers of the 19th century - especially France and the United States. The three part series, entitled God, Satan, and the Birth of Haiti, is reprinted on part I, part II, part III. I can't possibly excerpt enough of it to do it justice, just read the whole thing - but I will note some of main points that Gelin makes:- Haiti is the only nation in the history of the world where African slaves successfully led a revolution and threw off the yoke of slaver[...]

Rotten in the state of Denmark: Chindia at Copenhagen

Mon, 04 Jan 2010 13:25:00 +0000

I've been meaning to comment on the Copenhagen conference, since the perspective from the Indian press is probably quite different from that in the US media. According to the papers here, Obama forced his way into a private meeting between Chinese premier Wen Jibao and Indian PM Manmohan Singh because he didn't want them "negotiating in private". China and India resisted all attempts by the US to make the Copenhagen draft legally binding, and fought monitoring and transparency tooth and nail. This plays well here as a strike against US/Western imperialistic moralizing, on behalf of the developing nations, whose champions are now... China and India? really?I am frankly disgusted. India and China - both nuclear powers and members of the UN Security Council - can no longer by any stretch of the imagination be considered "developing nations" and they are cynically using their endemic poverty as bargaining chips to benefit their industrial and economic elites. It's precisely those hundreds of millions of poverty-stricken Chinese and Indians who are going to suffer the most from global warming, while the rich ensconce themselves ever further into their posh enclaves.The problem is that the failure of the US to unilaterally act on climate change gives the industrialized asian giants the political cover they can need to avoid doing anything. They see it as a zero-sum game - and they are wrong. But the truth is that the ball is indeed in our court; we still are the highest per-capita emitters of greenhouse gases. This is why it is imperative that we act, regardless of what Chindia does.Taken together, I suspect that Chindia is a worse offender than we are - but in their recalcitrance is our opportunity. If the US is now forced to act unilaterally, then we and not they will be the owners of the New Energy economy. China has a lead on nuclear power but pebble-bed reactor technology only faces regulatory, not technical hurdles in the US. And we are the leader in wind turbines, not to mention other projects like the Polywell reactor and more exotic stuff like the National Ignition Facility at Livermore. All the pieces are in place on our home turf, and if we aggressively go after the prize of an alternate energy economy then we will remain dominant on the world stage, to Chindia's dismay.Ultimately, global warming's solution is indirect - and it's all about energy. If the US can enact strict new emissions standards, a cap and trade program, and massive investment in alternate energy sources (say, a goal of 50% of our domestic power by 2025) then we win. And because it's not a zero sum game, so too do the poor in the developing world. If only China and India saw it that way too, we could really achieve something. [...]

Obama takes troop reduction n Afghanistan off the table

Tue, 13 Oct 2009 18:34:00 +0000

John McCain:"I think the great danger now is a half-measure, sort of a - you know, try to please all ends of the political spectrum," McCain told CNN chief national correspondent John King. "And, again, I have great sympathy for the president, making the toughest decisions that presidents have to make, but I think he needs to use deliberate speed."Many people assume McCain's comments only apply to the left, but the fact is that they also apply to the right, and it's precisely because Obama has in fact taken the right VERY seriously indeed that he's in so much hot water with the Progressives (who I admit in the interest of full self-disclosure I do not self-identify with; I am a liberal on a elliptical orbit around the center of political mass, thus I drift rightwards in a very predictable fashion.)Much of the critique of Obama from the right comes via political scoring rather than a genuine critique of policy; a great example is the replacement of Gen McKiernan by Gen McChrystal. McChrystal's background is special operations, commanding JSOC for five years (and capturing Saddam under his watch). The man is as much an expert in SO as Petraeus is in COIN. That strikes most principled observers as significant, though obviously it's not officially commented on by the White House. The implications of policy shift are clear. That is the President's prerogative; note that he has retained Secretary Gates from the previous Administration (again, a sore spot for lefties, and utterly ignored by righties intent on scoring points).President Obama has asked for Gen. McChrystal's assessment and he has received it in detail. Now, McCain woudn't be doing his job if he didn't pressure the President to act quickly, but the truth is that when you request a gigantic policy review from your top commanders, you do so because you want to make a decision, not a rubber stamp. President Bush was content to leave broad strategy to Gen. Petraeus and that was also his prerogative, but righties have assumed that this is the normal course of things. It's not; the President, the Commander in Chief, is a civilian. It's the President's prerogative to give a general free reign, but it extends only as far and as long as the Commander in Chief wills it so. In Iraq, that free reign by Petraeus was one thing; in Afghanistan it is quite another. Afghanistan is not Iraq.No General will ever - if he is competent and values his career - ask for less troops. That Gen. McChrystal would ask for more was a given, but if you read the report you find he makes a very different argument. In General McChrystal's own words:Success is achievable, but it will not be attained simply by trying harder or "doubling down" on the previous strategy. Additional resources are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way that we think and operate.Emphases mine. I've spent enough time reading and analyzing it that I refuse categorically to discuss it with someone who hasn't bothered with due diligence; I care enough about the outcome that I take it more seriously than my political allegiances*.The bottom line is that Obama has already sent more troops to Afghanistan than President Bush did. And Obama has taken reducing the troops serving there off the table. The question now remains, will President Obama send more troops, and if so, how many? That's a decision Obama must make in context of the entirety of the United States securit[...]

Deserve this! The Nobel Peace Prize Agenda for Obama

Sat, 10 Oct 2009 17:56:00 +0000

President Obama is now a Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize. There's enough in that statement alone to drive rightwing conservatives insane. And insane they certainly are, as others are ably and gleefully documenting. The general gist of the response by the Right is twofold, and predictably schizophrenic: 1. Obama has not accomplished enough in office to deserve the NPP, and 2. the NPP only awarded it to Obama because he is a. not-Bush and b. he is African-American. In essence, this means that they are arguing that the Nobel Peace Prize is both a farce and sacred at the same time. Of course, conservatives' enmity for the Peace prize is longstanding, given that it was awarded to Yasser Arafat, Jimmy Carter, and Al Gore, even as they pine for it's omission to George W. Bush.While the conservatives' newfound concern for the integrity of the NPP is certainly touching, the same critique coming from the Left carries more weight. But to address this, you have to consider the intention of the Peace Prize. And for that, we can look to the wishes of Alfred Nobel himself. In his will, he stipulated that the Nobel Peace Prize shall be awarded to"to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."Now, there's nothing in there about solving the Middle East conflict or riding the world of nuclear weapons, though certainly progress towards these goals would count. But the secific language used to define the concept of "peace" itself is interesting. The NPP is to be awarded for 1. doing work towardds fraternity of nations, and promotion of peace congresses. These are process, not end-result, statements. The sole end-result qualification listed in "reduction of armies" which I don't think any winner has ever managed to achieve, though President Obama's renewed attention to nuclear non-proliferation is relevant here (and explicitly quoted by the Nobel Committee as part of their justification for awarding it to him).First, consider the process-oriented criteria. What has Obama achieved along these lines? Glenn Greenwald offers a summary of how Obama has "promoted peace" and "fraternity between nations":Obama has changed the tone America uses to speak to the world generally and the Muslim world specifically. His speech in Cairo, his first-week interview on al-Arabiya, and the extraordinarily conciliatory holiday video he sent to Iran are all substantial illustrations of that. His willingness to sit down and negotiate with Iran -- rather than threaten and berate them -- has already produced tangible results. He has at least preliminarily broken from Bush's full-scale subservience to Israel and has applied steadfast pressure on the Israelis to cease settlement activities, even though it's subjected him to the sorts of domestic political risks and vicious smears that have made prior Presidents afraid to do so. His decision to use his first full day in office to issue Executive Orders to close Guantanamo, ostensibly ban torture, and bar CIA black sites was an important symbol offered to the world (even though it's been followed by actions that make those commitments little more than empty symbols). He refused to reflexively support the right-wing, civil-liberty-crushing coup leaders in Honduras merely because they were "pro-American" and "anti-Chavez," thus siding with the vast bulk of Latin America's governments -- a move George Bush, or John McCain, never would hav[...]

Copenhagen dreaming II: global warming as opportunity

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 15:17:00 +0000

This is the second part of my series in anticipation of the upcoming Copenhagen conference. The previous post in this series was a defense of the scientific method.So, what do I think about global warming? The consensus is a powerful one, and it's not built upon one tree ring or one temperature reconstruction, it's been built upon thousands of independent studies by thousands of different authors. That said, there are some valid critiques on methodological issues. Even if those critiques are fully accurate, that isn't enough by itself to warrant throwing out the entire body of literature, which over the years of reading both Climate Audit and Real Climate I've seen extends far beyond just one paper by Mann et al or one set of trees at Yamal. The very fact that there is a controversy, and both sides are able to endlessly rebut the other in a seemingly-never ending cycle of rebuttal, proves that there is indeed more to the story. Like blind men in a room with an elephant, the dissenters and the keepers of orthodoxy have valid observations and methods. Reconciling them requires moving forward, not standing still.I've watched An Inconvenient Truth and I've seen A Convenient Fiction. I've read the Wegman Report and the RealClimate folks' highly-convincing response on the technical merits. I read Climate Audit and now, thanks to suggestions from others here, will also check out Watt's Up With That, but I also cross-check dissenters' arguments against the RC Archive and RC Index. I think I am doing due diligence here. The consensus for global warming remains robust, despite the dissenters' well-publicized arguments. Until the dissenters repudiate their partisan political fellow-travelers who engage in irresponsible rhetoric about GW being a "massive lie" or the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" they will never attain the credibility they require to persuade and influence the concensus the way it has always been done.Fundamentally, however, the basic goal of those who advocate anthropogenic global warming is simple: to reduce carbon emissions worldwide. The single best route to doing that is to make our civilization more energy efficient and less polluting. Technologies to make this so represent as much of an immense, industry-creating opportunity as the semiconductor industry or the space program. One of Al Gore's maxims is that you should never underestimate human ingenuity; to this, I would also add the corollary, never underestimate the ability of Americans to make a profit off it, either. Those who argue that the Kyoto Protocol or the upcoming Copenhagen treaty would bankrupt the business world sound to me like Malthusian alarmists, without faith in the genius of men like Norman Borlaug to find ways of escaping the constraints. The business world itself is on board with the opportunity ahead. In that sense, the scientific world has fallen behind. It's time to catch up... to the Chinese and the Indians. They see the writing on the wall - in terms of threat to their own territory from increased sea levels, but also from the basic security/economic perspectives of needing less oil imports and having greater energy to fuel their growing societies.So, count me as convinced that GW is real and requires action. The dissenters are important, as they provide a needed critique from within. But they cannot and should not be the cause for holding back on moving ahead full speed. [...]

Copenhagen dreaming: In defense of the scientific method

Tue, 06 Oct 2009 15:16:00 +0000

As the Copenhagen conference on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol draws near, I want to lay some meta-thoughts out about the scientific method which I think are important, as a context for my general support of the theory of global warrming and the need for decisive action by our own nation to reduce carbon emissions and embrace alternative forms of energy (including nuclear). The next post in this series will then lay out my position on global warming specifically.The debate about Global Warming, not unlike that regarding AIDS, or evolution, boils down to this: the Scientific Method is an attempt by human beings to establish rigorous theories drawn from empirical observations, for the purpose of creating models of reality, so that these models may be employed in some pragmatic fashion. When this method is applied to a topic that is insulated from what I call the Political Method, there's not much controversy to be had. However, the "employed in some pragmatic fashion" part above is where the outcomes of the SM start encroaching on the PM and then battle lines are drawn.Science is not a clean affair. Its hard, for one thing, and it requires a lot of art in some ways. The basic task of taking measurements is pretty consensus-prone, but everything downstream to that is subject to the old adage, TMTOWTDI. In science, the way things are done usually settles on what has worked before. Science is conservative that way.The SM method provides an internal mechanism for disputes, however - publishing. Proponents of a minority view who are challenging an orthodoxy often tend to scream conspiracy and exclusion from the literature, but the fact remains that the scientific literature is by far the most open system for dissent that the human race has ever devised. This is because, fundamentally, science rewards its iconoclasts instead of punishing them. The reason for this is a function of the funding system, which penalizes anything that isn't "novel".The reason that orthodoxy develops in science is because of the mass of literature that accretes over time. Anyone trying to challenge an orthodoxy who simply waves away pre-existing literature as being corrupt or dishonest or conspiratorial is essentially repudiating the system at a fundamental level. Are only the dissenters against orthodoxy the ones with a professional ethos, with ethics and pride in their work? To hear the dissenters gripe, you'd think that they were the sole bearers of the flame of Science and everyone else is a charlatan. Any argument which strays into this territory not only can be dismissed, it must be dismissed. Anyone willing to burn the system down is someone whose own motivations are far more suspect than the thousands of scientists who have dedicated their lives to their field and are willing to play by the rules.The single biggest (and potentially most cogent) critique that the dissenters make is that the peer review system is essentially a "social network". Well, they're right. It is indeed a social network, of experts in a field. But if you don't do science you can be forgiven for assuming this makes everyone in a field, esecially a small one, seem like pals on facebook all playing the same inane games and joining the same groups and causes ad infinitum. In reality, the smaller the field, the more concentrated the competition. Every research group tries to outdo the other, because the funding game (again, which only cares about "novelty") is literally zero-sum. Th[...]

word cloud and transcript: Sarah Palin on common-sense conservatism

Thu, 01 Oct 2009 03:15:00 +0000

This is the text and word cloud of the speech by Sarah Palin while in Hong Kong on September 23rd, for the CLSA Pacific Markets Conference. Note the dominant topic (in the cloud) in her speech is obvious, and hardly a surprise given the context and locale of the speech.You can call me a common-sense conservative. My approach to the issues facing my country and the world, issues that we'll discuss today, are rooted in this common-sense conservatism... Common sense conservatism deals with the reality of the world as it is. Complicated and beautiful, tragic and hopeful, we believe in the rights and the responsibilities and the inherent dignity of the individual.We don't believe that human nature is perfectible; we're suspicious of government efforts to fix problems because often what it's trying to fix is human nature, and that is impossible. It is what it is. But that doesn't mean that we're resigned to any negative destiny. Not at all. I believe in striving for the ideal, but in realistic confines of human nature...The opposite of a common-sense conservative is a liberalism that holds that there is no human problem that government can't fix if only the right people are put in charge. Unfortunately, history and common sense are not on its side. We don't trust utopian promises; we deal with human nature as it is.While we might be in the wilderness, conservatives need to defend the free market system and explain what really caused last year's collapse.According to one version of the story, America's economic woes were caused by a lack of government intervention and regulation and therefore the only way to fix the problem - because, of course, every problem can be fixed by a politician - is for more bureaucracy to impose itself further, deeper, forcing itself deeper into the private sector.I think that's simply wrong. We got into this mess because of government interference in the first place. The mortgage crisis that led to the collapse of the financial market, it was rooted in a good-natured, but wrongheaded, desire to increase home ownership among those who couldn't yet afford to own a home.In so many cases, politicians on the right and the left, they wanted to take credit for an increase in home ownership among those with lower incomes. But the rules of the marketplace are not adaptable to the mere whims of politicians.Lack of government wasn't the problem. Government policies were the problem. The marketplace didn't fail. It became exactly as common sense would expect it to.The government ordered the loosening of lending standards. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. The government forced lending institutions to give loans to people who, as I say, couldn't afford them. Speculators spotted new investment vehicles, jumped on board and rating agencies underestimated risks.So - how can we discuss reform without addressing the government policies at the root of the problems? The root of the collapse? And how can we think that setting up the Fed as the monitor of systemic risk in the financial sector will result in meaningful reform?The words "fox" and "hen house" come to mind. The Fed's decisions helped create the bubble. Look at the root cause of most asset bubbles, and you'll see the Fed somewhere in the background.Common sense tells you that when you're in a hole, you have to stop digging! A common sense conservative looks to history to find solutions to the problems confronting us, and the good n[...]

Should conservatives embrace Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story" ?

Thu, 24 Sep 2009 16:35:00 +0000

I admit to not having ever seen a Michael Moore movie, though from what I understand his film Roger and Me was probably his defining film, one that predated the Bush era and thus was more balanced in its critiques. Of course his latest effort, a rant against the horrors of unrestrained capitalism, is not going to make any converts. Still, I was intrigued by the positive review of Capitalism: A Love Story at AICN by their resident conservative critic Massawyrm (he lambasted the animated film Happy Feet for being a propaganda film against religion, intended to indoctrinate children, and proclaimed The Ant Bully to be a storybook version of The Communist Manifesto. I have to agree with the former, and haven't seen the latter.).Massawyrm speaks of his admiration for the "old" Michael Moore, invoking Roger and Me, and then makes the claim that this new movie is the closest Moore has come to returning to those genuine speak-truth-to-power roots. And he puts it in context of conservative ideals, even though it's basically an argument for socialism:Now, it is important to understand that I wholeheartedly disagree with Moore's final conclusions. I do not believe that the framework of a "second bill of rights" - as FDR referred to it - is the solution to the problem. BUT, Moore's argument is compelling and very, very important. He makes a solid, virtually unassailable case against deregulation and fiscal anarchy, showcasing how it has profoundly crushed the backbone of the country and left many of our citizenry looted, helpless and worst of all, holding the bag. And what frustrates me most about all this is that it is an argument those of us on the republican side of the aisle really need to hear right now.You see, while it is easy to point at the crazed evangelical ultra-conservatives as the source of the Republican party's problems, the truth is they're just the easy target; the loud distraction while the crew cuts in three piece suits repeat over and over that we are a party about freedom (that's good) and freedom means keeping the government out of our daily life (that's really good) and keeping the government out of our daily life means letting the financial industry do what they want without oversight (that's BAD.) In truth, the fundamental core of what a large majority of Republicans believe in is very much rooted in what Moore is talking about. After all, I can name three guys off the top of my head that hated banking, speculation and usury. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Jesus. Not exactly the thinkers most often quoted at liberal cocktail parties. Here Moore refers to them all.If that segment of the population would see this film and hear Moore's arguments - while they won't throw up their arms and embrace socialism - the argument could become just how to go about fixing [capitalism] again, rather than screaming SOCIALIST! FASCIST! at one another. But Moore commits one, serious, fatal error.Emphasis mine. This is a remarkable argument and one that in many ways captures my own fascination with conservatism, a movement whose core principles are in many ways complementary to liberalism, not opposed.The error to which he refers is that Moore doesn't level the same critique at Obama. He puts this in context of marketing, ie that the film will be seen as critical of GOP Presidents but deferential to The One, and thus dismissed by the very people he argues most need to see it[...]