Issue 56 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

The Egyptian Supreme Court was widely charged with having committed a “coup” for interfering in the June 2012 presidential elections—by allowing a candidate who was part of the Mubarak regime to stand for election. What do you call a Supreme Court that throws a presidential election to one party?

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Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) makes this argument against the domestic use of drones in a CNN op-ed:

“I do not want a drone hovering over my house, taking photos of whether I separate my recyclables from my garbage. When I have friends over for a barbecue, the government drone is not on the invitation list. I do not want a drone monitoring where I go, what I do and for how long I do whatever it is that I’m doing. I do not want a nanny state watching over my every move.”

These are not the strongest constitutional arguments I’ve ever heard…(As to the 4th Amendment, it says there shall be no unreasonablesearch and seizure. And it leaves it to the courts to determine what is reasonable)

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I wonder what the originalists say about Thomas Jefferson, who believed that Americans should rewrite the Constitution from scratch every 19 or 20 years.

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The Weekly Standard published a table to illustrate Obama’s record by comparing various current statistics to those of November 2008—three months before George Bush left office.

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The Mars rover Curiosity could contaminate rock samples with Teflon and other particles from its drill—leading NASA to fulfill its dream of finding organic carbons and Teflon on the red planet.

Obamacare and Broccoli

In the debate leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, the argument that if the Corut allowed the health care law to stand, the government would next be able to force you to eat broccoli, was reported to carry great weight in the court of public opinion and even in legal circles. I asked one of the ICPS research assistants, Courtney Kennedy to find out what the liberal response was.

Paul Krugman argued that broccoli is different because if people decide not to buy broccoli, it doesn’t prevent other people who would like to buy broccoli from buying it:

“When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.”

Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, wrote:

“The answer is that health care insurance is different because if the healthy people fail to get themselves coverage, it becomes extremely difficult — under some conditions, impossible — for the insurance market to operate. That is, as the healthiest people leave the pool, the market for health insurance starts to unravel, as people who would buy it at a price where the insurance companies would be willing to provide it will be unable to do so.”

Here is mine: “If you kill Obamacare, next time you get really sick, your insurance company will refuse to reimburse you on the grounds that you had a pre-existing condition: you did not eat broccoli.”

A Third Option for Syria

So far, the debate over what is to be done about Syria has focused on two options. First, there is the concept of encouraging and pressuring Assad to change his brutal policy of suppression. This is called behavior change. Second, there is the idea of overthrowing his regime and replacing it with a democratic one. This is regime change.

But there is a third way, and it is the approach that the United States and its allies should pursue. They should seek to force Bashar al-Assad out while not upending the regime. In other words, get other members of the Assad regime to remove him while leaving the regime intact.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Greece‘s German Rage

“Greece” has become a code word for the fate that awaits a nation that does not put its economic house in order. It is used to call for cutting deficits and living within one’s means, as well as to illustrate the political turmoil and violence in the streets that result from a government’s failure to act in a timely manner. And Greece provides a rather vivid and painful example of what happens when, instead of working hard to reform and rebuild, a nation leans on outsiders to pay for its rescue.

Greece should also be studied as an illustration of what happens when people choose to blame someone else—what intellectuals call “the other”—for whatever ails them rather than facing up to their failings. Greece’s other is Germany, which is maligned for refusing to write big enough checks, fast enough, to make up for the accumulated losses of several generations of self-indulgent Greeks.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Obama’s Asia “Bluff”

When a leading expert on military affairs recently told a Brookings Institution meeting that President Obama’s much-touted pivot to Asia was “a bluff,” I considered the statement way off the mark. But since then, I have concluded that there is indeed less to Obama’s grand change in strategy than meets the eye. In fact, the pivot makes little sense. This suggests that one ought to look for domestic explanations.

The media points to the drawdown of American troops in the Middle East (particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan) and their increase in the Far East as exhibit one of the realignment of American military forces called for by the pivot. Actually, the new commitment to Asia is minuscule. The press refers to new deployment of 2,500 Marines in the region, but only 250 troops have actually arrived to date. The remainder are not expected to arrive for years. Furthermore, even when in full force—some say ten years from now—the Marines will add little to the 55,442 troops already stationed in the Asia-Pacific region at the end of last year, mostly in Japan (36,708), Guam (4,272) and afloat (13,618).

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Talk back to your doctor

If you are reluctant to challenge your physician on a certain procedure or medicine, you are hardly alone. Focus groups show that many patients feel intimidated by their doctors. They’re reluctant to take an active role in discussing their care because they’re afraid that the doctor will see them as “difficult.”

Recently, nine medical associations each took the unusual step of listing five medical procedures commonly used in their fields that patients don’t need, amounting to 45 tests or procedures. The associations report some of them might actually be harmful. Eight medical associations have signed on to release additional lists in the fall.

Read the rest at CNN.

Recent Publications

“Fair Makes Equal.” Dissent. June 12, 2012.

When I am intoxicated, having inhaled the Occupy Wall Street vapors, I dream that this time, in this election, the fight against inequality will finally carry the day. In my sober moments, I realize that building on the American yearning for fairness is a much safer bet. But then I found a way to have it both ways.

Attacking inequality head on is very seductive. Inequality is much more severe than it has been for decades. The promise of social mobility is increasingly a mirage. The fact that OWS’s most successful slogan by a country mile is “We Are the 99 Percent” suggests that people are recognizing the injustice of it all. Wall Street’s shameless shenanigans are on everyone’s lips. Polls show that raising taxes on the rich, and specifically the Buffett Rule (instituting a minimum tax rate of 30 percent on all earning more than $1 million a year), are winning issues.

Read the rest here.

Polish readers: Click here to read Andrzej Lubowski’s 2012 interview with Amitai Etzioni on the European Union.

The Best Government Money Can Buy

The Washington Post reports that between 2007 and 2010 130 members of Congress or their families traded stocks in companies lobbying on bills before their committees, comprising a total of $85 to $218 million in shares. The Congress members benefited from insider information about the fate of the bills and sold and bought stocks on this basis.

Is China a Foe?

In the National Interest, Dov Zakheim argues that China, Russia, Turkey, India, and Brazil share a growing sense of global ambition. He asserts: “There is no indication that the sense of empire, and of the entitlement that accompanies it, is waning in any of these five countries. On the contrary, it seems to get stronger with each passing year. Washington policy makers…would do well to recognize that there is more to these states than impressive economic growth, military expansion and political influence. Americans are known for their lack of historical sensitivity. They will need all the sensitivity they can muster in order to deal successfully with states whose claim to a greater role on the world stage is motivated as much by past glory as by present success.”

Illiberal Moderate Muslims

The Salafi Question.” Boston Review. June 11, 2012.

After the Muslim Brotherhood gained 40 percent of the vote and the Salafis 25 percent in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, Rana Abdelhai, a student, told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that while she would never vote for a Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi candidate, “This is democracy now. We have to respect who other people choose, even if they make the wrong choice.” A few days earlier, Dalia Zaida, a young activist, made a similar comment to an NPR reporter, saying, “I’m worried, but you know, as someone who really believes in democracy, I have to respect people’s choice.” Many others seem to share this view. Kristof considered Abdelhai’s observation “wise.”

Read the rest here.

Save the Social Safety Nets

“Rationing by Any Other Name.” Policy Review. 173 (June & July 2012) p. 19-28.

Newspapers and magazines do not usually regurgitate ideas that have been bandied about for decades, especially when they are replayed one more time by the same leading author. Hence, it is telling that the New Republic republished in mid-2011 the brief by Daniel Callahan (this time co-authored with Sherwin Nuland). The authors call for a ceasefire in America’s “war against death,” arguing that those who surrender gracefully to death “may die earlier than [is now common], but they will die better deaths.” They urge the medical profession – and ultimately, the American people – to undergo a cultural shift they argue is necessary to prevent the otherwise inevitable financial failure of our health care system. This shift will replace a “medical culture of cure” with a “culture of care.” They note that “rationing and limit-setting will be necessary” to bring about this change. Callahan and Nuland point to evidence that little progress has been made in our quest for cures for chronic diseases (like Alzheimer’s) or will likely be made in our efforts to significantly extend our life expectancy. Given the marginal benefit and high cost of medical advancements, they argue that we need to invest much more of our limited funds in preventive, affordable care, rather than in strenuous efforts to wring a few more years out of life.

Read the rest here.

I Read

Louis Putterman’s new book, The Good, the Bad, and the Economy, uses social sciences to bring hope to the millions of us who face tough times in today’s economies. His insights into human nature allow him to call attentions to sources of contentment that tend to escape us.  Read it and you will not just sleep better—you will live a better life.

Rick Cohen writes in Nonprofit Quarterly about research showing that areas with good civic health (i.e., thriving communities) often have lower unemployment rates than other places. Increased rates of volunteerism, public meeting attendance, working with one’s neighbors, and even voter registration are all associated with fewer job losses.

From Kenneth Anderson’s Living with the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order: “But can one really trust an America that suddenly wants to work the hardest, most intractable, hard-realism problems through the United Nations, an America that actually believes that the multilateral processes of the Security Council or even the General Assembly and its organ are any way to pursue serious foreign policy, at least those issues not involving drone strikes? Can one really trust an America content to be treated as jut another of the big boys in the world—the biggest, sure, “indispensable” even, but at the end of the day, just another player? And when America positively insists on being treated as just another of the players, just another guy, a big one but just another guy, at the Turtle Bay Bar of the Nations—should one think, this is what I’ve always wanted, or should one be very, very afraid?”


NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Panel: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Opportunities and Challenges

July 10, 2012, 4pm – 6pm

Washington, DC

Jonathan Turley, on “A Legal Perspective on Drone Strikes”

Amitai Etzioni, on “Fighting Civilians: The Rules of Engagement”

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) held its 24th Annual Conference on June 28-30, 2012 at MIT in Cambridge, MA.


On U.S. Economy Heading Straight for the Cliff:

Why does increasing debt suggest that we are dropping of a cliff?  Are interest rates being pushed up?  No. Are investors around the world afraid to buy and hold US Treasury issues?  No. I respect your work a great deal, but I don’t understand the fetish we have developed about deficits and debt.  And yes I do have a Ph.D. In economics so I know the arguments.   Our biggest policy failure is that we allow millions of people to be unemployed. Fixation on the debt makes it harder to address this problem. Thus, either try to make the case that the deficit and debt matter or stop talking about it as if we all agree on that conclusion.

Reynold F. Nesiba, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Economics

Augustana College

Sioux Falls, South Dakota


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