Respect is a Catalyst for Success

[ The Note for December 2014 ]

Politics is hard. Making policy that appeals to a wide range of political actors, stakeholders, and related interests, is by some people’s estimation functionally impossible. But at the heart of every legitimate political endeavor, there is the core insight that in its most expansive sense, what is of real interest to humanity anywhere is of real interest to humanity everywhere. We are connected by certain shared truths. We require certain sustenance to facilitate our survival, and we are all vulnerable to the forces of nature and of human violence. We have a transcendent, reciprocal interest in humane policy processes that protect life-giving systems. Working with people of all views and from around the world, on something as complex as climate, I have witnessed firsthand to what degree respect is the most effective strategy for building up the possibility of effective outcomes.

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Arizona Immigrant ID Law Ignores Constitutional Protections

The governor of Arizona has signed into law a measure that would allow police to demand proof of legal residency in cases where they believe an individual might be an undocumented immigrant. The same law would also require people to carry proof of legal residency. It is unclear how the law would be enforced without racial profiling and whether or not US citizens would be subject to legal penalties if caught not carrying proof of citizenship.

The law ignores the Constitutional ban on “unreasonable search” and protecting personal documents. It also seeks to establish state-level control over an area of law that is the domain of the federal government. There is, for instance, no Arizona customs service or national border service. The border is a federal category, and immigration is controlled, by law, by various federal agencies and the jurisprudence of federal law. There is language in the law that is reportedly designed to prevent the federal government from interfering with state enforcement.

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House Passes Health Bill 220 to 215

At 10:59 pm Saturday evening, a 15-minute vote was called. Members of the House were then to vote yea or nay by electronic device. By 11:01 pm, the vote was 197 to 184 and moving quickly. The vote tally will not be final until the Speaker drops the gavel to close the vote. By 11:03 pm, 36 Democrats had voted against the measure, making the special Saturday vote a case of high legislative drama.

At 11:05, there remained fully 10 Democrats not having cast their vote, with rumors that one or two Republicans might also “defect” and join the Democratic majority in voting for passage. At 11:07 pm EST, the tally of yea votes reached 218, the threshold necessary to pass the comprehensive healthcare reform bill. The voting would remain open for 15 minutes, allowing for the possibility of a change in one or more votes.

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Obama Speech in Ghana Praises Good Governance, Calls for Community Outreach

Pres. Barack Obama praised African community values and called Africans to transcend conflict and promote government from the ground up and peaceful transfers of power, democratic values and international cooperation, in his first presidential visit to subsaharan Africa. Addressing Ghana’s parliament in Accra, Obama outlined US policy toward Africa and said endemic conflict was holding back African development.

The US president said he had called for $63 billion in US spending for health initiatives across the continent, including money to fight malaria, polio, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Disease and conflict have devastated the population of Africa, reducing life-expectancy in many countries to under 40 years. Of the 27 nations with life-expectancy under 50 years, 26 of them are in Africa (Afghanistan is the other). Life-expectancy in Ghana is just under 60, a fact which underscores the positive quality-of-life gains that can emerge from peace and rule of law.

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Australian PM Rudd Announces Global Carbon Capture Project

Australian PM Rudd Announces Global Carbon Capture Project

The Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (GCCSI) was announced in L’Aquila by Australia’s premier Kevin Rudd. The GCCSI amounts to a global intergovernmental effort to produce state of the art carbon capture projects to sequester and store carbon produced by industry in the period leading up to a zero-emissions energy infrastructure. Rudd unveiled the project at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, convened by US president Barack Obama alongside the G8 summit of leading world economies.

The Australian prime minister described the GCCSI as a “rolling global clearing house” for cutting-edge technologies that can speed concrete carbon-capture and storage (CCS) solutions to market across the globe, helping to reduce the greenhouse effect of burning carbon-based fuels. 23 governments and 100 private companies have already joined the initiative, in hopes of supporting best-practice technological innovations that can help combat climate change and ease the cost of transitioning to a clean energy model.

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Why Healthcare Needs a Cure: Tens of Thousands Dying, System Failing, Despite Rising Profits

The US system of healthcare is fundamentally broken. Nearly 50 million people have no coverage at all. Add to that the 13 million undocumented immigrants who are unable to buy healthcare or qualify for government programs, and we have over 60 million inhabitants of the US with zero access to affordable healthcare. Every single uninsured inhabitant of the US pushes costs up, as the system has to absorb unpayable emergency healthcare costs for those individuals. So, for practical reasons as well as moral, we need to take seriouly that every person has a right to medical treatment.

20% of the population of the wealthiest nation on the planet is unable to access regular medical treatment or preventive care. Emergency health situations, such as heart attack, cancer or accident, are leading to rising numbers of bankruptcies. Each year, it is estimated that tens of thousands of Americans die specifically from lack of coverage.

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The Radical Naïveté of Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is trying to reinvent, or rehabilitate, himself. And he’s doing it by trying to whip up reflexive anger across his party’s base. Without citing one single point of Pres. Obama’s policy or one single piece of historical evidence, he has classed Obama’s call for a world free of nuclear weapons as “a dangerous fantasy”. He is situating himself firmly in the camp of make-believe “values conservatives” whose world view is actually an adolescent reading of Machiavelli (and a fantasy already proven to be dangerous).

Values, if those who camp along this stretch of the ideological spectrum have any allegiance to them, must always come after and be subsumed by a regime of dark and cynical manipulations. To what end? To prove that one is dark and cynical enough to be feared. This is the adolescent part of their understanding of Machiavelli — whose philosophy we will not treat in detail here. They claim to know how to be better than the brutes, thugs and villains, by imitating them.

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Against the Good Nukes / Bad Nukes Fallacy, or: David Frum’s Prophecy Problem

David Frum likes to think he knows what he’s talking about, but here’s the main reason he so often does not: he tends to link ideological assumptions with cynical bad-faith arguments about geo-politics. He mixes willing naïveté with the radical pretense of cynical omniscience. Frum would have us commit to the dangerous gamble that is selective non-proliferation, because he can’t think a better way.

When David Frum writes about why the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is not only “impossible” but also “dangerous”, he does so with two major obstacles to credibility: 1. he is arguing for the policies of an administration in which he served; 2. he is arguing that he can prove a negative (claiming to know what will never come to pass, what can never be expected from comprehensive global negotiations, the development of surveillance and inspections technologies, the enticements of a truly global regime of denuclearization).

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Unrelenting Soft Power: the Secret to Obama’s Poised Leadership

Lead by example. It’s a simple idea, and one that tends to be fully realized only by those who are most able. You lead by demonstrating the best qualities, because you are able to — 1. because you have them; 2. because you are in a position to do so; 3. because you are confident both of your ability to embody these qualities and of the qualities themselves, their virtue and their efficacy.

Soft power works, because one is able to use the social force of virtue —rooted in actual qualities and demonstrable value to those concerned— and because one shows proof of being closer to shared goals than the other party, leading the other party to follow one’s lead.

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Inauguration Diary: a Politics of Inclusion & of Civic Intelligence (photo essay)

Millions of people are expected to gather on the National Mall, between the west face of the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial; security is expected to be without any known precedent, and temperatures are not likely to rise above freezing… should we go? Should we go, and if we do, should we go as citizens, or as journalists? If millions of people can brave the crowds, the security and the cold, to witness an historic moment of such sweeping resonance, then why can’t we?

I realized over the weekend that I wanted to attend this event as a citizen, as a person who believes in the values of true democracy, and who believes that, flawed as the system is, it can still be bent to the virtues of those willing to engage it with principle and decency, and in that way, can be used to make life better and freer, even for the least powerful. And it came back to me what it was to witness the 15,000 people who did just this to attend then Senator Barack Obama’s campaign announcment speech, on 10 February 2007, when the conventional wisdom said he could never win.

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