Obama Winning The War That Bush Kept Losing, But We Must Consider The Ethical Issues

The killing of American born al Qudda leader Anwar al-Awlaki is both reason to celebrate the success of  U.S. policy against terrorism and question under Obama as opposed to Bush and to consider the need for new legal mechanisms to apply to the modern world. Old concepts of war, as well as due justice, do not apply well in this age of terrorism.  Principles of due process do not easily apply to an American citizen providing operational leadership to a terrorist organization operating out of a foreign country.

This does not mean that the objections raised by Glenn Greenwald are not without merit.  In this case it is difficult to argue that killing al-Awlaki was not a proper move, but we also do run the risk of going down a slippery slope when Americans can be killed without due process. The response to Greenwald from much of the right, such as at Jawa Report, ignores the actual arguments raised. Contrary to the claim made, Greenwald has said nothing which justifies the claim that Greenwald and the left would be lamenting the death of Hitler. The key distinction here is that al-Awlaki was an American citizen and Hitler was not.

However, what if Hitler had been an American citizen who moved to Germany and led a war against the United States? I doubt very many people would object to killing Hitler in such a situation, but if killing an American-born Hitler would be justified, doesn’t the same principle apply to al-Awlaki. My view on this killing is somewhere between the view of those on the right who fail to see that any ethical and legal questions are raised and the view of those who have  immediately condemn this action as unjustifiable.  I fall closer to the view expressed by BooMan who both sees the pluses of killing al-Awalaki and the problems this raises. The answer is not simply a debate as to whether this was right or wrong but to use this to stimulate the development of new law to account for situations of this nature . Some form of due process should be established when an American citizen is involved, recognizing the difference between a common criminal and an American citizen who is waging war against the United States and cannot be brought in to be tried in an American court.

Looking past the ethical issues, this action demonstrates the tremendous difference between the failed policies of George Bush and the much more effective policies of Barack Obama. Andrew Sullivan writes:

 This administration actually is what the Bush administration claimed to be: a relentless executor of the war in terror, armed with real intelligence and lethally accurate execution. Sure, Yemen’s al Qaeda is not the core al Qaeda of Pakistan/Afghanistan – it’s less global in scope and capacities. But to remove one important propaganda source of that movement has made all of us safer. And those Americans who have lived under one of Awlaki’s murderous fatwas can breathe more easily today.

The same goes for al Qaeda more generally. Obama has done in two years what Bush failed to do in eight. He has skilfully done all he can to reset relations with the broader Muslim world (despite the machinations of the Israeli government) while ruthlessly wiping out swathes of Jihadist planners, operatives and foot-soldiers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has thereby strengthened us immeasurably both in terms of soft and hard power.

Compare the two presidents. One unleashed a war in Afghanistan he then left to languish, and sparked an unjustified war in Iraq, that became a catastrophe of mass death and chaos. He both maximally antagonized the Arab and Muslim world and didn’t even score a major victory against the enemy. In many ways, Bush gave al Qaeda an opening in Iraq where it never had one before, and allowed its key leadership to escape at Tora Bora. The torture program, meanwhile, fouled up our intelligence while destroying our moral standing in the world.

Obama has ended torture and pursued a real war, not an ideological spectacle. He has destroyed almost all of al Qaeda of 9/11 (if Zawahiri is taken out, no one is left), obliterated its ranks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, found and killed bin Laden, in a daring raid pushed relentlessly by the president alone, capturing alongside a trove of intelligence, procured as a consequence of courage and tenacity rather than cowardice and torture.

I know the next election will be about the economy. But what it should also be about is the revelation of the Republicans as fundmentally weak on national security. Caught up in their own ideology, they proved for eight years they’d rather posture and preen than do the intelligent, relentless, ethical intelligence work that is only now leading to victory.

Obama, in other words, is winning the war Bush kept losing.


David Letterman: Top Ten Ways The Country Would Be Different If Chris Christie Were President

David Letterman: Top Ten Ways The Country Would Be Different If Chris Christie Were President

10. Al-Qaida taunts America with ‘Your president’s so fat’ jokes
9. Goodbye White House vegetable garden
8. Cabinet will now have a Secretary of Cake
7. New state: Fatbuttachusetts
6. Congress does whatever he wants, because fat guys are, like, super-strong when they freak out
5. Presidential retreat moved from Camp David to Hershey Park
4. Taxpayers would have to pay for the president’s second seat on Air Force One
3. New national anthem: the ‘Chili’s baby back ribs’ song
2. Instead of Iraq, we’d invade IHOP
1. Scandal when president is caught in Oval Office with Betty Crocker and Sara Lee

Economists Predict Obama Plan Will Prevent 2012 Recession

Even before taking office Barack Obama was dominating economic policy due to the inability of either George Bush or John McCain to function when confronted by a crisis where the facts contradicted the Voodoo economics popular in the Republican Party. While liberal economists might very well have been correct that Obama’s stimulus was smaller than was needed, it was probably as large as was politically possible, and did keep the country out of a depression. Since then the Republicans have done everything possible to prevent an economic recovery under Obama for political gain, leaving us with a very slow and jobless recovery.

Obama’s latest job program has primarily been discussed in the press and blogosphere with regards to the political implications. Bloomberg has surveyed economists as to its expected affect upon the economy, with economists predicting it will help prevent a 2012 recession:

President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan would help avoid a return to recession by maintaining growth and pushing down the unemployment rate next year, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

The legislation, submitted to Congress this month, would increase gross domestic product by 0.6 percent next year and add or keep 275,000 workers on payrolls, the median estimates in the survey of 34 economists showed. The program would also lower the jobless rate by 0.2 percentage point in 2012, economists said.

Economists in the survey are less optimistic than Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who has cited estimates for a 1.5 percent boost to gross domestic product. Even so, the program may bolster Obama’s re-election prospects by lowering a jobless rate that has stayed near 9 percent or more since April 2009.

The plan “prevents a contraction of the economy in the first quarter” of next year, said John Herrmann, a senior fixed-income strategist at State Street Global Markets LLC in Boston, who participated in the survey. “It leads to more retention of workers than net new hires.”

Some 13,000 jobs would be created in 2013, bringing the total to 288,000 over two years, according to the survey. Employers in the U.S. added 1.26 million workers in the past 12 months, Labor Department data show.

Regardless of the exact numbers seen next year, there is no doubt that the country will be better off with a continuation of Obama’s economic policies as opposed to returning to Republican policies which destroy the middle class and primarily transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy. From a political standpoint, Obama will have difficulty with reelection if the economy is doing badly, but those who suggest putting a Republican in the White House are as absurd as the Russians who advocate a return to Stalinism.


The Perils Of The Mandate Issue

The Democrats are facing a new political land mine next fall, and it appears that many Obama supporters fail to appreciate the danger. The Obama administration has decided to fast track the individual mandate  so that its Constitutionality will be decided by the Supreme Court next year. Looking at the arguments in favor of this strategy in the linked article,it would certainly be better for supporters of the mandate to have the case argued by the Obama administration as opposed to a Republican administration should Obama be defeated, but the prominence of this issue can be harmful to Obama’s reelection chances.

Election Law Blog has another argument which has been widely repeated today, seeing it as favorable for Obama whether or not they rule that the individual mandate is constitutional.

If the Court strikes down the law, Obama makes more of an issue of a Court out of control (think FDR) during the 2012 campaign (something I suggested in this Slate piece).  If the Court upholds the law, this takes some of the wind out of the argument likely to come from the Republican presidential nominee that the health care law is unconstitutional.  No lose before the election.  Sometimes, you can win by losing before the Roberts Court.

The problem is that mandates will now be a major issue for Republicans to talk about going into the 2012 election, and it is possible that their consideration of the issue could be postponed until next fall. Obama needs to sell Americans on the benefits which they will receive in the future from the Affordable Care Act, but arguments over the mandate will dominate the discussion. Win or lose, this will fire up the conservatives and also impact moderates who backed Obama in 2008. If the court rules in Obama’s favor, those who object to the mandate will still object. If the court rules against him, this only strengthens the ridiculous claims from the right that Obama is pushing far left ideas. Only those who already support the Democrats will be swayed by the argument that the Roberts court is out of control if they rule against the mandate.

Unfortunately many liberals fail to understand the visceral opposition which Americans have to being told what to do. Obama realized this during his primary battle with Hillary Clinton when he opposed the mandate. Unfortunately, while actual legislation was being written Obama appears to have forgotten the political problems with the mandate. Health care reform is necessary, and the mandate might be the easiest way to get around the free-rider problem, but there are other ways. We could have open enrollment periods like the voluntary Medicare Part D program, with those who purchasing outside of such open enrollment periods being subject to the old insurance company rules. There could be higher premiums for those who sign up later, as is also done with Medicare Part D, to make up for the premiums not paid into the system when the individual was younger and healthier. There could be financial penalties, possibly enforced by the IRS, upon those who cost the government money by seeking health care coverage after failing to purchase insurance to compensate for this cost to society. Bankruptcy laws could be changed so that people who declined insurance when available cannot easily eliminate debts for health care.

The end result would be the same–most but not all would obtain health insurance. The difference politically would be tremendous. Republicans understand this and, as is generally the case, will come out ahead politically even when they are generally wrong on health care policy. The irony is that mandates are an old Republican idea which they only recently abandoned in order to use the issue against Obama. The Democrats should have known better than to adopt this old Republican idea.

Obama and Reality Versus The Republicans

Now that Barack Obama has decided that there is no point in negotiating with terrorists, we are seeing a more effective advocate for the reality-based community.  After all, you cannot negotiate with Republicans whose primary goal is to prevent Obama from having any successes, regardless of how badly this hurts the country. As for the erroneously-named Tea Party movement,  you certainly cannot reason with a group which lacks the basic background knowledge or ability to think rationally about the issues and which sees ignorance as a virtue. Obama directly took on the Republicans in a trip to the west coast:

At a fundraiser in San Jose, Calif., Obama said that some in the audience might be former Republicans “but are puzzled by what’s happening to that party,” and voters should back him if they believe in a “fact-based” America.

“I mean has anybody been watching the debates lately?” Obama said. “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.

“It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have healthcare. And booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay.”

The remarks represent some of the most direct and combative for Obama so far as he has struck out on the campaign trail in earnest following the July debt-ceiling debate and the August break.

Obama continued his critique of Republicans, saying of the boos in the audience at recent GOP debates: “That’s not reflective of who we are.”

“This is a choice about the fundamental direction of our country,” the president said. “2008 was an important direction. 2012 is a more important election.

It is important that over the next year Obama provides a clear message as to what his actual policies are as opposed to continuing to allow Republicans to define him and spread misinformation as to what Democrats believe. Today we say another in a long string of people calling for a third party due to the failure of the Democrats or Republicans to solve our problems. Matt Miller called for a third party, but as many bloggers have already pointed out today, Miller’s proposed solutions come very close to what the Democrats support. Miller does have a point that the Democrats are somewhat limited by the need to please the groups which support them, but this would be true of any party which raises the money needed to campaign nationally.

Miller spreads the false impression that the two parties are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, sort of mirror images of each other. In reality, we have one centrist party, the Democrats, and one far right extremist party. The best way to advance  center-left, pragmatic solutions to our problems at this point in time is to vote Democratic next year.  The other alternatives, the far-right Republicans or  the imaginary solution of a third party, will lead to failure.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who– Petrichor, For The Girl Who’s Tired of Waiting; The Wedding of River Song; Upstairs Downstairs; Community; Inspector Spacetime; Fringe; Terra Nova

Petrichor, while not used as frequently as Bad Wolf in a previous season, has become the word of the season on Doctor Who. Before its use in Closing Time,  Petrichor was mentioned in The Doctor’s Wife, first by Idris, and later Amy Pond used it as a telepathic password to enter one of the TARDIS’s old control rooms.

Idris: It means “the smell of dust after rain.”
Rory: What does?
Idris: Petrichor.
Rory: But I didn’t ask.
Idris: Not yet. But you will.


Closing Time was primarily, but not exclusively, a light show in which the Doctor visited his old friend Craig from The Lodger. Craig is played by James Corben, who co-wrote and acted in the fantastic BBC sit-com Gavin and Stacey. The episode also included Cybermen along with a view of Amy Pond’s perfume for the girl who’s tired of waiting (video above). Ultimately the story really didn’t matter. Corben’s role wasn’t as good as in The Lodger, but I’m always happy to see Craig/Smithy.

Near the end of the episode, the Doctor, wearing a stetson, was preparing to meet his fate. He spoke to some children before entering the TARDIS, and then the scene shifted to River Song reviewing interviews with the children about what they saw. The final moments (major spoilers ahead) confirmed what most suspected ever since Flesh and Stone. River Song kills the greatest man she ever knew, and this could only be the Doctor. The episode ended with an adult Dr. Song/Melody Pond being forced into the astronaut suit and is next seen under water, presumably at Lake Silencio.Here is the final scene and commentary from Steven Moffat:

Next week, The Wedding of River Song. The BBC has released this above prequel scene:

The BBC reports that Alex Kingston is also joining the cast of Upstairs Downstairs.


There was a second type of connection between Doctor Who and the Upstairs Downstairs genre of British television shows. On Community, it was claimed that Cougar Town was based upon the British television show Cougarton Abbey. This was intended to distract Abed until Cougar Town returns but Cougarton Abbey, like many British shows, wrapped up in a very short time. This led to Britta showing Abed another British show, Inspector Spacetime, seen in the video above. Who knew that there was a British time travel show a year before Doctor Who began?

Community managed to beat out the other Thursday night genre comedy, The Big Bang Theory, at least in terms of genre references. Besides including references to Cougar Town, Downton Abbey, and Doctor Who, the episode also had an  homage to the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Last week Fringe returned. Not only don’t we know where Peter Bishop is, everything else we knew could be changed in this timeline where adult Peter never existed. We already saw that Walter is somewhat different, never leaving his lab. There could be even bigger differences, such as perhaps characters who died in past seasons such as alt-Broyles still being alive.

Steven Spielberg’s latest television genre show, Terra Nova, starts tomorrow. The New York Times has a review. I’m glad that the show takes place in a different timeline, denying Sarah Palin the opportunity to use this as evidence that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

SNL On The Republican Debates

Saturday Night Live has a pretty accurate depiction of a Republican debate.

Right Wing Health Care Lie Of The Day: Ban On Asthma Inhalers

Many conservative sites are spreading a false claim today that the Obama administration is banning over-the-counter asthma inhaler over environmental concerns. In actuality, the ban on chlorofluorocarbon in inhalers was passed in 2008 when George Bush was president. Since that time the manufacturers of virtually all inhalers have switched to the more environmentally-friendly hydrofluoroalkane as the propellant. Epinephrine inhalers using chlorofluorocarbon have been an exception.

On the one hand, these ephedrine inhalers are less expensive than prescription inhalers. On the other hand, these over-the-counter inhalers are universally considered to be extremely poor choices for asthma treatment, being both less effective than prescription medications and having far more side effects. While the safer and more effective prescription bronchodilators are more expensive, their use should be minimized by asthma patients with the use of prophylactic medications such as inhaled steroids.  Regardless of their legal status, I had strongly advised my asthma patients not to use these products even well before the ban (which, once again, was passed under George Bush).

Update: The real problem is that many asthmatics have resorted to this type of treatment because of lack of health care coverage. Obama does deserve credit for addressing this problem.

British Scientists Opposing Teaching Of Creationism In Public Schools

While much of Europe has become  more secular than the United States, they still face the problem we have here of creationists trying to use the public schools to promote their religious beliefs. The Guardian reports on a group of prominent scientists who are trying to prevent the teaching of creationism in publicly funded schools:

Prominent scientists, including Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, have called on the government to toughen its guidance on the promotion of creationism in classrooms, accusing “religious fundamentalists” of portraying it as scientific theory in publicly funded schools.

A group of 30 scientists have signed a statement saying it is “unacceptable” to teach creationism and intelligent design, whether it happens in science lessons or not. The statement claims two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International are “touring the UK and presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science”.

“Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly funded schools,” the scientists say.

“There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly funded school of whatever type.”

The scientists claim organisations such as Truth in Science are encouraging teachers to incorporate intelligent design into their science teaching.

“Truth in Science has sent free resources to all secondary heads of science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have intelligent design ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools.”

ObamaCare Is Working: Fewer Young Americans Uninsured

An unfortunate fact about the health care reform package passed earlier in Barack Obama’s term is that the vast majority of the benefits will not be seen until after the 2012 election. If people could see the actual benefits of the Affordable Care Act, as opposed to listening to Republican lies that it is a “government takeover of healthcare,” I bet that Obama’s standing in the polls would be far better today. While the Democrats handled the politics of health care reform (as opposed to the policy aspects) terribly, there are some benefits which can be seen today. Three separate sets of data have been released recently demonstrating that a higher percentage of young people now have health care coverage.

A Gallup Poll shows that significantly fewer 18 to 25 year-olds now lack health insurance:

Fewer young adults in the U.S. reported lacking health insurance coverage in each of the three quarters since the new healthcare law in September 2010 began allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plans up to age 26. About one in four (24.2%) 18- to 25-year-olds reported being uninsured in the second quarter of this year, down from 28% in the third quarter of 2010, and nearly the lowest Gallup has measured at any point since it began tracking health insurance coverage rates in 2008.

The declining number of uninsured young adults is slowly reversing the trend that Gallup and Healthways documented starting in the fall of 2008. At that time, the uninsured rate for this age group — and all age groups — began to increase as the economy was collapsing and unemployment rising…

The provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows children up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ plans appears to be having an immediate effect on the number of Americans who report they have health insurance. Since it went into effect in September 2010, the percentage of 18- to 25-year-olds who report being uninsured has significantly declined by four percentage points.

There were similar findings in data from the Census Bureau and from the National Health Interview Survey:

New results released today by the National Center for Health Statistics show that this policy has had a significant impact on improving insurance coverage among young adults. Data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) show that in the first quarter of 2011, the percentage of adults between the ages of 19 and 25 with health insurance increased to 69.6%, from 66.1% in 2010. This 3.5 percentage-point increase represents approximately one million additional young adults with insurance. During this time period, the rate of being insured for all other age groups was essentially unchanged, from 85.9% in 2010 to 86.3% in 2011, which makes clear that the gains in coverage were specific to 19-25 year-olds and can be directly attributed to the Affordable Care Act’s new dependent-coverage provision.

These results are consistent with reports from other data sources as well.  A newly-released Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index Survey shows a similar significant increase in rates of insured adults ages 18-25, from 71.0% in the first quarter of 2010 to 75.2% in the first quarter of 2011 and 75.1% in the second quarter. This 4.1 percentage-point increase is consistent with the findings from the National Health Interview Survey.  Earlier this month, the Census Bureau released its results from the Current Population Survey, describing insurance coverage for calendar year 2010.  The Census Bureau found a significant increase in coverage for young adults, with roughly 400,000 additional adults ages 19-25 insured during 2010 compared to 2009.  The Census results only capture the effect of the new policy during the latter portion of 2010 and do not yet reflect coverage from 2011; therefore, the measured effect is smaller than in the more recent results from Gallup and NHIS.  Overall, these three national surveys show a consistent pattern of expanded health coverage among young adults due to the Affordable Care Act.

The number who lack insurance should become significantly lower once the health exchanges are set up, making it easier to purchase health insurance.