Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CNN: "What the Pope Knew"


The other 4 parts on Youtube: #2 #3 #4 #5 (At least until they take them down for copyright infringement.) The documents discussed in the story can be found in their entirety here, (except for those pertaining to the German priest, Father Hullerman.)

And Catholic League's Bill Donohue takes issue with the report (thanks Christopher).

My take: I thought the CNN report was fair in many respects but did have a few failings. I fully understand the strident defense put forth by Mr. Donohue, after all the sex abuse scandal has perhaps irretrievably damaged the Roman Catholic Church's standing in the world (but probably not). Nothing short of accusing CNN of lacking journalistic integrity would do as pushback.

However, while no Catholic would want this story re-hashed, the CNN piece presents many sides in an even light. The blame for the sex abuse scandal is shared by lay and sectarian officials, the abusers were caught and for the most part punished. The questions handled in this report concern how then Cardinal Ratzinger handled the various cases before him , and was he at all culpable in delaying justice.

Nowhere does the reporter say that children were abused because of any obstruction by Ratzinger. Sure, the victims are pissed, and they are given voice to vent their frustration, but the Vatican also is given ample opportunity to present the alternate case-- and surprisingly, I think they do a good job. Ratzinger was the supervising Archbishop in the German priest case, and reporter Gary Tuchman says that it is unclear whether Ratzinger was made personally aware of the abuse at the time. The alleged perpetrator was transferred under orders of a subordinate to Ratzinger. The Vatican official states that Ratzinger, as Archbishop, had over 1000 priests under his supervision and these matters were often delegated. You can decide if this is appropriate.

The other cases had more to do with the de-frocking procedures (laicization) that involved known sex-abusing priests while Ratzinger was stationed in the Vatican as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Tuchman interviewed the prosecuting attorney for the Vatican as well as a plaintiff's attorney for the victims and other principals, and the story becomes more of an indictment of the Canon Law procedures under Pope John Paul II, but all sides are presented with adequate journalistic integrity. Ratzinger is characterized as someone trying to navigate the complex and hierarchical system, and having mixed success. The issue is clear, however, that the sex offenders were not near children at this point and CNN states this.

If I were a Catholic, the entire story would make me uneasy. Catholic relatives have said to me that they view priests differently, especially around their children, since these scandals have come to light. The final video recaps that Ratzinger has made significant reforms by streamlining Canon Law by instituting procedures that would push such cases up the hierarchy more quickly.

Oddly, one of Donohue's complaints is that CNN should have reported that one perpetrator, Father Keisle, married the mother of one of his illegitimate children while he was still technically a priest. Why is this germane to the story? Wouldn't this unnecessary report of blatant abuse by a priest, using his power over a female parishioner to father a child, just fuel more negative sentiment toward the Catholic Church? We already know these guys are criminals, why pile on all their malfeasance? Why would Donohue think this is important? Would this somehow exculpate Ratzinger or the Church? Yeah, not only do they let in pedophiles, they also let in lecherous womanizers, adulterers, and other deviant sexual offenders... Odd.

Also, Donohue takes issue with the reporting that Ratzinger prosecuted Father Reese for publishing opinions as an editor of American magazine that were in direct contradiction to the RCC's teachings regarding homosexuality and abortion. Donohue does not think this is pertinent, but I would argue that this vignette shows exactly how the hierarchy protects itself by squashing all dissent. There is nothing wrong with this and fully within the Church's purview, but Catholics-- and all of us-- should realize that this is how top-down monarchies function, and the Catholic Church is indeed a top-down monarchy which uses Canon Law, another way of saying Royal Decree, to protect itself. Nothing wrong with it, heck, if I were King I would do exactly the same thing: first thing to go would be all these superfluous blogs (except mine, of course.)

The CNN report honestly presented both sides. Sure, Donohue dislikes "[Ratzinger's biographer] Gibson's quip that the pope 'always took the stalling tactic' [which] suggests the pope acted irresponsibly. Now this may play well with those unfamiliar with the process of determining innocence or guilt, but anyone who knows better will find his accusation flatulent at best, and unfair at worst." But Tuchman followed up by interviewing Vatican officials who clarified that Ratzinger was bound by Canon Law at the time. Fair. (Although I do like Donohue's colloquial use of the word "flatulent", one I'll be sure to co-opt in the future.)

The take home lesson here is that any large organization will be unable to ensure the safety of your children, and pedophiles will relentlessly seek avenues by which to prey upon your kids. Be alert and responsible. Lay officials in Milwaukee were negligent when they dismissed the children's claims of abuse. Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, did what he could and now as Pope he has revised Canon Law. Might he become senile and unable to interdict on behalf of kids at some point? Sure. Might the Vatican's hierarchy fail its congregation again? You bet, but that's the chance you take when you're part of such a huge unweildy organization.

Might law enforcement officials unwisely defer to priests in the future? I hope not, but never underestimate the deference given to clergy. The real loss here is the trust that people have in their institutions-- both secular and sectarian.


Packers 17 Bears 20

And this is what is sent to me by a Packer fan. LMAO. (Thx KrisRick, that made my day.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Limbaugh Effect


Here's Rush:

We really live, folks, in two worlds. There are two worlds. We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that's where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap. ...

The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That's how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

And the Grist's Commentary:

"The right's project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society's leading institutions. Experts are made elites; their presumption of expertise becomes self-damning. They think they're better than you. They talk down to you. They don't respect people like us, real Americans."

He/she has good graphs that show how Americans have decreasing trust in all major institutions over the last generation, except one: the military.

Chilling.





Saturday, September 11, 2010

Darwin Enters Twitter's Puke Funnel


Granted, my twitter feed is a mess. I get a disparate line of sludge all day long on my tweet-deck: stock traders bemoaning Bernanke, short-sellers calling for the next crash, White Sox fans wondering why the Twins keep winning (I know that answer: no walks, no errors), Republicans still obsessed with Obama's nation of birth... but yesterday's favorite-- if only because I haven't seen this theme in a week or more-- is yet another Final Refutation of Darwin, sort of.

Evidence challenging Darwin 'could be valid,' explains #Catholic scholarhttp://bit.ly/9N1yNo RT@CNAlive
about 23 hours ago via ower Twitter

I'm not picking on this particular Twitterer, well maybe a little, but if we're going engage in pseudo-intellectual repartee, then I think this tweet deserves a deeper dissection. In two short lines I find nearly everything wrong with today's popular culture. We say things like "evidence", yet very likely we have not personally reviewed the said evidence; this is beyond lack of rigor, this is lack of reading. Because it one were to read even the abstract of the "evidence" in question, one would learn immediately that not only is there no challenge to Darwin's theory extant in the study, but rather the study supports Darwin's long-standing thesis that individuals within taxa compete for habitat as part of the process of natural selection. It doesn't take a scientist to discern the implication of the "evidence." To wit, Sarda Sahney, et al, from Biology Letters states in the abstract:
"Tetrapod biodiversity today is great; over the past 400 Myr since vertebrates moved onto land, global tetrapod diversity has risen exponentially, punctuated by losses during major extinctions. There are links between the total global diversity of tetrapods and the diversity of their ecological roles, yet no one fully understands the interplay of these two aspects of biodiversity and a numerical analysis of this relationship has not so far been undertaken. Here we show that the global taxonomic and ecological diversity of tetrapods are closely linked. Throughout geological time, patterns of global diversity of tetrapod families show 97 per cent correlation with ecological modes. Global taxonomic and ecological diversity of this group correlates closely with the dominant classes of tetrapods (amphibians in the Palaeozoic, reptiles in the Mesozoic, birds and mammals in the Cenozoic). These groups have driven ecological diversity by expansion and contraction of occupied ecospace, rather than by direct competition within existing ecospace and each group has used ecospace at a greater rate than their predecessors." [italics mine-Tony]

In other words, the tetrapod populations have taken advantage of ecospace by expanding the boundaries of the habitat which they occupy. That's Darwinism! They expand their habitat by adapting to a larger part of their ecospace, which then improves their reproductive capability, yada, yada, yada.

In fact, the author, Sahney, has stated definitively, "We are not in any way suggesting Darwin was wrong," and Steven Newton, (in the same reference) explains:

"But we can also understand this idea with an analogy to a more familiar topic: Darwin's famous Galápagos finches. These birds occupy small, parched islands, on which perennial drought severely limits vegetation. This creates a situation of scarcity in which even small differences in beaks may confer significant advantages... Now imagine that a new volcanic island erupts in the Galápagos chain. Suddenly an expanse of new, un-colonized land is available; new food sources will grow there. How will this new land affect finch diversification? That's the kind of question being addressed here."

Okay, so the science in this study is consistent with Darwin's theory of the origin of species through natural selection, a theory which is so exceedingly elegant that it is consistent with the last 150 years of empiric evidence in archeology, geology, comparative anatomy, and all accumulated findings within the sciences of biochemistry, molecular biology and genetics. Quite a daunting body of support to be cast asunder by one grad student's study of habitat, no?

Why did twitterdom get all a-twitter over the misinterpretation of the study? Perhaps because multiple sources, and especially the BBC science writer (the same one who says "birds learned how to fly"-- they didn't, dinosaurs flew and then evolved into birds, but whatever), mis-characterized the paper as some sort of refutation of Darwin, with the opening line: "Charles Darwin may have been wrong when he argued that competition was the major driving force of evolution." Of course, this inane statement could be also be due to the co-author Prof Mike Benton who is quoted as saying:

"...competition did not play a big role in the overall pattern of evolution. For example, even though mammals lived beside dinosaurs for 60 million years, they were not able to out-compete the dominant reptiles. But when the dinosaurs went extinct, mammals quickly filled the empty niches they left and today mammals dominate the land." [emphasis mine-Tony]

According to the Darwin model, competition still occurred within the habitat utilized. Notice Benton did not say competition had no role, he is only remarking on the relative importance of competition depending on various factors, such as availability of habitat. Sure, his statement could be more clear, but such is the world of the three-line sound bite. No matter, an American professor sets the record straight later in the same article:

But there was always wicked competition within the ecospace and as Professor Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University, US, told BBC News he "found the patterns interesting, but the interpretation problematic".

He explained: "To give one example, if the reptiles had not been competitively superior to the mammals during the Mesozoic (era), then why did the mammals only expand after the large reptiles went extinct at the end of the Mesozoic?"

"And in general, what is the impetus to occupy new portions of ecological space if not to avoid competition with the species in the space already occupied?"

Indeed.


The next part of the tweet in question is a quote from an alleged authority, Fr Robert Spitzer, that this challenge to Darwin "could be valid." Ah, the wonderful world of could, a conditional auxiliary which absolves the user of all responsibility of proof, or even rational conjecture. The Kalamazoo Post "could be" the premier blog on the internet! Or not. We'll never know, will we? The possibility certainly exists. Why? Because the possibilities of "could" are endless in the endless world of twitterdom.

So now we need to dissect the argument of Father Robert Spitzer, the Jesuit president of Gonzaga University, to see if he is indeed casting aspersions on the venerable Darwin. Spitzer states:

“For all intents and purposes then, the argument that space may have driven the development of species or one species' dominance over the other could be very much valid and, frankly, just as valid as competition. Both theories could be valid,” he stated, adding that the development of species could also have been driven “by another explanation that we don't yet know of.” [italics mine-Tony]

Close, but no cigar. Yes, both theories could be valid, or more exactly, both theses are indeed a valid part of the overall Theory of Evolution, which states categorically that speciation emanates from individuals competing for habitat (space, food and safety from predators.) Competition and space are both included within the grand theory, but they are not mutually exclusive. But what's with the stuff about "another explanation that we don't yet know of"? What did he have in mind?

Of course, to earn his priestly collar, the erudite sectarian scholar must pretend that there is some doubt about the validity of the Great Darwin as the jackals descend on his dying theory, and Spitzer reminds us that it still cannot be known absolutely if natural selection is the only model that can abide speciation. Yes, another explanation can be entertained! Of course, we should always keep the option open that speciation may have occurred by some as yet unknown force, but what is it? No conjecture? Maybe Noahs' Ark may still be found on Mt Ararat.

Perhaps I should show more reverence for the Reverend, after all he did couch his statement in all kinds of political mumbo jumbo so he is technically correct, but this is the kind of tortured logic that shows the utter silliness of religious arguments concerning science. If you want to refute Darwin, or intimate that his theory is flawed, then say so up front, and come up with a model to replace it that would better fulfill all the necessary criteria. Say it's the magic sky wizard that created species, or spontaneous mutation from extraterrestrial DNA, or something... but ple-e-e-ese don't fill my computer screen with malarkey about evidence that "could be valid" when there is no evidence, the authors say there is no evidence, you likely didn't read the study or even the entire BBC news article past the lede*, and there has never been any scientific evidence that has been inconsistent with Darwin's theory (which is actually the most amazing thing about this sordid tweet affair.)

The fact is that science has been eating religion's lunch for the better part of 500 years. Every generation has been marked by revealed religion surrendering ground to the army of scientists who have methodically revealed our existence in terms of chemical and physical properties that have left supernatural dogma crippled and dead. The priests are left to talk about the after-life and intercessionary prayer and "evidence that could be valid" since all else has shown them to be in error, and they have learned to qualify all their statements with conditional phrases, and then they lash out from their darkness when they smell blood, and pray it's Darwin's-- but it's only their own.

If only they could take down Darwin! The trumpets would blare! Hosannas would ring out! Jeebus would come back on a cloud to stuff Darwin down the puke funnel once and for all!

I realize that the nature of Twitter is to mimic stream of consciousness, which can be an attribute and a curse. The attribute is that we get inundated with a zillion themes and stories that might pique our interest. The curse is that we might read only the headline, or the "authority's" sound-bite and get the entire story wrong. Caveat Twitdor. Let the Twitterer beware.

*Fr. Spitzer was on Larry King tonight with Deepak Chopra, Leonard Mlodinow and Stephen Hawking, and the pious university president argued with the latter two about their new book while it was clear Spitzer had not even read the book!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Former Bush Aide Continues the Legacy of Lies

Mark McKinnon worked for the Bush White House and has been praised as one of the few lucid Republicans remaining merely because he hasn't called President Obama a Kenyan Socialist Muslim. Okay, the bar is set pretty low these days. McKinnon's recent op-ed, however, betrays a certain pathology whereby he misremembers a whole host of facts about his boss' tenure. As I read this piece I formulated several arguments, but then Keith Olbermann addressed it on his show and covered all the salient points.


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Yes, Olbermann can be over the top at times, but in this case he's spot on and his facts are accurate. Apparently, Bush's cadre of advisers will attempt to re-write the history of "the greatest Republican president of the 21st century." Possibly McKinnon was merely trying to be gracious in praising both Obama and Bush at this milestone of combat forces being drawn down in Iraq, but if so, why lie about the facts?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Maybe Glenn Beck has a point...

....But I'll be damned if I can figure it out.




And I don't think his fans know either:


Maybe the jester has some insight:

Oh, Beck is a joke. I get it now.

Links to Drink By... Our Modern Culture Edition



1. Where I defend Sarah Palin.... (sort of): Michael Joseph Gross, in the latest Vanity Fair, all over the TeeVee today, explores the world of the Wasilla warrior, with all the gratuitous, off-the-record angst that we've come to expect from the Literate Class. To wit: "Warm and effusive in public, indifferent or angry in private: this is the pattern of Palin’s behavior toward the people who make her life possible." No shit. That sounds like me on some of my better days. Gross effuses that Palin sees evil everywhere, she's not well-read, she makes a lot of money, her fans love her, others hate her. Eight pages? It's dramatic, I get it, now tell me something new, dude. And for Democrats still flabbergasted that such a sociopath could make it to a national ticket, I have two words: Ambulance Chaser, and one more while we're at it: Joementum. (Of course, nobody has killed more soldiers and civilians, or wasted more money than the King of VP sociopaths.)

2. Mike Posner, the whole disc (shown at right) is very good.

3. PZ opines on the "Mosque." Again, I wish I had written this: "...we lose our democratic soul if we lose our tolerance for stupid ideas." And, "Naturally, I dislike the idea of constructing religious buildings anywhere, since they are a colossal waste of community resources, typically represent unproductive holes in the tax base, and promote stupid thinking — but guess what? Those aren't legal cause to interfere with people's right to waste their time and money. Also, if we accept the privilege of individual autonomy and personal freedom, we don't have moral cause to interfere." If there is such a thing as a soul, mine is modeled after PZ's.

4. The Iraq war ledger: Was it worth it? This CAP assessment is a necessary adjunct to mine.

5. Has it really been over 2 years since I reviewed Nassim Taleb's Black Swan? Well, I'm re-reading it now and enjoying it even more. BTW, it's good to see that Taleb is his usual cranky self these days.

6. If you haven't read Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone, do it. I laughed, I cried-- I almost cried--no, I did cry... Good book, well-written, epic story of missionaries, medicine, Catholicism, clash of cultures, family, Africa, war, immigration. You'll be entertained and learn a lot, I did. I'll provide a more thorough review at some point.

7. Should women be ordained as Roman Catholic priests? Okay, I admit that since reading Christopher's blog I've spent an inordinate amount of time re-connecting with my Roman Catholic roots. Part of it might be to see if they are still as whack as I remember--it's been a good 25 years since I stopped calling myself Catholic-- but I have to say that I appreciate the consistency in the dogma. Here's is an excellent list of the reasons why women will never be priests, and it's well-written (ah, the benefits of a parochial school education.) BTW, I also picked up Last Catholic in America at the library, written by an alum from my high school, but I haven't shown it to the wife-- she's getting a little worried about my newfound interest in the Church.

Enough for now, I've got work to do!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Structural versus Cyclical Unemployment




Is the current recession a mere cyclical downturn, or is there some structural problem with our economic system? Strucs vs Cycs, from Slate, is an excellent way to think about what type of stimulus (if any) is the answer to this recession. Why is the unemployment situation harder to fix than Obama thought? Maybe we have a structural economic problem and simply increasing demand won't solve this crisis. Fed governor Kocherlakota "invoked the concept of "mismatch" and said: "Firms have jobs, but can't find appropriate workers. The workers want to work, but can't find appropriate jobs." "

Nobody "wants" to be an HVAC installer, but not everyone can live the fulfilled life of a celebrity personal chef. My take is that it's going to take years of structural unemployment, until all the unemployment benefits are exhausted and these folks *finally* go back to get trained in something useful. Do you know how many unit clerks at the hospital were studying Massage Therapy the last several years no matter how many times I recommended Nuclear Technology ? I suffered from Oculomotor Neuritis from all the eye-rolling. Bottom-line: they are still all unit clerks and we still have a nation-wide shortage of Nuclear technologists.

The opposing view, from the eloquent Robert Reich, says that we should extend unemployment benefits. The question is how long do we extend benefits, and would this dissuade individuals from getting training in jobs that are necessary? Reich presents the classic cyclical case, we just stumulate consumer spending and the economy eventually comes back to life. I realize that Reich's view is more nuanced than this one post, but it presents the cyclical thesis well. How long do we pay people to stay home and eat potato chips without getting job training?

The Republican view is even more counterproductive. They submit that we should just give rich folks more tax cuts and the wealth will trickle down into the general economy. Even if this were ever true, it certainly is not true at our present relatively flat tax rates, as evidenced by the massive wealth concentration that has occurred over this generation. The top quartile controls 87% of the wealth in the United States. In 2001, the wealthy got their tax cuts and bought villas in France, German sports cars and Korean televisions. Multiplier data show that tax cuts to the wealthy give the least bang for the buck to stimulate a domestic economy.

My thought is that we are currently in a deflationary recession, unlike all the other recessions since 1929-1941, so Reich's thesis, while humane, may not be applicable to this particular situation. The economic lore says that FDR's massive New Deal stimulus got us out of that Depression. But was it just a garden variety stimulus? And did it end the Depression? Answers: no and yes, but it took a long time. Roosevelt took office in 1933 and did not just extend unemployment benefits, rather he built dams and roads and universities and power grids, a lot more than just extending unemployment benefits. But notice that while GDP started a nice upward trajectory in 1933, the unemployment rate remained oppressively high for a few more years, until WW2 sent everyone overseas. Such is the nature of that deflationary recession, and it's our only similar recession for which we have information; a one-dog study.




World War 2 is useful milestone, but really the Depression was ended before 1941. GDP had a steady upward slope and unemployment was trending downward (although still high) years before Pearl Harbor. Perhaps the seminal occurrence in the 1930's was merely tincture of time and it took a generation to burn off off all the profligate debt accumulated in the 1920's. The next generation grew up saving money and taking school seriously and getting trained in useful vocations. Of course, during the war we had full employment, but remember most of those young men and women were government workers, either in the military or defense industries.

A New New Deal? green technologies, re-train workers, stress math and science, increase taxes on carbon consumption, Build-America bonds... Nobody says it better than Barry Ritholtz:



With the GOP sure to gain seats in Congress, you can kiss any huge stimulus good-bye, and even under optimal conditions we have many more years (at least) of structural unemployment, so get used to it.

How much did the Iraq war cost?


Before I get going, remember my last post about all the negative news? Well, I was correct: August 22nd was the near term swing low in the market, and materials have outperformed, up over 6%. See, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. Never underestimate the power of negative sentiment.

Iraq War, what did it cost?

Past tense? Well, it's still going on despite the recent milestone announced by President Obama. Regardless, Christopher has broached this topic in his recent blog post about Obama's speech. Chris noted that the president said that the Iraq War had "contributed" to the current debt, but how much and how are those numbers conjured?

Low estimate by American Thinker: $709 billion

High estimate by Joseph Stiglitz: $3 trillion

My take: First, I'll throw out a term that I'll discuss later: economic utility. Now, back to the discussion.

1. American Thinker looks at the CBO bottom line for upfront military costs from a couple years ago and says "The Iraq War cost $709 billion." Period. Paragraph. End of discussion. Well, let's pretend just for a minute that it's more nuanced than Mr. Thinker thinks.

2. Stiglitz considered that the entire cost was borrowed. I don't have his numbers, but I'll use American Thinker's low ball figures for argument's sake. $709 billion amortized over 20 years (conservative estimate) at 5% (average 30-yr T-bill rate), the total cost for just the upfront military expenditures with interest would be $1.12 trillion. Likely, the costs will not be paid off in 20 years, so consider this a conservative estimate.

3. Stiglitz wrote an entire book (which I didn't read, although I have read several articles he has written) on the subject and his arithmetic considered not only the upfront military costs plus interest, but also the expense of caring for wounded and brain injured soldiers, the death benefits paid to families, and the economic costs to families and our society as a whole. Since soldiers today are more educated and better trained, the replacement cost is greater.

4. Some of Stiglitz' numbers in his various article include Afghanistan, so be careful when interpreting his premises, but his bottom line is $3 trillion.

5. Of course, the military adventure is ongoing and estimates published today are that another $274 billion to $588 billion (borrowed at 5% over 20-30 years) will be needed in upfront military costs. You can add the VA expenditures, and amortize those too if you please.

6. These estimates do not include several other tangible items such as the cost of re-building Iraq's infrastructure that was not destroyed directly by military action.

7. I'll throw out a few intangible factors as well: How much did the Iraq war divert us from Afghanistan, thus making that war more prolonged and costly? How much did the Iraq war dissuade our allies from helping us militarily, diplomatically and financially in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the GWOT? (Remember Gulf war I was paid for) How much did the Iraq war aid al Qaeda in recruiting new members, thus making the GWOT more difficult and costly? How much did Iraq's instability benefit Iran, it's Shia neighbor, and how much will that cost us?

8. Also to be considered but not on any balance sheet: the costs of the loss of 100K Iraqi civilians, the 500,000 refugees who are in other countries, the loss of goodwill from our allies and Iraqis, the cost imparted in the future by the lack of confidence our allies will have in us for the next war. We should add that Iraq is producing oil and stands to increase that production yearly, of course it's still below the pre-War Saddam Hussein production. To be fair, there is likely a benefit to having an Iraqi style democracy, but that's very intangible, bordering on specious.

So, when Obama says that the Iraq war contributed to our national debt, I'll accept it. By my tally, the American Thinker is way off and Stiglitz is pretty close-- merely on the upfront military costs amortized over a couple decades, not even including the other expenses.

Iraq war versus Obamacare

Another growing theme among the right-wing is that "Obamacare cost more than the Iraq war", so as silly as this topic may be, I'll address it briefly.

This is where utility comes in. Obama's health care reform adds some utility since it pays for health care that is currently unfunded and citizens will benefit. By requiring workers to purchase coverage, this ensures that nearly nobody will arrive at the emergency room without a way to pay for their care. Ideally they will avoid the expensive ER altogether since they can go to a physician's office, which at present they cannot or will not do.

The cost-- which, unlike the Iraq war, is not borrowed-- will in effect cover 32 million people who currently are uncovered, and the cost to taxpayers will be pretty close to what their care costs now through uncovered emergency visits. Plus, it adds an element of personal responsibility, not to mention a healthier citizenry.

Also, the health care reform package has funding for medical education, new technologies and free standing clinics, which will benefit everyone.

While the health care reform is clearly suboptimal as it is written, it adds a large chunk of utility by just covering uninsured folks. Then there is the value added benefit of providing educational funds for more doctors (which the US sorely needs), clinics and nurses.

I would argue that not only does the Iraq war add no utility, it actually provide negative utility since we have to pay more to make up for all problems it has created. Of course, neoconservatives will scream that we are "safer" because Saddam is gone,and there cannot be a price put on safety. To that I say, pffft.