Thursday, January 31, 2013

Closing Thought: Perhaps More Questions about the US?

If you've been watching the Hagel confirmation hearings today, and I have, you may have noticed, as I did, how many of the questions have centered around Israel, Hagel's views on our alliance with Israel (good friends, best friends, or full-on BFFs). Honestly, from the questions that I have heard there's been more time devoted to confirming Hagel supports Israel than there has been Hagel supports the United States.

Closing Thought: It makes more sense to me to talk about the United States when questioning a Secretary of Defense nominee than it does to talk about Israel.

Side Note: Likely the most contentious closing thought I've had thus far.

Post Script: Don't care. Seems obvious to me.

Round Up:
- SOTD: You Are Dangerous by Steel Train (maybe the one with the big hair?)

The Cost of Healthcare

I'm as guilty of it as anybody. I have no real concept what my healthcare costs.  But thanks to Obamacare I am finding out. In the law is a provision that requires employers to disclose the cost of healthcare for each employee.  In case you haven't found it yet, here's how to find it:
The new information appears in Box 12 of the standard W-2 form, with a two-letter code, DD. The box shows the “cost of employer-sponsored health coverage.” And that amount is not taxable, the Internal Revenue Service says on the back of the form.
To my mind this is a really good thing. Employees should have a sense of what that benefit costs. As the article describes many reactions are shock at how much is actually paid out. Another reaction that may be hoped for is anger at the unrelenting upward trajectory of that amount year to year. There is no debating that the cost of health care is a huge issue in the U.S., but at the same time most people have very little concept of what that cost is in a real sense.

And as much as I think it's good to have more information, as Alexander Pope said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

Sizing up the US/KSA relationship

A piece like the one Marc Lynch wrote at Foreign Policy comes out periodically, questioning the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.  It's a great relationship to question and I've done the same on occasion as well.

Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is complicated for more reasons than oil. Saudi Arabia, either with our explicit permission or acquiescence  spread money and resources around to groups that can and do needle Iranian interests in the region. I think it's fair to say the aid Saudi Arabia has given to Syrian rebels in dollars and weapons have helped sustain the fight there, but it's not a country remotely interested in becoming a liberal democracy. We need to square that circle, lest we continue to be enablers of Saudi Arabia in the future.

A National Treasure for Another Country

I think most folks who read this know how I feel about Canada, our neighbor to the north. Frankly, I think we should send Chris Hemsworth in to take the country, supported by only Patrick Swayze's ghost. But that dismissive attitude is tempered by two things: Poutine and Bloody Caesars.

So take this as a travel advisory. If you're thinking of visiting Montreal, this weekend might be a good time as tomorrow kicks off poutine week. And to answer a question posed in the article, no, snobs don't put foie gras on poutine, just geniuses with deep wallets.

SOTD: You Are Dangerous - Steel Train

Sometimes there's a band you hear about in passing and see in concert, but you never really listen to. Then the lead singer of that band joins a super group with two guys from two bands you have liked for a long time, so you start paying attention.  Enter Steel Train.  Here's a stripped down, live version:

And here's the studio version with a weird little photo with several shoeless people.

Gun Control via Liability Insurance

NPR has a really great post tied to a story they ran on Morning Edition this morning. In it some experts suggest one practical way to achieve a measure of gun control and price in the potential for negative externalities is by requiring gun owners to purchase liability insurance.  If you own a gun you must also purchase a liability policy to cover the cost of any damage your gun incurs, very similar to the requirement many states have requiring car owners have, at minimum, liability insurance. But there's another wrinkle that could be throw in there.  Here's Prof. Justin Wolfers from the University of Michigan:
Another even more powerful approach is to recognize that the problem isn't guns per se, but gun violence. Thus, instead of taxing guns, we should tax gun violence. Basically, this is the same as saying that we should make gun owners liable for any damage their guns do. Not only would this discourage some people from buying guns, it would lead those who do keep guns to be more careful with how they're stored. Indeed, greater care would surely have kept Adam Lanza out of his mother's cache. The problem though, is that Nancy Lanza is neither with us to pay the damages her gun caused, nor could she afford to pay for the enormous damage her gun wrought in Newtown. And so the only way this solution works is if guns required mandatory liability insurance, much as we force car owners to buy insurance for the damage their machines wreak.
This is an intriguing solution to me, and one I think may sportsmen and women would find very compelling. I know my dad would. He's a card carrying member of the NRA, hunter, gun enthusiast, and all the rest. In the wake of the tragedy at Newton our annual Christmas Eve dinner started out talking about gun control. You won't find a bigger proponent of the second amendment, but you won't find a bigger proponent of individual responsibility either. He thought it made perfect sense that if your gun is used in a crime, you are charged as if you had committed the crime. What if the gun is stolen? Did you report it? Was it locked in a gun safe or did you have a trigger lock on it?

Of course, the trouble with requiring the purchase of "gun insurance" or "gun violence insurance" is that some people just won't buy it. Here's Russ Roberts a research fellow at the Hoover Institution:
[T]he logic is not quite as neat as it might appear. Many people already buy and own guns illegally without license or registration. Adding the cost of insurance would further discourage honest gun ownership. That would make matters worse not better. And is it so obvious that all guns are harmful to others and that gun ownership should be made more expensive to every owner?
Point taken, but we know there are folks on the road who don't have liability insurance. It's part of the landscape, but it doesn't mean doing this is a bad idea. It was a bit like Mr. Wayne LaPierre at the Senate Hearing yesterday saying background checks wouldn't do anything, so we shouldn't do them. Wonder what he would think about requiring liability insurance to be purchased.

Also, if you didn't see this Daily Show segment about how hard it is for the ATF to do it's job, a job Mr. LaPierre said it should be doing, you're missing out.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
There Goes the Boom - ATF
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Closing Thought: It's good to be Popular

Not for nothing, but popularity does matter.  A little over a week after a speech many called divisive and overly partisan, President Obama enjoys the highest personal approval rating he's had in three years. Perhaps he's really good at looking good at inaugurations? Perhaps it's some sort of bangs afterglow?  Hard to say. But if you're going to lay out an ambitious set of principles it helps to be popular.

Closing Thought: One's political capital hangs around a while longer if you're popular. Just most of us don't get our popularity polled.

Follow-up: Thank goodness for that.

Then again: There is a survey gadget......

Reality check: 50/50 my own mother wouldn't approve of most of my policy positions. No one wants confirmation they're unpopular with their mom.

Round Up:
- Let's rank the presidents (not a new History Channel special)
- SOTD: Lost Coastlines by Okkervil River and I'm telling you read The Road and play this song after your done, it'll make sense.
- Hamas, Israel, and a convenient coincidence. I'm not saying, I'm just sayin'.

Graph Glut: Reduced Government Spending is a Drag..

...a drag on the economy that is.  Over at Wonkblog, Ezra Klein breaks down the argument that the government is holding the economy back either through its deficits or uncertainty. After dismantling both contentions, Klein concludes:
So yes, the government is hurting the recovery. But it’s not because of deficits or uncertainty, or at least, it’s hard to find evidence for either theory. The real, provable damage the government has done to economic growth in recent years has been in cutting back on spending and investment since 2010.
Without a doubt Mr. Klein comes with a liberal pedigree, but the work he and his team do at Wonkblog is always pretty solid even if it doesn't fit the prevailing narrative some would you have believe. 

Hamas, Israel, Unfrozen Tax Revenues, & Coincidence

Today it was reported that Israel would release some of the tax revenue and customs payments it had withheld on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to said authority. Israel had withheld the money last month because of Palestine's successful bid to change its status at the United Nations.

Quite separately Haaretz is reporting that Khaled Meshal of Hamas's political bureau has accepted the idea of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. Mr. Meshal gave King Abdullah of Jordan permission to share this concession with President Obama (though perhaps not Haaretz).

I'm wondering if A isn't connected to B somehow. A good friend tells me Mr. Meshal has designs on the Palestine Liberation Organization chairmanship  Also, Mr. Meshal met with King Abdullah on Monday and Tony Blair met with Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.  This is all conjecture on my part, and even to me feels way too linear and neat, but if the Hamas not running the Gaza Strip is moving toward accepting a two-state solution it would be an incredibly interesting development.

To be sure, the Israel-Palestine peace process is all but non-existent right now, but if it does get going again having a faction of Hamas receptive to a two-state solution it could change the underlying dynamics of the negotiations as compared to the past couple decades.

SOTD: Lost Coastlines - Okkervil River

Sorry for the lack of posting today. Meetings, meetings every where and not a dollar to take.

Today's song by Okkervil River is a strange and yet fitting theme song to play at the end of reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Maybe I say that because I was listening to a lot of Okkervil River on my headphones while reading the book on the train, but it strangely works.

Going to be a light posting day today. You're probably tired of my opinions anyway.

Ranking Presidents: A Stats Geek Out

Nate Silver has a really interesting break down of how historians view Presidents who won a second term. It also considers how poorly those that served just one term are often viewed and some peculiarities along the way. It's an interesting little stats breakdown.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Closing Thought: Everyone needs an editor

Only the savviest of the six people who read this blog would know it, but my self-editing abilities are abysmal  That's especially frustrating because in a parallel life I'm paid to edit other's work. The only reason it isn't plainly obvious is because a good friend has diligently sent me edits for the most egregious of my errors.

Closing Thought: Everyone needs an editor, especially me because my writing is like a kid in high school who's been trapped for weeks with an ACT prep book that's all words and no sentences; released and then forced to write a blog post.  Don't worry, no one is forcing me, I'm this bad on my own.

Side Note: Last week and so far this week these closing thoughts tend to have themes running for multiple days.

Round Up:
- Drones over North Africa (OutKast Shoutout)

Belated Evidence

In a post last week that generated a fair bit of comments I asked what there wasn't to like about Obama's policy outlines for his second term.  FiveThirtyEight compiles some polls and shows that there is slim majority support for most of the President's proposals.

Polling numbers and the popularity they imply should never be the sole reason for enacting a policy, but in so far as a representative democracy is representative of the people, these polling numbers shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

It's Worth It to Train Foreign Militaries

Over at Foreign Policy, John Norris has a rather pointed piece arguing the United States should be training far few foreign military officers than it is now. Some of his criticisms are very valid, most notably the lack of capacity for State Department Foreign Service Officers to fully monitor and provide oversight for foreign military assistance programs. These are programs largely under the purview of the State Department with implementation by the Defense Department.

But Mr. Norris goes down a treacherous path when suggesting we need a rubric in determining which countries we should assist. Certainly ideally we would want to engage with robust democracies, countries that have traditions of military subservience to civilian authority.  Trouble is, particularly for the more strategically important countries, that is rarely the case.

In perhaps a telling moment, Mr. Norris says:
[A] few months spent studying tactics and logistics in Kansas or Georgia rarely seems to slow down a power-hungry colonel when he is hell bent on toppling the elected government that just threatened to cut his budget.
Quite right, but how can we know which colonel has ambitions of a coup? And aren't we better served to have a relationship with that colonel? Could we not provide a moderating influence over his ambitions if we have a relationship with him?

The relationships developed as part of our foreign military assistance are real and strategically important, if intangible. I think there's a danger of pulling back engagement at our own long-term peril.  I would point to the pivot or re-balance to Asia that has been the talk in military circles. Given the lack of desire and resources for the United States to create more permanent or semi-permanent installations in Asia, foreign military assistance, training the militaries of our allies, providing foreign military assistance can help us re-balance on the cheap. If we intend to counter-balance a rising China, we need a long roster of friends and an expansive rolodex of contacts. Foreign military assistance gives us both. To set a bar instead of a floor, we imperil our own strategic initiatives.

NFLPA and Harvard Team Up

Shout out to a reader of the blog for sending this my way via the Boston Globe. The NFL Players Association and Harvard are teaming up on a decade long, $100 million "accelerated research initiative"  aiming to "transform the health of active and retired players within five years." This is a great step forward and seems far more aggressive than the NFL's pledge of $1 million to Boston University's work on CTE.

I would like to have seen the NFL and the NFLPA get on the same page with this, but perhaps there are political and litigious reasons that didn't happen. As big as this investment is and as great a step it is, it fails to  address one big thing: How do we make concussions and head trauma less common?

In the long term for the league to last beyond the predicted 30 years it has left, we're going to need to prevent these injuries from being an issue. It's an excellent thing to know research is being done to treat those already afflicted or at rick of affliction, but until the injuries that cause the affliction become rarer the league continues to travel down an uncertain road.

Drone War Spreading to North Africa

We know about the not-so-secret US military installation in Djibouti, where drones take off and land often bound for Yemen or Somalia, but with the situation in Mali, the US is looking to get better eyes on what's going on.  With that in mind, Africom commander, General Ham, has begun seeking a military partnership with either Niger or Burkina Faso that would allow a permissive environment and base for US drones to launch from.

At this point the reported intention is intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), which is to say the drones won't be armed. Of course that could change quickly. It's good we're seeking military partnerships before operating in North Africa, but I share concerns by some in the State Department that it will feel like we're militarizing Africa. Even if they are meant for intelligence gathering, drones are military hardware and that just doesn't help the public image of the US abroad. It also feels a bit like taking the easy way out. We can't get on the ground intelligence, so we send up drones. Certainly it keeps members of the American intelligence community out of harm's way, but it also limits our knowledge while damaging our public image.

Side note: As much as I'm not a fan of this policy, I like that Africom is increasing military cooperation with countries on the continent. Activated less than four years ago (yeah, we didn't have a command for Africa until 2008), it's great to see it moving forward. I'm hoping that maybe these negotiations might lead to a permanent base on the continent that would allow Africom to be based in Africa, instead of Germany.

Song of the Day: 1979 - Smashing Pumpkins

A throwback song with a classic video from my youth. Also, when you lead the day off talking Iran, why not acknowledgement of 1979?

Entitlements & Government Spending

Nate Silver does a great job at FiveThirtyEight breaking down where our government is spending money on the federal, state, and local level. After a thorough analysis he concludes what is fairly obvious: growth in government spending is coming from "entitlement programs" like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and (to a far lesser degree) welfare.  This analysis leads me to two takeaways:

1) We don't have a spending problem, we have an entitlements problem. When you see plans to slash non-defense discretionary spending remember that's not the problem and that's not grown substantially since 1972. Non-defense discretionary spending has been relatively static for forty years, so those offering plans to slash the budget are wanting to take away government services like education funding, infrastructure investment, and R & D. More to the point, if they take it away it won't do anything to deal with the actual problem we have. It's a solution matching ideology, not necessity.

2) Just because we have an entitlements problem doesn't mean we should eliminate our entitlement programs. There are a number of things driving the entitlement problem. From exploding health care costs to demographic shifts. Some of these problems, like health care costs, can be worked. Some, like the demographics problem, need endured.

A Seized Boat, Yemen, and Iran

Yemeni authorities, with assistance from the US military, seized a dhow in Yemen's territorial waters. The boat was loaded with weapons, explosives, and cash. Yemeni authorities believe the boat's cargo originated in Iran, and the US agrees with that intelligence assessment. If that suspicion is confirmed, it would further complicate US-Iran relations.

The trouble is the Yemeni government has long used Iran as a boogey man, sometimes rightly, but often times to win political points. As to the goal Iran might have, most likely they are trying to "needle the Saudis" in every way possible.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Closing Thought: Do it right the first time

Over the weekend Ben realized a post I had written at DC Exile nearly two years ago had been used as a link in a New York Times blog post last week. My post's page views exploded and when I found out my only thought other than "cool" was, man, I hope I got my facts right with that one.  Turns out  I did, thank goodness. Which leads to this:

Closing Thought: Better do it right the first time, because at some point somebody is going to check your work. Or worse yet, assume you're right.

Example that Disproves the RuleThis blog.

Second closing thought: How many days till Memorial Day? And Monday suck.

Round Up:
Rep. Ryan has some nerve.
Cyber Command gets the green light to load up
Learning the wrong nation-building lessons in Afghanistan
Subterranean Homesick Aliens
The goal is keeping the safety net
Ravens' safety Bernard Pollard gives the NFL 30 years

Follow-up Post: Bernard Pollard Puts Expiration Date on the NFL

In an interview Bernard Pollard of the Baltimore Ravens, a hard hitting safety who is a bete noire for all the New England Patriots fans I know, has said he believes the NFL won't exist in 30 years.  Pollard cites the increased emphasis on player safety, but also the contradiction that coaches continue to want bigger, stronger, faster guys.

Pollard's comments come on the heels of President Obama's comments that he would have to think long and hard before he'd let his son play football. It also follows a little less than a week after the family of former NFL player, Junior Seau, filed suit against the NFL for wrongful death.

Even as medicine starts to make is possible to detect CTE in living tissue, we don't appear closer to inventing a better helmet, more able of protecting the players.  And with the advent of the scans that might detect CTE in living issue comes the discussion of if and when players should have the scan.  I'll plug for The Trenches podcast who ended last week's show with a discussion of CTE and if Ephraim Salaam, 15 year offensive linemen, would want to have the scan done both now and when he was a player.

Certainly no one, not Pollard, not the president, and least of all I know what all the head injuries, the brain trauma, the law suits, and the rule changes will mean for the long term viability of the National Football League. But it's fair to say changes will continue.

Preserving the Status Quo on the Safety Net

John Harwood has an excellent piece in The New York Times making the same argument that I've been making, albeit a lot better, basically that's Obama's second inaugural wasn't a call for a massive expansion of the social safety net, but a call to maintain the safety net as constructed.

I was struck by how so many on the left described the speech as Clintonian. I was also, to some degree, vindicated by the notion that far from the Socialist Obama in Brit Hume's nightmares, the president is seeking to maintain the social safety net we've had for over half a century. Once more with feeling, this isn't a radical idea. Rather, it's a bid to say, "If we want Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (and by polling we certainly want two of out three), then we have to be prepared to pay for them."  This stand in contrast to a GOP that never tried to find ways to pay for them and instead decided to attempt to dismantle them.

Song of the Day: Subterranean Homesick Alien - Radiohead

From the fantastic OK Computer album, it's a song that pairs really well with a Monday, especially the sort of freezing rain beleaguered Monday we're having in DC.

The Wrong Points of Emphasis, Again

James Traub has a column over at Foreign Policy talking about nation-building and the anticipated withdrawal of US forces Afghanistan and with it a far decreased US commitment. Traub teaches nation-building and challenged his students to consider Haiti and Afghanistan as examples. His students' optimism was far greater then it would seem Traub's own. I have to take issue with a couple things though.

First, I think it's a mistake to separate the COIN strategy from the development strategy. They work hand in hand. Without a doubt the military and civilian ability and inclination to provide a sustained COIN surge is rather limited. We're seeing the limits of it in Afghanistan today, but to argue that we should divide out aid projects from defense projects is wrong-headed.

I would argue, if anything, the biggest issue has been the failure of the United States to capitalize on "whole of government" approaches to nation-building. State and USAID aren't used to, or excited to work with DOD on projects. Initially DOD was frustrated by the gaps in State and USAID's ability, but since they've been begging both agencies to do more. I think the problem in Afghanistan is more US and international entities not getting and living on the same page as it is about individual programs failing. Too much happened in a vacuum and that's just not going to work.

The second issue I have is with Traub's suggestion things are likely to get better if we give money directly to the Afghan government. It would seem a wildly optimistic view of the government in Kabul. What sort of leakage can we expect if we give the Afghan government $8 billion dollars, directly, in aid? What can we expect to trickle down to real people? I feel like Traub is suggesting we reward people for stealing elections.

A better nation-building strategy is to bring "whole of government" solutions to bear in partnership with vetted, transparent Afghan ministries. Let's not write check, let's collaborate on projects. I think it'd be more effective to be a partner in nation building rather than just doing alone or just writing checks.

A Not-So-New Line of Defense

SecDef Panetta is a busy man in his closing days at the Pentagon. Last week he removed restrictions on women in combat. This weeks he's approved a five-fold expansion of DoD's cyber security force, reportedly approving the move to take the force from 900 to 4,900 people.

Being 100% honest, cyber security is something I know almost nothing about, but I was surprised to learn DoD's cyber command had only 900 folks before. It's a big internet out there. 

Pot & Kettle: Rep. Paul Ryan Edition

On Meet the Press yesterday, Rep. Ryan was incredulous enough to say, according to the New York Times:
“When you saw his speech, say, at the inauguration, it leads us to conclude that he’s not looking to moderate, that he’s not looking to move to the middle,” Mr. Ryan said in an interview on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.” “He’s looking to go farther to the left, and he wants to fight us every step of the way politically.”
That takes cojones. First, as I've already talked about, I don't think the inauguration speech was extreme  or even immoderate. That's is, of course, debatable  But the part that really takes balls is to say "[the President] wants to fight us every step of the way." Now, where could he I learned a tactic like that? Perhaps from a GOP that had a professed goal of making Obama a one term president? I'm sorry, but after the past two years of GOP interference and intransigence what did you expect the President to do?

And Ryan, in the same interview, said Republicans are ready to let sequestration happen. That's not good policy and it has real dollar consequences on the ability of the government to function.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Closing Thought: Royce White is kind of my hero

I've heard Royce White give two interviews now. The first was on Slate's Hang Up and Listen here a few weeks back, and again this morning as I listened to yesterday's PTI podcast. He speaks with remarkable clarity and poise about his own afflictions and about what he wants to get to work playing basketball for the Houston Rockets.  He's definitely breaking new ground being a professional athlete that talks about mental disorders and his own struggles with it.

Closing Thought: Sitting behind much of the debate around gun control is our society's willingness and ability to discuss and address mental illness. It's a great thing, that transcends sports, to have someone force these difficult conversations and having to do so publicly.

For the Record: On guns, it seems a no-brainer that before you give someone a lethal weapon you do a background check. It also seems a no-brainer that no one using a gun for recreation needs a magazine holding more than a dozen bullets, and even a dozen is pushing it.

Semi-related: My dad's Christmas card for me this year was from the NRA. Fact.

- Everyone take a deep breath on the deficit
- Canadians poking fun at Canadians
- Moving beyond GOP tribalism
- Seau, the NFL, and CTE
- Income inequality is real

Challenging the Income Inequality Head Fake

Again over at Wonkblog (they do such good work), Jim Tankersley has a great post contesting a recent op-ed in the WSJ that says the middle-class is doing better than we think because their standard of living has constantly improved, even if their wages haven't.

This WSJ op-ed reminded me of The Heritage Foundation's Refrigerator Ownership report. They don't call it that, but I do. Much like the WSJ article the report tries to redefine poverty. People have TVs, Xboxes, and refrigerators in overwhelming percentages of poor households. They aren't as poor and in need as some would suggest.

Metrics like this have always struck me a fallacious. It's smoke and mirrors and doesn't get to the reality of income disparity. I'm glad Tankersley challenges it.

Junior Seau, CTE, and Judgement Day for the NFL

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday about the decision by the family of Junior Seau to sue the NFL and Riddell, the manufacturer of the helmets, in a wrongful death suit.  Seau committed suicide in May 2012 by shooting himself in the chest. In what is becoming grimly repeated, ex-football players are taking their own lives with fire arms, but leaving their brains in tact so they can be examined.

Seau's brain was examined after his death and he was found to have sign of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, a degenerative brain condition that impacts memory, mood, and motor skills. It's a condition being found with alarming regularity in ex-NFL players. Following the release of the CTE finding, I heard Tony Kornheiser on Pardon the Interruption remark that what made this so frightening is Seau did not have a history of concussions, indeed he may not have had one diagnosed concussion in his entire career.

I've been surprised in the intervening days since the lawsuit was filed that there has been no real coverage on the lawsuit. It is not the first lawsuit, but one of the most high profile given Junior Seau's renown and the freshness of the tragedy of his death. What thing is certain: a day of reckoning is coming for the NFL. Even as the words "player safety" have been on the lips of every league official, there is a back log of players suffering today who have sued wanting to know what the NFL knew about head injuries and when they knew it.

It's a situation that reminds me of the legal offensive against the tobacco industry, trying to figure out what they had tested for and finding the knowingly pushed a product demonstrated to cause damage to the user. All these law suits have a long way to go and in the absence of some real hard evidence I think many will be dismissed.

That said, the wide spread silence on the Seau family lawsuit feels those who get rich off of football trying to focus on the "sporting" parts of the game. What other reason could there be when we're on day 14 of talking about a girl that didn't exist, versus a man who did and to whom playing in the NFL was a complicating factor ending in his death.

I love football. I will have withdrawal the week following the Super Bowl, but let's start regularly having a real conversation about the consequences of head injuries. Let's have commentators acknowledge the crushing hits (of the sort that caused a fumble in the AFC Championship game, but went unacknowledged). Let's make a concerted effort to change the culture around football that cheers when the cracking of helmets is heard in the upper deck. In the long run, we'll save the game and more importantly lives, but we can't shy away from the hard conversations.

Where does the GOP go from here?

I took my shots at Lexington earlier this week for his post-inaugural column, but there's much to like about his post-post-inaugural column. He tries to figure out what the GOP can do now, after the President laid down a progressive gauntlet. Certainly it's a speech that rubbed some the wrong way, but what to do when you control, in the words of John Boehner, "one-half of one-third of the federal government?" Lexington strikes an even more pessimistic view than that:
In his speech Mr Obama painted conservatives as akin to a primitive tribe—intensely united around such totems as climate-change denial or hostility to gay rights, rigid in their belief that government safety nets trap citizens in dependency, and generally prone to mistake “absolutism for principle”. In contrast, Mr Obama used the inauguration to thank and reassure the loose coalition that returned him to power in November. In a cascade of lyrical stanzas he pledged his second term, in turn, to those who depend on public health care and pensions, to those weary of war, to women seeking equal pay, to gays seeking equal rights, to minorities angry about legal hurdles that seemingly exclude them from voting, and to immigrants wanting new lives in America. The president ended with a call for citizens to demand that politicians address that progressive agenda.
I think this is an excellent break down of how Obama cast his erstwhile Congressional opponents. To go back to a line I used earlier this week, what part of that vision do you disagree with? I think Obama found himself supporting issue after issue that, broadly, enjoys majority support by the American people. Surely elements of implementation will cause division,but the overall goal is supported.

Lexington goes on to note how the current incarnation of the GOP is more tribal and virulent, but that's not of much use when its traditional voter blocs are, "in relative or absolute decline, whether white voters, rural Americans or social conservatives.

That fervency gives strength to the GOP, but it can also be the millstone.  Lexington points to people like Rep. Paul Ryan who want to get wonky and produce legislation in the house that shows Republicans have serious ideas and lauds there approach. Still he warns:
Parties evolve... And conservative unity is surely better than squabbling. But in democratic politics it is usually better to be a coalition, pragmatically organised around interests, than a tribe, sternly loyal to a creed. For today’s Republicans, intensity is a trap as well as a strength.
And so far that trap has meant lost elections. 

Song of the Day: One Great City! - The Weakerthans

It's friggin' freezing in DC today, but things could be worse. We could be in Winnipeg. That would be colder AND Canadian.

PS: The Forks!

Taking a Deep Breath on the Deficit

Over at Washington Post's Wonkblog, Dylan Matthews has a great review of a new paper that really breaks down how all the hand-wringing over U.S. debt in the long term is misguided. We need to lower out debt over the long term, but it's not an immediate concern.

It's a little technical to break down here and Matthews does a much better job of explaining it than I can (with graphs!). But the takeaway is with current policy we are on pace to get our fiscal house in order. Should we tweak some things around the edges? Yes, but the kind of wholesale redefinition of the social safety net being espoused by those like Rep. Paul Ryan is unnecessary.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Closing Thought: Selective Service for Everybody

A male friend of mine suggested on an email chain that with the Pentagon's lifting the ban on woman serving in combat positions it's time the ladies also register for Selective Service.  All the women on the email agreed with my friend.

So to expand on yesterday's closing thought: Equality means equal opportunity to be drafted into the armed forces, even though the odds of a draft are really, really rare.

Dissenting voice: Ryan Smith, a former Marine infantrymen, isn't as excited about lifting the ban because:
Societal norms are a reality, and their maintenance is important to most members of a society. It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex.

Glib response: Everyone poops.

A Tim Geithner Retrospective

Every time I see Tim Geithner I can't help but think of Billy Crudup who played Geithner in "To Big To Fail" about the financial crisis. That's weird and I realize that, but Billy Crudup is "The Watch" is way weirder.

Regardless, Friday is Geithner's last day at Treasury is tomorrow and to that end the Associated Press has a round up of some of the most contentious policies Geithner inherited, implemented, and supported during his tenure. It's definitely worth a read and I would note two things:

1) This is a Treasury Secretary that faced unprecedented challenges before he was on the job and while he was on the job. Certainly quibble with the man's performance, but I don't see how he can't be considered a great Treasury Secretary. It's impossible to prove the counter-factual, but things could have been far worse.

2) The two of the three most derided of the bailouts, TARP and AIG, have shown about 20% returns past the original amount. Plus we didn't crash our entire financial system, so bonus! There's a very serious argument to be made regarding banks, implicit government guarantees, and moral hazard, but hard to argue with making money while saving the financial system.

The EU is not a Superpower

There's a lot wrong with this Anne Applebaum's column in today's Washington Post arguing the EU can be the world's policeman. Not the least of which is when you cite French affinity for Malian music as a reason the EU can be a military superpower.

But the single biggest problem is the moves made in recent days by the UK's Prime Minister to suggest there might be a referendum on whether the UK will remain a member of the union. Nevermind the UK never accepted the common currency. It's hard to take the mantle of "World's Policeman" when the stronger military power in the union is lurching toward the exit.

I like the increasing role some EU countries are taking in their old colonial haunts, helping ensure the U.S. isn't the only policeman on patrol. But me thinks Applebaum goes way to far to suggest the EU is capable or inclined to take the patrol on its own.

Song of the Day: St. Peter's Day Festival - Ra Ra Riot

Ra Ra Riot put on a great show last night and I find myself liking their live shows more than the album. They've got a new album out and it's very good, but this one is from their first.

Also, their opening act, Guards is worth a listen.

Starving the Beast on Steroids

The New York Times features a story this morning about Kansas and the efforts by state Republicans there, lead by Governor Sam Brownback to eliminate the state's income tax. Here's 90% of what you need to know about this plan:
The bill included the repeal of tax credits for food, rental housing and child care that benefited low-income residents. Because of those repeals, the poorest 20 percent of Kansans will spend an additional 1.3 percent of their incomes, an average of $148 per year, on taxes, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The top 1 percent, meanwhile, will see the share of their income that goes toward taxes drop by 2 percent, or $21,087 per year, the report said.
The other 10% of the plan is a reminder of class "starve the beast" conservative policy. A concept I first heard through Paul Krugman, it works like this: Let's say you're a conservative and you want less government, but people really like the level of government they have broadly. Well if you can't kill the program, you kill the revenue stream. You cut taxes because when isn't that popular? And then as the tax cuts bite and the state lacks revenue to pay for the government people like the people are told, "Listen, we need less government or we need to raise your taxes." It's a dangerous game of chicken to play with dire financial consequences if it doesn't work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Closing Thought: It's a Girl Power Wednesday

Really, two thoughts on what's become a girl power Wednesday:

1) It's about time women can serve in combat. Sometimes equality means equal opportunity to be shot at in a warzone.

2) Don't mess with Hilary Rodham Clinton. She p-owned the both chambers today in her Benghazi hearings and weather a bizarre question from Sen. Rand Paul to boot. My money is still on her not running in 2016, but today's performance did nothing to damage her candidacy should she pursue it.

ESPN, Journalism, and Manti Te'o

The New York Times has a piece exploring ESPN's decision to not post a story on the Manti Te'o non-existent girlfriend that's worth a read. I tend to think ESPN is a bit more concerned about access than journalism as this point and it cost them two fold this time, as they didn't break the story and they didn't get an on camera interview with Te'o.

Deadspin's Editor-in-Chief, Tommy Craggs, who is quoted in the article, was interviewed on Slate's Hang Up and Listen podcast (the best sports podcast around) this week and if you're wondering about the process Deadspin took and interested in some first rate underdog journalist snark, you should check it out. It's the second segment after the promo.

Obama's Second Inaugural: Tell me the part you didn't like

The Economist's Lexington columnist has a post up reflecting on President Obama's second inaugural address, surely the topic de jour about 28 hours ago.  As Ben said in a tweet yesterday, Lexington seems to have taken the speech a bit personally. I think it exposes the big weakness in many conservative pundits reaction to the speech.

They can't disagree with the ideas so they decry the seeming lack of comity in speech. What sensible Republican can say that equality for all is a bad thing? That having a social safety net is a bad thing? That we must consider all before considering ourselves is a bad thing? I enjoy reading Lexington from time to time. He's largely a very sensible conservative, not prone to chasing the specters that entrance your average Tea party supporter, but since he can't object on substance he objects to the President's tone.  It's too combative. It's not conciliatory. He's not reaching across the aisle.

I'd respond by asking what four years of comity has achieved for this President? If he reaches across the aisle he's as likely to have his hand shot off as to find someone to work with. He come out swinging in his second term because he was tired of absorbing the scurrilous punches thrown by his political opponents. How long can one remain amiable when your opponents question your birth certificate? Your religion? Your secret socialist tendencies? Please don't tell me the President's tone was off putting after he's been heckled on the House floor and been compared in equal measure to Marx and Hitler.

No, the President painted today's GOP into a corner. He laid down a gauntlet and said, "Tell me the part of my vision for America you disagree with." It's a savvy strategy. In the first term it was the GOP's own revulsion that someone like Obama was elected that pushed them to the right. In his second term, the President seeks to chase them further right offering a vision most Americans will rally behind. I will agree with Lexington on one thing though. The president does want "to complete the Great Society project of progressive forefathers as both Roosevelts and Johnson, and make it sustainable in an America that faces unprecedented global competition." Tell the the part about that you don't like?

Diplomacy isn't Dead

Writing in the New York Times, Roger Cohen has a column up claiming flatly "[d]iplomacy is dead." He feels the U.S. will never achieve a diplomatic accomplishment to rival Nixon's trip to China or the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union.  While, I'm inclined to agree on the latter example, I think Mr. Cohen doth protest too much declaring diplomacy dead.

He rightfully criticizes our current age of, "impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys." He notes the role of professional diplomats has been squeezed in this country because of our post-9/11 focus on non-state actors, which have more visibly involved the armed forces and the CIA, than the State Department. Again, I agree.

But I think he goes too far when he laments the end of realpolitik, but cites Syria as an example of diplomacy failing. I'd tend to think many a realist would size up Syria, even back two years ago, and say there is an not imminent national interest there. Indeed realpolitik isn't for the squeamish, but it seems like that's the cold-hearted analysis driving the lack of U.S. engagement in the country today.

He goes a bit too far when he cites three long standing thorns in the paw of U.S. foreign policy: Cuba, Iran, and Israel-Palestine. These thorns have been lodged for 52, 34, and 65 years respectfully.  And while I'd agree sometimes these three issues are used to scare up domestic constituencies  I think to cite them as diplomatic failures is to ignore the facts.

In Cuba, we had a dictator that was uninterested in seeking a change in relations with us for nearly all the 52 years of the dispute. But now with a new leader there has been some thawing out of relations with revised travel permissions and a continentially slow creep of capitalism into the country. You must have a willing partner to make a diplomatic break through and I'd dare say slow and steady still wins this race.

In Iran, much like Cuba, we find a ruling authority quite disinterested in making peace with us. And yet, diplomacy has happened around the edges. Have we normalized relations? No. Have we convinced Iran to give up any supposed nuclear ambitions? No. But you can't call the ballgame in the third quarter.

With respect to Israel and Palestine, you're dealing with two parties whose own political machinations have made a lasting peace agreement fall in and out of vogue. This is an old conflict and America isn't quite seen as an honest broker. It's hard to fix something so entrenched, which is why so many past efforts have failed  To declare diplomacy dead because the U.S. hasn't facilitated a peace agreement in the Middle East is to raise the bar to dizzying heights and tell the competitor to jump flat footed from the floor.

Mr. Cohen also dismisses two big diplomatic successes, namely Burma and Libya. He mentions Burma but glosses over how the U.S. diplomatically engineered the opening up of the country with carrot extended only in reward for desirable behavior. It was peaceful, it was orderly, and it appears to be genuine. If that's not diplomacy in action, I don't know what is.

With regard to Libya, I'm talking Libya 2003 when Gaddafi voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons without a shot fired. Again, this is a success story for diplomacy, even more so given what would follow eight years later. Imagine a nuclear armed Libya disintegrating into revolution. Surely that we avoided such a scenario should prove diplomacy isn't dead.

Indeed, diplomacy isn't dead. It's alive and well and working all over the world.  As we look to continue to manage the Arab Spring, as we look to manage a rising China, and as we face all manner of international challenges, we know there are diplomats around the world engaging in diplomacy. It's not often flashy, it's unlikely to be trending on Twitter, but it's happening nonetheless and we'll see it from time to time when the moment is right.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


For the dozens of you that know me from DC Exile and Drinking, Cooking, & Eating, welcome to my new blog.  I've been wanting a place to capture random thoughts on international affairs, politics, sports, and food that go beyond a twitter post so I've decided to open up another blog.

I'm going to retire Drinking, Cooking, & Eating officially, but you'll still see some foodie snark and glamour pics of food on this blog from time to time.

I'm also planning to cross list some of the posts I do hear on DC Exile as appropriate, but I wanted a more random place to deposit my reactions especially on the topic of sports which I follow pretty intently, but haven't really had the opportunity talk about before.

I hope you enjoy the posts and if you don't, tell me in the comments section. For many of you, you've been reading my drivel for so long you know the writing can't get any worse than in the past.  Or can it....