Sunday, December 20, 2009

Left Wing Blogger Seeks Worthy Adversary

I've had a lot of fun since I started up this blog a few months ago. It's nice having a soapbox from which to respond to current events, make my case, and share my observations about the world. Feedback has been good. But I don't feel like I've reached a lot a people that didn't already agree with me.

I am more interested in having a lively debate than in just basking in the wisdom of my own opinions. I feel that Obama is an excellent president and that the health care reform bill is entirely worthy of support. I am told that these views are not universally held. Real engagement between people across the vast chasm of our political divide is sadly rare. Common ground is elusive. In a vast sea of opinion it's unusual to see someone forced to consider the arguments from the other side. But that's what I want to do. I'm looking to start a new blog with a different format. Something that would be more interesting to read and to write. I want to start a debate blog.

But first I need a worthy adversary. A nemesis. A yin to my yang. A Lex Luthor to my Superman. Or at least someone who disagrees with me and wants to write about it.

The basic idea is a kind of Crossfire in blog form taking on whatever topics interest the participants. This would be a new blog with a new name. Maybe: Dawn Pistols, or Rapiers at Dawn, or Preaching to the Convertible. Or something else.

For the format I'm thinking of a simplified, casual Lincoln-Douglas format: Affirmative post, Negative Post, Affirmative Rebuttal, Negative Rebuttal. 4 posts total on a topic, 2 from each side, maybe 300-1000 words per post. We spend about a week on a topic. Then we move on to a new topic. The other guy starts off with an Affirmative post that can be a spin on the old topic or something entirely new (or whatever you want).

So, I start with:
Obama's Health Care Plan is Great: blah, blah, blah
You reply: No, its not...
I reply: Really, it is...
You post: No its not...

New topic, your choice.
You say: Obama is a Terrible Commander in Chief
I say, no he's not...
etc, etc...

Sound like fun? The offer is open. Somewhere out there there must be a right-wing blogger with opinions to spare looking for a lively debate. I await you. Terms are negotiable.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Take on the "Whole AGW Scheme"

Recently I've been poking around on some political sites, looking for a lively debate (I'll post more on this adventure very soon). I wandered over to the forums on Politico where I was asked about my "opinion of the whole AGW scheme". I obliged. Here it is.

Regarding Anthropogenic Global Warming there are two main questions before us:

1. Are we human beings causing a rapid increase in global temperatures?

2. What, if anything, should we do about it?

In this post, I'll just look at question #1. This is not really a political question. Regardless of what I think, either all that carbon we're burning is causing the atmosphere to heat up or it isn't. Is this real or not? The honest answer is: How should I know? I don't spend my time examining polar ice cores or tracking ocean temperates.

There are a wide array of factors that have changed the earth's climate over the years. There were ice ages and warmer epochs long before humans were around. We are not the only agent of climate change. But we should take no comfort from this. The natural forces that have caused the earth's climate to change have occurred over a much longer span -- tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of years. On those occasions where the climate did change rapidly, the record suggests this was very bad news for the creatures who had the misfortune to be around at the time.

Let's just concern ourselves with the next 100 years or so, a blink in history, but it's our blink. Climate worrywarts estimate the average global temp will maybe increase around 5° F by 2100. That sounds like a small change. You'll never detect it standing in your yard. It's certainly not a threat to all human life. But still, if we believe the climatologists, even a 5° bump will trigger massive coastal flooding, crazy weather system, fresh water shortages, agricultural disruption and a host of other problems we might prefer to avoid.

A considerable majority of the people who spend their time on this issue are in agreement, and have been for years now. Global warming due to human activity is real. And it's going to cause some big, big problems for us humans if we don't do something about it. The question for us is, should we believe them?

Even if climate change is happening, it is happening at a pace that's hard for us as individuals to perceive. Gradual changes that happen over decades may trigger big environmental changes. But as we live day to day, we don't see it. We can't see it. But if we think about aggregate human activity, it's not that hard to imagine. For over a century now, we've been extracting oil and coal and other carbon-rich fuels from the ground, and burning them as fast we can. Currently, we burn about 85 million barrels of oil a day. We have massive operations going to pull these fuels out of the ground and we use them to run our cars, and heat our homes, and power our power plants. We've been doing this on massive scale for a while now and have every intention of continuing to do it. 85 million barrels. Every day.

Even if we don't know the exact net effect of releasing all these greenhouse gasses is, we know the basics of how these gasses trap solar radiation and keep the planet warm and habitable. We also know that we are extracting and burning fuels, creating more greenhouse gasses, as fast as we can. And that's pretty fast.

And why wouldn't we? Oil is great stuff. From the industrial revolution to the information age-- modernity, life as we know it, is made possible by energy. Power. Oil, and its carbon-rich fossil fuel friends, are the cheapest, most efficient, most scalable, most plentiful sources of energy we've got.

It is precisely because fossil fuels are so wonderful that we really don't want to hear about the nasty side-effects. It would be really, really swell if we could just burn all the oil we want as fast as want, for as long as we want and not ever have to worry about all that additional carbon in our atmosphere. That's a pleasant thought. But wishing won't make it so.

Wishful thinking will make us want to listen to those who tell us what we want to hear. As usual, there is no shortage of people willing to tell us there is a free lunch, that we don't have to sacrifice or work together. You can do what you want. Al Gore is a jerk, and bore, and Democrat. Don't trust him. Look, newly reveled emails show us that some scientists are cleaning up and spinning some of their data. Now we get to ignore everything they and their colleagues have ever done. And every other climate scientist is probably doing the same thing. Let's ignore them too. They can't even get each and every scientist, pundit, blogger and ex-vice-presidential candidate to agree there is problem! Clearly this is very controversial at best. We should probably just hold off and study the problem some more. Let's wait until everyone agrees. We'll do something then.

Unfortunately, the AGW deniers have a lot more media attention than scientific credibility. There are over 180 countries taking part in the Copenhagen conference. All of those countries are populated by citizens that don't want to be told to cut back, pay more, or use less. All of those countries have scientists who are telling their leaders that this is real, and we need to do something about it. I hope they are wrong. But I believe they are right.

Quick Health Care Reform Note

  • The bill going forward is a good bill. It's an important bill. It's not perfect but it is the best bill we'll get. Anyone who says they support health care reform but think this bill should be killed is a fool. Or they are lying. Or both.
  • Hate Joe Lieberman if you want, but there's really no reason to hate him more than the 40 other non-Democratic Senators who aren't even negotiating on this. They are the ones really working to kill it dead.
  • Read Ezra Klein's blog. He is doing fantastic reporting on health care reform and is just about the only writer who seems to really know what is in the bill and why it matters. He also explains it clearly and frequently.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama: Best President Ever

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting post up on Salon comparing Obama admirers the relentless defenders of George Bush and Sarah Palin. He writes...

Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual.
I view Obama as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual. He's also a great president. I am inclined to rise to his defense against critics to his left and right. There are several Bush-era policies that appalled me at the time of their introduction. Because I trust him, I am willing to grant Obama lot a latitude to continue those same polices. I'm stunned by the rationalizations of Bush and Palin defenders, but I fit Greenwald's profile of a pie-eyed Obama fanboy rather closely.

Is there something wrong with that?

Before I defend myself, allow me to dig this hole deeper. Not only do I consider Obama, who is not even through his first year in office, to be a great president -- I hear-by anoint him with the title of Best President I Have Seen And Am Likely To Ever See In My Lifetime.

Overblown? Blinded? Bombastic? Consider the competition. These are the human beings that have in my lifetime ascended to become President of United States -- I'll even thrown in the near-presidents: Carter. Regan. Mondale. Bush. Dukakis. Clinton. Dole. Bush. Gore. Kerry. McCain. Obama's virtues stack up well. A president who is an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual is very rare bird. We have the good fortune to have one at at time when we really need one. Why not be grateful? Why not admire him? Isn't that something to be cherished and defended?

Criticism of Obama from the right is certainly voluminous but it has such an incoherent kitchen-sink quality to it that I have a hard time taking any of it seriously. He's a socialist. He's a Nazi. He's a coward. He's a tyrant. He's hasn't done anything. He's trying to take over the country. He's too intellectual. He's an empty suit. He's a ruthless Chicago pol. He's naive and in way over his head. If there's a coherent right-wing critique of Obama I've yet to encounter it*. I always feel like telling these people to just turn off the Fox News. Pay attention to his actual words and the policies he proposes. Measure his actions against the principles you claim to have. These feelings of incoherent rage will pass.

The criticisms coming from the left are more pointed and, to my ears, better grounded in reality. The most frequent of these are that Obama is too centrist, too moderate, too conciliatory, doesn't know how to play political hardball, and that he's insufficiently aggressive in denouncing Republican chicanery. If these are flaws, they are flaws that I admire. Obama seems to be genuinely committed to forging consensus, exploring the options, prioritizing policies over politics. On issues from health care, to the economy, to Afghanistan, to climate control we see an administration that is patient but persistent. The president should set the national interest above the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties. If more politicians did this we would all be much better off.

Greenwald blasts Obama defenders saying...
These outbursts include everything other than arguments addressed to the only question that matters: are the criticisms that have been voiced about Obama valid? Has he appointed financial officials who have largely served the agenda of the Wall Street and industry interests that funded his campaign? Has he embraced many of the Bush/Cheney executive power and secrecy abuses which Democrats once railed against -- from state secrets to indefinite detention to renditions and military commissions? Has he actively sought to protect from accountability and disclosure a whole slew of Bush crimes? Did he secretly a negotiate a deal with the pharmaceutical industry after promising repeatedly that all negotiations over health care would take place out in the open, even on C-SPAN? Are the criticisms of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan valid, and are his arguments in its favor redolent of the ones George Bush made to "surge" in Iraq or Lyndon Johnson made to escalate in Vietnam? Is Bob Herbert right when he condemned Obama's detention policies as un-American and tyrannical, and warned: "Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House"?
Greenwald is entitled to his questions and his criticisms. And the individual issues merit direct answers. I will decline to address all of them now, but hope to address these issues in future posts.

 Instead, I offer these general defenses:
  • In many of these cases Obama inherited huge problems for which there are no good solutions. The proposed policies are easy to criticize, but do you, the critic, have an alternate plan that you think is better? If you offer your own counter-proposal I may disagree with you. If you can't think of any other plan which you like better and you are prepared to offer and defend, then perhaps the criticism is unfounded.

  • Many critics point to some action (or some lack of action) as evidence of some glaring character flaw. Obama did (or didn't do) X, therefore he is weak/cowardly/craven/ unprincipled/incompetent. Often the case for the flaw following from the act is very weak. In such cases, it us not unreasonable to rise and defense and point out the weakness of the case and the absence of the flaw.

  • Some critics don't argue with a policy per se. Instead they argue that the policy seems or could be seen as an indication that Obama is cowardly/craven/ unprincipled/incompetent. Do you fault the policy? Do you feel the flaw is real? Everyone should support politicians that pursue sound policies especially when those policies are politically risky and subject to unprincipled demagoguery. Every policy can be seen as evidence that one is cowardly/craven/unprincipled/incompetent-- especially when there are so many partisans so bent on seeing them that way.

  • As President of the United States, Obama is responsible the efficient function of the entire federal government including and especially the vast national security apparatus. He has never been president before. In many cases he is pursuing his principles and campaign promises cautiously. He is moving at a pace that will not disrupt the function of, or his relationship with, those organizations that he needs and we need to rely on. But he is moving forward.

Everyone is entitled to express their opinion. And blind devotion to a politician is always unwise. Blind skepticism is also unwise. We live in a age of skepticism, criticism, and ironic detachment. We are not used to finding virtues in our leaders. We are unfamiliar with politicians worthy of defense. We are afflicted by fierce partisanship and vast political divides. We have a president willing to stand in the center, look at the big picture, and steer us towards real solutions. We should offer an honest critique. But when the president is doing something right, we should rise to his defense.

* For right-wing critique, there is this. Pretty thin gruel. Anyone got anything better?