Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

42% Support G”NO”P Policies. If Only They Had Any

Yesterday, via Political Wire:

Americans Prefer Democratic Policies

A new CNN/Opinion Research survey indicates that a majority of Americans believe that the Democratic party’s policy proposals are good for the country, 51% to 46%.

In contrast, a majority of Americans think Republican policies will move the country in the wrong direction, 53% to 42%.

HUH??? No, I don’t think there’s anything invalid about the results of this poll. But these numbers are waaaaay too close for comfort. I’m simply stunned that 42% of respondents actually think Republican policies would be good for the country. What, pray tell, are those policies exactly? More tax cuts for the rich, criminalization of all brown people and bomb bomb Iran?

More testament to the fact that we continue to get our clocks cleaned in the framing wars. I’m really, really tired of losing to these fools.



Behind the Current Progressive Split on HCR

As you just may possibly have noticed, there is a lively, heated debate going on among the progressive grassroots/netroots about whether or not to support a watered-down health reform package. I have friends in both camps (as does Carrots and Sticks), and actually am split on the question myself, so I cannot say either viewpoint is wrong. As an organization, Carrots and Sticks has to date chosen not to formally engage on health care reform, not because we do not care about the issue, but rather because it had already been so oversaturated with activists and interest groups that we would have been joining too late in the game to make any appreciable difference. So I don’t think it’s prudent to take one side over the other, but there are a ton of important lessons that we can learn from the public option saga, and I’d like to start laying those out here.

To me, the fundamental reason for the divide comes down to politics vs. policy. After all, the progressive movement came together in a rare show of force and fought for a public option as a unified bloc. Now that it seems the public option is dead in this HCR bill (it could feasibly come back later as a stand-alone measure), we must decide how to react. There is first the question of whether a bill similar to that about to pass the Senate is better than nothing, aka the status quo. Given the political dynamics at play, I must assume “nothing” means “nothing for the next decade or more”. With that in mind, I think the bill as currently laid out is unquestionably a step in the right direction. Sure, it’s far from perfect (the mandate, excise tax and implementation dates being the big issues), but the Medicaid expansion, regulatory insurance reforms and creation of the exchange are huge pluses that far outweigh the drawbacks.

Yet on the other hand, progressives just went all-in on an issue and came up empty. A major reason this happened was the White House’s (ahem Rahm ahem) arrogant dismissiveness towards liberal concerns. Rahm thinks we can always be depended upon for campaign support when push comes to shove, so our viewpoints can safely be ignored. At the same time, the Beltway punditocracy fully expects the left flank to cave on its demands after the deals are cut. And frankly, they have no reason to believe otherwise, given the trends of recent history. So this is a crucial moment for the legitimacy of the progressive movement. Those of us who consider ourselves representatives of the movement should be very wary of seeming too much like the pushovers Rahm makes us out to be.

As we see, there are two equally valid lines of reasoning, borne from very similar though not identical priorities, leading to diametrically opposing viewpoints. Notwithstanding the value of healthy deliberation and internal dissent, the conflicting messages coming from the left do not serve us well as a political force, and will never help advance the policies we all want to see enacted. Going forward, the key lesson to be learned is how to best limit the possibility for this sort of situation from happening again. Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but there are  a handful of important points to note. Keep in mind, these are open (NOT rhetorical) discussion topics:

  • Was victory (passage of a worthwhile public option) ever possible? I’m not sure the answer is as unequivocally “yes” as we had hoped, especially once Obama decided to make nice with PhRMA.
  • A lack of fierce, mobilized and deep-pocketed opposition would definitely help our cause, although that cannot always be possible (example: banking reform). Obviously, we want to maximize our chances of winning while remaining true to core progressive principles. Thus, how strongly should limiting opposition factor in when we choose our mobilizing issues in the future?
  • Did it make sense to put all of our eggs in the public option basket? It very well might have made perfect strategic sense, but we still need to address that question.
  • Did the strategy of whipping the progressive caucus to draw a line in the sand make sense, in retrospect? Could it have been done more effectively? How else could we have injected our demands into the debate?

Take these questions as food for thought. I don’t pretend to have the definitive answers, nor do I wish to attempt to unilaterally discover them here and now. We’ll no doubt revisit them later.

I’ll finish with a poignant quote from Pandagon’s Amanda Marcotte:

The netroots has only been around for like 6 or 7 years, and only really been a player for 4.  Taking over a party takes longer than that, and that’s all there is to it.  I think there’s a tendency to fight for scorched earth tactics designed to get a lot of results in a very short period of time, and a defeatism when that doesn’t work.  I’ll admit that impetus baffles me, because a lot of us are into politics because we love the game, and so we should have the disposition for a long term fight.  And by “long term”, I mean taking a truly radical stance, which is that political means alone will not get us where we need to go, but that we have to change society itself.


The Problems Go Deeper Then Senate Obstructionism

One thing bloggers ‘get right’ is the role of the United States Senate. While the mainstream media yammers on about vague political practicality, the netroots knows the Senate is where the action takes place. Additionally there is a wide netroots understanding that the 60 vote requirement is actually a new requirement, since only recently did it become acceptable to dedicate a political party to unconditional obstructionism.

However, it’s worth mentioning there are limits to this line of thought. Sam Hummel at Grist:

I’ve often wondered why Obama doesn’t just come to the podium and point that out: “Hey everybody, I’d just like to say that the Executive Branch and the House of Representatives are ready to act but we can’t do anything as long as you let your Senators filibuster and block every meaningful climate bill proposed.”

But it’s more complicated then that. The difficulty of the Senate makes it easier for the House and White House to take bold positions. Obama has all sorts of positions he’ll never have to worry about implementing thanks to Congress. The opposition to ACES was loud and well funded but if it had been the final hurdle to implementation the process would have been harder.

The biggest complication is that there are ways around the filibuster and nobody seems at all interested in pursuing them. Sure there difficulties, but either a carbon tax or an auction based carbon allocation scheme could move through the budget reconciliation process.

It’s perfectly accurate to say the Senate is the biggest obstruction point, but the problems go deeper then the historical anachronism that is the US Senate rules.


Review of Recent Senate Nuclear Energy Hearing

Two bills were discussed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on December 15th, S. 2052 (Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act of 2009, M. Udall) and S. 2812 (Nuclear Power 2021 Act, Bingaman). S. 2052 is a bill to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a research and development and demonstration program to reduce manufacturing and construction costs relating to nuclear reactors. S. 2812 is a bill to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require the Secretary of Energy to carry out programs to develop and demonstrate 2 small modular nuclear reactor designs.

As I was waiting in line, I noticed that there were a couple of colonels waiting in line behind. I do not know why the military had an interest in this hearing, but I thought it was something interesting to note.

The first guest was Dr. Warren “Pete” Miller who is the assistant secretary of the Office of Nuclear Energy at DOE. His main point, which was later repeated multiple times by the other panelists, was that modular reactors present many advantages over large reactors. Some of them being that they are much cheaper to construct, their fabrication is quicker due to their simplicity, they can be constructed in more off grid locations and that there is a large market for them.

Dr. Tom Sanders, the president of the American Nuclear Society, further added that 80% of the world’s grid cannot absorb large reactors and therefore shows a growing international market for small reactors. He stated that we can be the head of this nuclear technology as long as we have the collective will.

The third guest was Mr. Tony Pietrangelo, the senior vice president and chief nuclear officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute. He stated that one of the focuses of his organization is the safe operation of nuclear plants, specifically large scale reactors. This is due to the fact that large scale reactors already have licenses. However, he did mention that there is a growing demand for small scale reactors. Another point he made was that government industry partnerships are required if we want small reactors to be built in a short time frame. They are eager to work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on implementing new designs, but there would be regulatory issues to work out.

The fourth guest was Mr. Michael Johnson, the director of the Office of New Reactors of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He also mentioned that large reactors have higher priority than small reactors. He later added that the speed which new designs can be licensed is determined on how much detail companies can give to the NRC.

The entire feeling of the hearing was that everyone was in favor of small nuclear reactors and wanted to speed up the process of implementing them. Sen. Murkowski asked the panelists to explain what the largest hurdle was for going forward with small reactors. The panelists concluded that commitment was the ultimate impediment.

Sen. Burr and Sen. Landrieu were critical on how structural regulations were slowing down everything. Furthermore, Sen. Landrieu stated that they should invest more money into this area because it shows a lot of potential in creating jobs.

Sen. Barrasso was focused on an issue completely separate from all the others. He was expressing his criticism to the DOE over a management plan regarding the sale of uranium and how this plan has dropped the price of it. Furthermore, he stated that this price drop has affected mining activities in Wyoming. He seemed to be mainly focused on issues pertaining to his own state.

The last point the panelists made was that the process of implementing small reactors will accelerate after the first one is implemented.


Health Care Reform Infighting

The health care reform debate is clearly getting a little heated. The kill the bill crowd and the swallow the pill and pass the bill crowd just aren’t coming to resolution on what the Democrats should do. Here is Matthew Ygelsias getting annoyed at personal attacks on his pro-bill position:

The cute meme of the day seems to be that the health care reform debate is breaking down along the same lines as the Iraq debate. Which is to say that since, for example, Matt Yglesias was wrong about Iraq he’s also wrong about health care and we should listen to Howard Dean.

He concludes

It’s true that views about the Iraq War line up with views about health care only if you exclude (a) all politicians, (b) all conservatives, and (c) the most prominent liberal pundit in the country. But that’s a mighty arbitrary way of looking at the universe.

Nonetheless, there are substantial similarities between the Iraq War and Health Care votes despite their unrelated subjects. Democrats are being to told to support the bill because it’s important to the party, rather then strictly on the merits of the bill. Both bills were presented as the only path forward, at times misleadingly. And strongest the corollary is that opposing the compromise bill is attacked as simplistic, while supporting the bill makes you a sell out.

The merits of the related arguments are substantially different in each case, but the debate is pretty similar. The case that voting down health care will hurt the Democratic party is much stronger then it was with the Iraq war. Democrats look terribly disorganized and ineffective and failing to pass a bill at this point would be harmful to their electorally chances. But that point runs both ways, passing the bill without a public option is also a serious problem for electoral success.

And there are alternative paths. They can start over and if they failed they would start over and they’d probably use budget reconciliation and need only 50 votes in the Senate. There are lots of problems with that path, but it’s a real option just like sanctions and containment were real options for Iraq.

Carrots and Sticks has come in contact with people on both sides of the push for this bill. They’re both smart and knowledge. Both sides need each other and at the same time need to challenge their respective legitimacy. The question is how do you keep the process constructive? It’s not easy, watch Al Franken on the Senate floor sometime, but that needs to be the goal.




The trickle-down theory can be examined using the tools of econometrics. But, at least for the US, no such sophisticated analysis is required. The raw data on income distribution shows that households in the bottom half of the income distribution gained nothing from the decades of market liberalism. Although apologists for market liberalism have offered various arguments to suggest that the raw data gives the wrong impression, none of these arguments stand up to scrutiny. All the evidence supports the commonsense conclusion that policies designed to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor have done precisely that.


Progress on Deforestation

From NRDC Climate Center Director Dan Lashof:

I just watched Hillary Clinton make a bold announcement that should give a lift to the stalled talks in Copenhagen. The administration’s commitment to contribute to a $100 billion global fund to curb deforestation and help the world’s’ most vulnerable countries adapt to impacts of global warming that can no longer be avoided is a major step. But Secretary Clinton made it clear that this step will only be taken if there is an operational agreement that includes transparency on the emission reductions being made by all major emitters.

Right now industrialized countries provide $60 billion in fossil fuel subsidies annually. Just redirecting those subsidies could go a long way toward the funding target as we seek a pathway to a low carbon clean energy future

Preventing deforestation is one of the highest impact climate change responses the world can pursue. Definitely something to keep an eye on.


Climate Change and Conflict

Everyone is familiar with certain effects of climate change; we all know that the world is getting warmer, that extreme weather is becoming more frequent, and that sea levels are rising. These are all direct results from climate change and certainly pose a great threat to mankind, but the holistic understanding of climate change and its effects is not well known, especially by people in the west.

One aspect that I would like to focus on here is the role climate change plays in conflict. In Forecast Stephan Faris explains the consequences of climate change throughout the world. In the first chapter, Faris describes the conflict in Darfur:

The fighting in Darfur is usually described as racially motivated, pitting mounted Arabs against black rebels and civilians. But the distinction between “Arab” and “black African” in Darfur is defined more by lifestyle than by any physical difference: Arabs are generally herders, Africans typically farmers. The two groups are not racially distinct. Both are predominantly Muslim. The fault lines have their origins in another distinction, between settled farmers and nomadic herders fighting over failing lands.

Prior to reading this book, I thought the conflict in Darfur started because of religion, little did I know that it was due to forced migration. One would not think that climate change plays a significant role in conflict, but once a little information is known, it is very difficult not to see the connection. Climate change should not only be understood as rising temperatures, but also as forced migration, violence and rape. I will leave off with an excerpt of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy in which he explains two different types of war.

One is waged because of the ambitions of Princes or of a Republic that seek to extend their Empire, such as were the wars that Alexander the Great waged, and those that the Romans waged, and those which one power wages against another. While these wars are dangerous, they never drive all the inhabitants out of a province, but the obedience of the people is enough for the conqueror, and most of the time he leaves them to live with their laws, and always with their homes and possessions. The other kind of war is when an entire people with all their families are taken away from a place, necessitated either by famine or by war, and goes to seek a new seat in a new province, not in order to seek dominion over them as those others above, but to possess it absolutely; and to drive out or kill its old inhabitants. This kind of war is most cruel and most frightful.