Thursday, February 14, 2008

Preparing for the Worst

to-do-congressElsewhere, I've had the temerity to offer some proposals for how the Democratic Congress might help get America back on track, even despite Republican obstructionism and presidential vetoes.

Now I'd like to present two more that are urgently related to this present primary season.

First: Democrats (especially Barack Obama) should start laying down rhetorical points in case of a terror attack or other major disaster, between now and November.

Second: There are five distinct reasons why the "Florida and Michigan problem" can only be solved by calling fresh caucuses. Indeed, this imbroglio can be turned from a lemon into fantastically beneficial lemonade.

--------Suggestion #1 Preparing for the worst----

What are the odds that America will suffer some kind of major attack or catastrophe, during the run-up to our national elections in November?

Yes, it sounds paranoid. But bear with me. Whether or not you have a penchant for conspiracy theories, a basic fact is that it would take something huge -- perhaps devastating -- to pull the Republicans' hash out of this fire they have made. So, why not take out a little bit of insurance, by preparing the mental landscape just a little?

One doesn't have to envision this as part of a plot. After all, our present leaders have been screeching this very possibility in our ears, declaring "emergency!" (largely as an excuse to cancel normal contracting rules) for most of a decade. Shall we not take them at their word and at least prepare, just a little?

It is vital for a mental and spiritual bulwark be established, to ensure that any such tragedy will not benefit those who brought America into this mess. Just a few basic talking points could provide that bulwark. Especially if someone like Barack Obama were to go on record that:

1) Urban America knows it is in the cross-hairs, and that "it is not a matter of if, but when" we will take another big hit. At one level, we are all citizens first. We are firm in our resolve to stand by each other. To not let our nation or its values be changed.

2) In any event, we can be assured that the next victims will respond with the same resilience that was shown by citizens of New York, Washington, Boston and Pennsylvania, back on September 11, 2001, a day when empowered citizenship made all the difference.

3) The scandalous decline in U.S. readiness must be reversed. Bill Clinton left George W. Bush 30 fully ready brigades, we now have none. Not even one. The list goes on and on. It will be a campaign issue! But establishing the point early will make any summertime attack our issue, not theirs. See my article: America's Declining State of Readiness.

4) Even leaving out such specifics, some general, rhetorical riffs about "fear vs resilience" would give people across the nation a resonant feeling, that any sudden emergency will be yet another a reason to choose change, not a cause to cling to bad leadership.

It isn't too early to be saying these things, or to be erecting thoughts of firmness in the minds of our fellow citizens. Indeed, if these notions are erected, it may help to prevent such a dire event from happening, at all.

If you get my drift.

------ Suggestion #2 The importance of being caucused -----

I am really hoping that the Democrats will decide to hold fresh caucuses, in Michigan and Florida. It is by-far a better solution than either disenfranchising those states at the convention, or else seating disputed delegations.

1) Spur-of-the-moment caucuses would be laborious, but not terribly onerous to hold. Especially in a year when volunteers can be had simply by opening a door.

2) All bitterness or fairness issues, leftover from the earlier disbarring of Florida and Michigan results, would vanish. People in those states should be thrilled to be given a last-minute chance to be the most important deciders in a close race.

3) Anyway, most democrats and independents simply did not vote, in those earlier events. Hundreds of thousands were told their votes wouldn't count. In Michigan, only one major and one minor candidate were on the ballot. Seating a delegation so-selected would simply be a travesty. (As one of you said: "Senator Clinton will almost certainly STILL win Florida. It's loaded with her strongest Demographics. That's fine. But let's have a fair process.")

4) Who could turn down the chance to throw a vast "Democratic Party Festival" in two states that will be vital in November? In fact, two that were pivotal the last two presidential elections?

What a fantastic opportunity! Just by throwing these caucuses... and letting independents come too... Democrats could create unbeatable buzz and momentum, causing many crossover voters to identify with the general movement... and incidentally benefiting candidates for state and local offices, across both states.

Indeed, the caucuses needn't cost very much. This year? Simply ask the people of Florida and Michigan for donations to pay for it! Ask. You shall receive.

5) However much energy Hillary and Barack pour into organizing in those two states, both of the resulting volunteer pools would be available to serve as ground troops, when they are needed in November.

These advantages are simply overwhelming.

In contrast, the fact that Obama does better at caucuses may tempt Hillary to try to seat the earlier-selected, highly questionable delegations. This will be divisive and bitterly resented. Especially since there is an alternative, one that has a general correlation with fairness.


David Brin said...

More from Russ Daggatt:

Obama has been winning by HUGE margins - in 15 states with a winning margin of 20% or more vs. for 2 for Clinton :

Obama (22)

Idaho +62
DC +51
Alaska +50
Kansas +48
Washington +37
Georgia +36
Nebraska +36
Colorado +35
Minnesota +35
South Carolina +32
Virginia +29
North Dakota +24
Maryland +23
Louisiana +21
Maine +19
Utah +18
Alabama +14
Delaware +10
Iowa +9
Connecticut +4
Missouri +1

Clinton (10)

Arkansas +43
Oklahoma +24
New York +17
Massachusetts +15
Tennessee +13
California +10
New Jersey +10
Arizona +9
Nevada +6
New Hampshire +3

But he has also won more total votes among all the states: Obama 8,977,712 vs. Clinton 8,424,971.

So if the caucuses are supposedly diminished in relevance because they involve fewer participants than the primaries, where supposedly Clinton excels, then it makes Obamas lead in total votes all that much more impressive – he has had to pick up his large numbers in smaller, more diverse increments.

And note Obamas current delegate lead:
Mr. Obamas campaign said that he had a lead of 1,139 to 1,003; by the count of the Clinton campaign organization, Mr. Obama was doing even better: 1,141 to 1,004 for Mrs. Clinton.

Clinton is now relying entirely on the “Giuliani strategy” of pinning all the hopes of her campaign on two distant state primaries, Ohio and Texas .

That didnt work out too well for Giuliani.

What Russ doesn’t point out is that Clinton’s strongest states, California, New York and Massachusetts, are total gimmes for the dems in November. What’s needed is strength to smash the GOP on its own ground.

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon the Malevolent, logon hasta la vista, baby)

Since the entire Repub membership of the House just walked out in an effort to stop Demos from censuring Miers and Bolton for flagrantly breaking the law, it seems unlikely that Demos will be able to do a lot until the obstructionists get purged from congress. We're not dealing with "politics as usual" here. The Repubs are acting as Jacobins who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the political process itself when it doesn't give the results they demand. History shows that you can only deal with those kind of Trotskyites by removing them from power, in this case, by electing replacements who actually believe in the American system of governemnt.

At the risk of going on too long, her's a review of Barack Obama's detailed platform as set forth at

"And I will lead the fight against the common enemies of the 21st century -- nuclear weapons and terrorism, climate change and poverty, genocide and disease." -- Barack Obama

These aren't the common enemies of the 21st century. Terrorism remains a minor issue, claiming only 4000 lives in America in the last 13 years. By contrast, lack of affordable 3rd world antibiotics kills between 3 and 5 million children worldwide per year. Poverty is rapidly getting solved worldwide by globalism, but in a hideously inefficent way, by impoverishing the first world middle class in order to elevate starving third world populations like the rural Chinese peasants into better but still Dickensian levels of poverty. Nuclear weapons are a non-issue: the real WMD threat remains some fanatical jihadist with a PhD in molecular biology and a DNA synthesizer. Fortunately, we haven't yet had one pop up yet (but it's only a matter of time). (Idea: should we start requiring police-entrance-exam-style psych evaluations for prospective grad students in virology and molecular biology? I would argue yes.)
Genocide has plummeted since the year 1900, even despite unthinkable atrocities like Rwanda, so genocide is not a major problem worldwide and constantly decreases as a problem per capita. The world has actually gotten much more peaceful over the last 75 years, all appearances to the contrary. Disease is likewise decreasing exponentially as a problem worldwide, especially given the unprecedented level of global cooperation and lightning-fast DNA sequencing of the recent H5N1 outbreaks.

Judging by recent history, the common enemies of the 21st century are: [1] out-of-control corporate crime and pathology (viz., Monsanto's "terminator" seeds which starve and improvish whole 3rd-world populations for profit, ditto big pharma's overpricing of antibiotics which legally sentence to death millions of infants worldwide per annum); [2] abuse and misuse of government-run security forces, most of whose anti-terrorist squads wind up becoming the worst terrorists themselves (see news articles about the arrest this week of the Turkish Ergenekon gang, a group of criminal terrorists made up entirely of anti-terrorist paramilitary); [3] power-mad police and bureaucrats who have gone berserk criminalizing just about every human activity, and abusing citizens for no reason, with no accountability (see list of latest taser death outrages this week for more details) solely for reasons of grabbing domestic political power; and [4] global capitalism as it is current malpracticed, leading to Dickensian misery in the third and massive improverishment of the middle class in the first world, with profits flowing only to giant corporations and essentially no one else. Globalised capitalism can take other much less pathological forms, and eliminating legal corporate personhood would represent a start.

Given Obama's failure to identify the salient problems of the 21st century, this doesn't bode well for the rest of his platform...but let's take a look anyway.

Health care -- pabulum about how "Obama's plan will bring down the
cost of health care." He claims modernizing our medical system will do this. But that's a canard. American health care is insanely expensive because it uses an excessively free market approach, with each doctor acting as his own little indepdent corporation. Like the financial equivalent of crack, this addiction is too powerful (and too profitable for doctors, nurses, etc.) to give up. Changing the utlra-balkanized laissez faire robber barony of America's health care system would impoverish millions of nurses and doctors and X ray techs and insurance bureaucrats and hi-tech medical eqpt mfrs, and is politically infeasible. ICU nurses make $150,000 per year, while RNs pull down starting salaries of $70,000. Meanwhile, hospitals get rich by charging $5 per cotton ball. That's a lot of lobbying power to overcome. I don't see any political will to do that. It's also tantamount to an income transfer out of the 10% of U.S. GDP currently wasted in uselessly overpriced medicine and into the pockets of consumers. An income transfer of that size would be fought tooth and nail by the 40 to 50 million Americans employed in the medical sector, so it ain't gonna happen.

Smart move by Obama: "Too little is spent on prevention and public health."

However, taken literally, this would mean starting with free dental care, since infected and abcessed teeth lead directly to heart problems. It would also mean distributing low-cost medicines to rural American populations. But U.S. dentists pull down fantastic amounts of money -- dentistry is horribly overpriced in America. $7000 worth of expert dental work in Ohio costs $700 is Mexico or India. It's exactly the same work, using exactly the same materials. The only reaosn it costs so much in America is...greed. Free dental care would require America to socialize dentistry, which would cause riots throughout America as all the dentists and dental technicians balked at the prospects of losing their quarter-million-dollar-per-year
incomes. Meanwhile, the solution to America's insanely overpriced
dental costs will continue -- Americans will vacation in India and get their dental work at 1/10 the cost. Hint: look for bills in congress within the next several years making medical tourism in India illegal.

Obama plans to create a national health insurance exchange. Bad idea, we need a single payer system. A national insurance pool merely requires collusion among 5 or 10 insurance cartels, like the collusive cable TV rates we see now nationwide, constantly increasing far in excess of inflation with ever-lower service and ever worse quality. In short, the solution to the health care crisis is communism, as in Canada or Britain. If Obama says this, his skin will be peeled off and he'll be dipped in acid until he dies screaming. Obama can't publicly admit that we need a state-run communistic collective health care system, and neither can anyone else because of the fanatical American devotion to the Jonestown cult of the mythical free market (no market is actually free, since all markets are artificial constructions which operate by human-imposed rules...but American "free marketeers" are far too ignorant and far too incompetent as economists to realize this). Instead, Obama supports a worthless half-measure non-solution -- he says he's going to require employers to contribute to workers' health care, which will only accomplish 2 things. [1] Raise prices (and thus boost inflation) to pay for all that extra health care, and [2] force employers to dump all their full-time workers and re-hire 'em as part-time "work for hire" temps with no health benefits. Neither outcome improves America's failed health care system. Meanwhile, health tourism trips to India will skyrocket in popularity and plummet in price.

Obama claims he'll expand Medicaid. It's already in demographic crisis now -- when Medicaid started, 42 workers supported the benefits of every retiree. By 2020, 2 workers will have to support every retiree. Neither Obama nor anyone has explained how to make the current Medicaid system work financially when the boomers retire, much less an _expanded_ Medicaid system of the kind Obama (irrationally) proposes. The reality? We're going to have to contract Medicaid, and fairly savagely, within the next 20 years. Our only real choice will involve how we ration medical care after 2020.

Obama says he'll lower medical costs by increasing competition in the drug market & by modernizing the U.S. medical system. Won't work because there are too few big pharma companies to compete, they'll collude instead; also, doctors hate having their records computerized and universally accessible in a universal database, since that would allow both patients and malpractice insurers to identify the bad doctors. Medical record-keeping will never become computerized and set up in a single unified database, because it would identify too clearly the "007s" -- the doctors who are "licensed to kill." Ask any nurse in any hospital: she'll tell you who the bad doctors are. The hospitals kow too but can never admit it, or they'd get sued out of existence. The real problem here? There's always a bottom 10% in any population...including doctors. That bottom 10% kills patients. How do you deal with that? I don't have a clue.

"Obama believes trade with foreign nations should strengthen the American economy and create more American jobs. He will stand firm against agreements that undermine our economic security."

If we take him seriously, this means that Obama is against NAFTA, against CAFTA, against offshoring, against high-speed internet in modern businesses (because with it, you get outsourcing and offshoring, guaranteed), pro-tariff on imports of wage-arbitraged "dumped" goods and services (translation: NO MORE TRADE WITH CHIINA), and against globalism as it is currently malpracticed. Smoot-Hawley tariff, anyone? This also suggests he's in favor of retaliatory import tariffs and in favor of shutting down trade with countries who abuse workers, as China and Haiti do. None of this would help the U.S. economy. International minimum wage agreements pegged to each country's GDP would help, but no one talks about that. Rate-limiting (capping the first derivative of velocity of circulation) of speculative capital outflows across int'l borders would help, but that's off the table (Maylasia did it in 1997 and it worked). Eliminating corporate personhood would help...but that's beyond the realm of discussion. Instead, we get more third-world kids padlocked into sweatshops till they burn screaming in Triangle Shirtwaist-style industrial fires, all to bump Nike's stock price for the stock analysts' quarterly meeting. In short, globalised business as usual.

The real solution here involves a radical removal of legal corporate
personhood and changing the structure of parts of our economy (such as health care) from a laissez faire cannibalistic robber-barony mode of c(r)apitalism toward a communistic open source system made up of non-profit soviets (literally, collectives, like the Canadian single-payer health care system). As soon as anyone hears the word "soviet," it's all over for Obama's proposal. Obama has given no indication of being willing to take measures that radical, and the congress together with corporate lobbyists would eat him alive, ilke Hannibal Lecter enjoying his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti, if he tried.

Obama claims he will "improve transition assistance" in industries such as the service economy. That's a euphemism for "add a couple of dollars per month for beer money to the unemployment checks of PhDs who have become permanently unemployable because corporations can buy 12 PhDs in India for the payroll cost of one PhD in America." It's not a solution. Dr. Brin has foolishly claimed that the solution to high U.S. PhD unemployment is for U.S. PhDs to work in industry instead of academia, even though U.S. corporations are shedding U.S. masters and PhD employees at a record rate because corporations can employ 10 to 12 third world India or China PhD workers for every American Caltech and MIT PhD whose job they offshore.

Obama touts training programs as a solution to gobalism and offshoring. This didn't work with the laid-off rust-belt workers in the 80s, most of whom wound up permanently unemployed when the auto and steel mfrs moved their plants offshore to the Third World, and there's no indication this nostrum will work for laid-off IT experts with masters degrees or PhDs in the hard sciences who've been made unemployable by offshoring. The problem isn't training.

American white collar professionals have plenty of skills. They're just too expensive to compete gobally with PhDs in India or China who require only $600 a month to live on, instead of $6000 a month of American PhDs. This isn't because of U.S. greed, it's due to the U.S. cost of lliving. The problem isn't training, it's wage arbitrage -- and no one has explained how to solve it.

Obama touts universal hi-speed broadband as an economic pump primer, and it's a good idea, but too late. As Robert X. Cringely points out, America is now so far behind the curve in broadband that we can never catch up. By the time we install 100 megabit universal copper broadband, the rest of the world will have moved on to gigabit fiber to the home. Indeed, China is already moving rapidly toward gigabit fiber to the home, while most of America is still stuck with 768 kbit copper-pipe ADSL as "broadband."

America has lost this race and we need to figure out how we can make the best of being 10th or 15th in the world in broadband speed & penetration. We'll never be in the top 10 in broaband speed or penetration at this point; the rest of the world is too far ahead in their IT infrastrcuture.

Obama claims he'll fight attacks on workers' right to organize. This is a good move, if he's serious. Unfortunately, it would mean that
he'd be willing to shut down Wal Mart and other worker-hostile sadistic monopolies, and that would spell the end of his political career. If he was really serious, he'd have to disband Wal Mart and distribute the monies stolen by the Walton family by abusing workers for 40 years (tellilng 'em go on medicaid, for example, instead of giving 'em health care; shutting down a Wal Mart store whenever workers unionize) and giving that stolen fortune back to the workers themselves as a warning to other predatory robber baron monopsonies and monopolies. It would also mean shutting down and confiscating the funds of grotesque monopolies like Comcast and Microsoft and Google. That's never going to happen. America would erupt in armed revolution if anyone tried something like that. Monopolies remain the lifeblood and backbone of American robbery-baron c(r)apitalism, largely because every foolish worker who gets screwed up by a Microsoft or a Comcast nonetheless dreams of starting his own monopoly and becoming another Bill Gates (even though it'll never happen. Someone will become the next Bill Gates...just not you.)

Obama claims he'll address predatory credit card practices. That's a good idea. However, the main pillar of this policy would be to put usury caps back in place on interest rates, and given the lobbyist firepower arrayed against that, it's unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Debt slavery seems here to stay in 21st century America, as long as interest rates of 300% per month compounded daily are legal. Too many companies, from GE (which makes vast sums from its predatory 300% per month loan subsidiaries
which prey on poor people) to the auto industry (with their predatory new car leasing scams) to cell phone companies (ever see the "hidden charges" on a cell phone bill?) to banks (remember all those "fees" you get hit with?), make the bulk of their profits from usury today. Eliminating debt slavery would collapse profits in the financial sector, which might cause the entire U.S. financial sector to plummet into another Great Depression because of the sub-primse mortgage debt overhang. Exorbitant profits from debt slavery on 35% per month credit cards are the only thing keeping the U.S. financial sector afloat right now.

Obama makes a big deal about fixing social security, but in reality the
social security trust fund is in reasonably good shape. The big problem here is Medicaid, which he doesn't address. To be fair, no one else has any idea how to address the exponential increase of medical costs combined with a rapidly aging population and a lack of younger workers to foot the bill. This problem is demographic and no one has proposed a credible solution. Fortunately, America has a much smaller demographic problem with retirees and medical care than countries like Japan and Italy, whose economies may actually implode from these demographic crises over the next 20 years.

Obama proposes to make prescription drugs cheaper -- but the real way to do this would be to shut down the big pharma companies as capitalist enterprises and turn 'em into non-profit open source R&D operations.

America would erupt in armed revolution if this sensible policy were ever suggested, much less put into practice. But until this is done, big pharma will continue to waste 66 billion dollars per annum on marketing drugs as opposed to the 30 billion dollars per annum spent to develop the drugs, AND big pharma will continue to piss away
trillions of bucks developing largely worthless medicines like viagra or ambien, as compared to the drugs REALLY needed -- like new antibiotics (which simply don't pay enough to create) and anti-arthritis meds (which, since they're covered mainly by medicaid payments, once again reap too little profit to develop).

Obama's plan for education seems worthless. His proposal involves throwing money at K-12, which we know doesn't work. Good teachers are the key to good education. K-12 schools suffer mainly from far too many overpaid administrators, up to a 1:2 ratio now from a 1:10 ratio, and still rising. Obama also proposes expanding community college programs, which helps slightly but is largely
irrelevant. In America, only 1 out of 4 adults ever gets a 4-year college degree. That means 75% of American workers will never
get (and never need) a 4-year college degree. What America desperately needs is a well-run heavily funded apprenticeship program that allows workers to gain highly specific skills, like operating CNC numerical machine tools, or working with computer networks, that don't require a
college degree but DO demand high expertise. Other countries are far ahead of us (France and Singapore in particular), but in America, our industrial policy remains "You train, I'll hire," with the result that American industries typically never train workers, and thus there's always a critical skills shortage. Compare with France, where government law requires businesses put 10% of profits into a training fund which gets sent to the government if it's not spent training workers. Result? The workers always get training.

Obama proposes to increase CAFE and improve energy efficiency by 50% by 2030, whichs sounds good. How we do this AND sustain the world's most gigantic military apparatus guzzling well over 300 billion gallons of fuel per year in vehicles like the M1A1 Abrams tank that gets 4 miles per gallon, he doesn't explain.

Obama claims he'll secure America's borders and crack down on employers to solve the illegal immigration problem. If he actually does this, the entire economy of Southern
California and Arizona and New Mexico and Texas will grind to a halt. That's not a solution. It's not clear how to solve the problem of the Southerwestern United States' addiction to illegal Mexican slave labor. Mexican illegal slave labor remains far too
deeply integrated to the economies of the southwestern states to remove now. As just one example, the entire agricultural sector of California would shut down if Obama's plan were put into practice. Agriculture is 30% of the California economy, so this is not going to happen.

Obama talks big about strengthening civil rights, but the 3 biggest civil rights problems are ones about which he remains silent: [1] gerrymandering. Nary a word onthast one from Obama, presumably because Demos benefit from it as much as Repubs when they're in power. Gerrymandering remains the number 1 issue in civil rights, but Obama doesn't discuss it at all. [2] A close second is electronic (non)-voting. E-voting chicanery needs to be stopped immediatey nationwide. Go back to paper ballots. It works. I live in a state which uses paper mail ballots, and there's never been any hint of fraud with this system. No reason all other states can't move to paper mail ballots. But nary
a word about that from Obama. [3] The third biggest issue with civil rights involves restoring the fourth amendment and the fifth amendment and the sixth amendment and the eighth amendment. But that would mean deleting all current drug laws from the books, eliminating no-knock searches, shutting down the TSA and dibadig the Department of Homeland Security, ending the FISA ourts, repealing the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act and makig illega police "confidential informants" (who usually don't exist and are typically just an excuse for cops to launch fishing expeditions on unproven hunches) and ending the militarization of police throughout America. I don't hear Obama promising to do any of that. The country would probably erupt in nationwide riots if Obama tried to end the War on Drugs and stop the use of confidential informants and no-known searches ad searches of cars stopped for registration violations. Many local police departments support themselves entirely with drug seizures and property auctions, so reforming these abuses would be tantamount to either drastically raising rural property taxes, or shutting down rural police forces
entirely, neither of which is politically practical.

The real way to restore civil liberaties in America is [1] to legalize drugs (whih will never happen); and [2] deal with terrorism as a police matter and not a military issue (which will never happen). If Obama tried either of these policies, he'd be skinned alive and roasted slowly over an open fire until he turned into charred hamburger. He'd be accused of being "pro-drug dealer" and "wanting to help people sell dope to our kids" and he'd be called a "friend of the terrorists" who "hates America and wants to help Al Qaeda blow up more skyscrapers and murder more Americans."

Obama proposes to create a a 21st century military by "expand[ing] the miltiary," which is insane. America needs to drastically cut its military by at least 80%, probably more.

Aircraft carriers and B2 bombers and giant armored cav divisions with thousands of 40-ton ablative reactive-armored tanks are useless today. America will never fight another war like WW II again. Tomorrow's near-future ocnflicts will not be recaps of the Operation Overlord or the Battle of Midway, but are likely to be low-intensity, regional, and will require mainly
peacemaking personnel trained as cops and arbitrators, not cyberwarriors trained to blow up tank armies with laser-sighted depleted uranium shells and take out hardened nuclear weapons silos with stealth bombers using GPS-guided JDAMs. Tomorrow's conflicts are more likely to involve arbitrating which 3rd world farmer has rights to use the local well.

The U.S. military is run by idiots, as the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review proves. This Pentagon report incorrectly and foolishly foresees "persistent conflict" as the theme of the 21st century and proposes the usual insane increases in America's already absurdly bloated military expensitures on useless superweapons like nuclear aircraft carriers and stealth bombers to "solve" this nonexistent problem. The real military problems of the 21st century are likely to be like Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia -- failed
states which become breeding grounds for drug running, terrorism, black markets and general global mayhem. Nuclear powered polaris subs are useless in dealing with Somalia. Apache helicopters with infrared HUD displays and depleted uranium gatling guns are worthless if you're trying to keep rural women in Afghanistan from being raped to death for learning to read. You need boots on the ground to do that, a local constabulary. To solve those kinds of 21st century military problems, you need cops and civil engineers and arbitrators on the ground who speak the local language, not radar-invisible supersonic stealth fighters flying overhead at 60,000 feet.

A giant U.S. military is useless for dealing with failed states like Somalia or Aghanistan; what America needs is a British-Raj-style civil service combined with an international police force that can go in and restore civil order while arbtirating local distputes and
rebuilding broken infrastructure. This would require a very small U.S. military made up mostly of retired ex-cops, civil engineersx, and retired judges -- not giant tank divisions and submarine flotillas manned by 20-year-old kids driving James Bond superweapons. For the latest military superweapon insanity, google "Rods from God." If it wasn't so tragic, it'd be hilarious.

Slashing America's mlitary budget by 80% would give us the money to solve our infrastructure and health care problems, but America will never do it. The U.S. remains fixated with pathological macho on "being tough" (translation: burning brown babies alive with napalm from 40,000 feet). America's current insane levels of military expenditures are more likely to increase, given our foolishly failed and ignorant monomania with "standing tall" and "smoking out the evildoers" and "cracking down on the axis of evil" and generally running amok in the world like a crazy neighbor armed with M16s who screams threats from his windows at passersby.


Obama's rhetoric inspires. But his policy proposals are the same-old same-old tired Demo canards. Repubs will shred 'em far more thoroughly than I have, and deservedly so.

Prediction: the only comment about this analysis will be "Wow, long post." So much for the internet as a medium of intelligent discourse.

Acacia H. said...

Just a quick note, socialized medicine isn't the panacea some people think it is. The healthcare system in Canada is slower than molasses in the Arctic tundra in January. For an example of this, here's a link to the Malakhim website (which nominally is for webcomics, but the creator and her close friends often talk about various social issues on the main page): Malakhim. Specifically, the February 1st, 2008 entry talks about one Canadian's experiences with Canadian healthcare, including the loss of her father to extensive cancer because they could not schedule a simple blood test to check for Colon cancer. (As an aside, I do need to say Aleph is a very strong young woman who has gone though a lot and yet strives to do what she loves despite her medical issues.)

Socializing medicine is not the answer. Regulating it is. Some simple laws need to put in place to protect both the public and the medical professionals and stop the spiral of insanity currently happening in this country.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Mike Winter said...

On Canadian Healthcare – It is neither the panacea nor the disaster that pundits on various sides would have you believe. We do very well on basic and emergency care, and poorly on specialty care. The reasons are simple; very bad policy decisions were made in the late 80s / early 90s by politicians AND medical associations sought to limit the rising cost of health care by LIMITING enrolment in medical schools and therefore restricting the supply of new physicians. I have no idea what economics classes the politicians attended. The doctors were acting in their own selfish interests. The result is a shortage of physicians, particularly specialists in a time where demand is increasing. A second issue has been limitations on accessing private money for capital intensive medicine (e.g. MRI clinics). This is being solved as various provinces experiment with private clinics in these areas. The dogmatists scream about free markets or the erosion of social medicine. The pragmatists experiment and look at outcomes.
There is no such thing as a laissez faire medical system in the first world. They are all heavily regulated and always will be. What we need is enhancements and modifications to the regulatory environments that are in the interests of the public, rather than doctors or pharma companies. I’d start with reducing barriers to increasing med school enrolment, increasing the ease of seeking medical care outside the country ( India is developing a huge capability to deliver medical services), reducing the barriers to primary care services provided by people other than MDs (think pharmacists, nurse practitioners). Patent law as it relates to drugs needs to be overhauled to reduce the incentives to spend money on copycat drugs and the pursuit of patent extensions, and to increase the economic benefits to developing novel and useful treatments.
But, at the end of the day, we are an aging population with an ever increasing array of expensive life extending technologies. This crisis will not go away.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the possibility of attacks: Anthony'58 on the Fourth Turning Forum suggests that one of the first things a terrorist group might do if we elect either Clinton or Obama is to attack, on the off-chance they won't be willing or able to strike back. (Hah. But I see his point.) They know for a fact McCain would, and hard.

Anthony'58 is certain Clinton would strike back good and hard, but that if Obama was caught short, an impeachment would rapidly follow and (probably) a Republican government be put in place.

So the one person who needs to have plans for such an event totally in place and to let everyone know it, is Obama. So should Clinton, just in case not everyone is as sure of her as Anthony and I.

Just my $0.02

Anonymous said...

I predict a terror attack after the election but before the swearing in... the terrorists will look to provoke President Bush or the President-Elect into doing something stupid. This is the terrorists objective: not to merely kill people and 'get away with it', but to provoke a stupid reaction. They failed with President Clinton: his reactions were measured and responsible. They succeeded with President Bush.

The trick is to give a response that hurts the terrorists without giving them a recruitment poster.

Cas said...

Caucuses, as party events, are always paid for directly or indirectly by donations. In Washington state, we ask caucus attendees to give what they can--in my legislative district this year, we raised almost five times as much as what the precinct caucuses cost. The rest will go to pay for later levels of the caucus process, the party conventions, and if any is left over, campaign materials in the district. WI and FL, the Democratic Party, and the nation would be served by having caucuses to select delegates.

I have no fear that Obama will not respond appropriately to any attack, and I think the best thing he can do is what he has done in the past, which is to talk about spending more on the right security measures, cutting out the attacks on civil liberties, and moving away from the rhetorical device of the "war on terror."

Rob Perkins said...

Canada's health care system suffers from rationing problems. There are regulations there which prevent doctors from seeing "too many patients". The government insists on owning all the hospitals, but fails to build enough hospitals.

Doctors who can flee Canada for work in the United States, especially specialists who were most likely educated in the United States, do so. Getting the requisite visa is easy, unless they're already dual citizens, like the two doctors from B.C. I know personally.

The wealthy of Canada take advantage of "free" preventive care, followed by instant decisions to cross the open border to the United States for any kind of hospitalization or specialist care.

Canadian doctors laugh loud at the notion that switching the U.S. to single payer would actually solve problems. The ones I know point the finger at medical equipment and drug manufacturers. I point the finger at laws in the United States which prohibit any other motive than the profit motive for stock traded companies.

And, "Dentists are greedy?" My brother is one, has been one for nine or ten years now, took scholarships and indentures through the U.S. military to pay for becoming one and is entering his fifth year of private practice and is still "trapped" in the middle class with his kids in the public schools. He charges prevailing rates, and two things are true: Half the money goes towards home-mortgage sized student loans, and most of the other half towards an actual mortgage on the overpriced property he had to buy to set up the practice, he having wanted to avoid the trap of renting space in a minimall or medical practitioner's complex.

If he were to take public assistance patients (medicaid), or even the terms of any "insurer", two things would happen: One, he would be overwhelmed with patients. Two, the payout rates would be less than the payments on his practice, and the payroll he'd have to meet. He'd work himself to death and be out of business within a year.

This stuff is massively complicated, and I think that "greed among doctors" is not the thing I'd assign as the controlling problem.

Also, Zorgon's followups are consistently so long, he should really do his thing on his own blog, and post trackbacks. More to the point, the option of simply filling in a name and URL, or creating a new logon, would lift the "logon dead" problem.

Rob Perkins said...

@Mike -- Perhaps we need to be simply willing to allow ourselves to die when the burden of maintaining our bodies becomes more expensive for the next week than, say, the cost of our maintenance has been for some previous longer span of time, and be willing to write the irrevocable living wills which will make that sort of decision stick.

Someone once told me that 80% of healthcare costs are dedicated to extending life at the end of life.

Denying that humans die in their old age seems insane to me. A very human and poignant kind of irrationality which I probably share, but which never actually comes out until one is faced with the mortality of a loved one... maybe?

Acacia H. said...

Isn't 99% of medicine about extending life? What does it matter if it's extending life beyond a "normal" old age or extending the life of a child that has cancer or diabetes?

We're still learning about life... and doctors are learning as well. Give us time... and we'll figure it out.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon the Malevolent, logon mondo freako)

That post was short on factual references, I know. They exist.

On Canadian health care, see this excellent duo of articles by a woman with both Canadian and American citizenship, who lived in California for many years and now lives in Canada. It's a sensible and balanced overview and debunks a number of the fairy tales told about Canadian medicine, both good and bad.

Stats on gobal childhood deaths from disease + malnutrition:

Many of these nominal 11 million deaths result from poor sanitation -- should this qualify as a medical or public health problem? Should it be dealt with using antibiotics, or improving local sanitary conditions (i.e., digging wells farther from outhouses)? Answers aren't obvious or simple. Thus the fuzzy figure about exactly how many 3rd world children die of easily treatable infections per year.

Don't argue with me American dentistry isn't overpriced, argue with the statistics:

The Monsanto "terminator seed" technology sounds so evil it might seem a fantasy dreamed up by a Bond movie villain. No, it's real:

Articles on structural problems with American health care here:

Obviously no shortage of opinions. In sum, not a simple issue, and one that probably can't be solved by merely "cutting the fat" or "modernizing," as Obama suggests.

Quadrennnial Defense Review 2006 discussed in more detail here:

I'm tempted to call this 2006 Pentagon report "the Three Stooges Go To War"...but we already did that in Iraq in 2003.

The Pentagon isn't a monolith and not every member of the JCS seems entranced by "America as globocop." See this symposium led by General William B. Caldwell IV, "Warfare In the Age of Non-State Actors," for a blazing blast of sanity:

For a concise explanation of how the Pentagon has become the Kremlin, with all the military procurement effectiveness and efficiency this implies, see the always insightful William S. Lind:

And here:

Rods from god summarized by nytimes:

For even more craziness from U.S. military technology, read "The Men Who Stare At Goats" by Jon Ronson:

My claim that globalization as it is currently being carried out is pathological has some heavy-hitting support, viz., from this Nobel-prize-winning economist and former chief economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz:

You may dispute Stiglitz's criticisms of current methods of globalization...but a serious person can't dismiss them out of hand entirely. If you try, someone is likely to ask to see your Nobel prize in economics.

Collective models for group economic development here, largely antithetical to laissez faire principles:

Some social insitutions seem to benefit from collective methods of social organization (K-12 education, basic scientific research, etc.), while others fail badly when organized collectively and do much better under traditional free market competitive capitalism with some nominal regulation to break up monopolies etc. (tech innovation, heavy industry, durable goods manufacturing, large-scale industrialized farming, applied science, consumer electronics, and so on).

Telling me to log on under another name fails, for the obvious reason that google blogger detects me as already having an identity and demands a password -- which doesn't work. Catch-22.

Unknown said...

Zorgon: I'd be more inclined to respond usefully to your comments if you had indicated you were reading people's comments by, for instance, noting that you have been told several times how to fix your logon problem, yet have not yet done so.

So instead, all I'm going to say is this: Many of your criticisms of Obama I simply disagree with, and most of the rest seem to be "He's not perfect", which in the realm of politics is a trivial observation; you don't provide any comparison... but claim the Republicans will shred his stances that you attacked, several of which they actively hold as well.

Acacia H. said...

I've a small request. Several years ago I ran across a website that listed various U.S. Presidents (and some Presidential candidates) in terms of corruption, backhanded policies, and the like. It was remarkably non-partisan, going after both Democrat and Republican alike, listing each administration's corrupt policies and the like. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the site or more specifics, but I was hoping someone might have a clue as to what I'm talking about.

One thing I found interesting about said site was it also targeted several presidential hopefuls who had failed in their White House bid (such as Al Gore and Bob Dole). I was hoping it was still updating and might have information about our current crew of candidates.

Also, if anyone knows of some websites that have fair shakedowns on the policies and beliefs of the various candidates, that would be useful. One of the problems with the Web is that it's so huge, decent sites can get hidden under piles of dross.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

(Catfish N. Cod, futzed login.)

Some citokate on that MASSIVE post, Zorgon --

Health care costs in the US are absolutely insane, it's true. But it's not a MARKET that leads to insanely high prices. If we actually had a health care MARKET then supply and demand would drive costs down -- especially with the massive influx of doctors and nurses from everywhere on Earth that want to take advantage of high US health care spending.

But the health care MARKET mostly doesn't exist. When was the last time you found out what anything about your health care cost -- BEFORE you received the product? How about a posting of what the competition was charging? An estimate of the insurance company's share?

Having a MARKET -- one of Dr. Brin's "accountability fora" -- requires some basic elements, including:

1) Fungability of product -- it really doesn't matter who you buy from
2) Posted prices -- no pigs in pokes
3) Verifiability data -- no wool wrapped in silk
4) Ease of choice -- a cheap alternative does no good if it's up a dirt road in Tibet

If we had these things in health care, we could have a MARKET that would drive prices down. But that's the LAST thing we have today. Instead we have:

1) Feudal and monopolistic organization of health care that makes choosing out-of-network doctors difficult and expensive

2) Complete obscurity of price -- I'm in med school and I can't figure out my own med bills

3) Poor data collection, poor analysis, and a lot of covering-up in med quality data -- driven in large part by fear of lawsuits

4) Lack of choice -- often a single organization controls all the hospitals in a region

Now, with some transparency regulation, portions of the medical system could become a MARKET, causing price wars to eliminate the exorbitant charges. The problem with a single-payer system is that, by itself, single-payer grants no transparency. I don't trust bureaucrats to negotiate behind closed doors in my name, and I don't care if they are public or private bureaucrats. I want to be able to see the cost savings, dang nabbit. Transparency forever!

Doctors hate for patients to die. The way to eliminate bad doctors is to rekindle our PROFESSIONAL DUTY to kick our incompetent brethren (and sistren) out of active practice and into something harmless, like textbook-writing or *heh, heh* administration. Why should docs do this? Because it will GET THE LAWYERS OFF OUR BACKS and thereby reduce the malpractice premiums that are *killing* independent practice. I've seen little out of the AMA in terms of maintaining professional standards; it acts more as a lobbying group and proto-union than as an organization devoted to maintaining quality. We need a highly visible health-specific court system, which could be run privately under AMA as adjudication or publicly under the US or state governments -- either way, with judges cross-trained in health care. No more wasteful lawyer back-and-forth defining medical terms, no more massive law firms executing class-action suits in Amite County, Mississippi because it's full of resentful farmers that love sticking it to anybody at all.

The rest of your post I think I can summarize as a cry of despair leading to a belief in guided resource allocation. I also take it you were a Kucinich supporter -- your platform reminds me of his.

Acacia H. said...

I had an interesting realization about the differences in the Obama/Clinton campaigns after reading a Reuters news article concerning the Obama campaign's "enthusiasm." In the article, Jim Duffy (a Democratic strategist) said "One is an inspirational speaker and the other is more of a technician."

It reminded me of reading about the Kennedy/Nixon campaign and how President Kennedy was considered the winner of a key televised debate against President Nixon... but only by people who viewed it. People who listened to the debate felt that Nixon (who they couldn't see sweating up on stage) won the debate.

Mrs. Clinton has been complaining about Mr. Obama being "style over substance" and that Obama lacks actual policies that would help people. It's a marked comment... and one that very likely echoes comments made by Nixon after he was defeated by Kennedy. The history books show that Kennedy won against Nixon... and that his presidency was ranked 12th by average scholar rank.

Of course, Kennedy did have the added benefit of having fought in WWII and having the financial and political pull of the Kennedy family. No doubt he picked up things from his father even if he wasn't originally going to go into politics. Kennedy was a U.S. Representative for six years and a U.S. Senator for eight.

In contrast, Mr. Obama has been in State politics from 1996 to 2004 (I'm not sure if there are any skips in that time of office), and the U.S. Senate from 2004 until present. His elected political experience is actually longer than Mrs. Clinton's eight years in the U.S. Senate, and fairly close to the total time Kennedy was in office before becoming President of the U.S. (14 years compared to 12).

I'm not sure if allegations of inexperience really work here. His political experience is actually greater than Clinton's in total years in elected office and State politics are not that much less demanding than Federal politics.

In some ways this is starting to look like another Nixon/Kennedy campaign... with Mrs. Clinton wearing the boots of Richard Nixon and Barack Obama the cloak of John F. Kennedy. No wonder Mrs. Clinton is doing everything in her power to try and dismiss Mr. Obama's charm with accusations of no substance. Presidential campaigns are partly popularity contests... and in this, Mrs. Clinton is sadly lacking outside of a select few groups (one of which is 50% of the Democratic party, mind you).

On a small tangent I also noticed news articles commenting on whether racism is worse than sexism, and many people deciding racism is. This is a sad state of affairs in this country... because both are equally bad. Yes, black people were enslaved by this country. But women were also denied a vote, abused, and treated as chattel. Both have struggled hard to achieve what they have. Discrimination against either one is wrong... and there is no "worse" aspect to either one. Both are equally bad.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

No time to go down Zorgon's lengthy dissection of Obama platform items, though I did read the manifesto (Zorgonifesto) in its entirety. Agree with much, but only about half.

Just a couple of points.
There are many who expect China to start its own spiral of wage inflation soon.

Also, highly-educated US citizens do not have to go hat-in-hand to EITHER government universities or big business. The insane guns-to-butter "transition funding, after the Cold War simply handed billions to Boeing, when what was needed was for furloughed defense workers to be given help networking and forming small startups of their own. It happened ANYWAY and the 90s boom was partly the result.

I simply don't agree about the military. Indeed, I want back what we had in 2001... an illusion of American invincibility. Under that "pax" military budgets around the world went DOWN. I agree however that the boots-on the ground today in Iraq are there largely to keep them from doing anything useful, in places where they might actually make a difference.

The failure of anybody to even ponder the possibility that we were lured into Iraq IN ORDER TO REPEAT the worst mistake America made in 100 years (Vietnam) sounds too paranoid to be voiced openly. But it remains that parsimonious and simplest explanation. Occam's Razor.

BTW, your "long post was a good one and I read it all the way through. So there.

Still... way too long.

Hawker, yes, it is open knowledge that the chief intent of the 9/11 attacks was to draw us into Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden's salad days were spent humbling one superpower. He knew we'd come, and showed it by killing Massoud the day before, on 9/10. What OBL never imagined was that we would arrive so quickly, act so effectively, and with a combination of super-weapons and smart Special Forces "boots on the ground" demonstrate utter invincibility in the one place that had humbled everybody from Alexander to Breszhnev.

If we had stopped there, and given stabilization of Afgh due attention. We could have then terrorized Saddam's generals with threats of an America-Iran alliance and made them finally off that sonofabitch.

At that point, OBL must have been writhing in hell. Everything had gone wrong. Then...

...a miracle! Suddenly, out of the blue, the US President decides OF HIS OWN VOLITION to replicate Vietnam, by diving full-frontal into a quagmire that would waste a generation's wealth and tear our country apart, in order to achieve a goal that could have been accomplished with subtlety and a touch of realpolitik, plus maybe a bit of surgical force.

But oh, none of that matters to the right, which has danced from WMD to terror to "planting democracy" and "nation-building" as justification for what really was an excuse for giga-theft.

Re health care, one Obama idea sounded good. Take all the players, put them in a conference center in Phoenix. Lock the doors until they work something out. Then tell them that the Taxpayers will only pay 25% as much and send them back inside and lock the doors again.

Rob, I find interesting the personality differences shown by EX-presidents of various parties.

Reagan, Bush Sr., Ford... basically played golf.

Carter & Clinton... ran manically all over trying to save the world. (Though Clinton certainly also raked in tons of money, in part to laugh at his enemies, who vowed to leave him in poverty.) Certainly this stereotype goes ten-times for Al Gore.

This goes back to my diagnosis that left-right is meaningless. Dems want to try ANYTHING and have actually been better for stock values and capitalism than goppers. They are not socialists, they are manic. Whereas Republicans are the laziest people around. Their 1994-2006 Congress was the most indolent and torpor-ridden in history. They just bitch, bitch, bitch and complain about others who are running around, trying (sometimes maniacally) to save the world.

Anonymous said...


Many thanks for citing your sources! Kookery with facts looks a lot better than 'alien space ship invaders'

Ron Howard,

I know a doctor who voluntarily moved to Canada to practice medicine. He says that was the best experience practicing medicine that he ever saw. Psychiatric patients were allowed to stay in the hospital as long as the doctor thought they needed to be there -- which is a sharp contrast to USA, where there are limits.

Keeping kids in hospitals saves lives -- particularly suicides, which cause most of the deaths in the 15-25 bracket.

@People Talking About Doctors

I am under the impression that working in underprivileged areas means that the gov't will forgive most to all of a medical student's debt.

David Brin said...

I am going to post here (simply because I can) an interesting philosophical riff by T. Clark Durant, in response to one of my remarks (for a philanthropy forum) about the tragedy of oligarchy...

...the fact that ruling clades have always acted in their own interests, not that of the commonwealth. And the whole purpose of the Enlightenment was to overcome that.

Over to Clark:The fact that a ruling coalition, party or faction tends to pursue its narrow interest at the expense of those outside of it generates what we may call a "tragedy of the impartiality commons." Ruling coalitions choose from a "partial perspective." Wealth and welfare get destroyed - relative to the status quo - when the gain to the ruling coalition is less than the loss to those outside of it. The destruction is larger if we measure it against the possible rather than against the status quo. The direct destruction wrought by narrowly beneficial action on the part of the ruling coalition generates three indirect kinds of destruction: (1) seeking to hold power upstream, (2) and - in case that fails - seeking to insulate oneself from the discretion of the power-holder downstream, and (3) the absence of seeking for impartial or fair rules.

We can think of the perceived difference in wealth or welfare between holding power and not holding power as the "stakes" of political conflict. When the stakes are high, participants devote more time and money both to seeking power and – in case they fail – to insulating themselves from the discretion of the power-holder. In moderate cases, seeking power may entail contributing time or money to a viable political party; in extreme cases, it may entail funding insurgents or supporting a coup d'etat. In moderate cases, insulating oneself from the discretion of the power-holder may entail substituting into non-taxable production or leisure; in extreme cases, it may entail mass emigration or secession.

Most electoral systems require a ruling coalition to have the approval of a majority of the electorate. Parties are unlikely to seek impartial or fair rules, because partiality allows you to promise and deliver more benefits to a majority. Candidates, parties, and ideologies that promise more to a narrow (but majority) swath of the electorate will tend to defeat those that attempt to articulate and deliver impartiality to a broader swath. This is the tragedy, since it is within relatively stable impartial rule structures that enterprise (profit or not-for-profit) tends to flourish. The robust solving or dissolving of many kinds of problems (e.g. poverty, disease, anomie) is best accomplished by flourishing enterprises. Of course, the flourishing of enterprises can also cause problems (e.g. anomie, environmental degradation) that may require revisions to which impartial rules govern.

The "tragedy of the impartiality commons" is that political impartiality benefits everybody but political partiality benefits each party more, though to the detriment of everybody. If you don't know what an "impartial politics" would mean or look like, but you do know what your preferred party platform is and how much your prefer it to the despised alternative, then that just illustrates my point. The tragedy is in all the time, talent and imagination devoted to dreaming -- at best -- majoritarian dreams, rather than more inclusive super-majoritarian ones. Of course, through most of history, the ruling coalition was much narrower than a majority: the *oligarchies* that David Brinn refers to.

Off of David Ellerman's chart and Lenore's discussion, partial politics is more likely to be "taxis" - an "order serving an over-aching end [of the ruling coalition's choosing]"; impartial politics is more likely to be "kosmos" - an "order of autonomous agents serving own ends and interacting according to impersonal laws."

I suspect that Tom thinks that political systems are too old, too slow, and too big to be a source of meaningful on-going transformation. Trying to reform politics is like trying to convert Dinosaurs to Mammalian-ism! "Tyrannosaurus, regulate thine own body-temperature! Shrink thy body to match thine arms! Leave the duck-billed dinosaurs in peace!" I generally would agree that the young, fast, small enterprises are the proximate source of resilience. But perhaps we can proceed by indirection. For me the question is: are there electoral mechanisms that could generate the impartial politics that would further allow the enterprises to flourish that make human society resilient?

Electoral Mechanism ==> Impartial Politics ==> Flourishing Enterprise ==> (Individual and Community) Resilience

Acacia H. said...

Mr. Brin: I wouldn't say we were lured into Iraq so much as Saddam Hussein underestimated President Bush's resolve to finish what his father had begun. He admitted to one American that worked to become his friend (in an effort to discover what secrets Hussein was hiding) that he kept alluding to WMD hoping that if the U.S. believed, Iran would believe.

Or in other words, the current quagmire we're in over in Iraq is due to a politician's attempt to keep an enemy he absolutely feared and despised at bay by convincing the biggest fish in the world pond that Iraq was a threat. It's just said big fish went and swallowed him (and then suffered heartburn).

(I'd state sources but I don't remember where I heard that. I think it was 60 Minutes.)

Anon: It's Rob Howard. I write fiction and reviews, not movies.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Bush Sr's crime against the Iraqi people is one of our nation's greatest shames. It is the reason that - when we finally did return after 12 more years of hell - they did not greet us with "kisses and flowers."

It is the reason I was basically in favor of going back, despite knowing WMDs to be a damned lie.

But going back SMART. I spoke at the CIA in 2002 asking why the Nixon-to-China gambit of Bush-to-Tehran wasn't even discussed? No plausible answer, even though it would have instantly empowered Khatami to end the theocracy in Iran, forced the Iraqi generals to kill Saddam, and terrified the Saudis.

That last is the reason it never happened, of course. Instead we got Vietnam Redux, the one thing we swore we'd never do!

If nationbuilding an "island of democracy in the Middle East" were our reason to go there, then:

1) Why wasn't the war sold to us on that basis? Instead of offering this reason later, in a classic bait-n-switch?

2) Why not start with a smaller, better prospect? Like Lebanon? Or Somalia? Or Yemen? Someplace where several hundred million $ a day might actually have some leverage? And using REAL nation-building methods, instead of thuggish brute force?

3) Or at least go in with a plan and some kind of method for nation-building? Instead of standing back for a whole years while every element of civil society dissolved?

4) What about tradeoffs? How could any conceivable outcome over there... including a PERFECT democratic Iraq, be worth mortgaging our children, ruining our finances AND our army... destroying our national cohesion... stimulating mass America-hatred across the region... shooting up oil prices... driving away our allies...

...and on and on... could any sane american justify ruining OUR nation just in order to gamble that we can plant seeds of democracy in soil where it never, ever grew before?

And if we succeed? This will change Syria and Saudi and Iran... how? On what theory is all of this madness based?

In comparison, the Vietnam era "domino theory" was positive genius.

Anonymous said...

Zorgon -
When it comes to Obama's policies, I came to the conclusion months ago that any candidate's stated policies will bear little resemblance to what they actually get done. No, Obama doesn't have the perfect solutions for a lot of problems, but I'm not looking for him to turn America into a utopia. Just to try to reverse some of the damage Bush has done.

My question is, since most of your solutions would, by your own admission, result in armed revolt, will you even bother voting?

David Brin said...

My solution to gerrymandering is simple. And I've stated it often.

Rout the Republican party out of power across the length and breadth of America.

Force conservatives to re-invent themselves back toward rationality and decency, reformulating their product into one that is genuinely pro-enterprise and pro-individuality, rather than pro-oligarchy and pro-insane-dogma.

And then, with the Democrats left to gerrymander the GOP to the verge of extinction, only then, will we see one major political party (The Republicans) suddenly "see the light" on gerrymandering. Hallelujah! They will discover a populist issue that we can all get behind....

...a NATIONAL solution to this travesty and betrayal by the political caste.

Ironically, that travesty, which the GOP perpetrated with utter, malevolent and cynical skill, could provide an issue that the next generation of republicans might use to come back from their self-created exile.

A way to rise from deserved near-death and actually provide the American people with a service. And a cause that many of us could support.

Maybe even earning some forgiveness.

Anonymous said...

Regarding health care:

My mother is a retired RN who never saw north of 50K no matter which state in the union she worked within, and only left the field when the nerve degeneration in her hands kept her from safely picking up babies. My father in law is a retired radiologist who left when technology outpaced him. He retired comfortably but not "wealthy". My observations, based on those two individuals, are that whoever posited that health care is not and has never been a free market is spot on.

Jackpot lawsuits (justified or not) have made liability insurance the single most onerous expense any medical provider must support, and has driven many good providers right out of business--when you have to pay thousands of dollars a month to a policy, without which you may not legally practice, then you are faced with a decision each time you write that check: is it worth it?

Medical insurance companies, in addition to clouding any hope of price transparency, are moving more and more to being publicly held corporations--which are required BY LAW to do everything in their power to maximize shareholder value; even if it means cutting corners on what they will pay providers and denying everything possible to keep more cash in the coffers. Most laymen are unaware that no matter what the provider charges you, insurance companies may, by fiat, decide how much to reimburse the provider. In some cases it can be as low as 20 or 30% of the billed cost, and for many treatments the provider must take that payment in toto, and may not look to the patient for any reimbursement beyond their contractual co-pay. So payments to providers goes down, insurance company revenues goes up, and providers start looking for other means of income. It's no wonder that we keep hearing about pharma bribes to doctors being accepted...

This is an entrenched system which will not be overturned by a magical single-payer plan, and if such a plan gains serious traction you can expect that Blue Cross and their brethren will haul out the big guns, and K Street will suddenly fill up with "medical industry experts" with deep pockets.

Solution? Not sure. I'd love to see the individual State Insurance Commissioners Offices gain real teeth to police the system; perhaps in that wonderful future where Dr. Brin's Inspector General's Office becomes reality this would be a distinct possibility. Other than that, working class families are trapped within the quagmire; most of us have whatever plan our employers offer and are limited to whatever they deign to provide, and insurance company Boards of Utilization Review make more and more life and death medical decisions--decisions made by accountants, not physicians.

Ugh. Turned into a screed, and I never got to my refutations of Zorgon's lengthy missive about Obama's platform. Maybe I'll have time later.

Xactiphyn said...


A week ago I was exactly where you are on Florida and Michigan, but I no longer worry about them much. I still think the idea of holding caucuses is probably correct, just not that important.

And the reason is super delegates. At first I was REALLY worried about super delegates, even more than Florida and Michigan. But as time goes on it has become apparent that the supers will support whomever has the most support among the voters, who have turned out in record numbers.

Go ahead and seat the Florida and Michigan delegates, but the supers realize those votes come with an asterisk.

I may even swing over to actually disagree with the caucuses. One think I would worry about would be the perception that the winner of those caucuses was going to determine the whole thing.

There is a good commentary at the NY Times today that explains how the super delegates work. I'm now convinced we already have a pretty good system to work this all out.

David Brin said...

Fine. But I still think caucuses in FLA would be a terrific demoparty rally-festival. ALL the organization done for them would be helpful in the fall and tons of indies would self-identify with the DP.

How could they pass up an opportunity like that?

Xactiphyn said...

I think the Republicans will die naturally to their own gerrymandering. All gerrymandering actually does is give the opponents safe seats while giving yourself seats that have much narrower margins. As the pendulum swings back to the left they then lose all those extra districts they gave themselves.

Note that Tom Delay's own district is now held by a Democrat. Sometimes Justice works itself out.

Xactiphyn said...

ALL the organization done for them would be helpful in the fall and tons of indies would self-identify with the DP.

Yep, which is why I still agree with the idea of holding caucuses in Florida and Michigan, at least this week.

Anonymous said...

OK, I do have time for an additional observation. The caucuses in Washington State were attended in record numbers this year--and each and every person who cast a ballot was required to sign what amounted to a party loyalty oath.

I am what would be termed a quite stereotypical "Northwest independent", and found that whole thing distasteful. Many folks up here held back in protest to the "us or them or nobody else" mentality and outright hijacking of the primary process by the two major parties in our state. So in that respect nothing the DP could do would "bring us into the fold"--they've driven off the most fiercely non-partisan of us.

Anonymous said...


A space station astronaut does peculiar things with balls of floating water:

Water balls in zero gee

And something EERIE . . . really strange:

A ferromagnetic fluid (I'm guessing a slurry of iron filings, crudely put) reacts in freakish ways when subjected to a powerful magnetic field.

Emergent patterns

Acacia H. said...

I think the latter is a Ferrofluid, or basically a fluid filled with nanoparticles that contain iron. So technically you're right. It's just the scale is much smaller than iron filings. (I love my job... I get to read up on stuff like this while abstracting.)

Rob H.

Rob Perkins said...

I signed that Washington party oath, which I understand makes me a Democrat, a party member of any kind, for at least 60 days.

I shrug at that, since the ability to switch parties is so easy here. If I want to caucus with Republicans next time, no big.

Meantime I get to say things to Dem fundraisers like "Whatever made you think I was a Democrat? Eww!" which is precisely what I had to do to Republicans, for three years, after signing an issue-based petition seven years ago.

Kelsey Gower said...

Robert, I don't know where the corruption website is exactly. is a related though. It let's you track your senator, representative or any bill in congress.

Tony Fisk said...

A little left of field, but it follows on from an earlier post about somewhere south of Iraq....

"SAUDI Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents."

Ba-a-ad Bandar!

Acacia H. said...

I thought I'd link an article by Brett Hainley about reforming the Electoral College rather than dissolving it (Brett has a tendency to add a decent level of snarkiness into his rants, making them a fun yet intelligent read). Here's a list of other articles he's written (both about politics and about various other topics).

I must admit that there is some validity to his comments. The Electoral College can act as a firewall against voter fraud and the like.

I'm not exactly sure if I fully agree with him (seeing that the Electoral College can still result in a situation where a President loses the popular election but wins the Presidency), but some decent reforms on Electoral allocation would lessen this possibility. Heck, if Florida alone had such a policy in place, Al Gore would have been our President in 2000. And if all the larger states had it, it would increase the politicians' need to actually campaign in a number of states instead of just focusing attention on "swing" states.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Anonymous said...

How to Fix Health Insurance?

It's actually pretty easy, believe it or not. Elect some of those 'trial lawyers' -- and let them do their job, which is to give tactical incentives to the health care industry, while strategically undermining the industry.

This isn't a short term solution, but the poison pill works well in the long run.

We'll beat them by electing people who keep the long term perspective -- and who are smarter than the health insurance companies.

@Rob Howard

In America, a child dies from a toothache. A rotten tooth killed a child.

We all have horrible anecdotal evidence -- it doesn't really support 'canadian health care is bad' or 'american health care is bad'

Joshua O'Madadhain said...

(1) Responding to David's quote from Russ about the states that are being won by Obama vs. the Clinton states: Andrew Tenenbaum's observed something analogous that I haven't seen anywhere else, to wit, that McCain's Super Tuesday majority wins (that gave him the momentum that arguably assured him the nomination) were in NJ, CT, and NY, i.e., heavily Democratic states that the Republicans don't have a prayer of winning.

(2) That political corruption site that someone was trying to remember: it's The Skeleton Closet (

Mark Brown said...

Dr. Brin.

Interesting that you think something might happen...

I think it already has..
The Problem is we have so many issues that need fixing, it's like (forgive the imagery) juggling 6 (running) chain saws at once...

We need to fix the entire government.

I think we need the Equivalent of FDR's New deal, so we can fix
The Army

and a whole bunch of other stuff
like the poor,
the under-trained,
and even political reform

(and all at the same time, so no one ball drops!)

Please tell me what you think

it's at