Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year is Beginning


Reflections on news about the United States during 2011...
  • From beginning to end, the biggest story remained the struggling economy (in general) and persistent unemployment (specifically). Until August/September, people seemed optimistic that things were slowly improving (I assume that the rising stock market contributed to the feeling), but this fall and winter there’s been a noticeable downturn in expectations (even though the unemployment rate has finally decreased a bit). The analysts and columnists tend to blame the problem on “Europe”, but I think the Greeks and Italians are serving as a convenient scapegoat for Americans. I think we are in for continued economic problems, because I fail to see where new jobs will come from. The key will be transitioning away from a consumption-based economy, in which so much depends on all of us constantly purchasing new things (cell phone advertising is everywhere – do people replace their phones every few months?). We need to find a new way to measure (and feel) our individual and collective “growth.”
  • President Obama has continued to disappoint me. He generally does well as a compromiser, but I desperately want some bully-pulpit leadership. I want him to get out in-front of the day-to-day discussion and help us to reframe debates. He shies away from doing this. There were several articles this year about Obama’s psychological tendency towards conflict-avoidance, and I think this is correct. There has been so much kicking-the-can-down the road on (1) reforming tax policy and (2) addressing the debt. Although I blame the Republicans for their intransigence, Obama has the top-job, and he is the person best positioned to change the public’s perspective. Also, he focuses way too much on getting re-elected. This reinforces my desire to move to a single 6-year term for the president, so we won’t have to spend half of each presidency focusing on the next election.
494. At the Constitutional Convention, was there any discussion of a Presidential term-length other than 4 years ?  Did anyone propose a 6 or 8 year term, with an explicit limitation to a single term?

495. What's the most likey Constitutional amendment to be adopted in the next twenty years?

496. If Obama does not win re-election, will he move back to Chicago?  Will he run in 2016?
  • The big foreign policy development of 2011 was the killing of Osama Bin Laden at the beginning of May, and I credit Obama for keeping his eye on the ball on this task (unlike Bush). I’m comfortable with the targeted assassination of Osama, but less so with the tremendous increase in drone-killings by the Obama administration (the Washington Post has done a good job focusing on the drone issue in the past couple of months). I understand the need/desire to fight the terrorists, but I have to wonder if we are generating more hatred for America by killing people by machine and from a distance. In addition to the practical question (not wanting to make America less safe because it’s more hated), I am unclear in my mind about the morality of drones.
  • The quest for the Republication nomination has been a major political story throughout the year, and I have been consistently astounded at the low quality of the candidates (excepting Mitt Romney, per below). I would have thought that with Obama seeming a vulnerable incumbent, there would be at least a couple of legitimate contenders (Mitch Daniels and/or Chris Christie – I am waiting for a piece on longform.org on the real reasons they chose not to run). One good development has been the increased number of debates, although the 60-second format is absurd and keeps us mired in a soundbite culture.
497. If Romney is elected, what Cabinet post does Christie get?  I can't see him as the Vice Presidential nominee (because of the problem of two Northeasterners).  Perhaps Treasury Secretary?

498. Does Daniels or Christie have any regrets right now?

499. Has Tim Pawlenty endorsed anyone yet?  I don't think so - I think the news this fall about Pawlenty was that he may challenge Al Franken for the Minnesota Senate seat, but I don't think he's endorsed anyone.
  • Regarding Romney, I think he may have the background and temperament to make him an effective leader. I also like that he’s a moderate (notwithstanding his best efforts to convince Republican primary voters otherwise). If the election were today I’d have to do a lot of thinking in choosing between him and Obama, both because of my disappointment in Obama and because I think Romney might genuinely be able to shift our economic policy in a positive way. I am definitely torn – I want to believe that Obama can become a great leader, but the dashed expectations sting.
500. I should be happy that Obama is so pragmatic and seeking-of-compromise.  Why am I not more enthusiastic about him?  Is the problem with my expectations rather than his leadership? This is going to be a big question to think about in the coming months.
  • The Solyndra story was probably the year’s most interesting in terms of the convergence of (1) the proper role of government, (2) nurturing a new American economy, and (3) the potential for corruption when government money is at stake. I remain confused about the extent to which solar and wind energy (and nuclear) could become viable, large-scale alternatives, and Solyndra’s failure makes me worried that solar energy may not be as close to a “breakthrough” as previously reported.
  • In terms of my news consumption, I re-subscribed to the paper edition of the Post around mid-November, and I am really getting into the routine of reading it.  I am not impressed with their columnists (Dionne and Robinson are so repetitive), but their investigative, medium-length stories are quite good.

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