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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Four Horsemen of an Apocalypse in Democracy

There's a pretty famous literary tradition of bad omens coming in fours. The great American experiment in democracy had four omens of its own in the past week.


Tobacco Regulation -- The United States Congress proposed new laws providing more authority to the FDA over the manufacture of cigarettes, a product consumed by about 48 million Americans (#1) and a product that consumes about 400,000 Americans yearly (#2). The insanity of tighter "reglation" over the manufacture of a product that kills people boggles the mind. In a country that worries about flecks of lead-based paint affecting the health of children, the idea of "regulating" a product that contains 43 known carcinogens and is used ROUTINELY around children who have no choice about its use in their presence is pure hypocrisy. If America really wants to solve the tobacco problem, here's a simple three point solution:

1) Protect non-smokers from subsidizing medical care for smokers by permitting insurance companies to deny medical coverage for any lung related disease if the patient cannot produce an x-ray showing pink lungs.

2) Keep tobacco lawsuits from wasting the time of our courts and prevent trial lawyers from making money over the uncertainty over tobacco liability by explicitly eliminating all liability for damages caused by smoking. If you, rugged individualistic American stud, want to smoke, knock yourself out. If you willingly consume a product with a label that says THIS WILL KILL YOU, guess what? YOU ARE LIABLE. And dead. Us non-smokers are tired of hearing about the whole issue.

3) Make smokers fund their own highly predictable medical expenses with their own addiction. Use current statistics to determine average lifetime health costs per smoker and the average number of packs smoked per smoker over that period, divide the costs by the number of packs and impose a fixed "Black Lung Tax" on every pack sold. Put the tax proceeds in a "trust fund" invested in 30-year Treasuries.

The fact that the American government cannot properly address such an obvious problem with a $92 billion dollar yearly impact is a horrible indictment of our process for setting public policy.


Political Games Over Iraq -- Iraq has moved closer to a political collapse that many within the country have been expecting for months. As expected, the Iraqi Parliament adjourned for the month of August with absolutely no proposals for unifying policies or signs of deals in the works that can take the country off a high boil. Shortly after adjourning, Sunni factions in the Parliament announced their withdrawal from Parliament, putting pressure on Iraq's Prime Minister and further heightening sectarian tensions in the country.

While this was happening, Republicans and the White House were feverishly working to simultaneously lower expectations, greasing the skids for deferring the September do-or-die date to November, while also declaring success in areas where surge troops are deployed, ingoring results in other areas we've de-emphasized. While American deaths dropped in July, Iraqi civilian deaths in July 2007 increased 33 percent, to 1652, exceeding the level experienced at the beginning of the so-called surge. It was a good story for the two days it lasted.

The Democrats in Congress are doing absolutely no better. Not to be out-done by the "Do Nothing" Iraqi Parliament, members of the Democratic leadership have decided to prevent any Republicans from introducing any Iraq related proposals until September -- the political tactic essentially being "block our votes, we'll block yours." Of course, this is a mindblowingly effective strategy.

On a playground.

Filled with seven year olds.

Besides ignoring the lesson that should have been apparent from the November 2006 election that voters are tired of games, the Democrats are completely clueless about the practical value of having remaining supporters of the current strategy get up in public and attempt to explain their support. First, all you have to do is let them talk -- they'll un-sell the strategy themselves. Second, until Congress can find enough people with a brain and a conscience to force a change in strategy, letting them talk about Iraq prevents Congress from moving forward on other moronic proposals. Like, say, regulating the manufacture of cigarettes.


More Fuel to the Fire --- At a time when American forces experience deaths and life-shattering injuries nearly every day in Iraq, reports from a variety of sources estimate the percentage of foreign fighters in Iraq to be between 45 and 55 percent from Saudi Arabia. (#3) (#4). Saudi Arabia, the same country that furnished 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001. The same country that has implemented no meaningful crackdown on fundraising providing support for Sunni jihadist organizations within or outside the country.

At a time when America is trying to prevent a fragile coalition government in Iraq with Shi'ite leadership from completely collapsing, the White House brain trust has decided now would be a good time to try curry favor with the Saudis by selling them $20 billion worth of fighter planes. What exactly does Saudi Arabia need more fighters for? If Saudi oil is at risk, does anyone seriously believe the Saudis will be fighting for themselves?

This deal, like every other Saudi arms deal, is more like a bizarre lend-lease program with two twists. American consumers fill their tanks and hand their dollars to Saudis who hand some of those dollars to American defense contractors who make planes the Saudis pretend to own while American ships its own planes, carriers and troops into the region any time Saudi Arabia is really threatened. The twist is amidst the dollar transfers, defense contractors get a chance to corrupt our political process and the Saudis get a chance to skim off some money to fund the very terrorist organizations we are supposedly fighting.


Presidential Debates as "Project Green Light" for Slackers -- In an misguided attempt to up the "hip" factor of Presidential debates, Democratic candidates recently participated in a debate "forum" in which questions of an informed, sophisticated voting public were submitted as personal videos on YouTube. Recognizing the potential for publicity, TV deals, and God knows what else if a quirky video happened to be selected, two teenagers or early 20-somethings still living at home with their parents (Wayne and Garth?) concocted a video depicting a snowman asking a question about global warming. Recognizing the potential for at least an easy three minutes of publicity for future debates, YouTube and CNN actually selected the video for use in the "debate." That wasn't even the worst question selected for the program.

Republican candidates immediately expressed concern about similar stunts occurring with a similar debate to be held in September and several announced their withdrawal from that forum. Democrats jumped on this reluctance as a sign of Republican unwillingness to engage with the American people. In an environment where Democrats refuse to answer questions posed in a FOX televised debate or Republicans refuse to answer questions posed in a stunt video submitted by slackers hoping for a sitcom deal, I'll side with the Republicans.

We're fighting two wars, we're $8.9 trillion in debt, our economy will collapse overnight if our supply of $78 / barrel oil is cut off, and we are funding BOTH SIDES who are sitting on top of that $78 / barrel oil, and this is the best we can do?

The leading horse is white...

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#1) http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4559

#2) http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/Factsheets/cig_smoking_mort.htm

#3) http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-saudi15jul15,0,3132262.story

#4) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8293410/