Friday, January 29, 2010

Bits and Pieces - January 29, 2010

It's really hard to see circumstances under which the brake should not prevail over the accelerator if both are pressed. When you're building complex and potentially dangerous instrumentation, like lasers, you frequently build in interlocks that keep the wrong combination of things from happening. But I guess those high-performance customers, like the banksters, take precedence over ordinary people.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer tells his banksters to stop feeling sorry for themselves.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future will provide recommendations for developing "a safe, long-term solution to manging the nation's used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste."

I wrote a post back last summer, I think, about President Obama's community organizing strategy, but I can't find it now. This one bears some resemblance, but it's not the one. Anyhow, I think that community organizing strategy is working. Short version: propose broad goals and then let the people involved develop how to reach them. If you've got some slackers and generally confused participants, let their peers straighten them out.

That strategy doesn't give quick results, and watching it play out can be nerve-wracking. But the results it gives are much more durable and likely to be even better than anything you could have expected.

I think now, more than ever, after the State of the Union speech, that this is President Obama's strategy. Some other bloggers are starting to get it, too. Steve Benen and Kevin Drum, for two. Benen has a series of posts today in which he begins to recognize some of the problems (first step to solving them) and begins to think about solutions. In this kind of strategy, the recalcitrant will eventually be called out. And recalcitrant is what the Republicans have been. But they have a big megaphone, and the Democrats are inherently not inclined toward that sort of thing. But maybe they need to think about it and develop some of their own tactics.

And here's part of what my argument, earlier this week, with Andy was about: the Republican meme that Democrats think people are dumb. But our electorate is uninformed. This is a problem. Our founding fathers assumed an informed electorate. If you have one group of people jumping up and down ragging on the theme that another group thinks yet a third group is dumb, however, it misrepresents the situation and prevents a discussion. And you can't solve problems without discussing them. But maybe that Republican meme is designed not to solve the problem, but to keep the electorate uninformed while feeling that they are certainly smart enough to see the virtue of the Republican program of ponies for everyone at no cost, and oh yes, bread and circuses too.

I'm headed out in a few minutes, so I can't read or watch the rest of this. I'd very much like to annotate the State of the Union speech for indicators of the community organizer strategy. Maybe over this weekend. In the meanwhile, James Fallows annotates the speech with his views.

And, moving toward unmasking that pony program, President Obama was talking to Republican members of Congress today. Seems as though Fox and others had a hard time with it. Their team didn't look so good when they had to face up to the opposition, instead of just using the big media microphone. Transcript here, video here. After reading a few of the reports, I'm looking forward to seeing or reading this.


Andy said...


Interesting set of links and discussion, thanks.

You are right about the founding fathers - in fact, concern about an uninformed electorate was so strong it formed the rationale for limiting political privilege to the landed and wealthy. They thought only those who had skin-in-the-game would have the incentive to make informed decisions while while the bulk of society not only lacked such incentives, but would be too easily influenced to vote against their own interests and the interests of the States and nation. The various expansions of the electorate over the years brought all those uninformed masses into the game.

So I think you are probably correct that an uniformed electorate is a "problem," but I also think it's irrelevant. A large number of studies over the past 60 or so years have shown that an uninformed electorate is an enduring condition. This doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon so it seems to me that political strategies that depend on "informing the electorate" in one form or another are not likely to succeed.

As far as ponies go, this is a major factor for my cynicism about the future. I spread the blame for that much wider and further than the GoP - in fact I rest it squarely on the shoulders of the so-called "greatest" generation as well as the boomers that followed them. You see, I'm 42 years old and for almost my entire life my government has been promising ponies and then delivering on them by borrowing from future generations. It's my generation and those that follow that get to pay for bill for all that and the price is going to be high.

And speaking of generations, that's the elephant in the room that both political parties can't seem to grasp. Gen-X and Gen-Y are not going to continue the politics set up by the boomers and the WWII generation. So I think what you call Obama's "community organizing" politics is actually much deeper, on the scale of a paradigm shift.

Cheryl Rofer said...

I'll just point out that it was Boomer Bill Clinton whose administration came close to wiping out the federal deficit.

Andy said...


It takes two to tango WRT budgets, so I think President Clinton and the Congress deserve some joint credit for that. However, they were greatly aided by some outside factors, primarily the increased tax revenue from the late-1990's stock bubble.

Clinton was certainly exceptional, but his efforts were a blip interrupting a long pattern of unsustainability that will continue for at least the next decade. Interest rates are currently very low, yet our interest payments on the debt are larger than every federal department except HHS and Defense. It's to the point where the CBO is projecting that in 2020 interest payments on the national debt will be close to $800 billion a year - and that assumes all the Bush and Obama tax cuts are allowed to expire the AMT isn't fixed. It also assumes their isn't significant new spending. The projections are for budget deficits averaging almost $700 billion a year over the next ten years. If the tax cuts remain in effect the annual deficit will average a trillion interest payments will exceed all government outlays except for medicare and social security. Here's how the CBO director puts it:

A large and persistent imbalance between federal spending and revenues is apparent in CBO’s projections for the next 10 years and will be exacerbated in coming decades by the aging of the population and the rising costs of health care. That imbalance stems from policy choices made over many years. As a result of those choices, U.S. fiscal policy is on an unsustainable path to an extent that cannot be solved by minor tinkering.

We're facing national insolvency unless radical changes are made. We can't expect economic growth to save us anymore.

MT said...

Experts are saying that just passing under power lines or using a cell phone might on occasion fritz an accelerator chip so as to lock it on full throttle. But doesn't the military have EMP-proof fighter planes? What's it take? (i.e. in the absence of a wire to ground).