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Britain's Strategy - 1 views

  • Britain's rise to its once-extraordinary power represented an unintended gift from Napoleon. It had global ambitions before the Napoleonic Wars, but its defeat in North America and competition with other European navies meant Britain was by no means assured pre-eminence.
  • The defeat of the French fleet at Trafalgar and the ultimate French defeat at Waterloo then eliminated France as a significant naval challenger to Britain for several generations.
    • Erik Hanson
      (Sorry I'm late) To be fair, most of the "French" ships were Spanish.
  • Not only was Britain the dominant political and military power, it also was emerging as the leader in the Industrial Revolution then occurring in Europe.
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  • Napoleon's devastation of continental Europe, the collapse of French power and the underdevelopment of the United States gave Britain an advantage and an opportunity. 
  • Britain also benefitted from the Napoleonic Wars' having crippled most European powers. Britain was not under military pressure for most of the century, and was not forced into a singularly exploitative relationship with its empire to support its wars. It thus avoided Hitler's trap.
  • This began to change in the late 19th century with two major shifts.
  • The first was German unification in 1871
  • The second challenge came from the United States, which also was industrializing at a dramatic pace -- a process ironically underwritten by investors from Britain seeking higher returns than they could get at home.
  • The German challenge culminated in World War I, a catastrophe for Britain and for the rest of Europe. Apart from decimating a generation of men, the cost of the war undermined Britain's economic base, subtly shifting London's relationship with its empire. Moreover, British power no longer seemed inevitable
  • World War II, the second round of the German war, broke Britain's power.
  • Britain lost the war not to Germany but to the United States. It might have been a benign defeat in the sense that the United States, pursuing its own interests, saved Britain from being forced into an accommodation with Germany. Nevertheless, the balance of power between the United States and Britain completely shifted during the war. Britain emerged from the war vastly weaker economically and militarily than the United States. Though it retained its empire, its ability to hold it depended on the United States. Britain no longer could hold it unilaterally. 
    • Erik Hanson
      I think many would argue that Britain didn't retain its empire, but lost large parts of it, even if it clung to a few key colonies for a while longer.
  • British strategy at the end of the war was to remain aligned with the United States and try to find a foundation for the United States to underwrite the retention of the empire. But the United States had no interest in this. It saw its primary strategic interest as blocking the Soviet Union in what became known as the Cold War.
  • The U.S. political intervention against the British, French and Israeli attack on Egypt in 1956, which was designed to maintain British control of the Suez Canal, marked the empire's breaking point. Thereafter, the British retreated strategically and psychologically from the empire.
  • the British aligned themselves with the U.S.-dominated alliance system and the postwar financial arrangements lumped together under the Bretton Woods system.
  • The British, however, added a dimension to this. Unable to match the United States militarily, they outstripped other American allies both in the quantity of their military resources and in their willingness to use them at the behest of the Americans.
  • Britain could not be America's equal. However, it could in effect be America's lieutenant, wielding a military force that outstripped in number -- and technical sophistication -- the forces deployed by other European countries.
  • The goal was to accept a subordinate position without being simply another U.S. ally.
  • The United States was not motivated to go along merely out of sentiment based on shared history, although that played a part. Rather, like all great powers, the United States wanted to engage in coalition warfare and near warfare along with burden sharing.
  • A good example -- though not a very important one -- was London's ability to recruit U.S. support in Britain's war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands, also known as the Malvinas. The United States had no interests at stake, but given that Britain did have an interest, the U.S. default setting was to support the British. 
  • There were two dangers for the British in this relationship.
  • The first was the cost of maintaining the force relative to the benefits.
  • The second was the danger of being drawn so deeply into the U.S. orbit that Britain would lose its own freedom of action, effectively becoming, as some warned, the 51st state.
  • Britain has developed a strategy of being enmeshed in Europe without France's enthusiasm, at the same time positioning itself as the single most important ally of the only global power. There are costs on both sides of this, but Britain has been able to retain its options while limiting its dependency on either side.
  • While the United States remains Britain's largest customer for exports if Europe is viewed as individual countries, Europe as a whole is a bigger customer.
  • Britain has positioned itself superbly for a strategy of waiting, watching and retaining options regardless of what happens. If the European Union fails and the European nation-states re-emerge as primary institutions, Britain will be in a position to exploit the fragmentation of Europe to its own economic and political advantage and have the United States available to support its strategy.
  • If the United States stumbles and Europe emerges more prominent, Britain can modulate its relationship with Europe at will and serve as the Europeans' interface with a weakened United States. If both Europe and the United States weaken, Britain is in a position to chart whatever independent course it must.
  • Whatever the British thought of Iraq, a strategy of remaining the most reliable ally of the United States dictated participation.
  • The British strategy represents a classic case of a nation accepting reversal, retaining autonomy, and accommodating itself to its environment while manipulating it. All the while Britain waits, holding its options open, waiting to see how the game plays out and positioning itself to take maximum advantage of its shifts in the environment.
    Britain controlled about one-fourth of the Earth's land surface and one-fifth of the world's population in 1939. Fifty years later, its holdings outside the British Isles had become trivial, and it even faced an insurgency in Northern Ireland.

    Britain spent the intervening years developing strategies to cope with what poet Rudyard Kipling called its "recessional," or the transient nature of Britain's imperial power. It has spent the last 20 years defining its place not in the world in general but between continental Europe and the United States in particular.

America's Pacific Logic - 1 views

  • When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, signaling communism's defeat in Europe, security experts talked about a shift in diplomatic and military energies to the Pacific. But Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 led to a decadelong preoccupation with the Middle East, with the U.S. Army leading a land war against Iraq in 1991 and the Navy and Air Force operating no-fly zones for years thereafter. Then came 9/11, and the Bush administration's initiation of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a response. Finally, the ending of both those conflicts is in sight, and the United States, rather than return to quasi-isolationism as it has done with deleterious effect after other ground wars in its history, is attempting to pivot its focus to the geographical heart of the global economy: the Indian and Pacific oceans.
  • The Indian Ocean is the world's energy interstate, across which passes crude oil and natural gas from the Arabian Peninsula and Iranian Plateau to the burgeoning, middle-class urban sprawls of East Asia.
  • Though we live in a jet and information age, 90 percent of all commercial goods that travel from one continent to another do so by container ship, and half of those goods in terms of global tonnage -- and one-third in terms of monetary value -- traverse the South China Sea
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  • And it is the U.S. Navy and Air Force, more than any other institutions, that have kept those sea lines of communication secure, thus allowing for post-Cold War globalization in the first place.
  • This is the real public good that the United States provides the world.
    • anonymous
      I posit that this is a slight misnomer. While it provides the world with a long, reliable trade route, it is still focused around maintaining U.S. global primacy and so serves a national interest. It doesn't befit us to get weepy-eyed at how much we've 'given.' Not that StratFor is DOING that, but I'm just trying to clear my throat on a tiny detail that (I think) matters.
    • Erik Hanson
      All of capitalism's worth is tied up in the external benefits stemming from self-interested actions, innit?
  • Beijing has been buying smart, investing in subs, ballistic missiles, and space and cyber warfare as part of a general defense build-up. China has no intention of going to war with the United States, but it does seek to impede in time of crisis U.S. military access to the South China Sea and the rest of maritime Asia.
  • China, through the combination of its economic and military power, will undermine the sovereignty of countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, all of which are de facto or de jure U.S. allies.
  • The country that is the biggest target for China is Vietnam, whose seaboard forms the western edge of the South China Sea and whose economically dynamic population of 87 million makes it a future maritime Turkey, a midlevel power in its own right
  • If China can "Finlandize" Vietnam, Beijing will in practical terms capture the South China Sea. This explains Washington's increasing military and interest in Hanoi.
    • Erik Hanson
      Dropped a word, there. ;)
  • The Chinese are simply unable to psychologically divorce their claims on the nearby South China Sea from the territorial depredations directed against China by the West in the 19th and early 20th centuries. To Chinese officials, the South China Sea represents blue national soil.
  • Of course, American diplomacy has been active on these matters for years, but U.S. diplomats would lack credibility if they were not backed by a robust military presence in the future. This is what the pivot is all about: The United States does not intend to desert maritime Asia in its hour of need. As one high-ranking diplomat of a South China Sea country told me, if the United States were to withdraw an aircraft carrier strike group from the region it would be a "game-changer," ushering the region toward Finlandization.
  • A profound socio-economic crisis in China itself -- something that by no means can be ruled out -- might have the effect of slowing this quasi-imperial rise. But that hasn't happened quite yet, and in the meantime, the United States is forced to react to China's growing military and commercial capabilities.
  • But the change in U.S. policy focus is not literally about containing China. "Containment" is a word of Cold War vintage related to holding ground against the Soviet Union, a country with which the United States had a one-dimensional, hostile relationship. The tens of thousands of American students and corporate executives in Beijing attest to the rich, multi-dimensional relationship the United States enjoys with China. China is so much freer than the former Soviet Union that to glibly state that China is "not a democracy" is to miss the point of China's rise entirely.
  • Were the United States not now to turn to the Indo-Pacific, it would risk a multipolar military order arising up alongside an already existent multipolar economic and political order. Multipolar military systems are more unstable than unipolar and bipolar ones because there are more points of interactions and thus more opportunities for miscalculations, as each country seeks to readjust the balance of power in its own favor.
  • If American power was diminished, China, India and other powers would be far more aggressive toward each other than they are now, for they all benefit from the secure sea lines of communication provided by the U. S. Navy and Air Force.
    • anonymous
      I buy this, and the relationship fascinates me. I like how U.S. control over the sea lanes tempers hostility. These nations can tolerate U.S. control more than they can their other regional competitors.
  • Australia, a country of only 23 million inhabitants, will spend $279 billion over the next two decades on submarines, fighter jets and other hardware. This is not militarism, but the reasonable response of a nation at the confluence of the Indian and Pacific oceans in order to account for its own defense in the face of rapidly changing power dynamics.
     by Robert D. Kaplan

    The Obama administration "pivot" to the Pacific, formally announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last November and reiterated more recently by the president himself, might appear like a reassertion of America's imperial tendencies just at the time when Washington should be concentrating on the domestic economy. But in fact, the pivot was almost inevitable.

American vs. Russian notions of friendship - 0 views

  • Not long ago I attended an evening-long discussion group on this topic, comprised mostly of Russian emigrants and their spouses.  The Russians were generally keen to argue that they have deeper and closer friendships than do the Americans.  They also dislike that Americans will call their acquaintances “friends.”  In response I noted that:
  • 1. Relative to Americans, Russians are far more concerned with defining who is truly a friend, or not.
  • 2. Russians are far more likely to conduct purges of their friends.
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  • 3. American geographic mobility has been falling for some time and so we might move back toward some closer and more durable notions of friendship
  • are Russian lower-middle class friendships so much more “life and death” than American lower-middle class friendships, especially among the immobile?
    Thanks to Dave Gottlieb for this pointer to Tyler Cowen's observations about the notion of friendship, comparing American to Russian

How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans - 2 views

  • When Democrat Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House, the leader of the lawmaking branch of government, she said her priority was to … elect more Democrats. After Republican victories in 2010, the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said his goal was to … prevent the Democratic president’s reelection. With the country at war and the economy in recession, our government leaders’ first thoughts have been of party advantage.
  • Ours is a system focused not on collective problem-solving but on a struggle for power between two private organizations.
    • anonymous
      That modern parties vote in party-first ways is not an accident, yes. But, I'm not convinced that the unintended consequences of our political parties was something other than an accident. That point isn't well made enough.
  • What we have today is not a legacy of 1789 but an outdated relic of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Progressives pushed for the adoption of primary elections.
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  • the primaries, and the nominating conventions, were open only to party members. This reform was supposed to give citizens a bigger role in the election process. Instead, the influence of party leaders has been supplanted by that of a subset of party activists who are often highly ideological and largely uninterested in finding common ground.
  • Americans demand a multiplicity of options in almost every other aspect of our lives. And yet we allow small bands of activists to limit our choices of people to represent us in making the nation’s laws.
    • anonymous
      However, *too* many options paralyzes us. This is standard choice/marketing stuff, but I see how, if you tilt your head, something like this would seem inevitable.
  • I am not calling for a magical political “center”
  • Nor am I pleading for consensus
  • And I’m not pushing for harmony
  • The problem is not division but partisanship—advantage-seeking by private clubs whose central goal is to win political power. There are different ways to conduct elections and manage our government—and strengthen the democratic process. Here are some suggestions designed to turn our political system on its head, so that people, not parties, control our government.
    • anonymous
      I wonder if, with the best of intentions, partisans slowly conflate the party with the nation until it wouldn't dawn on them to consider themselves seeking party favor first, and nation second.
  • Break the power of partisans to keep candidates off the general-election ballot.
  • Because activists who demand loyalty and see compromising as selling out dominate party primaries and conventions, candidates who seek their permission to be on the November ballot find themselves under great pressure to take hard-line positions. This tendency toward rigidity—and the party system that enables it—is at the root of today’s political dysfunction.
  • As a result, members of Congress would have greater freedom to base their legislative decisions on their constituents’ concerns and on their own independent evaluations of a proposal’s merits. They would be our representatives, not representatives of their political clubs.
  • Turn over the process of redrawing congressional districts to independent, nonpartisan commissions.
  • Although legislative majorities continue to draw district lines in most states, 13 states (most recently, California) have established nonpartisan or bipartisan redistricting commissions, and two additional states have created merely “advisory” commissions. The systems vary—some use commissions to propose plans that legislatures must approve; others strip the legislature of all redistricting authority—but each of the 13 recognizes that the partisan drawing of congressional-district boundaries has hurt the democratic process, leaving elected officials dependent on, and beholden to, the party bosses who draw their districts.
  • Allow members of any party to offer amendments to any House bill and—with rare exceptions—put those amendments to a vote.
  • “closed” rules, preventing members from offering amendments, simply tell citizens their preferences don’t matter.
  • Speaker John Boehner deserves credit for promising greater opportunities for the minority party to have its amendments considered. Under his speakership, the Republican-dominated House has actually accepted some Democratic amendments.
  • The House should adopt rules guaranteeing that any proposal receiving a significant level of support—say, 100 co-sponsors—would automatically be allowed a committee hearing, an up-or-down vote in committee, and then, even if it fails in committee, a vote on the House floor.
  • Change the leadership structure of congressional committees.
  • We should change congressional rules to provide for a chairman from the majority party and a vice chairman from the minority (no such position exists in today’s Congress, except on certain special non-legislating committees); the vice chairman need not ascend to the chairmanship in the chairman’s absence, but each would have the authority to bring a bill forward and to invite expert witnesses to offer testimony. The process might be slower, but consideration of alternatives would be more thorough.
  • The current committee process is transactional, not deliberative.
    • anonymous
      Translation: "What can *we* get?"
  • Fill committee vacancies by lot.
  • The derivation of leadership in Congress from an internal version of the party primary or convention is an artificial construct. In every informal congressional subgroup—the Human Rights Caucus, the Rust Belt Caucus, the Flat Tax Caucus—leaders are chosen without regard to party affiliation.
  • Imagine how different the congressional dynamic would be if that practice prevailed in committee assignments.
  • They would be freer to vote as they saw fit.
  • Choose committee staff solely on the basis of professional qualifications.
  • But if the goal is to legislate for the country, not for a party, then committee staff members should be selected by a nonpartisan House or Senate administrator and obligated to serve all members equally without regard to party agenda.
  • The Constitution grants Congress most of the federal government’s real powers—to spend, tax, create federal programs, declare war, approve treaties, confirm federal court appointments.
  • By thinking of the House and Senate in constitutional rather than partisan terms, we would eliminate party-driven links between Congress and the president and avoid the spectacle of legislative leaders acting as though they were either members of the president’s staff or his sworn enemies.
  • Our current political dysfunction is not inevitable; it results from deliberate decisions that have backfired and left us mired in the trenches of hyper-partisan warfare.
  • The goal is not to destroy parties but to transcend them; to welcome their contributions but end their dominance; and to take back from these private clubs control of our own elections and our own Congress.
    • anonymous
      This is a really good read. Quite layman-friendly and concise. Without knowing more about the deeper mechanics of the government's procedure, it all (at least) seems quite plausible.

      When I started reading this, I thought I'd be buried under polemic, but this has almost an engineer's eye. An insider looks at the structure he's been within and thinks, "hmmm, we can fix it. Adjust here, here, and here."

      Which is not to say that these bullet-point items would be a hard solution, but they could be tweaks that move us in an *improved* direction.
    Thanks to Erik Hanson for the pointer. With a reminder from Ian Dorsch. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But I'd like to try any approach that hastens the departure of the uglier elements of American political shouting. From the Atlantic.

    "ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED, American voters went to the polls in November 2010 to "take back" their country. Just as they had done in 2008. And 2006. And repeatedly for decades, whether it was Republicans or Democrats from whom they were taking the country back. No matter who was put in charge, things didn't get better. They won't this time, either; spending levels may go down, taxes may go up, budgets will change, but American government will go on the way it has, not as a collective enterprise but as a battle between warring tribes."

You've Got Them All Wrong, Mr. President - 0 views

  • In other words, the White House blamed Democrats' 2010 defeat on the loss of independents, and to win them back, it will try to slow the growth of government, encourage a bipartisan spirit in Washington, and reform the government process by eliminating things like earmarks.
  • Here are some salient features of independents.
  • (1) There is no Party of Independents
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  • (2) Not all independents actually vote
  • (3) Many independents are disguised partisans
  • The Shadow Republicans, who make up 26 percent of independents, are very likely to vote Republican.
  • Shadow Democrats, who make up 21 percent of Pew’s sample, are more affluent and educated than the average Democrat.
  • “A reluctance to confess a party preference,” he writes, “is nothing more than a reflection of the inclination of Americans to prefer to think of themselves as independent-minded and inclined to judge things on the merit.”
  • (4) About one-third of independents are important swing voters
  • It’s fair to characterize them as white working-class voters. Why are they independents and not Republicans and Democrats? According to the Pew poll, both groups believe that “parties care more about special interests than average Americans.”
  • From 1968 through 1994, many white working-class voters in the South and Midwest, alienated by Democratic support for civil rights, abortion rights, and gun control, became partisan Republicans.
  • Many of these voters are susceptible to populist appeals, especially during a downturn. After all, they blame special interests for their plight.
  • What is an effective political response to this group? After the 1994 election, Bill Clinton, faced with massive defection of white working-class voters, adopted a strategy of rhetorical appeasement, declaring that the “era of big government is over.” He also eschewed any new major spending programs. But Clinton was blessed with an economy that, unbeknownst to voters in the 1994 election, was about to enter a boom. It really didn’t matter what Clinton actually did: By November 1996, he could take credit for the economic revival. And the boom was what mattered most to these voters.
  • It’s the actual condition of the economy that wins or loses their votes.
    • anonymous
      The actual condition of the economy matters, but the hallucinated perceptions of the public drive elections.
    The White House thinks that Democrats got drubbed in the election because they lost the support of "independent" voters. Obama's advisers, the Washington Post reported, "are deeply concerned about winning back political independents, who supported Obama two years ago by an eight-point margin but backed Republicans for the House this year by 19 points. To do so, they think he must forge partnerships with Republicans on key issues and make noticeable progress on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to change the ways of Washington."

    By John B. Judis at The New Republic on November 18, 2010.

Justice Stevens on 'Invidious Prejudice' - 0 views

    A great deal of what public figures have said about the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan has been aimed at playing off fear and intolerance for political gain. Former Justice John Paul Stevens of the Supreme Court, on the other hand, delivered one of the sanest and most instructive arguments for tolerance that we have heard in a long time.

    Justice Stevens, who retired at the end of the court's last term, served for two and a half years as an intelligence officer in Pearl Harbor during World War II. In a speech on Thursday in Washington, he confessed his initial negative reaction decades later at seeing dozens of Japanese tourists visiting the U.S.S. Arizona memorial.

    "Those people don't really belong here," he recalled thinking about the Japanese tourists. "We won the war. They lost it. We shouldn't allow them to celebrate their attack on Pearl Harbor even if it was one of their greatest victories."

    But then Justice Stevens said that he recognized his mistake in "drawing inferences" about the group of tourists that might not apply to any of them. "The Japanese tourists were not responsible for what some of their countrymen did decades ago," he said, just as "the Muslims planning to build the mosque are not responsible for what an entirely different group of Muslims did on 9/11."

    Many Muslims who pray in New York City mosques, he added, "may well have come to America to escape the intolerance of radicals like those who dominate the Taliban." Descendants of pilgrims "who came to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecutions" and helped establish our democracy should get that, he said.

    Justice Stevens ended with a powerful message that participants in the debate over the mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan should heed: "Ignorance - that is to say, fear of the unknown - is the source of most invidious prejudice."

    At The New York Times on November 9, 2010.

A Few Election Thoughts - 0 views

    "What I see happening is this: the public is aware, rather inchoately, that things are going badly wrong and that the life they are accustomed to is under threat, but they have no idea what to do. The parties, by and large, have failed to diagnose the roots of the problem, and instead are reflexively proposing to relive their greatest hits of the past. Since the problems of the past are not the problems of the present, these approaches are not working. This is leading both parties into a cycle of over-promising what they can deliver, thus leading to bitter disappointment. "

    By Stuart Staniford at Early Warning on November 4, 2010.

The World Looks at Obama After the U.S. Midterm Election - 0 views

  • U.S. President Barack Obama hopes that the Republicans prove rigidly ideological.
  • John Boehner, already has indicated that he does not intend to play Gingrich but rather is prepared to find compromises. Since Tea Party members are not close to forming a majority of the Republican Party in the House, Boehner is likely to get his way.
  • I’d like to consider the opposite side of the coin, namely, how foreign governments view Obama after this defeat.
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  • There were several major elements to his foreign policy.
  • First, he campaigned intensely against the Bush policy in Iraq, arguing that it was the wrong war in the wrong place.
  • Second, he argued that the important war was in Afghanistan, where he pledged to switch his attention to face the real challenge of al Qaeda.
  • Third, he argued against Bush administration policy on detention, military tribunals and torture, in his view symbolized by the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
  • In a fourth element, he argued that Bush had alienated the world by his unilateralism
  • The European view — or more precisely, the French and German view — was that allies should have a significant degree of control over what Americans do.
  • Thus, in spite of the Nobel Peace Prize in the early days of the romance, the bloom wore off as the Europeans discovered that Obama was simply another U.S. president. More precisely, they learned that instead of being able to act according to his or her own wishes, circumstances constrain occupants of the U.S. presidency into acting like any other president would.
  • Campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, Obama’s position on Iraq consisted of slightly changing Bush’s withdrawal timetable. In Afghanistan, his strategy was to increase troop levels beyond what Bush would consider. Toward Iran, his policy has been the same as Bush’s: sanctions with a hint of something later.
  • Obama seemed to believe the essential U.S. problem with the world was rhetorical. The United States had not carefully explained itself, and in not explaining itself, the United States appeared arrogant.
  • The idea that nations weren’t designed to trust or like one another, but rather pursued their interests with impersonal force, was alien to him. And so he thought he could explain the United States to the Muslims without changing U.S. policy and win the day.
  • It is not that anyone expected his rhetoric to live up to its promise, since no politician can pull that off, but that they see Obama as someone who thought rhetoric would change things. In that sense, he is seen as naive and, worse, as indecisive and unimaginative.
  • While it may seem an odd thing to say, it is true: The American president also presides over the world. U.S. power is such that there is an expectation that the president will attend to matters around the globe not out of charity, but because of American interest.
  • The questions I have heard most often on many different issues are simple: What is the American position, what is the American interest, what will the Americans do? (As an American, I frequently find my hosts appointing me to be the representative of the United States.)
  • I have answered that the United States is off balance trying to place the U.S.-jihadist war in context, that it must be understood that the president is preoccupied but will attend to their region shortly.
    "The 2010 U.S. midterm elections were held, and the results were as expected: The Republicans took the House but did not take the Senate. The Democrats have such a small margin in the Senate, however, that they cannot impose cloture, which means the Republicans can block Obama administration initiatives in both houses of Congress. At the same time, the Republicans cannot override presidential vetoes alone, so they cannot legislate, either. The possible legislative outcomes are thus gridlock or significant compromises."

    By George Friedman at StratFor on November 4, 2010.

A Lost Generation - 0 views

  • This economic downturn structurally resembles the depressions of the 1890s and the 1930s rather than the cyclical recessions that have recurred since World War II. The American people, mired in debt, with one in six lacking full-time employment, are not spending; and businesses, uncertain of demand for their products, are not investing no matter how low interest rates fall. With the Fed virtually powerless, the only way to stimulate private demand and investment is through public spending. Obama tried to do this with his initial stimulus program, but it was watered down by tax cuts, and undermined by decreases in state spending. By this summer, its effect had dissipated.
  • Many voters have concluded that Obama’s stimulus program actually contributed to the rise in unemployment and that cutting public spending will speed a recovery. It’s complete nonsense, as the experience of the United States in 1937 or of Japan in the 1990s demonstrated, but it will guide Republican thinking in Congress, and prevent Obama and the Democrats from passing a new stimulus program.
  • as the Obama administration recognized, much of the new demand will focus on the development of renewable energy and green technology. As the Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans understand, these kinds of industries require government coordination and subsidies. But the new generation of Republicans rejects this kind of industrial policy. They even oppose Obama’s obviously successful auto bailout.
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  • Obama has to share some of the blame. Structural crises like the Civil War or the two Great Depressions present presidents with formidable challenges, but also great opportunities. If they fail, they discredit themselves and their party, as Hoover did after 1929; but if they succeed, as McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt did after 1896 or Franklin Roosevelt did after 1932, they not only help the country, but also create enduring majorities for their party.
  • According to exit polls, 53 percent of voters in House races had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party and only 41 percent had a favorable view. I found this myself in interviewing suburban Philadelphia voters last weekend. Even those who said they were Republicans had grave doubts about what the party stood for and regarded the Tea Partiers as “wackos.”
  • In 2001, Karl Rove believed that George W. Bush had created a new McKinley majority that would endure for decades; and when Obama was elected, many Democrats, including me, thought that he had a chance to create a Roosevelt-like Democratic majority. But instead, like Japan, we’ve had a succession of false dawns, or what Walter Dean Burnham once called an “unstable equilibrium.”
    "Republicans might say it's the re-emergence of a conservative Republican majority, but that's not really what happened. What this election suggests to me is that the United States may have finally lost its ability to adapt politically to the systemic crises that it has periodically faced. The U.S emerged from the Civil War, the depression of the 1890s, World War I, and the Great Depression and World War II stronger than ever-with a more buoyant economy and greater international standing. A large part of the reason was the political system's ability to provide the leadership the country needed. But what this election suggests to me is that this may no longer be the case."

    By John B. Ludis at The New Republic on November 3, 2010.

Obama: After the Election - 0 views

  • That means it is entirely possible that a slew of miscalculations are being made today. One of the most widespread misconceptions about the U.S. political system is that a president who is weak at home is by default weak abroad. This is a belief primarily promulgated by Americans themselves. After all, if one cannot get behind one’s leader, what business does that leader have engaging in global affairs?

    But in reality, a president who is weak at home often wields remarkable power abroad. The U.S. Constitution forces the American president to share domestic power with Congress, so a split government leads to domestic policy gridlock. However, the Constitution also expressly reserves all foreign policy — particularly military policy — for the presidency. In fact, a weak president often has no options before him except foreign policy.

    This is something that the rest of the world repeatedly has failed to grasp. Domestically weakened American presidents have often done more than engage in foreign policy: They have overturned entire international orders. Former U.S. President George W. Bush defied expectations after his 2006 midterm electoral defeat and launched the surge in Iraq, utterly changing the calculus of that war. Clinton launched the Kosovo War, which undid what remained of the Cold War security architecture. Most famously, John Kennedy, whom the Soviets had written off as a weak and naive dilettante who had surrounded himself with incompetent advisers (sound familiar?), gave the Russians their biggest Cold War diplomatic defeat in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    The United States might be distracted and its president domestically weakened, and undoubtedly most of the world will assume that they know what this means. But history tells a very different story, and this president — like his predecessors — is not done just yet.

    "Nov. 2 marked midterm elections in the United States with more than 600 electoral contests, enough of which were resolved in favor of the Republicans to deny the Democrats full control of Congress. The country will be digesting the results and their implications for weeks. What STRATFOR will do now is address this simple fact: U.S. President Barack Obama, whose time in office began with a supportive Congress, has lost his ability to dictate the domestic policy agenda."

    At StratFor on November 3, 2010.

Why Americans Hate the Media - Magazine - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • But while Jennings and his crew were traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by U.S. and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly crossed the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst the Northern soldiers set up an ambush that would let them gun down the Americans and Southerners.

    What would Jennings do? Would he tell his cameramen to "Roll tape!" as the North Kosanese opened fire? What would go through his mind as he watched the North Kosanese prepare to fire?

    Jennings sat silent for about fifteen seconds. "Well, I guess I wouldn't," he finally said. "I am going to tell you now what I am feeling, rather than the hypothesis I drew for myself. If I were with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans."

    Even if it meant losing the story? Ogletree asked.

    Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. "But I do not think that I could bring myself to participate in that act. That's purely personal, and other reporters might have a different reaction."

    • anonymous
      This was a powerful moment that I *still* remember to this day.
  • Jennings was made to feel embarrassed about his natural, decent human impulse. Wallace seemed unembarrassed about feeling no connection to the soldiers in his country's army or considering their deaths before his eyes "simply a story."
  • Meet the Press, moderated by Tim Russert, is probably the meatiest of these programs. High-powered guests discuss serious topics with Russert, who worked for years in politics, and with veteran reporters. Yet the pressure to keep things lively means that squabbling replaces dialogue.
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  • In the 1992 presidential campaign candidates spent more time answering questions from "ordinary people"—citizens in town-hall forums, callers on radio and TV talk shows—than they had in previous years. The citizens asked overwhelmingly about the what of politics: What are you going to do about the health-care system? What can you do to reduce the cost of welfare? The reporters asked almost exclusively about the how: How are you going to try to take away Perot's constituency? How do you answer charges that you have flip-flopped?
  • Earlier in the month the President's performance had been assessed by the three network-news anchors: Peter Jennings, of ABC; Dan Rather, of CBS; and Tom Brokaw, of NBC. There was no overlap whatsoever between the questions the students asked and those raised by the anchors. None of the questions from these news professionals concerned the impact of legislation or politics on people's lives. Nearly all concerned the struggle for individual advancement among candidates.
  • The CBS Evening News profile of Clinton, which was narrated by Rather and was presented as part of the series Eye on America, contained no mention of Clinton's economic policy, his tax or budget plans, his failed attempt to pass a health-care proposal, his successful attempt to ratify NAFTA, his efforts to "reinvent government," or any substantive aspect of his proposals or plans in office. Its subject was exclusively Clinton's handling of his office—his "difficulty making decisions," his "waffling" at crucial moments. If Rather or his colleagues had any interest in the content of Clinton's speech as opposed to its political effect, neither the questions they asked nor the reports they aired revealed such a concern.
  • When ordinary citizens have a chance to pose questions to political leaders, they rarely ask about the game of politics. They want to know how the reality of politics will affect them—through taxes, programs, scholarship funds, wars. Journalists justify their intrusiveness and excesses by claiming that they are the public's representatives, asking the questions their fellow citizens would ask if they had the privilege of meeting with Presidents and senators. In fact they ask questions that only their fellow political professionals care about. And they often do so—as at the typical White House news conference—with a discourtesy and rancor that represent the public's views much less than they reflect the modern journalist's belief that being independent boils down to acting hostile.
  • The subtle but sure result is a stream of daily messages that the real meaning of public life is the struggle of Bob Dole against Newt Gingrich against Bill Clinton, rather than our collective efforts to solve collective problems.
  • The natural instinct of newspapers and TV is to present every public issue as if its "real" meaning were political in the meanest and narrowest sense of that term—the attempt by parties and candidates to gain an advantage over their rivals.
  • when there is a chance to use these issues as props or raw material for a story about political tactics, most reporters leap at it. It is more fun—and easier—to write about Bill Clinton's "positioning" on the Vietnam issue, or how Newt Gingrich is "handling" the need to cut Medicare, than it is to look into the issues themselves.
  • Whether or not that was Clinton's real motive, nothing in the broadcast gave the slightest hint of where the extra policemen would go, how much they might cost, whether there was reason to think they'd do any good. Everything in the story suggested that the crime bill mattered only as a chapter in the real saga, which was the struggle between Bill and Newt.
  • "In some ways it's not even the point," she replied. What mattered was that Clinton "looked good" taking the tough side of the issue. No one expects Cokie Roberts or other political correspondents to be experts on controlling terrorism, negotiating with the Syrians, or the other specific measures on which Presidents make stands. But all issues are shoehorned into the area of expertise the most-prominent correspondents do have:the struggle for one-upmanship among a handful of political leaders.
  • When the Clinton Administration declared defeat in 1994 and there were no more battles to be fought, health-care news coverage virtually stopped too—even though the medical system still represented one seventh of the economy, even though HMOs and corporations and hospitals and pharmaceutical companies were rapidly changing policies in the face of ever-rising costs.
  • Health care was no longer political news, and therefore it was no longer interesting news.
  • In interviews and at the news conferences he conducted afterward Bradley did his best to talk about the deep problems of public life and economic adjustment that had left him frustrated with the political process. Each of the parties had locked itself into rigid positions that kept it from dealing with the realistic concerns of ordinary people, he said.
  • What turned up in the press was almost exclusively speculation about what the move meant for this year's presidential race and the party lineup on Capitol Hill. Might Bradley challenge Bill Clinton in the Democratic primaries? If not, was he preparing for an independent run? Could the Democrats come up with any other candidate capable of holding on to Bradley's seat? Wasn't this a slap in the face for Bill Clinton and the party he purported to lead? In the aftermath of Bradley's announcement prominent TV and newspaper reporters competed to come up with the shrewdest analysis of the political impact of the move. None of the country's major papers or networks used Bradley's announcement as a news peg for an analysis of the real issues he had raised.
  • Every one of Woodruff's responses or questions was about short-term political tactics. Woodruff asked about the political implications of his move for Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. Bradley replied that it was more important to concentrate on the difficulties both parties had in dealing with real national problems.
  • As soon as he finished, Woodruff asked her next question: "Do you want to be President?" It was as if she had not heard a word he had been saying—or couldn't hear it, because the media's language of political analysis is utterly separate from the terms in which people describe real problems in their lives.
  • Regardless of the tone of coverage, medical research will go on. But a relentless emphasis on the cynical game of politics threatens public life itself, by implying day after day that the political sphere is nothing more than an arena in which ambitious politicians struggle for dominance, rather than a structure in which citizens can deal with worrisome collective problems.
  • Fourteen prominent journalists, pollsters, and all-around analysts made their predictions
  • One week later many of these same experts would be saying on their talk shows that the Republican landslide was "inevitable" and "a long time coming" and "a sign of deep discontent in the heartland."
  • But before the returns were in, how many of the fourteen experts predicted that the Republicans would win both houses of Congress and that Newt Gingrich would be speaker? Exactly three.
  • As with medieval doctors who applied leeches and trepanned skulls, the practitioners cannot be blamed for the limits of their profession. But we can ask why reporters spend so much time directing our attention toward what is not much more than guesswork on their part.
  • useless distractions have become a specialty of the political press. They are easy to produce, they allow reporters to act as if they possessed special inside knowledge, and there are no consequences for being wrong.
  • The deadpan restraint with which Kurtz told this story is admirable. But the question many readers would want to scream at the idle correspondents is Why don't you go out and do some work?
  • Why not imagine, just for a moment, that your journalistic duty might involve something more varied and constructive than doing standups from the White House lawn and sounding skeptical about whatever announcement the President's spokesman put out that day?
  • The list could go on for pages. With a few minutes' effort—about as long as it takes to do a crossword puzzle—the correspondents could have drawn up lists of other subjects they had never before "had time" to investigate. They had the time now. What they lacked was a sense that their responsibility involved something more than standing up to rehash the day's announcements when there was room for them on the news.
  • How different the "Better safe than sorry" calculation seems when journalists are involved! Reporters and pundits hold no elected office, but they are obviously public figures. The most prominent TV-talk-show personalities are better known than all but a handful of congressmen.
  • If an interest group had the choice of buying the favor of one prominent media figure or of two junior congressmen, it wouldn't even have to think about the decision. The pundit is obviously more valuable.
  • Had Donaldson as a journalist been pursuing a politician or even a corporate executive, he would have felt justified in using the most aggressive reportorial techniques. When these techniques were turned on him, he complained that the reporters were going too far.
  • Few of his readers would leap to the conclusion that Will was serving as a mouthpiece for his wife's employers. But surely most would have preferred to learn that information from Will himself.
  • ABC News found that eight out of 10 approved of the president's speech. CBS News said that 74 percent of those surveyed said they had a "clear idea" of what Clinton stands for, compared with just 41 percent before the speech. A Gallup Poll for USA Today and Cable News Network found that eight in 10 said Clinton is leading the country in the right direction.

    Nielsen ratings reported in the same day's paper showed that the longer the speech went on, the larger the number of people who tuned in to watch.

  • The point is not that the pundits are necessarily wrong and the public necessarily right. The point is the gulf between the two groups' reactions. The very aspects of the speech that had seemed so ridiculous to the professional commentators—its detail, its inclusiveness, the hyperearnestness of Clinton's conclusion about the "common good"—seemed attractive and worthwhile to most viewers.
  • The difference between the "welcoming committee" and the congressional committees headed by fallen Democratic titans like Tom Foley and Jack Brooks was that the congressmen can be booted out.
  • Movies do not necessarily capture reality, but they suggest a public mood—in this case, a contrast between the apparent self-satisfaction of the media celebrities and the contempt in which they are held by the public.
  • the fact that no one takes the shows seriously is precisely what's wrong with them, because they jeopardize the credibility of everything that journalists do.
  • when all the participants then dash off for the next plane, caring about none of it except the money—when these things happen, they send a message. The message is: We don't respect what we're doing. Why should anyone else?
    "Why has the media establishment become so unpopular? Perhaps the public has good reason to think that the media's self-aggrandizement gets in the way of solving the country's real problems"

    By James Fallows at The Atlantic on February, 1996

Yes, Mr. Kristof, This Is America - 0 views

    "Unfortunately, contemporary Islamophobia is not a stain against the otherwise spotless canvas of American history. If anything, that canvas is filthy and should be acknowledged as such. This, Mr. Kristof, is America: land of the screed, home of the enraged.

    Rather than viewing the "shameful interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the disgraceful refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe" as rare, exceptional tests in American history, we need to view those events as constitutive elements of the American experience. Was America not American prior to the abolishing of slavery? Was America not American prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, during the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the Zoot Suit Riots, or the pursuit of Manifest Destiny? Anti-miscegenation laws were belatedly toppled in the '60s, but today 37% of Americans would not approve of a family member marrying outside of his or her race. Are those people not American?"

    By Garrett Baer at Killing the Buddha on September 20, 2010

Why US Different? - 0 views

    Quoted at OB: "Perhaps it is this extreme tendency for Americans to punish free-riders, while not punishing cooperators, that contributes to Americans having the world's highest worker productivity. American society is also anomalous, even relative to other Western societies, in its low relational focus in work settings, which is reflected in practices such as the encouragement of an impersonal work style, direct (rather than indirect) communication, the clear separation of the work domain from the non-work, and discouragement of friendships at work." Post by Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias on September 22, 2010.

War and the American Republic - 0 views

  • I offer three reasons that I believe, taken together, provide an answer: (a) The demographics of the American military (b) Historical inexperience of war and the world, and (c) The impetus from corporate capitalism.
  • The Demographics of the American Military 
  • The composition of most militaries today, including the U.S., suggests that this is indeed the case. The economic and political elites tend not to serve in the military, but very much dictate its priorities. They increasingly have no skin in the game, and a diminishing sense of its human cost.
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  • Thucydides clearly cautioned against such trends: ‘The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.’
  • Historical Inexperience of War and the World
  • The last real war on the U.S. mainland was the Civil War, 150 years ago. Not since then has the U.S. experienced war at home.
  • Europeans are also shrewder than Americans about non-Western societies—a byproduct of Europe’s geography, colonial empires, and in some ways, their salad-bowl model of immigration
  • and of this Kantian insight: ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.’ Keener than the Americans that is, whose relative naivete, insularity, and evangelical instincts (religious, political, and economic) only make them more vulnerable to demagogues who cry wolf about threats from foreign cultures.
  • The Impetus from Corporate Capitalism
  • Not usually through boardroom conspiracies, which surely happen, but by staying true to its dominant class character, like an animal who cannot help being any other way, whose one authentic instinct is to sustain and engorge itself. To that end, it uses every tool at its disposal.
  • One such tool is the news media, which has changed drastically in recent decades.
  • It tends to employ company men and women who uphold their bosses’ values and viewpoints—not from coercion but consent, in exchange for some of the spoils.
  • War often boosts the economy (especially via the military-industrial complex) and is usually good for the media.
    "War is always spoken of as an option; to be averse to it is taken as a sign of weakness. Indeed, why are the Americans so much more jingoistic today than, say, the Europeans?

    I offer three reasons that I believe, taken together, provide an answer: (a) The demographics of the American military (b) Historical inexperience of war and the world, and (c) The impetus from corporate capitalism. "

    By Namit Arora at 3 Quarks Daily on September 13, 2010.

Obama Is Making Bush's Big Mistake on Russia - 0 views

  • Putin's treatment of Clinton raises doubts about the Barack Obama administration's strategy toward Russia, which has focused on building up the supposedly moderate President Dmitri Medvedev, reportedly one of the few foreign leaders Obama has bonded with, as a counterweight to Putin.
    • anonymous
      If true, this could be a grevious mistake, as Russia has shown a historic knack for tightly managed foreign policy under strong leaders (which Putin is).
  • After his first meeting with then-President Putin in June 2001, George W. Bush famously said: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul."
    • anonymous
      That was hilarious, even at the time. My sincere hope was that the statement was intended for the domestic audience (to give comfort), because if it was for the international audience, then Bush very likely came off as very, very naive.
  • And now, we're hearing that Obama believes he has a different and promising relationship with Medvedev -- one independent of Putin.
    • anonymous
      My hope is that *this* is a conservative, careful way to say that Obama will give the benefit of the doubt. While I have only epheremal reasons to think this, Obama seems a bit shrewder than Bush.
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  • For all his talk of reform -- and so far it is just that, talk -- Medvedev still claims that Russia is a working democracy that protects the liberties of individual Russians despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
    • anonymous
      Which is as laughable as that earlier Bush quote about "sensing his soul."
  • On Medvedev's watch, Georgia has been invaded and Abkhazia and South Ossetia effectively annexed, and Russia has continued to threaten its neighbors and put forward a "new security architecture" whose obvious goal is to undermine NATO's role in Europe.
    • anonymous
      Aggressively reclaiming Russia's near abroad is still their aim. Can you blame them? What's important here is that Medvedev really *is* tightly in line with Putin. It's best to think of his presidency as the continuation of the Putin administration, not a thing that's distinct from it.
  • In short, there is little reason to believe that basing a "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations on increased personal ties between presidents Medvedev and Obama will buy Obama any particular advantage. If anything, doing so reinforces Moscow's incentive to continue the "good cop, bad cop" routine.
    Tagline: "Remember when George W. Bush thought he could get things done by making nice with Vladimir Putin? Barack Obama is repeating the same error with Dmitry Medvedev. "

    By Jamie Fly and Gary Schmitt in Foreign Policy on March 22, 2010
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