September 9, 2011

The Move Is Official!

Hey all,

I've moved to New blog is Is/Ought, a nice philosophical koan. Simple and whatnot. I will soon be moving this feed to that address as well. Look for my first post over there later tonight or tomorrow, time permitting.

September 8, 2011

Posting & A Change

Hey Readers,

I've been incredibly busy lately: it was crunch time at one job and I've been working to find another (not mutually exclusive, I do freelance work at the moment). Additionally, Blogger hasn't been running too smoothly on shiny new Lion (10.7), so I'll probably be moving to Wordpress or another service in the near future. I'll set this up as a redirect, so don't worry about having to remember a new address right away.

What's more, I'll relaunch with a new name to indicate a focus specifically on examining the data behind current events (economic and otherwise). To get an idea of what you can expect from every post, check out my post on Fannie & Freddie below. I'll be doing this largely because I enjoy those posts more than I enjoy critiquing nonsensical political rhetoric. Not to mention that I think they're more interesting than run-of-the-mill political criticism.

Happy reading.

September 5, 2011

A Lack of Democratic Imagination

I only have a few minutes, but I want to comment on President Obama's upcoming jobs speech: most observers think its going to be bold, simply because it would be unreasonable for it to be modest. I have heard this on NPR, on Bloomberg, in the New York Times, and elsewhere. There is a groundswell of hoping-against-hope progressives—perhaps Obama will take some kind of action.

While this hopeful logic is understandable, I don't see much evidence for it at this point. Obama isn't likely to present game-changing plans. Rather, we're probably going to see a variety of modest tax expenditures, unemployment benefit extensions, and heartwarming rhetoric.

The common "hope-the-president-does-something" stance betrays a lack of faith in our democratic institutions, best summed up by the title of an Alternet article today: "Our Only Hope Now Is For Obama to Be Bold With His Jobs Plan." The reasons for this defeatist tone are pretty obvious: we've had two election cycles of "voting for outsiders" and we're moving away from a responsive and effective government. Rather, parties bicker about moving speeches and procedural things (like the debt ceiling). And even progressives are now conceding that the best bet for effective policy is to hope Obama has a change of heart.

This reinforces my hunch that real change won't come until discourse broadens. Elections need to turn on more than tangential issues or how badly we want to have a beer with a candidate. I was disappointed by this particular Alternet article: progressives push for more responsive democratic institutions, not the wishful thinking characteristic of mainstream political commentators.

September 4, 2011

U.S. vs. General Assembly (Yes, Again)

Ahead of a potential U.N. vote on recognizing Palestine as a member-state, "the State Department late last month issued a formal diplomatic message to more than 70 countries urging them to oppose any unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the United Nations."

Unfortunately, this statement is badly misleading unless we define "unilateral moves" as moves with the backing of virtually the entire world except with West. YNetNews reported back on May: "the 116 states comprising the Non-Aligned movement tend to vote together and are likely to vote in favor of a Palestinian state." Further, "It is estimated that the large majority of non-Western nations among the remaining 76 states will also vote in favor of the Palestinian bid, which leaves Israel with a little over 40 states whose vote is still open."

In past years, the U.S. and Israel have taken on the General Assembly and won. It is unclear if that strategy will work this time. As this is not a Security Council matter, the U.S. has only de facto veto power, which may not hold in the face of such widespread opposition (which has existed for decades).

Global Policy Forum has a list of U.N.S.C. vetoes, most of which have come from the U.S. in the last forty years. Frequent topics include "the demand to Israel to halt all military operations in northern Gaza and withdraw from the area" and "the security wall built by Israel in the West Bank."

Palin's "Crony Capitalism": A Bellwether?

From Sarah Palin yesterday: This system is "called corporate crony capitalism. It’s not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk. No, this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts . . . and influence peddling and corporate welfare." Wow. I usually cringe at everything she says. But this? Not half bad, actually.

The fact that Federal and state governments hand out favors that often determine success is a fact of life noted by critics as ideologically disparate as Ron Paul and Noam Chomsky. In the auto industry, bills contain "GM provisions" tailored towards only the largest companies. The effective corporate tax rate is quite low for the largest companies but not necessarily for medium sized businesses. This kind of news usually appears on the front pages of papers, so it's not exactly hidden.

Coming from Sarah Palin, though, this assessment is actually a little offputting—mostly because I know that her solutions are "free men and free markets," something that has been sold to the American right and is completely lacking in substance unless we radically change notions of freedom and free markets.

So a strange situation arises—both sides diagnose the same problems but offer different solutions. The American left and right agree (in broad terms) that certain economic problems exist—the bailouts helped the rich who created the crisis, the stimulus was ineffective, job growth is too slow, the middle class is getting left behind. But both sides see these as problems in radically different contexts: the left views them as excesses of market-fetishism, and the right as evidence that markets aren't working.

Only a fortune teller could guess where this merry-go-round ends up, but when an ideologue like Sarah Palin declaims systemic critiques of capitalism, we can take it as evidence that things are really a mess. The simple fact that such anti-system harangues play so well in Peoria should give us pause.