The prisoner swap in context

I listened to a great segment on this from Mike Pesca’s great new daily Slate podact, The Gist, but had not come across a link that nicely put all the issues in context.  Fortunately, Big Steve has done a great job of exactly this in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

The latest controversy in U.S. politics is over the trade of five Guantanamo detainees for one American soldier – Bowe Bergdahl. The strange thing about this is how ordinary it is: swapping prisoners is normal in war, even in unconventional wars. So, what is really going on here? Mostly, it is about blame-casting – criticizing the Barack Obama administration no matter what it does. The best illustration of this isJohn McCain, who is currently blasting President Obama for this trade after advocating it a few months ago…

I especially appreciate this point, as I get so sick of hearing Republicans rant about it:

The second confusion is about whether the U.S. in this case negotiated with terrorists. Well, sort of. That is, the Taliban are not coded as terrorists by the U.S. since they are not attacking U.S. interests outside of the civil war in Afghanistan (and it is a civil war – outside actors involved just makes it an ordinary civil war). The more important thing is this: The U.S. and its friends have often bargained with terrorists.

Though, I personally actually find it super annoying in that the Taliban are not actually terrorists.  They are really bad people who want to impose their really bad ideology on the fellow residents of their country.  And they are willing to harbor terrorists in the process, but that doesn’t actually make them terrorists.  If our standard for international affairs is to never work with really bad people who want bad things for our country, well, you can throw out about half the world there.

Also, this following point is really, really important because critics are so stupid about it:

Third, will this encourage more kidnapping of American prisoners? Probably not, since the U.S. has already shown a great interest in getting its folks back. More importantly, the Taliban and its ilk already have plenty of incentives to take U.S. soldiers hostage for the propaganda gains. It is not the lack of willingness that accounts for how few prisoners of war are taken by the opposing side these days, but opportunities. Pilots are not getting shot down, unlike in the Second World War and Vietnam. Battles are smaller, so the Americans, or whoever, are not being surrounded, and so on. But any insurgency would seek to capture troops from their adversary – this event is not going to set any significant precedents that will change behavior down the line.

And, a nice straightforward conclusion:

The reality is this: the actual swap is quite normal business-as-usual in the end stages of a war/intervention. It just gives the opponents of the President a chance to blast him for being weak in foreign policy. There are good reasons to criticize Mr. Obama for his handling of the Afghanistan war and for his foreign policies, but this event really is not one of them.

And be sure to check out Big Steve’s blog for all your analysis of foreign affairs (and comic book based movies) needs.

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Photo of the day

How could I not love this In Focus gallery of US military dogs in Afghanistan:

U.S. Marine Cpl. Kyle Click, a 22-year-old improvised explosive device detection dog handler with 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, shares a moment with his dog Windy while waiting to resume a security patrol on February 27, 2012.(USMC/Cpl. Reece Lodder)

Also recently listened to a great Fresh Air about the story of one soldier and his dog.

12 Years a Slave

Finally saw the movie this past weekend.  I thought this was a terrific movie, but in many ways, a horrible viewing experience.  It felt like the equivalent of just being pummeled, but emotionally, rather than physically.  It’s not like I haven’t consumed books, movies, TV, etc., before about the awfulness of slavery, but wow, this just brought it home like nothing else I’ve experienced.  Your mileage may vary, but this movie hit me as hard as any and has totally stuck with me in a way few movies do.

The cost/benefit of climate change regulation

A couple of points about Obama’s proposed new climate regulations…

1) Cutting emissions from coal burning power plants has huge benefit compared to the additional cost for electricity.  Why?  It’s not just the carbon dioxide that’s a problem.  From a great piece by Juliet Eilperin in the Post:

What would be the public health benefits?

The EPA estimates that the new rule would cut traditional air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot by 25 percent, yielding a public health benefit of between $55 billion to $93 billion when it is fully implemented, with 2,700 to 6600 premature deaths avoided and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks a year avoided. The cost, by contrast, would be $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion.

The EPA said that for every $1 invested, Americans would reap $7 in health benefits.

If the EPA rule reduces the use of coal, it also would reduce emissions of conventional pollutants that contribute to asthma, other lung diseases and heart attacks, according to a joint study by the Harvard School of Public Health and Syracuse University Center for Health and the Global Environment.

“Carbon pollution standards for existing power plants would not only help confront the challenge of global climate change, they would confer substantial local and regional benefits by reducing power plant emissions of these major co-pollutants by up to 27 percent for sulfur dioxide and mercury and 22 percent for nitrogen oxides” by 2020, the study said. It said the greatest benefits would come in the Ohio River Valley and the Rocky Mountain region.

“Ecosystems would also benefit from decreases in air pollution and atmospheric deposition of sulfur and nitrogen,” the study added. “Reduced ground-level ozone will increase the health and productivity of crops and timber.”

The EPA estimates that the public health and climate benefits of the rule would outweigh the costs by anywhere from 8 to 1 to 12 to 1 by 2030.  [emphases mine]

Policy-wise, this is a huge win.  Yes, those in coal-producing and heavily consuming states will bear a cost, but the public health benefits– in pure dollars and cents– far outweigh that.  Not to mention, there’s a great, not readily quantifiable benefit, to simply enjoying life more because you can breathe easier if you have sensitive lungs.

2) Okay, you say, this is Obama’s EPA, surely they are inflating the benefits and downplaying the costs.  As for the benefits, there’s plenty of evidence on this score.  Maybe inflated a little, but not dramatically.  As for the costs, the US Chamber of Commerce, etc., say the costs will be billions and billions more than does the EPA.  I like the EPA administrator and Kevin Drum’s take on this very much:

For now, I’ll just make a couple of points. First, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy sure is right about this:

McCarthy said critics who warn of severe economic consequences of the rules have historically decried all environmental protections. She described them as “ special interests” who “cried wolf to protect their own agenda. And time after time, we followed the science, protected the American people, and the doomsday predictions never came true.  [emphasis in original] Now, climate change is calling our number. And right on cue, those same critics once again will flaunt manufactured facts and scare tactics.”

Before the rules came out, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it would cost the economy $50 billion annually and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, from the coal-heavy state of Kentucky, called it “a dagger in the heart of the American middle class.”

You should basically ignore cries of doom from conservatives and business interests. They’ll be producing reams of data showing that the new EPA regs will cost untold billions of dollars, millions of jobs, and thousands of plant closures. This is what they’ve done with every environmental regulation ever proposed. In virtually every case, they’ve been wrong. The cost of compliance turns out to be a lot lower than we expect, as does the impact on jobs and energy prices. Roughly speaking, this is because capitalism really does work, something these fans of capitalism always forget whenever it becomes inconvenient. [emphasis mine] But work it does: we invent new ways of compliance and new ways of generating energy, and it all turns out far better than the doom-mongers expect.

So, as with any major policy change, there will be losers, but on the whole this is just smart policy.  Way better than the status quo.  It would be nice if more than one of our political parties cared about such things.

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