Tag: American Politics (Page 1 of 2)

Russians Love Their Children Too

Sting said it best

What kind of questions do you usually expect from a Town Hall meeting in the US? Healthcare? Climate change? Pensions? Schools? Roads? You would be surprised, but these are also the kind of questions journalists asked President Putin last Thursday at his annual presser (his 15th one, no less). Apart from the recurrent theme of the Great Patriotic War, it was your run of the mill, banal Q & A session; just instead of concerned citizens you have a room full of 1895 journalists from Russia and abroad with varying level of sanity and servility. 

The range was big to say the least: from icon-waving crackpots and terrified young reporters reading out encomiums about Putin’s involvement into youth programs to BBC correspondents asking about his daughters’ business ventures or about Boris Johnson’s comparing Putin to Dobbie the Elf from Harry Potter. The ones playing annual Putin bingo probably got everything down during the over 4-hour exercise in democracy and transparency: a bunch of mostly correct statistics, a traditional jab at the US, a signature lidded cup with (allegedly) tea, record numbers in agriculture, a snarky exchange with a Ukrainian journalist, as well as a couple of lessons in history.

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Bannon’s Incoherent Vision of Disruption

In 2013, Bannon is reported to have told Ron Radosh of the Daily Beast that he was a Leninist.  He is quoted as saying “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too.  I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”   Yet this is such an odd thing to tell someone, particularly a journalist, when one’s very wealth, political power and caché depend on the very institution that he wants to destroy.  Lenin, after all, wanted to bring down capitalism and the bourgeoisie to usher in the proletariat as leaders of a communist government and society.   Lenin strongly believed in Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and with it the belief that the workers of the world, and not the owners of capital, must have the power.  Only when all workers—men and women alike—are seen as equal and free will true freedom and democracy reign.  Here is the problem, as I see it, with Bannon: he isn’t a Leninist, a Marxist, or a socialist.   He is an incoherent miscellany of ideas, none of which he understands fully and all of which are dangerous when combined in a haphazard manner.

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The Value Alignment Problem’s Problem

Having recently attended a workshop and conference on beneficial artificial intelligence (AI), one of the overriding concerns is how to design beneficial AI.  To do this, the AI needs to be aligned with human values, and as such is known, pace Stuart Russell, as the “Value Alignment Problem.”  It is a “problem” in the sense that however one creates an AI, the AI may try to maximize a value to the detriment of other socially useful or even noninstrumental values given the way one has to specify a value function to a machine.

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Fiscal Cliffs Notes

FiscalCliffsNotesJudging by the rumors coming out of the media, it appears that we have a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. This is troubling on a number of levels. First, the deal will be agreed to by the outgoing Congress–what we at the Duck are ashamed to call the lame-duck session–instead of the Congress just elected, the one that includes Elizabeth Warren instead of Scott Brown and Claire McCaskill instead of Todd Akin. Second, and related, on its merits this appears to be a deal that serious fiscal hawks and progressives alike will be deeply dissatisfied with–one that locks in Bush tax cuts for nearly all Americans, despite the U.S. government’s pressing need for revenue, while failing to make any substantial headway on America’s long-term fiscal problems. Most important, of course, this deal is simply not one that most Americans want; it is, instead, a deal acceptable to the House Republican caucus (or, rather, one presumptively acceptable to that caucus, which has a notable tendency to shoot itself in the foot).

The outcome of the negotiations, and the very fact that there were negotiations to begin with, suggest that it’s time for restructuring the American government.

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God and Man at Kale

Governor Romney’s Nutrition Czar-Designate

A small part of my portfolio at the Duck is wading into the shallow end of the conservative pool of ideas, and in that spirit I bring to you the latest contretemps over Imam Obama and his jihad against loyal, God- and YHWH-fearing Americans.

If I were to walk up to you and say that control of our nation’s school lunches is a key part of the Communist plot to control our precious bodily fluids, you would probably leave, or at least think about calling the police. And if I were to tell you that our nation’s First Lady–the only one of Barack Hussein’s wives that we know about–is heading up a nefarious plot to corrupt our youth by forcing them to forego calories and eat carrots, presumably you would ask Siri about involuntary institutionalization laws in your state.

But for CNS News such allegations are a news hook:

Last night, radio host Mark Levin described the Department of Agriculture and Michelle Obama’s new school lunch regulations as “tyranny.” Levin was discussing an article that stated many high school athletes and students are not getting enough food each day and are throwing away food because of the mandates instituted this year by the Department of Agriculture. “But I think Michelle Obama is the new Eva Peron with her lunch standards,” Levin said. “Like she knows something about this. She knows as much as I do. Eat carrots and celery. Yum, yum.”

Among the sort of people who think that including footnotes in a tract elevates it to scholarship, Mark Levin is taken semi-seriously–which is to say that many, many more people take Mark Levin seriously than, say, Suzanne Mettler, which is probably why so many political scientists keep threatening to move to Canada.

Anyway, the only sane reaction to someone who says that school lunch = teh jackbootz is “You’re a lunatic.” But in a world where we can no longer control the flow of information, we have to live up to the classical liberal principle that the only response to stupid speech is severe mockery. So, here’s Levin again:

First of all, where does the Constitution empower her or that department to reach all the way down to every school- public school – in this country and set the menu? Are people in the local communities – are you incapable of overseeing this yourself? Is your school board incapable of doing this? Are your local administrators and principals – are they incapable of doing this? We need the Department of Agriculture and Michelle Obama to mandate who eats what, where, how, and when in our public school systems? That’s tyranny right there – it’s absurd.

I guess that Levin missed the memo where public schools themselves are tyranny. Haven’t you heard that government schools themselves are part of the Islamo-leftist conspiracy?

Later in the article, Levin accuses Michelle Obama of trying to starve students. Which, you know, maybe, but, hey, Americans, our children aren’t even close to starving, unless they’re poor, in which case conservatives like Mark Levin refuse to fund government programs to feed them.

The saddest part about all of this is that there is a good critique of the politics of school lunches, one advanced in my favorite scholarly book about school lunches ever: Susan Levine’s School Lunch Politics (Princeton UP, 2010). School lunch programs have largely been driven by Progressive reformers and agricultural interests, the latter who want a government-subsidized market and the former who want to wean new immigrants and the lower-class from their culinary habits.

The roots of Michelle Obama’s nutrition activism have a long history, and the saga of upper-middle-class women’s attempts to get “better” food into schools is not an altogether positive one, as Levine demonstrates. If eating is, with sex and excretion, one of the most intimate of our bodily functions, then it’s no surprise that we tend to both naturalize our policy preferences (“of course all children should have milk, Mrs. Thatcher!”) and also strongly resist “reforms” we find, well, unpalatable. Obesity is a public health problem, and therefore a public policy problem; but the idea that the remedy is to teach kids to eat “better,” where “better” often sounds a lot like the tastes of folks who can afford to eat at Per Se, is itself problematic. (This is before we consider that changing the menu is not the same as training kids to make better choices.)

Is there a solid conservative–or, for that matter, radical–critique to be made here? Yes. Are today’s conservatives intellectually capable of adducing such a critique? Not even by a long shot.


Newly Disclosed Memo Proves Ben Shapiro’s a Partisan Hack

The assassination of Osama bin Laden by US special forces certainly has created a political problem for the Republican party. They spent years demagoguing the war on terror, but now the symbol of that struggle is dead. The man who green-lighted the operation wasn’t George W. Bush or John McCain, but Barack Obama. And you can bet that the Democrats are going to beat that drum from now until November. For example (via):

My own view is kind of “meh.” The death of Osama bin Laden resulted from years of intelligence and military activities; the President’s approval of the operation marked a culmination of a great deal of work, no small measure of which was done under the prior administration. But this is the way American politics work — the President gets credit and blame for what happens under the President’s watch — and the video pretty much sums up the rationale for why Obama can claim a share of the spoils. 
Regardless, conservative opinion-leaders have plenty of options for minimizing or otherwise handling the political difficulties created by bin Laden’s death. But the one being peddled by Ben Shapiro at Breitbart is… well… read on.

It starts with a memo recently published in Time magazine:

Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault.

The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? The President approves the operation based on the “risk profile” he was presented. If new risks emerge, he wants to be made aware of them and given the opportunity to reconsider the operation. In other words, Obama didn’t take himself out of the decision loop. Sounds like the kind of thing that a hands-on-this-is-my-call-and-it-remains-my-call executive would do, right?

Well, thank goodness Shaprio is here to correct such an obvious misreading. What the memo really shows is that Obama is a weasely weasel who most certainly can’t claim a smidgen of credit for authorizing a high-risk operation.

Only the memo doesn’t show a gutsy call. It doesn’t show a president willing to take the blame for a mission gone wrong. It shows a CYA maneuver by the White House. 

The memo puts all control in the hands of Admiral McRaven – the “timing, operational decision making and control” are all up to McRaven. So the notion that Obama and his team were walking through every stage of the operation is incorrect. The hero here was McRaven, not Obama. And had the mission gone wrong, McRaven surely would have been thrown under the bus. 

The memo is crystal clear on that point. It says that the decision has been made based solely on the “risk profile presented to the President.” If any other risks – no matter how minute – arose, they were “to be brought back to the President for his consideration.” This is ludicrous. It is wiggle room. It was Obama’s way of carving out space for himself in case the mission went bad. If it did, he’d say that there were additional risks of which he hadn’t been informed; he’d been kept in the dark by his military leaders.

You see, if Obama were a real leader he would green-lighted McRaven and then retired to the White House den to watch a baseball game. Or better yet, he would not only have taken operational command of the mission, but been the first into the compound. Hell, he would have killed Obama himself. With his bare hands! That’s what George W. Bush would have done. Now that man was a real decider.


How Dare the Federal Government Set Minimal Standards for a Consumer Product!

When elements of the Republican noise machine decided to call Sandra Fluke a slutty naughty sex fiend for suggesting–in public, no less–that all health-insurance plans ought to cover hormonal birth control… so that women wouldn’t suffer from ovarian cysts, here’s what I thought: “this is such a bunch of obviously crazystupidinsanemisogynistselfimmolating craziness that it has got to go away soon.”

But left-ish groups smell a fundraising winner. And we can always count on some members of the American right to double down on the stupid. Which means that we’re stuck with this for a while. So then I thinks to myself all “‘I’m a Georgetown University employee. dangnabbit. Heck, I’m like a professor and stuff. Maybe that means I should comment!”

(Did I mention the crazy crazy, crazy stupidness? Seriously, take a look at this. But don’t say that I didn’t warn you that it makes this look tame. And the second “this” is a big heaping plate of offensive.)

So, while I probably shouldn’t comment, I guess I will.

1. The President’s office at Georgetown is all kinds of awesome for producing such a magisterial letter in defense of one of our own. Yeah, I know everyone has already seen it. But its just way cool.

2. This controversy is all kind of weird for me, because I am pretty darn sure that at least one of Georgetown’s employee health-insurance plans covers hormonal birth control; our bill for it looks an awful like a copayment rather than a full-blown out-of-pocket expense. Of course, Georgetown also has domestic-partner coverage provisions for faculty and staff. This sort of stuff makes us, if I understand contemporary Church doctrine, very bad Catholics. Apparently at Notre Dame they point to us as examples of what happens when you let Jesuits build a top-ranked school. Of course, I have it on good authority that Catholic University looks at Notre Dame as a bunch of apostates, so perchance Notre Dame should lay off with the holier-than-thou stuff. And that’s holier-than-thou in the literal, not figurative, sense. Which is kind of neat.

3. I’ve been reading comment threads that involve both conservatives and liberals, and I’m starting to notice a pattern. A lot of the comments I see are all about the evil hypocrisy of the American left for being upset with Limbaugh but putting up with nasty personal attacks from the likes of Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, Al Franken, etc. etc. Most of the liberal commentators–myself included–don’t even know what attacks our right-wing brethren are talking about (Maher apparently has said some disgusting things about Palin, but who knew?). I must say that this makes it pretty hard to feel hypocritical.

Anyway, as I was getting to, I’ve started to figure something out (I think). I used to believe that conservative handwaving about MSNBC commentators and similar types amounted to a cynical attempt at false equivalency. After all, Maddow gets about half the viewers that O’Reilly does in their respective peak slots, and the rest of Fox’s conservatainment lineup basically trounces MSNBC.

Yes, this wasn’t very charitable of me, but I couldn’t think of another explanation.

Now, however, I realize that many conservatives aren’t being at all cynical and misleading: they just assume that politically engaged liberals relate to their commentariat the same way that politically engaged conservatives do. But many of us simply find our blowhards irritating. I just don’t think we have the kind of close tribal affiliation with our self-appointed spokespeople that many conservatives have with their own (recall that Air America failed). It simply wouldn’t occur to me to aggressively defend idiocy from any of “my side’s” media personalities the way that the aforementioned commentators range far and wide to support Limbaugh–albeit largely by attacking left-wing hypocrisy.

The closest thing for liberals, I believe, is the relationship many of us have with Jon Stewart. But Stewart’s sort of odd to compare to O’Reilly or Hannity insofar as the core of his show involves making fun of “news” media. Really, most of the liberals I hang with smugly listen to NPR. We congratulate ourselves on our “intellectualness,” still act like “This American Life” is pretty fresh, and think we’re staying hip because we occasionally buy music reviewed on “All Things Considered” or promoted on “All Songs Considered.”

(Keep in mind that I’m talking about liberals, not the American left, those who still spend lots of time on DailyKos, and/or people who call themselves “progressives” because they don’t realize Teddy Roosevelt irreparably tarnished that label back in the nineteen-teens. I don’t really understand most of these people either.)

Well, I hope I’ve made my case that I probably shouldn’t comment. So I’ll stop.


GOP SotU Response Better than SotU (2) – Didn’t Expect that

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Part one of my response to Obama’s 2012 State of the Union is here.

3. The foreign policy section was weaker and more militaristic than usual. The opening bit about the Iraq war making us ‘safer and more respected around the world’ was jaw-dropping. I guess this really is a campaign speech outreach to the right, because I can’t believe any of the president’s 2008 voters actually buy that line. Does anyone believe that anymore, except for the right-wing think-tank set or something? Wow. Didn’t we vote for Obama because of exactly the kind of Bushian American hubris that can read an unjustified, unprovoked, unilateral assault on another state (which would have provoked howls of rejection by Americans if done by any other country in the world) as a great American victory? Veterans too got a pander wishlist – even though even Michelle Bachmann (!) has come to realize that VA benefits will have to be included in any budget deal.

Next came the deeply disturbing comparison of the US democratic body politic to a special forces team. Wow, again. Really? A wildly diverse, sprawling, open, liberal culture should look to JSOC for its model? We are not a nation of armies, and the discipline and anti-individualism of the military is exactly not what we want in our politics. We want our politics to be open, rich, boisterous, a bit chaotic, even fun; we want a social culture open and tolerant enough to create artists and musicians, entrepreneurs and eccentrics, poets and hippies and weirdoes and all that. This is basic Mill here, not Starshship Troopers. This reminds me of Huntington’s infatuation with a military lifestyle compared to pluralism in the Soldier and the State. The militarization of American culture since 9/11 is terrifying, and that even the president would deploy such analogies is all the more reason to end the war on terror and slow the growth of the military-industrial complex.

Finally, I guess Israel now is pretty much a state in the union: our guarantee is ‘iron-clad,’ which sure sounds a lot like a blank-check for Netanyahu to do something erratic. Iran, here we come! And you’ll notice there was nothing on the much-hyped ‘Asian pivot,’ which I am convinced is bogus, because Americans don’t care about Asia.

4. The 2010 GOP response was so reliably jingoistic, shallow, and self-serving, I gave it its own post. But was anyone else really pleased to see how restrained, polite, and professional Daniels was? I was amazed; I expected Tea Party-style hysteria about un-American influences, appeasement on ‘islamofascism,’ incipient erosion of the Constitution under ObamaCare, betrayal of allies, etc. (Where’s Glenn Beck when you need him?)
Instead Daniels was measured and his concerns reasonable. He called the GOP a ‘loyal opposition,’ rejecting the extremism of the GOP presidential debates about Obama as the greatest threat to American since WWII or something. He noted the president’s upright personal life. Ideally this wouldn’t make a difference in a liberal state’s politics. I couldn’t care less how many wives Gingrich has had, but the GOP has become worse than the nuns of my Catholic grade school on sex. The modern GOP wants to regulate the bedroom and the family, so it is nice to see Daniels admit that Obama meets that standard (hint: Gingrich,Limbaugh, and Rove don’t). He also noted how Obama didn’t create the crisis, even if he bucked how much W is actually to blame.
The criticisms that then followed were fairly reasonable. He’s right that we can’t just keep spending like this. Our status as a reserve currency printer does not permanently insure against a Greek-style run (although it does give us a lot more room to misbehave than anyone thought). The math on middle-class entitlements and debt is pretty terrifying over the next generation.
Here’s Sully again on Daniels, saying something similar. See how nice is to have a midwest Republican speaking like a normal guy? Kinda makes you like Ohio after all, huh?
Cross-posted at the Asian Security Blog.


GOP Response Better than SotU (1) – Wow, How’d that Happen?

Each year I try to write on the SotU (2010, 2011). I know they are preposterously scripted, usually forgettable, and almost meaningless as a guide for the upcoming policy season/budget debate. But the political scientist in me thinks that showing the whole panorama of democratic government in one room is hugely instructive for the both US citizenry and for foreigners interested in the US, as well as a great example of how democracies differ from oligarchies and dictatorships with their sycophantic, faux ‘legislatures.’ Let’s hope that somewhere some Chinese, or Burmese, or Syrians can see this and dream that one day they too can … play their own SotU drinking game.

Further the SotU’s often give insight into the presidential mind (however distorted by focus groups) – what he thinks is important or not, ideal preferences for the country, American ‘exceptionalism,’ etc. In this vein, George W Bush’s 2005 SotU was easily the most important of my lifetime, as W laid out a soaring and terrifying image of the US a global democratic revisionist prepared to war for freedom indefinitely. It scared the pants off the country and the planet, but that in itself made it a major, frightening moment in the W presidency. So I still think we should watch them. But, I will grant that you should probably play one of those drinking games while you’re at it.

1. Domestic’s not my area, but I have to agree with Sullivan that this was just a grab bag of bleh. Instead of the big issues like deficit control, entitlement restraint, broad tax hikes (to actually pay for the government we want), defense spending control, etc., it was a bunch of populist/protectionist tax alterations that, as Sullivan notes, will make the tax code even more impenetrable than it is. Isn’t there pretty much a national consensus now that the tax code needs to be simplified? And the protectionism masquerading as ‘bringing jobs home’ was ridiculous – an unworkable tangle of new law, more government, more lawsuits at the WTO. That’s the last thing the world economy needs in the great recession, and you know MNCs will fight this stuff tooth and nail, move resources even faster, relocate, lawyer up like hell to find the loopholes, etc. If you are one of those conspiracy theorists looking for socialism from Obama, you finally got some evidence. This verged toward old school Democrats-from-the-70s industrial policy.

2. What a lame sop to manufacturing. I understand why, and part of me appreciates it. I’m from Cleveland; I have seen lots of small towns in Ohio get hammered by globalization and contraction of manufacturing (it can be fairly depressing to drive around the state). For decades, I have seen Cleveland slip and slip and slip; the city’s east side is so violent now. But honestly, this is the sort of stuff politicians always say to Ohio and the Midwest when elections come up. Not only is it bad economics (hold that thought), but, as Michael Lind and Thomas Frank have pointed out for years, the Midwest has never seen a big industrial turn-around despite the bi-annual pandering we get as swing-states. The first half felt more like campaign speech on my old street to get the neighborhood out to vote for Democrats, because this is the type of stuff the Ohio Democratic Party has been saying as long as I can remember. I imagine other midwestern listeners would think the same, but this was pretty much the ODP’s playbook, and Obama even mentioned Cleveland.

Part two will go up in two days

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


My Payroll Tax Rant of the Day

The payroll tax fight in a nutshell.

Republicans: Unlike every other tax cut we’ve dealt with in this congressional session, the payroll tax holiday must be offset. We demand spending cuts.

Democrats: Fine, we’ll offset it with a temporary increase in taxes for the .01% of the population that makes more than a million dollars a year.

Republicans: No. We demand spending cuts.

Democrats: Wait. Are you saying that given the choice between two policies that lead to the same exact levels of aggregate taxation, you’d choose one that raises taxes on 99.99% of taxpaying Americans?

Republicans: Yes. We demand spending cuts. 

Democrats: But why not offset a temporary stimulus measure with one less likely to reduce aggregate demand? 

Republicans: …. 

Democrats: Oh. ….That’s not what you mean by “offset,” is it? 

Republicans: Took you long enough. We demand any economic benefit of the payroll tax holiday be offset.

I can’t believe that we’re even having this debate.


Raising the Debt Ceiling and Avoiding Economic Catastrophe

I keep meaning to write a follow up post on U.S. public opinion on climate change and how and why it matters for the world. But, the ongoing political posturing over raising the debt ceiling keeps commanding my attention. Everything I’ve read suggests that failure to resolve this by August 2nd would be what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called a “self-inflicted wound” on the part of the United States and potentially send the world in to an economic tailspin of perhaps unprecedented proportions. While we can’t know for sure what would happen, most sane observers of this unfolding catastrophe – Sebastian Mallaby, James Lindsay, Dan Dreznerthe U.S. business community, David Brooks, David Frum – suggest that this is one of those things in life that it would be wiser not to find out by trying our luck.

From an academic perspective, the question a few weeks ago was why weren’t the markets spooked and punishing the United States with higher interest rates and threats of a downgrade in the country’s credit rating. At the time, the somewhat obvious answer was that there simply wasn’t an alternative where investors could take their money. Many European economies are teetering in the face of debt crises of Greece, Ireland, and others. Japan is still recovering from the effects of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown and the country had already been in the economic doldrums for more than a decade. Other countries that potentially could absorb global savings Australia and Brazil for example simply do not have markets large enough. Thus, despite the problems and doubts about America, investors still see the United States as the safest bet. Countries like China had too much money invested in the United States. Larger, more sustained efforts to shift to other currencies could do as much damage to China as they would to the United States.

In addition to these forces, markets were not punishing the United States because I think there was this expectation that surely American political leaders would sort this out. Yes, there will be this to and fro of political demagoguery on both sides as the country’s leaders try to position themselves for maximum political advantage. But, in keeping with Winston Churchill’s maxim, the Americans will ultimately do the right thing after trying everything else first.

In this case, the blinkered brinksmanship by both parties, but particularly House Republicans, has brought the country close to what might be an economic apocalypse. I do not write those words lightly, and I do actually mean them. My wife and I are expecting are first child in a matter of weeks, and I seriously worry that these so-called leaders may tempt fate by failing to reach a compromise on the debt ceiling and deficit reduction, one that includes both spending cuts AND new sources of revenue.

With climate change and the world’s increased environmental footprint, I worry about what kind of world our son will come into over the medium- to long-run. With the failure of the United States to raise the debt ceiling, I worry what kind of world he will be born into in three weeks. I am normally not prone to such dystopian thinking, but I hope for the sake of my family, your family, humanity as a whole that our leaders come to their senses and realize that now is not the moment to roll the dice with the global economy.

If you want to read what I’ve read on this, take a look at the last ten days of my Twitter feed

Re-tweets include debt calculators and show what bills we won’t be able to pay with existing funds. Other pieces look at how failure to raise the debt ceiling will drive up our borrowing costs and actually make the deficit worse. Others examine how a balanced budget amendment that House Republicans would like to attach to some final agreement would ultimately be a bad economic straitjacket in tough economic times. I also include links to threatened credit rating downgrades from Moody’s, S&P, and Fitch.

Partisanship vs. Policy: the Housing Bubble Debate

Morgensen’s and Rosner’s new book appears to have breathed new life into claims that responsibility for the housing bubble can be laid at the feet of Democrats, ACORN, and Fannie and Freddie. Given that buyers of the book at Amazon are also snatching up works by Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Andrew Breitbart, I’m pretty sure that it is on its way to becoming the housing-bubble bible for all those who also are learning how Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and the Battle of Poitiers were key “tipping points” in the history of human freedom.

It strikes me as unlikely that a closer chronicle of the shady political dealings surrounding housing policy in the 1990s tells us very much new about the causes of the bubble. But I find it interesting that conservatives are so gleeful about their account because it implicates a lot of Democrats. As a partisan matter, that’s obviously of interest. But as a policy matter? It seems odd that conservatives would be so eager to swallow a story ultimately more consonant with progressive goals than their own.

The underlying problems here center around deregulation (including the loosening of lending standards), a federal reserve that refused to exercise oversight or take steps to deal with a growing bubble, and the influence of moneyed interests on policy. The drive to extend homeownership to poor minorities who had, because of discriminatory practices, been excluded from access to housing equity, certainly played a role here, e.g., it led to some well-intentioned policies that soon became co-opted by housing lenders.

But without those other mechanisms we can’t really get from the “progressive” policy (more homeownership for poor minorities) to the current economic crisis, and those mechanisms are overwhelmingly ones that progressives, rather than conservatives, want to address. Indeed, can overwhelming proportion of the failures attributed to the Clinton administration stem from its tack rightward on financial and regulatory policy. The bad behavior of Democrats largely centers around their pursuit of corporate cash.

However desperately folks like Mead may try to link this to a general criticism of third way politics, the core “problems” have little to do with the progressive elements of that fusion.* Conservative policies aren’t designed to rectify these failures, but to entrench them in American politics and policy.

*The giveaway? One of Mead’s examples of a “third way scheme” discredited by Morgensen’s and Rosner’s account of the housing bubble is the “cap-and-trade” approach to reducing carbon emissions. But the cap-and-trade approach was embraced by progressives in an attempt to find common ground with conservatives, who generally supported the approach until Obama proposed it.**

**While I’m on the subject of Mead, I remember how every “economic collapse” scenario from when I debated in high school (c. 1991) culminated with a quotation from him about how a major economic slump would lead to outbreaks of interstate conflict around the globe. As it obviously did. Just look at all those interstate wars in, er, well, uh….


Battlestar Blegging

This scene from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica pilot – the first in which Commander Adama and President Roslin meet – is emblematic of three politically significant conversations underpinning the series. First, what is the appropriate role of the military with respect to the society it presumably exists to serve? Second, who decides? Third, what are the means by which that role is to be executed? All these conversations map broadly onto what Peter Feaver has called the “civil-military problematique;” and they cut across an emerging conceptual distinction in security studies between national and human security.

A graduate student and I are currently working on a paper that explores how those conversations play out over the course of BSG and examines how the show’s messaging is positioned in current debates about both civil-military relations and human security. In the paper, we elaborate on each of the three tensions exemplified by the initial conversation between Roslin and Adama in the pilot episode, and tie it to civ-mil/human security debates.

First, we examine the epistemological referent of “security” in the series. At the start of the series, Commander Adama assumes a territorialized national security frame – he sees his role as defending the Colonies themselves by pursuing and engaging ‘the enemy’ – while Roslin argues the role of the military is to protect civilians and proposes a militarized humanitarianism on behalf of a diasporic human collective. Although the distinction between military and human security is a constant tension in the show, we argue that the series progresses in the direction of a human security frame. But we also show how the series challenges the concept of human security.

Second, we examine the tension between civilian and military authority as depicted in the series. An abiding thread of analysis in civil-military relations is what level of civilian control over the military and military influence over civilian society is appropriate in a given society. The series begins with the two on somewhat equal footing in their respective spheres – similar to what Huntington referred to as “objective civilian control” – but the show progresses toward greater civilian supremacy overall, as well as fusing the distinction between the two, trends more associated with Janowitz. The civilianization of the military throughout the series is reflected in the destabilization of gender hierarchies as the show progresses, and culminates in complete debellicization in the final episode.

Finally, we examine representations of the limits placed on the role of the military in security, and the means by which it can carry out security measures. The show is unflinchingly brutal at times, forcing the viewer to confront the notion that good people can do terrible things. Nonetheless, BSG presents and defends an argument that military force can only be legitimate and therefore effective if wielded with due respect for the rule of law and human rights. This narrative has significant resonance with current policy debates over the role of the military in human security, in the US and abroad; and the show embodies an important tension between civilians and military personnel in the war on terror on the extent to which the state and/or military have the nation’s best interests at heart.

So that’s the paper in a nutshell. Here’s the bleg. We’ve been asked by the editor of the volume for which this is a contribution to ground the meta-analysis more closely in real-world political events, rather than simply academic literature. Help! There are obviously analogues with rule of law in the war on terror, and with the supposed civil-military crisis of which various commentators have been writing in recent years. But we’d also like to cast a broad net: as we develop this further, I am soliciting further thoughts from readers. How might the political debates from BSG be further mapped onto / connected to real-world civil-military relations? Reply below to earn an acknowledgement in our final version. 


Historical perspective

As James Poulous reminds me, 2010 ain’t got nothing on 1968, let alone the long 1960s.

Violent rhetoric?

Societal polarization?

Political violence, including assassinations?
Much worse.

It is something of a testament to how far we’ve come that what outrages us now is relatively tame compared to the spewings of the far left and the far right less than half a century ago.

I still don’t have much use for claims that center-left politicians are trying to destroy the United States, or that center-right politicians are fascists. I still think that most of the political elites accusing their opponents of trying to institute tyranny and implying the need for armed revolt are lying weasels. But let’s not wax nostalgia about some golden past of American politics, okay?


Revolving Doors, Lobbyist Edition

Via Marginal Revolution, an interesting new paper that explores what happens to an ex-staffer’s lobbying revenue when the politician they worked for leaves office.

Our main finding is that lobbyists connected to US Senators suff er an average 24% drop in generated revenue when their previous employer leaves the Senate. The decrease in revenue is out of line with pre-existing trends, it is discontinuous around the period in which the connected Senator exits Congress and it persists in the long-term. The sharp decrease in revenue is also present when we study separately a small subsample of unexpected and idiosyncratic Senator exits. Measured in terms of median revenues per ex-staffer turned lobbyist, this estimate indicates that the exit of a Senator leads to approximately a $177,000 per year fall in revenues for each affiliated lobbyist. The equivalent estimated drop for lobbyists connected to US Representatives leaving Congress is a weakly statistically signi cant 10% of generated revenue.  The equivalent estimated drop forlobbyists connected to US Representatives leaving Congress is a weakly statistically signi cant 10% ofgenerated revenue.We also find evidence that ex-sta ffers are more likely to leave the lobbying industry after their connected Senator or Representative exits Congress. (emphasis mine)

They also show that ex-staffers revenues has grown at a faster rate than non ex-staffers since the late 1990’s.

Here’s a graphical representation of the findings from the paper:

[Cross-posted at Signal/Noise]


Obama: “I Was Actually Black Before the Election.”

Hear, hear. I’m tired of all this distracting talk about racism in the health care debate. You can disagree with a liberal policy championed by a black President without being a racist. Lots of people have been misled into fearing health care reform for lots of reasons. I’m glad to see our President laughing this stuff off and keeping focused on the issues.


Bernanke op-ed in the Wall Street Journal

Ben Bernanke wants to assure people that the Fed isn’t just throwing money at the current problems, unaware of the long-term impact on inflation.

My colleagues and I believe that accomodative policies will likely be warranted for an extended period. At some point, however, as economic recovery takes hold, we will need to tighten monetary policy to prevent the emergence of an inflation problem down the road. The Federal Open Market Committee, which is responsible for setting U.S. monetary policy, has devoted considerable time to issues relating to an exit strategy. We are confident we have the necessary tools to withdraw policy accommodation, when that becomes appropriate, in a smooth and timely manner.

Gee–is everybody confident now? He goes on to tell how it will be done. A few observations:

1) The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is worried enough about confidence that he chooses to make this statement.

2) He does so in a form that allows no questioning or rebuttal.

3) To the extent that he discusses the tools to contract the money supply, it’s all pretty much the same as before. They aren’t nearly as all-powerful as he wants us to believe.

4) Bernanke says almost nothing about the international dimension–including foreign exchange and the impact on what has been the world’s reserve currency.

5) All his promises miss the political dimension altogether. Are we really to believe that those who have been personally helped by recent policies–bailed out banks, investment houses, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.–are going to sit by and watch the Fed crank up the pain? The relation of Congress and State governments to the stimulus package is similar to that of an addict to cocaine. The American people will want their freebies, and they won’t want to pay for them.

I’m supposed to feel more confident after reading this?

Bernanke Op-ed in WSJ: The Fed’s Exit Strategy – WSJ.com

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