Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Week's Worst: Republicans block START treaty...

I'm having a little trouble keeping up with the unrelenting awfulness of Right Wing activity as, emboldened by their post-midterm strength they begin a full court press with their newly emboldened "everything that is bad for the President is good for us strategy." Obviously, things that are good for the President are quite often the things that are best for the country - economic recovery being one example. Or diplomatic successes overseas. Or improvements in Americans' health and life expectancy.

All of these things must now be halted in their tracks, argue the new Republicn insurgency, for they aid the President and therefore are bad for Republicans and thus, counter-intuitively, ultimately bad for the country. After all, would you really want to have a thriving  nation when you could have a Republican majority instead? Well, YOU AND I would, of course. But they wouldn't.

In any case, I have decided to start a little weekly feature just to try and get my head around one terrible Republican action per week. Each week I'll write a Week's Worst post highlighting the thing Republicans have done that seems most obviously worst for the country.

There was a lot to choose from this week, but in my mind a clear winner emerged:

Republican Senator John Kyl, who had been the point man with the White House appointed by Republicans to negotiate ratification of the new START treaty, after months of negotiation, and after the White House believed that they had secured a mutual agreement on all the key points, that he would not support ratification in the upcoming "lame duck" session of the Senate. He offered no rationale for this position.

The treaty has been described by many as President Obama's key foreing policy priority for this year - and that's accurate. But it would also be accurate to describe it as America's key foreign policy priority. Certainly, Republican Senator sees it as such - he recently begged his colleagues to come to their senses and vote for the treaty:

"Please do your duty for your country," Lugar said in a message to his colleagues. "We do not have verification of the Russian nuclear posture right now. We're not going to have it until we sign the START treaty. We're not going to be able to get rid of further missiles and warheads aimed at us.

"I state it candidly to my colleagues, one of those warheads ... could demolish my city of Indianapolis -- obliterate it! Now Americans may have forgotten that. I've not forgotten it and I think that most people who are concentrating on the START treaty want to move ahead to move down the ladder of the number of weapons aimed at us."

That's exactly right. After the previous START treaty expired in December last year, American inspectors have not been able to access Russian nuclear facilities to ensure that the weapons are secured and that they are complying with their commitment to reduce their arsenal.

The Russians think we have gone insane - they see the treaty as transparently in the US national interest, and they are gobsmacked that it might not pass. Frankly, so am I.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

For the Record: Liberals Hate the Deficit...

There's a commonly accepted conventional wisdom that somehow Republicans are supposed to be the party that is "Fiscally Conservative" whereas Democrats love running up giant debts. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Republican party actually behaves in this manner, and there's equally little evidence that Democrats don't take the deficit very seriously. In fact, welcome to opposite world, the complete opposite of the conventional wisdom has been the actual behaviour of Democratic and Republican Presidents for longer than I've been alive.


I'm not going to comment on the Republican love of deficits, but from a progressive point of view, it's fairly obvious why Democrats might behave this way.

Liberals don't love govenment spending for its own sake - we support it when and because it actually does things that we think are worth doing. So, if it can stimulate the economy, educate children, put out fires, build infrastructure, keep people alive then we want the government to do those things. But we also realise that there is a limited amount of money that can be raised from taxation. If it's necessary to go into debt in the short term to keep the country moving, then that's the right thing to do. But in the long run, every dollar that we spend on interest for loans is a dollar we're not spending on health, education, poverty reduction or innovation. So it's in our interest as progressives to find a stable way of funding our programs that is sustainable. That's why we want to reduce medicare costs. That's why we want to cut waste from the Pentagon. That's why we consistently support Pay as You Go policies.

File:U.S. Federal Spending - FY 2007.png

The 5% of the federal that we spent last year on debt interest was not wasted money, but it wasn't maximally efficient either. In the long run, we want to stabilise this in a way that doesn't cause people too much pain in the short term.

But Republicans... just don't care about this at all. Not even a little bit. So ask them why not...

Monday, 15 November 2010

A Black President, Universal US Health Care and... Peace in the Middle East?

I always hesitate to write anything at all about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, because I can rarely think of anything to say other than, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here!"

So it's with some doubt and trepidation, that I am letting my inherent optimism link you to this article, which speculates that the same type of messy, ugly, but ultimately effective process that led to the this government passing the first ever comprehensive universal health care provision - as dreamed of by generations - has the distant hope of, after a similarly gruelling and painful process of compromise and setbacks, to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a path towards lasting peace.

Because what this deal actually does is provide the various parties to the negotiation an opportunity to delineate a border. As New York Times correspondent Mark Langer writes, burying his lead:

The logic behind a 90-day extension is that the two sides would aim for a swift agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state. That would make the long dispute over settlements irrelevant since it would be clear which housing blocks fell into Israel and which fell into a Palestinian state.

As with healthcare, the administration is taking a path that is not easy to watch, but may be the most practical. I have argued here before that the US government must have, and eventually convey to the parties, a view regarding the elements of a final status agreement: more Dr. Kissinger, less Dr. Phil. But the occasion for putting a thumb on the scales should be a negotiation over the border, not a dispute over continued settlements, which has been clouded by past negotiations over the border. Various talks between Israelis and PA officials, from the Geneva group, to the Olmert meetings, portended land swaps. These first efforts to draw lines, all of which assumed the Eztzion bloc would be part of Israel, say, cannot simply be erased from everyone's consciousness.

THE ANALOGY TO healthcare may be pushed further. The administration has been criticized for allowing Senate committees to debate the shape of the healthcare bill before committing itself to a final plan. The process was ugly; and the administration sweetened the outcome for resistant blue-dogs along the way. In the end, however, it got senators who had skin in the game, and it used their disagreements to define the "solution space" in which to intervene. And once (as Jonathan Cohn has shown) Obama saw the shape of the bill he could get, he still had to choose: let it go, for political reasons, or campaign for it, for historical ones. Had he not chosen the latter course, we would not have had a health reform bill at all.
As always, I'll take a humilating victory over a noble defeat any day. There are still a million and one steps between this moment and a lasting peace for the people of Israel and Palestine. But one step in the right direction is not nothing.