Edward Snowden or Miley Cirus: Remembering 2013

In years to come what will I most remember about 2013?  Or who?   I figure it will be either Edward Snowden or Miley Cirus.  It’s not really a close race, but now that I’ve linked them together, when I remember one I will likely remember the other.   I appreciate mnemonics more each day.

The Snowden EP

The Snowden EP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will remember Snowden more because the ramifications of his actions will keep giving like a Mother Teresa.   They will prompt a cottage industry of analysts who will ponder for years their significance.   Miley Cirus not so much.

But she did show me that a surprisingly long tongue and grinding hips employed in a distasteful way called twerking (I learned) in prime time can prove a surprisingly good career move.   Or at least celebrity move.

The more people like myself tut tutted, the more her celebrity star shifted into warp drive.  Not reaching the galaxy of a Kim Kardashian as yet, but really who has?  That’s a creation unto itself.  Miley shows promise.

But back to Snowden.

My sense of Snowden’s lasting significance was accentuated by  Day Six, an NPR a program Saturday devoted to looking back over 2013.    The whole show is worth listening to as a thoughtful look over the past year, but it was the segment about Snowden that struck the deepest chord.  He was awarded Disruptor of the Year status – ” people whose work and ideas challenge convention and shake up the status quo.”

In essence what Snowden did was to expose our program of intelligence as existing on a scale larger than most could imagine.  The intelligence “community” here and in Britain screamed bloody murder as to the harm this did, in  particular to alerting terrorists as to some of our methods, which they might better evade as a result.   However, that immediate cost in protecting our “free society” from danger without must be judged in conjunction with other ramifications that seem to protect this freedom from danger within.  Four of them  in the order listed in the program are:

Four:   Snowden’s actions pitted big tech vs. the government.   NASA relied on information gleaned from  companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook, often without their knowledge.  Since  Snowden’s revelations,  these companies have teamed up to speak out against NASA overreach and to lobby for reforms.

Three:   News organizations had long suspected government surveillance of their activities.   Snowden made th0se suspicions concrete and has changed the way journalists see their work and what they need to do to protect it.

Two:   Other countries have passed legislation restricting the operation of American companies which seem “in bed” with NASA.   Meanwhile core technologies for international business are being developed and American companies might be left out in the cold.   This could be a negative consequence but might be turned positive if our companies can demonstrate an unwillingness to be pawns of NASA as indicated in point Four above.

One:   Snowden ignited a movement united by the issue of privacy.  An organization called Stop Watching Us has been created which links a wide spectrum of groups concerned with the issue of privacy, from Tea Party types to Islamic groups.  I can’t imagine a more surprising coalition, but our privacy seems likely to benefit.

Together these points suggest to me that however one might judge Edward Snowden the man, his actions may well be looked back upon in years to come as protecting our free society more than endangering it.  My slim summaries are not adequate to give a sense of this nine minute radio segment, but I hope they entice you to listen to it at this link.

And if you want to remember 2013 forever, envision Edward Snowden and Miley Cirus twerking.

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A Two Year Budget: A Small Christmas Gift from Washington

United States Capitol

United States Capitol (Photo credit: Jack in DC)

While I have liberal leanings, I am more of a pragmatist than a liberal despite what my more conservative friends might think.  This blog is titled American Titanic because I think this nation is navigating through a thick field of icebergs which will likely become more dangerous  in decades to come.

However, much of the danger lies in our inability to steer the ship, some pulling left and others right.  Unable to pull together, we are propelled by our own momentum towards bleaker days straight ahead.

While it is a tepid agreement, the recent passage of a two year budget compromise worked out by Senator Patty Murray (D.) and Representative Paul Ryan (R.) is quite significant given the lack of bipartisan efforts on anything significant over the past few years.  Part of its importance is the bill was passed by a huge bipartisan majority in the Republican controlled House, where hardly anything passes except bills to repeal Obamacare over and over and over again.

Of course, a close look at the bill raises questions, reveals some fiscal smoke and mirrors, including supposed cuts to come later, and pleases no one.  But that’s the way it is with political compromises (for details see Ezra Klein at bottom of post).

Paul Ryan might benefit most from this bargain, especially when it comes to the next presidential election, as he has now shown an ability to get something through congress, while his likely fellow Republican senatorial contenders for THE BIG JOB  – Marco Rubio, Paul Cruz and Rand Paul – all voted against this deal, pleasing their base but also feeding into the naysayer image the Republican party has developed during the Obama years.   For a  Republican to win the White House in 2016 he will have to figure out a way to assuage the base while also attracting much wider support.   With the passage of this bill, Paul Ryan has shown an ability to do just that.

The value to us all is the bill reduces uncertainty in our economic climate in that we know the government will stay open for the next two years, and almost anything that shores up certainty is good news to the business community.   Even when it comes to the much maligned Obamacare, I conclude from various sources that most businesses believe they could thrive under Obamacare if they knew exactly what it is and how it will effect them.

Of course, there remains another bullet to be removed from the gun and that’s the potential stoppage in raising the debt ceiling February 7, or so.   While this raising used to be more or less a matter of course, the Republican tactic of making it a bargaining chip has been another cause of uncertainly since they took over the House in 2010.

From all the comments I’ve seen, they are demanding some kind of budgetary cut in spending in order to raise the ceiling once again, while also repeating the claim that we would be fools to default on our debts and cast doubt upon “the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Though that may seem illogical, their logic is while of course we must raise the debt ceiling, since our debt is our biggest problem long term it only makes sense to shave off a little spending in the process.  As such, they try to appear reasonable making President Obama seem unreasonable in his  unwillingness to negotiate.  If we all agree the debt ceiling must be raised per usual, there should not be any negotiating, but Republicans constantly gloss over that fact.   They believe, and I agree with them, that a majority of Americans like the idea (in the abstract) of less government spending and Republicans continue to play that card even when it doesn’t suit the rules of the game.

How that plays out could get interesting, but my guess is that some sort of deal will be made  whereby the Republicans can claim a spending reduction while the president can claim no important concessions were made.

This game has been played a few times since 2010 and the ceiling has always been raised, so perhaps this isn’t the big deal that it seems on the surface.   Maybe business people interpret it as only more political theater.   I hope so, but that assumes the key actors don’t get clumsy, fall over each other  and somehow ruin the play.   That really would ratchet up uncertainty to new levels.

But let’s not dwell too much on that until next year.

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P. S. – If you want a simple break down of the budget deal,  check out Ezra Klein’s summation in the Washington Post Wonk blog.  Also,  Treasury Secretary Jack Lew makes a plea for  settling the debt ceiling issue before February, for those who want to warm up for the next congressional episode of kabuki theater.

NELSON MANDELA: A World Class Hero?

Human beings, of which I am one, yearn for heroes, men and women who far  exceed common  human expectations.   Even a horse might suffice.  I have heard that Secretariat’s stunning 31 length win in the 1973  Belmont Stakes brought golf legend  Jack Nicholas to tears watching the event on TV.

In a world which Shakespeare summed up so well with “what fools these mortals be,” to watch the seemingly impossible unfold before our eyes, can sharply elevate our sense of human possibility.  Great deeds, especially when they add up to a life of greatness, inspire us to be more than we had imagined.

Nelson Mandela

Even great words alone can do it.

When Jack Kennedy said:   “Ask not what your country can do for you….” he  inspired many to think in terms of doing something for our country, not just for ourselves.   Perhaps you had to be around at the time to appreciate the impact of those words, which exceeded what he was able to accomplish in a life cut short.   

Unfortunately Kennedy had a side most of us did not know at the time, that of a womanizer, which has tarnished those earlier shining images of Camelot. Like most heroes, he revealed “feet of clay.”

Our heroes disappoint us because we want them to be angels, but they are all too human.   As such, I have been slow to join the chorus of adulation for Nelson Mandela even though I have long held him in high regard.  But from the perspective of a casual observer.

Now I have taken a harder look and his stature remains undiminished.

The first thing cynics have argued is that he was a terrorist prior to being jailed for 27 years.   However, former Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has countered those assertions on his web site with a description of the tyranny blacks faced in South Africa at the time of his arrest, comparing him favorably to our founding fathers, a description that has prompted hostile reactions from the right. (1*)

Others might point out that South Africa remains a particularly violent country with many racial /social problems, but Tim Stanley describes in the Telegraph (UK) ways in which life in South Africa has improved as a result of Mandela’s leadership.  Also, it is not just what Mandela did, but what he did not do that is important.   He left office after one term instead of consolidating his power in perpetuity, the norm of the successful African “strong man.”

The miracle is that South Africa has not gone the way of Zimbabwe (previously called Rhodesia), where “President” Robert Mugabe has essentially been dictator since 1987, driving whites out of the country and crippling a once healthy economy while benefiting few beyond his closest supporters.

To round out the portrait, I suggest this piece from FoxNews.com by Roelof Frederik “Pik” Botha, a former South African Foreign Minister who  served under President Mandela.   Previously, he had been a member of the ruling white party for years, often tasked with defending apartheid to other nations.  I saw Mike Wallace interview him last Saturday and was struck by his personal admiration and affection for Nelson Mandela.

On the show, Botha admitted Mandela was no angel, but added there are none.   Still, when it comes to human beings, especially in the political arena, Nelson Mandela seems as close as we can get.

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(*1)   Newt Gingrich said he was surprised by the hostile comments stirred by his “few kind words”about Mandela.  That surprise seems feigned.  He knows very well that the far right of his party would not appreciate praise for a black revolutionary in Africa, even one who brought his country together.  They barely tolerate a black president in this country.

Megan McArdle: Welcome Aboard My Blogroll

Megan McArdle 4 by David Shankbone

Megan McArdle 4 by David Shankbone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a conservative friend who I often take hikes with on weekends and occasionally stop at a bar, or two, along the way.

We discuss politics a bit en route, but when we do he often shuts up and I notice a subtle Cheshire cat grin emerge, implying he doesn’t agree but doesn’t want to argue about it.   It seems to me that if he and I can’t have good political discussions, I wonder who can….that is, can have discussions with those who differ fundamentally on various issues.

I keep trying to find a common ground opinion maker to read and discuss, people who consider themselves conservative, but these days tend to be seen by their party as RINOs – Republican In Name Only, just in case you aren’t familiar with the term.

In contrast, I like to think of them as C. C.’s, Conversational Conservatives,  those I imagine being able to have good conversations with, columnists and/or bloggers like David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, and Josh Barro.

However, none of them suit my friend enough to read more than a paragraph or two, so I asked for a suggestion and he came up with Megan McArdle.  I vaguely recalled reading something by her that seemed thoughtful, so I did some investigating and found, among other things, she has a blog and in reading a few of her posts I was impressed.

McCardle seems a moderate libertarian,  more thoughtful than ideological.  In fact, she seems as comfortable in criticizing Senator Rand Paul as she does President Obama.    My friend tells me that David Brooks called her the most influential conservative blogger of 2012, which to me is another feather in her cap.

And most importantly, I hope she opens up some better discussions with my conservative friend who I don’t think will read this post unless I ask him to.   I have added her to my Blogroll (to the upper left).   She will replace the Nate Silver 538Blog, which has become dormant (as far as I can tell) as he seems to be in the process of establishing his own web site separate from its previous home at the NY Times.

Wikipedia has plenty about her if you want more on her background.

If you haven’t checked out the other blogs on my Blogroll, you might find them interesting, too.  Actually, with the loss of Silver (a liberal but a researcher not an advocate) and the addition of McArdle, there is now a preponderance of right leaning views on my Blogroll, which I think of as a counterbalance to my left leaning biases.