China and its Discontents

Archive for the ‘Tea Party’ tag

What is Progressive Journalism?

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Herbert Gans presents the news as telling two different, contradictory stories: a story that affirms the status quo social order, and a story that pushes for Progressive reform of the type we read about in the readings last week on journalism in turn-of-the-20th-century Detroit. I cannot analyze the news environment that Gans deals with from personal experience, because I was not alive during the 60’s and 70’s. But I can relate Gans’ conclusions to the modern media environment. Given the way the news acts today, it seems far more likely that the news is interested, albeit unwittingly, in preserving the status quo.

This seems an unlikely conclusion to make given the national mood since the recession started. The amount of muckraking journalism to expose corruption and malfeasance in the public sphere, and especially in private industry and finance, seems to have risen extraordinarily. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are not treated unsympathetically as mindless violence, a la the “ghetto violence” and war protests Gans mentions from the 60’s, but as serious movements with admirable policy platforms.

In theory, journalistic outlets are progressive because they identify the “moral disorder” of elites (per Gans’s terminology). But this is, I think, very much a facade. Gans already identifies the ways in which the news does not reflect what I would call “true” progressivism: it mainly allies itself with the values of the upper-middle class, professional elites that make up those news outlets’ readership. It doesn’t pay attention to the plight of the poor. It does not truly question authority.

That might be a naive standard to set. But journalists have to question authority to conduct true journalism. Journalists failed in their charge after 9/11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq War precisely because they failed to question authority and allied themselves with the predominate moral and political opinions of those in power, politically, economically, and socially. The examples of this malfeasance of the journalistic class abounds and are too many to continue.

Written by Will

April 1st, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Incredible Michael Sandel Video

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This is why I’m going into graduate school for IR/China Studies/International Economics and where I see my career going into the future. This question of scientistic economics vs. moral and political economy has profound implications for China, where these questions cannot even really be asked by academics. And it of course also directly affects the United States, where we need this kind of thought to combat a growing culture of ignorance and Tea Party economics. I love Michael Sandel:

“Scientistic understandings of economics detached from traditional normative questions, traditional questions of value, has a kind of momentum of its own, as if economics were a science or discipline that had graduated from, risen above, connection with mere speculation, which is what philosophers are sometimes thought to do.

And there is something very heady about that idea, of economics as a science, even like physics, for example. But I think it’s a mistake, and I think it’s short-sighted. I think the most important and creative work in the social sciences in our lifetime and in the future will be done by people who are equipped with economic training and concepts and categories but who can see beyond it, and who can reconnect economics with what used to be called moral and political economy.

You know back in the days of Adam Smith, and David Hume, and John Stewart Mill, there was one subject, moral and political economy. There was not political philosophy on the one hand and economics, the science, on the other. And I think that some of the most exciting development and new work will consist in reconnecting the normative dimensions of moral and political theory with economic analysis.

And we see this beginning in debates about globalization, for example, where the role of markets and normative questions seem very hard to leave by the wayside. So that’s one area I think in which the established social science are in need of a kind of leavening and deepening that can come if they reconnect with questions not only of policy but also values and norms, and ideals.”

via the excellent blog Understanding Society.

NYTimes: China and the US a “Confrontational Relationship”

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Meaning to get to this for a while.

How big is the rift between China and the US?

Administration officials speak of an alarming loss of trust and confidence between China and the United States over the past two years, forcing them to scale back hopes of working with the Chinese on major challenges like climate change, nuclear nonproliferation and a new global economic order.

And David Shambaugh calls China “an increasingly narrow-minded, self-interested, truculent, hyper-nationalist and powerful country.” Ouch.

You can see this especially in Obama’s latest trip to Asia and his support for elevating India to the Security Council. This article was published before the trip and the midterm elections, and I definitely feel like some of the fear-mongering associated with the election has tempered slightly in the past few weeks. For a while, Blue Dogs and Tea Partiers alike were really shredding our precious guanxi (if there is one Chinese word you should know, it should be guanxi, or relationship). But the political system has now let out some steam.

There’s not much more analysis I can add that isn’t already covered excellently in the article (see below), only to say that we should neither disparage China’s (and our) growing calcification nor try to take an even harder-line to our relationship. This is simply a natural, and predictable reaction by the American public (and in reaction to them, Congress) to rather distressing bilateral economic policy conducted by both countries over the past decade.

To round out, here’s an especially pertinent section of analysis:

Political factors at home have contributed to the administration’s tougher posture.With the economy sputtering and unemployment high, Beijing has become an all-purpose target. In this Congressional election season, candidates in at least 30 races are demonizing China as a threat to American jobs.

At a time of partisan paralysis in Congress, anger over China’s currency has been one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement, culminating in the House’s overwhelming vote in September to threaten China with tariffs on its exports if Beijing did not let its currency, the renminbi, appreciate.

The trouble is that China’s own domestic forces may cause it to dig in its heels. With the Communist Party embarking on a transfer of leadership from President Hu Jintao to his anointed successor, Xi Jinping, the leadership is wary of changes that could hobble China’s growth.

Can Frank Luntz Be Serious?

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This is a joke:

“The last time Republicans gained control of the House, in 1994, they achieved more in the first 100 days than some Congresses have in two years. From welfare reform to tax cuts to a balanced budget amendment, they passed every one of their 10 ‘Contract With America’ items. … Once again, Republicans cannot be timid. American voters overwhelmingly support spending cuts to balance the budget; six in 10 of them support a 21 percent across-the-board cut in nonmilitary discretionary spending.”

Reality check: the 111th Congress, as in this Congress (yes, the one where Democrats have been in power), has been one of the most productive in history, on par with congress during the early years of both LBJ and FDR. Luntz cites: “welfare reform to tax cuts to a balanced budget amendment” as examples of Republican productivity 15 years ago. The problem is: everyone loves a tax cut. Everyone loves to cut welfare for Cadillac mommies. And the balanced budget amendment never passed the Senate. And then they shut down government over the deficit. So much for that: we got rid of the deficit by the end of the decade anyway, mostly because of a booming economy.

There are no natural constituencies against for what the Republicans are for. The poor on welfare don’t have a voice in government, but business does. While there might exist policy analysts who think certain tax cuts are bad for our budgets, there’s no constituency who is going to refuse one. Many Democratic priorities, however, require a gentler finesse in order to get passed. In other words, there are vested interests who will lose money if Congress acts for the greater good. It requires some politicking to persuade these vested interests, and that’s hard.

Here are some things the 111th Congress has accomplished: stimulus, which in itself represents a dramatic investment in infrastructure, schools, and a tax cut all rolled into one; healthcare reform, which could be split up into numerous major bills, such as closing the Medicare doughnut hole, providing coverage to 40 million Americans, requiring pre-existing conditions to be covered, allowing kids to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, making sure all children have health insurance, and reducing the rise in the growth of healthcare spending; financial regulatory reform, which both forms a consumer protection agency to ward against faulty financial products that will explode in consumers’ faces, and derivatives that will likewise explode in bankers’ faces; Ted Kennedy’s final legacy, the SERVE America Act, which dramatically expands the number of young people serving in AmeriCorps and creates a ‘Social Innovation Fund’, which funds evidence-based programs with private and foundational support in pursuit of solving major social challenges; tobacco-regulation legislation; credit-card legislation, which establishes a credit-card bill of rights and bans arbitrary interest rate increases; fully funding and expanding the Veterans Administration; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (for all the ladies out there); fully funding the Violence Against Women Act (again, for the ladies); student loan reform and increased access to Pell Grants; Promise Neighborhood legislation (one of my favorite, and under-exposed in the entire bunch); cracking down on mortgage fraud; and more jobs legislation than I can count, including the Advanced Manufacturing Fund for innovative manufacturing strategies, expanded loan programs in the Small Business Administration, Energy Partnership for the Americas, creating markets overseas for our clean-energy industries, fully funding the Community Development Block Grant, job-training programs for clean energy technologies, and of course, everything already in the Stimulus Act.

Whew. That was a lot. And it makes Frank Luntz argument look ridiculous. Luntz says the Democrats loss is not about “deficient personalities or insufficient communication,” but about wrong priorities. I’m sorry, but Democrats promised this exact agenda when they were elected, and they delivered.

Luntz’s policy suggestions are likewise inane:

(1) Balance the budget as quickly as possible through meaningful spending reductions, a hard spending cap and a constitutional amendment so that it never gets unbalanced again.

(2) Eliminate all earmarks until the budget is balanced, then require a two-thirds vote by Congress for future earmark legislation.

(3) Keep taxes down by requiring supermajorities for increases, and eventually enact tax reform with a simple, low, fair rate that drastically reduces the length of the IRS code.

(4) Create a blue-ribbon task force that engages in a complete, line-by-line forensic audit of federal agencies and programs to end waste and reduce red tape and bureaucracy.

(5) And require Congress to provide specific constitutional authorization for every bill it passes so that the government stays within the boundaries imagined by the founders.

1) Spending reductions won’t get the job done without reductions in the rate of spending growth, especially in the medical sector, while a spending cap is unwieldy and not specific enough; 2) earmarks comprise a pitifully small portion of the annual deficit; 3) supermajority-requirements for tax increases have ruined California’s budget outlook and are a bad idea, while a “simple, low, fair rate” (i.e. the flat tax) is regressive and rewards the rich while punishing the poor; 4) a line-by-line audit of the budget is already being done – there’s already a non-military discretionary spending freeze; 5) who decides what’s acceptable in the eyes of the Constitution? Some wackos think the Constitution was written by Moses. I think this is the job of the Supreme Court, a job it has successfully carried out since Marbury v. Madison.

Ultimately, collective political behavior can seem irrational. Democrats ran on a specific platform, got elected in historic numbers, passed most of their platform, and then got dumped in historic numbers. But really, it’s just the floundering economy, and the Federal Government’s inability to fix a massive sink-hole in demand (now if this were the Reagan recession, which was actually created by the Fed and interest rates were raised to break stratospheric inflation in the late 70’s, it would be a lot easier to fix – just lower interest rates). What do I take from all of this? The Democrats’ loss has to do with anything but their policy accomplishments, and the political winds during a massive recession can switch on a dime.

Surprisingly Insightful Commentary from Wonkette

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Well, not exactly. This written by Ken Layne, editor at Wonkette, at an AOL News editorial:

What should emerge from this [election] wreckage is a major conservative party that acknowledges the idiocy of acquiescing to dumb mobs, a liberal party that realizes its future lies with inspiring centrists like Obama and not fringe-identity politics, and a lot of tiny angry splinter groups filled with nuts dedicated to one extremist cause or another.

I would really, really, appreciate a political future like this. What a refreshing future. An optimistic, and, dare I say it, hopeful future.

Written by Will

October 28th, 2008 at 8:49 pm