Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Deficit “Deal” Is Too Late

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The debt talks are the last hurrah of a dysfunctional Congress. (It’s difficult, incidentally, to write a blog that commits to talking civilly about difficult issues when the primary actors themselves are so uncivil.)

As we fritter away the last few minutes before the debt ceiling deadline, it looks like a last minute McConnell-Boehner-Obama deal will fall into place. Frankly, it’s too late. We have spent a month playing at brinkmanship with the full faith and credit of the American people.

Whether or not we come up with some absurd deal today, we have already said our word is no good. The federal debt – already authorized by Congress and incurred under a different president – represents the American people’s implicit endorsement of the government’s right to govern. A default is a default on our implied contract. If we cannot keep our word, we should not bother giving it.

Room for Solutions: Americans Love Social Security, Don’t Love Paying for It

As of this morning it looks like a “compromise”  is emerging with no increase in revenues and $2 trillion in cuts. But it’s pretty much too late.

Here’s the biggest laugh of it all: This is an argument between a moderate president and a very conservative House of Representatives. President Obama showed himself willing to make billions of dollars in cuts to entitlement programs – that’s a compromise. Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans are unwilling to accept any revenue increases. That’s not a compromise. This is not to question the validity of their positions – merely to characterize their willingness (or perhaps ability) to compromise.

Our system of governance is based on an oppositional model, with the assumption that differing sides will broker deals that are in the best interests of the American people. Checks and balances between different branches and different groups are the lifeblood of real democracy that represents a diverse population.

Our representatives are stuck to their parties and their campaign promises – with no ability to exercise good judgement, broker deals or recognize the validity of others’ views.

The American people are reaping the consequences of dysfunctional leadership and go-go-go spending in both our individual lives and our country’s lives. We take out mortgages on homes we can’t afford and we want social security, medicare and military dominance. If you want services, you will have to pay for them. I expect the American people will not like the consequences of $2 trillion in spending cuts, even if they say they want them.

Image Credit: Aidan Jones on Flickr

Wondering How Aid Could Be Bad for Development?

This NY Times article on the effects of aid spending in Uganda is essential reading for those interested in aid and development.
“Maternal Deaths Focus Harsh Light On Uganda,” Celia Dugger, July 29, 2011

For every dollar of foreign aid given to the governments of developing nations for health, the governments decreased their own health spending by 43 cents to $1.14, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found in a 2010 study. According to the institute’s updated estimates, Uganda put 57 cents less of its own money toward health for each foreign aid dollar it collected.…

Why isn’t this a deal?

As of right now (7/24/11), per Politico, Democratic leaders are putting together a medium deficit reduction package ($2.7 trillion) with no revenue increases. From my external perspective, it looks like they’re rolling over on their insistence on revenue increases in order to try to put together a compromise package that will be broadly acceptable (I welcome alternative interpretations).

This seems like a big deal to me – giving up on the revenue increases but still achieving a large scale deficit reduction – but the size of the font of the headline on does not seem to reinforce my interpretation. Republican leaders are working on putting together a shorter term package.

Isn’t this a serious effort at a deal? If not, why not? As an idealist (but not an ideologue!), I am losing faith in Congress’ capacity to function at all.

The Filter Bubble Is a Problem of Trust

“Are online social network sites (SNS) narrowing our information streams, leaving us less exposed to a diversity of views, as Eli [Pariser] warns?” (The Filter Bubble)

The Filter Bubble is a new book from Eli Pariser arguing that our immersion in social networks and frequent use of Google to find and filter information is leading to a narrowing of our information inputs, as we pick and choose who we want to talk to and hear.

On NPR a few weeks ago, Pariser shared an example: Google personalizes your search results based on your prior search behavior and browsing history. If you’re a Democrat, for example, with a history of visiting Democratic websites and reading DailyKos, when you search for “Barack Obama”, you’re going to get results tailored to your history, with positive treatment of the President. If you’re a frequent visitor of Fox News, however, you might get directed to sites critical of the President first.

If you don’t know this is happening, I could see how you might be outraged. But the problem with this Filter Bubble concept is the presumption that Google or Facebook owe us open information. They are for profit companies. Buyers should beware.

The outrage comes easily – “Facebook isn’t showing me all my Republican friends!” – and the outrage might reinforce your sense of yourself as an open-minded person. But you’re forgetting who Google and Facebook’s audiences really are. Advertisers.

I am no conspiracy theorist, but if you are depending on Facebook and Google to interpret and bottleneck your information networks, you’re trusting too much. These are for profit companies who have duties to advertisers. Many fewer duties to you. No one service or network or company should be the only way you connect with your friends and information services.

So what can you do about it? The first step, of course, is to master the settings on your preferred networks. In Facebook, you can scroll to the very bottom of your Newsfeed and click on “Edit Options” on the right side. Make sure it’s set to “Show Posts from All Your Friends and Pages”. In Google, clear your cookies and remove your web history. Pariser’s site has tips on fixing these settings.

The second step, of course, is to live a real, unpredictable, unfiltered life. You, and no one else, are responsible for your education and your information. Google doesn’t owe you anything. You have probably never paid them directly for anything in your life – so be happy that you get to use their high quality, free services in exchange for them making a dollar off of you.