83,333 Dead

Let’s all hope that this doesn’t turn out to be correct:

This afternoon Blitzer had the guy from LSU on whose team has been computer modeling this disaster. So far, the guy said that their modeling has been right on. He said that the model predicts that one third of the some 250,000 people who stayed in New Orleans were killed.

Suddenly Kos’ belief that this is worse than 9/11 seems much, much less ridiculous.

An Interesting Proposal

This proposal for “universal health care vouchers” is intriguing. It’s totally different from the one proposed in the Washington Monthly a while back. Under this plan, every American is issued a voucher that pays for one family physician. That physician’s pay isn’t based on how many procedures they perform, as in every system currently in place; instead, it bases pay on how healthy the doctor’s patients are. In other words, it’s based on merit pay. This solves two problems at once. First of all, it gives the patient free health care (non-internal medicine is included as well). Secondly, it eliminates the perverse incentive for doctors to overoperate or overmedicate. This strikes as a more fiscally responsible, and more medically responsible, plan that just single-payer. I’m guessing there will be a lot of opposition to the term “voucher”, as there was with the Monthly plan. But as someone who thinks that school vouchers should not only be put in place, but that public schools should be privatized as well, I’m more than open to the idea.

Hegemony and Its Discontents

Matt Yglesias rebuts a Nation piece applauding Iran’s move towards nuclear armament, and encouraging other non-Western nations to follow in its footsteps. Unfortunately, Matt only deals with the humanitarian consequences (fewer social services, massively increased war casualties) of this position, not its motivation. The Nation is clearly motivated by a hatred of America’s position as the world’s hegemon, and desires to see the country step down from this role. This is an unfortunately common view among leftists. There is a pervasive belief that America’s foreign policy has only negative consequences, and that it only serves to damage the world, not lead it forward. This belief is completely and utterly wrong.
Let’s look at who led the world before America. From 1945-1989, we shared the role with the Soviet Union, a genocidal, aggressive, impoverished tyranny. From 1815-1914, the leader was clearly Britain, a somewhat-constitutional monarchy with racist and imperialistic tendencies. From about 1800-1815, it was Napoleon’s France, a relatively enlightened empire. And we can go on and on. The fact of the matter is that America is the first real, free democracy to lead the world. We don’t take colonies, and haven’t since the Spanish-American war. We allow our allies autonomy. We don’t seek territorial expansion. The world has never had a better country at its helm.
But none of the countries I just mention are real alternatives to American domination anymore. The U.S.S.R. has broken up, and its successor, Russia, is much smaller in both area and population, and weaker economically, diplomatically, and militarily. Britain is small, in all senses of the word; it has a small economy, little soft power, and a much weaker military than the United States. France is in a similar situation as Britain. The two countries that could even conceivably challenge America – China and India – aren’t there yet either. While China has many more troops than we do, and India’s not far behind us, neither country spends anywhere near as much on its military as we do, and we crush them in turns of GDP.
So there is no alternative to American leadership. This isn’t really a defense of American hegemony; it’s just a statement of fact. But even if India or China were capable, as they appear to be becoming, of taking charge, should they? The answer with China is an obvious no. It’s a dictatorship that looks out for its national interest and its national interest only. India is a slightly less adamant no. It’s a democracy, but not as sturdy as the American democracy. But what really scares me is that it still fights over land; after all, what’s Kashmir about? This leads me to view India as very much stuck in the old realpolitik position that the U.S. has crawled out of. A humanitarian approach is much preferable.
But is America taking that approach? To a degree, yes. Fighting Hitler was not in our national interest; we did it out of hatred of the horrific effects of fascism in general and Nazism in particular. Nor was combatting the Soviet Union in our national interest; it’s likely that a Henry Wallace presidency, as was a real possibility in 1943 and ’44, would have lead to further friendship and cooperation between the two nations. But instead we fought them, both to ensure that Western Europe didn’t fall to Communism, and to free Eastern Europe and Asia from it. We have continued this tradition after the end of Cold War. Bosnia and Kosovo were the first-ever interventions the U.S. undertook to stop genocide. The war in Iraq, though arbitrary and misguided, did at least have the ideal of democracy in mind.
But we can, and should, do more. We can undertake Marshall plan-scale projects to end world poverty, such as the plan developed by Jeffrey Sachs. We can use our military might to intervene and stop genocides and ethnic cleansings. We can use our economic and diplomatic power to ease nations toward democracy, and ensure human rights. The U.S. has a grand opportunity to use its unprecedented power for tremendous good, and we should not let it pass us by.

Another Tragedy

Almost 1,000 people have been killed in a stampede in Iraq. Rumors had been spread saying that a suicide bomber was there, and people fled. The irony, of course, is that it is highly unlikely that a suicide bomber would have killed anywhere near that many. This is the direct consequence of an unwanted occupation. It generated sufficient resistance that public fear has reached deadly levels. Mr. Bush, you have blood on your hands.

Free Speech and the Republican Party

The Carpetbagger supplies me with this nice little quote:

“Anyway, ‘Get used to the protest, Gibson.’ This guy is in the U.S. Army. He writes to me from Tirrenia, Italy, on a U.S. army.mil [email account]. Can you imagine this? ‘Get used to the protest, Gibson. Americans are finally waking up and seeing the lies and the fallacies of the Bush administration. Fox News has done its best at bird-dogging the Iraq war.’ This guy is in the Army. Who knows? All right, find him and arrest him.”

That’s Fox News’ John Gibson, guest-hosting Bill O’Reilly’s radio show. Yep, this is the same guy who thinks Karl Rove deserves a medal. A nutcase, admittedly, but a nutcase with a national audience on the highest-rated news channel in the country. Anyway, Carpetbagger thinks the anti-military sentiment is the worst part. I disagree. That’s to be expected; the Republican noise machine performs character assassinations on anyone who openly rejects party dogma, including military personnel. If military experience helps them, as with George Bush Sr., they use it, with pleasure. If it hurts them, as with John Kerry and Casey Sheehan, they attack it, with even more pleasure.
No, what worries me about this is the casual manner in which Gibson dismisses the concept of free speech. This is becoming depressingly common on the right. Accusations of “treason” (preferably by its Constitutional definition, giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”) and “sedition” are thrown around like candy. Some of their targets are despicable, such as those who openly support the Iraqi insurgency. Others simply oppose the war in Iraq or, better yet, the war on terror. This is truly frightening. On no issue is public debate more essential than war. A nation should never go into battle lightly. People, including civilians, will die. That is not a hypothetical. If anything, active support for war should be restrained; war is never a pleasant option, and should always be a last resort. And yet the right refuses to allow Americans to even so much as question the necessity of bloodshed. This is a disturbing development, one that must be counteracted.

Granite State Pride!

Matt Yglesias writes:

New Hampshire, which you never seem to hear anything about except that they have a primary, slightly edges out New Jersey to be the richest state.

I should be outraged, having lived in New Hampshire all my life, but he’s right. Completely, utterly right. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; at least we aren’t reported on in a negative light, like some states. For that matter, I can’t think of any state that’s routinely portrayed positively. Better no coverage than negative coverage.

Exploiting Katrina

We knew this would happen. First, there’s an economist ripping off the Ayn Rand Institute’s argument that the government shouldn’t have helped tsunami victims last winter. Then there’s the Christian conservatives, claiming that the hurricane is God’s punishment for abortion and gays. And I’m not even going to count the number of posts at liberal blogs blaming Bush for not spending more on hurricane prevention. Come on, people. A tragedy is occurring, which has taken more than 120 lives. This is not the time for partisan mudslinging.
Non-politicians are taking advantage of the situation as well. Looting is taking place on a massive scale. I can’t say that I’ll feel that bad if looters can’t get out because they care more about theft than their own survival. There are even luxury evacuations occurring. I can’t express how much this disgusts me. They ride in a limo, while others are left to die in the Superdome? The least they could do is offer some people a ride. But no. They care more about personal comfort than basic morality.

The Gap

This Pew poll is simultaneously encouraging and saddening:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted July 7-17 among 2,000 adults, also finds deep religious and political differences over questions relating to evolution and the origins of life. Overall, about half the public (48%) says that humans and other living things have evolved over time, while 42% say that living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Fully 70% of white evangelical Protestants say that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time; fewer than half as many white mainline Protestants (32%) and white Catholics (31%) agree.
Despite these fundamental differences, most Americans (64%) say they are open to the idea of teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools, and a substantial minority (38%) favors replacing evolution with creationism in public school curricula. While much of this support comes from religious conservatives, these ideas particularly the idea of teaching both perspectives have a broader appeal. Even many who are politically liberal and who believe in evolution favor expanding the scope of public school education to include teaching creationism. But an analysis of the poll also reveals that there are considerable inconsistencies between people’s beliefs and what they want taught in the schools, suggesting some confusion about the meaning of terms such as “creationism” and “evolution.”

The good, not great, thing is that a plurality of respondents now believe in evolution. It should be unanimous, but this is better than nothing. The bad news, of course, is the presence of pro-evolution persons (a little less than 22% of the population) who nonetheless support teaching creationism alongside science. There is no sense in this position. Do we teach both the Copernican and Ptolemaic models of astronomy, in the interest of balanced presentation of the issue? To paraphrase Paul Krugman, educators should strive not towards balance, but towards objectivity. Once objectivity is lost, and everything’s a controversy, the whole point of education is lost. If a student writes in a test that Adolf Hitler judged the witch trials in Sacramento in 300 B.C.E., should a teacher have to respect that student’s “opinion” and not mark them wrong? Now suppose that the student wrote “the entire universe was formed in six days 5,000 years ago and everything was the way it is now”. Why should the teacher’s response be any different?