Thursday, January 29, 2009

Good reads

For those interested in racial politics in the US, I highly recommend spending some time browsing Slate spin-off "The Root". I read a bunch of good articles in short order, even though I disagreed with most of them in part. (Which is natural, I'm just being pedantically clear.) But their analyses are, from my point of view, succinct, eloquent, relatively comprehensive in terms of at least touching on the major elements of the story in question, and insightful in a way that makes what may be opaque about African American perspective clear.

So. Read them. Now. Especially D. (Just cuz she's expressed interest in this area and these seem like better than average further primers.)

Addressing and Undressing the Race Problem, Charlayne Hunter-Gaul

A Nash'nul Conversashun 'Bout Race? O-Tay, Jack "Ironically Named" White

The GOP's Next (Black) Idea?, Casey Lartigue

Grand White Party, Dayo Olopade (and the subtitle here bears repeating, perhaps: "Can the Republicans get down with the brown?"

I read these in reverse order that you see here, which I only mention because they seemed especially lucid in that order, but that might be just me.

I recommend browsing around the rest of the Root: I don't like all of their articles, but their average is pretty high quality -- slightly higher than Slate probably. Indeed, "The Root" probably looks something like the print version of what I think NPR's News & Notes should be like (instead of being like a NPR's "All Things Considered" -- or worse yet, like a CNN news/talk show -- with black people. The range of views on N&N is approximately the same as on ATC, and the analyses seem to me to be often be as facile; what's the use of having African American voices if they sound (in types and range of questions) pretty much like Noah Adams and Linda Werthheimer and Tom Ashbrook talking?) I wrote in comments that "mainstream" Slate should have The Root writers and XX Factor Fraysters write the actual articles -- both seem to have better analyses than many of Slate's (and certainly NPR) regulars. (I'm looking at you, David Plotz on the Gabfest.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Walk like a New Dealer

(offensive version of this title: Walk like FDR)

Another, wait for it... Slate article, this time about Obama's Economic Stimulus Package. According to the figures from the Congressional Budget Office (as I've seen reported at least), only half of the hundreds of billions to be spent will be spent in the next two years; in the article Tim Noah (J-fave) points out that only one tenth of it will be spent during the current fiscal year (of which over half is still left). And supposedly, about one eighth will go to corporate goodies that do nothing for the economy (much less the Johanna the Average Person). (From Noah: "$212 billion [of the $816 billion plan] will be given out as tax cuts (of which close to half are corporate goodies of dubious value to economic recovery).)

Noah compares this to FDR's administration, and notes that he created in months the number of jobs Obama proposes to create in years, by directly contracting people in Public Works rather than through 3rd party (private) contracts -- that is, he didn't outsource, as Obama plans to. I'm sure there are good arguments for outsourcing* -- or at least politically rational ones -- but Noah's conclusion seems to be that effectiveness is not one of these arguments (with which I'd tend to agree). Noah observes that the program listed as an example of why the government must go slowly and carefully here is a program loaning money to auto companies for energy efficient vehicles, of which no money has been spent; Noah hypothesizes this is an example of why this is not the time to privately subcontract the work of creating jobs.

Considering the Republican/Conservative/Libertarian orthodoxy that FDR a) only incidentally helped end the recession, b) FDR didn't really affect the Depression, or c) FDR prolonged the Depression through his programs that didn't work such as Public Works representing counterproductive government intervention, I can't imagine, even in these more pro-government-intervention times that it would be terribly politically feasible for Obama to directly contract a bunch of Americans for Public Works projects as Employees of the United States Government. I don't even really blame him, politically. But it rather seems like "business as usual" in that, if one agrees with the Slate analysis or the proposition that FDR helped end the Depression, it presents "business as usual" and "non-change that we cannot believe in" to settle for an approach that will be inefficient and ineffective because an effective solution is a politically treacherous one.

* Of no import whatsoever, I note here that from my understanding, "terceirização" is the Brazilian Portuguese term for outsourcing/subcontracting. (Lit. "thirdization")

If I had world enough and time... impulse to back-blog and catch up on any number of useful blog topics would be divine.

Also, I don't and so it's not.

So rather than weighing in on the weighty hot topics of the moment, let me weigh in on one weighty oft-hot topic that slips in and out of primary focus in the American mind: health care.

In brief, a good article at Slate argues that, gee, this is another case where market competition can drive extremely bad results without careful, careful planning. The point the authors make in this article is that, without restraint and (government) involvement, the health care industry would naturally and has become a competition not for best health outcomes, but for most lucrative patients -- those illnesses with the highest profit margin. So, apparently, cancer is a winner, even though diabetes may kill you just as dead, it's a B-list malady. And commonplace emergency room problems? Hypertension? General medicine? Please -- Kathy Griffin don't have nothing on them.

"The market" as the Fourth member of the Holy Christian Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and Invisible Hand) seems to be fading fast... hopefully, it will be weak enough soon that, as an ideology, we can drive a stake through its heart.

As my graduate advisor said a class he teaches each year, (to paraphrase) "Markets exist and are good at certain things. It is pure faith, an ideology, to say that it is good at all things and always yields the correct answers -- treating it as an omniscient and omnipotent force is no different than religion, and is not a scientific approach."