Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

Starting with the usual...the economy in Europe. And Syria.

I'm not sure about the various stories about Iran this week. Lots going on, not clear to me at least how much of it matters.

The New Hampshire primary wasn't exactly full of surprises, but Mitt Romney had a very good week as far as the nomination is concerned. On the other hand, he took some general election hits...on balance, my sense is that Romney in the general election is basically going to be Generic Republican Candidate, however.

I really haven't been following the privacy bill (SOPA) developments closely -- mostly just tweets from various people who care about the issue -- but if you believe that's an important fight, it seemed to have taken a major turn (against the bill) this week.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?


  1. The evangelical leaders endorsing Rick Santorum?

    Might help extend the nomination fight for a while.

  2. The oxymoron 'creative destruction' entered the cable news lexicon. I predict it will surpass 'military intelligence' as the cause of the major political blunders over the next decade.

    US diplomatic ties with Myanmar.

    Ron Paul still surging. Democratic leadership has not shown signs of being able to respond to his supporters. But neither have Republicans.

    1. "Creative destruction" is often (OK, overwhelmingly) used politically as a blanket rationalization for rightfully unsettling capitalist practices--part of the book of common prayer for the right-wing free-market theodicy. But it should be noted that the notion does have a more substantive pedigree, and that when used properly, it's a helpful concept for understanding how corporate restructuring and the shifting of capital serves a role in capitalist economies. In short, it's not pure PR messaging bullshit.

    2. Creative destruction -- replacing the old plug-in switch boards and their operators with computer-controlled switching and their programmers-- is the old meaning.

      The new buzzsaw* meanings are being defined by pundits and their readers as I type and you read.

      *Into the Buzzsaw by Kristina Borjesson

  3. And I'm amused by the notion that there is any proper response to a raging Paulista.

    Whether it's the libertarian philosophy that seduces the young Paulista into the surrender of his or her judgement and intelligence -- even as they bluster and bloviate in an attempt to herd others into their intellectual corral by sheer number of disconnected, unfounded arguments -- or it's the human perfection of Saint Ron himself that is the cause of such enthusiasm among the Paulists, I don't believe in forced medication and short of that there doesn't seem to be much response that any rational person could or should make to the certainties of the Paulistas.

    Republicans may need to find a political response to the phenomena, as it is difficult to see how Paul supporters will easily be led to support of a Romney or a Santorum; a Democratic political response should be to do everything they can to encourage a big run by Paul, Johnson, or whatever candidate the libertarians may nominate, let the libertarian bull run wild, maybe they'll get 10 or 12% of the popular vote and help ensure that Obama gets over 400 electoral college votes.

    I have a little faith that 7 billion human beings will continue to act in complex, often contradictory behaviors embedded in complicated social systems that resist analysis by the simplicities of libertarianism, yet obviously that bit of evidence hasn't slowed the Paulist surge yet.

  4. And I'm amused by the notion that there is any proper response to a raging Paulista.

    This is really offensive.

  5. Much as I admire Mr. Bernstein, I have to confess I don't know what the blank he's talking about when he goes on about what "matters.". Matters to whom? Matters for what? Matters over what time frame? I work for a Pentagon directorate, and the idea that the developments in Iran don't matter would be met with a suggestion that psychiatric evaluation is appropriate. I'm not endorsing that attitude, but just using it as an example that what "matters" is so context specific that any talk about "mattering" absent such context is meaningless. I get the vague impression that Mr. Bernstein means what "matters" with regard to the outcome of the Nov 2012 federal elections. If so, then I honestly don't think we know what's going to matter, barring the economy, and even that is only an educated guess. Usually, as my physician friend's say, hoof beats herald a horse, but one day they will herald a zebra, and then all bets are off.

    1. Don't bust a gasket! It's an opportunity for readers to bring up stuff they find notable or interesting for whatever reason, with a greater emphasis on the long term than on the daily news cycle. For some reason, it suits you better to dyspeptically question the premise.

    2. Definitely not just for the 2012 elections.

      Generally, it's open-ended: matters to whatever you think is important. Mostly, trying to sort out stuff that dominates a news cycle or three and then disappears without a trace of any kind. In the original post way back when, I said we should all be careful to include a "matters to X" statement, but I'm certainly lazy about that, too.

      As far as I said, I'm just not really sure. Over the last week, there was the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, and the assassination of another nuclear scientist. The former is surely something that I sure hope that the Pentagon is taking seriously...but the Pentagon should take lots of things very seriously that in the end don't amount to anything. As for the latter -- again, I don't really know. If you think these particular developments are important and lasting, make the case for it!

    3. Fair enough, and I appreciate that constantly putting out qualifiers and limitations is wearisome in the extreme. Actually, I think part of the issue is that the things that matter, in whatever context you choose, usually only become clear in retrospect, and even then are often only clear from a certain vantage point. For instance, Defense directorates worry about war and open conflict, certainly, but also about the way in which given day-to-day issues suck up oxygen, leaving no time or energy to plan or prepare for other things. Thus a whole year of on again, off-again threats from Iran that never blow up might not matter in the sense of affecting elections or making high-school history texts, but may significantly affect the middle term orientations of defense organizations and resources, thus severely constraining, for instance, the President's options across a whole range of issues. That might not matter much, even from a Pentagon perspective. On the other hand, if for instance Korea was to go into crisis, it might matter profoundly, albeit in ways only obvious from certain points of view. There just probably is not any way to judge until after the fact. I do think, though, that the tendency of day-to-day conflicts and crises to profoundly shape attitudes and organizations, whether in defense issues or political matters, is usually under appreciated in the extreme. We often say that such and such a political maneuver or military ploy did not matter because it doesn't yield obvious results, when in fact as part of a larger pattern it matters profoundly, shaping thought and planning and habits so as to determine what is and is not possible across a sweeping range of events. I think this holds true whether we are looking at investment battles in industry, maneuverings in the House over payroll tax extensions, or Iranian military posturing in the Persian Gulf.

    4. Well, yes -- we often can't tell what mattered until a few years down the road. Of course. But the point of this weekly exercise is to step back and think about what we do know so far, away (if possible) from the hype of the news cycle. IMO, it's both a fun and a useful thing to do, even if we know we're going to be wrong lots of times.

      And partially because of the points that you're making here, that something doesn't have to wind up in a big shooting war (or whatever) to have affected other things. That's an excellent point, and exactly what this sort of question is designed to tease out of all of us.

    5. I would just add that the affects day-to-day events have are often more in the way of shaping attitudes and world views, determining resource allocations and strategic orientations, than in terms of bringing about specific actions. But these general effects matter, a lot. For instance, take the habit Republicans have of calling Obama a socialist. On one hand, that is from one point of view, I doubt it matters - no one with whom that charge resonates would vote for Obama in most any circumstance. On the other hand, those accusations probably matter a lot, not in terms of bringing about specific events, but in terms of shaping attitudes of the public toward modern politics and of the two parties toward each other. I suspect that the knowledge that any domestic policy initiative at all will be met with screams about socialism has had a very real and important effect on, for instance, Democratic strategists, staffers, and policy-wonks, not to mention politicians. I note that even Bill Galston no longer preaches the Gospel of Centrism and Bipartisanship with the same faith. Having said that, however, it would be pretty much impossible to say that X Democrat exhibits Y behavior because Z Republican called the President a socialist. Nevertheless, general effects often matter as much as specific ones. Often, indeed, they matter more.

  6. I do apologize, I am having a problem with the enthusiasm for Ron Paul and I need to be able to laugh at it and walk away.

    I do get personally offended with libertarianism, I've been responding to it, and casting myself as an anti-ideologist, since the Carter administration. I'm still trying to get a positive response out of the East Coast publishing industry, haven't had one in 40 years of trying, so I go get too upset at seeing such poor material get such huge response. So it's my problem, I need to work harder on my stuff. I support libertarians and all others in most of their quests for political liberty, your fantasies of free-market economic liberty and the wonderfulness of Ron Paul turn me off.


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