Posts Tagged ‘The Nation’

Must-Reads of the Week: China’s distortionary exchange rate policy, Mario Savio, David Brooks, Ezra Klein, & Dana Priest’s The Mission

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Apologies for the very, very light posting. There are quite a number of personal issues I’ve been dealing with – aside from the uprooted tree in my yard and miscellaneous damage.

But let me still give you some must-reads for the week.

1. China’s distortionary exchange rate policy. On Sunday, Keith Bradsher in the New York Times gave a good primer on how China is using currency manipulation and the global trade organizations to gain economic advantages as part of a global strategy to increase China’s power. China has also been using the global financial crisis to further their economic aims:

China is starting to describe its currency interventions as stimulus. But unlike extra government spending in the United States and other countries, currency intervention does not expand global demand, but shifts it from other countries to China.

Paul Krugman followed this up with a column urging action regarding China:

Today, China is adding more than $30 billion a month to its $2.4 trillion hoard of reserves. The International Monetary Fund expects China to have a 2010 current surplus of more than $450 billion — 10 times the 2003 figure. This is the most distortionary exchange rate policy any major nation has ever followed.

And it’s a policy that seriously damages the rest of the world. Most of the world’s large economies are stuck in a liquidity trap — deeply depressed, but unable to generate a recovery by cutting interest rates because the relevant rates are already near zero. China, by engineering an unwarranted trade surplus, is in effect imposing an anti-stimulus on these economies, which they can’t offset. [My emphases.]

My first attempt to make sense of this issue here.

2. Mario Savio. Scott Saul of The Nation follows up with an excellent profile of Mario Savio who at one point seemed poised to lead the 1960s radical New Left, but who then dropped out of public view:

Savio was a revolutionary and civil libertarian, logician and poet, scientific observer and self-aware partisan–and in his heyday a virtuosic extemporizer who seemed not so much to perform all these identities as to incarnate them. He was, in short, an icon of possibility for his generation of student activists; and so it’s a great historical riddle, tinged with pathos, why he was, in Berkeley in 1964, the lightning rod of his time and, almost immediately afterward, a man who couldn’t conduct the energy he’d summoned.

3. David Brooks on Obama. David Brooks wrote an excellent column last Friday arguing that both the right and left have Obama wrong, as they accuse excessive fealty to an extreme left wing ideology and of being a weak, passive, unprincipled traitor respectively. Brooks describes Obama as I have always understood and described him – and in fact, as he has described himself:

Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book ”The Audacity of Hope” to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs.

4. Ezra Klein. Ezra Klein best summarized the CBO score released yesterday and how it gave the Democrats exactly what they needed:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill cuts deficits by $130 billion in the first 10 years, and up to $1.2 trillion in the second 10 years. The excise tax is now indexed to inflation, rather than inflation plus one percentage point, and the subsidies grow more slowly over time. So one of the strongest cost controls just got stronger, and the automatic spending growth slowed. And then there are all the other cost controls in the bill: The Medicare Commission, which makes entitlement reform much more possible. The programs to begin paying doctors and hospitals for care rather than volume. The competitive insurance market.

This was a hard bill to write. Pairing the largest coverage increase since the Great Society with the most aggressive cost-control effort isn’t easy. And since the cost controls are complicated, while the coverage increase is straightforward, many people don’t believe that the Democrats have done it. But to a degree unmatched in recent legislative history, they have.

Klein then succinctly explained what was missing from the Republican approach to the deficit that this health care bill – to its great credit – attempted to address:

Our long-term deficit is not a function of our current spending, which is manageable. It is a function of our expected spending growth, particularly in health care. With the system growing at 8 percent a year and GDP growing at 2 percent or 3 percent a year, there’s a real long-term problem there. But you can’t cut, or even tax, your way out of it. If you cut 5 percent from the system in one year, that cut disappears by the next year.

5. The Mission. I’m currently reading this 2003 book by Dana Priest who writes for the Washington Post on the military’s mission and how it evolved after the Cold War through the 1990s and into the War on Terror. Absolutely excellent. I highly recommend it.

[Image by me, this morning.]

Censoring the Truth About the Crusader Prince?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Scott Horton apparently reported on several declarations filed in Federal Court in Eastern Virginia that included explosive allegations regarding the military contractor Blackwater and its owner Erik Prince. Andrew Sullivan linked to him – but between Sullivan’s linking and my clicking on Sullivan’s link, the article was taken down. A search of The Daily Beast for Scott Horton’s article turns up nothing except a link to Jeremy Scahill of The Nation‘s recent piece on the same subject. Andrew Sullivan had excerpted this summary of the charges contained in the Declarations on his blog:

  • Both men requested anonymity to avoid mortal threats. “It appears that Mr. Prince or his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities,” said John Doe #1. John Doe #2 says he received personal threats after leaving Blackwater.
  • Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” He “intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis.”
  • Blackwater “employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms of Iraqis and other Arabs, such as ‘ragheads’ or ‘hajis.’”
  • Blackwater deployed to Iraq individuals who (a) made “statements about wanting to… ‘kill ragheads’ or achieve ‘kills’ or ‘body counts,’” (b) drank excessively, (c) used steroids, and (d) failed to follow safety and other instructions governing the use of lethal weapons. Mental-health professionals who raised concerns about deployment of such individuals were fired.
  • Prince obtained “illegal ammunition… designed to explode after penetrating within the human body” and smuggled it into Iraq for use.
  • Prince distributed other illegal weapons for use in Iraq.
  • Prince was aware of the use of prostitutes, “including child prostitutes,” at Blackwater’s “Man Camp” in Iraq, which he visited.

The actual declarations can be found here – John Doe 1 (pdf) – and here – John Doe 2 (pdf). These papers were part of opposition to a motion – the complete set of which can be found here. (Beware – it’s a few hundred pages of pdfs). I have emailed Scott Horton to see if he has any comment/explanation for why his article is no longer up on the Daily Beast.

Edit: The Daily Beast still has not gotten back to me. Mr. Horton replied telling me that he was looking into why his article was taken down himself.

[Image by John Rohan licensed under Creative Commons.]

Obama & Trade

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

I’ve heard from a few people that there is a growing concern that Obama is anti-free-trade.

This concern has a basis in Obama’s record – mainly from his rhetoric in Ohio during the primary fight with Hillary Clinton and to some extent the fact that he is a Democrat and needed the support of the labor unions. But to a large degree the exaggerated fears of many businessmen comes from comments made by the Republicans during the campaign – as John McCain’s campaign was first (ridiculously) calling Obama “the most protectionist candidate that the Democratic Party has ever fielded” before his campaign went on to call Obama a supporter of comprehensive sex education for kindergartner, a Marxist, a socialist, and a friend to terrorists.

This has led to a series of conflicting impressions of Obama and his position on trade – from statements during the Ohio campaign that “we can’t keep passing unfair trade deals like NAFTA that put special interests over workers’ interests” to his later point – when asked about his rhetoric about NAFTA during the Ohio campaign that, “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.” Indeed – despite the appeal of populist protectionist rhetoric (some 60% of Americans think free trade and NAFTA have been bad for people like them), Obama chose to attack protectionism in the general campaign: ”[n]ot only is it impossible to turn back the tide of globalization, but efforts to do so can make us worse off.” At least in part, Obama’s friendlier stance towards free trade has to be understood as a tactical move on his part as he was certain to be to the left of McCain on this issue. McCain has never even made an issue out of any labor or environmental protections relating to the issue and would have had serious problems with economic conservatives if he moved to the left on this issue as they never trusted him to begin with.

Even aside from the change in rhetoric, there is considerable evidence that has led numerous reasonable observers to believe Obama is, in fact, in favor of trade even as he is concerned with some of free trade’s side effects on American workers and the economy. Obama, for one, described himself as a “pro-growth, free-market guy.” Even the arch-conservative Weekly Standard was forced to concede in the midst of the general election campaign that Obama’s two main economic advisors Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee, while liberals, were “centrist, pro-free traders.” George F. Will, my favorite columnist and a paleo-conservative – described Goolsbee as the best sort of liberal economist his conservative leanings could imagine:

Goolsbee no doubt has lots of dubious ideas – he is, after all, a Democrat – about how government can creatively fiddle with the market’s allocation of wealth and opportunity. But he seems to be the sort of person – amiable, empirical and reasonable – you would want at the elbow of a Democratic president, if such there must be.

Naomi Klein attacked these two herself as ideologically impure in a piece in The Nation magazine – and while I find Klein to be provactive, I think a pro-free trader could hardly have a better endorsement than an attack by Klein.

Obama’s official position on trade has remained consistent – even as his focus has changed over the course of the campaign. What has struck me about all of Obama’s positions is the extent to which they begin with an appreciation of conservative ideas – as his health care plan works within the market rather than by goverment fiat; as his stance on affirmative action reflects traditional concerns about whether we are trying to ensure the equality of oppurtunity or equality of the ends. His views on trade seem similar – as he embraces free markets and free trade – but wants to mitigate the negative side effects.

The Council on Foreign Relations, a group with a considerable interest in free trade, vouched for Obama’s support:

Sen. Obama (D-IL) generally supports free trade policies, though he has expressed concern about free trade agreements that do not include labor and environmental protections.

Tim Hanson and Nate Weisshaar of the Motley Fool probably best described the most reasonable concerns about Obama’s record on trade in their piece asking “Will Obama End Global Trade?” (the answer was, “Nope.”):

While Obama’s campaign literature will tell you that his goals are fairer trade, more assistance for displaced American workers, and greater global environmental protections, there is some global worry that an Obama administration might impose and sustain protectionist policies in order to reward labor union support for his campaign and get our economy back on its feet.

As private sector labor unions have been decimated in the global economy, and as Obama and the liberal consensus views them as part of the solution rather than a major problem, it’s hard to see exactly what steps Obama can take to rejuvenate unions.

In the end, the best way to understand and predict Obama’s trade policies is as part of his view of economics in general. Obama’s economic positions are consistent with a broad Democratic consensus that has emerged in the past decade – bringing together the two warring sides of the Clintonian era, short-handed as Robert Rubin versus Robert Reich for Clinton’s Labor and Treasury Secretaries. The Rubin school believed in expanding free trade, reducing deficits, encouraging overall growth without regard to it’s distribution, and deregulation. The Reich school believed in protecting labor unions, mitigating the effects of globalization through an expanded safety net and job-retraining programs, environmentalism, and was concerned with inequality. Over the past decade, many figures on both sides of this ideological divide have found worth in the ideas of their one-time competitors – as David Leonhardt’s New York Times Magazine piece called “Obamanomics” explained.

This Democratic consensus views free trade as a positive force in the world – but one that has numerous side effects that are negative. The role of government in this picture is to try to mitigate the negative effects of free trade – especially those temporary effects of the transition to a more globalized economy. Most of Obama’s domestic agenda is designed to accomplish these purposes – from the investment in a green energy industry to investment in infrastructure to health care reform to financial reforms. His nuanced position on trade reflects this same desire – to mitigate the destabilizing effects of globalization while acknowledging it’s benefits.

Betting on the American People

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

I wanted to call this post, “The End of Hillary 2008″ but there were no “knockout blows” in this debate. Only the gradual erosion of Ms. Clinton’s candidacy and the demonstration of Barack Obama’s resilience.

On October 30, 2007, the Democratic candidates for president debated in Philadelphia. At the time, I noted that this debate might mark”The Beginning of the End of Hillary 2008“. I based this prediction on the fact that the fundamentals of this election year favor Senator Barack Obama, and that Ms. Clinton had just made a significant mistake that played into her perceived weaknesses. Many people scoffed – and the conventional wisdom of the time was that although Ms. Clinton made a large blunder, she hadn’t offered a large enough opening for Mr. Obama to take advantage of. It is hard to recall now how obvious it seemed then that Ms. Clinton would be the Democratic nominee.

Now tonight, 170 days later, and 10 days before the umpteenth “final showdown” between the candidates, they debated again. In the October debate, Ms. Clinton complained that Tim Russert and Brian Williams were “ganging up” on her because they pressed her to answer questions that she was trying to evade, most specifically regarding driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

Tonight though Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos did gang up on Mr. Obama. They used a surrogate to ask if he was loved the country and the flag; they brought up the fact that he had once served on a charitable board with a former member of the Weather Underground; they of course mentioned Bittergate; they brought up again the comments of Reverend Wright. Ms. Clinton piled on – especially by trying to raise the issue of William Ayers, the former member of the Weather Underground who Mr. Obama knew from the charitable board and the University of Chicago and by saying, again, that Mr. Obama’s comments about “clinging” to religion, guns and nativism were elitist and out-of-touch. Watching her closely as she flung this mud – which had often been thrown at her in the past two decades – I thought I could see her squirm, as she refused to focus her eyes on anyone or anything in particular, looking up, then down, then left, and right, all awkward yet determined. I thought I could see Ms. Clinton’s conscience squirming as she tried to teach Mr. Obama the lesson that she had been taught: the only way to win is to ignore the issues and the truth as you know it, and try to bring down your opponent.

The National Review‘s Jonah Golberg halfway through the debate wrote on The Corner:

I’m no leftwing blogger, but I can only imagine how furious they must be with the debate so far. Nothing on any issues. Just a lot of box-checking on how the candidates will respond to various Republican talking points come the fall. Now I think a lot of those Republican talking points are valid and legitimate. But if I were a “fighting Dem” who thinks all of these topics are despicable distractions from the “real issues,” I would find this debate to be nothing but Republican water-carrying.

I think if he were more honest, Mr. Golberg might say he did find the debate to be “nothing but Republican water-carrying” and that the issues the moderators and Ms. Clinton kept pressing were “valid and legitimate” points only if “valid and legitimate” points were defined to mean those issues which would help Republicans beat Mr. Obama.

It’s worth noting how far Hillary Clinton has come – as demonstrated in the following video which many redditors will be familiar with:

(h/t The Nation ‘s Ari Melber.)

In the debate tonight, Ms. Clinton attacked Mr. Obama as an elitist, attacked him by invoking 9/11 (some 4 times by my informal count), and attacked him for associating with a former terrorist (a charge which Obama parried very well, pointing out that President Bill Clinton had pardoned several members of the same group that Ms. Clinton was attacking Obama for having served on a charitable committee with.)  Ms. Clinton has gone from the foremost victim of the Drudge-style smears and gaffes to the foremost practitioner of the varied and dark arts of dirty politics (now that Karl Rove has retired).  Tonight’s debate on ABC provided her with an ideal platform with sympathetic questioners who aided her.

And yet here is the key: Obama scored no knockouts, but he kept going, and he kept talking about the policy issues that matter to most Americans without looking like he was dodging the questions.  He answered, then pivoted.  Again.  And again.  And again.  And it worked.

What his candidacy comes down to is this: he is betting on the American people.  That’s why, when confronted with the incendiary statements of Reverend Wright, he didn’t do the typical political move and disown him; he condemned the comments and sought to explain why he still admired the man who said them, speaking to Americans as if they were adults.

Mr. Obama’s candidacy is not magical, as it did feel for a time in the days after Iowa.  What his candidacy is is grounded and methodical and competent and substantiative and groundbreaking.

Maybe there’s a bit of magic mixed up in there too – but it’s not in the candidate himself.  It’s in the hopes of the people who are coming into the political process to support him; it’s in the sense that America is righting itself after many, many rocky years; it’s in the movement that is swelling around his candidacy; it’s in the connection between Barack Obama’s story and the nation’s; and it’s in the fact that the candidate who is winning is the one who was willing to bet on the good sense of the American people.

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Attorney-Client Privilege

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

In commenting on the Torture Memo scandal (that has incidentally gotten far less attention than Bittergate), Stephen Gillers of The Nation brings up an important point:

The lawyers told the President what he wanted to hear, but the nation was their client, and its sole interest was in thorough and independent legal analysis. Neither the President’s political agenda nor the authors’ views of what the law should say can be allowed to slant the OLC’s work. So maybe the best and brightest lawyers got it so wrong because they forgot whom they served. Maybe they acted politically, not professionally. If so, we are dealing with a perversion of law and legal duty, a betrayal of the client and professional norms, not mere incompetence, which would be bad enough.  Whatever the reason, [H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel for the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility] should find that this work is not “consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” Jarrett must hold the lawyers accountable if he means to restore OLC’s reputation and vindicate the rule of law.

It’s an important point to make – and one which undermines those who argue that John Yoo and other lawyers who justified explicitly illegal actions were just providing legal advice to their client.  Not only was their advice bad, but they were bowing to the pressure of a third party that wasn’t their client.

At the same time, if the nation itself is their client, rather than the president, they are required to be more independent than the Bush administration’s view of the executive branch allows for.  Unlike in a monarchy, neither the president as an individual nor the presidency as an office is considered to solely represent or speak for the nation.  At least that was what the founders thought.

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Secret Muslims

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Ari Berman in The Nation on the smears against Mr. Obama:

“No one knows if it’s the Clintons, a rogue agent or a Rove agent,” says Congressman Steve Cohen, a Jewish Obama backer who represents a largely black district in Memphis. Likely it’s a combination of the three.

Yesterday, I was listening to Steve Malzberg on the radio.1  Mr. Malzberg certainly knows how to get under my skin – and I’ve heard parts of his show a half-dozen times in the past few weeks.  In these sporadic listenings, I estimate that I’ve heard Mr. Malzberg say, in a tone of voice showing how supremely fair-minded he is to give the benefit of the doubt, about twice every half hour that he “personally” [strongly emphasized] doesn’t consider “Barack Hussein Obama” to be a “secret Muslim.”  Yesterday however, he did directly follow the above with the fact that he didn’t see how any “religious person”, or “patriot”, or even how any person who “loves America” could vote for Barack Obama. Not that he thinks he’s a secret Muslim.

It’s a poison – this deliberate and manipulative smearing.  A poison in the body politic.

Someone is betting that the American public is too lazy and gullible and conspiracy-minded and embittered and most important – disengaged from power – to see past this.

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  1. An officemate had his radio show on. []