Quick Link: Article About Middle East Strategy

Long time, no post. Here’s an article about American grand strategy in the Middle East.

Our relations have never been worse. In Syria, we are engaged in arming, training and funding essentially the same people whom the new Egyptian regime is about to hang and whom we are considering bombing in Iraq. In Iraq, we are about to become engaged in supporting the regime we installed and which is the close ally of the Syrian and Iranian regimes that we have been trying for years to destroy; yet in Iran, we appear to be on the point of reversing our policy of destroying its government and seeking its help to defeat the insurgents in Iraq. And on and on.

We are lurching from crisis to crisis, seemingly without a goal in mind.

Still no Nuclear Renaissance

Back in college, the professors liked talking about how there was a nuclear renaissance just around the corner. While they acknowledged that the capital costs of new reactors was high, government guaranteed loans and a new generation of smaller reactors were supposed to take care of that.

With that support, nuclear power was supposed to expand, due to favorable operating costs. But that does not seem to be the case, and it turns out reactors can’t compete on that front.

Natural gas is cheap, and solar is trending cheaper. Nuclear power is not traveling along the same path. It might be viable in some future (carbon pricing, a surge in energy demand, etc.), but not now.

Campaign Finance in Arizona

I’m super excited that FiveThirtyEight has relaunched. This article about why Arizona has a very conservative state legislature reminded me of another article I read about campaign finance a while back.

Public financing is seen as a way to get rid of the influence of money in politics, as well as a way to give legislators more time to legislate, rather than fundraise. Arizona has gone with full public financing of state-wide races.

Arizona has one of the most advanced clean election laws in the country. As long as a candidate for the state legislature reaches a minimum fundraising level ($1,250), the state essentially funds her campaign. (Only Connecticut and Maine have similar laws on public financing for state legislature candidates.) That allows candidates to stay viable even if they don’t have connections to the state party or local business leaders.

(emphasis mine)

With the example in Arizona, it seems that one of the consequences of that is a decentralization of power, and more extreme candidates. 

What about a middle ground, like financing floors, but not ceilings?

I used to believe that a campaign regime of floors-not-ceilings would help; by allowing candidates to raise money in larger chunks, they could reach their fundraising goals in far fewer hours of work. And given diminishing returns (that is, in that more spending produces relatively fewer and fewer votes), the incentive to just use the same time but raise more money wouldn’t be all that high. I think that was, alas, wishful thinking. The evidence seems to be that they all raise whatever they can, even if it’s a waste of their time. Moreover, if floors-not-ceilings succeeded in bringing viable candidates to more districts, even more incumbents would be even more obsessed with the theoretical possibility of a future plausible nominee who had to be scared away by building even larger warchests.

So it seems that financing floors wouldn’t help, full public financing results in more extremism, and campaign spending limits were down by the Supreme Court.

While I’m less sure that big money is a huge problem in politics than I was in the past, reducing the sheer amount of time that politicians spend raising that money is still something I want to see, and there don’t seem to be good solutions to that.

(As an aside, the FiveThirtyEight article can also be seen as a counter argument to “big money leads to polarization.” If public financing leads to polarization/extremism, then surely we can’t lay the blame on big money.)

 

Pollution and a Sort of Nuclear Winter

A nuclear winter would likely be caused by a nuclear exchange and not nuclear power. That aside, China has is headed towards a similar spot climate wise:

Chinese scientists have warned that the country’s toxic air pollution is now so bad that it resembles a nuclear winter, slowing photosynthesis in plants – and potentially wreaking havoc on the country’s food supply.

China does have nuclear power and is seeking to build out more plants, but they can’t increase capacity fast enough (including with other energy sources) to replace their current reliance on fossil fuels.

Hopefully solar energy keeps dropping in price, although it won’t help if we’re already in the midst of a fossil fuel inspired nuclear winter.

Universal Preschool and Language

As drawn by its students?

I read this article about universal pre-school (école maternelle) in France, and thought it could use a touch more history.

The French language wasn’t widely used throughout France up to the Revolution. The aftermath resulted in a short-lived policy of freedom of languages for all citizens, followed by pretty much the opposite, and forcing everyone to learn French.

I don’t deny that teaching the national language (for countries with a national language) in school is necessarily bad, but when a national policy can be construed as linguicide, it loses some of its luster.

Over here in the United States, there isn’t a national policy, although as the article points out, it’s a hot topic. When I started writing this post, I thought there could be some clever way to include early childhood education taught in English to perhaps make immigration reform somehow more appealing to conservatives. Given what I’ve read of the language policy in the US, it doesn’t seem likely.

With the Bilingual Education Act, we had a policy that was more inclusive than what I suggested. It helped states fund programs for students with limited English ability.

As the Wikipedia article points out, this changed somewhat with the passage of No Child Left Behind.

So with immigration reform a possible hot topic this year, what should language policy look like? This paper goes over the history of US language policy, and provides a list of principles to build future policy around.