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United States - April 22

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Nation’s Mood at Lowest Level in Two Years, Poll Shows

Jim Rutenberg and Megan Thee-Brenan
Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama’s first two months in office, when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Amid rising gas prices, stubborn unemployment and a cacophonous debate in Washington over the federal government’s ability to meet its future obligations, the poll presents stark evidence that the slow, if unsteady, gains in public confidence earlier this year that a recovery was under way are now all but gone.

... The dour public mood is dragging down ratings for both parties in Congress and for President Obama, the poll found.
(21 April 2011)



The 'Inside Job' Effect

Dan Berrett, Inside Higher Ed
Many American economists have been stung by their failure to anticipate the financial meltdown of 2008, dogged by persistent suggestions of conflicts of interest -- that they were working for financial industries that they said were healthier than turned out to be true. In a notable break from the past, the pre-eminent professional society for the discipline is moving ahead with plans to examine ethical practices in the field.

... the assumption that ethical standards are unnecessary to the discipline has begun to crumble in the wake of the financial meltdown of 2008 -- a turn of events that, many say, economists failed to anticipate. Most pointedly, the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job has cast a harsh light on the chumminess of regulators, bond raters and bankers -- and on the academic economists who were supposed to have rendered disinterested advice and analysis. In recent days, an alumnus at Princeton University and students at Columbia University have raised questions probing the relationships of academic economists at their institutions to powerful financial firms. Columbia adopted a revised conflict of interest policy in 2009 (before the film's release) that requires its scholars to disclose their financial ties when commenting publicly on issues to which those ties might be relevant; administrators there are reviewing this policy once more, as part of a revisiting process put in place two years ago. Such increased scrutiny has been called “the ‘Inside Job’ effect.”

Close examination is coming from within the discipline as well. Gerald Epstein, professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has focused on the need for a clear conflict of interest policy. He suggests a policy modeled on the one used by the American Sociological Association. It would require economists to disclose relevant sources of financial support and personal or professional relationships that “may have the appearance or potential for a conflict of interest in public speeches and writing, as well as in academic publications,”
(19 April 2011)



American Exceptionalism - it takes money to project power around the world

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
... [The shortages experienced by Europe in the Libyan conflict] just highlights the fundamental difference between the United States military and everyone else's. The reason our defense budget is ten or twenty times the size of any other country's isn't literally because our army is ten or twenty times bigger. It's because the American army is designed to project power. Most other national defense forces are designed to work only locally: either to defend against invasions or, at most, to be able to mount offensives across local borders. The only real exceptions are Britain and France, but even they have only a small ability to project power. Nobody else has much at all.

There's a quantum leap between that kind of military and the kind that the United States has. You can't get it by spending just a little more money; you have to spend a lot more money for a whole range of capabilities that local defense forces don't need. That quantum leap is the real reason the U.S. military is so much staggeringly larger than anyone else's.

So in that sense, the mockery is undeserved. Britain and France just aren't set up to project power on a large scale, and we knew that perfectly well going in. They don't have bases all over the world, they don't have heavy lift capacity, they don't have long-range bombers, they don't have a dozen supercarrier groups, they don't have huge arsenals of cruise missiles, they don't have fleets of reconnaissance satellites, and they don't have hundreds of aircraft and trained pilots at their beck and call. In fact, they're only doing as well as they are because Libya is only barely not a next door neighbor.

So sure, maybe Britain and France should have more planes and more bombs. But really, there's not a lot of point to arguing over nits like this. For them to project power effectively, even in nearby Libya, would require not just a bit of shoring up here and there, it would probably require a doubling or tripling of their defense budgets. Likewise, cutting the U.S. defense budget by bits and pieces wouldn't really change our posture. If we want to project power all over the world, it's going to continue costing us roughly what it costs us today. If we don't want to, we could cut our defense budget by two-thirds in a stroke. There's not a lot of room in between.

This is all Defense 101, but we seem to be learning it all over again in Libya.
(16 April 2011)

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