Sunday, July 29, 2007

LDP loses their grip on power

Well, to an extent. Japan's Liberal Democratic Party got a severe drubbing in the Diet's upper house, with Ichiro Ozawa's Democratic Party of Japan taking over control. PM Abe will still be Prime Minister, but he's going to have an enormously difficult time passing legislation.

That this happened at all is the bigger news, though. The LDP is about as dominant as a political party can be in a democratic state. Aside from a few very short spurts where other coalitions seized control in the 1990's, the LDP has had an unbroken grip on power. That this could happen is incredible; that it would happen when Japan's economic situation is (if not perfect) pretty good, and following Junichiro Koizumi's utter dominance of the Diet is astonishing. There has been scandal, yes, but the LDP has demonstrated an almost preternatural ability to absorb and deflect all but the worst scandal in the past.

In the meantime, the man to watch is Ozawa. He was always a big player in the LDP, at one point likely to be named PM before his LDP faction broke apart. His taking over of the DPJ showed both that the Democrats were moving somewhat to the right and that the DPJ was going to be playing hardball. He may be Prime Minister yet.

Krauthammer and Credibility

So, apparently Barack Obama is unfit to be president. Or, at least, that's what people like Charles Krauthammer would have you believe, claiming that "To be on the same stage as the leader of the world's greatest power is, of course, a prize" and is therefore apportioned out according to whether or not the particular prospective meeting partner deserves it.

Sameer Lalwani points out the fallacy of this empirically on Steve Clemons' blog, The Washington Note: Vladimir Putin seems to enjoy more and more access the farther and farther he moves away from any semblance of democracy. I'd like to go a step further, though, and ask a simple question: what reason does anybody have to believe that Charles Krauthammer's opinion is valid?

He has been so unbelievably wrong on so many issues that it almost beggars description. He claimed that the more nuclear powers there were, the greater world security was; clearly, people don't believe that these days in the case of Iran. He claimed that the world would be better off for having a single superpower in a "unipolar moment"; it doesn't appear much stabler, except to the effect that there are no longer as many American and Soviet proxies fighting their masters' battles for them. He claimed that Iraq was both necessary and a success; it was neither, and most reputable scholars think theories of unipolar stability are about as valid as the theory of phlogiston. He continually claims that the Republicans are better suited to the task of defending the United States; even aside from this defying the historical record of the 20th century, the Bush administration put paid to that notion. He is batting zero; unlike Thomas Friedman, doesn't even seem to realize it.

The bizarre part about all this is that I think that Krauthammer's position reflects that of American foreign policy elites, but their track record hasn't been all that wonderful either. They have not succeeded with North Korea, they have not succeeded with Iran, they have not succeeded with the Palestinians, and they sure as hell have not succeeded with Iraq. If Krauthammer is simply parroting the conventional wisdom in Washington, then that only raises the question of whether to take that seriously either. Certainly "'Jaw, jaw' instead of 'war, war'", Churchill's old dictum, is a pretty good rule of thumb, and he rather famously won the war that he was involved with. The only thing that Krauthammer and his ilk can boast is the Cold War, and the only reason they "won" that was because Mikhail Gorbachev was idealistic enough to place the needs of his country over "the national interest".

I'm not an Obama backer, at least not yet, but I do think that he had an important point to make, and I support it. Provided that it is handled properly on all levels, diplomacy is better than isolation. Even in cases of quiet or open belligerency, there should be dialogue, because at some point you're going to want the belligerency to end or, God forbid, prevent it from happening in the first place. To hell with failed "analysts" like Krauthammer. Obama demonstrated that he has a better grasp on diplomacy than many of his detractors, and I think their disagreement says more about them than it does about him.

(It also says a lot about Hillary, but that's a tale for another time.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

In Other News, Republicans Are Pansies

Yep. It's over at the TPM portalthingie. Republicans are bailing out of their version of the Youtube debate en masse. Why? Well, read:

It's looking like there might not be a GOP CNN/Youtube debate. Rudy appears to be opting out and Mitt Romney doesn't seem far behind. And GOP party functionary Hugh Hewitt is already laying down a line of covering fire for the retreat, arguing that CNN and Youtube are biased against Republicans.

"Liberal Bias", whatever else it once was, now appears to be the new Republican code word for any venue or events not controlled by Republican commisars like Hugh Hewitt along the lines of President Bush's notorious Social Security townhalls in which only certified flunkies who swore to a Bush loyalty oath were let into the room.

As I said here on the night of the debate, the CNN/Youtube debate wasn't perfect. And there were for my tastes a bit too many questions based on a rather cliched sort of viral video silliness. All told though I found it surprisingly successful in getting fresh questions into the mix and edging at least somewhat more candor out of the candidates than the usual fare.

I'm not sure whether the resistance is rooted is the profound feebleness of the current GOP field or the fact that the current Bush Republican party is so beholden to a worldview based on denial and suppression of evidence that exposure to unpredictable questions presents too great a danger. But if they can't face Youtube how can they defeat the terrorists?
See, that's the thing. They pretty clearly fear the people more than the terrorists, because the people have power over them, and the terrorists don't.

Bush has laid down the groundwork of Republicans never, ever talking in front of an audience that might be unfriendly, and he's still got a bit of charisma. THIS lot have all the charisma of dry toast, and none strike me as bright enough to be able to handle difficult, unexpected questions, which is of course what the Youtube debate is all about.

The best part is trying to call Youtube "liberal", though. Er, no. It's a video hosting site. It's not liberal or conservative or anything, at least not any more than the American people are. But that's the problem, isn't it? Republicans and Democrats alike know that many American self-identified "conservatives" often espouse remarkably anti-conservative positions on various issues. If they realized that it'd upset the applecart something fierce, and it is in the interest of pretty much everybody (the DLC types, the Republicans, a fair chunk of official Washington, much of the corporate media, and especially pollsters) to keep that bit of info under wraps. Youtube is about as liberal as America is, but that makes it more liberal than Washington is. Best keep it quiet.

(Plus, Youtube users are generally young, and the Republicans ain't exactly youth-oriented.)

That prompts a thought, by the way. One of the things I wonder is just how skewed the Dem questions were towards CNN's own perceptions of legitimacy. "Centrists" were complaining about the inclusion of a reperations video, but I'm really curious as to how many went far, far further than that, and whether they actually made up a majority of the questions. Anybody have a listing of all the submissions?

"A Pox on Both Their F***ing Houses!"

That seems to be the muslim world's reaction to both the United States' war on terra and Osama's universal jihad, courtesy of the BBC, The LA Times, with hattips to Leftcoaster and Avedon.

(Online citation gets more involved every day, doesn't it?)


The Pew poll and other recent surveys paint a seemingly contradictory picture of Muslim public opinion. In country after country, Muslims distrust the United States and reject its policies. They see the "global war on terror" as a war on Islam and actively fear U.S. military intervention. A stunning 93% of Bangladeshis and 92% of Moroccans, for example, say they are somewhat or very worried that the U.S. could someday pose a military threat to their nations. At the same time, however, Muslims increasingly repudiate Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda's methods (though not necessarily its political goals).

This contradiction is worth probing. In Lebanon, for example, 63% of those polled this spring said they opposed the U.S.-led war on terror. But only 34% thought that suicide bombings against civilians were sometimes or often justified -- down from 74% who considered suicide bombing justifiable in 2002. Support for Bin Laden plummeted from 20% to 1% of those surveyed in Lebanon, and substantial drops were also registered in Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan and Kuwait.
The Palestinians and Iraqis are exceptions, no surprise there, but it really seems like most Muslims just want to be left the hell alone. They don't want to go back to the middle ages, and they don't want to be on the business end of American "liberation" either. Both sides suck, and they need to go away.

Makes me wonder just how popular an arabic translation of Power of Nightmares would be.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Academic intimidation: DENIED

Looks like the outcry over Harry Reid's attempt to intimidate colleges on behalf of the MPAA and RIAA has had the desired effect; the particular amendment is dead, dead, dead. The academics didn't want to be forced to use questionable filtering software foisted on them by the MPAA/RIAA, and the users... well, I think at this point users mostly want the MPAA and RIAA to jump in a lake, but that's neither here nor there.

There is something remaining, but...

Inside Higher Ed has a nice writeup on the developments, noting that after Reid pulled his amendment, another one was inserted into the bill, which then passed the Senate. This final amendment, though, was almost innocuous: colleges simply need to publish a couple of notices to students about how illicit file-swapping is wrong.
And it is, but that doesn't mean the RIAA gets to play Gestapo over it.

Me, I'm just glad that I get to applaud the Dems for something for a change.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Most Interesting Thing About the YouTube Debate..

Is this page, which quickly and effectively pulls together all the questions and answers as embedded (and embeddable) videos. I mentioned a while back that I thought that one of the most interesting things about the current Internet is embedding... that for the first time, video can serve print, rather than the other way around. Case in point:

This is their answers to the question "are you a liberal?" The answers don't really matter, though I'm NOT pleased with Clinton running away from the label. What grabs me is that that question, and answer, are easily available to "quote", and comment on, for anybody with a computer and an idea. You don't need editing software, a camera, and a pretty face to do the analysis... you can just quote it and type your response, same as with anything else.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still no huge fan of "vlogging". The idea of video replacing text is a vestige of the 20th century that the 21st century would be wise to leave behind. Video supplementation, though? That I'll support.

Monday, July 23, 2007

For Those Who Have Read the Latest Potter

the best and most hilarious review ever.

For those who haven't: it's practically page by page. "Spoiler" doesn't begin to describe it. Though, if you haven't read the book and aren't going to, it might be worth it just because you get a pretty good sense of the plot.

And for those wondering whether your recognize this guy: he's the one who did those great rewrites of the Marvel "Civil War" comics a while back. If you liked that, you'll like this.


What the heck happened to Talking Points Memo? One of the cleanest, most elegant "little" blogs out there is now marginally less cluttered than a teenager's closet.

This may smack of heresy, but not every blog needs to be a bloody Web 2.0 community content synergizing video portal, dammit!

I know I'm not exactly one to lecture anybody on how to build numbers, but I think I'm qualified enough for a good ol' fashioned "yeesh."

Well, what do you expect?

Adam Cohen reiterates the (old) point that the Bush Administration is being contemptuous of Congress.

The founders would have been astonished by President Bush’s assertion that Congress should simply write him blank checks for war. They gave Congress the power of the purse so it would have leverage to force the president to execute their laws properly. Madison described Congress’s control over spending as “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

The framers expected Congress to keep the president on an especially short leash on military matters. The Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money for an army, but prohibits appropriations for longer than two years. Hamilton explained that the limitation prevented Congress from vesting “in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence.”

As opinion turns more decisively against the war, the administration is becoming ever more dismissive of Congress’s role. Last week, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman brusquely turned away Senator Hillary Clinton’s questions about how the Pentagon intended to plan for withdrawal from Iraq. "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq,” he wrote. Mr. Edelman’s response showed contempt not merely for Congress, but for the system of government the founders carefully created.

The Constitution cannot enforce itself. It is, as the constitutional scholar Edwin Corwin famously observed, an “invitation to struggle” among the branches, but the founders wisely bequeathed to Congress some powerful tools for engaging in the struggle. It is no surprise that the current debate over a deeply unpopular war is arising in the context of a Congressional spending bill. That is precisely what the founders intended.
Well, yes, they have those tools. The problem is that those tools, like any weapons in a struggle, need to be credible to be effective. The opposition has to believe that there's a serious possibility that you may use them, or they can behave as if those weapons don't exist. The Executive Branch knows that damned well, because they spent most of the Cold War obsessing over such things: without a credible threat, MAD doesn't work.

Does Congress pose a credible threat? Nope. The Administration knows that spending threats are toothless, because the Dems won't do what the Republican threatened to and pull the trigger on the "nuclear option", getting rid of the filibuster. The Republicans know quite well how to make such a threat credible; that's why you had all those senators cross the line to "keep their powder dry", because people believed the Republicans would actually do it. Nobody thinks the Dems have the stones.

As for impeachment, that's an even nastier situation. The Dem leadership said that that's "off the table", despite the threat being a very powerful weapon in the struggle against the President. Yes, he's unlikely to be convicted... and, yes, Cheney would be a worse president. No doubt. But that's the thing: the very act of impeachment would be a powerful symbol of revulsion even were the conviction not to take place, and Bush is at the time of his presidency where symbols mean a whole lot. Sure, Cheney just wants to enrich his buddies and hunt/drive into extinction every cuddly fluffy animal he can get his mitts on, but George is just delusional enough to believe he can go down as anything but the worst non-slavery defending president in American history, and he'll care about that.

But since they're demonstrating that they won't pull the trigger, they might as well not even have the weapon. And if they don't have the weapon, they aren't going to deter Bush, now, are they?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Groundhog Day in Israel

The best part about discussions of Israeli security, or politics, or anything on the net is that you can predict, with laser-like precision, what the following comments will be.

Hint: Don't bother discussing anything that happens after 1960 or so. It's not important.

Here, Here Matt!

Matthew Yglesias mounts a stirring defense of Harry Potter in the face of aimless meandering bleatings by people like Ron Charles about "the death of reading".

I for one agree with him. The critics, I think, keep on missing one thing: that Potter has absolutely nothing to do with the decline in reading. Heck, in terms of reading straight fiction, it's not about "declines" at all; straight fiction has never been as popular with kids, and even adult males, as genre fiction. Harry Potter only reconfirms that, since Harry Potter is (horrors!) genre fiction, a combination of urban fantasy and the classic boys-away-at-school stories that people have been reading since before television was even an option.

(That doesn't mean they aren't reading, it means they aren't reading what you think they should be reading.)

Charles moaned that children expect toys and movies and all manner of hype to go along with their books, thanks to the Potter thing. One problem: that really didn't appear until the Goblet of Fire hype. Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets sold well because they were, well, really good children's books; the latter books (which are moving away from being children's books and becoming more straight up fantasy) are selling well partially because of the hype, yes, but also because they happen to be pretty slick fantasy, up there with (to name current fantasy series) George R. R. Martin's phenomenally successful "Song of Ice and Fire" series and Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time".

(Actually, Potter is significantly better than WoT, but I digress.)

To the extent that reading has declined, though, it still has nothing to do with Potter. Potter didn't stop kids from reading. Heck, if you think about it, kids read more than ever, thanks to these here Interwebs, and are probably far more comfortable with the actual act of reading text for pleasure than their parents are. No, they aren't reading because nobody else is. Kids imitate adults, especially their parents. If adults aren't reading around them, they're pretty quick to pick up the idea that reading isn't a normal, mature thing to do. If their parents are watching TV, and all their adults peers are watching TV, then they'll probably end up watching TV.

(Except they aren't- they're playing video games and hanging out on the Internet. TV viewership numbers are dreadful. But I digress again.)

If you want kids to read, you can't force them, and you most certainly cannot attack their choices when they do read. If they want to read Potter, or R.L. Stine, or whatever else, they should. If it's bubblegum for the mind, more power to it, because it's that much more likely to make them readers when they mature and want something more. But at the same time, you (yes, you, the person reading this) should be reading too, especially if you have kids. Read to them, read alone, and maybe turn off the TV yourself, because they aren't going to be impressed if you convince them that reading is something you do to your kids, or force your kids to do, but would never do yourself.

They don't want to be kids: they want to be adults. If adults don't read, you can't blame them for picking up on that. And if they read anyway, despite their parents not doing so, because of J. K. Rowling, then a toast to Rowling, because she pulled off what all the well meaning (but utterly nonsensical) attempts to force "great literature" down kids' throats cannot... she made them want to pick the book up in the first place.

Edit: Go read this piece by Michael Berube, about his son Jamie (who has Down's Syndrome; Michael's stories about him have really changed how I thought about Down's, by the by) and his engagement with Potter. It's a PDF, so be warned, but it's still a great, great piece on Potter.

One more edit: There is a special place in Hell for those who spoil the surprises in children's books. You know who you are. KNOCK IT OFF.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

IS war with Iran inevitable?

Justin Raimondo, controversial and long-standing critic of war boosters (whatever their ethnicity and party) believes that the answer is "yes":

Indeed, the third Gulf War has already begun, and all that remains is for the aerial phase of it to commence. The presence of three U.S. carriers in the Gulf is a prelude to a much larger operation, and, as if on cue, accusations of Iranian interference in Iraq have escalated, with the US military now echoing earlier assertions by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney that the Iranians stood behind the Iraqi insurgency. We are, of course, never allowed to see the "evidence" for this claim, and, in the long, anguishing reappraisal of the "intelligence" that rationalizes a strike at Tehran the real paucity of concrete facts backing up these statements will doubtless come out. In the meantime, however, we are supposed to accept the veracity of the charges on faith: foreign policy is this administration’s most successful faith-based program, at least in terms of getting politicians of both parties, the media, and the general public to willingly suspend their disbelief until well after the shooting starts.

The political build-up to the actual fireworks reached a crescendo of hypocritical cant in the Senate the other day, with the passage of an amendment – 97 to nada – deploring alleged Iranian perfidy in Iraq, including purported attacks on U.S. soldiers. This, while we hold their diplomats hostage in a bizarrely inverted replay of the 1970s Iranian hostage crisis that brought down Jimmy Carter. Perhaps the regime-changers in Washington are hoping the same fate awaits Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If so, they are bound to be disappointed: such provocations only enhance the authority of Iranian hard-liners, and make the prospect of conflict with the U.S. more likely. On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly the point …

The bipartisan band is striking up a war tune, as "antiwar" Senator Carl Levin co-sponsors with Joe Lieberman the Iran Amendment to the defense appropriations bill, joining with Republican Senators McCain, Kyl, and Graham in a rousing chorus of rattling sabers. The amendment accuses Iran of murdering American soldiers, and of committing other acts of war: it is, in effect, a declaration of war, and Senator Lieberman was quite clear about this on the Senate floor the other day.
Can't disagree with that last point; that idiotic little clause saying "oh, but this doesn't justify a war" is meaningless and everybody knows it. It's a presage to a political justification for military action, and that's ALL it is. Its existence makes no sense otherwise.

To be honest? I've been expecting that there will be a war with Iran for a while now. Or, to be more precise, that the political class will do its best to have a war with Iran. See, the problem is that as much as Lieberman might want a war with Iran out of some (deeply, deeply) misguided belief that it'll aid American and Israeli security, the fact remains that you simply can't win wars in the air, and the US military has no, repeat, NO available troops for the task of pacifying a country larger and more populous than Iraq. It's almost a "what if somebody threw a war and nobody came" scenario, because as much as the chattering classes in Washington may think a war is inevitable, even cry out for war, it's simply not going to happen.

Well, actually, there's a key qualifier: "not without a draft". The US economy could probably afford producing all that war materiel. The issue is that there simply isn't the manpower to handle it. Start a draft, and you'll get your manpower. That's the OTHER problem, though: the public doesn't want a war with Iran, isn't going to accept a war with Iran, and quite possibly will punish politicians who support a war with Iran. Yet they're going on with it anyway.

Why, you may ask?

Now THAT is the important question: why they're doing it, and what it means. There's a bunch of reasons why they'd legitimately be doing this: because they see a real threat, because they stand to personally profit, because they think it will mollify AIPAC and/or the Religious Right, because they listen to the wrong people... and lots of others. That's dodging around the central problem, though, because by and large they're doing it because everybody else in Washington is doing it. We've seen that sort of D.C. groupthink pop up again and again: the treatment of Scooter Libby, Dems' weak-kneed opposition during the last Congress (as opposed to the Republicans filibustering their butts off during this one), and most especially involving everything regarding the Iraq war, from the attitudes during the run-up: "well, of course he has WMDs", to the early going: "no WMDs, but we're building a democracy and should stand behind the President", to the remorseful: "good idea, badly run", to the current "screw Bush and his war". All absolutely backed by not only the public's consensus, but the Washington consensus.

(The sleepover, for example, is just a political stunt to take advantage of an unpopular war. The time when action matters is beforehand, and that's exactly what's not going on with Iran.)

The amazing thing is that, by all accounts, these aren't poll-driven. They can't be, or else the unpopular Iran war would be much harder to sell to politicians. In fact, the polls are so very anti-war that Dems probably stand a good chance of having a REALLY tough primary fight if Iran starts.

That's how powerful this groupthink is. When something is overriding a politicians' self-preservation instinct, you know it's powerful. And the sad thing is that I expect that it's nothing more controversial than the grade-school desire to, well, fit in. Even if the voters are going to punish him, the fact remains that people in congress (senators and representatives alike) are going to be spending most of their time and energy on other people in congress, as well as other Washington figures. Do they really want to be the outsider, the crank, the guy who is embarassing the group by saying "no?" Almost certainly not. If enough of official Washington believes something, it doesn't even matter whether the elected members of your party do or not; it's going to be hard to take a stand against it.

If a war with Iran does happen, it won't be because of the polls, and it won't be because of the (massively trumped up) security threat posed by Iran. It'll be because the Senators don't want to be kid on the outside of the group, looking in. It'd be sad, if it wasn't so frightening.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ok, Now For Less Silliness: State vs. Federal Health Care

Yeah, fine, Honey Badgers are interesting and all, but "aged grandfather Demosthenes" should probably write on something more substantial.

Ezra Klein and David Sirota have had a rather nasty little infight over universal health care: Ezra claimed that it can only really work as a D.C. initiative, and David Sirota got ticked at a D.C. insider (?) claiming that only D.C. could do something like this. He linked in turn to Nathan Newman, who responded to Ezra's points.

(Before I say anything, though, the fact that these comments were all made on sites that, as far as I know, don't allow pseudonymously-penned pieces looms a little large in my mind. I like the Washington Monthly, the Huffington Post, and TPM Cafe, but since this is Ezra I'm talking about, it came to mind. Anyway, digression.)

Ezra's complaint is by and large financial: that states really can't afford to provide universal health care (well, universal insurance). Sure, they can afford it to a certain extent when times are good, but during economic downturns, things can go south quickly if the Republicans take over the state house and start cutting like mad. Now, considering this is a constant danger in Canada, a sovereign state with a long, long history of socialized health care, it's pretty understandable that this would be an issue in individual states.

Nathan responds by pointing out that other states have been more successful, like New York, in providing insurance for the underprivileged. He also points out initiatives like Healthy Wisconsin, which would provide both freedom of choice in doctors and universal coverage. Healthy Wisconsin is being blocked by State Republicans, but it's likely to be a big election issue next year, and I have my doubt that the Republican party will enjoy monster success next year in, er, Wisconsin.

But, here's the problem that I think Nathan and David are overlooking. A direct quote from Ezra:

Hawaii, in contrast, went for the classic liberal approach: a giant government program. The state had already forced all employers to cover their workers in 1974. In 1994, hoping to cover all those without employer-provided insurance, Hawaii created the QUEST program, into which it merged Medicaid and a similar state program. Early reviews were good. At the outset, QUEST appeared so successful that Hillary Clinton used it as supporting evidence for the Clinton Health Security Act, proclaiming that Hawaii “has achieved nearly universal coverage and has less of a cost.”

What happened next wasn’t pretty. First, Hawaii suffered from the problem known as the “woodwork effect,” where a new government program entices people out of the woodwork, leading to more applicants and higher costs than anticipated. An economic downturn proved even more damaging. It’s a cruel economic irony—but an inescapable policy reality—that recessions rob government of the revenue it needs to cover the uninsured at precisely the moment that the most people need subsidies to get them through the lean times. And states are incapable of responding, since they, unlike the federal government, are constitutionally barred from running deficits.

So Hawaii responded in the only way it could: by cutting back the program. Instead of offering benefits for those whose income was up to three times the federal poverty line, it restricted eligibility to people whose income was twice the poverty line, and introduced an assets test. The dreams of universality evaporated. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 9 percent of Hawaii’s population is uninsured, compared to 15 percent nationwide, and it spends 12 percent of its gross state product on health care—exactly the same proportion as the rest of the country.
In order to advocate universal health care, you need to understand what its strengths and weaknesses are.

The strengths are obvious: it's cheaper, because it's a monopsony (single buyer situation) so you don't have buyers competing to pay more for services, so prices for the same level of service tend to go down. It covers everybody, so there isn't the sort of cherrypicking of the most desireable insurees that you see with private insurers. It covers preventative procedures, so you don't end up with expensive ER visits and hospital stays by people who should have had a little cheap preventative work done.

(This is one of the reasons I think Canada has dropped the ball on one thing, for example: dental isn't covered, and dental work is about the most blatant example of that sort of ramping-up of costs in all of medicine.)

The weaknesses are often overlooked, however: doctors probably aren't going to make as much as they would otherwise, and big pharma certainly isn't. It is also more expensive for the government itself than letting the private sector handle it would be; it is far cheaper for everybody, but that isn't necessarily going to matter when you're looking at the government's books. Canadian conservatives rail about how much is spent on health care all the time, and advocate privatization, because although that would mean more is spent overall, they would pay less taxes. Also, in order to work, it has to be universal; if the wealthy can pay to "jump the queue" for too many procedures, you end up pretty much back where you used to be.

So, why does this matter? Freedom of movement. Let's say that two states, right beside each other, pursue different paths. One goes universal. The other goes private (status quo). There is no real barriers to movement between states, so what happens? Everybody who needs the health care is going to go to the state with universal care, so their costs go up. Everybody who doesn't want to wait in line (that's overstated, but that'll be the perception) will move to the other state. Many of these will be un- or underemployed people who don't have corporate health care. The universal state has a larger base of people who need procedures, whereas the other state will end up with a lot of new, relatively affluent taxpayers.

Yes, a lot of corporations like universal health care. Corporations who don't want to pay for health care will like the idea of the government footing the bill. A lot of income taxes are going to be leaving the state and somebody has to foot the bill, though, so they're going to soak a bigger hit than they would in the other state. They'll have to, because they're covering both the people who would have been covered by their own plans, and those who wouldn't. Those corporations that would have benefited would stay (car manufacturers, for example), but those that employ a relatively number of expensive professionals would almost certainly be better off leaving. Considering the dwindling number of firms that provide anything like comprehensive health care, the latter probably outweigh the former.

A lot of doctors would have left, as well, chasing the bigger dollars the private insurers would be offering.

So, the universal health care state ends up in a tough bind. It has a larger number of people who want coverage, but the tax base has bailed because of the enormous freedom of movement. They can probably handle it if they're relatively prosperous, this wouldn't be apocalyptic, but what happens during a downturn?

That's when having it be state-led runs into gigantic problems. Yes, States can run a deficit, but not indefinitely; and they lack the sort of tools that the federal government enjoys to manipulate the economy in times of downturn. If things get too bad, too fast, for too long, they must cut something, and health care is a huge target. If they don't, sooner or later another party will come into power, and they will.

If you federalize the program, you're in much, much better shape. Moving from the U.S. to another country is much more difficult than switching states; the cost and hassle of doing so will almost certainly prevent people and firms from trying to leave the United States to chase a lower tax bill (or higher medical paycheque) at the expense of universal care. No emigration is likely, or at least it'll be low enough that you won't need to worry about it. In a downturn, the federal government doesn't necessarily need to hack up its budget; it can ride things out, and employ fiscal and monetary tools to ensure that, yes, eventually things will improve. Plus, if it's universal, it's far less likely that elected officials will be pressured into weakening the system, because nobody can hold the threat of emigration over their heads.

Honestly, it's a better choice.

Nathan does point out the chief political obstacle; getting together 40 Senators to filibuster a serious health care proposal is relatively easy for Big Pharma to do. That's why a part of this MUST be other corporations leaning on said Senators to relent; Big Pharma is only one industry, and fixing things has less to do with removing their influence than swamping them with other lobbyists from other industries that really want the government to take this burden off their hands, along with a public outcry that ensures that not only will votes ride on this, but those nifty little $20-$40 donations that the Dems are growing increasingly reliant on.

(The biggest problem is not getting Republicans on board, but ensuring that Dems are reliable. The Republicans aren't exactly in great shape for 2008 in the first place, and a few Republicans aren't going to be hard to sway. It's the Dems that are the issue here.)

I'm not saying that state initiatives are impossible. Nor am I necessarily saying they're doomed, like Ezra seems to. I think he does overstate things slightly. I know, though, that Nathan and David need to realize that if it can be federal, it should be federal. "Universal" needs to be exactly that, if it's going to be effective.

""We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

So said a spokesman for British forces after, well, this:

British forces have denied rumours that they released a plague of ferocious badgers into the Iraqi city of Basra.
Word spread among the populace that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic.

But several of the creatures, caught and killed by local farmers, have been identified by experts as honey badgers.

The rumours spread because the animals had appeared near the British base at Basra airport.

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.

"We have been told these are indigenous nocturnal carnivores that don't attack humans unless cornered."

The director of Basra's veterinary hospital, Mushtaq Abdul-Mahdi, has inspected several of the animals' corpses.

He told the AFP news agency: "These appeared before the fall of the regime in 1986. They are known locally as Al-Girta.

"Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect and unscientific."
You can understand why they'd be concerned: honey badgers are vicious, vicious animals, and the technological gap between occupying forces and the people that they're occupying has created issues in the past.

Still, this is sort of funny.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Herpes Kills Cancer?

Well, supposedly this genetically modified version does.

A genetically engineered herpes virus, designed to kill cancer cells but leave normal tissue unharmed, has shown early promise in clinical tests, scientists said on Saturday.

The idea of injecting cancer patients with a live virus may seem bizarre, but researchers believe viruses — which are experts at killing cells — could one day become a valuable addition to the medical armory against cancer.

The latest progress in a small study using MediGene AG’s virus NV1020 was presented at the annual European Society for Medical Oncology conference in Lugano, Switzerland.

NV1020 is a modified version of the herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores. Its genetic make-up has been altered that so it only replicates in cancer cells, killing them in the process, and leaves ordinary cells alone.

The German biotech company had already announced positive results from an interim analysis of a 13-patient Phase I/II study of NV1020 in September, but efficacy data from a case study was unveiled for the first time at the Swiss meeting.

Axel Mescheder, MediGene’s research head, described the case of one very late-stage patient whose cancer had spread to 10 different places around the liver and four in the lungs.

He was given four weekly infusions of the virus followed by two cycles of chemotherapy, and six months after treatment scans showed that his liver tumors had nearly disappeared. The patient survived for 12 months following the intervention.

“The reduction in the tumor masses was really impressive in this patient. The hepatic (liver) masses almost disappeared,” Mescheder said in a statement.

“The results are really quite encouraging at this early stage.”

Treating cancer in the liver is notoriously difficult, and the prognosis for patients is very poor. Many people with colorectal cancer, in particular, face the risk that their cancer will metastasize, or spread, to the liver.

The encouraging results with the virus in early human studies follow tests in animals, which showed that NV1020 was effective at killing colorectal and liver cancer cells.
Wow. This had been a theoretical idea for a long time--viruses are uniquely good at killing cells (unfortunately, in the past) and the concept of having them only target cancerous cells makes a lot of sense. I didn't think it was even possible right now, though; I had thought it was "twenty years off" technology, not "happened in a small lab in Germany already" technology. Hopeful sign, that.

(Plus, the story has a neat little sidebar style box at the bottom which talks about the cancer-fighting properties of blueberries. As a blueberry fan from way back, I fully support this notion.)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Gazprom to raise its own private army

so, er, anybody else getting a rather nasty "cyberpunk" jolt after reading that Gazprom is going to become a military power? I mean, obviously companies have been contracting help from other companies for a while, nothing new there, but it's the precedent that boggles the mind. If corporations are allowed to field their own forces in defense of their oil assets, that sets the precedent for them doing it for other assets, and raises the question of if and when a corporate army squares off against the assets of some (probably semi-failed) state.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Cooler Brain is a Clearer Brain

Aside from everything else about this story about why we yawn, which is apparently to cool our brains down...

Is anybody else really reminded of Terry Pratchett now?

In the Discworld series, Troll brains became less and less effective in heat, because they were silicon-based. This actually forced one character to wear an artificial brain-cooler in one of the books.

I never would have thought the same thing would apply to human beings too.

I Swear, Always the Last to Know

So a few weeks ago, back during the "Digby has ovaries???!?" brouhaha, somebody said that they were a little sad that the reveal wasn't a bigger deal, akin to Demosthenes coming out as Peter in Ender's Game.

Ezra Klein, saying "people have no sense of history", reminded everybody that I, er, still exist:

Better not call her Demosthenes. Demosthenes is a grandfather of the blogosphere. If I'm not wrong, he's the first lefty blogger I ever read. And I remember being stunned -- genuinely astonished -- to see the word "props" in the context of a serious political post. It, like, blew my mind, man, and was, in retrospect, a weirdly meaningful signal that this type of political commentary was somehow fundamentally different, and open to some no-nothing college kid. And speaking of Demosthenes, the aged grandfather of the blogosphere is still slinging pixels.
First, word up, dawg. Thanks for the, well, props.

Second, it's a testament to the weirdly accelerated nature of these here Internets that a little over five years is a really long time to some people. It doesn't feel like it to me; I sure as heck don't feel like any sort of "aged grandfather", that "oldschool" jibe that was in the masthead regardless. It's still just me, my pseudonym, my ideals, and my little non-optimally colored site, same as it ever was.

Even if I'm not a Peter Wiggin, or even a Duncan Black, I'm glad I have this soap box to stand on.

Simple Answers to Complex Questions

To resolve a debate on TPMCafe...

Why are economists so lousy at predicting behaviour?

Because axiom-based deduction doesn't work if the axioms suck.

You're welcome.

(Edit: And it can turn you into a bit of a fascist. "The people are voting irrationally, so we should take away their vote?" Just declare yourself El Presidente-For-Life and be done with it, Caplan.)

Richard Nixon Was an Intelligent Man

I'll be honest- I, like probably everybody else who's ticked off about what happened with Libby, enjoyed Keith Olbermann's incendiary special comment calling for Bush and Cheney to resign. The principal reason, according to Olbermann was that Nixon recognized that he had gone too far, and decided to resign rather than put the nation through such pain.

On this, I disagree.

Nixon knew what was coming. He knew that impeachment would go badly for him, and that he WOULD be impeached. He was smart enough to realize that the only thing he could salvage of his reputation would be that which he gained by resigning, so he did so. It was a smart move.

Bush is nowhere near as intelligent. No, he's unlikely to be vindicated by history; far from it, the only historians who don't think he's the worst president in American history are those who are waiting for his term to actually be over. A perceptive president would realize that, and realize that he went too far in pardoning Libby in all but name. He'd resign, because it would be the only shot he'd have of rescuing his reputation as anything but a horrible president in the eyes of history and a lame duck in the eyes of the current Republic. He's not smart enough to figure it out.

Cheney, in turn, is sort of smart enough, but just doesn't care. He doesn't care about the verdict of history, doesn't care about his popularity ratings, doesn't care about the future of the Republican party, even. All he cares about is enriching his friends and crippling his enemies, whoever or whatever they might be. The Republic can hang, together or seperately, and he doesn't care. It's about enriching the people he wants to in as short a time as he can, and hang the consequences, he won't be around to see them anyway. That's an appallingly stupid thing to think, which is why he's only sort-of smart, but there you go.

So, sorry, Keith, but it isn't just about them being immoral, venal people. It really is about Bush being an idiot too.

(That said, the rest of the commentary is gold. Highly recommended.)

Happy Independence Day, America

And a belated Happy Dominion Day to the Canadians, too.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Goddamn it. First Steve Gilliard, who was one of the best of us (no matter how you define it) and now James Capozzola. His brilliant site, The Rittenhouse Review, was one of the reasons I got over my intense distrust of this medium and started blogging back in 2002. To be blunt, it showed the brilliant potential of the medium more than Eschaton did, more than Kos did, more than ANYBODY did. He was also a faithful reader from the very start, and I enjoyed online discussions with him as much as anybody.

Like too many of us who have been around for a while, his posting frequency fell off; but what posts were there reminded me exactly why he was often my first and best read of the day. He was the only one that made me regret writing pseudonymous sometimes, because of all the bloggers I've ever read and corresponded with, he was the one that I most wanted to meet.

R.I.P. James. You will be missed.

Scooter's Pardoned, Above the Law

Ok, that's not quite what it is, but Bush essentially pardoned him. He still has to pay a fine and serve probation, but he doesn't have to go to jail.

I'd say "ooh, wonder what that's going to do to his numbers", but it's pretty clear that he doesn't care what his numbers are, and Lord Cheney CERTAINLY doesn't. What he cares about is rewarding a loyal soldier: one who served his purpose well in obscuring things enough that the right's mouthpieces could bleat "no underlying crime".

Meanwhile, somebody is, I have no doubt, still serving unwarranted time because the legal aid system is so woefully terrible in the state Bush used to run.

The sad part, once again, is that I'm not surprised.

Edit: Avedon Carol argues that this is the final, living proof that the only solution is impeachment. The adminstration has shown us that they will not abide by the will of the judicial branch, and they have the power to get away with it. The only exception, the single exception, is impeachment. They have no power over that. That's why it's important.

Avedon also claims that Obama dropped the ball, because he used his (well-deserved) attack on Bush's subversion of the rule of law to say that it's proof of the need to end the "bitter partisanship" in Washington. This is all Republican, she complains, why share it out both ways? I agree, for the most part, but keep in mind messaging- he wants to be The Optimist, and playing the attack dog right now won't help that. I can't disagree with that per se; being the attack dog is what we're for.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Very Nice Bit About Lieberman

Over on Americablog, there's a side-by-side video comparison between Joe Lieberman and ABC's Martha Raddatz. Joe pulls out the canards about the surge: "it's just started, it's working, etc.", and she knocks 'em down. It's just about a minute long, I'd definitely recommend a gander.