Category Archives: policy

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.

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.

One time, during jury duty

I read this article on The New Republic and it reminded it of the time I was called up for jury duty.

The most striking thing was the difference in appearance between the two lawyers. The prosecutor looked sharp, was well dressed, and was in great shape.

And his counterpart was the opposite. His suit didn’t fit well, he was overweight, and it looked like he’d been sweating, despite it being a relatively chilly fall morning.

When they stood up to introduce themselves, one was a lot more energetic than the other.

Judging things by their appearance is always a dangerous game, but it did not look like both sides had close to equal representation at all.

(As an aside, I’m struggling to think of where I read a defense lawyer deliberately dressed up more shabbily to gain sympathy points. Thought it was from To Kill a Mockingbird at first, but can’t find a relevant quote.)

A Basic Income Experiment Closer to Home

So there’s actually a case of a basic income of sorts in the United States. The short of it is that there’s a Cherokee tribe that decided to  distribute some of the profits of a casino to all the tribe’s members:

So when, in 1996, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains opened a casino, Jane Costello, an epidemiologist at Duke University Medical School, saw an opportunity. The tribe elected to distribute a proportion of the profits equally among its 8,000 members. Professor Costello wondered whether the extra money would change psychiatric outcomes among poor Cherokee families.

The results were impressive:

When the casino opened, Professor Costello had already been following 1,420 rural children in the area, a quarter of whom were Cherokee, for four years. That gave her a solid baseline measure. Roughly one-fifth of the rural non-Indians in her study lived in poverty, compared with more than half of the Cherokee. By 2001, when casino profits amounted to $6,000 per person yearly, the number of Cherokee living below the poverty line had declined by half.

The poorest children tended to have the greatest risk of psychiatric disorders, including emotional and behavioral problems. But just four years after the supplements began, Professor Costello observed marked improvements among those who moved out of poverty. The frequency of behavioral problems declined by 40 percent, nearly reaching the risk of children who had never been poor. Already well-off Cherokee children, on the other hand, showed no improvement. The supplements seemed to benefit the poorest children most dramatically.

So, add another bit of research that says increasing the incomes of poor people helps in many ways.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t deal with problems of implementation. The tribe got the money for this from a casino. There’s no equivalent income that we can tap into for the entire United States.

It’s also worth it to note that, as far as I can tell, this added to, and didn’t replace, parts of aid the tribe was already getting.