Monday’s Mtg: Is the U.N. Worth Having?

I thought this week would be a great slot for Carl’s topic on the relevance of the United Nations. Not only was it the organization’s 70th anniversary last week, but Monday will be the opening day of the 2015 UN conference on climate change in Paris. The conference (details here) is a big deal. Close to 200 nations will participate, with a goal of concluding the first ever binding, universal agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions to keep global climate from warming beyond a stated amount.

Our last meeting on the UN was back in 2011, but we talked about global governance more generally last March.

I will open the meeting with a brief description of what the UN’s main functions are.  There are a lot of them and measuring their effectiveness is harder than it might seem.  but, it’s undeniable that the UN has many, many flaws and shortcomings.  Some of these were deliberately built in to limit the organization’s power and the ability of weaker nations to combine and challenge the major powers, but other problems are more self-inflicted by the UN bureaucracy and organizational culture. Still, the organization does some things well, or at least better than the nobody that would be doing them if there were no UN.

To me, the really interesting question is whether the UN is capable of adapting to the major problems facing the world in the 21st century, or whether it will grow increasingly overwhelmed and irrelevant. I have I mind a host of problems that I will list on Monday, like climate change, failed states, increasing refugee flows, new means of warfare (like cyber), emerging public health challenges, etc. I recently delivered a presentation on the prospects for better global cooperation via transnational organizations. (Gee, I hope it was more interesting than that description sounded.) I will pivot off of those remarks, but stay brief.

Here are some discussion questions I hope we can get to that I will use to guide our discussion. Also, a few links to info on what the UN does and the major criticisms of it and concerns about its future.

Discussion Questions –

  1. WHAT does the UN do; its major functions and activities? Formal versus informal powers. Relationship to other global govt orgs (IMF, EU, etc.)
  2. WHO/WHY: Whose interests does UN serve?
    1. Nations: Just the great powers, esp. USA? Other nations’ influence?
    2. Non-nations: NGOs and/or a growing “global civil society?”?
  3. COSTS of the UN:
    1. $$$: Who pays the UN bills. Is our share “fair?”
    2. How much control does the UN have over us? How much does it constrain U.S. freedom of action?
  4. BENEFITS: What does the USA get out of the UN? What does the rest of world get? What about when their interests clash?
    1. Is the world changing so as to make the UN more or less relevant?
    2. UN reform versus growing irrelevance.
    1. Why do conservatives hate the UN so? What do they propose?
    2. How do progressives (inc. Obama/Clinton) view the UN’s future role?


Next Week: Who Broke Congress and what if it cannot be fixed?

Monday’s Mtg: Will Space Colonization Ever Happen?

Despite terrorist attacks and other dramatic day-today events, both life and the business of public policy go on. Zelekha suggested we talk about the future of space exploration, with an emphasis on one of its more intriguing (if highly speculative) aspects: The potential for human colonization of space. With any luck, we will have a very knowledgeable guest speaker on the topic.

NASA has been busy exploring Mars and other parts of our solar system in the past few years, and other nations plan to start doing so. A NASA manned mission to Mars is planned for the 2030s as part of a comprehensive plan for future space exploration that the agency issued just last month. A private sector consortium wants to send an 80-person 80,000 [tomato, tomahto] colony to Mars within a few decades, although its plans have been widely panned.

We may have a guest speaker for Monday who is very knowledgeable on space exploration. Robert Lock, Carl’s son and my old friend from high school, is an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Robert has worked on various deep space probe missions at JPL for decades. He will be able to fill us in on NASA’s future plans for exploring the solar system, as well as give us a basic tutorial on what makes colonizing space so difficult and expensive a proposition.

Carl and I are still trying to secure Rob’s presence on Monday.  In the meantime, here are some basic articles on the space program and the promise and peril of colonization.

Discussion Questions –

  1. WHAT: What is planned in space exploration in the coming decades? By NASA? By the U.S. private sector? By other countries?
    1. Is anybody seriously studying colonizing space in our lifetimes?
    2. What has the research concluded?
  3. WHY: Why try to colonize space, anyway? Pros and cons.
  4. HOW: What are the big technical barriers to colonization? The biggest cost and political barriers?
  5. NASA’s future in general.


Next Week: Is the United Nations Worth Having?

Monday’s Mtg, Part IV: Conservative Views on the Trump/Carson Phenomena

Finally, here are some more conservative commentators on the Trump phenomenon. (Our first and last ever Breitbart link!)

The first link is NOT conservative POV.  But think it’s key to our understanding of Trump and Carson and Cruz, et. al..


  1. Which GOP voters say they support Trump? Why do they say they like him? What are the core reason for supporting other novice and/or radical candidates, like Carson and Cruz?
  2. What does this tell us about factionalism within the GOP? About economic conditions and cultural conflicts in America as a whole?
  3. What does it say about the role of GOP elites in shaping voter opinion and controlling the Party – versus other, more extreme actors like Fox, talk radio, etc.?
  4. When Trump/Carson fade where will their supporters go? What would that tell us?
  5. Impact on GOP long-term? On US politics and the doable political agenda?

LINKS – Some Conservative Views of Trumpism

OTHER POSTS for this week’s mtg on Trumpism –

Part I: Is Trump’s popularity real?

Part II: theories of Trumpism.

Post III: Trump, Carson, et. al., and the future of the GOP.

Monday’s Mtg, Part III: Trump and the Future of the Republican Party

Dammit! Just in time for our meeting on Monday, Donald Trump goes and destroys his own candidacy today. In case you missed it, Trump turned a 90-minute stump speech into a vicious diatribe against people he ohlds in sneering contempt. Yawn. Well, today those enemies were (1) Iowans, and (2) evangelical Christians I general. The Media focus has been on the way Trump’s highly-personal and nasty attacks on Ben Carson, who now leads Trump in Iowa bit still trails in nationwide. He compared Carson’s alleged violent temper as a youth to the pathology of a child molester and asked, “How stupid are the people of Iowa” to believe Carson’s many tall tales. (The latter’s a good question. IMO).

But check this. Trump also ranted that Carson

…goes into the bathroom for a couple of hours and he comes out and now he’s religious. And the people of Iowa believe him. Give me a break. Give me a break. It doesn’t happen that way. It doesn’t happen that way….Don’t be fools, okay?

All. Done. I think this will drop Trump’s popularity in half, sooner rather than later. . Trump was a hero to 30% or so of the GOP base as long as he expressed hatred for the things they hate. I know elites have said trump is toast before, but Trump has never before spoken of his – rather obvious, frankly – contempt for religion before. Ridiculing the core belief of evangelism that people can be saved by a simple act of faith? A game-ender, especially in an election that the Right is turning into a culture war election rather than an economic referendum.

But, we’re fine. I think progressive sometimes overstate how important Trump’s rise is. But, Trumpism is a real window into the GOP as it is presently constituted and may offer some clues about where the party is heading in the future. Here are just a few more links on these matters.

LINKS – Future of the Republican Party

OTHER POSTS for this week’s mtg on Trumpism –

Part I: Is Trump’s popularity real?

Part II: Theories of Trumpism.

Part IV: Some more conservative POVs on all of this.

Monday’s Mtg, Part II: Theories of Trumpism

Gee, since the last debate on Tuesday suddenly Donald Trump and Ben Carson are supposed to be yesterday’s news. Marco Rubio allegedly is the new GOP presidential frontrunner. Maybe. After Trump’s and especially Carson’s recent debate performances, they may indeed start to fade. Since all political and news media elites fervently want that to happen, once it starts to, the end may come fairly fast.

But, a couple of things. First, the polls still have Trump and Carson in the lead or very, very close to it. Second, these guys’ heirs as frontrunner may be Ted Cruz, a four alarm fire of a presidential candidate if I ever saw one. Lastly, it’s too late to say that the fact that two fringe cranks dominated the GOP’s presidential race for four consecutive months doesn’t mean anything. The question is what it means.

Here are some guesses paired with theories of Trump’s appeal. As for Carson, to me his appeal is not much of a mystery. While most of us never heard of him before this, Carson has been wildly popular in conservative evangelical circles for twenty years, and they make up a large chunk of GOP primary voters. Plus, Carson’s race reassures conservatives that the GOP cannot be racist and so supporting him lets them express their anger at being called racists so much.

LINKS – Theories of Trump’s popularity and durability

OTHER POSTS for this week’s mtg on Trumpism –

Part I: Is Trump’s popularity real?

Post III: Trump, Carson, et. al., and the future of the GOP.

Post IV: Some more conservative POVs on all of this.

Monday’s Mtg, Part I: Trumpism – What is It? Will It Outlast Him?

The Republican Party establishment thought they had 2016 wired for success. Party bigwigs were desperate to avoid a repeat of the protracted and embarrassing 2012 GOP presidential primary, when amateur and/or extremist candidates (like Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum) frequently led the race well into 2013. This weakened the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, including by forcing him to take positions that were unpopular with the general electorate.

So, the Party changed the rules for 2016. They limited the number of debates and compressed the primary schedule in the hope that the new process would produce a nominee quickly, and one that was favored by the corporate-dominated GOP establishment and donor base.

Funny story. Donald Trump blew it all up. He has led the race continuously since early July. That’s four months! And, the candidate he may be losing that lead to is worthy of his own meeting, total political neophyte Ben Carson! Between them, Trump, Carson, and Carly Fiorina – three rank amateurs that have never even run for elective office – are pulling down more than one-half of likely Republican voters. Nothing like this has ever happened before. What on earth is going on?

Maybe not much. Maybe the Trump phenomenon is just a function of his celebrity. Or, perhaps GOP voters are merely waving a big middle finger in front of the Party establishment for a few months before settling on a real candidate next year.   Or, maybe we have just reached a point where regular Republican voters have to throw a tantrum once in a while to remind the moneyed big boyz they still exist and have to be reckoned with.

I don’t believe these theories explain fully what’s going on, and neither do a lot of analysts I respect. There are a number of different theories of Trumpism’s (and Carsonism’s, for that matter – their rise is related.) appeal. But, they all conclude that this weird political moment is telling us something important about where the Republican Party is right now and where it’s going.

This week, I’ll do a series of pre-meeting posts with links to some of the more insightful analyses I’ve seen of the reasons behind Trump’s appeal. First up, is this man’s popularity “real” or just a blip?

FIRST LINKS – Is Trumpism “Real?”

Part II: Theories of Trumpism.

Post III: Trump, Carson, et. al., and the future of the GOP.

Post IV: Some more conservative POVs on all of this.

(time permitting)

Monday’s Mtg: Do We Need More or Less Regulation of Business In America?

This one was Dean’s idea, and I think it’s got a lot of potential. Dean said he wanted us to explore the arguments that having “more” or “less” government regulation of business would solve a lot of our problems because that is the simple way the right and left often talk about the topic. Fewer regs = good = more freedom. Or, More regs = good = control evil corporations. To be sure, it is hard to debate such vague, I-love-my-ideology slogans. But regulating business to ensure that markets function smoothly and t protect the public interest is a core function of govt. Not to mention, we’re living in a country where presidential candidates promise to build 3,000 mile fences and turn us into Denmark, so I don’t think any proposal is too simplistic to merit our attention.

Now, we all know that there is no such thing as a completely unregulated market. In any market the public sector is there to help set and enforce the rules; police fraud and protect the rights of consumers, workers, and owners; provide and maintain the public goods that markets rely on, etc. As an article I’ve linked to before put it, Markets Are Not Magic.

But IMO, even the simplest slogans for reduced less government regulation raise key and complicated issues. Regulations always impose costs on businesses and often on workers and consumers, too. Some of those costs are easy to measure and to compare to the regs’ benefits. But, other costs are hard to determine and much harder to predict, like when regulation stifles competition and innovation, protects the powerful at everyone else’s expense, distorts prices and investment decisions, and erodes our companies competitiveness internationally. The way I see it, our topic is more like two questions.

  1. How can we know the true benefits and costs of government regs and therefore whose interests they really serve?
  2. How can we make govt regulation flexible enough to be effective and efficient as our economy rapidly evolves in the future?

I’ll explain what I mean a bit more in my intro on Monday and then ask Dean for his thoughts. CivCon has had several recent meetings related to govt regulation. (Aug ‘15 Is Big Finance finally tamed? Dec. ’12: What’s holding back small businesses? Feb. ’13: Religious conscience exemptions.) So, I’ll be brief and non-industry specific. I will, however, take the time to highlight the above and a few other important problems/issues facing federal and state and local govt regulation going forward.

Discussion Questions –

  1. What justifies govt regulation of business? What should be the goals?
  2. How (and how well) do they calculate the benefits and costs of regs? What factors, other than the raw $$$, should be considered, and whose voices are heard and not heard?
  3. Which govt regs are the most and least popular with (1) the public, (2) workers and consumers, (3) entrepreneurs and small biz, and (4) big corporations? Any common villains or inevitable conflicts of interest?
  4. Which regs do Republicans/Democrats want to repeal/add/change? Why? Why really?
  5. What needs to be done to keep regulation effective and efficient as our economy evolves?


What Do People Want?

  • Public opinion: By a 2 to 1 margin, Americans favor the POV that there are “too many” govt regs on biz rather than “too few.”
  • But, notice that people like most specific regs and strongly approve of the their goals.

Asking the Right Questions

Benefits and Costs of Govt Regulations –

We Need FEWER Govt Regs –

No, We Need MORE Govt Regs –  

21st Century Regulation –  [longer and harder, but key]

Next Week: Trumpism – What is it and will It will outlast him?

Monday’s Mtg: Why Do So Many Americans Draw Disability Benefits?

Did you know that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and that 2015 is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Me neither, when I chose this topic. I picked it, with its specific focus on government spending on the disabled, because the rapid rise in the number of Americans on disability in the last 25 years has made the disabled into another political football to be kicked around. Conservatives point to the increase in spending as evidence of widespread fraud and/or some sort of runaway “entitlement society” mentality. As Paul Krugman said, the disabled have become the new welfare queens. Progressives are outraged, etc.

Yet, it’s a complicated issues. The sharp rise in the number of Americans on federal disability income supports is mostly explainable by benign demographic factors, like an aging population. A lot of the money state and local governments spending on the disabled is intended specifically to reduce society’s burden of caring for them by helping them get an education and a place to live so they can find work and stay employed. But, when you add up all of these costs it is fairly expensive for our society to provide the full range of services that allows disabled Americans to survive and thrive. There may be legitimate issues here.

Which ones should we discuss Monday night? Like last week’s meeting on the transgendered, my first goal is a little education. I’d like us to learn some basic facts on who in America is disabled, why, and what is done for them at public expense. We could then get into how well these programs work and whether more should be done or less. Also, last week’s big budget deal that prevents national debt default (but not, BTW, a govt shutdown, which is still likely) included some reforms to Social Security Disability Insurance. I will briefly explain those changes in my opening.

As always, I expect (and encourage!) us to debate the core philosophical concern at issue: What is our moral responsibility to act as a community to care for the least fortunate among us.

Discussion Questions –

  1. WHAT: What does it mean to be “disabled?” How do the govt and others define the term? How many Americans are disabled and how and why? What are the trends here?
  2. GOVT: What assistance with living do disabled Americans need? What government programs exist to provide it? How much does it all cost and who pays for it?
  3. EFFECTIVENESS: Do these programs/services “work?” Big gaps, wrong focus, vary by state, etc.?
  4. TOO MUCH? Why have the disabled rolls grown sharply in the last 25 years? Are the reasons innocuous or have these programs turned into a de facto safety net?
  5. TOO LITTLE? Alternatively, do we spend too little helping the disabled and/or should more be done to support their ability to work?
  6. ADA: How effective has the Americans with Disabilities Act been? At what cost?


Next Week: Do we need more or less government regulation of business?

Monday’s Mtg: The Transgendered in America.

Transgendered Americans historically have been among the most marginalized and persecuted among us, and they still are. Yet, slowly, the country is waking up to the existence of transgendered (TG) people and some degree of acceptance is geminating in the mass culture. The actions of a few, high-profile celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox (the Orange Is the New Black actress) have helped to ease the process forward.

Politically, change is in the air too. President Obama’s Justice Department has interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to apply to TG-Americans. Obamacare basically bans discrimination in health insurance. The Pentagon will lift the ban on trans soldiers. The LGBT movement is taking TG rights seriously, including them in the broader struggle. I’ve read articles that say transgender equality is the next frontier of civil rights.

But, it’s a tough sell to millions of Americans. The transgendered are a small, little understood, and historically despised and feared group. Discrimination is widespread and not at all a social taboo in many parts of the country. Bathroom use seems to freak out some people, especially.

My goal for Monday’s meeting is pretty basic, since I do not know much about this subject myself: A little education. Plus maybe it would be useful to discuss how our society traditionally defines gender and the challenge that TG people pose to this definition. The idea that a person has the right to define for him/herself which gender he/she (rather than have it defined for them by the shape of their genitals and society) is the core moral question, is my understanding. I also would like to get into the politics of TG equality, especially in California. I believe our state has been a controversial pioneer in adding TG to anti-discrimination and public accommodation laws.

Discussion Questions –

  1. What does being transgender mean? What other terms are used these days to describe the spectrum of gender ID and sexuality?
  2. How many TG Americans are there, and where and how do they live?
  3. How bad is persecution? Why does it happen? Why does TGs’ existence bother so many people?
  4. How quickly are cultural norms of acceptance changing?
  5. What legal protections exist for the transgendered?  Are any of the political demands of the transgendered community unreasonable? What arguments are made in opposition other than just, “ew, it’s gross?”


Next Week: Why are so many people on govt disability programs?

Follow-Up Links on Debate/Democratic Campaign Mtg

A great meeting last night, I thought.  Thanks to all 14 people that participated – with one insightful point after another, at least IMO.  New members at the meeting included Miriam (my sister, Leon, and Suzanne.  We hope you all come back!

Here are links to a few articles that extend some of the main themes we touched on last night.


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