Monday, May 26, 2008

Meanwhile, 171 Million Miles Away...

As a politics junkie, I have to make it a point to step back every so often and remember the important and/or interesting things that are happening elsewhere.

NASA just successfully landed a new probe on Mars called Phoenix. You can read about the mission here, but I've copied a few key paragraphs below.

I'm a big fan of the space program, but even for those of you that are not, I think things like this remind us of the extraordinary things we can accomplish given the right focus and resources.

...Phoenix is designed to look for organic material and other signs that life has existed on Mars, or could exist on the planet. Unlike the two rovers that have been exploring the Martian surface for nearly five years, Phoenix is built to stay in one place and use its robotic arm to dig into the soil and ice. The vehicle is equipped with several miniature chemistry labs to analyze the material it digs up.

The lander touched down further north on Mars than any previous lander. NASA scientists think the frozen water on or near the surface may tell them whether the minerals and organic compounds needed for life as we know it exist, or have ever existed, on the planet.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Risky Conversations

I'm going to comment soon on the talking versus appeasement question that President Bush recently raised with his speech before the Israeli Knesset last week. But first, I want to recommend an article that speaks to the related (but different) question of the risks associated with high level diplomacy with adversaries.

First, let me say that I with those that say the United States should be pursuing far more expansive and aggressive diplomacy with our adversaries. Under the right circumstances, I even support these talks on the Presidential level.

I've been frustrated recently by the low level of debate around this issue and it has caused me to dig in around my opinion that increased high level diplomacy is a superior course of action. In other words, I have lost some objectivity.

This "digging in" has happened to the extent that I have not allowed myself to reflect on the fact that Presidential-level diplomacy is NOT a risk-less proposition if not done properly. Some of our wisest leaders have made that mistaken assumption to disastrous effect.

The New York Times ran a strong editorial today that reminded me of that fact. It used the example of John F. Kennedy's direct discussions with Nikita Khrushchev to make the point. It makes the argument that Kennedy's weakness in those discussions emboldened the Soviet Premier so much that it may have been a contributing factor behind his decision to move the weapons to Cuba that ultimately led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

If you want to read more, it's a 5 minute essay..

Friday, May 16, 2008

In Support of Big Dreams

I found this 90 second video on another blog (Andrew Sullivan's) and wanted to pass it along.

Save it for the next time you lose faith in your ability to achieve your goals.

I'm confident that it will pick you back up...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

McCain's First Term Goals

Policy speeches usually don't get enough attention in the mainstream media, but CNN covered one by John McCain today that I thought was worth passing on.

I'm not going to provide much commentary here. I think some of his goals are laudable and achievable. Others I think are too vague to discuss in any detail. And a few, like claiming there will not be another terrorist attack on American soil, are reckless (despite how obviously desirable a goal it is).

Still, in my judgement, this is a rare example of the media providing valuable information you can use to evaluate someone that is asking for your vote, so I'm passing it on.

You can read the article here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The 5th Annual Livestrong Day

Lance Armstrong published an important Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal today - you can read it here (subscription required).

Three of my close friends, all in their 20's, have been diagnosed with cancer in the last 12 months - one just this last week. I also have an aunt that survived breast cancer.

I would imagine that every reader of this post has a loved one that has fought or is fighting the disease this issue probably hits close to home for everybody... and if it doesn't now, it almost surely will sooner or later.

Here is the core of the article:

...increased funding is only part of the solution. Government must streamline the laborious process of getting breakthroughs from lab to clinic. We can cut out red tape of questionable necessity that discourages innovation in the private sector.

Meanwhile, the private sector must work to ensure that Americans fighting cancer have access to new treatments and therapies. Our regulatory system should not hinder the fight against cancer, and our profit-based health-care providers should do more to address the fact that too few people can afford the treatments they deserve.

....What can you do? Ask your local, state and national lawmakers what steps they'll take against tobacco, the number one cause of cancer, and how they'll ensure that all of us – not just star athletes and politicians – have access to prevention efforts, early screening and effective treatment. Educate yourself and others. Support cancer programs in your community. Live a healthy life. And vote.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Peek at McCain vs Obama...?

Last year, I wrote a post about the plans for the 1964 Presidential campaign.

John F. Kennedy and Barry Goldwater were reportedly discussing the possibility of traveling the country together in a series of direct debates in front of the American people. (Lyndon Johnson did not pursue this idea after Kennedy was assassinated).

CNN revealed today that representatives of the McCain campaign have been floating a similar idea for a series of joint town hall meetings featuring the two candidates. Although the idea is only in its infancy, Obama himself has already expressed some enthusiasm for it...

We'll have to wait and see if and how this idea progresses but I think it has a lot of potential. We desperately need a respectful and serious debate on many issues and McCain and Obama are two politicians with both the willingness and ability to candidly discuss their positions on some of our most important issues...

..anyway, I thought this was a reason to be optimistic about the upcoming general election.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Help is On the Way

Kudos to John McCain for making climate change a non-trival part of his Presidential campaign despite the minimal benefit it will garner with his party's base.

McCain has probably been the most vigorous Republican voice in the Senate for taking action on this issue- even going so far as to co-sponsor legislation with Democrat Joe Lieberman.

Fortunately, it would seem that regardless of who we elect in November, our federal government will finally start addressing this issue constructively...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Helping Myanmar

By now, hopefully you've heard of the catastrophic cyclone in Myanmar. More than 100,000 people are believed to be dead.

If you want to help, the Washington Post has provided a single page with a concise list of quick and easy links to assistance organizations that would benefit from your support.

I also found a blog that shows a before and after photo from a NASA satellite that shows the Burmese landscape before and after the cyclone. It's stunning.

Remembering Some Real Issues

If you care about foreign affairs (including, but not limited to Iraq), you've probably had to work pretty hard lately to find some fresh news.

The media has been intensely obsessed with the Presidential race the past few weeks - particularly with a small subset of issues of relatively low importance including gas tax proposals that will never become law, flag pins and incendiary pastors.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of significant media attention, the real world is moving on. And, ironically, it is moving in ways that may very well affect the election in November far more than anything the press is being covering today.

David Ignatius made this argument yesterday in the Washington Post.

The 2008 campaign has been so mesmerizing that it's easy to forget what's going on out in the real world that could disrupt, once again, the certitudes of the pollsters and strategists. The campaign in recent weeks has focused on pocketbook issues because of worries about a deep recession. But as these economic anxieties fade a bit, we are likely to return to the ground zero of the Middle East, and to the themes of war and peace that will be interwoven through the remainder of this campaign.

I disagree with Ignatius that our economic anxieties will subside by November. If anything, I think they will probably get worse.

Nevertheless this article is worth reading if you want to spend time on some of the issues that we should be considering when choosing our next leader. Ignatius discusses the possibility of war with Iran (and the shocking wish of some Saudis that it happen), a possible peace between Israel and Syria and the role that diplomatic intermediaries (such as Turkey) could and should play in the region. (Incidentally, I wrote on a similar idea last year).

You can read the article here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

More Insight from Thomas Friedman

I found several pieces of wisdom and insight from Thomas Friedman yesterday in a great 3 minute essay.

He ventures into politics a bit with a (fully justified) swipe at President Bush's post 9/11 energy policy and a plug for Barack Obama's ability to motivate the youth in this country...but he ends with a substantive note that, for me, inspired real hope because it is confirmed by what I have seen in my career thus far:

....millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do one can touch us.

True on all counts, in my opinion.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

9 Essays on Iraq

The New York Times published 9 essays on Iraq today. Each piece discusses a major problem in Iraq and proposes steps to address it.

It is an interesting group of authors. They range from young ex-military officers that have served in the war to former political appointees that were involved in the initial months of the occupation.

If you want to learn more about our struggle in Iraq and what we should consider to salvage the situation, this is a good resource.

Here it is.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Globalization and Education

Yesterday, in a brilliant essay, David Brooks of the New York Times discussed the politics of globalization and the limits of the current paradigm being pushed by politicians (primarily the Democrats).

In addition, he discusses a notion that the world is in the midst of a "skills revolution". Here is a core section of his article:

We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.

The globalization paradigm emphasizes the fact that information can now travel 15,000 miles in an instant. But the most important part of information’s journey is the last few inches — the space between a person’s eyes or ears and the various regions of the brain. Does the individual have the capacity to understand the information? Does he or she have the training to exploit it?

Brooks is saying two tremendously important things in this article.

First, the key to coping with free trade and the changing global economy is to recognize that education is key and prioritize it appropriately. We must ensure that our young people are trained as critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

Second, the focus of our political leaders (primarily the Democrats) on re-engineering or obstructing trade deals is distracting us from this goal. We need better leadership.

I highly recommend the whole article. It is not very long, but in my opinion, pretty sophisticated - therefore probably worth reading a few times. It's here.

Friday, May 2, 2008

In Support of Appearing on Fox News

In recent days, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have appeared on major Fox News programs. Apparently this has caused quite a stir in some far left circles.

For example, Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the very liberal blog Daily Kos, remarked that "Democrats are being idiotic by going on [Fox News]". Moulitsas and others have previously urged Democrats to boycott Fox News - presumably to economically disrupt and/or politically de-legitimize the cable news ratings leader.

Although certain programs on Fox infuriate me, I think this attitude is obnoxious, ineffective and actually harmful to the country's political debate. I wrote on this last year when Democratic presidential candidates decided to opt out of a Fox News sponsored debate.

The rise of wedge issues and the political consultants that ruthlessly wield them deserve the majority of the blame for the polarized political climate in this country.

Things have become so bad in the last two decades that it seems inconceivable to many that a Democratic presidential candidate could ever win a state like Texas (the state that produced Lyndon Johnson and his liberal Great Society) or that a Republican Presidential candidate could ever win a state like California (the state the produced the Republican icon Ronald Reagan).

...So many people on both sides have stopped trying. For years, Democrats have wholly ceded dozens of congressional districts and millions of voters to Republicans and vice versa.

When Kos or someone else encourages boycotts or actually criticizes a Democrat for merely talking to "the Right", he is only adding to this polarization and the resulting gridlock.

It is absurd that someone like Kos would support (as I do) Barack Obama's policy of talking to hostile foreign leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but be offended when he talks to United States citizen and Fox News employee Chris Wallace!

Conventional politics may demand that you focus on rallying the people that already agree with you, but actual leadership demands that you reach out to some of the people that don't.

The article that sparked my thinking on this matter is here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Price...So Far

It's now been five years since President Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

Whether or not you support the continuation of our efforts in Iraq, all Americans should be aware of the price we have paid so far.

Although I do not support a draft, the fact that we have an all-volunteer military means that many (if not most) Americans have no direct connection to anyone serving in this conflict. Furthermore, because taxes have actually been cut during this war, none of us are sacrificing financially for it either (at least not yet).

For these reasons, most of us can tune out Iraq most of the time.

An article in The Washington Post today concisely states the price we have paid thus far. I'll quote it directly:

Five years ago, 139 American troops had died in Iraq. Now that number is 4,064.

Five years ago, 542 American troops had been wounded in Iraq. Now that number is 23,395.

Five years ago, the national debt was $6.5 trillion. Now it's $9.3 trillion.

Five years ago, your average gallon of gas cost $1.44. Now it costs $3.57.

Five years ago, there were about 150,000 American troops in Iraq. Now there are slightly more.

I'm writing this not to make an argument for or against what we have done - only to provide some facts that everyone should consider when making their own judgment.

Is it worth it? ....Maybe. There is another side to this story that discusses the potential costs of increased instability in Iraq. The costs are real but almost impossible to quantify. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the things we can count.

You can find the source article (which I do not recommend) here.