Pulpit Bulls

Policy, Politics, and What's In Between

Bill Clinton on Same Sex Marriage

Posted by Eric on July 14, 2009

Michael Tracy at the Nation reports:

Clinton opposed same-sex marriage during his presidency, and in 1996, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which limited federal recognition of marriage to one man and one woman. In May of this year, Clinton told a crowd at Toronto’s Convention Centre that his position on same-sex marriage was “evolving.”

Apparently, Clinton’s thinking has now further evolved. Asked if he would commit his support for same-sex marriage, Clinton responded, “I’m basically in support.”

Not really that huge of a surprise. Bill Clinton — like most presidents — is deeply concerned about his legacy and here’s a chance to come down on the right side of history. And, of course, since he is out of office there’s no real opportunity for a political backlash.

With that said, unless Barack Obama’s rather incoherent position on marriage also “evolves”, I think Obama will be the last Democratic president in opposition to gay marriage. When future presidential primary candidates have to face off in debates in front of the Democratic base they are going to be met with boos and jeers from the audience if they recite the “marriage is between a man and a woman” meme.


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Sotomayor Sinks

Posted by Eric on July 14, 2009

As I watch the Sotomayor confirmation hearings it is becoming increasingly evident that “Obama’s Harriet Myers” is just a slip-up away from completely fizzling out. Thanks to the probing questions of the Judiciary Committee’s Republican heroes, the sheer stupidity and unqualified “intellectual shallowness” of Sonia Sotomayor is fully on display.

Mental lightweight Sotomayor should be withdrawing from consideration as a Supreme Court nominee any minute now. Any minute…

Posted in SCOTUS | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Al Franken and the Nature of Commericials

Posted by Eric on July 8, 2009

David Kurtz observes that the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is running a misleading ad featuring Franken flailing his arms about — a rehash of a tactic Coleman utilized in his failed re-election bid. Franken took this dishonest portrayal head-on in his 2008 campaign:

I’d like to take this in a different direction and use the above spot to note that advertisements rebutting your opponents’ smears is incredibly underused. That’s not to say it’s always smart — in many cases you don’t want to highlight and repeat a smear against your candidate, especially considering how many casual commercial viewers would presumably just catch the smear and ignore the surrounding content. This is a concept that television writer Alex Epstein recently explored on his screenwriting blog, by suggesting that people don’t remember “not” very well. Epstein suggests that when people hear Barack Obama is not a Muslim or Richard Nixon is not a crook, they deduce it to Obama is a Muslim and Richard Nixon is a crook.

So, yeah it is dangerous territory, but campaigns always push back against false or damaging attacks and there isn’t any persuasive reason to believe that campaigns can’t effectively push back in commercial form. A personal anecdote: I worked on a political campaign where our very honorable candidate had his patriotism smeared in our opponent’s frequently-aired commercial. Our campaign reluctantly decided that it was better to leave the ad unanswered on the airwaves and never ran a counter-commercial. This may have ultimately been a smart play, but it’s worth considering what would have happened if we had launched a commercial proclaiming that Scuzzy Opponent is launching so-and-so attacks, then blasted Scuzzy Opponent for voting against increasing benefits to military families. Or something — you get the idea.

Perhaps with Sen. Franken’s victory we’ll see more candidates undertake this type of strategy in 2010 and future elections.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

More on Palin

Posted by Eric on July 6, 2009

Sarah Palin and Tina FeyOkay, so Palin’s resignation announcement is a couple days old. There’s been time to reflect but it still looks as bizarre and mystifying as before. Palin’s press conference was a muddled, idiosyncratic, incoherent mess — about what you would expect from a mentally muddled, idiosyncratic, incoherent mess of a politician like Sarah Palin.

It’s hard to watch such a strange and jumbled performance and not immediately latch onto the fact that Palin is a presumed frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination, not because of any gift of her own, but solely because of the lack of diversity of the modern GOP. When McCain tried to capitalize on a feminist backlash against the media’s (and allegedly Obama’s) sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton, there really wasn’t anyone else to choose. Maine’s two female Senators are the party’s liberal most spokespeople and even Texas heavyweight Kay Bailey Hutchinson is pro-choice. So they were left with Palin, a politician who is impressively unimpressive.

And the only real explanation for Palin calling it quits in the way she called it quits is she is indeed set on running for president. She may be taking the advice of some brilliant strategists, but on the surface it really makes little sense. Palin isn’t Mike Huckabee in 2008 — a little known former governor whose hope of winning the nomination involved camping out in Iowa for years. She’s a former Vice Presidential candidate with 100-percent name recognition, but not a former Vice Presidential candidate like John Edwards in 2008 who also needed to camp out in Iowa for years to challenge the big dogs like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. For better or for worse (okay, for worse) Palin is the Obama and Clinton of the GOP. She’s the star of the party! She could have stayed in Alaska until the end of her term, quietly mastering policy, raising money, and still generated good will by sweeping in to the lower 48 states every month or so for a fundraiser for lesser Republican politicians.

But clearly that isn’t the course she is taking. It looks like we are going to get the same old Sarah Palin. You know, the woman who can’t name a single newspaper she reads, who didn’t know the Africa was a continent, who, with her lavish spending sprees on campaign donor dollars and feuds with late-night talk hosts, seems to better belong in the celebrity gossip rags than in the Washington Post. It’s almost like she enjoys being a laughing stock! I hope that somewhere an SNL exec is on the phone with Tina Fey’s agent.

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments »

Sarah Barracuda

Posted by Eric on July 1, 2009

If you haven’t already checked out Vanity Fair‘s hard-hitting profile on Sarah Palin, read it immediately. It paints a dysfunctional picture of Palin’s role inside the McCain campaign and really features some former McCain staffers letting loose. I wanted to quote some parts of the piece, but really the whole thing is a must-read. With that said, here are few things that jumped out at me:

  • Several people who had worked closely with Palin told VF they believed the governor suffered from a “narcissistic personality disorder.”  One example? When her most recent son was born, Palin wrote a letter to friends and family in the voice of God and signed it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”
  • When Obama was notified that McCain had selected Palin as his runningmate, he told aides that it took him four months of preparation to become a national candidate and no matter how bright Palin was, there wasn’t a possibility she would be ready.
  • Those who religiously follow politics may be interested to know that McCain strategist Mark McKinnon, who had vowed to not work against Barack Obama and rather publicly resigned after Obama won the nomination, secretly crept back onto the campaign trail to advise Palin — presumably while she questioned Obama’s patriotism and accused him of “palling around with terrorists.”

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Is Our Planet Doomed?

Posted by Eric on June 29, 2009

Barack Obama and Al Gore
I don’t know the answer to that, but I will say that the vast majority of climate scientists fear catastrophic consequences if carbon emissions are not severely curbed. The American Clean Energy and Security Act was passed on Friday by seven votes. The bill is an insufficient answer to the threats posed by global warming, yet nearly half of a Democratic-controlled congress voted against it, and it still has to make its way through the Senate. In his column today, Paul Krugman calls legislative opposition “treason against the planet.” But what political solutions are there to passing stronger legislation when nearly all Republicans are guilty of so-called environmental treason?

Again, I don’t really know the answer. But it is worth pointing out that the stars were really aligned here: Nancy Pelosi made a huge push for this bill and Obama and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel lit up House Members’ phone lines. While Neil Sinhababu wonders if the congress might be better off without Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, I think it’s important to note that Peterson bucked strong constituent pressures and reached a compromise with bill-author Henry Waxman — providing conservative members of the Ag Committee sufficient cover to vote for the bill. Al Gore may have also, fittingly, been a key to passage. Though Gore opted against a public push for the Act, I have it on very good word that Gore was on the phones with some last-minute undecideds. While appearing publicly with Gore may have been out of the question, it seems that getting a call from a former Vice-President urging you to vote for his pet issue is actually pretty effective, because Gore managed to change some minds and personally get some more conservative Democrats to vote the right way.

I guess the point of this all is to show how much work went into getting a bare majority of the House to vote for climate change legislation. There is no guarantee that the Senate will do the same and for global warming to be adequately addressed we really need something much stronger from both the House and Senate. Should future elections shift the congress even slightly to the right, then the planet burns. The only way to imagine getting a much better bill in the near future is if Obama decides to really use the bully pulpit and make the case directly to American people that the planet is in peril and we need to act now. But like health care, he seems unwilling to make this case and instead irresponsibly opposes important provisions in the bill. It’s hard to feel great about a first step when the second step seems improbable and the third step seems impossible. But I guess there are more important things to worry about, like, what’s gonna happen with Michael Jackson’s kids?

Posted in Environment, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

I’m Not Saying Michele Bachmann is a Baby-Killing Nazi, But I Am Saying Hitler Was

Posted by Eric on June 28, 2009

Michele Bachmann

Rep. Michele Bachmann

From TPM, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann continues her anti-Census tirade:

“Take this into consideration. If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps,” said Bachmann. “I’m not saying that that’s what the Administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps.”

Great use of the “I’m not saying” almost analogy. And to be clear, Michele Bachmann did not say that Barack Obama is going to round up Japanese people and put them in camps. Just like I am not saying that Michele Bachmann is a certifiably crazy gasoline-sniffing nutjob with an IQ in the range of Minnesota’s winter temperatures. However, I will break my silence on Bachmann to say that if she isn’t the worst member of congress she’s close.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Constitution and the Copyright

Posted by Eric on June 26, 2009

Over at RealClearPolitics, Cathy Young pens a sharp piece about a quasi-sequel to Catcher in the Rye written by a Swedish humorist called, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. A judge has put a restraining order on the novel, in compliance with a copyright infringement claim filed by J.D. Salinger’s attorneys. Young uses this to make some smart observations about the draconian nature of intellectual property laws in the United States and invoked copyright critic Lawarence Lessig’s belief that, “unless copyright law is reformed, it will end up stifling the creativity of a generation.” I think that’s correct, but let’s also remember that overbearing copyright laws like the DMCA stifle technological innovation and that stringent patent laws prevent things like medical patients buying life-saving pharmaceuticals at reasonable prices.

But corporate copyright holders are powerful and have lots of money that they share with congresspeople who also like power and lots of money. That’s why every time Mickey Mouse’s copyright is about to expire, congress seems to pump out a new, stricter sets of laws and, whadya know, Disney still owns the rights to Mickey. While congress changing its mind isn’t very likely, it is always important to note that current copyright laws are pretty contrary to the founding fathers’ wishes. From Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution the founders write:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The Commerce Clause, at least in its current application, would certainly give congress jurisdiction to pass intellectual property laws, so Constitutional objections probably are a waste of time. Still, the founders were right and current copyright enthusiasts are wrong. Our current intellectual property laws are misguided and this should be repeated again and again.

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Sometimes the End Does Justify the Means

Posted by Eric on June 24, 2009

Daniel Strauss is bothered with using the DC Metro crash to push for more rail funding:

I’m for increased funding in rail, and I’m for rail safety. I also consider the Washington D.C. Red Line Metro collision to be a plain tragedy but I don’t have an opinion on what kind of tragedy it is because it’s still unclear what caused the crash. With that in mind I think it’s a bit rash and I daresay disrespectful for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to quickly write a letter calling for more public transportation funding.

Not me though. In Rahm Emanuel’s words, “never let a crisis go to waste.” Transportation funding is important and if using train crashes as a tool to push for that important funding brings the money in, I don’t have a big problem with that.

Posted in Politics, Transportation | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Should Obama NOT Do More On Health Care?

Posted by Eric on June 23, 2009

So says Ezra Klein. Yesterday I worried that Obama needed to get out there and make the case to Senators and the American public about the necessity of reform and a public option, but Ezra thinks this type of argument is misguided:

For now, the White House should have as little to do as possible with the various legislative products. Let the committees absorb the blows of the bad weeks. Let the early coalitions present themselves. Let the Republicans show their strategy in the mark-up sessions. Let the CBO score all the different options. Let the legislature familiarize itself with different revenue options. Wait. Wait and wait and wait. Wait until Congress has pushed this as far upfield as it’s able.

Then open up the White House. Then have Obama on TV. Then have Rahm on the phone with legislators. Then take Olympia Snowe for a ride on Marine One. The White House can exert explosive force on a piece of legislation, but it can only do so effectively for a short period of time. That was the mistake Clinton White House made in 1994. By the time their legislation was near reality, administration officials were so deeply involved that they couldn’t add external momentum. It is not a mistake that Rahm Emmanuel, who watched it all happen firsthand, means to repeat.

That’s a reasonable argument, but I’m not entirely convinced. Though the mistakes of 1994 aren’t being repeated, I worry that the administration may be so jittery about Clinton’s failure at reform that they are making the inverse of Clinton’s errors. Whereas Clinton tried to push a very specific package and froze out many Democrats and the entire Republican caucus, I fear Obama will leave all specifics to congress and yield too much to an obstinate and deeply unpopular Republican caucus. And if the legislature comes to a consensus for a weak and toothless health care package, it may not matter how hard Obama drums support for deeper reforms. Once enough Senators come out on the record against a public plan, it will be an excruciatingly difficult task to force them to back down. And that’s a very real possibility.

This isn’t to say that the administration shouldn’t save a trump card or two for the end, but it would be reassuring if the White House was doing and saying more now.

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Obama, the Public Plan and the Bully Pulpit

Posted by Eric on June 22, 2009

Obama Health CareSweeping health care reform looks to be faltering. The public option, a government-run insurance plan that competes with private insurance, may be nixed in the final bill altogether. This would ostensibly be the time for Barack Obama to champion the public option as he makes his way across the country touting the necessity of health care reform. He could forcefully make the case for a public plan and ask the crowd (and TV viewers) to call their senators and demand action. But he isn’t doing that. As Paul Krugman notes, “centrist” Democratic Senators like Blanche Lincoln from small states where “one or at most two private insurers dominate the market” have been wary of the public plan. And this makes sense since powerful insurance companies can raise lots of money for a  candidate. But you know who else can raise a lot of money? Barack Obama. Obama and Joe Biden could spend a couple hours calling major bundlers for each of these Democrats and, I suspect, raise as much or more than the insurance companies would. That, along with a public crusade for a public option could conceivably go a long way. But neither seems to be occuring.

Obama is a clear-cut pragmatist, sometimes to a frustrating degree. Some liberals are starting to wish there was more truth to the “socialist” and “leftwinger” labels that conservatives have been hurling at the president. But there’s never been any real reason to believe that Obama harbors any radical impulses. Even the fake reasons, like Jeremiah Wright, are probably just twisted evidence that Obama has always been as cautious and pragmatic as he is today. He had a radical black reverend when he was a state senator from a heavily black district in Chicago. When he was running for president in what’s still a heavily white country, he severed ties with Wright.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama has been dismissive of gay rights and willing to bend to conservative framing on matters like deficit reduction because he was stocking up on the political capital to ram through the big issues. But this is the big issue! And Obama is staying almost entirely out of the specifics of reform. That may change, or maybe his cautious approach has some justification I am missing. We will look back years from now and truly reflect on the wisdom (or lackthereof) of that strategy. But right now, it’s very worrying.

Posted in Health Care, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Best Middle Name Ever

Posted by gregoryholmes on June 22, 2009

While President Obama’s middle name and Muslim heritage might have caused him some heartburn during the campaign, he has wasted no time turning it into what could be a game changer in the delicate dance he must walk in the Middle East.  Moreover, I contend that his foreign policy decisions that he has made so far in reference to the Middle East has been to realign Muslim opinion of America and its president so as to marshall the political capital that he will need to deal with issues such as Iran.  So far he has done an excellent job and, with the Iranian elections in dispute, we could be witnessing the opening moves in the presidents gambit to strip Iran of nuclear weapons.

The first move came during Obama’s first days as president when he granted al-Arabiya the first interview with the new president.  The symbolism of granting the first official presidential interview to an Arab news network was not lost on the Arab world.

The second move came in Ankara, when President Obama took time off from the G20 summit to fly to Ankara and make a speech where, among other things, he heartily endorsed Turkey’s bid for membership in the EU.  Turkey holds a unique position, in that it is a strong American ally, has a powerhouse economy, and is a respected Muslim country.  Indeed, when Israel and Syria began to feel out one another for a potential peace deal in the last days of Olmert’s tenure as Israel’s prime minister, they used Turkish mediators.

The next big move came when President Obama delivered a speech in Cairo to the Muslim world that was so well received that the president was interrupted by applause 12 times, peppered with shouts of “We love you!” and even given the nickname of abu Hussein.

This is bad news for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

For years the regime has been developing nuclear technology that many fear will someday be turned into nuclear weapons.  And until this week, the president of Iran enjoyed some level of popularity in the Muslim world.  He is widely seen as the man arming the Shiites of Iraq to fight against the United States’ deeply unpopular occupation, bankrolling Hizbollah in Lebanon which fought waged a war against Israel in 2006, and supporting Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  In short, the man was popular with the crowd that hates America and Israel.

That places placed him in a very good position.  He could develop nuclear technology and one of two things would happen: either the United States would attack the site and turn Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into a hero and martyr who was defending against the depredations of an imperial power (You see!  They attacked us!)  or he would go nuclear and have a much stronger bargaining position in all future relations with the U.S. and its allies.  Such was the dilemma that George Bush faced, and there we have the heart of President Obama’s overtures to be a friendlier face to the Arab world:

“We are willing to extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

President Obama’s determination to cast himself as the hero and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the aggressor is only receiving a greater boost from the turmoil that has engulfed Iranian politics.  The question of whether or not the Iranian president election was legitimate is, at this point, irrelevant.  The fact is that Tehran has been paralyzed by protesters who claim that it was, and U.S. and world opinion is aligning with that fact.  President(?) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is no longer showing his face in public and the Supreme Leader has been seen backpedaling from his initial full-throated support for the outcome, which has only fuel speculation on the legitimacy of the outcome.

At this point in Iran, two outcomes are likely and both are great for the United States.  Either Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains as president after a potentially bloody internal struggle and is cast as a man who can only retain power when he and the clerics suppress opposition OR we end up with Mousavi who will be seen by a large part of his own population as a man who stole the election from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  The result is a weak president with a weaker backbone of clerics.

Compared to either one of them, President Obama is starting to look good.  The longer the legitimacy of the Iranian presidency remains in doubt, the more credibility President Obama will have when he challenges a leader viewed as illegitimate within and without Iran.  And when the president chooses to use that public opinion against what will inevitably be an unpopular regime and their “weapons of mass destruction,” Iran’s nuclear ambitions might very well be thrown under the bus in order to shore up international legitimacy.

Posted in Iran, Middle East, Politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Disregarding the Gays

Posted by Eric on June 17, 2009

The LA Times has an editorial today, with the subheader, “The president has done precious little to advance gay rights, despite campaign promises.” And they are right. Markos snarks about how the administration is granting “relocation rights” to same-sex partners of federal employees, rather than take on the Defense of Marriage Act or Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, both of which he campaigned against. Since being elected, Obama has more or less punted the DADT ball to congress while his Justice Department wrote a memo defending DoMA.

Everyone  understands that Obama is a ruthless pragmatist unwilling to sacrifice political capital on gay rights. But this isn’t the 1990s and there isn’t really an plausible scenerio in which a gay rights battle emerges that sinks health care or cap-and-trade. The administration should just step up, do the right thing, and get this whole controversy over with. Until then, gay rights activists will continue being pissed off at Obama, and frankly, they have every right to be.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Obama: Not Giving in to the Axis of Idiots

Posted by Eric on June 17, 2009

Robert Kagan has a really terrible column today, where he muses that Obama is siding with the Iranian regime’s crackdown on dissidents, criticizes Obama for not interjecting himself into the Iranian debate, and also seems to imply that George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford lost reelection because of “realist” foreign policy impulses. Perhaps a little more convoluted, but basically the same nutty things the folks at the Corner have been arguing all week. In fitting with their constant “East vs. West” paradigm for understanding the world, they want the US to publicly side with the Iranian protesters. As everyone besides Robert Kagan and anyone who writes for The Corner probably realizes, this is a surefire way for the Iranian protesters to lose support and gives the regime a pretty good cover for busting heads.

The other side of that coin is that it is very likely that, no matter what the US does, Iran’s authoritarian government will act like an authoritarian government and ruthlessly quench the protests. As long as the opposition lacks the stomach and capabilities to attempt a coup, the current Iranian clerical regime will remain in power. And when, as the president promised, the Obama administration negotiates with the Iranian regime about nuclear armaments, Iraq, and our many other mutual interests, we don’t want to hampered by the fact that we just publicly called the legitimacy of the Iranian state into question or that we sided with potential revolutionaries in an internecine skirmish. Conservatives may want Obama to revise and re-use Bush’s “axis of evil” rhetoric because that’s how they get their kicks, but that would be terrible policy and it’s reassuring to see that Obama isn’t giving in to it.

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Revolution in Iran and the J-Curve

Posted by Eric on June 16, 2009

The-J-CurveAs protests and unrest ripple through Iran, the theocratic regime’s future is beginning to look uncertain. In yesterday’s Times, Ross Douthat wonders if the economic instability created by the world recession may provide a ripe foundation for revolution in Iran. Douthat muses that though the global downturn was a product of Western Democratic capitalism, “it hasn’t turned into a crisis for democracy and capitalism, because nobody has a plausible alternative.”

I think there may be some truth there. Anyway, with all this revolution talk it seems like an opportune time to mention Ian Bremmer’s book The J Curve, where Bremmer posits that revolutions generally occur during a transitionary period of more political openness (see the chart on the left). Bremmer argues that governments collapse when they cannot absorb “shocks”, which could range from things like an oustide military assualt, an economic collapse or a leadership crisis of legitimacy — as we are seeing in Iran. He contends that authoritarian regimes can absorb shocks when there is little openness and complete state control (think Saddam’s Iraq or Kim’s North Korea) or a lot of openness and political and economic freedom (think almost any Western nation). The middleground is where things get shaky.

Iranian access to media and social networking technologies like Twitter and Facebook along with their quasi-democratic institutions would seem to place the Persian nation into this unstable transitionary period. One could imagine the current rejection of fradualant election results coupled with economic unrest over Iranian stagflation developing into what Bremmer believes to be a regime-crippling shock. Although in his book, Bremmer asserts that Iran — with their natural gas resources, proximity to European markets, and skilled and educated populace — has the preconditions to effectively survive a move to the left of the j-curve.

But what we are seeing now is a regime dead-set against those reforms. They are pushing their country to back to the right-side of the curve in direct confrontation with a populace that wants to go to the left. This is dangerious territiory. Still, Iran has survived a devastating war, economic sanctions, and previous riots. But again, the current unrest is palpable and a collapse of the regime isn’t that far-fetched.

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Is Howard Dean Relevant?

Posted by Eric on June 15, 2009

Howard DeanHoward Dean has been an important player in understanding how Democrats ended up with majorities in both chambers of congress and even to Obama’s landslide victory in November. Dean’s tenure as DNC chairman saw the Democrats take back the House and Senate in 2006 and comfortably pad their majorities in 2008. His “50-state-strategy” laid the theoretical and material groundwork for Obama to compete in traditionally red states like Indiana, North Carolina, and Montana. Dean’s innovative online outreach and fundraising operations were an inspiration for Obama’s own internet success.

But since Obama’s victory, the White House’s relationship with Dean has been unambiguously icy. This was perhaps most visible when Dean’s successor at the DNC, Tim Kaine, was publicly selected for the job in a press conference with the president while Dean was on vacation.

Now the good doctor fights for political relevance by injecting himself in the ongoing health care debate. Dean is releasing a new book on health care which will forcefully argue for a “public option” as an element of reform — a policy that both the VP and HHS Secretary Sebelius seemed alarmingly uncommitted to in their media appearances over the weekend. Dean has also soundly rejected Sen. Kent Conrad’s compromise proposal of health care “co-ops” as an alternative to the public option, by quipping that “insurance companies will be licking their lips.”

It will be interesting to see how much political power Dean still holds. He can’t command the spotlight the way he could when the Democratic Party lacked an annointed leader. The young and liberal voters who were Dean’s base are now solid Obama supporters, and even Dean’s grassroots organization Democracy for America has larginally been supplanted by Obama’s Organize for America. Dean is right about health care but I’m skeptical that he will matter much at all when everything is said and done.

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Iran’s “Election” the Beginning of the End?

Posted by Eric on June 14, 2009

As you have no doubt heard, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has “won” a second-term in the Iranian “election” held Friday. While reformist candidate Hossein Mousavi was able to win the young and urban votes, Ahmadinejad did much better with the fraudulent and stolen votes. Mousavi should push harder for these oft-neglected groups of voters if he decides to run again.

Anyway, Iran isn’t much of a democracy so it shouldn’t really be expected that they would have much of an election. And they sure didn’t! The main question Americans are probably wondering is what this means for US-Iran relations.

There’s long been disagreement as to the exact power the Iranian presidency holds, with some suggesting that the role of president is largely symbolic and the president acts more or less as a puppet of Supreme Leader Khamenei.  However, this election really tests that hypothesis: either Ahmadinejad is powerful enough to steal an election or else the clerics think that the presidency is a powerful enough position that they need to make sure the election is stolen.

We are now seeing a tumultuous and unpredicted backlash among the Iranian population in the type of protests previously involving American and Israeli flags being burned, now directed towards the Iranian political elite. Steve Clemons speaks with an unnamed Iranian expert who thinks things will get bloody:

My contact predicted serious violence at the highest levels. He said that Ahmadinejad is now genuinely scared of Iranian society and of Mousavi and Rafsanjani. The level of tension between them has gone beyond civil limits — and my contact said that Ahmadinejad will try to have them imprisoned and killed.

Likewise, he said, Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Mousavi know this — and thus are using all of the instruments at their control within Iran’s government apparatus to fight back — but given Khamenei’s embrace of Ahmadinejad’s actions in the election and victory, there is no recourse but to try and remove Khamenei. Some suggest that Rafsanjani will count votes to see if there is a way to formally dislodge Khamenei — but this source I met said that all of these political giants have resources at their disposal to “do away with” those that get in the way.

He predicted that the so-called reformist camp — who are not exactly humanists in the Western liberal sense — may try and animate efforts to decapitate the regime and “do away with” Ahmadinejad and even the Supreme Leader himself.

This is really significant. A couple days ago experts were discussing the future of Iran-US relations in the context of either a second-term of a firebrand conservative president or a first-term of a more moderate reformist president. Now future relations hinge on a real time shakeup of stability and whispers of revolution. This is big.

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The GOP Pledge to End Divisiveness

Posted by Eric on June 12, 2009

Rep. Eric Cantor

Rep. Eric Cantor

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va, the second ranking Republican in the House has pledged to end divisiveness:

The No. 2 Republican in the House on Thursday compared President Barack Obama’s plans for the auto industry to the policies of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying the White House has stripped credit holders of rights and given them to Democratic allies. […]

“It’s almost like looking at Putin’s Russia,” added Cantor, the GOP’s House whip. “You want to reward your political friends at the expense of the certainty of law?”

Wait, that wasn’t a call for increased civility. Oops! That comes at the end of the article:

“The issue for us is rebuilding a governing majority that is comfortable with differences that can transcend the divisiveness and unify behind the principles that we know our party has succeeded on,” namely limited government and individual rights, Cantor said.

Well isn’t that refreshing! The Republican Party will no longer castigate its iconoclasts, but will instead tolerate their differences. The period when political disagreements were met with hyperbolic attacks and comparisons to Vladimir Putin are over. A new day in Washington, indeed.

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Get Gov’t Away From Health Care and Leave My Medicare Alone!

Posted by Eric on June 11, 2009

517-43It’s almost certain that we are going to get some form of health care reform this year. The Obama budget triggers health care reform to automatically move to the reconciliation process if it doesn’t get passed by summer. So if the Republicans and centrist Democrats filibuster or squash health care reform, the budget reconciliation process allows legislation to get passed with only 50 votes (rather than the 60 necessary to end a filibuster).

Of course insurance companies, BigPharma, free marketers, and just about anyone with entrenched interest in the current broken health care system will mobilize to water down reform as much as they can. One of the first steps will be to try to turn public attitudes against “government intervention” into care. You know, stopping big government from interfering with the “doctor-patient relationship” and making sure that “hospitals aren’t being run like DMV.” Considering that the American health care system is very badly broken and knowing that popular president Barack Obama won a landslide election campaigning (in part) on fixing health care, you’d think the public would be in pretty fervent agreement with the president’s positions. Right?

Not exactly. According to Pew’s recent survey, public opinion about health care reform is decidedly mixed. While 86% of people told researchers they thought “the government needs to do more to make health care affordable and accessible,” 46% answered (see the table on the right) that they were “concerned that the government is becoming too involved in health care.” In other words, a significant number of people really have no clue what they think.

What’s pretty striking is, when broken down by age, the only segment of the population in which a majority fears the government is becoming too involved in health care is the over 65 crowd. This hit me as pretty weird since most of these old people are on Medicare and old people love their Medicare! Or so I thought. But maybe these folks have to deal with government-sponsored health care and know first hand of the evils that a governmental insurance plan holds. So I looked up the numbers and decided to bake up this delicious pie chart:

Medicare Satisfaction Chart

Medicare Satisfaction Chart

As you can see, old people really do like their Medicare. So where are their worries coming from? Are they scared this will somehow negatively impact their Medicare? Do they just not want others to have the wonderful services they do? Are they confused?

If anyone has any ideas, fill me in, because this doesn’t make any sense.

Posted in Health Care | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Antibiotics in the Animals You Eat

Posted by Eric on June 10, 2009

Swine Chicken Feed
A couple of days ago we discussed the environmental consequences of cattle farming, specifically how corn (rather than grass or grain) diets fed to cows leads to increased levels of methane released into the air. One of the repercussions of corn-based feed for cattle that I didn’t mention before was that cows are pumped with antibiotics to help ease their unnatural digestion of corn. Antibiotics are also fed to swine and poultry to promote growth and to mitigate infections contracted from the inhumane and often filthy conditions in which farm animals are raised. This comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists who my fellow Washingtonians will recognize as being responsible for the recent ad campaign on the DC Metro (see the pictures above). The UCS writes that 70% of antibiotic drugs are used on animals and notes:

Antibiotic-resistant illness causes tens of thousands of premature deaths in the United States annually and drives up medical costs. Restricting the inappropriate use of antibiotics in both the medical and the agricultural sector can save lives and money.

Since everyone is talking about how to bring health care costs down, this might be a good place to start. But really what should be most troubling isn’t even current antibiotic-resistant illnesses, it’s the future of antibiotic-resistant illnesses. Overuse could potentially lead to a catastrophic disease outbreak and — though I have know idea how likely that is — it is a possibility that many scientists take seriously and policymakers should take it seriously as well. You should head on over to the UCS’ SaveAntibiotics website to find out what you can do.

Anyway, I am pretty sure I wrote a paper in middle school about antibiotic overuse so my warnings are clearly informed.

Pictures snapped by my versatile and multifunctional Verizon smart phone.

Posted in Food Policy | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »