Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
"a hypocritical and inconsistent opposition is better than no opposition at all" is a revealing motto http://nyti.ms/dEKTXi
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
"The Nobel thus not only crowns a career but provides the basis for a fine future Javier Bardem/Antonio Banderas movie."
Friday, October 8, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Totally forgot to post an update. A pretty fun month .. ESPECIALLY PUMPKINS!
“There’s class warfare, all right. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Wanda Sykes, Kathy Griffin and Tim Gunn. It's like gay cocaine.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
"I have a plan that will raise wages, lower prices, increase the nation's stock of scientists and engineers, and maybe even create the next Google. Better yet, this plan won't cost the government a dime. In fact, it'll save money. A lot of money. But few politicians are going to want to touch it.
Here's the plan: More immigration. A pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants. And a recognition that immigration policy is economic policy and needs to be thought of as such."
Ah, yes, something I have written about many times. Many many many many times.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
But “the market”—like “dialectical materialism”—is just an abstraction: at once ultra-rational (its argument trumps all) and the acme of unreason (it is not open to question). It has its true believers—mediocre thinkers by contrast with the founding fathers, but influential withal; its fellow travelers—who may privately doubt the claims of the dogma but see no alternative to preaching it; and its victims, many of whom in the US especially have dutifully swallowed their pill and proudly proclaim the virtues of a doctrine whose benefits they will never see.
Above all, the thrall in which an ideology holds a people is best measured by their collective inability to imagine alternatives. We know perfectly well that untrammeled faith in unregulated markets kills: the rigid application of what was until recently the “Washington consensus” in vulnerable developing countries—with its emphasis on tight fiscal policy, privatization, low tariffs, and deregulation—has destroyed millions of livelihoods. Meanwhile, the stringent “commercial terms” on which vital pharmaceuticals are made available has drastically reduced life expectancy in many places. But in Margaret Thatcher’s deathless phrase, “there is no alternative.”
It was in just such terms that communism was presented to its beneficiaries following World War II; and it was because History afforded no apparent alternative to a Communist future that so many of Stalin’s foreign admirers were swept into intellectual captivity. But when Miłosz published The Captive Mind, Western intellectuals were still debating among genuinely competitive social models—whether social democratic, social market, or regulated market variants of liberal capitalism. Today, despite the odd Keynesian protest from below the salt, a consensus reigns.
For Miłosz, “the man of the East cannot take Americans seriously because they have never undergone the experiences that teach men how relative their judgments and thinking habits are.” This is doubtless so and explains the continuing skepticism of the Eastern European in the face of Western innocence. But there is nothing innocent about Western (and Eastern) commentators’ voluntary servitude before the new pan-orthodoxy. Many of them, Ketman-like, know better but prefer not to raise their heads above the parapet. In this sense at least, they have something truly in common with the intellectuals of the Communist age. One hundred years after his birth, fifty-seven years after the publication of his seminal essay, Miłosz’s indictment of the servile intellectual rings truer than ever: “his chief characteristic is his fear of thinking for himself.”
Monday, September 20, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
50-Something Days Left, Or: I Can Eat What I Want Without Worrying About What I Will Look Like At The Fire Island Pines Underwear Party.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Things in season, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beginning of the Fall.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
"Data show that, on net, immigrants expand the U.S. economy’s productive capacity, stimulate investment, and promote specialization that in the long run boosts productivity. Consistent with previous research, there is no evidence that these effects take place at the expense of jobs for workers born in the United States."
While last summer US Democrats were conspiring to kill off sick seniors, this summer, flocks of pregnant foreign females are flying all over the US and dropping babies, which upon touchdown start sucking up public resources and multiplying at an astonishing pace! Depending on who you believe, these offspring are either created to eventually provide US citizenship for their parents, or they are being planted as terrorist sleeper cells only to blow up when they reach the age of 18 or when they are fed after midnight, whichever comes first. It’s August in
"People come here to have babies. They come here to drop a child. It's called “drop and leave.” To have a child in
This debate is as inconsequential as it is unsurprising. It’s lack of consequence is twofold: procedurally, it is impossible in the present political climate to amend the US constitution, so any suggestion to do so is unlikely to go anywhere; substantively, the number of children born to two foreign parents on the US soil - let alone to parents who come here specifically for the purposes of giving birth - is so comically small that the amount of attention it receives is wildly disproportionate. In other words, the debate is a ridiculous waste of time and attention span for everyone involved.
And yet no one should be surprised that it surfaced now. Ever since the state of
Those who paid attention to the health care reform debate last year will recognize a pattern. Back then, after months of committee hearings and negotiations on various aspects of the health care overhaul, some opponents of the proposed bill picked up on a paragraph which called for paying physicians for end-of-life counseling. This provision was distorted and portrayed as a “death panel” which will decide whether or not we should “pull the plug on grandma.” Very quickly, the hysteria over death panels became the defining element of the debate, and almost killed the nascent reform entirely. Anchor babies are the new death panels.
The amount of attention that the narrow issue of birthright receives is unfortunate because it takes away from other critical aspects of the immigration debate, namely: what should be done with roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already in the
But no matter which way the winds blow at any given time, immigrants are a vital component of the
Despite these contributions, when the economy goes south and millions of Americans lose their jobs, immigrants are almost inevitably portrayed as an existential threat. The current recession is no exception. It is one of the great ironies of this debate that while rising unemployment seems to inflate the anxiety about foreigners, immigration - legal and illegal - has actually been on the decline: according to the Department of Homeland Security, the number of illegal immigrants dropped almost 1 million in 2009, the second consecutive annual drop and the largest such drop in three decades. And it is not just illegal immigration that has been on the decline - the demand for work visas for foreign workers has dropped so much when the current recession began that in 2009 the quota for visa applications was unfilled - for the first time since 2004. So, while the opponents of immigration reform often talk as if the country was bursting at the seams with an ever-growing influx of foreigners, the recent experience - largely due to the weak economy - has been quite to the contrary.
An ever greater irony is that the
So while Americans are passionately debating the pros and cons of birthright citizenship, they are entirely misguided: the challenge is not how to reduce immigration - something which is happening on its own - but rather how to bring in immigrants as fast as possible. The steps taken in Congress so far demonstrate this confusion: earlier this month, Democrats in the Congress passed a bill which finances $600 million in border security funding through substantially higher visa fees for companies that hire foreign workers. Because border security is a big concern for Republicans, these anti-immigrant measures are being interpreted by some as a negotiating tactic by the Democrats to facilitate broader reform down the line. That would make sense, but only if I had been asleep during the year-long health care reform negotiation: time and time again, we saw such strategic concessions by the Democrats yield no results except to move the debate further to the right. So while it might be unwise to write off immigration reform at this point, I worry that given the direction in which this debate is going the final reform - if it ever happens - will totally miss the point.
Monday, July 12, 2010
"And this brings me to the gravest defect in the euro’s design: it does not allow for error. It expects member states to abide by the Maastricht criteria—which state that the budget deficit must not exceed 3 percent and total government debt 60 percent of GDP—without establishing an adequate enforcement mechanism. And now that several countries are far away from the Maastricht criteria, there is neither an adjustment mechanism nor an exit mechanism. Now these countries are expected to return to the Maastricht criteria even if such a move sets in motion a deflationary spiral. This is in direct conflict with the lessons learned from the Great Depression of the 1930s, and is liable to push Europe into a period of prolonged stagnation or worse. That will, in turn, generate discontent and social unrest. It is difficult to predict how the anger and frustration will express itself.
The wide range of possibilities will weigh heavily on the financial markets. They will have to discount the prospects of deflation and inflation, default and disintegration. Financial markets dislike uncertainty. Meanwhile, xenophobic and nationalistic extremism are already on the rise in countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy. In a worst-case scenario, such political trends could undermine democracy and paralyze or even destroy the European Union.
If that were to happen, Germany would have to bear a major share of the responsibility because as the strongest and most creditworthy country it calls the shots. By insisting on pro-cyclical policies, Germany is endangering the European Union. I realize that this is a grave accusation but I am afraid it is justified.
To be sure, Germany cannot be blamed for wanting a strong currency and a balanced budget. But it can be blamed for imposing its predilection on other countries that have different needs and preferences—like Procrustes, who forced other people to lie in his bed and stretched them or cut off their legs to make them fit. The Procrustes bed being inflicted on the eurozone is called deflation.
Unfortunately Germany does not realize what it is doing. It has no desire to impose its will on Europe; all it wants to do is to maintain its competitiveness and avoid becoming the deep pocket for the rest of Europe. But as the strongest and most creditworthy country, it is in the driver’s seat. As a result Germany objectively determines the financial and macroeconomic policies of the eurozone without being subjectively aware of it. When all the member countries try to be like Germany they are bound to send the eurozone into a deflationary spiral. That is the effect of the policies pursued by Germany and—since Germany is in the driver’s seat—these are the policies imposed on the eurozone.
The German public does not understand why it should be blamed for the troubles of the eurozone. After all, it is the most successful economy in Europe, fully capable of competing in world markets. The troubles of the eurozone feel like a burden weighing Germany down. It is difficult to see what would change this perception because the troubles of the eurozone are depressing the euro and, being the most competitive of the countries in the eurozone, Germany benefits the most. As a result Germany is likely to feel the least pain of all the member states.
The error in the German attitude can best be brought home by engaging in a thought experiment. The most ardent instigators of that attitude would prefer that Germany leave the euro rather than modify its position. Let us consider where that would lead.
The Deutschmark would go through the roof and the euro would fall through the floor. This would indeed help the adjustment process of the other countries but Germany would find out how painful it can be to have an overvalued currency. Its trade balance would turn negative and there would be widespread unemployment. German banks would suffer severe exchange rate losses and require large injections of public funds. But the government would find it politically more acceptable to rescue German banks than Greece or Spain. And there would be other compensations: pensioners could retire to Spain and live like kings, helping Spanish real estate to recover.
Let me emphasize that this scenario is totally hypothetical because it is extremely unlikely that Germany would be allowed to leave the euro and to do so in a friendly manner. Germany’s exit would be destabilizing financially, economically, and above all politically. The collapse of the single market would be difficult to avoid. The purpose of this thought experiment is to convince Germany to change its ways without going through the actual experience that its current policies hold in store."
Friday, July 9, 2010
And yet, when General Stanley McChrystal was forced to resign from his position as Commander of US forces in Afghanistan due to a profile published in the Rolling Stone magazine, no one was laughing. Apart from comments mocking several civilian officials which were the reason why the article attracted attention in the first place and ultimately why McChrystal was replaced, the article offered a rather depressing portrayal of the state of affairs in Afghanistan and a rather scathing criticism of the whole operation, concluding with the following assessment: “So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word "victory" when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.”
And so, a mere 8 months since President Obama pledged to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan - upon McChrystal’s urging - this episode has forced many to reexamine the operation in Afghanistan.
Whether one agrees with the war or not, there are good reasons to believe that the current strategy of counterinsurgency (COIN) - a two pronged approach of taking over areas from insurgents, replacing them with Afghan government while infusing the local population with monetary aid - is not working. First, judging from the number of troops employed and lost, the vast expense, and the sheer amount of time spent in Afghanistan it seems like the US is simply not getting any smarter in fighting the insurgency. And even in the event of clearing an area from insurgents, the job is not over. One of the key components of the strategy is for the Afghan government to establish administration and ultimately take over security from US and NATO forces. Peter Galbraith, who served as deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Afghanistan in 2009, wrote that this strategy can only work if the Afghan government can provide honest administration to win the loyalty of the local population. However, “in too many instances, the nominal government authorities are powerless, corrupt, working with both sides in the conflict, or all of the above. Karzai’s national government cannot remedy any of this. It is corrupt, ineffective, and widely seen as illegitimate.” Clearly, it doesn’t help that Hamid Karzai came to office through an election that was unmistakably fraudulent. And because the US embraced Karzai they are now relying on his government to fulfill a critical function, something it cannot do due to its shady origins.
The second prong of COIN - pouring aid to the local population - might not be effective and could be making the situation worse. Research by Andrew Wilder and Stuart Gordon on the ground in Afghanistan found “little evidence of aid projects winning hearts and minds or promoting stability.” What they observed was the main reason given by the Afghans they interviewed for the growing insurgency was the “corrupt and unjust government.” Additionally, they observed that “the single overriding criticism of aid was the strong belief that it was fueling massive corruption, which undermined some of the positive impacts it may have otherwise had.”
Still, even if the counterinsurgency strategy is not terribly effective, that doesn’t necessarily mean the US should pack up and leave. It is, however, instructive to ask, why is it that the US is in Afghanistan in the first place. One almost forgets that the answer is not “bringing peace and prosperity to the Afghans” but rather “9/11 and al-Qaeda”. In light of that original objective, it was interesting to hear the CIA director Leon Panetta recently admit that “we're looking at 50 to 100, maybe less” al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and that most of the terrorist network is operating from the western tribal region of Pakistan. Certainly, it seems odd to spend $100 billion in 2010 alone to target such a small group. Indeed the objective of the war seems to have shifted as the primary enemy fled to another country altogether. The US is no longer hunting down al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; instead they are making sure that Afghanistan can never again serve as the breeding ground for terrorism against the US.
For many who insist on US military presence in Afghanistan the need to prevent the creation of a security “vacuum” is probably the most compelling argument. Even those who oppose the war in principle, are hard pressed to advocate a withdrawal, often citing this reason. On the surface the argument makes sense: before 9/11, the Taliban harbored al-Qaeda; if the US were to withdraw from Afghanistan it would be leaving behind empty ground for the enemy to come back to. In other words, the US is stuck. In reality, it is not at all clear that the presence in Afghanistan did not contribute to a greater security threat by potentially destabilizing Pakistan. The last terrorist attempt in the US, after all, seems to have been organized by the Pakistani Taliban. Besides, even in the event of a complete success in Afghanistan (and, by extension, Pakistan) who is to say that al-Qaeda won’t find a new base somewhere - and if they do, how many countries can the US afford to invade, rebuild from scratch and immunize from potential terrorist-harboring - especially when the track record in Afghanistan is as terrible as it is?
In reality, it is hard to envision the US civilian leadership going against the recommendations of the military and suggest a withdrawal from Afghanistan any time soon - the politics of the situation offers little reward for wanting to skimp on counter terrorism measures and high costs for any potential failure. Our best hope, as Matthew Iglesias of the Center for American Progress Action Fund suggested, is that the leadership redefines success: instead of shooting for a full blown transformation in Afghanistan, they need to reframe the problem and stake out smaller achievable goals that will allow them to declare victory at some point in the foreseeable future and put them on track for downsizing the US involvement. Otherwise we might be looking at another Vietnam war - a lengthy expensive and painful conflict with no discernible accomplishment to speak of - except maybe some equivalent of M.A.S.H.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
(This map doesn't quite do justice to the kind of run that this was - here's the elevation map - brutal!)
Thursday, May 6, 2010
"we've come to the conclusion that we don't do comprehensive well .. Our country is too big, too complicated, too decentralized for Washington, a few of us here, just to write a few rules about remaking 17 percent of the economy all at once. That sort of thinking works in a classroom, but it doesn't work very well in our big, complicated country."
"we should all probably calm down about politics. Most of the proposals we argue about so ferociously will have only marginal effects on how we live, especially compared with the ethnic, regional and social differences that we so studiously ignore."
Monday, May 3, 2010
Friday, April 30, 2010
At the end of March, the United States Congress passed the long-debated health care reform legislation. Regardless of whether one supported or opposed the bill, everyone agreed that this was one of the most significant pieces of legislation to become law, on par with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - which abolished racial discrimination and segregation - and the Social Security Act of 1965 - which created Medicare and Medicaid, the health programs for the elderly and poor families.
The new law far from guarantees health care for everyone - illegal immigrants, not a negligible group, will be excluded from participation, for example. The mandates for everyone to purchase health insurance, we are finding out, are not particularly easy to enforce, and therefore probably not as draconian as they might sound. It is also far from a "government takeover" of health care - a common criticism levied against the new plan by its opponents - because for the most part it relies on the currently existing market mechanisms to expand health coverage. Far from the earth shattering vehicle it was often painted as, the law is in essence a relatively centrist collection of incremental steps. And yet - considering the decades of trying and the number of failed attempts - this was a giant leap towards universal health care in America. Obama himself probably described it best during the signing ceremony when he said that the law is not "radical" but "major".
As one might expect after such a major event - following months of obsessive tracking of the issue aided by virtually non-stop media coverage - I went through several emotional stages in the aftermath of reform: first, there was immense joy. It seemed almost unbelievable that against all odds the Democratic leadership managed to pass reform. I have predicted the death of reform in this column multiple times precisely because it was so difficult to pass. And yet, at the 11th hour, due to a unique congruence of forces, it happened. After joy, came relief. Finally, we can move on to other things, I thought. Health care has been sucking the air out of every room in DC for the last year and now we can deal with other pressing issues. And after relief, came sadness and void. Whether you're for it or against it, health care reform became the lingua franca in US politics, the political equivalent of weather talk. As complex an issue as health care may be, over the year that it was on the forefront of political conversation it became intimately familiar to anyone who paid any attention at all. Politicians, newsmen, commentators, bloggers - many developed a level of fluency on the topic that elevated it to national urgency the same way I imagine the country once debated slavery or the war in Vietnam. It was sad to see that go. However, the bigger part of this void is also due to the nagging question: what next?
Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of issues for the Congress to take up. Take finance reform. In the aftermath of one of the greatest economic downturns in history, the great minds in DC are wondering what could be done to prevent the same kind of meltdown from happening again. Many blame the near collapse of the financial system on the deregulation of the banking industry and are thus seeking to impose new regulatory oversight; others blame it on the unrestricted growth and risks the banks took and thus want to impose certain statutory limits or taxes on the banks. The banks - surprise! - are lobbying heavily to water down any attempt at reform: "You don't understand our business", they say, "anything you do could threaten our ability to provide liquidity to the economy!" To some, the more that can be done to decrease the size and the profitability of the banking sector - and thereby its political power and ability to draw talent from the rest of the economy - the better. The House of Representatives already passed its version of financial reform in December, while the Senate is currently developing its own bill. However, if three unsuccessful efforts to start the debate of the bill of the floor of the Senate are any indication, it's going to be a long battle.
Then there is climate change. Another priority of the Obama administration is to pass energy and climate legislation that would set America on a path to reducing emissions, increasing the share of energy that comes from renewable sources and lessening the dependence on fossil fuels. While the House of Representatives has already passed a bill in June of last year, the Senate has not even considered the issue due to its preoccupation with health care and more recently with financial regulation. However, a language of the Senate bill - cosponsored by both Democrats and Republicans - could be announced soon. This would be great news for the bill - having a Republican co-sponsor would virtually guarantee passage in the Senate. Perhaps climate change could pass relatively painlessly?
Or .. not. Releasing a bipartisan proposal was indeed the plan - at least until an entirely different issue suddenly emerged out of nowhere and quite possibly derailed everything: immigration. One lovely April day, the state of Arizona passed a harsh law to deal with illegal immigrants, namely by authorizing the local police to verify citizenship of suspicious people and arresting and fining those failing to prove their legal status in the US. The resulting national outcry - combined with large Hispanic population in several key states - created an interesting opportunity for the Democrats. Why not take up immigration on the Federal level to court a key constituency? The seeds of such an idea must have been planted in some Democratic heads because the Senate leadership quickly made it clear that they are debating weather they should act on climate or immigration first. As a result, the key Republican co-sponsor of the climate legislation threaten to withdraw his support for the effort, which could kill the bill before it even hits the Senate floor. And as for immigration reform - the grave need for it is only eclipsed by its contentiousness. If the Senate really goes down that path, we are looking at another long battle.
Financial regulation, climate change, immigration - there is no shortage of critical domestic issues. So why do I still feel the void I described above? Simply because there is a decent chance that none of these issues will see any resolution in the foreseeable future. First, any vote in the Senate requires a lot of cross-party cooperation and deal making. Democrats do not have the votes to pass anything without at least a handful of Republicans. While deal making isn't impossible, it is not easy. If health reform showed anything, it was that despite rhetoric to the contrary, Republican cooperation simply cannot be relied upon. Perhaps, given the popular support for financial reform, they will tread more cautiously this time around. However, the early signs are not good: recently they voted three times in unison against starting debate of the bill in the Senate. The other takeaway from health reform is that a bipartisan process is extremely time consuming. And that is the second reason why none of these issues are likely to see resolution during this Congress: shortage of time. The mid-term election in the fall means that all legislation needs to be considered before the summer. Once we reach the August recess, there will be no appetite among lawmakers to pass legislation, both because they will want to focus on campaigning and because they will try to avoid any controversial votes. Which leaves them with roughly 3 months to do anything. In DC time, that's an eye-blink. As a reminder, it took 3 months for the Democrats in the House of Representatives to take a vote on the Senate version of the health care bill. Something that should have been an easy step but wasn't because nothing is easy and quick in the Congress.
Maybe with some combination of luck and Herculean efforts the Democrats can muster the energy and drive to act on one of these very important issues. I'd like to be positively surprised. However, the window to pass legislation on the Democratic agenda before the mid-term elections is closing rapidly. And the currently predicted losses in both the House and the Senate during those elections won't help the Democrats' ability to do anything thereafter. Thank God for the existence of the executive branch, of without it we would be looking at some pretty uneventful years ahead.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The video is important because it shows the kind of tragedy that is absolutely inevitable in wars likes the ones America has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but especially in urban Baghdad: where a journalist and a militiaman can appear indistinguishable, where a gunner surrounded by noise and heat high in the sky will fail or choose not to look for complicating details in the scene far below, and where a van taking away a wounded man might be a legitimate target if it were a military vehicle in a conventional war. Those who say that incidents like this have been common in Iraq and Afghanistan are not wrong. The military’s claim that the soldiers followed their rules of engagement is probably not wrong either (though the attempted cover-up invites suspicion). Anyone who sends young troops into war should expect them to kill innocent people by mistake, and to crack jokes about the people they’ve killed. This doesn’t make them war criminals, or even moral monsters. Nor is it the whole truth about them, or about the war. But it’s a truth, and it should be seen.
The WikiLeaks video is not an indictment of the individual soldiers involved -- at least not primarily. Of course those who aren't accustomed to such sentiments are shocked by the callous and sadistic satisfaction those soldiers seem to take in slaughtering those whom they perceive as The Enemy (even when unarmed and crawling on the ground with mortal wounds), but this is what they're taught and trained and told to do. If you take even well-intentioned, young soldiers and stick them in the middle of a dangerous war zone for years and train them to think and act this way, this will inevitably be the result. The video is an indictment of the U.S. government and the war policies it pursues.
All of this is usually kept from us. Unlike those in the Muslim world, who are shown these realities quite frequently by their free press, we don't usually see what is done by us. We stay blissfully insulated from it, so that in those rare instances when we're graphically exposed to it, we can tell ourselves that it's all very unusual and rare.