Thursday, January 10, 2013

News Nuggets 1151

DAYLEE PICTURE:  A baby Kirks' dik-dik, one of the smallest species of deer in the world, at the Chester Zoo in the UK. From ZooBorns.

A New U.S. Grand Strategy (Patrick Doherty) from Foreign Policy Magazine 
"Why walkable communities, sustainable economics, and multilateral diplomacy are the future of American power."

The Greek Depression (John Sfakianakis) from Foreign Policy Magazine 
"The government coalition has aired a predictable sense of optimism, but overburdened and overtaxed citizens do not share its enthusiasm for the country's grim economic outlook. Bailout or not, economic despair is now descending over Greece."
What's happening in Greece (and to a lesser extent in Italy and Spain) should serve as a dark warning to the austerity hawks both in Europe and the US.  For the sake of an economic and budgetary purism, the Germans and their followers have hyped the dire consequences of debt and inflation based on their post-WWI and Great Depression experiences.  They have advocated an economic process which (a) presents no end of suffering in sight for the Greek people; and (b) ignores the POLITICAL consequences.  I see no sign that these austerity measures are improving Greece's medium or long-term economic picture or that they are doing anything except making unemployment worse now.  In the process, what we are seeing (quite predictably in my view) is an erosion in faith in democracy's ability to respond to the crisis -- and this is not just in Greece!  Seemingly, all the mainstream and/or centrist political parties in Greece, Italy, Spain, and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere, are or will be deeply discredited in this process.  This brings us to the lesson from the early twentieth century most of these European masters of the universe seem to have forgotten: when democracies fail to deal with profound and prolonged economic dislocation, extremist parties WILL fill the void.  Look for a substantial resurgence of fascist and ultra-communist/statist politicians in the next ten years.  Looking at the US's experience, historians and economists will argue until doomsday about whether FDR's policies actually ended the Great Depression or simply prolonged it or made it worse.  However, in the world of counterfactuals, I think a strong case can be made that FDR through his New Deal programs saved both democracy and capitalism.  Indeed, I think an additional case can be made that President Obama has done some version of the same thing.  What did they do?  Both Obama and FDR made the suffering of average people their focus.  Right or wrong on the policy merits, when faced with extraordinary levels of prolonged unemployment and suffering, democratic leaders cannot sit idly by or seen to be doing nothing -- especially for the sake of an ideological/economic purism that, as often as not, simply hides a shocking dearth of imagination.  FDR's creativity and his willingness to try almost anything in the face of crisis was perhaps his greatest political skill.  No one could accuse the political elites in either the US or Europe of showing much of either of these traits during this Great Recession.

Meet the new President Obama (Chris Cillizza) from the Washington Post 
"If the first term Cabinet was defined by the “Team of Rivals” idea, the second term Cabinet looks more like a “Team of Allies”. ... Beyond understanding the thinking that informs President Obama’s early second-term Cabinet choices, a few of his picks also make clear a broader philosophy that has permeated through the most recent legislative fights as well: His days of trying to please Republicans are largely over."

Debt-Ceiling Showdown: 4 Reasons It's Not a Replay of 2011 (David Grant) from the Christian Science Monitor
"In 2011, Congress and President Obama went to the brink of government default when congressional Republicans balked at raising the nation's debt ceiling. The spring of 2013 appears to have another debt ceiling fight in store. Here are the top four things that have changed."

Business Leaders: Failure to Raise Debt Ceiling Will Drive Markets “Haywire” (Greg Sargent) from the Washington Post
"If Republicans continue with their debt ceiling brinksmanship, you’re likely to hear powerful GOP-aligned voices from the business community calling for Congress to cut the nonsense and raise the debt ceiling without delay. ... And here we go: The powerful Financial Services Roundtable ..."

The Eternal Folly of the Bipartisan Debt Fetish (Jonathan Chait) from New York Magazine
" I consider the long-term deficit a problem worth solving, though I would argue that mass unemployment and, especially, climate change are more urgent problems. I would like to know the case to the contrary, but if there is an argument for elevating the deficit above those priorities, I am not aware of it. Overt argument is not the preferred style of respectable centrist pundits. It is too rude."
The noted political blogger digby has some very good additional points concerning Chait's article.

Boehner Takes Flak From Defense Hawks on Sequester Stance (Joe Picard) from The Hill
"House Republican defense hawks are pushing back strongly against Speaker John Boehner's claim that he has GOP support to allow steep automatic budget cuts to take effect if President Obama does not agree to replace them with other reductions."

Obama Will Keep His “Heat Shield”; Eric Holder is the Obama Administration's Indispensable Man (Ben Smith) from BuzzFeed
"Eric Holder may be the least popular member of the Obama cabinet. He is at the center of many of the Administration's ugliest fights with left and right, over everything from drones to race. ... Holder, whose position is formally less political than any other in the cabinet, is a vital political figure in the Obama Administration for three reasons. ... "One thing that people never understood about Holder’s importance in this administration is how he has absorbed so many attacks that could otherwise land in the White House," said one former administration official who admires the Attorney General"
Interesting observations on Smith's part here.  I hadn't thought about Holder's role so far.  However, I don't share the not-so-subtle subtest of Smith's argument: that somehow the Obama administration has somehow "gotten away with" scandalous doings due to Holder's loyalty.  While I am enough of a skeptic to say I'm probably wrong here -- but I think the Obama administration has simply run a ship that is tighter and with more integrity than most of our recent presidents.  

Reframing the Gun Debate (Charles Blow) from the New York Times
"This time, nearly a month after the horrible mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the public attention hasn’t ricocheted to the next story. On the contrary, sorrow has hardened into resolve. This time, something can and must be done. And it looks as if something will."

Joe Biden Raises the Stakes in Promising Executive Action on Gun Control (Howard Kurtz) from the Daily Beast
"The veep sent an unmistakable signal as his task force convened that the White House will act. Howard Kurtz on the obstacles facing Obama—and whether he’ll issue an executive order."

Lessons of 2012, Part II: Obama's Grand Strategy Worked, Romney's Didn't from the Democratic Strategist
"...this moment reflected a more general belief by Team Obama that the president's high personal standing among elements of his 2008 coalition, gradually improving economic conditions, and most of all Romney's inability to escape the taint of his party's extremism, would bring that coalition back to life. "

Wanted: Moderate GOP Activists (Michael Tomasky) from the Daily Beast 
"Nothing would do more to fix American politics than if wealthy Republicans bankrolled a network of moderate GOP organizations, says Michael Tomasky."

Republican Party Path Back From 2012 Election Requires Shift In Culture, Not Just Tactics (Jon Ward) from the Huffington Post
"The path back for Republicans, and for conservatives more broadly, is as much cultural as it is tactical. Tactically, they need better candidates, and younger, more diverse people at all levels: political consultants, field operatives, grassroots volunteers. But to attract organic support from young people, women and minorities and continue harvesting new faces, conservatism needs an attitude adjustment: get hungry, get humble, and get to know more people who aren't like you."

Loyal Joe Biden Is a Presidential Contender (Ezra Klein) from the
Bloomberg News Service
"...don’t laugh when you hear that Biden wants to run for president. Biden is one of the most successful vice presidents in history, and one of the most successful politicians of a very difficult era."

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