Sunday, August 2, 2009

Once again, Joe Biden Screws up by Telling the Truth

Joe Biden is an honest man.

And that is why he will never be president.

A couple months back, Joe Biden screwed up by telling the police the truth about Sotomayor.

Now, the V.P. has screwed up by telling the truth about Russia:

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview that Russia's economy is "withering," and suggested the trend will force the country to make accommodations to the West on a wide range of national-security issues, including loosening its grip on former Soviet republics and shrinking its vast nuclear arsenal.

He even hinted that a nuclear Iran would be useful in helping the west contain Russia:

The geographical proximity of the emerging nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea is also likely to make Russia more cooperative with the U.S. in blocking their growth, he said.

While he didn't come right out and say that a nuclear Iran, with missiles designed to hit Moscow, would benefit the U.S., his thinking seems to be the same vein: surrounding Russia with nuclear powers is bad for them/good for us.

At this rate, I would expect the V.P. to suggest a joint Sino/American summit in the near future to discuss how the two countries will manage Russia's decline in the wake of the Ruskie's inevitable reverse population bomb. I would also expect the president to half to walk back such a suggestion immediately, but that doesn't change the fact that Joe Biden provides us with an interesting glimpse of what I imagine is some of the clear realist thinking going on within the Obama administration. Biden's only crime is taking private -factually non-controversial but politically poisonous analysis - and saying it out loud.

Joe Biden should start a blog.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are there really 47 million uninsured Americans?

I'm wondering how solid these numbers are:

On the 47 million people without health insurance point, that too is a statistic where there is less than meets the eye. First, health insurance does not equal health care (there are not just emergency rooms but cash-based clinics, and conversely, a lot of people with insurance don’t get good health care). Second, of that 47 million, 14 million are already eligible for existing programs (Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, SCHIP) yet have not enrolled, 9.7 million are not citizens, 9.1 million have household incomes over $75,000 and could but choose not to purchase insurance, and somewhere between 3 and 5 million are uninsured briefly

If we are going to shoot for massive healthcare reform, the first step should not be the drafting of legislation. The first step should be a transparent and comprehensive national study to figure out exactly who does not have access to health insurance. The answer to that question will tell us everything we need to know about constructing some sort of fix. If the numbers I quoted are correct, for example, then we do not need major reform or expensive plans to cover the uninsured.

In any case it strikes me that we are flying blind with regard to healthcare. We have numbers bandied about by the innumerate media and repeated by innumerate politicians and those numbers could potentially be used to reconstruct ~20% of America's GDP.

A Red Dawn Over Vietnam: The Myth of the Invincible Guerrilla

I've been thinking a bit about an early/mid 80's phenomena that painted the guerrilla as the ultimate/unstoppable hero and how that reflected America's confusion and disillusionment at the outcome of our interventions in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam movies of the 1970s tended to be overtly anti-establishment and its notable that several of the most popular movies of the era prominently feature a patricide as a central turning point. Films such as Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now  and of course the Star Wars Trilogy depict characters who struggle against, and must eventually defeat, corrupt yet charismatic father-authority figures. The message is clear: The failing is not our own - it is these evil men who have led us astray. It's Johnson. It's Nixon. Once their generation is unseated and reins of the power have passed to a new generation there will be justice.

 But by the early 1980s, with the U.S. still trying the reconcile the loss of Saigon and the tremendous price we paid, American story tellers were drawn to a new and more exciting explanation: The fault lay not with our leaders but with our enemy - thus was born The Myth of the Invincible Guerrilla. The Myth of the Invincible Guerrilla has 1 central tenet: guerrilla wars are everywhere and always un-winnable (the overwhelming U.S. victory in our 45-year war against the plains Indians notwithstanding) no matter what the larger, better equipped conventional army does. So in Red Dawn, Americans got to be the guerrillas against the Soviets, but the larger message was that the guerrilla will always win - he will always be faster, smarter and more lethal than the "professional" solider. And the conventional army will always pay a tremendous price for daring to run afoul of the insurgents.

This message was also found in the V miniseries and was pumped up on steroids in movies like Rambo: First Blood II and Missing in Action - films where the guerrilla becomes the hero and because he travels lighter and moves faster than the conventional army he will always win. The guerrilla's opponent changed too - gone were the Vaderesque/Nixonian father figure to lead us astray in the patricide films of the late 1970s, they were replaced by the legions of nameless/faceless bureaucratic henchmen. Walter Kurtz was a Mao-like misguided idealist and Darth Vader was a monk turned to the dark side - but in the 1980s an Invincible Guerrilla faced a cadre of Dilberts, as likely to be armed with Uzis as clipboards, who would do little more than provide the guerrilla with target practice on his way to the end credits.    

The guerrilla/hero was a convenient post-Vietnam archetype because he absolved America of the sins of Vietnam. By being "invincible" he lets America say "See, nobody can beat a small group of fighters who run around in the country side! They're unstoppable!" This let us put the trauma of Vietnam behind us and write our involvement in Southeast Asia off as a failed experiment in attempting to fight an "un-winnable war" against an "un-deflatable" enemy.