Monday, January 31, 2011
It would be nice if not massacring civilians was a given, but we've seen that very thing happen time and time again in dictatorships. The professionalism of the Egyptian military reflects well on the US military and the excellent job it has done in training the leaders of Egypt's armies.
The real question is whether or not the civilian leadership will successfully push for free and fair elections. My suspicion is that President Obama will do the right thing and reject the installment of another strongman to replace Mubarak. The Egyptian people need to finally have a chance to attempt to build a democracy.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
"I would not refer to him [Mubarak] as a dictator."
This brings me back to my go-to axiom of American foreign policy: whatever Joe Biden says, take the exact opposite and that is probably best.
I know that Egypt has been an important American ally, because we have to deal with the world as it is. That means cozying up to some less than scrupulous characters from time to time (actually, on a pretty regular basis). Nevertheless, Mubarak is certainly a dictator, and his policies are almost certainly not good for the Egyptian people. If Biden didn't want to throw Mubarak under the bus outright, he could have just declined to answer the question: "I'm going to let the Egyptians deal with their own internal affairs" would have been a sufficient response.
Egypt has been especially important as it relates to the peace process between Israel and Palestine, but even there its pretty clear that Mubarak is a net negative. This should transcend partisan opinion pretty easily - remember that this was the entire premise of the neoconservative invasion of Iraq. As the neocon story goes, Arabs are angry because they are not free, and so that anger is channeled by their leaders at Israel. If we free the Arabs and give them democracy, they can prosper and the animosity at Israel disappears. I actually subscribe to this sort of thinking, but where neoconservatives and I part ways is whether America should intervene militarily to spread democracy in Arab countries: I didn't think we should in the case of Iraq.
Back to Egypt, I think everyone agrees that Mubarak is a net negative for American policies in the region, but we keep him propped up because we are worried about a worse alternative. Perhaps our worst fear would be a Muslim-brotherhood Hamas-type government taking power, cutting off ties with Israel, talking about war, and generally destabilizing the region. That is a small risk risk if Mubarak goes, but I think we make that outcome MORE likely by blatantly supporting Mubarak, which only increases anti-American sentiment. Maybe we should take a step back and let the Egyptians go their own way, and promise to help and engage them no matter which direction they go. In the short term, they may even move in a direction that we are less than enthusiastic about, but in the longer term we can win them back.
Of course, I don't necessarily think Mubarak is going to fall, but its certainly possible, and we should be thinking about what to do if he does.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
If not kicking it deep is a good strategy in the playoffs, why isn't it a good strategy for the regular season?
If this increases the odds of winning a playoff game, why not do it in the regular season?
Saturday, January 22, 2011
The Republicans want to pass budget cuts - and certainly we need them. However, they don't want to touch social security, medicare, or defense. To be politically safe, the GOP is focusing on "discretionary spending". This includes the NIH, the FBI, environmental protection agencies, education, and the list goes on and on.
We're really going to have to think long and hard about our priorities as a nation, because we can't have it all. Do we want to continue to nation build in Afghanistan? Should we continue to accept our role as the world's policeman with a 500 billion dollar military? Should the government continue to pay people to stop working at the young age of 65 (ie, social security). Or, do we want to invest in the future, by putting more money in education, science, and research?
Something tells me that the Chinese won't be cutting their education and research budgets anytime soon. Its OK though. All of the new jobs in the biosciences can be created in China just as easily. Maybe in the future we will import our cancer and other medical treatments from China like we do with toys today. The most intelligent young American scientists will compete to earn a Ph.D. spot in a Chinese laboratory. The top American medical researchers will move their laboratories to China where funding is reliable and easy to get. The pharmaceutical companies might start following the researchers over there.
The research is going to get done. It is just a matter of where.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The development of effective cancer immunotherapies has been consistently hampered by several factors, including an inability to instigate long-term effective functional antitumor immunity. This is particularly true for immunotherapies that focus on the adoptive transfer of activated or genetically modified mature CD8+ T cells. In this study, we sought to alter and enhance long-term host immunity by genetically modifying, then transplanting, mouse HSCs. We first cloned a previously identified tumor-reactive HLA-DR4–restricted CD4+ TCR specific for the melanocyte differentiation antigen tyrosinase-related protein 1 (Tyrp1), then constructed both a high-expression lentivirus vector and a TCR-transgenic mouse expressing the genes encoding this TCR. Using these tools, we demonstrated that both mouse and human HSCs established durable, high-efficiency TCR gene transfer following long-term transplantation into lethally irradiated mice transgenic for HLA-DR4. Recipients of genetically modified mouse HSCs developed spontaneous autoimmune vitiligo that was associated with the presence of a Th1-polarized memory effector CD4+ T cell population that expressed the Tyrp1-specific TCR. Most importantly, large numbers of CD4+ T cells expressing the Tyrp1-specific TCR were detected in secondary HLA-DR4–transgenic transplant recipients, and these mice were able to destroy subcutaneously administered melanoma cells without the aid of vaccination, immune modulation, or cytokine administration. These results demonstrate the creation of what we believe to be a novel translational model of durable lentiviral gene transfer that results in long-term effective immunity.
If things work well, I may have another paper out before the end of the year!
Saturday, January 15, 2011
The President of Tunisia fled the nation, and the PM took over, but now he has ceded power too. A lot of people are discussing the role that Wikileaks played in this situation. Obviously there was already a lot of discontent in the nation, but the relevations about the government excesses that were leaked might have pushed things over the edge.
This brings me back to a point that I made about wikileaks a few weeks ago, which is that more access to information for more people is clearly a net gain for the USA. Secrets leaked about the USA may be slightly embarrassing but secrets leaked about autocratic governments can be lethal to those dictators.
Imagine if Julian Assange exposed leaks about everyone - the US, but also Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc. Imagine the populations can access that information. What we are seeing in Tunisia is a precursor to what will happen when more people get access to more info, say via wikileaks, and can organize efficiently, by Facebook, Twitter, or whatever. How is that not a huge net win for American values and interests?
Instead of prosecuting Assange, maybe we should be helping him. If the US government wants to bring down the Ayatollahs we shouldn't bother with bombs. We should just develop a version of Twitter that can't be shut down in Iran.
Friday, January 14, 2011
"The historical significance of what happened in Tunisia is huge. This is the first time an Arab dictator is overthrown by a popular uprising. It is too early to speculate whether this will or can spread, but I think one lesson is too obvious: the Arab people has realized that overthrowing a regime is much much easer than they had thought. If the Iranian Revolution had an impact on Arab politics, this will certainly have an impact," - As'ad, at angryarab
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
A 60 minutes special exposed the recorded conversations between the ambulance and the hospitals that one after another inquired about the patient's health insurance status before turning the patient away. This led to congressional legislation which dictated that emergency rooms must treat patients regardless of insurance status. In effect, the bill gave all Americans the right to a medical exam and treatment regardless of ability to pay. This mandate was, perhaps not surprisingly, unfunded by the federal government. Almost half of ER patients have no health insurance. Given that (most) hospitals must turn a profit, the 1988 unfunded federal mandate ends up being paid for by patients with health insurance.
To me, the individual mandate of the Obama health care bill stems logically from this 1988 bill. In other words, if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, why isn't the 1988 bill unconstitutional? Republicans are trying to argue that you can't force people to buy something (health insurance). But the 1988 bill did something worse - it forces people to buy something for someone else! We can talk about personal responsibility until we are blue in the face, but at the end of the day, we as a society are not willing to not treat sick patients. That is a good thing, but someone still has to pay for that treatment. Right now, only hospitals and people with insurance are paying. With an individual mandate, even though low income citizens will require help, everyone will have some role in paying for their health insurance.
While Republicans want to repeal the ACA, they are quick to point out that they favor certain parts of the bill - for example, people should not be denied insurance based on pre-existing condition. Tell me though: If I cannot be denied coverage based on pre-existing condition, why would I ever buy health insurance? Why not just wait to see if I get sick, and only buy insurance if I do? If everyone did that, the insurance market would collapse spectacularly. The only way to prevent gaming of the system like that is an individual mandate: you cannot do one without the other.
The ACA deals with access to health care, but the real problem in this country is delivery of health care, which is often expensive and inefficient. If we are to secure the fiscal future of our nation, we need to address these serious challenges - and quickly. More health care reform is needed, not less. Repeal is out of the question, and attempts at such are just posturing. Obama should tell Republicans that if they have a better bill that they want to replace the ACA with, if they have modifications, or additions, he is all ears. Obama should challenge Republicans to put up or shut up.