Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

Read Ryan Avent

To follow up on the last post, read Ryan Avent. Seriously, he’s doing great work writing on Climate Change and smart growth with a focus on the District of Columbia. You’ll be better informed for working him into your reading rotation.



The Moral Calculation is the Right Calculation

Here is a powerful response to climate action skeptic Jim Manzi by Ryan Avent as featured by Andrew Sullivan:

I’ll reiterate again that a) the costs of the legislation are likely overstated, b) Manzi is assuming that there will be no ancillary benefits to the legislation, and c) Manzi is assuming that after this legislation is passed there is no change in global warming policy in America thereafter, ever, for the next century. I don’t have a problem with people using Manzi’s analysis as a datapoint to consider in determining how they feel about Waxman-Markey, but you’d have to check your common sense at the door to buy his interpretation of it. You’d have to assume that the uncertain costs of an unprecedented climatic shift are likely to be no big deal and well within our ability to handle, while the rather mundane use of government policy to trim a bit off of consumption in an effort to prevent us from killing hundreds of millions of people is bound to be totally debilitating.

For climate action skeptics that believe in global warming it always comes down to assuming energy consumption change will be terribly expensive and Climate Change will be basically benign. Neither assumption is grounded in the relevant research.

Yet it speaks to a lot of smart people, like Andrew Sullivan, because the damage of Climate Change can be hard to put into numbers. Here’s Sullivan in the same post as above:

I’m fairly sympathetic to Manzi’s analysis and have yet to see a blogger forcefully counter his mathematical argument with another mathematical argument.

When faced with huge economic and climate uncertainties, it’s hard for me to come down forcefully one way or the other. I appreciate that obliterating the planet is a a smidge bigger risk than spending too much money, but I worry about the unintended consequences of regulation, and there are diminishing returns from playing the world destruction card if your proposed legislation isn’t going to fix the problem.

Here’s the thing, having math in your argument doesn’t make it a mathematical argument anymore then having citations makes a Michael Crichton novel a doctoral thesis. Manzi’s argument is a not a detailed cost benefit analysis of addressing Climate Change. It’s a slap dash, back of the envelope calculation of other researchers’ numbers fed into a spreadsheet. His methodology is based on faulty assumptions and expectations. The organization who’s numbers he references has repeatedly issued reports saying we should address Climate Change. And worst Manzi breezily disregards the economically small, but in humanitarian terms catastrophic, effects of Climate Change. A windfall profit tax on oil companies would likely be more economically costly then say firebombing Tanzania, but nobody faced with the two choices would say we should start loading up the bombs.

That’s the scourge of numbers, if you fail to control for a lurking variable you’re a disgrace, if you fail to factor in the deaths and displacement of millions then you’re serious analyst who’s ideas can only challenged in the form of charts and numbers.


Can Health Reform Be Bipartisan?

Most of you visiting this site will already know the answer to this question. At the risk of spoiling the surprise: no, it can’t. But let’s take a closer look at exactly why. The conclusions can make us more effective advocates when dealing with those who either frame any health reform measure as less legitimate without broad Republican support (yes we’re looking at you Mr. President), or just want to get something done, regardless of effectiveness.

Such an analysis can take two basic perspectives. First, we can approach this subject as an activist committed to a meaningful public option. I’m afraid that by kneecapping single-payer advocates early in the debate, leading health reform advocates including the President have set up a very unfavorable environment for the public option. And all to get groups to the table that have just about zero chance of supporting any useful health reform measure. It’s nice to have opposition groups having to at least pretend they have some interest in being part of a solution, but at what cost?

The problem is that the public option really is in its very nature a compromise between private insurance and a single-payer system. The current system is a disaster. A single-payer system isn’t immediately viable given that people who currently have coverage are afraid of losing it and that fear can be manipulated by forces of the status quo. But it is pretty well established that single-payer is the most efficient way to do health care. Heck, even the American Medical Student Association says so! So a public option is seen as a sort of middle ground, a way of effectively placing the two systems against each other in competition. This competition will either force private companies to be more efficient or drive them out of business if they cannot. And hey, if public health care is the disaster that the foot-draggers say it is, nobody will choose it.

But with single-payer forced off the table, the public option becomes the “radical left” alternative rather than a middle-ground. So moderates of both parties will be afraid to back the public plan even if they like it personally, because they will be seen as kowtowing to the liberal leadership and supporting European-style socialism. So as the Overton Window shifts rightward (more on the Overton Window in a forthcoming post), the new “compromise” position excludes the public option. Even Max Baucus, who is famously agnostic on the public option, now acknowledges that single-payer should have been included for this reason.

And make no mistake, it will be very tough to hold the progressive position as the health debate winds its way through Congress. All we have to do is look at the path of the climate-change bill to see how badly watered down a sweeping change proposal must become to garner even a razor-thin majority. If even moderate Dems will have trouble supporting a robust public option, why should we ever expect Republicans to get on board?

This brings us to the second approach to this question: think like a mainstream Republican politician. Ewwwww.

Okay putting aside the disgust of having to emulate complete sociopathic selfishness, it’s pretty clear that I don’t have much to gain from the success of a Democratic-led health reform plan. Even if we manage to water it down to the point where it is acceptable to us conservatives, they and President Hussein Obama will get all the credit. If it works, people will grow more amenable towards big government and trust the Democrat Party more as a result. That is bad news for conservative Republicans who have stood against everything the Democrats have tried to do thus far (except health care in this thought experiment). Of course, if health care reform efforts fail to be effective, we will have supported it and all our asses will get primaried by Club-for-Growthers.

So as you see, the political incentives are completely for Republicans to oppose any form of health reform and hope it fails to achieve real change. In this model, it doesn’t especially matter that much whether it passes or not with almost entirely Dem support, although it’d be especially nice if it was killed by intra-party fractures. The key is that the health care system does not improve as a result, or else the Republican Party is cooked for a couple decades regardless of whether they support the reforms.

Democrats really need to figure this out, sooner rather than later, because prolonged commitment to bipartisanship is only gonna serve to handicap the most effective sorts of reform. Until that happens, they are getting played for fools yet again.

UPDATE: E.J. Dionne gets it. He also concurs with my point in the comments about Baucus.


Climate Reality, Political Reality

Chris Bowers goes into angry blogger mode on Joe Romm and House Ag Chairman Colin Peterson

Great, just great. At this point, lacking a Progressive Block on the issue, passing a climate change bill appears to require appeasing Collin Peterson and his gang, The Weather Dominators the House Agricultural Committee.

So, what is Tom Friedman’s “indispensable” (now there is a ringing endorsement I’d put in large text at the top of my blog) climate change blogger doing? Writing long articles comparing House Republicans to his two-year old daughter.

Memo to Joe Romm, who writes Climate Progress: Republicans are not the problem right now when it comes to passing your beloved Waxman-Markey climate change bill. Collin Peterson is the problem. Attack him, for crying out frakking loud.

It is all very cute and tempting to attack Republicans. After the last eight, or really fourteen, years, it has become reflexive for almost everyone advocating for progressive causes. However, we need to start getting it through our collective heads that the political reality has changed. Conservative Democrats, ineffective Democratic leadership, and timid progressive advocacy organizations are the problem.

Self-proclaimed political realists like Joe Romm need to start waking up and placing their venom where it belongs. He hasn’t even mentioned the stalled negotiations on the climate change bill, even though the announcement took place more than two days ago. Has Romm become a denier of political reality?

Even beyond the specific case of climate change, this is a general Stop with the irrelevant attacks on irrelevant Republicans. Political reality no longer has anything to do with Republicans. Repeat after me: conservative Democrats, ineffective Democratic leadership, and timid progressive advocacy organizations are the problem now.

He’s being unnecessarily rough on Joe Romm and to some extinct Colin Peterson. I’ve never read Joe Romm say Colin Peterson’s great and should continue whining until all his friends wrangle tons of cash out of the bill and the bill is weakened so much it won’t reduce pollutions for decades. Holding you tongue isn’t denying reality.

On a related note it should also be said that despite all his ranting Colin Peterson seems to want to vote for the bill. He’s not exactly a friend to those future generations which would prefer to not be born world dramatically higher temperatures, raised sea levels, etc, but he’s not an outright enemy either. What’s troubling is Colin Peterson has advanced, more then anybody else before him, the idea that Cap and Trade is part of a coastal elite agenda in opposition to mid-America. For starters half the people in America live 50 miles or less from the coast so if coastal citizens are concerned it’s not necessarily an “elite” concern, so much as a practical one. The reality is that the world’s most vulnerable populations across the globe will suffer tremendous death and ill effect because of Climate Change. If coastal Americans are the only people that care, then it’s poor reflection on mid-America more then on coastal Americans.


Public Plan: Good Policy, Good Politics

Matthew Ygelsias does an excellent job discussing the unfortunate politics of including a public plan in health care reform as demonstrated by this chart.
Public Plan opinion poll

Happily for politicians contemplating the inclusion of such a plan, a robust public option is also the best way available to control costs and minimize the need for new taxes. So just keep in mind that when people talk about political obstacles to a robust public plan, they’re not talking about mass public opinion as an obstacle—they’re talking about the wealth and power of relatively narrow interests.

The current system is broken, the public is strongly supportive of reform, and yet moderate Democrats en mass are concerned that a public plan would be “unfair” to the same people that broke the health care system in the first place. That moderate Dems would even contemplate voting against a health care reform package in a floor vote is hard to understand, much less badger us for burdening the poor private insurers that have been sucking the American economy dry.


Cap and Dividend

Talking with people about the work Carrots and Stick has been doing I’ve found that even very environmentally and politically aware people don’t often understand Cap and Trade. It’s not really that complicated, but it’s fairly unintuitive. The government limits the level of pollution, issues permits granting permission to pollute to companies, and then those companies can trade the permits.

Outside of policy focused blog reading circles and explicitly activist circles Cap and Trade isn’t well known and few groups are actively trying to educate people about Cap and Trade, except perhaps scare mongering climate change deniers.

So why not skip teaching people about Cap and Trade and go straight to teaching them about Cap and Dividend. Cap and Dividend is basically just a plan to ensure Cap and Trade is economically fair and it’s simple as you make this sort of thing. Check it out:


We have the power

Today is the six-month anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration, and it’s a good time to reflect on the President and our relationship to him.

For the past six months–or, actually, longer–I have watched a divide growing in the left-wing community, a division as predictable as it is disheartening.  Even before Barack Obama was inaugurated, there were those who were quick to call him a traitor to progressive principles when he appointed conservatives and Democratic party establishment types rather than progressives to his Cabinet and associated positions.  As the list of disappointing decisions grows–upholding DADT, refusing to prosecute Bush and his cronies for violations of the Constitution and for committing war crimes, continuing to subject detainees at Guantanamo Bay to military tribunals rather than giving them legal trials, supporting DOMA, reinstating mountaintop mining–I have heard numerous people say that Obama lied to us, that he is no different than Bush, and even that he was a Manchurian candidate.

On the other side, there are the Obama apologists.  Much like defenders of George Lucas’ last three movies, these people look for, and often invent, reasons why every bad decision the President makes is actually a good decision.  Every decision that looks bad to us must actually be a clever chess move Obama is making towards our common progressive goals.  Since he has access to so much more information than we do, we should fold our hands and take him on faith.  They tend to react with hostility to any real criticism of the President.

It’s time for us to look in the mirror, and see what this fight is actually about.  It’s about our passionate hope for the possibility of just government, and our terror that that is impossible.  Every time we send a man (usually it’s a man) into this fight with the establishment, we look to him to prove that real change is possible and that we do have power to make things better.  And–this is the key–he’s supposed to prove all that by doing it for us.  He is supposed to be able to inhabit the corrupt and imbalanced system that has created so many of the injustices we fight, at its center, and remain just as true to his beliefs, and honest and open in their expression, as we are.  Moreover, he is supposed to redress these imbalances and stop the injustices.  Isn’t that what we hired him for?

Well, yes.  And it is essential that we hold this man, and all the others we elect, accountable.  It is also essential for each of us to have the right to criticize the President.  After eight years of George Bush, we have all had enough of bowing and scraping and loyalty oaths, enough of an America in which, as Ari Fleischer once famously said, “Americans should be careful what they say.”

But it is also essential that we acknowledge that we hired this man to fulfill an impossible role.  We have the myth that one lone hero will be able to beat a corrupt power structure, that his dedication to his ideals, his moral purity, in fact, will protect him as he enters  Hell, and, if he is good enough, he will resist temptation, defeat the powers of darkness, and deliver us all from bondage.  If he compromises, or weakens, or fails to right the wrongs we see, then clearly, he must not be morally good enough.  He must not be the right one.  Disappointed and angry, we go back to searching for someone else to send through this intricate and savage bureaucratic gauntlet.  Or maybe we give up on change altogether and snipe from the sidelines at those who are still foolish enough to keep trying.

When I went to the house party that engendered Carrots and Sticks, I chose it, not because it was close to my house–there were several closer–but because Jeremy’s ad for his party spoke to me:

Talking Carrots and Sticks–Our Role in Enacting a Change Agenda

“As Obama supporters, we now face the tough dual challenge of getting his back when necessary and holding his feet to the fire when necessary.  How do we do this?  Where does the MyBO community fit into the picture?”

This ad showed me that somebody had had the simple, practical, and perhaps revolutionary idea of criticizing Barack Obama without abandoning him. Without demonizing him.  In Jeremy’s mind, criticizing Obama and supporting him were not mutually exclusive.  After six months of watching Obama’s first administration play out, I’d like to add my own idea to Jeremy’s:  when Obama fails us is when he most needs us.  Should we criticize the President when he weakens on a principle or fails to deliver on a promise?  Hell yes.  We shouldn’t accept wavering and inaction.  But neither should we give up on him, spreading messages of despair.  After we criticize him, we should pour even more energy and effort into organizing ourselves into a more effective, more widespread, and more powerful movement.  That is supporting the President.  It is honest, loyal, and most importantly, practical support of an idealistic mission.

Howard Dean recently said of Barack Obama, “When somebody comes in from the outside–and even though he spent a few years in the Senate, Barack Obama is really an outsider–when somebody comes in from the outside, there’s always a struggle:  Will Washington change the President, or will the President change Washington?  Oftentimes, Washington wins.  We can’t let that happen.  That is our job.  It doesn’t have to be that way…People are saying [of my time as DNC chair] ‘Imagine taking on the Washington establishment.’  I didn’t take on the Washington establishment.  I had my own power base.  It was you….You did that.”

We need to do it again.  We need to do it now.



Obviously it’s a small gesture that won’t change anything, but I figured if I was marching around on the streets and risking getting shot for a better future I’d appreciate it if somebody halfway around the world signaled their support. So for June 17, 2009 the Carrots and Sticks blog goes green in support of the demonstrators in Iran. We wish them good luck and safety.Iranvote