Monday, February 9, 2009

Reducing oil consumption will hurt our friends and us more than the Middle East

Reducing oil consumption will hurt our friends and us more than the Middle East, by Indur Goklany
Master Resource, February 9, 2009

Many people believe that national security would be advanced if we reduce our petroleum usage, because, goes this theory, we would be funneling less money to the Middle East which then would reduce, if not eliminate, funding for terrorists who wish to harm the U.S. (more on this in the future). Ex-CIA Director, James Woolsey, for instance, is reported to have said that we need “destroy the strategic power” of petroleum by making us not less dependent on foreign oil, but less dependent on oil, period. See, also, here.

But if we reduce our oil demand — whether by subsidizing or mandating renewables, tightening CAFE, or hiking gasoline taxes — the first barrel of oil that would be withheld from production will most likely be the barrel with the highest marginal cost of production, and the last barrel of oil that would be displaced would be the one that has the lowest marginal cost of production. This means that the first barrel of oil that wouldn’t be produced is probably oil from the Tar Sands of Alberta and deep/ultra-deep waters in (or near) the United States, and, possibly, Brazil, Angola, and Nigeria. The last barrel to stop production will probably be from Saudi Arabia. In other words, subsidies for alternatives to petroleum will probably do more harm to our friends and ourselves, before they hurt the people from whom we are trying to gain “energy independence”.

We could hurt ourselves in a variety of ways. First, mandating renewables would increase our energy bill. Second, subsidizing petroleum alternatives would reduce our take home pay because the government would have to pay for the subsidies, and guess who will have to pay for that!. Third, we may have to shut production down in deep and ultra deep waters in the vicinity of the U.S.

Talk about cutting one’s nose to spite another’s face.

David Petraeus' Remarks at the Munich Security Conference

David Petraeus' Remarks at the Munich Security Conference
February 8, 2009

Thank you very much Chairman, and it’s great to be with you all and if I could start off by just applauding as a soldier what I just heard the minister of defence of the UK tell us, I thought that was a terrific message.

It’s great to be on the stage with my diplomatic partner, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. You know it’s every commander’s dream to have as his ambassadorial wingman someone journalists describe with nicknames like the bulldozer.

In all seriousness I want to publically salute this gifted diplomat for taking on his new position, an appointment that conveys how significant the focus is in the United States on Afghanistan and Pakistan and the south and central Asian regions more broadly

Secretary of Defense Gates recently described Afghanistan to the US congress as posing our greatest military challenge right now.

As he noted, our fundamental objective in Afghanistan is to ensure that transnational terrorists are not able to reestablish the sanctuaries they enjoyed prior to 9/11.

It was to eliminate such sanctuaries that we took action in Afghanistan in 2001 and preventing their reestablishment remains an imperative today, noting to be sure that achievement of that objective inevitably requires accomplishment of other interrelated tasks as well.

As has been explained, President Obama has directed a strategy review that sharpen the clarity of these tasks.

Afghanistan has been a very tough endeavor. Certainly there have been important achievements there over the past seven years as Minister Young and President Karzai noted in the earlier session. Many important ones.

But in recent years the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda has led to an increase in violence, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the country.

Numerous other challenges have emerged as well, difficulties in the development of governmental institutions that achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people; corruption, expansion of poppy production and the illegal narcotics industry, though that was reversed last year, and difficulties in the establishment of the Afghan police.

In fact there has been nothing easy about Afghanistan. And as Senator Lieberman observed recently in a speech to the Brookings Institution, reversing Afghanistan’s slide into insecurity will not come quickly, easily or cheaply. Similarly Secretary Gates told Congress this will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight. I agree.

In fact I think it’s important to be clear-eyed about the challenges that lie ahead while also remembering the importance of our objectives in Afghanistan and the importance of the opportunity that exists as we all intensify our efforts and work together to achieve those objectives.

Many observers have noted that there are no purely military solutions in Afghanistan and that is correct. Nonetheless military action while not sufficient by itself is absolutely necessary, for security provides the essential foundation for the achievement of progress in all the other so-called lines of operation. Recognizing of course that progress in other areas made possible by security improvements typically contributes to further progress in the security arena creating an upward spiral in which improvements in one area reinforce progress in another.

Arresting and then reversing the downward spiral in security in Afghanistan thus will require not just additional military forces as we have been reminded again today but also more civilian contributions, greater unity of effort between civilian and military elements and with our Afghan partners, and a comprehensive approach as well as sustained commitment and a strategy that addresses the situations in neighboring countries.

This morning I’d like to describe briefly and in general terms the resource requirements under discussion in Washington and various other national capitols.

Then I’ll describe a few of the ideas that helped us in Iraq and that properly adapted for Afghanistan can help General McKiernan and ISAF.

In recent months our president and many others have highlighted the need for additional forces in Afghanistan to reverse the downward spiral in security, help Afghan forces provide security for the elections on August 20th, and enable progress in the tasks essential to achieving our objectives.

As has been announced in recent months more US forces are entering operations as part of ISAF and Afghanistan. Now more have been ordered to deploy and the deployment of others is under consideration.

Beyond that the number of Afghan soldiers to be trained and equipped has been increased. And many of the other troop contributing nations will deploy additional forces as well, with a number of commitments under discussion, and I would be remiss if I did not ask individual countries to examine very closely what forces and other contributions they can provide as ISAF intensifies its efforts in preparation for the elections in August.

It is of course not just additional combat forces that are required. ISAF also needs more so called “enablers” to support the effort in Afghanistan: More intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. More military police, engineers and logistics elements, additional special operations forces and civil affairs units. More lift and attack helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, additional air medivac assets, increases in information operations capabilities and so on.

Also required are more embedded training teams, operational mentoring and liaison teams and police mentoring teams, all elements that are essential to building the all important capability of the Afghan national security forces and I applaud the German defense minister’s announcement of additional police and army trainers this morning. As with combat forces, some additional enabler elements are already flowing to Afghanistan, commitments have been made to provide others and again others are under discussion. As Senator Lieberman also highlighted in his Brookings speech, a surge in civilian capacity is needed to match the increase in military forces in order to field adequate numbers of provincial reconstruction teams and other civilian elements.

These teams and other personnel are essential to help our afghan partners expand their capabilities in key governmental areas, to support basic economic development, and to assist in development of various important aspects of the rule of law.

It is also essential of course that sufficient financial resources be provided for the effort in Afghanistan. It’s hugely important that nations deliver on their pledges of economic development assistance, that the Afghan National Army and law and order trust funds be fully financed, that support be maintained for the afghan reconstruction trust fund, and that resources continue to be provided for the projects conducted by our military units and PRTs at local levels, and again I applaud the German defense minister’s announcement of additional development aid this morning as well.

Of course just more troops, civilians, dollars, and even Euros won’t be enough.

As students of history we are keenly aware that Afghanistan has over the years been known as the graveyard of empires. It is after all a country that has never taken kindly to outsiders bent on conquering it. We cannot take that history lightly. And our awareness of it should caution us to recognize that while additional forces are essential, their effectiveness will depend on how they are employed, as that in turn will determine how they are seen by the Afghan population. And what I’d like to discuss next then are some of the concepts that our commanders have in mind as plans are refined to employ additional forces.

I base this on discussions with General McKiernan and others who have served in Afghanistan as well as on lessons learned in recent years. I do so with awareness that a number of the elements on the ground are operating along the lines of these ideas, and that their ability to do so will be enhanced by the increased density on the ground of ISAF and Afghan forces as additional elements deploy to the most challenging areas. Counterinsurgency operations are, after all, troop intensive. Finally I want to underscore the fact that commanders on the ground will as always operationalize the so called “big ideas” I talk about in ways that are appropriate to their specific situations on the ground.

So here are some of those ideas.

First and foremost our forces and those of our Afghan partners have to strive to secure and serve the population. We have to recognize that the Afghan people are the decisive terrain. And together with our Afghan partners we have to work to provide the people security, to give them respect, to gain their support and to facilitate the provision of basic services, the development of the Afghan security forces in the area, the promotion of local economic development, and the establishment of government that includes links to the traditional leaders in society and is viewed as legitimate in the eyes of the people.

Securing and serving the people requires that our forces be good neighbors. While it may be less culturally acceptable to live among the people in certain parts of Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, it is necessary to locate Afghan and ISAF forces where they can establish a persistent security presence

You can’t commute to work in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. Positioning outposts and control bases then requires careful thought, consultation with local leaders, and the establishment of good local relationships, to be effective.

Positioning near those we and our Afghan partners are helping to secure also enables us to understand the neighborhood. A nuanced appreciation of local situations is essential. Leaders and troopers have to understand the tribal structures, the power brokers, the good guys and the bad guys, local cultures and history and how systems are supposed to work and how they do work.

This requires listening, and being respectful of local elders and mullahs, of farmers and shopkeepers, and it also requires of course, many cups of tea.

It is also essential that we achieve unity of effort. That we coordinate and synchronize the actions of all ISAF and Afghan forces and those of our Pakistani partners across the border, and that we do the same with the actions of our embassy and international partners, our afghan counterparts, local governmental leaders, and international and nongovernmental organizations.

Working to a common purpose is essential in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. We also, in support of and in coordination with our Afghan partners, need to help promote local reconciliation, although this has to be done very carefully, and in accordance with the established principles in the Afghan constitution.

In concert with and in support of our Afghan partners we need to identify and separate the irreconcilables from the reconcilables, striving to create the conditions that can make the reconcilables part of the solution, instead of a continuing part of the problem, even as we kill, capture or run off the irreconcilables.

In fact, programs already exist in this area and careful application of them will be essential in the effort to fracture and break off elements of the insurgency, in order to get various groups to put down their weapons and support the legitimate government and constitution of Afghanistan.

Having said that, we must pursue the enemy tenaciously. True irreconcibles again must be killed captured or driven out of the area, And we cannot shrink from that any more than we can shrink from being willing to support Afghan reconciliation with those elements that show a willingness to reject the insurgents and help Afghan and ISAF forces.

To ensure that the gains achieved can endure, ISAF and Afghan forces have to hold areas that have been cleared. Once we fight to clear and secure an area, we must ensure that it is retained.

The people and local security forces need to know that we will not abandon them. Additionally we should look for ways to give local citizens a stake in the success of the local security effort, and in the success of the new Afghanistan more broadly as well.

To this end a reformed, capable Afghan national police force, with the necessary support from the international community and the alliance is imperative to ensuring the ability to protect the population.

And the new Afghan population protection program announced by Minister of Interior Atmar holds considerable promise and deserves our support as well.

On a related note, to help increase the legitimacy of the Afghan government, we need to help our Afghan partners give the people a reason to support the government and their local authorities.

This includes helping to enable Afghan solutions to Afghan problems.

And on a related note, given the importance of Afghan solutions and governance being viewed as legitimate by the people, and in view of allegations of corruption, such efforts likely should feature support for what might be called an Afghan accountability offensive as well. That will be an important effort.

In all that we do as we perform various missions, we need to live our values. While our forces should not hesitate to engage and destroy an enemy, our troopers must also stay true to the values we hold dear.

This is, after all , an important element that distinguishes us from the enemy. And it manifests itself in many ways, including making determined efforts to reduce to the absolute minimum civilian casualties, an effort furthered significantly by the recent tactical direction and partnering initiatives developed by General McKiernan with our Afghan counterparts.

We must also strive to be first with the truth. We need to beat the insurgents and extremists to the headlines and to preempt rumors. We can only do that by getting accurate information to the chain of command, to our Afghan partners and to the press as soon as is possible. Integrity is critical to this fight.

Thus when situations are bad we should freely acknowledge that fact and avoid temptations to spin. Rather we should describe the setbacks and failures we suffer and then state what we’ve learned from them and how we’ll adjust to reduce the chances of similar events in the future.

Finally, we must always strive to learn and adapt. The situation in Afghanistan has changed significantly in the past several years and it continues to evolve. This makes it incumbent on us to assess the situation continually and to adjust our plans, operations, and tactics as required. We should share ideas and best practices but we should also never forget that what works in one area today may not work there tomorrow, and that what works in an area may not work in another area either.

In conclusion allow me to reiterate the key points I have sought to make. We have a hugely important interest in ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a sanctuary for transnational extremists. Achieving that core objective in turn requires the accomplishment of several other significant tasks.

Although there have been impressive achievements in Afghanistan since 2001, the security situation has deteriorated markedly in certain areas in the past two years.

Reversing that trend is necessary to improve security for the population, to permit the conduct of free and fair elections in August, and to enable progress in other important areas.

Achieving security improvements will require more ISAF and Afghan security forces of all types. Combat, combat support, logistics trainers and advisers, special operations and so on.

Some additional forces are already deploying, further increases have been ordered or pledged, and more are under discussion. To be effective the additional military forces will need to be employed in accordance with counterinsurgency concepts applied by leaders who have a nuanced understanding of their areas of operation.

And to complement and capitalize on the increased military resources, more civilian assets, adequate financial resources, close civil-military cooperation, and a comprehensive approach that encompasses regional states will be necessary.

None of this will be easy. Indeed, as Vice President Biden observed recently after a trip to Afghanistan, Afghanistan likely will get harder before it gets easier, and sustained progress will require sustained commitment.

But our objectives are of enormous importance. A significant opportunity is at hand and we all need to summon the will and the resources necessary to make the most of it.

Thank you.

Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan

Ruin Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan, by Betsy McCaughey

Feb. 9 -- Republican Senators are questioning whether President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill contains the right mix of tax breaks and cash infusions to jump-start the economy.
Tragically, no one from either party is objecting to the health provisions slipped in without discussion. These provisions reflect the handiwork of Tom Daschle, until recently the nominee to head the Health and Human Services Department.

Senators should read these provisions and vote against them because they are dangerous to your health. (Page numbers refer to H.R. 1 EH, pdf version).

The bill’s health rules will affect “every individual in the United States” (445, 454, 479). Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors.

But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446). These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and “learn to operate less like solo practitioners.”

Keeping doctors informed of the newest medical findings is important, but enforcing uniformity goes too far.

New Penalties

Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties. “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541)

What penalties will deter your doctor from going beyond the electronically delivered protocols when your condition is atypical or you need an experimental treatment? The vagueness is intentional. In his book, Daschle proposed an appointed body with vast powers to make the “tough” decisions elected politicians won’t make.

The stimulus bill does that, and calls it the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (190-192). The goal, Daschle’s book explained, is to slow the development and use of new medications and technologies because they are driving up costs. He praises Europeans for being more willing to accept “hopeless diagnoses” and “forgo experimental treatments,” and he chastises Americans for expecting too much from the health-care system.

Elderly Hardest Hit

Daschle says health-care reform “will not be pain free.” Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them. That means the elderly will bear the brunt.

Medicare now pays for treatments deemed safe and effective. The stimulus bill would change that and apply a cost- effectiveness standard set by the Federal Council (464).

The Federal Council is modeled after a U.K. board discussed in Daschle’s book. This board approves or rejects treatments using a formula that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly, such as osteoporosis.
In 2006, a U.K. health board decreed that elderly patients with macular degeneration had to wait until they went blind in one eye before they could get a costly new drug to save the other eye. It took almost three years of public protests before the board reversed its decision.

Hidden Provisions

If the Obama administration’s economic stimulus bill passes the Senate in its current form, seniors in the U.S. will face similar rationing. Defenders of the system say that individuals benefit in younger years and sacrifice later.

The stimulus bill will affect every part of health care, from medical and nursing education, to how patients are treated and how much hospitals get paid. The bill allocates more funding for this bureaucracy than for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force combined (90-92, 174-177, 181).
Hiding health legislation in a stimulus bill is intentional. Daschle supported the Clinton administration’s health-care overhaul in 1994, and attributed its failure to debate and delay. A year ago, Daschle wrote that the next president should act quickly before critics mount an opposition. “If that means attaching a health-care plan to the federal budget, so be it,” he said. “The issue is too important to be stalled by Senate protocol.”

More Scrutiny Needed

On Friday, President Obama called it “inexcusable and irresponsible” for senators to delay passing the stimulus bill. In truth, this bill needs more scrutiny.

The health-care industry is the largest employer in the U.S. It produces almost 17 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Yet the bill treats health care the way European governments do: as a cost problem instead of a growth industry. Imagine limiting growth and innovation in the electronics or auto industry during this downturn. This stimulus is dangerous to your health and the economy.

(Betsy McCaughey is former lieutenant governor of New York and is an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Does Ethanol Save Consumers Money at the Pump?

Does Ethanol Save Consumers Money at the Pump? By Marlo Lewis
Planet Gore/NRO, Monday, February 09, 2009


That’s what the corn and ethanol lobbies claim. In fact, filling up with ethanol is a big fat money-loser, as you can see for yourself by visiting, a website jointly administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Once you’re there, click on “Flex-Fuel Vehicles,” then click on “Fuel Economy Information for Flex-Fuel Vehicles,” and then click on “Go.”EPA and DOE compare the average annual cost of using regular gasoline and E-85 (motor fuel blended with 85 percent ethanol) for 90 different flex-fuel models. In every case, regardless of make or model, fueling the vehicle with E-85 costs more than gasoline—lots more.Consider a few examples:

[table removed]

The other neat thing about this site is that it compares the annual carbon footprint of using E-85 versus regular gasoline for each vehicle. In every case, ethanol has a lower carbon footprint (emits fewer annual tons of CO2). This is controversial in light of research (see here and here) indicating that ethanol is a net contributor to greenhouse gas emissions when you take into account emissions from fertilizer used to grow corn and the carbon released from forests and soils as corn cultivation expands into previously unfarmed areas.

Nonetheless, even if one eschews a lifecycle analysis and considers only the direct emissions released by burning equal volumes of gasoline and ethanol, the cost per ton of CO2 avoided by using E-85 is ridiculously expensive.

Consider the Nisan Titan 4WD. According EPA and DOE, using regular gasoline, the Titan emits 13.1 tons of CO2 per year; using E-85, it emits 11.1 tons of CO2 per year. So fueling the Titan with E-85 instead of gasoline reduces the vehicle’s annual CO2 emissions by 2 tons. However, the E-85 costs $2,259 more, which means the per-ton cost of reducing CO2 by using E-85 instead of gasoline is $1,129.50. That's a dozen times more costly than the “social cost of carbon” (how much damage each ton of CO2 allegedly does) as estimated by Richard Tol, perhaps the world's leading climate economist, in a major literature review.

For additional perspective, the Energy Information Administration estimated that emission permits under the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 2191) would cost $16.88 per ton in 2012, $29.88 in 2020, and $61.01 in 2030. So the per-ton cost of reducing CO2 emissions by switching your Nisan Titan from gasoline to E-85 is between 18 and 66 times more costly than emission permits under Lieberman-Warner, a bill the U.S. Senate did not see fit to pass.

Although EPA and DOE established partly to promote flex-fuel vehicles and E-85, the information they provide demolishes claims that ethanol reduces pain at the pump and provides a cost-effective antidote to global warming.

Paul Krugman's Nostalgianomics: Economic Policies, Social Norms, and Income Inequality

Paul Krugman's Nostalgianomics: Economic Policies, Social Norms, and Income Inequality. By Brink Lindsey
Cato, February 9, 2009

What accounts for the rise in income inequality since the 1970s? According to most economists, the answer lies in structural changes in the economy— in particular, technological changes that have raised the demand for highly skilled workers and thereby boosted their pay. Opposing this prevailing view, however, is Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics. According to Krugman and a group of like-minded scholars, structural explanations of inequality are inadequate. They argue instead that changes in economic policies and social norms have played a major role in the widening of the income distribution.

Krugman and company have a point. For the quarter century or so after World War II, incomes were much more compressed than they are today. Since then, American society has experienced major changes in both political economy and cultural values. And both economic logic and empirical evidence provide reasons for concluding that those changes have helped to restrain low-end income growth while accelerating growth at the top of the income scale.

However, Krugman and his colleagues offer a highly selective and misleading account of the relevant changes. Looking back at the early postwar decades, they cherry-pick the historical record in a way that allows them to portray that time as an enlightened period of well-designed economic policies and healthy social norms. Such a rosy-colored view of the past fails as objective historical analysis. Instead, it amounts to ideologically motivated nostalgia.

Once those bygone policies and norms are seen in their totality, it should be clear that nostalgia for them is misplaced. The political economy of the early postwar decades, while it generated impressive results under the peculiar conditions of the time, is totally unsuited to serve as a model for 21st-century policymakers. And as to the social attitudes and values that undergirded that political economy, it is frankly astonishing that self-described progressives could find them attractive.

Full report here.

FDA, foodborne illness outbreaks and inspections

Tilting at Food Safety Windmills, by Greg Conko
Openmarket/AEI, February 09, 2009 @ 11:05 am

The papers have been filled the past few weeks with stories about the recent peanut contamination problem. And, as this article from today’s New York Times, and this from Saturday’s Washington Post, indicate, the conventional wisdom is that America’s “food safety net” is badly frayed due to Bush Administration cut-backs in FDA spending. As is typical, the problem isn’t so simple.

Unfortunately, as long as the world’s food production system continues to be highly decentralized and fragmented, there will continue to be foodborne illness outbreaks like the most recent salmonella contamination problem and the E. coli contamination outbreaks seen in the past few years. The trouble, of course, is that food is, by and large, grown outside in dirt, and microbial contamination is a fact of life. Measures can and should be taken by food producers, processors, and packagers to identify contamination where it occurs and remove it from the food chain. But, with over a billion meals consumed in the United States every day, there is not enough money in the world to meaningfully increase inspections of the hundreds of thousands of facilities that produce, process, and sell food in the United States.

Currently, there is no requirement for FDA to inspect any one food production facility on a regular basis, and many facilities go years between inspections. FDA sets its own priorities based on the types of food products and production activities involved, by trying to determine where the likeliest risks lie. That, say the critics, is the root of the problem. FDA needs the financial and personnel resources to inspect every food production facility in the country (as well as foreign facilities that export to the U.S.) on a regular basis.

But will this really do anything productive? In short, the answer is “no.” The proposed Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009 would expand FDA’s authority substantially, requiring additional money for agency personnel and more frequent inspections. How frequent? Not less than once every 4 years. So, even after this massive influx of taxpayer cash, the best we can expect is that most food production facilities will now be inspected once every four years instead of once every decade. Does anyone really think that’s going to help? Of course not — no thinking person could. Instead, this is designed to make us all feel that the government is “doing something,” while taking more money out of the productive economy and funnelling it to Washington.

If recent stories are true -– that operators of the Peanut Corporation plant in Georgia willfully failed to remove contaminated product from its shipments and did not clean equipment after contamination was identified –- it is hard to imagine that a doubling or tripling of inspections could have prevented this tragedy. News accounts indicate that Peanut Corporation executives actually identified the presence of salmonella in various products and PUT THEM ON THE MARKET ANYWAY.

Fortunately, this kind of conscious cheating is rare in a country like the United States. But, in order to help deter it, penalties for such willful misconduct must be beefed up (so to speak). I’m not suggesting we start executing food plant operators or safety inspectors found to be willfully negligent, as China has been doing recently. Though, for acts that serious, serious penalties are warranted. The penalties for knowingly putting contaminated foodstuffs into commerce need to be more than simple slaps on the wrist.

Finally, it’s worth repeating that we can never realistically eliminate all foodborne illness. The shear size and scope of the problem –- that is, bacteria and viruses are all around us all the time -– means that we must recognize there are diminishing marginal gains to be had from increased spending on food safety. Not that we should accept defeat, but that at some point we have to recognize that diverting more and more public resources to combating an intractable problem means having fewer resources to spend on other things -– like health care, education, occupational safety, etc. -– that could increase safety by a far greater amount.

On the other hand, there are a handful of regulatory changes that could both help the private sector combat foodborne illness while also lower the cost of food safety. For example, food irradiation is a safe and effective technology for killing or denaturing bacteria and viruses in and on foods, such as meat and poultry, grains, and even some fruits and vegetables. But, a variety of regulatory restrictions on the use of irradiation (as well as mandatory labeling that seems designed to scare consumers away from irradiated foods) make it uneconomical for food processors to use irradiation in the United States on a wide-scale basis. The most innovative breakthroughs in food biotechnology are rarely ever tested because the regulation of biotech plants and animals are too costly. And the more recent panic about nanotechnology, combined with burgeoning regulation in that field, could strangle in the crib some of the most innovative efforts to improve food safety.

Thus, FDA, USDA, and EPA -– the same regulatory agencies charged with ensuring that the American food supply is safe -– are actually contributing to lower safety by creating and maintaining poorly thought out rules regarding technology regulation. It ought to serve as a cautionary note that, in trying to make changes that will improve food safety, we need to be conscious that some well-intentioned efforts can actually make us less safe.

DOE Award Results in Several Patents, Potential Increased Coal Recovery

DOE Award Results in Several Patents, Potential Increased Coal Recovery
Energy Dept, February 9, 2009
Technology Addresses Economic, Environmental Waste Impoundment Issues

Washington, D.C. — A $13 million cooperative effort with the Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) over the past seven years has resulted in the successful demonstration of a novel technology that addresses a problem plaguing coal operators and environmentalists alike: separating fine coal particles from water and their ultimate use as a significant energy resource.

Researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, Va., have developed and patented an advanced technology called a hyperbaric centrifuge that can successfully remove water from very fine coal slurries. During recent prototype tests at Arch Coal Company’s Cardinal plant in Logan County, W.Va., the technology reduced the moisture to a level that the waste coal can now be marketed commercially. The result is significant to the energy consumer in that U.S. coal producers each year discard large amounts of moisture-laden coal fines that can potentially be salvaged for energy use while simultaneously cleaning up the environment.

"We are heartened by the success of Virginia Tech’s technology because it represents a major step forward in clean coal separation technology while addressing environmental concerns associated with waste coal impoundments," said Dr. Victor K. Der, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy. "The continued success and application of this technology holds promise for converting millions of tons of 'lost' energy into a valuable resource for the U.S. energy consumer."

Virginia Tech received the award from NETL as part of the Office of Fossil Energy's Hydrogen and Fuels program. Virginia Tech used the grant to develop the prototype centrifuge, evaluate its operation and design, and demonstrate it at coal-cleaning plants in Virginia, Alabama, and West Virginia. Several other technologies were also developed as part of the $13 million cooperative research effort.

Virginia Tech's Center for Advanced Separation Technologies (CAST) tested the centrifuge at three operating plants, including the most recent test at the Arch Coal plant, where waste coal slurry went through the centrifuge at a rate of 30 gallons per minute and was dewatered to 13-19 percent moisture with coal recovery greater than 97 percent. Virginia Tech, in conjunction with West Virginia University, formed CAST in 2001 under the sponsorship of NETL to develop advanced separation technologies.

The prototype unit tested at the Cardinal plant was constructed by Decanter Machine Company, Johnson City, Tenn., as part of a license agreement with Virginia Tech. Based on the successful test result, the company is currently building a full-size commercial unit with a capacity of 600 gallons per minute. Virginia Tech holds a U.S. patent on the technology, as well as international patents in seven countries.

Dr. Roe-Hoan Yoon, the lead developer of the technology at Virginia Tech, explains that the centrifuge applies a combination of air pressure and centrifugal force to successfully reduce significant levels of moisture in fine coal. He said that the idea came from basic research.

The success of the hyperbaric centrifuge is significant in the overall scheme of clean coal research in that the high moisture content of fine coal waste forces coal producers to discard the waste in storage areas called waste impoundments. Estimates indicate that these impoundments nationwide hold about 2 billion tons of fine coal in abandoned ponds and an additional 500 million to 800 million tons in active ponds. Technology that can recover these wastes would produce valuable resources to our Nation's energy supplies.

Removing moisture from very fine coal particles left over from the coal preparation process has been difficult in the past. Conventional methods such as thermal dryers or mechanical dewatering have either been too costly or have been unable to dewater ultrafine coal particles (0.1 millimeters or less). The hyperbaric centrifuge has successfully addressed those issues.

Virginia Tech researchers explain that the centrifuge, when combined with another Virginia Tech–developed clean coal technology called Microcel(TM), can remove both ash and water from the fine coal discarded at impoundments. These technologies will not only help coal producers minimize waste generation, but will also create small businesses recovering coal from existing waste impoundments.

Conservative views on Biden's Munich Speech: Obama Administration Foreign Policy Projects Weakness and Confusion

Biden's Munich Speech: Obama Administration Foreign Policy Projects Weakness and Confusion. By Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.
Heritage, Feb 9, 2009

Full text w/references here

In a major speech at the February 7 Munich Security Conference,[1] Vice President Joe Biden outlined the Obama Administration's foreign policy vision for the first time on the world stage. It was an address designed to reach out to leaders in both Europe and the Middle East, "on behalf of a new Administration determined to set a new tone in Washington, and in America's relations around the world."

Biden's speech should be viewed as one of the weakest projections of U.S. leadership on foreign soil in recent memory. The message was confused, apologetic, over-conciliatory, and remarkably lacking in substance and detail. It was the kind of speech, heavy in platitudes and diplo-speak, that could easily have been given by a continental European bureaucrat nestled in Brussels, Paris, or Berlin. It was not the voice of the most powerful nation on earth.

The Vice President went to great lengths in his speech to avoid offending America's enemies, such as Iran and Hamas, or her strategic competitors, such as Russia. One could have been forgiven for thinking that the world was largely at peace rather than facing the threat of global terrorism or a dangerous rogue regime aggressively seeking nuclear weapons capability.

Biden's remarks touched on several key areas, from Iran to NATO reform--all of which gave major cause for concern--and left critical questions unanswered.


The Vice President confirmed the new Administration's willingness to enter into direct negotiations with the Islamist regime in Tehran.

In essence, Biden offered a quid pro quo deal with Iran--the kind the European Union has offered for several years with absolutely nothing to show for it except spectacular failure. Such a deal is based on the naïve premise that the Iranian theocracy is a normal state actor that plays by the rules of diplomacy and can be negotiated with. What was missing in Biden's remarks was any explicit statement of consequences--actions ranging from tougher economic and military sanctions or the use of force against Iran's nuclear facilities--that could be inflicted on the dictatorial government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the ruling mullahs if they do not comply. There was no appeal to European Union countries such as Germany to tighten their own sanctions on Tehran or calls for Russia and China to strengthen U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Missile Defense

The Vice President stated that the United States "will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven to work and cost effective." However, Biden gave no pledge to press ahead with a third-site missile defense system in Eastern and Central Europe, sowing the seeds of further confusion in Poland and the Czech Republic, two key U.S. allies who have agreed to participate in the defense system by hosting missile interceptors and early warning radar. In addition, National Security Adviser James Jones confirmed in an interview with the British Observer newspaper that plans for third-site defenses had been "put on ice," a decision that, accord to according to a senior NATO official, is a clear overture to Moscow.[2]


Aside from a refusal to recognize the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there was little evidence in Biden's speech that the Obama Administration intends to adopt a tough line toward Russian aggression in its "Near Abroad" or attempts to bully and intimidate its neighbors in the Caucasus as well as Eastern Europe. Significantly, Biden made no mention of U.S. support for Georgian and Ukrainian membership in the NATO Membership Action Plan or Russia's brutal invasion of Georgia last summer.

The willingness of the Obama team to bring Moscow into its negotiations over Third Site sets a dangerous precedent and is a clear signal that the Russians may be given a bigger say over NATO expansion plans. As Biden put it in his speech, "the last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and the members of our Alliance--it is time to reset the button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together." Strategically, it would be both naïve and risky for the new Administration to turn a blind eye toward an increasingly belligerent and nationalist Moscow that is actively flexing its muscles in Europe and across the globe.


While reiterating the importance of the NATO alliance and the need for its renewal in the 21st century, the Vice President supports policies that will undermine the organization and weaken American influence within it. In Munich, Biden backed the full reintegration of France into "NATO structures," and French officers are reportedly in line to take two senior alliance command positions: Allied Command Transformation and Joint Command Lisbon.[3] Biden also made it clear in his Munich address that the United States will "support the further strengthening of European defense, an increased role for the European Union in preserving peace and security, (and) a fundamentally stronger NATO-EU partnership."

These changes would give Paris (and its key ally Berlin) an extraordinary degree of power and influence within the organization, out of all proportion to its minimal military role in alliance operations. Such a move would ultimately shift power away from Washington and London and toward continental Europe, undoubtedly paving the way for the development of a Franco-German driven European Union defense identity within NATO.


Biden identified the war in Afghanistan as a top foreign policy priority for the Obama Administration, calling for close cooperation with America's allies in Europe as well as the government of Pakistan. The Vice President, however, avoided the thorny issue of many European nations' failure to pull their weight in the conflict, an oversight that projected weakness and an unwillingness to challenge European complacency and indifference.

Despite all the fashionable rhetoric in European capitals about Iraq being a distraction to the war against the Taliban, on the battlefields of Afghanistan over two-thirds of the more than 50,000 troops serving as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force are from the English-speaking countries of the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia. These nations have also taken 85 percent of the casualties. Britain has more troops (8,900) in the country than all the other major European Union powers combined, many of which, like Germany, cower under dozens of "caveats" aimed at keeping their soldiers out of harm's way.

War on Terrorism

Significantly absent from the Vice President's address was any reference to the war on terrorism or the need for the United States and its allies to be prepared for a long hard battle against Islamist terrorism. Biden spoke in soft terms of "a shared struggle against extremism" and of "a small number of violent extremists [who] are beyond the call of reason," as well as the need to seek with the Muslim world "a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect." There was no indication given of the sheer scale of the global fight against al-Qaeda and its allies. Al-Qaeda is mentioned just once in Biden's speech, and only within the context of Afghanistan.

The Vice President also avoided directly mentioning terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel. There were no words of support for Israel's recent offensive against Hamas in Gaza, suggesting a significant shift away from open support for Israel by the new U.S. Administration.

Biden also chose to ignore altogether the extraordinary success of U.S. counterterrorism operations in Iraq through the surge and the huge improvement in security in the previously war-torn country that enabled the overwhelmingly peaceful Iraqi provincial elections to take place at the end of January.

A Celebration of Soft Power

Vice President Biden delivered what was in essence a quintessentially European-style speech on German soil. It was an address that tried to be all things to all people, lacking in concrete policy prescriptions and cloaked in vague statements designed to cause minimal offense in foreign capitals, including those of America's worst enemies. Biden's address was above all a celebration of "soft power," cynically re-branded by the Obama Administration as "smart power."

American leadership is not a popularity contest but the hard-nosed projection of U.S. interests. Rather than projecting strength and decisiveness internationally, the new Administration's approach to foreign policy appears muddled and incoherent. Biden's words revealed a foreign policy with a dangerously soft underbelly, one that will quickly be exploited by America's opponents on the world stage.

Washington must stand up to the Iranian nuclear threat, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the global menace of al-Qaeda, and Russian intimidation in Europe with strength, resolve, and conviction. A foreign policy capable of meeting such challenges must include a willingness to wield maximum force where necessary, deploy a comprehensive missile shield in Europe, and increase military spending in the defense of the United States and the free world.

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

Nick Cohen, The Observer, on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism

A right hook to the left, by Nick Cohen
The Observer, Sunday, February 8, 2009

It is undeniable that the best way to have avoided complicity in the horrors of the last century would have been to have adopted the politics of Jonah Goldberg. Much can be said against moderate conservatives, but it has to be admitted that their wariness of grand designs and their willingness to place limits on the over-mighty state give them a clean record others cannot share. Few of Goldberg's contemporaries will grant him the same courtesy. He lives in a western culture where "smug, liberal know-nothings, sublimely confident in the truth of their ill-informed opinions" accuse him of being "a fascist and a Nazi" simply because he is a conservative. Meanwhile, the heart-throb-savant George Clooney can assert that "the liberal movement morally has stood on the right side".

Behind the insults and the self-righteousness is the assumption that politics runs on a continuum from far left to far right; that if David Cameron were to keep moving rightwards, he would end up a Nazi. Goldberg sets out to knock down this false paradigm and show that much of what Americans call liberalism, and we call leftism, has its origins in fascism.

I say "knock down", but that is too mild a phrase. Liberal Fascism is not a clean blow to the jaw, but a multiple rocket launcher of a book that targets just about every liberal American hero and ideal. The title comes from HG Wells, the most strenuous intellectual advocate of totalitarianism on the early-20th-century British left. "I am asking for a Liberal Fascisti," he told the Oxford Union in 1932, "for enlightened Nazis. The world is sick of parliamentary democracy. The Fascist party is Italy. The Communist is Russia. The Fascists of liberalism must carry out a parallel ambition of a far grander scale."

Wells saw no difference between communism and fascism and Goldberg puts a compelling case that neither should we. Mussolini began as a socialist agitator. The Nazis were a national socialist party which despised bourgeois democracy and offered a comprehensive welfare state.

I agree that all totalitarianisms are essentially the same, and that far leftists combined with far rightists in the 1920s and 1930s and are doing so again now. But I had difficulties with Goldberg's concept of totalitarian unity. Communists killed different people to fascists. If you were a peasant farmer in Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy or Saddam Hussein's Iraq, they allowed you to live - as long as you did not cross them. Marxism was the greatest disaster the 20th-century peasantry endured. Death by execution or in a manmade famine could await, regardless of whether you kept your nose out of politics. While Goldberg's definition of fascism as the "right wing of the socialist movement" is true in as far as it goes, it does not explain the selectiveness of the rival terrors.

In America, flustered liberal critics have had far greater difficulty with the notion that they and their predecessors are the inheritors of ideas that began in the fascist movement. Goldberg certainly leaves them little left to be proud of as he provides an alternative history of an America that Simon Schama lacks the intellectual courage to confront.

He begins with Woodrow Wilson and shows that before Mussolini came to power, a Democratic president imposed a militarised state. When America entered the First World War, the progressives of the day used the conflict as an excuse to arrest dissidents, close newspapers and recruit tens of thousands of neighbourhood spies.

Wilson began the overlap between progressive and fascistic politics, which continued for the rest of the 20th century. Avant-garde Nazi philosophers - Heidegger, Paul de Man, Carl Schmitt - are venerated by nominal leftists in the postmodern universities, who love their contempt for traditional morality and standards of truth. Nazism was the first example of modern identity politics. All that mattered was whether you were German, Slav or Jew.

Beginning with the Black Panthers, multiculturalism has also placed racial and religious identity above all else and beyond the reach of rational argument. Fascism was a pagan movement, whose mystic tropes are repeated by new age healers, vegetarians and greens.

I could go on and Goldberg does go on. By the end, I began to weary not of his argument, but of his habit of protesting too much. Repeatedly he insists that he does not want to allege that, for instance, Hillary Clinton's admittedly sinister desire for the state to take the place of the family makes her a totalitarian, merely that her ideas come from the totalitarian movement.

But he clearly does want to be able to accuse the Clintons of fascism and his disavowals lack conviction. Like the leftists who abuse him, he is in danger of shouting "fascist" so often that he will miss the real thing when it appears. And miss, too, the better side of his enemies. I dug out George Clooney's full quote - which Goldberg doesn't give - and discovered that the reason he thought that liberals had been on "the right side" was that they had "thought that blacks should be allowed to sit at the front of the bus and women should be able to vote, McCarthy was wrong, Vietnam was a mistake". For all the undoubted crimes of the left, is that not at least a plea of mitigation?

Liberal Fascism is a bracing and stylish examination of political history. That it is being published at a time when Goldberg's free market has failed and big government and charismatic presidents are on their way back in no way invalidates his work. Hard times test intellectuals and, for all its occasional false notes, Goldberg's case survives.

Partisanship and Extremism

Partisanship and Extremism, by Henry Farrell
Cato Unbound, February 6, 2009 @ 10:19 am

I applaud Nancy Rosenblum’s effort to rehabilitate partisanship. My major regret is that I didn’t know about her book sooner. I’ve just had an [1] essay published which defends partisanship, and which would have been better if it had been informed by her work.

My response will focus on how Rosenblum’s arguments apply to the role of political blogs. Blogs have a dubious reputation among pundits and political commentators, precisely because of their vigorous and unrelenting partisanship. The historical complaints that Rosenblum documents are all well and alive in the debate over blogs’ depraving influence. David Brooks’ [2] NYTcolumn attacking leftwing blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is an especially striking example:

The Keyboard Kingpin, a.k.a. Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, sits at his computer, fires up his Web site, Daily Kos, and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way.
The reader who is able to look past Brooks’ extraordinary metaphors (when confronted with squadrons of rabid, venom-unleashing command-lambs, mere [3] fascist octopi must surely slither away in embarrassment) will see all the traditional tropes of anti-partisanship that Rosenblum identifies — lack of independence, mindlessness, vague intimations of authoritarian control, and corrupt clandestine relationships.

Rosenblum suggests that this broad animus against partisanship descends from early twentieth century Progressives’ detestation for party machines. This led to a vaunting of political “independence” and a corresponding distaste for strong partisanship. She argues that these implicit biases also afflict the arguments of contemporary political theorists such as James Fishkin (also participating in this seminar), who prize political deliberation.

Again, blogs provide an interesting test case. Fishkin [4] harks back to a Madisonian vision of politics that he suggests has been corroded by political parties more interested in winning elections than in thoughtful deliberation. He seeks to structure deliberation so as to minimize what he sees as disruptive partisan extremism and maximize the potential for disinterested discussion. Blogs are anathematic to this vision of politics. Bloggers are typically at least as interested in winning the argument as in discerning the truth. The empirical evidence that [5] political bloggers and [6] blog readers are sharply divided along partisan lines is emphatic.

However, as Rosenblum suggests, partisan argument of the kind that blogs engage in can play a valuable democratic role. They help structure a “system of conflict” in which “discordant values, opinions, issues, and policies” are “identified, selected, and refined.” As I argued a couple of years back in the Boston Review:

Exactly because the blogosphere involves clashes between strongly divergent
opinions, it is beginning to affect other spheres of political debate. The
blogosphere serves as a crucible in which politically useful and interesting
interpretations of important issues are forged and tested. Bloggers’ ability to
take up a new political issue, toss different interpretations back and forth
among themselves, point out flaws, and arrive at final viewpoints makes them a
highly valuable resource for political professionals and commentators in search
of novel and salient ways of framing issues.
I could have added, as [7] Jonathan Chait does, that bloggers reshape political debate along specifically partisan lines.
The netroots are scornful of single-issue liberal groups — or, really, any
liberals at all who are not wholly dedicated to the cause of Democratic victory
… The netroots’ dream is of a liberal army of grassroots activists, pundits,
policy wonks, and politicians all marching more or less in lockstep.

Chait is being critical, but from Rosenblum’s perspective, he’s paying bloggers a backhanded class of a compliment. Rosenblum argues that one of the key benefits of partisanship is that it provides a more inclusive and encompassing vision of politics than single issue groups ever could. That said, it may be that he’s paying too much of a compliment. Blogs may not be partisan in exactly the ways that Rosenblum prizes. More on this later.

One could extend Rosenblum’s arguments about the benefits of partisanship for political argument to less directly political fora too. Partisanship may also usefully help mobilize individuals to participate in a broader public sphere of debate and argument. The canonical example of a thriving “public sphere,” according to deliberation theorists such as Jurgen Habermas, was the coffee house society of eighteenth-century London. Yet as historian [8] Brian Cowan has argued, this sphere of purportedly civilized debate was “born out of the practical exigencies of partisan political conflict.” So too the modern political blogosphere, which not only has political consequences, but is also opening up a broader set of conversations about politics. Indeed, today’s bloggers are arguably more “civil” than their seventeenth and eighteenth century counterparts:
In the course of a heated debate in the Amsterdam Coffeehouse in 1683, the whig
provocateur Titus Oates was struck several times over the head with a cane by
one of his opponents. Oates could not retaliate in kind, and so he responded by
throwing his dish of hot coffee in the eyes of his assailant.

So partisanship is a feature of blogs, not a bug. Furthermore, Rosenblum’s account of partisanship might be extended to criticize parties in a way that isn’t too far removed from leftwing “netroots” bloggers’ critique of the Democratic Party. More specifically, I think Rosenblum’s claims suggest that partisanship can be used as a metric to evaluate the democratic contribution of parties.

Bringing this out explicitly might help elucidate an earlier debate about this book between [9] Rosenblum and [10] Melissa Schwartzberg at Columbia University. Melissa argues that the internal openness of parties to debate and to input from “citizen partisans” is a key factor determining whether partisanship will have the benign effects that Rosenblum argues. Rosenblum, while recognizing that this is a legitimate concern, argues that grassroots participation is not the only means through which partisan deliberation takes place, and seems to imply that lack of openness is only a substantial problem in extreme cases (where parties are captured by small sectional interest groups, or when groups are systematically excluded from participation in politics).

I think that Melissa’s case that parties should be more open to “citizen partisans” is stronger than Rosenblum suggests. If parties are laudable because of their potential for creatively reimagining the disputes that structure politics, than we have a way to evaluate how parties measure up to their partisan role. Parties that refuse to engage in such creativity, and instead accept the system as it is (even if they are systematically disadvantaged by it), are falling down on their job. And there is good reason to believe that party leaders (who are those who have done well in the system as it is) are more likely to be inclined towards this kind of small-c conservatism than are grassroots activists, and thus more likely to be in need of correction.

This, for example, was the basis of the “netroots” leftwing bloggers’ critique of the Democratic Party — that a supine leadership had succumbed to a corrupt form of bipartisanship in which they were simply unwilling to vigorously oppose Republicans and try to build a new partisan coalition. There is good reason to suspect that this critique was for the most part correct.
Of course, this kind of capture is a problem that can never be resolved permanently. As Alessandro Pizzorno argues, the best we can hope for is a cycle in which yesterday’s reformers, if successful, are likely to become tomorrow’s establishment to be challenged in turn again. But relatively “open” parties, precisely because they are more subject to this cycle, are more likely to be ones in which reformers can periodically seize control, and hence to fulfill their democratic vocation than closed ones.

All this said, Rosenblum’s arguments perhaps provide the basis for an interesting critique of political bloggers and blog readers; that they aren’t partisan enough. This would surely be a first in contemporary debate. As I hinted in my discussion of Chait above, bloggers and blog readers may not always be partisan in the ways that Rosenblum describes. Sometimes, they appear more like what she terms “extremists,” whom she criticizes for political hubris. I don’t think that this potential criticism sticks (although I do think that somewhat related kinds of criticism might), because I don’t think that extremism, as Rosenblum defines it, is as normatively objectionable as she suggests it is.

Rosenblum’s critique of extremism is only referred to in passing in her essay, although it is developed at length in her book. She draws a sharp distinction between partisanship and political extremism, arguing that extremism isn’t the opposite of centrism, but rather an absence of the kinds of accommodating democratic values that partisans possess. Extremists “disdain compromise” and are unconcerned with outcomes. They adopt utterly unyielding positions in politics. This is in contrast to partisans, whom Rosenblum sees as being inclined towards inclusiveness, accommodation, and seeking to persuade a majority of the rightness of their position. Rosenblum describes extremism as hubristic, morally reprehensible, tyrannical, and despotic.

I suspect that bloggers and blog readers may sometimes be singleminded in the sense that Rosenblum suggests. While bloggers and blog readers are clearly partisan, recent evidence indicates that they also are much more ideologically coherent than earlier work (including my own) would suggest, and very likely ideologically single minded on a limited number of key issues.

A good example is torture. The Obama administration and Democratic Party leaders are adopting an eminently partisan (in Rosenblum’s sense of the word) position on torture — while seeking to outlaw it, they are also apparently pursuing compromise by failing to pursue indictments for officials and government agents who authorized torture and carried it out in 2000–2008, so as to build a broader political coalition. Many leftwing bloggers, in contrast, are adopting an uncompromising and “extremist” position arguing that compromise on torture is utterly wrong, and that failing to pursue torturers effectively legitimizes political actions that are utterly illegitimate. Leftwing bloggers’ unyieldingness on issues such as torture and the Iraq war goes together with partisan accommodationism on other issues, but isn’t tempered by it. While these bloggers might readily support an economically centrist candidate for a red-state Congressional district, I would be startled if they ever supported an apologist for torture.

So are these “extremist” bloggers morally reprehensible because they aren’t open to compromise on issues such as torture? I would suggest not, for two reasons. One (which I suspect Rosenblum might accept) is that on some fundamental issues, democratic accommodation should take second place to the basic values of a just society. The ethic of partisanship, however beneficial, is surely a second order value rather than a first order one, and may reasonably be violated under some conditions. Here, while liberalism may require us not to hold unconsidered values, I am not at all sure that it requires us to be ready to seek compromise on values or issues that we hold to be foundational for any even marginally decent political system.

The other is that uncompromisingness can sometimes have specifically democratic virtues too, even apart from the underlying values that it represents. Even if it is not intended as an act of persuasion, it may serve to persuade others. The sincerity and tenacity with which people hold to a position, even when it is not politically expedient or carries serious costs, may be a convincing reason for others to consider whether this position, however unpopular, has merit. One woman’s unreasonable obduracy may be another woman’s bearing witness. As Rosenblum herself acknowledges, “extremism” is one of the most serious accusations that one can make against a political actor or set of actors. I personally would prefer if it were only used to refer to actors who are not prepared to accept democratic norms in any meaningful way.

Now of course this isn’t to say that bloggers (or others) shouldn’t be criticized — I think that Max Weber’s account of political responsibility (which is a kissing cousin of Rosenblum’s arguments about the ethic of partisanship) provides a useful basis for critique. But since I am over my word limit, it may be best to leave that to another post or comment.

Full article w/references here.

University Partnership Aims to Fight HIV/AIDS More Effectively

University Partnership Aims to Fight HIV/AIDS More Effectively. By Erika Gebel
Gates Foundation grant supports joint effort by Johns Hopkins, Makerere

Baltimore — A new partnership between universities in the United States and Africa aims to be an agent for change in improving health outcomes for those afflicted with HIV-related diseases.
With help from a $4.97 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a collaborative effort between Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, seeks to enhance research and improve health in Uganda and East Africa.

There are 33 million existing cases of HIV/AIDS worldwide and that number is growing by millions each year, according to the World Health Organization. In 2007 alone, AIDS took the lives of 2 million people; 1.5 million of the victims lived in Africa.

To combat this growing epidemic, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), initially passed in 2003 and then reauthorized in 2008 for an additional five years, has provided $18.8 billion for the fight against AIDS. It is the largest commitment by any nation in history against a single disease. (See “Bush’s Successful HIV/AIDS Program Looks to Next Five Years.”)

Universities, corporations and private foundations in the United States also are joining in the battle against AIDS through funding and research programs.

Makerere University, established in 1922, is one of Africa’s oldest universities. It has 30,000 undergraduate and 3,000 postgraduate students. Through international collaborations with a number of institutions — including a 25-year relationship with Johns Hopkins — Makerere has established itself as a global center for research, especially concerning HIV-related health outcomes.

Makerere University has also made community outreach a central part of its mission.

“Makerere has a very active place in Uganda. They are very progressive,” said Dr. David Peters, an associate professor in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “At Makerere, they don’t just sit in ivory towers. There are very few institutions that want to think that way.”

Peters, along with George Pariyo, head of the Department of Health Policy, Planning, and Management at the Makerere University School of Public Health, leads the study.

On December 1, Makerere University established a College of Health Sciences as a semi-autonomous unit within the university. The college houses the School of Biomedical Sciences, the School of Public Health, the School of Medicine and the School of Allied Health Sciences.

This change in structure demonstrated to Peters that the place was ripe for other changes he hopes will come as a part of the new funding.

“With this grant,” Peters said, “we want to plan how to, in the future, make the Makerere College of Health Sciences a leader, with a focus on improving health outcomes.”


The project is still in its infancy. The initial phase, scheduled to last two years, includes a needs assessment that will be followed by development and implementation of a strategic plan over the following eight years as a joint enterprise between an advisory panel (made up of deans from each school in Makerere’s College of Health Sciences and Johns Hopkins faculty) and an advisory council drawn from Ugandan government and civil society.

Ground work and data gathering for the project’s needs assessment phase will be accomplished by teams made up largely of students and led by Makerere faculty members and support personnel from Johns Hopkins, according to Peters.

Peters said part of the team’s work will involve evaluating the community-based health training currently in Uganda and determining how the university might promote local health initiatives involving HIV most effectively. The team also plans to test innovative strategies, such as a voucher system, to see if the university can influence Uganda’s health systems.

Another aim is identifying how the university can support implementation of research-based health programs. A few years ago, researchers from Makerere University led a study that found circumcision could reduce the risk of acquiring an HIV infection by 48 percent. Peters wants to know how such research could influence policies that could improve the health of Ugandans.

Some research arising from the initiative could be used in scholarly articles, but Peters emphasized new information will have multiple uses.

“The audience isn’t always scientists,” he said. “You may want to put policy briefs in places read by policymakers. We plan to have a range of products.”

After identifying Uganda’s health needs and coming up with a plan to meet them, Peters is optimistic that Makerere University will expand its capacity to improve health outcomes in Uganda and East Africa.

“So it’s very much ‘Stay tuned,’” Peters said. “We have a lot to learn about what it means to be a change agent.”