February 14, 2010

Keeping the Bar Low

In politics, whether local school board elections, or district, state or even national races, legislation and problem solving rarely ever happens for simple reasons. Even axioms like "follow the money" seldom give the whole answer - even if they do point to a malodorous trail. The right posture, portrayed in the right light, can lead to policy that is not in the best interest of constituents.

Likewise, when politicking is at its best, the public can be served despite enormous odds against it. Yesterday afternoon, John Murtha passed away. He was a politician who excelled at finding ways to shape politics to benefit his constituents. He also famously came out against the Iraq war in 2005.

Politicians like Murtha fought for his own district, but also weren't afraid to risk political capital to stand up for what is right. Too often do politicians hem and haw about the election implications of taking a stand. One thing that Barack Obama did during his campaign, and which he has continued to do since entering office, is to avoid this lowering of the bar so as to always appear in the right as much as possible.

Of course his administration has downplayed results, and avoided taking explicit positions - they play politics 24 hours a day. However, more often than not, they have taken a position that accurately reflects the President's view on what is best for his constituents - the entire country. It says something that he has been lambasted by liberals and conservatives alike. It bears remarking that he has demanded political action on a scale not scene in generations while also candidly taking responsibility for errors. It is worth noting that he is both a constitutional scholar and a community organizer.

When politicians put reelection above their duty, or muddy the political landscape as a stall tactic, it harms their electorate, plain and simple.

Instead of a weak and vacillating Government, a single, purposeful, energetic personality is ruling today.
Hjalmar Schacht

Just don't put too much stock in one man's personality...

February 12, 2010

Political Trade-Offs

There is a trade-off in every political structure between what the government provides and what it controls. Though long and nuanced academic debate exists on this topic, simpler, more accessible discussion still presents seemingly unsolvable problems.

From the obvious contradictions in the American activist that uses the publicly financed highway to drive to an anti-government-spending rally, to the citizen of China who seeks spiritual and religious exploration but is denied, every nation deals with this balance differently.

As NATO and Afghan forces prepare for an offensive in Marjah, the last big Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, questions about the role of government in people's lives and well-being loom large.
The Taliban alternates between a staunch and reliable provider, and a vicious, demanding tyrant to the people of Helmand. With the money form selling (illegal) poppy, residents are able to survive. When this revenue disappears with the Taliban, people will starve, even as they no longer have to fear violence at the hands of Taliban forces, many residents will not welcome the change.
Corrupt as it undeniably is, the Afghan government is supported by NATO, and recognized around the world as the better and safer option for all of Afghanistan.

However, for individual people, towns, and even regions, the vicious but substantive Taliban leadership might be the better option. If the change of control will mean months or even years without steady income and slow and inept development projects providing meager resources and jobs, continued Taliban control is in residents' best interests.

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
Winston Churchill

February 1, 2010

Arms Sale To Taiwan

The Sino-US relationship has developed rapidly since the affirmation of the One China Policy in 1972. With the huge bilateral trade and massive implications of shifts in international power balance, this relationship is of overbearing complexity and importance.

With typical precision of diction, the Xinhua response to the confirmation of the $6 billion arms sale from the US to Taiwan detailed China's anger while also adhering to its implicit view of itself in the world.

With each posture and move, the US and China push their relationship in new directions. Whatever the intended message here, the result will become just another step in a complicated dance. As for the mid-to-long-range implications of this for Sino-American relations, no single factor will outweigh all others. Both parties have the ability to construct policy and message based on both slights and moments of cooperation. This means that China and the US can make use of issues ranging from the Dalai Lama to Internet Sensorship or industry specific tariffs to justify a wide range of actions.

In the end, moderate response is most likely to all but the most extreme events, and despite the sharp diction of the Jinhua article, this arms sale is not one of those extreme events.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

January 29, 2010

A New American Clean Energy Economy

There were many important sections, moments, and turns of phrase in President Obama's State of the Union address earlier this week. Much of the speech revolved around the American economy and other domestic topics. In one section in particular, Barack Obama made a point that cannot be stressed enough. He talked about the US's place in the global energy economy.

For many reasons, investing heavily in scientific research across the board is a smart idea. Investing today in research for clean energy technologies is an even smarter idea. As Obama said,
The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.
In countless cases throughout the last several hundred years, it has been the access to energy that has dictated whether a nation's power grows or dwindles. In the 21st century it will be no different. If the United States does not become the dominant leader in new energy technology, it will gradually lose its edge militarily, politically, and economically.

Long gone are the days when the US could get most of its energy from domestic sources, and even harnessing all of the country's reserves without any attention to environmental preservation would not change that fact. However, the culture of assured access to limitless energy is pervasive and implacable. Replacing this with a new national identity of scientific progress through hard work and tough decisions is the right thing to do.

It's extraordinary how inventive one can be with ethanol right now
-Daniel Yergin

October 22, 2009

A Return to Thoughtful Diplomacy

The first nine months of Barack Obama's presidency have involved a slew of much needed visits to countries all across the world. Fulfilling his promises to reengage any country willing to come to the table, Barack Obama has made great strides forward in promoting the interests of the United States abroad. The current changes in Iran's behavior are a paragon of how well his strategies will come to fruition over time.

His diplomatic poise, which has drawn criticism from the right for superficial reasons, and been effectually ignored by democrats, is beginning to produce tangible results. Despite moments of uncertainty, Iran agreed to a draft deal to send most of its enriched uranium to Russia for re enrichment. The uranium would then be shipped to France to be turned into plates for use in the research reactor at Tehran University. This would strip Iran of the ability to make a nuclear weapon while at the same time allowing them validation in their claims of pursuing nuclear power as a means for self-reliance.

Should this deal go through, President Obama will have orchestrated a finely crafted diplomatic victory. Furthermore, regional tensions would be slackened at a time when "the moment may be at hand" in the Middle East peace process. With the recent poll numbers indicating that because of Barack Obama, the United states is now the most admired country in the world, it seems that the stage is set for real progress.

Finally, the type of diplomacy in which the current American Administration has engaged has been one of calculation, compromise, and strategic positioning. The brilliance of skipping Berlin in May only to dine out in Paris in June is a perfect example of this.

“Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas.”
H.L. Mencken