Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Great Cartoon from The Weekly Standard…

… which I think is quite apt, in some instances:


One of the things I like about The Weekly Standard is the cartoonist or illustrator they get to work on their articles. He/She has a very cool, distinctive style, and I don’t think he’s ever done a graphic I didn’t like. Unfortunately, I can’t find any mention in the magazine of his/her name. Anybody know?

As for the article it’s connected to I have mixed thoughts about, but Fred Barnes, who wrote it, brings up some good points.

The article starts off by explaining that “trade treaties with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama” were on track to being ratified in the House and Senate: “Obama would supply Democratic votes. Republicans were already on board, President Bush having put together the treaties in the first place. It had the look of a done deal. It wasn’t.” The deal was killed in May, Barnes tells us, because the White House “suddenly insisted the treaties be accompanied by roughly $1 billion in Trade Adjustment Assistance”, which would set aside funds to help workers whose jobs will be cut or outsourced as a result of these deals. Given the quite obvious need for more jobs in the US, provisions to ensure the unemployment rates don’t go up further and also measures to help those who are effective by deals that will increase unemployment is not exactly a bad thing. After all, as Barnes himself points out:

“A mark of a strong president is the capability to act decisively in his own behalf, especially when his political interest coincides with the country’s.”

Saving jobs, or looking after those who are screwed by international trade deals is often considered by many Americans as in the country’s interest. The American people’s insistence that job creation be at the forefront of the government’s agenda seems to be ignored by the House GOP leadership who have, as Rachel Maddow has repeatedly illustrated on her nightly MSNBC show, spent more time trying just to quash everything Obama agrees with. I remember when she showed the GOP jobs plan on her show – it was basically one and a half pages of text, and a bunch of images and graphic to make the document look longer. The House GOP majority has, instead, spent far more time playing politics and proposing more bills related to the Culture War issues than ever before (including on State-level) that should be diminishing in importance during this economic recession.

In light of President Obama’s deficit ceiling deal that was offered and originally accepted by Speaker of the House John Boehner, Barnes’s assertion that, “More often than not, [Obama]’s indecisive, particularly when liberal special interests exert pressure on him” seems to only apply to liberal trade interests (not dissimilar to President Bill Clinton, then). Obama’s proposed plan included highly-unpopular-on-the-left cuts and changes to the social safety net. In fact, it matched almost exactly the Republican proposed plan, only Obama’s plan suggested 2% more in revenue increases than the Republican plan. The social safety net is, of course, sacred to liberals in government and also the left-leaning population of America (I include myself in this group, I should say).

Barnes points out another area that sees Obama apparently kowtowing to special interests; the environmental lobby. The writer mentions the new pipeline that many want built linking the US and Canada, but says it’s been put in jeaopardy by Obama’s insistence on meeting demands of liberal groups, who criticised his EPA’s initial environmental impact study. The administration caved, did another study, but still the environmental lobbies were unhappy. [It is becoming increasingly clear that no matter who’s in the White House, the EPA will forever be the whipping boy of the environmental lobbies, as they simply cannot ever win…] Unfortunately, Barnes doesn’t offer any of the environmental lobbies’ criticisms of the reports, so we can’t get a deeper picture of what, exactly, they were disappointed with or opposed to. In addition, it’s interesting that Barnes complains that Obama is listening to Democratic/liberal interest groups, when George W. Bush’s administration all but invited conservative/business interests to take over a good swathe of governing responsibilities (which some liberal presidents have done, too – it’s endemic in US politics – my point is that it’s hypocritical to complain about one but not the other party doing it).

The pipeline deal looks like a winner on pure economic terms, too, benefiting the American economy and also American labour unions (the ultimate Democratic voting bloc, after all):

“Besides oil, the Keystone project would create 20,000 jobs directly and 118,000 “spin off ” jobs, according to TransCanada, and invest $20 billion in the American economy. Even if those projections are exaggerated, it’s clear the pipeline would be an economic boon. TransCanada has also signed building contracts with four labor unions.”

Back to the trade treaties. Barnes reports that

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the treaties would produce 380,000 American jobs. The Obama administration puts the figure at 250,000. It’s unclear whether any jobs at all would be lost. Yet the President balked.”

If this is accurate, then President Obama needs to make sure he’s getting all the information. If the deals are projected to create 250,000 jobs, and no jobs will definitely be lost, then I don’t see why this isn’t a go across the board. By including TAA, however, the president is just covering the eventuality of jobs being lost – given that people clearly don’t think any will be, I don’t see how Republicans can oppose the inclusion of this provision, as it will likely not cost anything, or very little at the most.

It’s unfortunate that the article’s not longer, or at least doesn’t go deeper into attempting to understand or highlight specifics of why President Obama and his team are rejecting these two deals. The role of special interests in US politics is of particular interest to me (one of the two main theories that informed my PhD thesis was pluralism, after all), and this article could have done with being a longer exploration of the role of special interests in the Obama administration. Without the depth, it reads like a typical conservative/Republican criticism of a Democratic president, and therefore nothing we haven’t heard before, which in turn means it will only preach to the choir, rather than persuade non-choir-members.

For the sort of in-depth article I’m talking about, check out The Nation’s recent expose about the role of ALEC in American politics. [Which does, it has to be accepted, comes from a very lefty place.]

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