Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

McCain budget weak on national security

Dear Editor,

“Budgetopia” (Washington Times “Nation” A19, 8-22-08) showing the spending and savings of both Presidential candidates Obama and McCain -- if they are elected -- tells a lot about their commitment to national security.

Senator McCain, who admittedly knows little about economics, appears to put budget cuts ahead of national security. Senator Obama who supposedly has less experience in national security actually devotes twice the funding as McCain to increased military funding and three times the funding for “green technology” that will help us break our addition to terrorists oil. But more importantly Obama wants to “double” our “foreign aid” budget. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is clear about the value of dramatically increasing our nations ‘soft power’ as an equally important tool in defeating terrorists. Earlier this year he acknowledged the “need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security--diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development”. If Al Qaeda is truly the murderous threat that McCain and other national security ‘experts’ claim then Obama’s budget is better suited to addressing this threat than McCain.

But even more importantly, increasing our foreign aid for health, education, water, sanitation, nutrition and microcredit efforts is also the most effective means of reducing a far greater threat to Americans and our way of life than Al Qaeda – nature’s inevitable pandemics. A future bird flu which could easily kill more Americans than the blast of a terrorists nuclear weapon.

Improving the lives of the poor and inventing greener technology that could help wean them from their need for terrorist’s oil will also assist in reducing our contributions to climate change.

The links between US foreign aid and improving our nation’s security is clearly detailed in a bipartisan bill H. RES. 1268, but it is H. Res 1078 calling for a new Global Marshall Plan that calls for an adequate budget for a comprehensive approach to national security. And H Res 1078’s funding increase would come from new sources of funding like a ‘Tobin tax’ producing no increase in our already overstretched federal budget.

The primary objection most conservatives have to such a ‘global tax’ is their unexamined fear of losing our sovereignty. But as Gen. Victor Renuart, Commander of the U.S. Northern Command, recently stated regarding a wide array of threats all American’s face… “we must sacrifice some of our sovereignty” if we want to “increase our national security”. General Renuart was commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom and knows more than most about the threats we face from both traditional and non-traditional threats.

Obama clearly understands that or national security is most improved by improving the lives of everyone on this interdependent plant and by making friends in faraway places to effectively prevent common threats. And, it looks like McCain is more interested in winning the votes of fiscal conservatives.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Sovereignty is a myth

If David Rivkin, Jr. and Lee A. Casey believe the title of their opinion piece “Border Security equals Sovereignty” (8-14-08) they need a refresher course in reality. ‘Border security’ is a mythical ideal impossible to achieve in an increasingly and irreversibly interdependent world.
Federal officials might stop a few papers or laptop computers from crossing our border each month but the daily volume of dangerous information accessible on the world wide web, via emails or stuffed into any bushel of marihuana smuggled across our borders each day dwarfs any lucky federal finds. And, there appears to be no shortage of federal inspection officers capable of error or open to bribes. Have Rivkin and Casy bothered to calculate what would it cost our government to inspect all the laptops of the 400 million travelers who enter the US each year? And, what about the latest data storage devises like IPods that can store more information than 2 year old laptops but be smuggled inside a wallet.
Sovereignty is a political concept that current reality simply doesn’t recognize. A Nazi like regime can’t stop a pandemic from ravaging their nation and American seem incapable of kicking a dangerous addiction to foreign oil. An oil tanker filled with a fuel oil and fertilizer bomb could deliver a near nuclear sized detonation to any US port. And a biological weapon capable of killing more Americans than a limited nuclear exchange can be smuggle in the blood stream of any individual.
How do Rivkin and Casey propose ‘sovereignty’ will stop the effects of climate change or defend us against cyber attacks by those who know sovereignty is an outdated notion?
“The inspection” that “revealed approximately $79,000 in unlawful US currency” is a joke when one considers the hundreds of billions of unregulated currency that crosses our border each day by electronic currency trading and illegal electronic offshore deposits.

Only the dumbest of terrorist would try to carry something across our border that an inspector could find. What to Rivkin and Casey have to offer for the more creative terrorists? A wiji board? Lawyers like Rivkin and Casey may be good at understanding laws but they carry no credibility in dealing with the real world we all now live in.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No such thing as "Domestic" AIDS problem

Dear Editor,

Dr. Blumenthal and Melissa Shive make a good case for renewed focus on addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic more here at home. It was shocking to read in their column that DC infection rates are greater than many impoverished Third World countries.

Their plea for more funding however would be more persuasive if they included a few over vital bits of information.

First, the failed to make clear that the AIDS RNA based virus has an extraordinarily high mutation rate of about 1%. That means that in every person infected with HIV there is a potential for about 2 million variations of this lethal virus produced each day. Most variations are insignificant but some lead to new strains of the virus that are resistant to our best treatments. This makes speed and scope of US and global treatment and prevention efforts are vital to putting AIDS in “the history books” and preventing the evolution of the virus that could become airborne or water borne. Viruses are efficient at trading gene segments with other viruses and sometimes they are incorporated into bacteria. With nearly a third of all HIV/AIDS deaths the result of TB infections and already a lacking global health infrastructure to deal with it and other deadly or disabling infectious agents it is incomparably urgent to address global health needs from a more comprehensive perspective.

Recent genetic analysis of the origins of the AIDS virus determined that it first entered the United States in the early 1970s via a Haitian air lines steward. I just returned from Haiti this week where increasing poverty as a result of food and oil price increases are putting more Haitians at risk of infections. As many as 1000 people a day fly out of Port-au-Prince for Miami or New York. We will fail to address the AIDS threat if we make a distinction between foreign and domestic infections, AIDS or TB, poverty or ignorance.

Only a comprehensive focus on global health infrastructure, basic education, adequate nutrition, clean water and sanitation, political and environmental stability, and adequate sustainable economic growth will protect us from what former Secretary of State and Joint Military Chief of Staff, Colin Powell once said was a greater threat to our national security than Al Qaeda.

There is no shortage of money if political leaders were willing to put human security needs above their misplaced patronage of ‘national sovereignty’. A micro tax on global currency speculation could yield the resources needed for such a comprehensive global/domestic approach while also contributing to increasing global economic stability. That was the original idea of the “Tobin tax” that helped Economics Professor James Tobin win the Nobel prize in Economics nearly 30 years ago.

Pathogens change. Let’s hope our politicians can.

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