Weekend update

Memorial Day long weekend update here in the States. Let’s see what I’ve got for you:

I’ve been watching old episodes of MTV show Daria (now on DVD, don’tcha know?), reading the New York Times Magazine‘s controversial feature on British pop star M.I.A., and enjoying Katy Perry’s blissfully vapid new single “California Gurls.”


Malia for NY Times columnist

Tom Friedman had a rather silly column in the Times today; silly because it relies on one of my least favourite rhetorical devices. That being the “Out of the mouth of babes…” argument.

Responding to an Obama speech this past Thursday, in which the President told of his daughter Malia interrupting him during his morning shave to ask, “Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?” Obama was telling a story about his family to make normalise his reaction to the crisis, but Friedman decides it’s an opportune time to argue:

Obama has to think like a kid. Kids get it. They ask: Why would we want to stay dependent on an energy source that could destroy so many birds, fish, beaches and ecosystems before the next generation has a chance to enjoy them? Why aren’t we doing more to create clean power and energy efficiency when so many others, even China, are doing so? And, Daddy, why can’t you even mention the words “carbon tax,” when the carbon we spill into the atmosphere every day is just as dangerous to our future as the crude oil that has been spilling into the gulf?

What kids rarely get, however, is how nervous grown ups get when they think their job might disappear. Or how more expensive petrol and electricity prices will make it harder to provide those kids with the clothing and education they need to make it to the future when they’ll have to be worrying about rising sea-levels. Particularly when those grown-ups live in cities planned by the government for decades to take advantage of cheap and plentiful resources, cities that don’t have public transport to switch to when driving gets expensive.

Kids also don’t think about how to set a carbon limit low enough to make a cap and trade scheme work, or whether it’s worth pursuing a carbon tax when doing so might find you voted out of office because grown ups get scared by the “tax” word, especially when a carbon tax might be too easily escapable to properly enforce.

This doesn’t mean it’s not important to take action on climate change, and at a much faster pace than Congress and the Obama Administration are doing right now. It also doesn’t mean that voters are wrong to be concerned about a cap and trade scheme killing jobs (it will create them, though not always for all the people who lost them), costing money (it will raise money and have little effect on economic growth), and properly crafted rebates can reduce the impact on low-income earners.

But when taking action on climate change, both to achieve effective results and make that action politically viable, the worst thing in the world would be to simplify the issue the way Friedman does here. Voters have concerns about the way they might be affected by new plans to combat global warming, and instead of pretending the issue is straightforward, environmentalists need to assuage those fears. Sure, Friedman doesn’t literally believe the President’s daughter should take over her father’s position, but the argument he is making is no better. It trivialises an issue that deserves serious thought, not vague prescriptions.

Weekend update

More of an end-of-the-weekend update, really.

I haven’t been watching the Lost finale, but I hear plenty of folks out there have. Did I miss much? (Tolstoy-esque teen soaps are more my sort of thing.)

Stuntin’ like my daddy

Close observers of American politics will be familiar with Ron Paul, the Republican Congressman for Texas’s 12th District and long-shot candidate in the GOP Presidential primary in 2008. Paul is known best for his ideological rigidity (or, if you prefer, his commitment to his principles), his intense libertarian conservatism, and the avid fan base those qualities have inspired. To be very simplistic about it, he was the Tea Party Congressman before the Tea Party existed.

Tonight Paul-brand conservatism took a step toward establishing a D.C. dynasty, when Kentucky Republicans overwhelmingly nominated Paul’s son Rand as their candidate to replace the retiring Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY). Unsurprisingly given his pedigree, Rand has been embraced by the GOP, especially the anti-tax Tea Party folks. Rand has embraced them right on back; “I have a message, a message from the Tea Party … that is loud and clear and does not mince words,” he said in his victory speech tonight. “We’ve come to take our government back.” He then went on to savage Obama’s participation in last year’s Copenhagen summit on climate change. Continue reading

Weekend update

A bit late in the game this one; a Sunday afternoon update, if you will.

I’ll be reading the Sunday Times, watching this great use of tilt shift photography, and listening to the Top 25 Organized Noize Songs of All Time.

Looking in the wrong place

One of the things that became very obvious to me while working in Washington D.C., even though  is not obvious at all when looking in from the outside, is the great influence Congress has in driving American government. Outside observers, particularly international ones, tend to focus their attention on the White House. But 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW is not really the political engine room we think it is. I was reminded of this when reading an Ezra Klein post this week that looked back on health care reform:

But what was remarkable about health-care reform was how many Democrats wanted to vote for it. That basic desire to see the bill passed persisted through conservative pressure, grim polls, Scott Brown’s election, painful compromises, and much more. And at the end of the day, even the holdouts seemed to want the bill passed: Conservatives like Ben Nelson and Bart Stupak and Mary Landrieu and many others were willing to cut the deal so they could vote for the bill. The bill wasn’t exactly a political winner for any of them, but when it came down to it, they said “aye.” Liberals like Anthony Weiner and Bernie Sanders were willing to accept a “compromise of a compromise of a compromise of a compromise.”

The White House gets some credit for brokering those deals. Congressional leadership gets even more. But none of it would have been possible if elected Democrats didn’t actually want to get health-care reform done.

Of course, health care reform was an issue on which the White House was very careful not to play too hands-on a role with, and the determination of Congressional leaders to see it through to the end played a big part of the reason Democrats were eventually able to succeed. But the entire two months I was in D.C., seeing the bill buffeted by attacks and bolstered by negotiations, the institution doing the day-to-day heavy lifting was indeed Congress. When trying to understand American politics, and why the country’s politicians – from freshman representatives to the President himself – do what they do, it’s important to remember that while the man in charge of it all is the bloke in the Oval Office, the folks making it all happen are in the legislative branch. And when legislation relies on compromises between men and women from Georgia and Juneau, Florida and Phoenix, Upstate New York and Uptown New Orleans, the results are going to look different to what would result from the direction of the man who wins the general election held every four years.

Old folks talkin bout back in my day

…well homie this is my day.

President Obama using his Blackberry

Ta-Nehisi Coates has had a couple posts this week critiquing some comments Obama made at a commencement speech at Hampton University about new technology. Basically, the President got his Grampa Simpson on and griped to the graduates about their new-fangled technology that he doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to understand, and was probably a tool of Satan anyway. Or something like that:

With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.

Nerds didn’t like that, and like Coates said, it’s a bit silly on Obama’s part: “For my part, I think it’s a bad idea to brag about your lack of knowledge of any of these things. There’s nothing inherently more threatening about an X-Box than the movie theater.” Especially considering this is a president with a Twitter account and a widely reported Blackberry addiction.

But really, this little dust up says a lot more about America than it does about Obama. Sure, the president is acting like an old fuddy-duddy, but since when have presidents not been old fuddy-duddies? They are, by definition, the man; the definition of institutional authority. We’re only two decades removed from a president wowed by new inventions like the supermarket scanner. That a few techy folks are getting upset because Obama isn’t quite as down as we might hope indicates just how high this Jay-Z-listening president has raised the bar.