Sunday, March 29, 2009

News Round-Up #3

Here we go again, with The Nation, The New Republic, and The Weekly Standard.

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Eric Alterman, in “Is Jon Stewart Our Ed Murrow? Maybe…”, discusses the importance of Stewart and also Stephen Colbert. Specifically, they “have the audience that powerful people want to reach; yet at the same time these two men don’t participate in a pack mentality, and that’s what makes them politically invaluable.” The best bit of the article is when Alterman outlines the three main events, perpetrated by these two men who are “just comedians”:

“Stewart pretty much ended Crossfire all by himself and retired the foolish notion that a left/right food fight leads one any closer to truth. Next, Colbert shamed and exposed the pathetic performance of the White House press corps with his brilliant after-dinner speech at the correspondents' dinner. And now Stewart, first by eviscerating the coverage of CNBC and second by forcing Jim Cramer to own up to his on-air hucksterism, has revealed the lie at the center of most business coverage (and just about all cable news)… Stewart and Colbert have done yeoman work for the rest of us by exposing the thoughtlessness of the punditocracy's perpetual-motion machine, which spins itself silly powered only by hot air.”

Other articles of note in this issue are Gary Younge’s “Bonus Outrage: Class Struggle or Class Envy?”, which looks at the outrage over and reaction to AIG bonuses (yes, that’s still going on). An amusing point is that in polls surveying public opinion of the bonuses, 37% said they were “bothered”. That’s almost British.

Ari  Berman asks whether or not the coal industry is really committed to environmental responsibility in “The Dirt on Clean Coal”. (Answer: not so much. They spend more on advertising and improving their image, not a great deal on new technologies, according to the author.)

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This week’s New Republic takes a look at the Democrats in Washington, D.C. First, Eve Fairbanks writes a positive profile of Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, and how his public persona conflicts with his behind-closed-doors conduct (out of the glare of the media lights, he appears to be very good, and not at all the blow-hard he comes across as in the press – Fairbanks wrote another good article on Reid in December 2008).

The greatest obstacles to President Obama’s success, according to Jonathan Chait, are the Democrats. In “Why The Democrats Can’t Govern”, the author shreds the party for being “congenitally unable to govern”, because

“At a time when the country desperately needs a coherent response to the array of challenges it faces, the congressional arm of the Democratic Party remains mired in fecklessness, parochialism, and privilege.”

Chait is frustrated with the Democrats’ inability to make sense, or to seize the moment to properly and rise to the occasion of setting a new agenda for, and reshape the priorities of the US government. Chait names and shames a number of Democrats who seem to be confused about what they want – “demanding that Obama do more to reduce the deficit while simultaneously opposing his deficit-reducing measures.” The author worries that we will see a re-run of the Carter and Clinton years, when the Democrats turned complete control of Washington into failure. Articulating perhaps the main frustration of non-governmental Democrats, Chait closes his article with:

“It seems impossible to believe that this party, with the challenges before the country so great and the opportunity to address them so rare, would once again follow the path of self-immolation. Yet, somehow, the Democrats can’t help themselves.”

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The Weekly Standard this week has a number of interesting articles.

“The Beltway is waking up to the realities of President Obama’s budget plan, which taxes, spends, and borrows as fas as the eye can see”, begins the editorial (“A Big, Fat Failure”) by Matthew Continetti. He first exhibits some acceptance of the welfare state that that is encouraging (not to mention refreshing):

“Americans aren't going to dismantle the welfare state. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are--like the Pentagon--here to stay. The task, then, is to ensure that those programs are sensibly structured and financed, and compatible with robust economic growth. And on this score, Obama's budget is a big, fat failure.”

The author points out Obama’s resistance to free trade and how this position will not encourage economic recovery. Continetti includes some rather scary figures (which I haven’t been able to check, so I’ll leave that to you, if you have the time) about the end-results of Obama’s policies:

“tax revenues are plunging thanks to the recession. So the federal government's balance sheet was always going to deteriorate in 2009. The problem is that Obama's policies would move us from deterioration to disaster. The national debt Obama gripes about? His budget will double it to 80 percent of GDP in 2019. Whatever that is, it's not ‘a new era of responsibility.’”

Stephen Moore’s article about the administration’s budget plan and what it will mean in the long run, “Obama’s Fuzzy Math”, will simply scare the crap out of anyone concerned about government deficits (“in the first 45 days of his administration, the federal government has authorized more debt spending than Ronald Reagan did in eight years in office”). He characterizes the “Obama doctrine” in economics as:

“built on the high stakes economic gamble that the public and the bond markets will tolerate trillions of dollars of borrowing to pay for massive expansions in government spending on popular income transfer programs. The corollary to this doctrine is that the left will create a political imperative to jack up tax rates to pay for higher spending commitments made today.”

The article is actually well-balanced (Moore’s not averse to pointing out failures or problems with Reagan’s budgetary discipline), but he certainly leaves little room for optimism. The author’s skepticism about certain Democratic promises of spending dropping off after a few years is also well-founded (it’s not going to happen, when it’s funding for education, child nutrition and Pell Grants).

Moore claims that the period of 1982-2007 saw the greatest creation of wealth and prosperity in American history, with the national debt growing by about $6 trillion and US net wealth by $40 trillion. “A pretty good trade,” he says. Yes, this does look like a pretty good trade, but what was the wealth? If it had been anything but smoke and mirrors created by the causes of the current economic crisis, America wouldn’t be in the state it is today.

Other articles of note:

  • William J. Stuntz interesting piece on the need to “Look to Lincoln” for inspiration on how to approach today’s problems (a refreshing look at something other than Lincoln and the Civil War), comparing the long-term effects of these policies with FDR’s New Deal
  • P.J. O’Rourke continues to not amuse in “Doubling Down on the Welfare State”
  • Reuel Marc Gerecht, in “The Return of Weakness” takes a look at Obama and Iran. Gerecht accuses Obama of “mirror-imaging” when it comes to dealing with the Mullahs, as well as a distinct Western imperialist guilt that colours much of Western diplomacy. “Nowhere has [the] American sense of guilt been more on display than in the Middle East”
  • Fred Barnes argues that Republican senators have a big job in front of them, their work cut out, if they are to halt the “liberal onslaught” that includes “government-run health-care, a cap-and-trade carbon tax, a vast array of personal and business tax increases, and government authority to seize financial institutions in addition to banks.” I still don’t understand why affordable health-care for all is so terrible. The tax bit is a little shrill, and the article is a little too doom-and-gloom. With takeover authority… well, Barnes has a good point about letting AIG go bust and having a judge sort out all the things Obama/Geithner’s not able to do.

That’s it for now. This takes way too long, so from now on I’m only going to point out the good articles that I think are worth reading, or perhaps the occasional one that I have a considerable problem with. Next up? I’m sure there’s going to be something in The Atlantic and The American Prospect to write about.

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