Interesting Reads Feb 1-15, 2019

I am going to get back to some categories for these articles in a bit, but I want to start with two articles that I think, rhetorically, capture some essential elements of recent debates in our nation that are worth having.

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Davis, CA February 15, 2019

I like them because they are well-written, thought provoking, and because they drive to the heart of some important issues.

 

1. The New Green Deal

I know, I know… you have already made up your mind about this one.  It is either a bold move towards the future or Stalinism cloaked in New Deal (or Marshal Plan) language.  Whatever the case, this article lays out some simple points about our built environment and what it would take to create something that is not fossil fuel dependent.  Here is the key point (please read the whole thing):

Our carbon emissions are not mainly about the price of gasoline or electricity. They’re about infrastructure. For every human being, there are over 1,000 tons of built environment: roads, office buildings, power plants, cars and trains and long-haul trucks. It is a technological exoskeleton for the species. Everything most of us do, we do through it: calling our parents, getting to work, moving for a job, taking the family on vacation, finding food for the evening or staying warm in a polar vortex. Just being human in this artificial world implies a definite carbon footprint — and for that matter, a trail of footprints in water use, soil compaction, habitat degradation and pesticide use. You cannot change the climate impact of Americans without changing the built American landscape.

Okay, if you are denying that human-induced climate change is a thing then this article is not for you.  But if you even suspect that our lifestyles have something to do with the “weirding” of our climate then you have got to grapple with this argument.

It is odd to me that the idea of mobilizing the nation for war (see WWII) is not at all controversial (nor, apparently, is the idea that we need to feed the war machine to the tune of trillions every couple of years despite the fact that we are NOT at war), but that public expenditure on our built infrastructure to lower our collective carbon footprint is somehow anathema, sophomoric, and beyond the pale… Color me red (or green) I guess.

2. The “Emergency” Declaration

This whole article by Jeff Greenfield receives a YES, YES, YES from me.  Why?  Because I am a hopeless liberal?

No, because I grew up in a conservative family and this is what I learned:

  1. Leaders must be morally upright.  Kennedy and King were shams, I was taught, because they had sexual relations outside marriage.
  2. Big government is bad because it robs us of essential freedoms.  Only war itself should lead to the central state acting to take control.  Everything else is tyranny.
  3. “We balance our budget and so should the government.”  Deficits are the result of moral failure and no right-minded politician will support deficit spending–only the “Cadillac Liberals” act that way (and they spend to keep power).
  4. We saved Europe and we need NATO as a bulwark against all that is wrong in the world (Soviet Union, then later Islamic fundamentalism).

And that conservatism had the Grand Old Party as a sacred vessel to hold these essential truths.  Now we have this:

If you think the Republicans in Congress are going to stand up to Trump’s fake national emergency in order to defend the party’s long-held principles, or to assert the constitutional authority of the legislative branch, you haven’t been paying attention for the past three years. Trump said he would win so much that you’d get tired of winning—the lone arena in which this is objectively true is how he has imposed his will on his fellow Republicans, who have surrendered abjectly to him…

At times, it’s possible to imagine the president almost willfully testing his party, musing about whether there is any part of its belief system that he cannot compel Republicans to abandon. Is character key to a good leader? White evangelicals, who once overwhelmingly supported that proposition, now reject it by landslide margins. Are deficits a mortal danger to the national economic health? Are international alliances crucial to national security?

Yes, all the way around.  The Republican Party is not conservative. Not in any way.  Glad I can finally put that to rest.

Now, on to the rest…

Peacemaking

My dear friend Lisa Schirch has been boots (okay, shoes) on the ground in Afghanistan for a good long while.  A person committed to the way of non-violence, she has bravely entered the halls of military academies to try to help the makers of war wrestle with what “nation building” really requires.  I admire her commitment to peace–it is practical, open-eyed, and grounded in an understanding of our shared humanity with folks like the Taliban.

This article gets at the heart of what peacemaking in a decades-long conflict must include.  And Lisa is right:

Successful peace agreements emerge from comprehensive peace processes such as those that took place in South Africa, Tajikistan, Colombia, Guatemala, Liberia and the Philippines.

Comprehensive means that they are broadly inclusive of community (human) needs and focus on building broad consensus.

Closer to home we have (finally?) an awakening of our need for peacemaking in our communities.  This article is encouraging in this regard, but as my friend Bill (husband of Lisa) remarked to me “(I)t irks me that the article reads as if they just discovered structural injustice and the country was peachy keen until Trump became president.”

Indeed… these divisions, the need for local peacemaking, restorative justice, and conflict resolution are NOT new… Maybe we are just waking up to them.  Thanks Bill (the article IS helpful however).

All About Health

I am pretty sure you won’t agree with the basic argument of this article on suicide in the military.  It certainly made me squirm.  Here is the gist:

Military service members, while perhaps not fully understanding their own evolutionary idealism, enlist to escape a society where it’s every man for himself. Human beings instinctively need to be part of a tribe. There is something mysteriously satisfying about offering yourself for the greater good of others. An experience in the military followed by a life deficient in community, solidarity, and shared suffering is, well, depressing.

Frankly, I am open to any argument to understand this epidemic (like so much about the military, hidden from view).  I will say that what it suggests is that our de-facto mercenary military is not made up of a healthy group of people.

Ezra Klein writes excellent longish articles on key policy and economics themes and this one on the idea of “Medicare for All” is no exception.  Klein is unsparing in his criticism of the various Democratic “plans” (including Bernie Sanders’) and breaks down both what is meant by “Medicare” and what is meant by “All.”  A sample:

Medicare works, and Americans know it. That’s a political boon for Democrats. But it carries an implicit threat: If whatever ends up being Democrats’ Medicare-for-all bill feels risky to people, the same forces buoying the idea’s poll numbers now will sink the policy later.

As a companion to the Klein piece, I recommend this one, which talks about the role of private insurance in Europe and Canada: that is the role of private insurance in the context of strong and successful state-run schemes.  Lots of interesting models and approaches.

If you don’t read publications from the American Public Health Association, I strongly recommend you start.  They are accessible, include key links and provide key evidence of the arguments they are making.

This one on the fall of life expectancy in the US (for the third year running) blames suicide and opioids.  The article refers to these as “conditions of despair”:

Suicide and opioid addiction are not the same, with different causes and solutions. But as conditions of despair, both opioid addiction and suicidality are rooted in social and socio-economic adversities, many of which are widespread in the U.S.

Now I am not particularly satisfied with the catch-all of “social and socio-economic adversities.”  Those terms seem to hide more than they reveal.  However, how is it that in the wealthiest nation, perhaps in all of history, we have a declining life expectancy because of despair?

I think we need to have a look in the mirror here.

I lump poverty in with health because… well… just like poor people scrimp on food, they also scrimp on health care to get by.  A few weeks ago I linked to an article criticizing the way some development economists (and Bill Gates) describe improvements to poverty rates (that is, that they are falling globally).  That article questioned the poverty threshold Gates referred to and the dubious quality of data from the 1800s on poverty.

Turns out that the whole Gates thing has led to a pretty healthy debate about the whole issue of global poverty.  I strongly recommend this article because it is a true primer to the discussion of poverty and what it means on a global scale.

Bacevich

I know I am way over the top in my adoration of this guy… but he gets it.  In case you have missed all his incisive writing over the past several years (including his warning about the “imperial presidency”), this review of his collected works should be a link to encourage you to buy the book. 

He is that good…

 

I will close today from an extended quote from the Heritage Foundation’s website.  This bookends one of my opening articles and situates us pretty much where we are. The Ten Conservative Principles are by Russell Kirk, a respected figure in American conservative circles.  I point to Principle Number 8 in light of our national “emergency”:

Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, (just) as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger.

Emphasis added…

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