Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday November 24 , 2010

From: The New York Times

November 23, 2010


U.S.G. and P.T.A.

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

For me, the most frightening news in The Times on Sunday was not about North Korea’s stepping up its nuclear program, but an article about how American kids are stepping up their use of digital devices: “Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying. But this proficiency comes at a cost: She blames multitasking for the three B’s on her recent progress report. “I’ll be reading a book for homework and I’ll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ ”

I don’t want to pick on Miller. I highlight her words only because they’re integral to a much larger point: Our unemployment today is not only because of the financial crisis. There are some deeper problems. If we’re going to get more Americans back to work, we will need more stimulus from the U.S.G. — the U.S. government — from the top down. But we will also need more stimulus from the P.T.A.’s — the Parent Teacher Associations — from the bottom up.

The deeper problems fostering unemployment in America today can be summarized in three paragraphs:

Global competition is stiffer. Just think about two of our most elite colleges. When Harvard and Yale were all male, applicants had to compete only against a pool of white males to get in. But when Harvard and Yale admitted women and more minorities, white males had to step up their game. But when the cold war ended, globalization took hold. As Harvard and Yale started to admit more Chinese, Indians, Singaporeans, Poles and Vietnamese, both American men and women had to step up their games to get in. And as the education systems of China, India, Singapore, Poland and Vietnam continue to improve, and more of their cream rises to the top and more of their young people apply to Ivy League schools, it is only going to get more competitive for American men and women at every school.

Then, just as the world was getting flattened by globalization, technology went on a rampage — destroying more low-end jobs and creating more high-end jobs faster than ever. What computers, hand-held devices, wireless technology and robots do in aggregate is empower better-educated and higher-skilled workers to be more productive — so they can raise their incomes — while eliminating many lower-skilled service and factory jobs altogether. Now the best-educated workers, capable of doing the critical thinking that machines can’t do, get richer while the least-educated get pink slips. (We used to have a receptionist at our office. She was replaced by a micro-chip. We got voice mail.)

Finally, just when globalization and technology were making the value of higher education greater than ever, and the price for lacking it more punishing than ever, America started slipping behind its peers in high school graduation rates, college graduation and global test scores in math and critical thinking.

As Education Secretary Arne Duncan put it to me in an interview, 50 years ago if you dropped out, you could get a job in the stockyards or steel mill and still “own your own home and support your family.” Today, there are no such good jobs for high school dropouts. “They’re gone,” said Duncan. “That’s what we haven’t adjusted to.” When kids drop out today, “they’re condemned to poverty and social failure.” There are barely any jobs left for someone with only a high school diploma, and that’s only valuable today if it has truly prepared you to go on to higher education without remediation — the only ticket to a decent job.

Beyond the recession, this triple whammy is one of the main reasons that middle-class wages have been stagnating. To overcome that, we need to enlist both the U.S.G. and the P.T.A. We need teachers and principals who are paid better for better performance, but also valued for their long hours and dedication to students and learning. We need better parents ready to hold their kids to higher standards of academic achievement. We need better students who come to school ready to learn, not to text. And to support all of this, we need an all-society effort — from the White House to the classroom to the living room — to nurture a culture of achievement and excellence.

If you want to know who’s doing the parenting part right, start with immigrants, who know that learning is the way up. Last week, the 32 winners of Rhodes Scholarships for 2011 were announced — America’s top college grads. Here are half the names on that list: Mark Jia, Aakash Shah, Zujaja Tauqeer, Tracy Yang, William Zeng, Daniel Lage, Ye Jin Kang, Baltazar Zavala, Esther Uduehi, Prerna Nadathur, Priya Sury, Anna Alekeyeva, Fatima Sabar, Renugan Raidoo, Jennifer Lai, Varun Sivaram.

Do you see a pattern?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday November 23, 2010

From: The New York Times

November 22, 2010


Sin and Taxes

By DAVID BROOKS

This has been a great month for conversation. The Bipartisan Policy Center and the chairmen of the fiscal commission released big plans for reducing debt and reforming government. This has set off a deluge of interesting commentary about how we should govern ourselves in the coming century.

But is any of this going anywhere? Are any elected officials actually going to follow through on these plans? Has anybody discovered a political formula to get spending cuts, tax increases and other reforms through the Congress?

I’ve spent the past few days calling Congressional leaders and other budget mavens to get an answer to that question. The answer is No.

Nobody has a political strategy for getting anything like this passed in the short term. There is very little likelihood the political class as currently constituted will address the looming fiscal disaster soon.

Some Republicans have been talking honestly about cutting entitlement spending, but almost no Republican seems willing to accept tax increases as part of a bipartisan budget deal. You could offer Republicans a deal that was 80 percent spending cuts and 20 percent tax increases and they’d say no. They’d say no to 90-10, too.

Ronald Reagan raised taxes 12 separate times during his presidency. But “No New Taxes” has become the requisite for membership in today’s G.O.P. Without a tax increase there will never be a bipartisan deal and without a bipartisan deal there will never be a solution because no party will ever take sole responsibility for the brutal spending cuts that are also required to reduce the debt.

The Democrats don’t offer much hope either. Some moderate Democrats would like a big budget summit. Put everything on the table. Don’t come out without a plan.

But the Democratic Party is in the middle of an identity crisis. The liberals are fighting hard to make sure the moderates don’t gain control of the party (Nancy Pelosi’s re-election as leader was partially about that). These mobilized and defensive liberals are certainly not going to hand control of the government to the few remaining budget hawks and tell them to go remake the welfare state.

The liberal Democrats show no sign of accepting significant spending cuts to the programs they regard as their movement’s greatest achievements. They are in no mood to revisit health care, even though Medicare will have to be hit to get the debt under control. Many of them are in no mood even to acknowledge the scope of the problem, as their responses to last week’s various commission reports demonstrated.

So we’ve still got budget gridlock. But it’s worth stepping back to acknowledge how abnormal this is. As late as the 1980s and 1990s, Congress did pass serious measures to control debt. Across the Atlantic, Britain is enacting a budget with spending cuts and tax increases. In fact, all affluent countries are now faced with the challenge of reforming their welfare states and few are as immobilized as the U.S. is.

This is in part because the problem is so hard — baby boomers are retiring and medical advances raise costs. But the U.S., more than other country, is immobilized by a shift in the ethos of its leadership class.

For centuries, American politicians did not run up huge peacetime debts. It wasn’t because they were unpartisan or smarter or more virtuous. It was because they were constrained by a mentality inherited from the founders. According to this mentality, a big successful nation exists in a state of equilibrium between its many factions. This equilibrium is fragile because we are flawed and fallen creatures and can’t quite trust ourselves. So all of us, but especially members of the leadership class, should practice self-restraint. Moral anxiety restrained hubris (don’t think your side possesses the whole truth) and self-indulgence (debt corrupts character).

This ethos has dissolved, on left and right. The new mentality sees the country not as an equilibrium, but as a battlefield in which the people, who are pure and virtuous, do battle against the interests or the elites, who stand in the way of the people’s happiness.

The ideal leader in this mental system is free from moral anxiety but full of passionate intensity. This leader pushes his troops in lock step before the voracious foe. Each party has its own version of whom the evil elites are, but both feel they’ve more to fear from their enemies than from their own sinfulness.

Compromise is thus impossible. Money matters should be negotiable, but how can one compromise with opponents who are the source of all corruption?

I meet many members of Congress who had hoped to serve under that first ethos but now find themselves living within the second. The good news is an ethos can change: a financial shock, a popular movement, something unexpected. Just don’t expect the big change to emanate from Washington in the near term.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday November 17, 2010

From: The New York Times November 16, 2010


Too Good to Check

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

On Nov. 4, Anderson Cooper did the country a favor. He expertly deconstructed on his CNN show the bogus rumor that President Obama’s trip to Asia would cost $200 million a day. This was an important “story.” It underscored just how far ahead of his time Mark Twain was when he said a century before the Internet, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” But it also showed that there is an antidote to malicious journalism — and that’s good journalism.

In case you missed it, a story circulated around the Web on the eve of President Obama’s trip that it would cost U.S. taxpayers $200 million a day — about $2 billion for the entire trip. Cooper said he felt impelled to check it out because the evening before he had had Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Republican and Tea Party favorite, on his show and had asked her where exactly Republicans will cut the budget.

Instead of giving specifics, Bachmann used her airtime to inject a phony story into the mainstream. She answered: “I think we know that just within a day or so the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking 2,000 people with him. He’ll be renting over 870 rooms in India, and these are five-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending.”

The next night, Cooper explained that he felt compelled to trace that story back to its source, since someone had used his show to circulate it. His research, he said, found that it had originated from a quote by “an alleged Indian provincial official,” from the Indian state of Maharashtra, “reported by India’s Press Trust, their equivalent of our A.P. or Reuters. I say ‘alleged,’ provincial official,” Cooper added, “because we have no idea who this person is, no name was given.”

It is hard to get any more flimsy than a senior unnamed Indian official from Maharashtra talking about the cost of an Asian trip by the American president.

“It was an anonymous quote,” said Cooper. “Some reporter in India wrote this article with this figure in it. No proof was given; no follow-up reporting was done. Now you’d think if a member of Congress was going to use this figure as a fact, she would want to be pretty darn sure it was accurate, right? But there hasn’t been any follow-up reporting on this Indian story. The Indian article was picked up by The Drudge Report and other sites online, and it quickly made its way into conservative talk radio.”

Cooper then showed the following snippets: Rush Limbaugh talking about Obama’s trip: “In two days from now, he’ll be in India at $200 million a day.” Then Glenn Beck, on his radio show, saying: “Have you ever seen the president, ever seen the president go over for a vacation where you needed 34 warships, $2 billion — $2 billion, 34 warships. We are sending — he’s traveling with 3,000 people.” In Beck’s rendition, the president’s official state visit to India became “a vacation” accompanied by one-tenth of the U.S. Navy. Ditto the conservative radio talk-show host Michael Savage. He said, “$200 million? $200 million each day on security and other aspects of this incredible royalist visit; 3,000 people, including Secret Service agents.”

Cooper then added: “Again, no one really seemed to care to check the facts. For security reasons, the White House doesn’t comment on logistics of presidential trips, but they have made an exception this time. He then quoted Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, as saying, “I am not going to go into how much it costs to protect the president, [but this trip] is comparable to when President Clinton and when President Bush traveled abroad. This trip doesn’t cost $200 million a day.” Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said: “I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd, this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy and some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier in support of the president’s trip to Asia. That’s just comical. Nothing close to that is being done.”

Cooper also pointed out that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the entire war effort in Afghanistan was costing about $190 million a day and that President Bill Clinton’s 1998 trip to Africa — with 1,300 people and of roughly similar duration, cost, according to the Government Accountability Office and adjusted for inflation, “about $5.2 million a day.”

When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet. All you can hope is that more people will do what Cooper did — so when the next crazy lie races around the world, people’s first instinct will be to doubt it, not repeat it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday November 16, 2010

From: The Wall Street Journal - Tuesday November 16, 2010


[PNS111610]

What I Read Today - Tuesday November 16, 2010

From:  The New York Times - Sunday November 14, 2010

I Believe I Can Fly

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Reading the headlines these days, I can’t help but repeat this truism: If you jump off the top of an 80-story building, for 79 floors you can think you’re flying. It’s the sudden stop at the end that tells you you’re not. It’s striking to me how many leaders and nations are behaving today as though they think they can fly — and ignoring that sudden stop at the end that’s sure to come.

Where to begin? Well, first there’s Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, who has been telling everyone how committed he is to peace with the Palestinians while refusing to halt settlement building as a prerequisite for negotiations. At a time when Israel already has 300,000 settlers in the West Bank, Bibi says he can’t possibly take another pause in building to test whether the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas — a man Israelis say is the best Palestinian security partner Israel has ever had — can forge a safe two-state deal for Israel. The U.S. is now basically trying to bribe Bibi to reverse his position. Maybe he will, but it’s unseemly to watch and doesn’t bode well. Rather than take the initiative and say to Arabs and Palestinians, “You want a settlement freeze? Here it is, now let’s see what you’re ready to agree to,” Netanyahu toys with President Obama, makes Israel look like it wants land more than peace and risks never forging a West Bank deal — thereby permanently absorbing its 2.5 million Palestinians and eventually no longer having a Jewish majority. That’s the sudden stop at the end — unless the next war comes first. But, for now, Bibi seems to think he can fly.

Closer to home, America’s climate-deniers mounted an effective disinformation campaign that made “climate change” a four-letter word in the Republican Party. This undermined efforts to get a clean energy bill — the sort that might break our addiction to oil and take money away from the people our soldiers are fighting in the Middle East. And all of this happened in 2010, which is on track to be the Earth’s hottest year on record. So here’s the math: 98 climate scientists out of 100 will tell you that man’s continued carbon emissions pose the risk of disruptive climate change this century. Two out of 100 will tell you it doesn’t. And “conservatives” today tell you to bet on the two. If the climate-deniers are right — but we combat climate change anyway — we’ll have slightly higher energy prices but cleaner air, more renewable energy, a stronger dollar, more innovative industries and enemies with less money. If the deniers are wrong and we do nothing, your kids will meet the sudden stop at the end.

Many of the same people working against clean energy are working to scuttle Senate ratification of the New Start nuclear arms reduction treaty that Mr. Obama signed with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. This treaty is right in line with the previous three U.S.-Russia arms reduction deals, all negotiated by G.O.P. administrations. It leaves America secure, a world and a Russia with fewer nukes and it promotes better ties with the Kremlin. Scuttling the treaty, just to deny Mr. Obama a success, which is what some Republican senators are up to, will not only ensure that U.S.-Russian relations sour, it will also make it much less likely that the Russians — whose pressure on Iran and willingness to deny it surface-to-air missiles have been critical in slowing Iran’s nuclear program — will continue to cooperate with us on that front. But, hey, who cares about weakening Iran or U.S.-Russian ties if you can weaken your own president? We can fly.

Finally, there is something deeply wrong about Mitch McConnell, the Senate G.O.P. leader, saying that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” McConnell explained that that was not because Republicans simply crave power (heaven forbid), but because this is the only way Republicans can achieve their goals of repealing the health care bill, ending bailouts, cutting spending and shrinking government.

Where do I start? We know that these were not the Republican goals because they had eight years under George W. Bush to pursue them and did just the opposite. And even if we assume that this time they really mean it, they’ve never explained what programs they would cut and how doing that now won’t make our recession worse. But even if they did, these are the wrong priorities. Our priorities now are to mitigate the recession that was set in motion under Bush and to put the country on a path to sustainable economic growth. That will require vastly improving the education and skills of our work force and enabling them with 21st-century infrastructure so they will be smarter and more productive. We know that tax cuts alone won’t do that; we just had that test, too, under Bush. It requires a complex strategy for American renewal — raising some taxes, like on energy, while lowering others, like on workers and corporations; and investing in new infrastructure, schools and research, while cutting other services.

I don’t mind if Republicans win with fresh new ideas — but not with a grab bag of tired clichés. That’s just begging for a sudden stop at the end

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday November 9, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

A Special Virtue


The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. —Galatians 5:22-23

In her book Food in Medieval Times, author Melitta Adamson writes of European culinary delights in the Middle Ages. Wild game, pastries, puddings, and other exotic foods illustrate the creative joy taken in food preparation. But with all these wonderful entrées there was a problem—overeating. This tendency was compounded by the Christian calendar, which abounded with fasts and feasts. Abstaining from meals was often followed by gluttony.

To address this problem, theologian Thomas Aquinas uplifted the Christian character quality of temperance, calling it “a special virtue.” He saw how self-restraint should extend to all areas of life.

For the believer, temperance, or moderation, does not derive from sheer human willpower. Instead, it comes from the Holy Spirit who gives us self-control: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Self-control is the Spirit-produced quality that enables us to be “temperate in all things” (1 Cor. 9:25).

Overindulgence in food, rest, work, recreation, ministry, and a variety of “good things” can be corrected only through the balance of self-control. Take a few minutes to ask God to produce that special virtue in you.

If gaining the fruit of self-control
Is something you’re trying to do;
Submit your will in everything
To the Spirit living in you. —Kieda

To gain self-control, give the Spirit control.