Archive for March 19th, 2011

The rundown.

Mar 19, 2011 in Politics, We'll post whatever we goddamned want to

Let’s take a moment while lil’ buddy is sleeping and go through some tabs I’ve got filling up my browser:

1. What the hell does Wall Street do for anybody but Wall Street?

Lord Adair Turner, the chairman of Britain’s top financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, has described much of what happens on Wall Street and in other financial centers as “socially useless activity”—a comment that suggests it could be eliminated without doing any damage to the economy. In a recent article titled “What Do Banks Do?,” which appeared in a collection of essays devoted to the future of finance, Turner pointed out that although certain financial activities were genuinely valuable, others generated revenues and profits without delivering anything of real worth—payments that economists refer to as rents. “It is possible for financial activity to extract rents from the real economy rather than to deliver economic value,” Turner wrote. “Financial innovation . . . may in some ways and under some circumstances foster economic value creation, but that needs to be illustrated at the level of specific effects: it cannot be asserted a priori.”

2. Why do rightwingers always talk about wait times in Canada? Because Canada is one of the few countries we’re ahead of, and not by much.

3. I’ve been trying to keep people aware of the actual origins of the individual mandate: libertarians and conservatives. Yet now we’re supposed to believe it’s proof of Obama’s affinity to Stalin and Mao.

How to explain this? Well, health care policy is complicated. And the role of the market and government policy are so difficult to separate, meaning the same policy can easily be framed either as more socialism or as more free market. The upshot is that right-wingers tend to view whatever health care reform proposed by Democrats as socialism, but they also see the need to rally around an alternative. Yet when Democrats embrace such policies, it’s very easy for people on the right to interpret those as socialism, too.

4. Palin is sparking that civil war between sane conservatives and the swindling nutcase rightwinger base.

Palin is uninterested in ideas, and she has flourished in the conservative media for years. She does rely on shallow talking points, and legions of conservative pundits have repeatedly defended her against charges that she is ignorant and incurious. Everything about her public persona since she received the VP nomination has been built up around tapping into resentment, grievance, and identity politics, all of which are in one way or another antithetical to critical thinking and substantive discussion of policy, and for a while most of her new detractors said nothing or gushed about how wonderful she was.

As long as she was useful prior to the midterms, the institutions, magazines, and leaders of the movement not only tolerated her, but actively promoted her and gave her typically glowing coverage. Those that couldn’t bring themselves to praise her went out of their way not to criticize her. Now that Palin may represent a political threat to Republican chances of regaining the White House, they are suddenly very concerned about her impact on the quality of conservative argument. Their concern would be interesting if it weren’t so belated and narrowly focused on Palin. When Moynihan made that statement about Republicans 30 years ago, it was true. Thirty years later, the label “party of ideas” has simply become another slogan that Republicans trot out in lieu of any policy ideas.

5. Economists of both stripes should look at this discussion about the blind spots of economics when viewed from the left or right.

Of course, I think the left has bent over backwards to accommodate many of the market principles Republicans have tried to promote the past couple decades. Democrats in Washington since Clinton have betrayed their base countless times to favor business, yet a liberal like me absolutely recognizes that markets should remain essentially free to benefit everybody. Taxes continue to be historically quite low for the rich compared to times when America was profiting handsomely. Hell, half the point of (ideal) health care reform is to relieve businesses of the burden of providing health care to employees and to free workers to change jobs without worrying about losing health care (to the right, tying your health to your job is just a buggy whip to keep the masses productive).

But as described in item #3, those on the right respond to Democrat compromise by shuffling a few more steps to the right. The health care bill was a compromise between right and left already, but Obama overestimated the good will of the opposition party. He wanted to deal, they wanted to destroy him.

I can listen to a smart economist who leans right. Instead, I get a constant hack-job operation from FOX News on down.

Other notes:

6. Obama is completely screwing up this Bradley Manning thing, hard. He asked the Pentagon and they promised they were being nice? How gullible is he, or how gullible does he think we are?

7. Obama hanging back and getting the UN to take charge on Libya was actual mature presidential prudence at work. We were supposed to learn something from Iraq, but why would you expect the same people who sold us that turd to care now? Obama has defused the GOP now, and people are starting to remember a time before Bush/Cheney when the US displayed a modicum of caution and sense. One need only look at Ronald Reagan pulling out of Lebanon, pitting himself directly against the warmongers. They had less power back then, but they were quite cunning about using Reagan’s political coat-tails to fill the space he and Bush I left behind.

8. Nuclear power should stay on the table, but Japan better inform every word of the discussion. I want to see design responses, quickly. Hopefully Scientific American devotes an issue to building a better nuke plant (in a safer location) soon. I’m also interested in how this affects the future of fast-neutron reactors (the kind that eats up all the waste old nuclear plants produce). Interestingly, Japan had one back in 1994 that they had an accident at with a liquid sodium leak, but designs have advanced since then and should continue to.

9. Sarah Palin doesn’t get worshiped in India (almost nobody cares about her), so she hates the press there too also and so. I remember the days when Rush Limbaugh used to grouse about liberals being professional victims, and now the GOP should be renamed the POG, the Party of Grievances.

10. I’m feeling a bit zombified, so time to grab some rest. This gets better every time I listen to it:

-hw