Flaws and all, I'm glad he's in the White House.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Too Good to Be True?

Via Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community, here's a neat idea that achieves several goals at the same time: fighting Malaria in Africa. As Zasloff says, we already know how to do it, which only makes a lack of effort all the more shameful. Here's where it gets interesting:

But here's the good news: this is easy to do. It doesn't require huge investments in complex antiretrovirals, controversies over sexual abstinence, negotiations with drug companies, etc. It's just sitting there.

The technology is relatively simple: insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets, better insulated door and windows, and anti-malarial drugs (which are quite inexpensive). As Jeffrey Sachs and his colleagues at the Columbia University Earth Institute demonstrate in a (relatively) recent paper, this would cost about $3 billion a year--0.3% of the projected stimulus package.

All of the bednets, insecticides, drugs and home fixtures could be manufactured in the United States, and could be done pretty quickly, making it a perfect candidate for the stimulus.

So it could help our economy and the economies of the nations in Africa, reduce poverty, and save lives, all the while being relatively cheap? It almost sounds too good to be true.

I'm aware that there's a fairly big debate over the need of various aid projects directed towards desperately poor countries. I also acknowledge that a lot of progress could be made by simply expanding economic opportunities through trade. I may not be up on the most recent literature enough to give a qualified guess as to whether this would work--this is yet another instance of a topic I find fascinating and have some good starting points in mind as far as books--but this seems like something that is worth trying even if it's only mildly successful.

I'd be interested in reading the downsides to it. If there's some research that say this is a well-intentioned waste of money, I'd like to see it. But if there's even a small chance it could work, it should be tried.

Let's hope someone has the ear of President-Elect Obama and will inform him of such interesting, worthwhile options.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Procrastination and Laziness

It's been a little over a month since I said I would update this blog. I haven't done anything I've promised. Business as usual, I guess.

Anyway, here's that article from The Atlantic I promised in the last post. I haven't decided if I will do a full scale response to it, primarily because I'm not entirely certain of the way that I feel. My initial reaction is a mix of the slightly positive--it is still making me think over a month after I've read it, which is unusual--and the slightly negative--a big part of me thinks that it's a response to an argument nobody seems to be making. The piece, entitled The Case for Debt, describes the ways that taking on more debt can be a good thing: it allows people to live their lives by increasing the number of choices they can make. The author, Virginia Postrel, illustrates the ways that the expansion of credit helps both rich and poor people finance their lifestyles. Read it, for even if you end up disagreeing with it, it's an interesting discussion.

As interesting as Postrel's article is, Karl Rove's latest column in The Wall Street Journal is as tepid and generally stupid as the man himself is. Rove spends most of his time talking about the new ways in which Republican party leaders can reach and influence voters. I understand where he's coming from, and leaving his questionable assertions about union election spending and so forth aside, I would agree with him. Unfortunately, Rove apparently wants to stupefy his audience with this latest piece.

If the Republicans are to compete with the Democrats, they need to be able to work in any format, whether it's the traditional media or the new media. I just have to wonder how much of the recent losses, aside from what was probably a given due to corruption scandals of 2006 and the poor economy of 2008, were due to a failure to reach some voters. Is it that Republicans didn't try as hard as Democrats did in regards to Facebook and MySpace pages and other forms of Internet communication, or is it that they kept up but failed because the underlying support wasn't there? The Obama campaign certainly outclassed the McCain campaign's Internet operation, but can the same be said for most Senate and House Democrats?

Rove does devote the rest of his column mentioning that the party needs not only to simply communicate effectively, but to have an appealing message to do so. Left unsaid in this column is what this message is supposed to constitute. It's also important to consider who, exactly, this message is for, which Rove does to some extent. He fingers the general group that McCain and presumbly Republicans appear to have lost the most: younger voters. As I said above, one needs to wonder if his campaign didn't try hard enough or did try but failed. And if they failed, what about their message needed to be changed? Here, I think, Rove and his fellow talking heads run into a brick wall: they seem to think that the Republicans' message simply wasn't packaged correctly. In other words, it isn't that people talked about capital gains tax cuts, which voters didn't care about; it's that they didn't talk about them in the right way!

Needless to say, this sort of analysis leaves much to be desired. It's not entirely wrong, but it's not anywhere near complete. I may be a fairly liberal guy, but I don't think conservativism is dead. That said, to whatever its extent its ideas are valid, the presentation it received during the last few elections was terrible. If the Republicans and other conservative-minded politicians are interested in appealing to a new generation of voters, perhaps it isn't out of line to address their concerns in some sort of coherent fashion. The problem is, this may require abandoning some key elements of their current ideology, such as the Grover Norquist-style approach to taxation.

I'm not going to hold my breath.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I've Been Busy

My regular readers, which includes, well, me and anybody who happens to stumble upon this site while trying to find some porn site, have probably been wondering where I have been. I've been busy...sort of. I've mostly been either too lazy to post or too worried that I'd say something stupid. There's bound to be some sort of pithy statement that describes the notion of trying to learn more and realizing you know less than you thought you did. Whatever it is, that's what I am feeling now.

I guess it's better to go for quality rather than quantity, but still, it'd be nice if I made this a habit. In the next week or so, I'll try to do some posts on an article I read in the most recent issue of The Atlantic Monthly on credit cards, on the leadership vacuum of the Republican party, the implementation of Howard Dean's Fifty-State Strategy, and the historic nature of President-Elect Barack Obama's candidacy, among other things. I'm sure everyone is waiting with baited breath.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What Jack Balkin Said

He says it better than I could. Take a look.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Taxes on the Wealthy

Last night, I read this article in The New York Times about Warren Buffett. I don't know as much about him as I would like--although there's a new biography out about him, so perhaps I could start with that--but I do know he's spoken out in favor of the estate tax and against what he feels is an unfairly skewed tax system. Indeed, if this article can be believed, he thinks it's time to raise taxes on the wealthy:

To help pay for the rescue, the government should raise taxes on the wealthy, Mr. Buffett suggested. “I’m paying the lowest tax rate that I’ve ever paid in my life,” he said. “Now, that’s crazy.”

I understand that the issue of taxes is complicated, not just for reasons of economic theory but also for political and ideological reasons. I'm not in favor of higher taxes simply because I think the government needs to be purposefully big and because I resent others being wealthy. Yet, I do think taxes should go up, and they definitely will, because spending has gone up.

I do wonder, however, why Buffett is saying this with such ease. I doubt he's calling for a top marginal rate of seventy percent. Even this amateur realizes that would be probably be a disaster. But while Buffett is not an academic economist that specializes in tax policy, he certainly knows more about finance and economics than almost anyone outside of academia. Because he's saying that taxes should be raised the wealthy, I'm led to believe that it's not going to grind the economy to a halt, like some on the right would suggest. My guess is, if he felt something was going to be an incredible mistake, he would speak out against it.

I don't know if this a faulty logical appeal to authority. Perhaps it is. I just have to wonder if the Grover Norquist types of this world have poisioned the debate so thoroughly that an honest discussion of tax policy is really possible.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My First Post

Welcome to Thinking Before Speaking, my first attempt at a blog. I'm a fairly avid reader of blogs, but for the longest time, I've resisted starting one. Since I'll do just about anything to avoid studying for a graduate level test, going to the gym, or making a dent in housework, it makes sense to give it a shot. At the very least, I will now avoid looking like a crazy man who talks to himself, or so I hope.

Think about how this might affect the rest of the world. After many people making snarky comments about me going home to update my blog, I can finally live up to their expectations, or lack thereof. Hopefully, this sort of outlet will cut down on the amount of time I make people wish they were struck by lightening in order to avoid my ramblings about politics, economics, or sex. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.

Thinking Before Speaking is so named because, well, it looks like all of the other good names were taken. Actually, that's part of it, but it's also because, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I can shoot off at the mouth quite a bit. I'm the sort of person who would receive notes in his desk in elementary school that read, "Please think before you speak today. Let's have a good day. Love, [Teacher's Name.]" Depending on the circumstance, I'm more than willing to speak my mind, but I also have a habit of talking when, as I joke, I should instead just Shut My Dirty Hoebag Mouth. In large part, it's because I don't think before I speak. It's not the worst of habits, but it's nothing to be proud of. I'd like this blog to live up to the idea in its title. We'll see what happens.

I intend for this blog to be a mix of politics, economics, and anything else than seems interesting, whether it's about pop culture, personal experiences, or what goes on in the lives of others. I'm far from an expert on anything, but I think I know more than most people my age; as time goes on, I hope that blogging will allow me to grow intellectually.

I'd like to be both serious and full of snark, depending on the topic. I don't have any particular high-minded standards, but I don't want this to be on the same level as a conversation that occurs when college guys are waiting in the drive-through line at Taco Bell at 1:50 AM completely hammered and stoned. I doubt I'll have many readers at first, but for those who want to comment, please feel free to say whatever you'd like, within reason. Don't post anything terribly offensive or nasty, unless it's clearly facetious, or I'll delete what you say.

So that's it for now. Until next time...