Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Have Your Cake...

The Lexington Herald Leader nails the profound hypocrisy of the Tea Party and all who benefit from their, at best, misguided or, at worst, cynical, anti-government campaign.

In fairness, many of us are guilty of wanting the benefits of something — whether it's board certification or full campaign coffers — without paying the price.

Like the Gulf Coast residents who want government off their backs, until a hurricane or oil spill comes along.

Or the Farm Bureau that wants government off the farm, except for the mailbox which is always open to subsidy checks.

Or politicians who rail against out-of-control spending but show up to take credit when a ribbon is cut or oversized check presented.

Or all the rest of us, who resent the chunk of change that government extracts from our pockets but want smooth roads, good schools, police and fire protection, national security, personal security in old age, free markets governed by laws, student loans, flood walls, lakes and parks and the list goes on.

The Tea Party movement, of which Paul is both a leader and beneficiary, feeds the comforting illusion that we can have all we've come to expect from government without paying for it. We buy into this illusion at our own peril.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friedman and False Equivalency

Tom Friedman has a typically thoughtful and well-written piece in today's New York Times.  But he perpetuates what I hate most about "serious" pundits.  It is this false equivalency that asserts "both parties" are wrong or contribute equally to a problem.  In so doing, I believe the "serious" pundit positions him or herself above it all and superior in knowledge or motives to those engage in the grubby business of actually making policy.   This approach also diminishes the possibility of any constructive advancement of the debate or policy change by essentially absolving the true culprits of any unique responsibility for the positions they hold.  So, here's Friedman in his Olympian declarations:
We cannot fix what ails America unless we look honestly at our own roles
in creating our own problems. We — both parties — created an awful
set of incentives that encouraged our best students to go to Wall Street
to create crazy financial instruments instead of to Silicon Valley to
create new products that improve people’s lives. We — both parties —
created massive tax incentives and cheap money to make home mortgages
available to people who really didn’t have the means to sustain them.
And we — both parties — sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much
oil as possible at the cheapest price.
He's just wrong.  It's not "both parties."  For the most part, he describes the logical outcomes of the conservative policies that have held prominence since Ronald Reagan's Administration.  The fact is that one party is actively trying to address these problems and the other party either denies their existence or simply obstructs solutions for political reasons.    So, here's Friedman later in his piece:
We need to make our whole country more sustainable. So let’s pass an
energy-climate bill that really reduces our dependence on Middle East
oil. Let’s pass a financial regulatory reform bill that really reduces
the odds of another banking crisis. Let’s get our fiscal house in order,
as the economy recovers. And let’s pass an immigration bill that will
enable us to attract the world’s top talent and remain the world’s
leader in innovation.
Let's see, now.  Who is trying to enact the legislation he says we need and who's blocking it?

Only by calling out the obstructionists (read: Republicans) can we really move the policy.  But Friedman prefers his posture a an objective observer, above it all, damning both houses, and accomplishing nothing.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

U.S. Wins World Cup Game 1-1!

I'm not a passionate soccer fan, but I attended a party to watch a soccer game that I won't soon forget.  Like millions of other Americans, I watched the U.S. team beat the odds and tie the UK in the first round of the World Cup.  Unlike those millions of other Americans, however, I was fortunate enough to watch the game with the family of the undisputed hero of the previous time these two teams 1950.  In that game, the U.S. team beat the odds, as well.  But those odds were astronomical and the U.S. actually won.  It was and remains the biggest upset in World Cup history.  And the winning goal in that 1-0 game was scored by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian immigrant who was working his way toward an accounting degree at Columbia University by washing dishes.  His achievement, which rocked the soccer world, was virtually ignored in the country on whose behalf he performed his heroic feat.....until recently.

The great tragedy of Joe Gaetjens was not that he was ignored by the country for which he played.  It was vastly greater than that.  Watch the video below to understand the full story.  In fact, Joe Gaetjens was idolized by the people of Haiti and was recognized for his achievement by the people of Haiti.  However, while he was very non-political, his brothers were active among those opposed to the ruthless, vicious and corrupt dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier.  As a result of the political activities of his family, he was killed.  Watch the video below for the full story:

OK, now wipe away the tears and let's move to a happier story.Today, the Gaetjens family gathered to watch the first game played by the U.S. and the U.K. in the World Cup since that game in 1950.  It was a festive occasion, hosted by my friend, Jean Gaetjens, who is Joe Gaetjens nephew.  Also attending was Leslie Gaetjens, Joe's son, who is featured in the video above.  Leslie is a teacher in the DC public schools and coaches multiple sports, ironically not including soccer.  He's a very mild-mannered, articulate man who, while bearing some scars from the loss of his father, is clearly gratified by the belated recognition his father is gaining 60 years later.  For me, it was deeply moving to be with the Gaetjens on this special day.

And while Joe died too young and in an egregiously unjust way, one can imagine him and the brother who joined him recently enjoying the show together.

To the right is a picture of me and Leslie wearing our commemorative t-shirts.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Best Before 9: Buying Happiness

When I hear conservatives raise the horrific specter of European-style socialism in Obama's agenda, I say, "Bring it on."  I work in a company that has offices all over the world, so I get get to see how European-style socialism works.  It's frightening.  8 weeks of vacation, complete healthcare coverage, childcare benefits, generous retirment.  Oh the horror!

But then they say, "But look at their GDP."  Or "Our productivity is so much higher."  And I say, "what does our higher GDP buy us?"  It seems to me that wealth is a means to an end, not the end itself.  Once you have a good quality of life, the marginal benefit of increased wealth diminishes.

Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times describes a very positive trend in western economic thought which says that money isn't everything.
Research suggests that, once a certain level of comfort has been attained, there is no connection between greater wealth and greater happiness. It is also hard to think of a moral philosopher – not even Adam Smith – who argued that the pursuit of wealth should be an end in itself. Slogans such as “Poverty sucks” and “The one who dies with the most toys wins” are bumper stickers favoured by junior investment bankers, rather than quotes from the great philosophers.