Healthcare is a moral issue first

On May 4 the House of Representatives passed a poorly understood healthcare bill.

The more people learn about it, the less they seem to like it. Maybe that’s why it was so shrouded in secrecy before passage, with barely any analysis of its likely effects or opportunity for public discourse.

Oddly, despite the secrecy, the bill might be getting closer to the true, honest positions of some politicians (and their constituents) than prior bills.

The reason is that healthcare is not only a policy matter: Many Americans and a majority of citizens in other industrialized nations consider access to affordable healthcare a moral issue, too. But this moral issue implies policy stances that not many people are taking.

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A Simple Rule for Defining Terrorism

On Monday, a student at Ohio State – who was also a permanent United States resident from Somalia – injured 11 people on the University’s campus. He did so using both a car and a knife. Because he is Muslim, posted his displeasure at perceived treatment of fellow Muslims on Facebook, and included a vague threat there, the first response of many has been to assume terrorism. This is entirely the wrong response.

There have been a number of different definitions of terrorism used both by government agencies and in scholarly discourse. These definitions focus on many aspects of terrorism, but one stands out: terrorism is a tactic that necessarily employs an intermediary in order to have an effect.

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Why you can’t support a no-fly list but allow those on it to get guns

It’s difficult to balance rights and security, particularly when it’s difficult to measure security. That’s one reason why the debates on gun control that follow mass shootings rarely lead to compromise solutions.

There are components of the debate that should be easy, though. One relates to the no-fly list, and was brought up recently by President Obama.

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Orlando shooting shows why ‘inspired by terrorism’ a useless distinction

In the aftermath of a horror like the Orlando mass shooting, we often turn to religious or political ideologies as explanation. For example, the shooter’s last-minute pledge to ISIS must have signified the real reason he committed such a heinous act.

There is some truth to this. Certainly your beliefs influence how you treat others.

But a focus on ideology ignores two things.

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<Variant Version at Political Violence @ a Glance>

To thwart terror, don’t fear

A lot of our present public discourse involves attacking people who hold opinions different from our own. We call them names. We say they are weak or uncaring or stupid or lazy.

This is not helpful. We all come to our beliefs in different ways. Assuming others’ beliefs are driven only by ill intent is not fair to the passion and reason and pragmatism and idealism that form the bedrock of real beliefs. And it ruins the chance for real conversation.

So rather than argue here for a particular political point of view, I’m going to ask a simple favor: Please don’t fear terrorism.

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A Better Way to Deal with ISIS

Human beings are incredibly good at recognizing patterns. It is an amazing skill, both practically and creatively. But it can get us into trouble, too. And it is doing that now.

We observe ISIS’s horrific behavior and we see a pattern: A terrorist group bent on destroying our way of life. This pattern lends itself to certain assumptions. We assume that its propaganda accurately states its true motivations. We assume that anyone who supports ISIS must agree with all it says. These assumptions imply a purely military solution: Destroy the evildoers, wherever they are.

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The America Competes Reauthorization Act does not compute

Over the past few years, Congress has taken aim at U.S. science funding. The present America Competes Reauthorization Act is but one example. This bill would make several changes to science funding, but two stand out. One, it states that “the results of any research, development, demonstration, or commercial application projects or activities of the [Energy] Department may not be used for regulatory assessments or determinations by [f]ederal regulatory authorities.” Two, it substitutes politicians’ preferences for scientists’ when deciding what research gets funded. Neither change is a good idea, and the bill as a whole is detrimental to American competitiveness.

To see why, consider the analogy of home repair. Let’s say your old electric hot-water heater breaks and you call in a plumber to install a new one. Typically, the plumber would ask you some questions and then provide options. You’d choose your preferred one, with your choice limited by your budget. You’d probably also try to pick an experienced plumber so as to minimize the chance that you’d get bad advice. While you’d try to hold the line against cost overruns, you’d likely let the plumber decide how to spend your budget.

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Will cell phones help insurgents? Or the regimes they oppose?

Insurgents cannot decide what to make of cellphones. While some insurgent groups target cellphone towers and demand companies turn towers off at night, others complain when providers are slow to fix network problems and threaten them for poor coverage. This variation reflects the fact that cellphones can hurt insurgents by allowing civilians to more safely share information on rebel activity with the government, but they also help insurgents by facilitating violent collective action, just as they help us all manage our daily lives.

Which effect will dominate is often unclear a priori. We provide an analysis in our forthcoming paper, which is part of a new special issue of the Journal of Peace Research. In some cases it is beneficial for governments engaging in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism to facilitate the spread of cellular communications. In others, the government should focus on limiting access to cell phones. To know when governments should do each, we need to know why insurgent groups vary in how they view cell phones.

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