the latest from Joebloggers

documentaries, moviemercials and intellectual honesty

There are a few people I know who can't get enough policy in their life. My buddy Jason is one of them. Last week - to up his fix - he proposed starting a weekly drinks and discussion group.

He knew me and his college friend Ramiro would be game, so at our inaugural meeting last night - after taking an hour and a half to find each other in the West Village and finally settling down in an Irish pub over a bottle of white and an "artisinal" cheese plate - we got to the business of thrashing out our first policy topic, national healthcare.

We stayed on point for all of four minutes before "Sicko" came up, careening us into a conversation over what counts as a documentary and - while we were at it - whether there was any value in pursuing objectivity.

The Orange County Register and Erik Prince

Daleleo, I read the article you recommended to me (see the article at OC Register). However, most of what the article addressed didn't seem to match what the headline suggested. Now, don't get me wrong: it's a great thing that Erik Prince is a family man (Erik Prince being the founder of Blackwater USA). What I'm trying to say is that his family life doesn't have all that much to do with what's going on in Iraq and the Middle East.

Pakistan = Supposed Terrorists. So Why Iran?

When I picked up Sunday's Los Angeles Times, I saw this curious headline: "Terrorists in training are going to Pakistan". The article, by Dirk Laabs and Sebastian Rotella, documents an alarming cycle of militants traveling from countries such as Germany to Pakistan for the purpose of militant training at Al Qaeda training camps. Now, I don't know about you, but I haven't heard all that much about Pakistan in the media before this article. Do you know what I've been hearing about? Iran.

According to the article, "...an increasing number of militants from mainland Europe are traveling to Pakistan to train and to plot attacks on the West...". As I said, I've heard quite a bit about Iran lately, and nothing this serious. Now, one could theoretically debate just how seriously to take this comment, but it makes me wonder where all of this is going.

can we get a PR team here?

Whether or not you agree Guantanamo has a civil liberties problem, you'd hope someone at the Pentagon was hip to the international perception that Gitmo has a joke of a justice system. Apparently not. This from today's NYT:

Somehow that bull doesn't read to me the justice of the founding fathers, Martin Luther King or the Nurenberg trials. I'm getting more the vibe of, I dunno, World Wrestling Federation or Tony Soprano.

Why fire and police departments, but not health care?

TALKER asks why, if it makes sense for government to fund and manage the military, police, and fire departments, doesn't it also make sense for the government to fund and manage health care and other favorite liberal causes? As a CATO-supporting libertarian -- with progressive leanings -- let me try and explain.

We libertarians look at the world and notice that the vast majority of innovations that improve people's lives come from individual inventor/entrepreneurs, and the companies (sometimes their own) which sell and market those improvements to the mass public. For hundreds of years now, since the modern corporation was invented, entrepreneurs and private enterprises have improved prosperity by providing a broader range of products and services at lower prices over time.

cut Turkey some slack... for now

Not satisfied with the disapproval of 4 out of 5 Americans, Congress decided this week to piss off one of our strongest - and most strategic - allies.

About 70 years ago, Turkey committed some horrible atrocities against Armenians; this week the House took a vote telling Turkey that was a very, very, bad thing.

The point? To be fair, it's generally a good thing to come clean on large scale historical human rights violations (this one being frequently referred to as "genocide") and it's nice that our government wants to support Armenian Americans who still carry a lot of emotional scars.

But, as Rep. Jane Harman pointed out in today's LA Times, Congress could have tried a little better timing - like, for example, when the genocide was happening or when we weren't supposedly fighting a war against Muslim radicalism and Turkey just happened to be the largest Muslim liberal democracy (that's not a mess - sorry Indonesia) and also our ally.

all part of the cause

I'm overdue a couple plugs to interesting/worthwhile ventures in citizen media that Joe's readers may be into.

First off, if you have a new media idea that connects communities through technology, the Knight Foundation may want to toss you a chunk of the $5 million they're looking to give out to individuals, groups and for-profit ventures. But you've got to get them your idea fast - the deadline for the - short, streamlined - application is this Monday, October 15.

If you you like the idea of citizen media, but aren't ready to start a full time venture, American Public Media is encouraging folks to join their Public Insight Network, to feed public radio stories that matter to Americans - and to share their ideas on how to grow the American Dream.

Prevention vs. Paranoia

I was reading Wednesday's Los Angeles Times (see the article at latimes), and a certain article caught my eye; I mean, what do you think when you read the headline "Research into potent bioagents increases the risk"? The article, by Jia-Rui Chong, explores the research being done by universities across the nation into the prevention of bioagent attacks. The experiments require such toxic microbes as Brucella and Coxiella burnetii, which can cause "...some of the world's most hideous diseases..." including Ebola and anthrax.

Now, according to the article, this research is being done to create vaccines for diseases resulting from exposure to bioagents. You may remember the anthrax scare back in 2001; this is what originally started the research into these bioagents. However, there has not been any other recorded instance of bioterrorism since this.

get your new war with no money down

Somewhere along the line, the much maligned epithet "tax and spend" (usually followed by the equally unpopular term "liberal") seems to have lost the "and spend" part.

Today, "tax" is a political four letter word, but somehow "spend" has got itself a nice teflon coat - or is that invisible cloak? Especially when it comes to national security, no one seems to mind spending more - or even notice - but dare utter the word "tax" to cover that spending and watch political lightning strike, as it did to a couple of House Democrats this week.

That's unfortunate, because while the idea of keeping "taxing and spending" in check is a sound one (even though folks disagree on where to draw the line), the concept of "spending without taxing" is kind of messed up.

New spending without new taxes of course means more debt. Economists don't 100% agree on how bad our debt situation is, but they generally concur we should be keeping our debt down and not raising it.

when special interests are lethal

I normally don't get all het up about special interests - yeah, it's unfortunate that well organized (and well funded) minority groups get a disproportionate share of Congress' attention, but it's not like anyone's dying or anything, right? Well, now it looks like they are.

One of the most effective special interest groups are US farmers. Since the depression, when the feds first created large farm subsidies, they've gotten pretty skilled at keeping the cash coming. (While helping out the family farm in the 30s may have made a lot of sense, today with 60% of all subsidies going to the richest 8% of farms - by and large corporations - subsidies smack of plain ol' pork.) Today farmers have homed in on a new cash cow - ethanol subsidies, which have launched a boom in the corn market.

So what's so bad about crop and ethanol subsidies? They don't cost us so much (under $20b a year - or less than 1% of the budget) and ethanol is helping wean us off our dependency on foreign fuel, isn't it?