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Monday, February 28, 2011

Obama enjoys himself with the governors

I sense Obama hitting his stride now as President.  There was much talk through mid-2010 of his naivete in trying to win over Republicans rather than more or less push Democrats from the left.  I suspect now that he may be more comfortable challenging Republicans than he was herding Democrats.

Obama's "preemptive concession" style of negotiating -- e.g., proposing a stimulus that was more than 1/3 tax cuts -- looked a little strange when Democrats had large majorities. With Republicans in control of the House, though, Obama's "preemptive" proposed cuts in discretionary spending hold a sane mirror up to the House GOPs crazy quilt of radically destructive cuts. 

Half of his speech to the Governors' Association today was a replay of his latest weekly address and of the SOTU: cut domestic spending rationally;  make essential investments in education, infrastructure and R&D; for the long term, focus on health care inflation, the engine of our long-term structural deficit. But the new parts of the speech were vintage Obama. They were verbal judo -- conceding a rational concern at the core of two extreme GOP positions, while challenging their extremist expression on two fronts: a) ending collective bargaining rights for public sector unions, and b) seeking repeal of the affordable care act.

1) On unions:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Annals of busted blog posts

I was going to propose an alternative to raising the social security retirement age: reducing the cost of living adjustment (COLA) as beneficiaries get older.  My thought was that as people get older, they spend less. And they do, except for one thing: health care. But that little exception does effectively kill the idea. Here's what I learned from a 2009 paper by Mariacristina De Nardi, Eric French, and John Bailey Jones:
Our model predicts that average out-of-pocket medical expenditures rise from $1,100 at age 75 to $9,200 at age 95. While a 95-year-old in the bottom quintile of the permanent income distribution expects to spend $1,700 on medical expenses, a person of the same age in the top quintile expects to spend $15,800. Medical needs that rise with age provide the elderly with a strong incentive to save, and medical expenses that rise with permanent income encourage the rich to be more frugal.
I was motivated by Ezra Klein's point* that raising the retirement age disproportionately affects lower-income Americans, whose life spans have not increased nearly as dramatically as the more affluent, and is particularly hard on those who perform bodily labor, which becomes increasingly excruciating with age. Better, I thought, to have a viable retirement income earlier, and only lose some growth in the payment gradually.  But never mind...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

In weekly address, Obama lays markers for long-term deficit reduction

As I've suggested before, I regard Obama's investment agenda and proposed budget as a carefully laid frame for negotiation of a plan to take care of the long-term structural deficit.  The investment agenda -- education, R&D, infrastructure -- is a marker laid down to prevent budget-cutting frenzy from hobbling his long-term goals; his 2012 budget, with its cuts in discretionary domestic spending, is a foil for the GOP's budgetary meat ax; and in the space between preserving long-term investments and a show of short-term discipline, he is laying out the parameters of a negotiation for a long-term budget/tax deal in which all "get in the boat together"

Obama's current weekly address brings that strategy into sharper focus. He begins with anecdotal illustrations of the good effects of investments in education, R&D and infrastructure; emphasizes the discipline in his proposed budget, which he says will bring discretionary domestic spending to "its lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President"; blithely waves away the prospect of a government shutdown by expressing an expectation that both parties will compromise on a continuing resolution on his terms ("I urge and expect [both parties] to find common ground so we can accelerate, not impede, economic growth") -- and lays out an interesting set of priorities for long term budget/tax reform.  Here it is:
Still, a freeze in annual domestic spending is just a start. If we’re serious about tackling our long-run fiscal challenges, we also need to cut excessive spending wherever we find it – in defense spending, spending in Medicare and Medicaid, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

China low on Gates' worry list

Robert Gates' speech at West Point today was mainly focused on reforming the army's training and promotion practices to foster initiative, versatility, continuing education and skills, e.g. language acquisition, to support interaction with far-flung populations.  He stressed versatility as part and parcel of insisting that it is always impossible to predict where the next war will be, or of what kind.  While warning himself and others against "next-war-itis," however, he also listed possibilities in a way that made his own expectations somewhat clear:
We can’t know with absolute certainty what the future of warfare will hold, but we do know it will be exceedingly complex, unpredictable, and – as they say in the staff colleges – “unstructured.”  Just think about the range of security challenges we face right now beyond Iraq and Afghanistan: terrorism and terrorists in search of weapons of mass destruction, Iran, North Korea, military modernization programs in Russia and China, failed and failing states, revolution in the Middle East, cyber, piracy, proliferation, natural and man-made disasters, and more.

"Russia and China" are pretty far down that list, no?  And in case anyone missed the sequencing, here it is once more:
What we can expect in the future is that potential adversaries – be they terrorists, insurgents, militia groups, rogue states, or emerging powers – will seek to frustrate America’s traditional advantages, in particular our ability to shoot, move and communicate with speed and precision. 

A thought experiment on thought experiments

The limitations of argument by analogy, particularly of historical analogy, are well-known. Strands of apparent likeness between two situations may be far outstripped by myriad factors that are in no way like.

But of course, we can't do without analogy. All inductive reasoning is dependent on it. Past results may be no guarantee of future success. But everything we know about the course of human events derives from knowledge of the past.

More broadly, every noun and every adjective is an analogy, or rather a classification, which is an analogy extended across a number of discrete entities. A noun is an assertion that different entities are like enough to share a name; an adjective, that different instances of a quality (brown, angry) are like enough to be classed together. For that matter, I suppose a verb embeds an analogy too -- the rapid motion of your legs is like enough to mine that we can both be said to "run," even if you move twice as fast as I do.


And ah, the eureka of a really good analogy! What comes first to mind (through nether pathways) is the instructive assertion that giving birth to a human baby is like "shitting a watermelon." Less viscerally, what I'm meandering toward  is mentally yoking two really excellent extended analogies that I've come across recently -- each complex enough to be deemed a "thought experiment," as I suppose any really good analogy is. If I can find any common element other than aptness (I'll think about it as I paste them, which doesn't work as well for this purpose as typing them out), I suppose I'll have my own meta-analogy.

First: James Fallows recently relayed a sterling attempt by consultant Thomas Barnett to help Americans imagine the strengths and weaknesses of a rising China:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Young candidate's luxury

Once upon a time a rather longshot Senate candidate proposed:
Let's fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.

Playing for Reagan Democrats

Looking at the Democrats' decision to hold the 2012 party convention in Charleston, NC, William Galston frets that Team Obama may be focusing on the arugula vote at the expense of Reagan Democrats:

Taken together, these clues [the convention decision and Axelrod remarks holding up Colorado as a bellwether] suggest that the Obama’s 2012 campaign will focus more on the Democratic periphery—territory newly won in 2008—than on the heartland, where elections have been won and lost for the past half-century. This could turn out to be a mistake of epic proportions. Why? Because the United States looks a lot more like Ohio than like Colorado.

That is, less educated, more dependent on manufacturing, more culturally conservative than voters in Colorado.

Made to order, then, the labor crisis ginned up by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who seeks to strip those Wisconsin public sector unions that didn't support him of their collective bargaining rights? Some think so:
On ABC’s “Top Line” today, former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, told us that the battles in states including Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa could wind up benefiting President Obama politically, particularly since the battles are being waged in critical presidential battleground states.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ask not what was in prior drafts (oh, all right, do...)

On Fallows' blog earlier this month, I took a "coming to it cold" look at JFK's inaugural address and noted, among other things, its beleaguered tone (Kennedy begins by warning that both freedom and humanity itself are in danger of extinction) and its relentlessly global focus -- there is not a mention of domestic issues, and only the final segment of the speech is directed to "my fellow Americans" as opposed to various foreign audiences.

In the current New Yorker, Obama speechwriter Adam Frankel recounts a remarkable tale of the discovery last month of probably the earliest known draft of Kennedy's famous speech, composed by Theodore Sorenson (Frankel relates that Sorenson and Kennedy seem to have worked concurrently on separate drafts, which they began to meld the day after the newly discovered Sorenson draft was created).  Both points above get some reinforcement from Frankel's narrative. First, the strictly international focus:
In “Kennedy,” Sorensen wrote that J.F.K. thought his early drafts focussed too heavily on domestic issues: “We must begin by facing the fact that history’s most abundant economy has slackened its growth to a virtual halt. That the world’s most productive farmers have only suffered for their success. . . . That too many of our cities are sinking into squalor.” This and other passages from the January 14th version also give the impression that Kennedy and Sorensen were still writing in the language of the campaign...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Charles M. Schulz, Palin prophet

Forgive me for repeating myself, dear reader, but compare:

a.) From the Anchorage Daily News, 2/19/11, reporting the leaked contents of a book manuscript by former Palin aide Frank Bailey:
The manuscript opens with an account of Palin sending Bailey a message saying "I hate this damn job" shortly before she resigned as Alaska's governor in July 2009, less than three years into her four-year term.
b) xpostfactoid, 7/4/09, Why she did it:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A credulous view of Obama's budget/tax strategy

With regard to the looming budget battle and any concurrent negotiations for a long-term deficit reduction plan: as all kinds of mostly faux budget hawks raise their histrionic moral-equivalent-of-war cries about the deficit, the shape of Obama's strategy, beginning with the SOTU, is clearer to me.

A budget deal, for Obama, is means to an end: preserving the country's capacity to make the investments in education, infrastructure, new industries and health reform that have always been essential to his political program.  As the process begins, rather than "lead" as to the means of budget reduction, Obama chose to lead by keeping the end in mind: enabling sustainable economic growth. That means laying down a marker: spending reductions can't come at the expense of the investments that are his top priority.  The looming war over the current budget can't just be about how much is cut, but whether the cuts crimp prospects for future growth (or the prospects for meaningful cost control, e.g. by defunding implementation of the PPACA).

Alan and Erskine bowl a strike

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson are out with an op-ed exquisitely calibrated to extend the life and influence of their commission's deficit reduction/tax reform plan and the negotiating process it kicked off.

At its heart is a delicately-couched challenge to the president that takes its force from acknowledging the potential efficacy of Obama's stated strategy:
Sadly, the president does punt on the larger issues. On health care, his budget calls for only a handful of savings and then asks Congress to identify the rest. He falls far short of comprehensive reform needed to simplify the tax code - broaden the base, lower rates and reduce the deficit - and proposes instead a small limit on deductions for higher earners (which Congress has rejected the past two years). He proposes nothing for restoring the solvency of Social Security, simply calling for a bipartisan process.

And yet, he's right: A bipartisan process is where this must start. In his news conference Tuesday, the president said that the fiscal commission plan represented a "framework for a conversation," noting that "this is going to be a process in which each side, in both chambers of Congress, go back and forth and start trying to whittle their differences down until we arrive at something that has an actual chance of passage."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What we should talk about when we talk to Donald Rumsfeld

The estimable Gideon Rachman left out the most important thing, IMO, as recorded in today's Financial Times:
Sir, I love Gideon Rachman’s regular column, but his lunchtime interview with Donald Rumsfeld (“Are we better off now? You bet”, Life & Arts, February 12-13) was noteworthy chiefly for its lacuna. There was no mention of Mr Rumsfeld’s role in approving a systematic programme of torture for US detainees, first at Guantánamo Bay and then at Abu Ghraib.
The rest is here.  FT content is available after a free, brief signup that entitles you to access a set number of articles per month.  Worth the trouble: the FT has the best columnist roster that I  know of anywhere. (A print subscription is a bargain; I've never had to pay over $150 for a year.)

My full FT file letter file back to 2006 is here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chambliss, Coburn, Crapo to Norquist: kowtow or brush-off?

No question, Ramesh Ponnuru is far more attuned than I will ever be to linguistic code of true-blue GOP supply siders. So perhaps I should accept at face value his report (via Sullivan) of this little tax-pledge tango between Grover Norquist and the Republican half of the new Senate gang of six currently in early-stage discussions of a comprehensive tax reform/deficit reduction deal:
After yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported on work toward a bipartisan deal on the budget, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform sent three Republican senators a letter noting that the deal, as outlined in the Journal article, would violate their pledge not to raise taxes. The response letter from Senators Chambliss, Coburn, and Crapo strongly suggests that the senators will not support a deal that raises taxes on net. Instead they want a bill that raises revenue only by increasing economic growth.

If you read the letter, though (link above), you might wonder whether Chambliss et al have really promised not to raise taxes "on net."  They do say that the Journal article, which reported that the six were contemplating an (apparently erroneously low) boost in tax revenues, should not be taken at face value. They do intone,  "Like you, we believe that tax hikes will hinder, not promote, economic growth." And they do plead that "we do not believe that our efforts to avert tax increases on hardworking Americans violates any pledge we have taken..." Of course not!  But...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pulping the bully approach to presidential leadership IV

Here is the best evidence yet that Obama's low-profile approach to beginning the long process of budget/tax reform is on target.  Never mind Republicans' alleged glee at his refusal to roll out a grand plan -- they are begging him, Jake Sherman reports, to expose himself:

House Republicans were giddy when President Barack Obama took a pass on entitlement reform in his 2012 budget, ripping him for punting on the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

But when they’re pressed for answers about what needs to happen on entitlements, Republicans are punting right back, saying the president needs to take the lead and come up with his own ideas

Before stating their own policy prescriptions, no fewer than a dozen GOP lawmakers and aides Wednesday said that it is Obama’s responsibility to put forth ideas on entitlement reform.

“We need his leadership,” Ways and Means Republican Rep. Wally Herger (Calif.) said. “If it’s something this big to get through, it’s very important for the president to lead.”

Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that the “president looks very small if he doesn’t lead on this issue.” Rep. Patrick Tiberi, an Ohio Republican cozy with Speaker John Boehner, said “you can’t have a big issue that impacts Americans without presidential leadership.” And Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), the president of the anti-Obama freshman class, said “quite honestly, he has a responsibility to America” to put forth his ideas and lead.
Mr. President, Republicans have a playbook for you: Over the Cliff, by Hugo First.

Meanwhile, back in the Senate, the WSJ's Jonathan Weisman reports, negotiations continue apace among a new gang of six toward a plan with at least some resemblance to Bowles-Simpson (including, apparently, a lot of magic asterisks). Weisman notes pointedly that two of the six, Dick Durbin and Tom Coburn, are "personally close to President Obama."  Nonetheless, despite further GOP blandishments, the admin is hanging back:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wrestling with hope for Egypt

It is interesting to watch sober minds grapple with their hopes in the wake of the Egyptian revolution. Nowhere more so than on the Comment page of the Financial Times, where columnists based on various continents address as a matter of course the current and likely future progress of democracy (and humanity), and Fukuyama haunts the space (and not infrequently, visits in the flesh, or rather ink). 

Up today is Martin Wolf, who explains the tidal pull toward democracy in basically Fukuyaman terms -- economic pressure to compete plus an Aristotelian understanding of human nature as essentially political, determined to self-govern. Unanswered in the short space of a column is the relationship between the two: as Wolf points out, usually it's only when a country has reached a certain level of economic development that its people are equipped to express "something deep within us" that demands self-governance.  If the will to self-governance is prior to the economic conditions that unleash it, that suggests that the "democracy drive" is either evolutionary or a product of intelligent design.

As an economist, Wolf places his bet on Egypt in mainly economic terms:
Scepticism is not unreasonable. As my colleague, Gideon Rachman notes, the stability of democracy goes hand in hand with economic advance. The richer the country, the more educated its people, except where wealth comes mainly from resource rents. Again, the higher the proportion of the desperately poor, the greater the likelihood of a successful electoral appeal by ultimately ruinous populists. Finally, the poorer the country, the smaller the resources at the disposal of any democratic government with which to protect itself against its foes...

True, Egypt is a relatively poor country with a sizeable proportion of the population illiterate. Yet its gross domestic product per head, at purchasing power parity, is almost double India’s and 50 per cent higher than Indonesia’s. This does not suggest that democracy is, in any sense, inconceivable. Egypt does have a well-organised Islamist movement. But does this have to be deeply anti-democratic? This must be put to the test. Remember that Catholicism, too, was once widely thought incompatible with successful democratic government.
What interests me is, with the ground thus prepared, Wolf grapples with "naivete anxiety" while giving way, mostly, to that "something deep within us" that yearns for democracy:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pulping the bully approach to presidential leadership, III

Here and here, I've been tracking the evidence that Obama is acting on the theory -- advanced by sitting elected officials and political scientists alike -- that for major bipartisan policy deals, leading with a grand presidential plan is counterproductive.  Just now, in a press conference, Obama came out with it himself:
“If you look at history of how these deals get done, typically it’s not because there’s an Obama plan out there. Its’ because Democrats and Republican are serious about dealing with [these issues] in a serious way,” the president said. “This is not a matter of you go first or I go first,” he said before describing a goal of “everybody…ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over.”
And since it's buried in an update to yesterday's post, let's note once more that Jacob Lew is singing from the same sheet:
By trimming programs dear to his party's liberals, Mr. Obama may improve his credibility as a budget-cutter. Yet the White House budget plan offers little new on one of the nation's most fundamental problems, spending on mandatory programs, which would grow to nearly $3.5 trillion by 2021 from $2.1 trillion next year.

That omission is by design. Jacob Lew, Mr. Obama's budget director, said such proposals had a better chance in closed-doors talks with Republicans.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pulping the bully approach to presidential leadership, cont.

Once again, Clive Crook combines solid fiscal sense with political obtusity.  Hammering the obvious need for tax reform and tax hikes in response to the U.S. structural deficit, he accuses Obama of a lack of political courage for not endorsing Bowles-Simpson or laying out a revenue-raising plan of his own.  But Crook's argument carries the seeds of its own refutation.

Crook acknowledges the political realities that make it impossible for Obama to get anywhere if he unilaterally proposes the tax hikes the country needs -- even if those hikes come from radically reducing targeted tax breaks while cutting marginal rates:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pulping the bully approach to presidential leadership

Occasionally at least, practicing political tacticians and political scientists arrive at the same conclusions, presumably by very different paths.

In the Times front pager on Obama's proposed budget, the most important perspective comes last, from Kent Conrad:
The budget confirms that Mr. Obama is not taking the lead in embracing the kind of far-reaching deficit-reduction plan recommended in December by a bipartisan majority of his fiscal commission. It proposed saving $4 trillion over a decade through specific cuts in spending for domestic, military and entitlement programs and new revenues from overhauling the tax code. 

Instead, he has called on Republicans to negotiate with him to reach that goal.

While that disappoints deficit hawks in both parties, many say they are sympathetic or even supportive of his caution because neither party seems ready to compromise.

Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a Democratic member of the fiscal commission, said: “In this highly partisan environment, if the president proposes something, there is automatically some group that is opposed. It may be better for him to play the role of referee.”

Mr. Conrad added: “To get a result, the president has got to be part of a larger process that involves Republicans and Democrats, the House and Senate. How one gets to the table is not just one move, it’s a series of moves. And it’s very, very difficult.” 

Compare Matthew Yglesias in December, retailing a piece of poli sci wisdom regarding presidential persuasion:
It sounds silly to call for less presidential leadership, but I think the evidence suggests that what’s needed here [in the SOTU] is actually a very vague and generic endorsement of the concept of tax reform plus some themeless pudding. Frances Lee’s important book Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles, and Partisanship in the U. S. Senate argues persuasively that what happens when a president tries to “lead” on an issue like this is that a dynamic of partisan polarization kicks in. What you really need to get tax reform is for some hard-working members of congress from both parties to take the initiative in hammering out a framework and building support on the Hill. If such a thing happens, the White House should of course try to play a constructive role. But jumping all over the issue and a creating a dynamic where tax reform becomes “a key priority for the Obama administration” that opportunists on the right want to kill for the sake of a political win would not be a constructive intervention.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Waxing placid, sitting ceremonious

Vaughan Bell calls this lyric by rapper Akala "a remarkably accurate account of the learned helplessness theory of depression:

It's just something inside my head

I wasn’t born this way
My condition was learned
Once bitten twice shy I don’t wanna be burned
When you travel a passage
That leaves your heart ravaged
Your mind waxes placid to limit the damage
Your reaction is passive
Whether you like it or not
You cannot win whether you fight it or not
Your brain swallows the pain and buries it instead
Now.. It’s just something inside my head.

I am reminded of another dispatch from the post-traumatic emotional graveyard by that whispering 19th century rapper, Emily Dickinson:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Out of the mouths of babes (sort of)

Apropos of nothing except a stray memory, a bit of doggerel based on a conversation between my wife and son about a quarter century ago (fused with a misperception of my sister's, about a half century ago):


Human Beans

"Before I was born, what did I do?"
"It's hard to say--you weren't yet you."
"Where did I wait? Did I stand or sit?"
"Don't know. You weren't anywhere yet."
"Well then, where did I come from?"
"You grew from a seed. Inside Mommy's tum."
"Inside Mommy?  What did I do?"
"Just rested and waited. And grew and grew."
"Grew? Like the bean plant out of the bean?"
"Exactly."
            --"And so I'm a human bean?"
"Exactly."
--"And you were a seed that grew?
"I was. And everyone else was, too."
"And when you die, are you planted--like new?"
"Maybe. I think so."
--"I think so, too."

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Chinese Civilization and its Discontents

"The urge for freedom," wrote Freud in Civilization and its Discontents, "...is directed against particular forms and demands of civilization or against civilization altogether. It does not seem as though any influence could induce a man to change his nature into a termite's"   (p. 43, Norton ed.).  Perhaps that unshakable resistance to  the group explains not only why so many cultures all but codify certain forms of rule-breaking, but why such widespread and tolerated rebellions are often noted with pride or affection as an identity marker for the group.

That solidarity in transgression may explain my initial reaction to Deborah Fallows' account of the Chinese approach to legal and official authority in Dreaming in Chinese. Fallows  notes that the Chinese have a bewildering array of rules, many of them governing seemingly harmless behavior, then moves on to the garden of transgressions:
Cars pay no heed to green Walk signals for pedestrians, just as pedestrians head blithely into the streets against red Don't Walk signals. Crowds ignore bus attendants who scream at them through their bullhorns to stand back from the curbs. People argue with traffic attendants and even policemen who blast their whistles, trying in vain to keep people off the crosswalks and safely on the sidewalks. Airline attendants warn passengers to stay buckled up until the plane arrives at the gate, but most passengers jump up to rummage through the overhead bins as soon as the wheels touch the runway. People smoke in front of No Smoking signs, spit in front of No Spitting signs, and sit on the grass in front of Keep Off The Grass Signs (158).

Charming, right? Even more so, the rulebreaking is not a matter of simple defiance, but of extraordinarily nuanced subliminal negotiation:
A posture, a look, a hesitation, or any one of a variety of subtle moves adds much to shades of meaning. This subtle kind of body language is not something that can be taught: you use your eyes and ears together to interpret a mismatch between what you're hearing and what you're seeing, or to catch a soft "I don't really mean it" undertone. Finally, you just get a feeling, and you know it when you see it (161).
Fallows has several hilarious examples, but you'll have to buy the book to experience them.

Though by turns amused and bemused, Fallows is not sentimental about this convoluted behavioral code -- and nor, I think, should a reader be. Its underside is harsh:

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Times headline deploys adjective...or verb?

Is it worthwhile delving into the mind of a New York Times headline writer? Why not? Consider:
As Mubarak Digs In, U.S. Policy in Egypt Is Complicated
Momentous question of the morning: is "complicated" an adjective or a (passive) verb?  Are we simply suggesting that U.S. policy is complex right now, or that it's being "complicated" as we speak by the behavior of the besieged Egyptian president?

The core point seems to be that, being a step behind fast-moving events, policy is "complicated" at every step by new developments rendering the last pronouncement or action obsolete. For example:

Friday, February 04, 2011

Analytical humility

On Fallows blog today, a tribute to the humility of some commentators trying to make sense of the Egyptian uprising:

...arbitrarily or not, in a single day earlier this week (Jan. 31) three instances of admirable humility in attempts to fathom what's happening in Egypt caught my eye. Do they indicate some collective chastening of American consciousness by events over the last near-decade? Who knows? But here they are.
"Here" being here.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

On Fallows' field

Here's the guestpostfactoid harvest of  posts on James Fallows' blog thus far this week, most recent first:

Chastened by history? (2/4)

By Jingo, Obama was not fear-mongering in the SOTU (2/3)

Futurist shock (2/2)

JFK's bridge to the 21st century (2/1)

Darkness in Kennedy's noontide vision

Also in Fallows' space this week, see Xujun Eberlein on a quest to sort truth from the state-sponsored mythology she grew up with during the Cultural Revolution regarding the degree of U.S. involvement  with Chinese nationalist battles and alleged war crimes against the Chinese communists in the 1940s; Bruce J. Holmes on aeronautical challenges from Sputnik to the current alleged "Sputnik moment"; and Chuck Spinney on systemic U.S. follies in defense spending and foreign policy.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Coming soon, to a college near you...

I was just mentally scoping out the prospect of teaching a colleague to tweet, and the phrase "professor of tweeting" popped into my mind. Then, with awful certainty, came the conviction that someone somewhere is teaching tweeting in a classroom.  Certainly social media is being taught...yes, I've now invested two seconds to investigating the matter on Google. In fact it's on the graduate level.  BizWeek:
Harvard Business School and Columbia Business School have joined a growing list of business schools that are adding courses on social media to their MBA curricula, addressing the corporate demand for social-network-savvy employees. The two schools are among at least six that have added courses in the past year that allow students to learn about Internet marketing and social media strategy, according to course syllabi and faculty associated with the classes.

Tu-whit Tu-whoo, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

JFK's bridge to the 21st Century

Posted on Fallows' blog: a look at some continuities between Obama's SOTU and Kennedy's inaugural address, and some thoughts about how Kennedy's call for a "beachhead of cooperation between rivals" and a drive to "unleash the powers of science" for peaceful purposes has played out:

Since Kennedy stood coatless in the cold,  the world has experienced a half century of rapid technological progress, fitful but dramatic progress in democratization, equally fitful but dramatic gains in prosperity and public health, and diminished incidence of death by violence.  The world is now struggling with the dynamics of equitable and sustainable growth, and Obama is only the most recent in a succession of presidents who have been able to say, with regard to an inevitably emerging rival , "we do not seek to contain China's rise" (as Obama told Chinese students in November 2009. There is doubtless some ambiguity, and some ambivalence, behind that mantra.  But it is at least conditionally true at present, and represents the country's enlightened self interest.
Here's the rest.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Your government is on top of it

There is nothing genuinely funny about this, but it's found art in the best (month old) Fallows tradition -- this time on Twitter:

As 1000 tweets were blossoming relaying Mubarak's announcement that he will not seek another term, an alert wing of the the StateDep. (US Embassy Ottawa)  let this drop:
President Obama to meet with PM Harper @ this Friday to discuss US-Canada relationship and key global issues.
Now we know everything will be okay.

Clouds over Camelot

On Fallows' blog today, a close look at JFK's inaugural address:

The...surprise is that Kennedy's fabled optimism, and idealism, and literally shoot-the-moon can-do-ism, is tempered by, or rather grounded in, a sense of peril that by current standards seems almost apocalyptic.
The rest is here.