Monday, May 31, 2010

Jumping to Conclusions

What happened on board the ships heading for Gaza this weekend?  The facts that ships were boarded by Israeli soldiers, and lives were lost, seem real enough.  But watch how easily these facts can be presented to fit one or another pre-determined narrative.  Look: a flotilla of ships in international waters carrying humanitarian aid to needy people, is attacked by armed Israeli commandos, who proceed to murder innocent passengers.  Look again:  Ships are sent to Gaza on a clear mission to break the blockade.  Israel warns them not to approach, and boards the ships peacefully, whereupon its soldiers immediately are set upon with sticks and knives and forced to defend themselves.   Under either scenario, it is a tragic and horrifying story.  What is amazing is how quickly people choose which narrative to follow, depending on their previous sympathies. 

Do we even care to find out what really happened?  Do we understand the extent to which events like these are staged to inflame passions? 

Rather than allowing our passions to take over, and our sense of outrage to be triggered, would it not make more sense to withhold judgment until we know the facts?  And even after we are in a position to render a judgment, would it not make sense to concentrate our greatest attention on solving the problem of Gaza, and ending the violence?

It isn't even hard to tell both sides how to solve the larger problems that have led to this incident.  Israel needs to end the blockade.  Hamas needs to recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist, and renounce its campaign of violence against Israel.  One is not likely to happen without the other.  The only good that can come out of blockade-running and violence is if such an event provokes people to say "Enough!"  Time to sit down and make these changes happen.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Obama Accomplishments Update

This blog gets a lot of hits from people searching for a list of the Obama administration's accomplishments, due to one of my least original posts, one I did last fall that merely copied a list prepared by Professor Robert Watson of 90 accomplishments of the Obama administration to date.  I imagine that people are searching for such lists to add fuel to arguments between Obama supporters and detractors.  I doubt that such lists ever resolve such arguments, however, since Obama's critics can always carp about the significance of many of the accomplishments on the list, or can argue that these accomplishments are actually harmful.

At this point, however, the argument about whether the Obama administration has in fact accomplished anything important should be over.  A couple of months ago that might have been debatable, but it has become increasingly obvious that the Obama presidency has already made major changes. The high water mark for critics who were anxious to label the whole Obama program a failure probably occurred right after the election of Scott Brown, when it looked like health insurance reform might not pass.  Now that the landmark health insurance bill has passed, and as major financial regulation  is also about to pass, some major planks of Obama's legacy are already in place.  What has also become clear is that even without a 60 vote majority in the Senate, there is sufficient popular support for the administration's programs that the administration has the clout to get the legislation it sponsors through the Congress.  The Republicans are hoping this will change in November, but thus far the Republican leadership's obstructionist tactics have not prevented the enactment of landmark bills in a number of areas.  People can criticize those accomplishments, as they have from all directions, but they cannot deny the importance this record.  The New York Times  has now made this point official by declaring this week that "Congress and the White House have completed 16 months of activity that rival any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition."  This record may not yet match FDR's, but certainly compares favorably with Johnson's or Reagan's in its potentially transformative nature.

What makes the Obama program transformative?  First, the stimulus bill: instead of focusing on tax reduction, it focused on massive public works programs, which will create infrastructure for the future, and produce greater short term and long term economic benefits than would have obtained with just another tax cut.  Although the public has not yet seen all of the benefits of this stimulus spending, as these benefits become apparent, this new direction will do a lot to reverse the decades-old assumption that only by shrinking government can we expand the economy.  Second, the health care bill: representing the first time the government has attempted to get a handle on everyone's health insurance, as opposed to targeted programs for the elderly, the poor, or the military.  For the first time in history we have established the principle that everyone is entitled to affordable health insurance.  We still have a long ways to go to implement that ideal effectively, but the principle has been established.  Third, financial regulation:  The bill wending its way through Congress represents the most important set of new regulations since the New Deal, repudiating the idea of the past several decades that banks and other financial institutions should be left to their own devices.

What remains on the agenda is a more comprehensive approach to solving energy and environmental problems.  And perhaps a new approach to immigration.  And on the foreign policy agenda, a more cooperative and less confrontational approach to solving international problems.

We should not be surprised at the vehemence of the reaction to these changes, as they challenge conventional wisdom going back to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.  What we should do is move on from the debate about whether the Obama administration has accomplished anything, and make greater efforts to work together, instead of fighting one another, to solve common problems.  Because the change in the nature of our politics that the Obama campaign promised still has a long way to go before it approaches anything like reality.

(Photo montage from New York Times article, crediting Associated Press; Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Luke Sharrett/The New York Times; George Tames/The New York Times)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Time for Cutbacks?

 Since the economic collapse in 2008, we have tried bail-outs, and we have tried a massive government spending program to stimulate the economy.  And so far, these programs actually seem to be working, to the extent that banks have mostly returned to solvency, growth has returned to the economy, and jobs are slowly being regained.  In the face of all that success, you would think that people would want to give those programs more time to work until the economy regains a semblance of normalcy.  Instead, prompted by fears of a European-style debt crisis, we are hearing cries from all corners about the need for reining in government spending and reducing the deficit.  A column by Robert Kuttner, who has not always been supportive of the Obama administration's economic policies, points out the folly of pushing for austerity right now.  That would only invite the recession to return, and would make it harder for the nation and the world to pull itself out of the economic downturn of the last couple of years.  Economic historians like to use the Roosevelt administration's response to the Great Depression as an example.  They don't always agree on the efficacy of Roosevelt's approach, but one thing there seems to be consensus on is that the economy did not really start to recover until the massive deficit spending leading up to and during World War II.  That would suggest that the Roosevelt administration was actually too timid about running up large deficits during the worst depression years of the 1930's.  Similarly, we should not be timid now.  It might have been a mistake for the Bush administration to have doubled the national debt during relatively good years, but it is hard to see how it is a mistake to run up large deficits now to pull ourselves out of recession.

Let's not forget that the people who are calling for reducing government spending now are the same people who supported the Bush administration's massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and who also supported paying for the Iraq War by credit card.  Let's also not forget that these people for the most part, do not wish the administration well.  They want the Obama administration to fail in its ambitious programs to extend health insurance to everyone, to improve infrastructure, to clean up the environment, to reduce inequality, and to improve education.  They don't want any of these programs to work, because they want to cling to the belief that government is the problem and not a solution.  Perhaps they understand that putting the brakes on government spending now could actually cause the economy to crash, which would allow administration critics to blame Obama for continued economic problems, and would give these critics the opportunity to continue to press their agenda of keeping the government out of the business of trying to solve social problems.

(photo from flickr site)

UPDATE (6/10/10): The New York Times agrees with me that now is not the time to be unduly alarmed about the deficit.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Libertarianism Meets Reality.

Rand Paul found out this week that once you have entered the national stage as a candidate for the United States Senate, your libertarian principles meet some limits.  After creating a firestorm by suggesting that he was not comfortable with those parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that ban private businesses from engaging in discrimination, Paul was forced to concede that he would have supported the Act.  Rand Paul may think this is an irrelevant and esoteric philosophical question, but it turns out to be highly important in political campaigns to make clear where you stand on historical issues.  Democratic candidates who supported the Iraq war were forced to explain their position or admit they were wrong.  It is just as fair to require Republicans to tell the public where they now stand on civil rights.

One response is to try to fudge the history, as at least one spokesman for the Republican National Committee tried to do by pointing out how supposedly ironic it is for Democrats to complain about Republican opposition to civil rights when it was the Democratic Party "which led the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act in 1964."   First of all, this claim is demonstrably untrue.  While a higher proportion of Democrats than Republicans did vote against the 1964 Act, these were mainly Southern Democrats who then promptly left the party and became Republicans.  The Democratic Party itself did not lead the filibuster; instead the party leadership supported the Act.  Second, the issue is not whether someone took a particular position in 1964.  The issue is whether a politician today supports the position that he or others took on that 1964 issue.  In other words, you are allowed to have been wrong in 1964, but you have to admit you were wrong.  In other, other words, even if you can gain some points with some segments of the electorate by standing up for states' rights or private property, you can no longer be taken seriously as a mainstream candidate if you still believe that restaurants or swimming pools or hotels that are open to the public should have the legal right to deny entrance to anyone based on their skin color.

I think we can take some comfort in knowing that the 1964 Civil Rights Act is now a sacred text almost on a par with the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.   And we can also get some satisfaction from making people who spout empty slogans about keeping the federal government out of the way of the states or private business owners, confront real questions such as whether they really want to abolish the FDA or the FTC or the Department of Justice or any other agency that prevents private businesses from selling harmful products or engaging in discrimination.  And once a Rand Paul is forced to admit that there is a role for the federal government in protecting the public from unscrupulous private businesses, then all we are talking about is the reasonableness or the scope of those regulations.  We have no philosophical disagreements as a matter of principle.

("White's only" sign from University of Texas student site)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Letter from Thailand

Just before the government cracked down on protesters in Bangkok this week, my friend David Abramson, who teaches school in Thailand and lives outside of the capital, sent me this report on what is really going on in that part of the world:

Exiled former Prime Minister Thaxsin Shinawatra AKA Frank Sinatra is trying to overthrow the current government so he can be absolved of his charges and current jail sentence. All the 'Red Shirt" protesters are paid about twice what they would normally make to be at the "demonstrations."  The government recently cut off the money spigot of Sinatra's relatives, friends, cronies and mafioso, better late than never.  The poor can never win, but like a Western movie villain, Sinatra holds them up as a shield while he tries to retake power and plunder as before. Then he can return under the mantle of "savior"

The "men in black" are former Thai army colleagues who kill in order to stir the pot and report directly to former and current military commanders.  No matter what the PM does, the Army opposes because they are aligned with Sinatra -- don't they look terribly incompetent on TV? That is because they're not even trying to fight, they just want to go back to sleeping in their barracks.

I keep thinking about the song, There is Freedom Within, there is  freedom without, try to catch the deluge in a paper cup.  There's a  battle ahead, many battles are lost. But you'll never see the end of  the road when you're traveling with me.  Hey now, hey now, don't dream  its over.....
This war seems very bad because it's brother against  brother and it is just about money and power and nothing will really change after it is over.  I know Thaksin will stop at nothing and this will go on and on and on and on --- as it basically has since 2006. People have an amazing propensity for killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

I'm retaliating by making an Indian lamb dish on the grill and giving scraps of cooked lamb to Woody because there  is no school at all this week. I'm not going into "Bangkok" until they clean it up and that may be some time.  Meanwhile if we could start school we could get closer to the end of term June 18th.

It is somewhat making me morose, but  I'm focused on getting things done I wouldn't ordinarily have time to around the house and trying to not eat too many Jelly Bellys. [My daughter] is planning to visit in July unless things get worse.
I found this message interesting because most of the media reports we are exposed to in the US, even the New York Times, don't get much beyond a superficial reporting of clashes between government forces and anti-government protesters, playing into the theme of the brutal military-style government vs. the dispossessed.  Perhaps this theme has some explanatory power, but reality is always more complex.  David's letter prompted me to do a little more digging until I found this CNN piece which provides a similar background.

(LA Times photo)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Change 2010 style

Judging from the results of today's and other special and primary elections, it appears that the theme of this year's mid-term elections will be change, as it was in 2008.  But it may be change of a different sort.  In 2008 at least some of us were attracted to the promise of a less polarized and less partisan type of politics, the idea that people of different views can work together to solve common problems.  In 2010 the change people seem to want is more of the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" variety.  In Kentucky, Republican voters rejected the Establishment candidate Trey Grayson in favor of Rand Paul, the Tea Party rebel and son of Ron Paul, the most anti-Establishment candidate who ran for President in 2008.  In Pennsylvania, Democratic primary voters retired their distinguished and  long-serving Senator Arlen Specter, a former moderate Republican who changed parties to reflect the shifting political winds, but who still lost to a younger but more traditional liberal Democrat, Joe Sestak.

I suppose we should always celebrate elections as the ultimate expression of the people's will, but I will admit to being a bit concerned about the loss of middle-of-the-road members of both parties.  These people frustrate the base, but they also sometimes bridge gaps in Congress.  I'm not sure it will be beneficial to the process if Democratic primary voters drum people like Arlen Specter and Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln (who now faces a run-off against a more liberal Democrat) out of the party, just as it also seems detrimental that the Republican Party has become more intransigent by rejecting its moderate elements.  Note that I'm not saying everyone should be a moderate.  I don't even understand where these liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats are coming from most of the time, and I agree that they can sometimes embarrass their own parties by acting like grandstanding prima donnas.  But they are a small endangered species, and they represent a very large portion of the electorate (not so much evident in primaries), so perhaps they need to be nurtured.  

When the Republicans cannot tolerate liberals in their party, and the Democrats cannot tolerate conservatives in theirs, we have the formula for more polarization and gridlock in Congress. That was one of the things I thought we voted to change in 2008. Now we are seeing the inevitable backlash, not only against policies and programs that have been criticized from both the Left and Right, but also against the very idea that politics can be a common sense effort to find constructive ways to solve problems.  Instead we are celebrating politics as blood sport again this year.  Let the games begin!

(Reuters photo from New York Times)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Freeways to Parks

Check out the ambitious and what one city council member called a "visionary" plan under consideration to "cap" a portion of the Hollywood Freeway and build a park on top.  The proposal seems feasible as the highway is cut below grade in this section, so the proposed park would replace street level paths and restore neighborhood connections that were severed when the freeway was constructed 60 years ago.  A similar plan is being proposed for the portion of the 101 Freeway that cuts through the oldest part of downtown LA, which would also serve to re-connect historic Olvera Street and Chinatown with the Civic Center and the downtown business district.    

Apart from objections to feasibility and cost, it is hard to see why anyone would oppose such proposals, as they would undeniably make these densely-populated parts of the city much more pleasant and livable, as well as making all of the surrounding property much more valuable, at the price of forcing cars to travel under tunnels for a small part of their journey. Similar plans have been successfully implemented in Seattle's Freeway Park, Boston's Big Dig, and Chicago's Millenium Park.  In New York City, an unused elevated railway was successfully converted to the High Line park.  

My question is whether these proposals are ambitious enough.  Instead of building decks over freeways, imagine the possibilities of simply dumping the dirt directly on top of the freeway.  Instead of placing a park on top of a freeway, imagine replacing the entire freeway with a park.  The Hollywood Freeway represents a hideous scar through the Cahuenga Pass and Hollywood.  And it doesn't work all that well as a transportation system. In fact, the Hollywood Freeway has the dubious honor of being ranked as the #1 worst commute in America. From personal experience, I can testify that in rush hour it is usually faster to take surface streets from Hollywood to downtown, as the Hollywood Freeway often resembles a giant parking lot.  Another alternative to the freeway is a quick commute downtown via the Red Line subway, which travels the same route often at greater speed. 

On the other hand, on those rare occasions when the traffic is moving, you can get from downtown to the valley via the Hollywood Freeway in about 20 minutes, and most people who take that route frequently would find it almost impossible to imagine closing it off.  But think of the trade-offs.  Instead of an ugly, polluting, congested mass of cars destroying scenic passes and historic neighborhoods, we could have bike paths, green spaces, and lots of other amenities. We could create billions of dollars worth of valuable development property, on some of the most desirable real estate in the city.  We could encourage a lot more people to leave their cars at home, or dispense with the need for a car for commuting, and save tons of oil, money and carbon emissions.  I speak as one who would often be inconvenienced by the loss of the freeway route, but I think the benefits of a more livable and beautiful city would more than make up for that loss.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hope and Change in Great Britain

Last week's parliamentary elections in Great Britain had the likely potential for throwing the political system into chaos.  With the Conservative Party winning the most seats, but short of a majority, the first "hung Parliament" in more than 30 years could have led to a failed government or the need for new elections.  With the small Liberal Party holding the balance of power, and more ideologically aligned with the Labour Party, Labour could have clung to power with the help of the Liberal Party despite their tremendous loss of support.

Instead, within a matter of days, Gordon Brown has resigned, and David Cameron, the new Prime Minister, managed to form a strong coalition agreement with Liberal leader Nicholas Clegg.  This result seems especially surprising in a system where the tradition of winner-take-all party politics is so strong, and coalition governments rare.  Britain's parliamentary system does not function without a working majority, and majority parties are used to having fairly complete sway over running the government, with the opposition reduced to heckling the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.  Instead, the Conservatives are at least making a show of casting off party politics, have altered their program in deference to their Liberal partners, and have announced the beginning of a new era.  Here is what David Cameron said yesterday:
"Today we are not just announcing a new government and new ministers. We are announcing a new politics. A new politics where the national interest is more important than party interest. Where co-operation wins out over confrontation. Where compromise, give and take, reasonable, civilised, grown-up behaviour is not a sign of weakness but of strength."

This sure sounds a lot like the post-partisan, new politics that a lot of us hoped would arise out of the 2008 campaign in the United States.  Of course, partisan bickering will no doubt re-emerge in Britain, as the stunned Labour Party picks itself off the floor and starts plotting ways of making trouble for the governing coalition, and as divisions may emerge within the governing coalition itself.  But in the meantime, the promise of a new post-partisan era beckons.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Chicago Connection

Today I'm wondering if it is even possible to understand this country's politics over the past 30 years without having some familiarity with the intellectual contributions of the University of Chicago.  When I graduated from what we refer to as "The" Law School in 1979,  the Reagan revolution was brewing, and it wasn't long before some of my professors and fellow graduates, e.g., Richard Posner, Frank Easterbrook, Ken Dam, Antonin Scalia, Michael McConnell, started heading to Washington or various federal appellate courts.  This represented the triumph of the generally conservative "Chicago School" of legal and economic thought, and the Law and Economics movement, which were certainly important parts of the U of C's influence.

Now a second wave of Chicagoans has been heading to Washington, spearheaded by Barack Obama, and also including appointees such as Cass Sunstein, and Elena Kagan, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School in the early 1990's when Barack Obama was also teaching there.  What President Obama said about Kagan in announcing her nomination to the Supreme Court, and what is also reflected in his own approach to government, introduces another equally important strand of the University of Chicago's contribution: 
Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit, to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens, of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus-builder. 
One of the hallmarks of the University of Chicago, which I mentioned in a previous post, is an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for opposing points of view.   Arguments at the University of Chicago can be fiercely competitive, but the school as a whole is also known for encouraging faculty and students to listen to, understand, and respect one another's ideas, whether or not they agree with them.  Obviously this is a quality that the President wants to bring to the Supreme Court for strategic reasons, as he is known to have been looking for a Justice who can forge coalitions with the five conservatives on the Court, none of whom is known to be going anyplace anytime soon.  But it is also an approach he has attempted, not always successfully, to bring to government as a whole.  Certainly our political discourse, as well as our legal discourse, could do with more "understanding before disagreeing," in tribute to another Chicagoan, John Paul Stevens.  And with two former U of C Law faculty members, Antonin Scalia on the right, and Elena Kagan  on the left, we can look forward to vigorous but hopefully civil debate, and strong representation of all aspects of the University of Chicago tradition, in the United States Supreme Court.

(photo from Huffington Post)

UPDATE (5/11/10): For more on this issue from an ADR perspective, I posted a slightly more technical analysis of how Elena Kagan or anyone else could function as a mediator or consensus-builder on a Court on which she would sit as a member, on my mediation blog.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Respecting your great-grandparents

Here's an interesting graph published in ThinkProgress, intended to refute claims that the majority of Latinos support Arizona's harsh new anti-immigrant law.  According to one poll at least, it turns out . . . not so much.  What is also really interesting, though is that support for this law increases by a factor of more than  three when you ask fourth generation Latinos, as compared to first generation Latinos.  It turns out that people still seem to identify with their parents' and even their grandparents' feelings about being allowed into this country.  Their great-grandparents?  Not so much.

I imagine that a similar chart could be prepared for people of European or other ancestry, and would probably show increased support for restrictive immigration policies the longer one's ancestors had been in this country.   It's obviously a challenge to build empathy toward people outside your immediate family or memory.  And of course it's a truism that the longer we are someplace, the easier it is to forget where we came from.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Good Job

The FBI and New York City police track down the Times Square bombing suspect in about two days.  Can people learn to just say, "Good job"?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Health Care Reform: The Morning After

(guest post by Barbara O'Brien)

Many politicians and pundits warned us that the health care reform (HCR) legislation that just became law will destroy America. Government bureaucrats will take over health care decisions, we were told. The old and infirm would be hauled away by death panels. Everything about the way we receive our medical care will change, and change drastically, they said.

Medicare recipients have been frightened by stories that their benefits will be cut. Middle-age people are worried they will lose their jobs when the law’s dreaded regulations, or taxes, or maybe regulations with taxes, would destroy their employers’ businesses.

The truth is, very little will change for most people. If you were insured by employee benefits before HCR, you will be insured by exactly the same policy in exactly the same way after HCR. You will have access to the same doctors on the same terms. “Government bureaucrats” will no more be involved in your health care than they were before.

And the same is true of Medicare, which of course is a government program, although many of the people who opposed the HCR bill don’t seem to know that.

Here are the “cataclysmic” changes to health care that are now in effect, or which will go into effect within the next six months for people who are already in group insurance plans:

• The law says you can’t lose your insurance coverage because you get sick. Before, in many states, if you were stricken with a severe illness that would be expensive to treat, your insurer could use just about any excuse to cancel your coverage. That is over.

• HCR has ended lifetime limits on coverage. As long as you are receiving medical care, your insurer pays the bills.

• Your children can be covered on your existing policy until they are 26 years old.

• In six months, insurers cannot refuse to insure people under the age of 19 because of “pre-existing conditions.” This provision will go into effect for everyone in 2014.

And if you are on Medicare, you will be asked to struggle with the following:

• You get a free annual checkup.

• The co-pays and deductibles on many preventive care services are eliminated.

• If you are in the Medicare D “doughnut hole,” you will get a $250 rebate check in a few weeks. The hole itself will be closed gradually and will be gone by 2020.

But what about all those terrible regulations and taxes that are about to drive businesses out of business? Um, there really isn’t much to report. Oh, wait, here’s one — a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services that use ultraviolet lamps will go into effect July 1. That’s about it.

However, beginning this year a tax credit will be available for some small businesses to help provide insurance coverage for employees.

Soon the politicians and pundits will start trying to frighten you about the provisions that will go into effect after this year. I assure you they are about as scary as the provisions that go into effect this year.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Baseball and Immigration

What could be more all-American than baseball, our national pastime? And what else could be more all-American than hysteria over immigration, which has risen up in waves over our entire history, as we have faced successive waves of immigrants whether Chinese or German or Italian or Irish or Jewish or Mexican?

As soon as Arizona passed a new law giving the police more power to demand that people prove their right to be here, talk arose from the usual sources of boycotts and other forms of political pressure.  But the source that may have the greatest chance of making Arizona think twice about the wisdom of its actions is baseball. The players' union has already issued a protest statement, and there is talk of moving the 2011 All-Star game scheduled to be played in Arizona, moving spring training camps out of Arizona, and boycotting the Diamondbacks. It turns out that more than a quarter of the players on Major League teams were born outside the United States, the vast majority of them from Latin America. They do not take kindly to the idea of seeing their relatives harassed for their papers.

Maybe Arizonans ought to consider the irony of their state's support of harsh immigration policies while they cheer for such home team players as  Juan Gutierrez, Tony AbreuRodrigo Lopez, Esmerling Vasquez, and Gerardo Parra.

And for an added dose of irony, or maybe chutzpah is the more appropriate term, here is Governor Brewer, who signed a law giving the police the authority to question people offering reasonable suspicion that they are here illegally, admitting that she does not know what an illegal immigrant looks like:

(photo of Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra from

UPDATE (5/3/10): For more angry reactions from ballplayers, go to ThinkProgress.

Oil Spills and Politics

One oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, no matter how massive, really shouldn't change the long term needs for both environmental regulation and a re-designed energy policy. But politicians like the rest of us are affected by the most recent headlines, and suddenly everyone's political calculations have changed.

Opening up new offshore areas for drilling was supposed to be the bitter pill environmentalists had to swallow in return for a new energy bill aimed at reducing carbon emissions. It seemed like a smart political move to offer a bone to the "drill baby drill" crowd in return for necessary support for energy legislation. And President Obama's initial reaction to the Gulf oil spill--putting an immediate freeze on new offshore drilling until new safety measures can be considered--also seems politically smart. In fact, it seems like having your cake and eating it: he appeased the right with promises of more drilling, while at the same time making it more difficult to commence that drilling.

How ironic then, that according to this Huffington Post report, the provision in the climate bill opening up more areas for drilling now threatens to cost the bill more votes than it was supposed to gain. A number of legislators now say they will not vote for the bill with that provision included. This issue should still be susceptible to further compromise--for example, allowing for the possibility of some drilling but requiring much stricter environmental protection procedures before actual drilling can commence--but the danger is that recent headlines will make it more difficult to get anything done at all. Is there a way to get politicians back to being focused on long term needs?