Archive for the ‘America’ Category
One doesn’t need a Ph.D. in economics to know certain facts about the current state of America’s economy:
1) Unemployment continues to be a serious problem not only for the unemployed but for the economy as a whole.
2) Consumers are skittish about spending money, so they can’t help drive an economic recovery.
3) In response to fears about unemployment and the economy, consumers are paying off debt.
4) Reducing debt may be a a good thing for individuals and for the economy in the long-term, but when too many people do it all at once it leads to less goods and services being bought, which reinforces and helps sustain a recession or a weak recovery.
5) Many of the largest corporations in America are sitting on huge sums of cash. Among the reasons for not investing it and hiring new employees: aversion to risk, preoccupation with the current bottom line, and hefty profits through making current employees more productive, that is, making them work longer and harder.
Enter the Bank of America. You know, the corporation that American taxpayers shelled out 45 billion dollars to rescue. Its past and current behavior exemplifies the failings of many giant corporations to do the right thing in national crises. Make no mistake about it, the way that the Bank of America mistreats its customers is bound to reinforce exactly the types of behavior that will maintain the economy in its present anemic state.
Let’s take the story back a few years. It seems that for several years the Bank of America has been arbitrarily raising interest rates on its credit card customers. Here is an excerpt from an article on MSN from BusinessWeek, February 2008.
Credit card issuers have drawn fire for jacking up interest rates on cardholders who aren’t behind on payments but whose credit scores have fallen for other reasons. Now, some consumers complain, Bank of America is increasing rates based on no apparent deterioration in their credit scores at all. The major credit card lender in mid-January sent letters notifying some responsible cardholders that it would more than double their rates to as high as 28%, without giving explanations for the increases, according to copies of five letters obtained by BusinessWeek. Fine print at the end of the letter — headed “Important Amendment to Your Credit Card Agreement” –- advised calling an 800-number for the reason, but consumers who called say they were unable to get a clear answer. “No one could give me an explanation,” says Eric Fresch, a Huron, Ohio, engineer who is on time with his Bank of America card payments and knows of no decline in the status of his overall credit….But Bank of America appears to be taking an even more aggressive stance because, beyond credit scores, it is using internal criteria that aren’t available to consumers. That makes the reasons for the rate increases even more opaque….Analysts also say they are surprised by the magnitude of the rate increases Bank of America is imposing on affected cardholders.
You can find stories all over the web about Bank of America’s bad behavior regarding its credit card customers. Recently it appears that BofA has accelerated the use of one of its strategies: arbitrarily reducing the credit limit of customers who have very good credit histories, pay on time, and pay more than the minimum. The deal goes like this: You borrow an amount from BofA at a good interest rate. After a few months you get a call. You are told that your credit limit is being reduced to almost exactly what you owe. When you ask for an explanation, you are given transparently bogus reasons. And there is no appealing the reduction. This action is unfair to credit card customers because it can adversely affect credit scores. Consumers now appear to be maxed out on their cards when 24 hours earlier they had a nice cushion. A lawyer in California became so incensed about this practice and arbitrary increases in interest rates that he threatened to sue the BofA. The story can be found in the Huffington Post, January 2010. An excerpt:
“Banks have done really well figuring out ways to screw people without making themselves legally liable,” said Ira Rheingold, director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “I think [the limit reduction] is another example of Bank of America’s venality. Whether or not it’s a successful lawsuit, I don’t know. Whether I think it ought to be challenged — absolutely.”
But maybe Bank of America is just trying to do what is best for its shareholders. That’s often what you hear when companies are challenged about their executives’ pay or other practices. Yet BofA doesn’t seem too keen on giving its shareholders a say in the pay of its executives. For example, a Los Angeles Times headline on February 23, 2010 announced:
Bank of America resisting shareholders on executive pay. . . The bank is working to keep investor proposals on executive compensation off the ballot.
The machinations of BofA are sad stuff. The resulting likely behavior from customers with reduced credit lines: pay off debt more quickly and spend less money in the marketplace. Of course this will only help to extend the anemic recovery. The fact is that the actions of leading banks and corporations have often not been good for the economy. They rant and rave about taxes and the federal government, but it’s a shell game. (Banks and their supporters will tell you that the reason they are not loaning is because of federal regulations. BofA is currently sitting on 172 billion in cash.) The intense preoccupation of corporations with the bottom line (and the well-being of their executives) has left millions of Americans un- or underemployed. The way that credit has been handled, for example, has increased the fear that we will never come out of this downturn, which will only help to prolong it.
Socialism is no threat. Corporations only looking to the bottom line, which in times such as these is downright unpatriotic, are a threat. It’s time for companies that have done so well in America to stand up and sacrifice for America. We are not asking you to become charities, although you were willing to take our charity when you needed it. We are asking you to spend some money, damn it, and put people back to work, even if it’s not the absolutely best thing for your corporation’s current bottom line….and stop harassing responsible citizens while you do it.
Oh, and just in case you might be worried about the well-being of the former Chairman of BofAm, Ken Lewis, here is what ABC news reported regarding his retirement pay in 2009.
Outgoing Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis’ nearly $64 million retirement pay puts him ahead of most, though not all, fellow major bank CEOs who have left their institutions during the financial tumult of the last two years.
I usually drive to work along the Hudson River. It’s a nice drive. Beautiful old buildings to my left and the Hudson on the right. But today I took the bus through the city.
In northern Manhattan there was a man, an African American man, dressed in a manner that clearly identified him as a Muslim, trying to cross the street after the bus passed. I reacted. “What a brave man to announce his religious affiliation in this manner.” I was horrified. My immediate reaction was to fear for his safety because people would know his religion. I didn’t have time to consider, “Have we really come to this?” before the bus drove by the mural reproduced above. (Photographed with an iPhone.) It appears to have been painted around the time of 9/11 or shortly thereafter. (The bottom third is certainly more recent.) It speaks of unity. The unity of New Yorkers. The unity of Americans. Of all Americans.
I now hear that there is preacher who wants to burn Korans to make a statement. To show the world that we aren’t going to let Muslims get away with…with who knows what. Political figures, such as Newt Gingrich (a man with a Ph.D.), are making frightening and spurious claims about Muslims. There is no doubt: the sickness that is religious prejudice is infecting America, making a sham of the most cherished values of this nation. And yes, I am well aware that we have not always lived up to these values. But to see how far we have sunk in nine short years leaves one breathless. The 9/11 terrorists would be laughing in their graves, if they had them, for what they have managed to do to us. We have come to fear fellow Americans for no other reason than that they profess to be Muslims. And if you think that this is not due to base prejudice and fear, consider how many Americans started to assail white (former?) Christian males after Timothy McVeigh slaughtered 168 adults and children in Oklahoma City. (Or perhaps a better analogy: suppose an all white anti-government militant group, identifying itself as Christian, blew up the Washington Monument and the White House. Would white Christians then be treated as suspect?)
America is in bad shape economically. We have suffered through years of wasteful war. But we have come through hard times before. Let’s hope we can do so this time without condemning the innocent.
So, you think of yourself as an honest soul. You understand that stealing property or money is wrong. You wouldn’t do it. You wouldn’t want your kids or friends to do it. It’s unthinkable. But I have a proposition for you.
Here is a button. All you have to do is press it and $100,000 will be transferred from Goldman Sachs, BP–or any other giant corporation whose resources are larger than most countries–into your bank account. Nobody will ever know. It’s a magic button. Well, not really magic. Some geek has wired it in a fashion so that money can be transferred to your account without anyone being able to trace it–in the tradition of how derivatives were traded.
Just think of how much money Goldman Sachs and its executives made in the last few years as the Market tanked, while you probably lost money in your hard-earned retirement account. Not only did you recently lose money, but if you had invested $1,000 dollars eleven years ago in the Dow, that’s just about what it would be worth today, $1,000 (less if inflation is factored in). But you know, and I know, how much money these guys have made trading your money and my money. But that’s capitalism, you say. It’s the way the game is played.
But would you push the button? Would you be tempted to do it? Or perhaps a better question: how many of your fellow Americans do you think would be tempted? A lot, right? (Or an even better question, how many more would push it today than ten or twenty years ago?)
The recent Melt Down on Wall Street, and the ensuing profits made by big trading firms and banks, have been corrosive in ways that we may not fully understand for years. You’ve got Tea Baggers screaming about Washington, but the revelations about how Wall Street operates have buried themselves deep in our collective subconscious. Real damage has been done. Yes, we knew that there was big money out there and that big money corrupts. (Before the present Melt Down, there was Enron and assorted other travesties.) Yet “knowing” is one thing. Seeing it in front of your eyes day after day, year after year, undermines confidence that the system is anything close to fair. Yes, Obama has attempted to tame Wall Street with new regulations. They will do some good. Yet as long as we continue to see different rules of the game for a small strata of society, which is indeed what we have seen, our belief in the benefits of capitalism will be undermined by a gnawing sense that it is corrupting us, our children, our society. From a sanctified economic system, it will become what we have to put up with, sort of like the Roman emperors in Imperial Rome. It won’t go away anytime soon but we aren’t going to feel good about it.
There was a time in American business when many people believed that a handshake was as good as a contract, or so I am told. People kept their word. It now seems that handshakes still function in this manner for a small elite segment of corporate America that makes deals for unimaginable sums. The rest of us can’t depend on them when we deal with companies. (How about a handshake between you and your medical insurance company to guarantee your coverage? Any takers?) The middle class will need more and more contracts and lawyers to protect them in an economy in which money has gone wild. And they will have relatively less money to hire these lawyers.
No doubt there are problems with the way government functions. But anyone who thinks that this is the major source of the declining confidence in how our society works really needs to look at Wall Street with suitable eyewear. The business of America is no longer doing business but being given the business.
Tonight Mad Men returns. I liked the show. I liked it before it became popular. (It’s not The Wire, but then, hey, what is, except The Wire.)
But now I fear for the youth of the country. The photo on the left–which I believe I have legally downloaded from the Mad Men web site since it is an advertising gimmick, which is in itself pretty funny–says it all. You can be in this photo. And it seems that many people would very much like to be in it, at least judging by the Mad Men mania among the young, many of whom collected in Times Square tonight dressed in period costume. The photo on the right is of a group of characters from The Wire, a show that struggled to stay on the air. (Its last season overlapped with the first season of Mad Men.) It never found a large following in its five seasons, although today it is considered by many critics and viewers to be the finest TV series ever produced. It is set in present-day Baltimore and one of the things that it is about is how America is broken. It is highly unlikely that The Wire could have advertised itself by holding a contest that says, you can be in this photo.
Mad Men is great fun. The acting, the clothing, the furniture, the nicknacks, and that wonderful lighting. And of course the show is dutifully critical of aspects of the period that it portrays. As a matter of fact, the narrative arc was apparently meant to swing from the uptight and hypocritical 1950′s to the liberation of the ’60′s. But something perverse seems to have happened or be happening. In our dark economic times the atmosphere and staging of the show are becoming the message. And this message seems to be: it’s kind of okay to forget about how awful and repressive the 1950′s and early 60′s were if its artifacts provide the fantasy or eye candy that we need in order to escape from our own times. I know, you are going to say that I am going too far. It’s not the TV show’s fault if it’s seductively adorned.
A short personal sidebar. I was a child in the 1950′s and a young adolescent in the early 1960′s, yet I can still feel the claustrophobia of the period. I can tell you that offices were rarely glamorous. They were enclaves of sexism and repression. I remember working in one as a mailboy in my teens. Men were stuffed into cubicles or small offices. Women worked in outer areas as secretaries–a version of what you see in Mad Men. The hierarchy was fixed. I can swear that the men spent half their time either making passes at the secretaries or making juvenile sexual jokes about them, which were not much different from what I heard in the high school locker room. If I were a girl at the time, I would have said “ick.” (Of course, I couldn’t actually say, “ick,” or I would have been seen as a sissy.) What about the clothing, you ask. Let me tell you, when you actually had to wear this sort of clothing day in and day out or be ostracized for not wearing it, it wasn’t any fun. (I had to wear skinny ties in a public school until the late 1960′s.)
Perhaps I am getting worked up over nothing. After all doesn’t the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, feel much as I do about the period? But I am not the first to suggest that Weiner may be conflicted regarding his own creation. (See Natasha Simons.) The period is romanticized even as it is criticized. Let’s be clear, the romance is a mistake. The period was so bad that if I invented a time machine I would make sure that it would self-destruct before it could take anyone back into it. From this perspective, the Mad Men contest photo does not appear innocuous. It’s not simply suggesting: wouldn’t it be fun to be on a TV show. It’s suggesting: wouldn’t it be a blast to be back in that time, when, to paraphrase Ogden Nash, candy was dandy but liquor was quicker.
This season Mad Men will present us with the trials and tribulations of a bunch of middle class folks struggling to build their own business in a day when the economy was still booming. Escapism surely has its place. But as we enjoy the accouterments of the characters’ life styles, I wonder how much time we will spend focusing on how far their world actually is from ours. Which brings me back to The Wire, in which the drug of choice is heroin, not liquor, and upward mobility is not about getting a corner office but avoiding the coroner. We don’t really want to watch The Wire. It presents a political and economic system that is ill-equipped to grapple with depth of the corruption that plagues various strata in our society. It doesn’t provide any eye candy and it certainly doesn’t hold out the hope of a world in which our homes and offices are bathed in sunlight. If you are going to watch the fourth season of Mad Men, and you haven’t seen The Wire, it might be an interesting experiment to view them together.
Chicago lost a big one last week, the 2016 Olympics. This week, one of its sons won a Nobel Prize. Chicago has once again proven to be the city of big shoulders.
Some rejoiced last week when Chicago lost its bid, because it was seen as Obama’s failure. Many of the same folks are criticizing his recent “win.” The man can’t seem to please some people.
The criticisms, hours after the announcement, are already taking shape: He didn’t deserve it. It’s too early in his tenure as president. It just goes to show that he is more concerned about the world than troubles at home, etc.
Let’s clear up a few misconceptions. The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded for various reasons. There isn’t a single criterion. Some individuals have won for helping to end a war (Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Kissinger), for humanitarian work and conflict resolution done over the years (Jimmy Carter), for seeking to improve international relations by supporting an international organization (Woodrow Wilson). It can also be given to the individual who has done the most in the past year to bring about world peace. The latter is the reason cited by the chair of the Nobel Committee, and former prime minister of Norway, Thorbjorn Jagland, for honoring Obama. The New York Times reports:
“The question we have to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world,” Mr. Jagland said. “And who has done more than Barack Obama?”
He compared the selection of Mr. Obama with the award in 1971 to the then West German Chancellor Willy Brandt for his “Ostpolitik” policy of reconciliation with communist eastern Europe.
“Brandt hadn’t achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Mr. Jagland said. “We have to get the world on the right track again,” he said. Without referring specifically to the Bush era, he continued: “Look at the level of confrontation we had just a few years ago. Now we get a man who is not only willing but probably able to open dialogue and strengthen international institutions.”
But wouldn’t you know it. Instead of experiencing some pride in the fact that a sitting American president has won the Nobel Peace Prize, which certainly sends a positive message to the world, like the conservatives who rejoiced at Chicago losing the Olympics, Republicans can’t wait to criticize the man for winning a prize he wasn’t even seeking. Listen to Michael Steel, chairman of the Republican Party. (From The New York Times , Oct. 9, 2009)
“The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?’ It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights,” Mr. Steele said in a statement. “One thing is certain — President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.”
This is cheap and mean spirited. Its concern with scoring domestic political points is on a par with those who thought embarrassing Obama over the Olympics was worth more than the benefits of an Olympics to Chicago and America.
Obama won the prize in part because he is a genuine cosmopolitan, in the best sense of the term. His politics look to the world stage and America’s place on it, not behind or above it. But it appears that many Americans simply don’t realize the extent to which his words during the election and his approach to international relations–one which emphasizes the idea of respect–have transformed perceptions of America. (Perhaps America might really be interested in decreasing violence around the world, in decreasing nuclear weapons, etc.)
Leading America, the most powerful nation on Earth, out of the moral and political myopia of the last eight years is surely worth a Nobel Prize. In this regard, who has done more for world peace this past year than Barack Obama?
A poll recently done for the New York Times and CBS News on the state of the American Dream has some interesting results. It appears that more Americans believe that they have achieved the American Dream today (44%) than they did four years ago (32%). The results may seem strange given the depth of the recession. However, it appears that for a substantial number of Americans the way in which the Dream is understood has undergone a revision. There is now less emphasis on financial security. The New York Times article excerpted below is worth a read, although the examples given in the article are open to alternative interpretations.
The Times and CBS News asked this same open-ended question four years ago and again last month: “What does the phrase ‘The American dream’ mean to you?”
Four years ago, 19 percent of those surveyed supplied answers that related to financial security and a steady job, and 20 percent gave answers that related to freedom and opportunity.
Now, fewer people are pegging their dream to material success and more are pegging it to abstract values. Those citing financial security dropped to 11 percent, and those citing freedom and opportunity expanded to 27 percent.
Delacroix’s Lady Liberty leading consumers and investors who say, enough is enough.
April 26, 2009. The United States declared a public health emergency today. Although it appears that no one has died or become seriously ill in the U.S. from a new strain of the swine flu, health officials are taking no chances. All of the traditional measures to combat epidemics have been set in motion. Funds will be made available for anti-viral drugs, and time-tested and effective methods for tracking and preventing the spread of disease will be utilized. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is reassuring the public, citing its decades of experience in handling epidemics and its recent preparation for pandemics.
However, former Vice President Cheney, through a spokesman, is calling on the CDC to avoid thinking within the box in deciding on measures to halt this attack on our nation. “We can’t afford not to act with every means available to us,” said his spokesman. Inside the CDC there is mounting pressure to consult with agents from the CIA to examine how harsh interrogation techniques might be of service. With fear mounting and pressure growing, expert legal advice is being sought in order to provide the proper “legal cover” for actions that international agreements have outlawed as torture.
“Look,” said a representative from the former VP’s office, “you gotta do what you gotta do. There are swine out there who, or I should say, that are dangerous. We need to know what, where, and when.” The plan seems to be to find the pigs that are harboring the terrorist virus, and apply harsh techniques, torture if you will, in order force them to provide operational intelligence.
There has been some concern that the swine won’t talk. But everyone should know that swine are among the most intelligent animals, according to experts in covert intelligence. A spokesperson for the CDC insists that with proper guidance, waterboarding a pig is possible, and it will get the animal to talk, and talk fast. (He then handed this reporter a copy of Animal Farm.)
Questioned about violating the rights of these animals, a Cheney spokesman said, “What’s the difference? Whether it’s a human animal or an animal animal. If it attacks you, or if you believe that it might possibly attack, you go after it.” There was little response to a question directed to Cheney himself (as he was walking his dog) by one reporter, “What about all of the innocent pigs, for example, the three little ones, that were just minding their business, trying to build lives for themselves?” Cheney did say that if we could apply harsh techniques to the virus itself, we would. But since we don’t have the technical means to do so, as many of the swine as possible gotta be boarded.
Asked to comment, The White House declined, claiming that as an inanimate object it had little to say. Although a spokesman for the President did say that if the tactics were forward-looking enough, and did not constitute a threat to his domestic agenda, he might be able to get his team behind the CDC. In any case, no CDC employee will be prosecuted for actions deemed acceptable by agency lawyers.
A spokesperson for the Humane Society claimed to be too upset to return this reporter’s call.
America, land of opportunity, where hard work and merit determines who gets ahead. A nation where a good education, the gateway to success, is available to all.
Not so fast, I’m afraid. America is actually losing ground in providing access to college. And disparities in income are responsible. How bad is the situation? It seems that, “bright and focused kids from poor families are going to college at the same rate as unfocused or low-scoring kids from families much better off.” This quotation is from a recent piece by Andrew Delbanco, “The Universities in Trouble,” in The New York Review of Books. It’s worth a read. Here is an excerpt.
But the public–private partnership that did much to democratize American higher education has been coming apart. In 1976, federal Pell grants for low-income students covered 72 percent of the average cost of attending a four-year state institution; by 2003, Pell grants covered only 38 percent of the cost. Meanwhile, financial aid administered by the states is being allocated more and more on the basis of “merit” rather than need—meaning that scholarships are going increasingly to high-achieving students from high-income families, leaving deserving students from low-income families without the means to pay for college.
In 2002, a federal advisory committee issued a report, aptly entitled “Empty Promises,” which estimated that “more than 400,000 students nationally from families with incomes below $50,000″ met the standards of college admission “and yet were unable to enroll in a four-year college because of financial barriers. More than 160,000 of these students did not attend any college because of these barriers, not even a two-year institution.” Two years later one leading authority pointed out that “the college-going rates of the highest-socioeconomic-status students with the lowest achievement levels is the same level as the poorest students with the highest achievement levels.” In short, bright and focused kids from poor families are going to college at the same rate as unfocused or low-scoring kids from families much better off.
1. Donald E. Heller quoted in Paul Attewell and Davd E. Lavin, Does Higher Education for the Disadvantaged Pay Off Across the Generations? (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007), p. 199; Donald E. Heller, “A Bold Proposal: Increasing College Access Without Spending More Money,” Crosstalk, Fall 2004; and Brian K. Fitzgerald and Jennifer A. Delaney, “Educational Opportunity in America,” Condition of Access: Higher Education for Lower Income Students, edited by Donald E. Heller (ACE/Praeger, 2002).
Adam Smith, on the left, looks through Brooks, while Hegel, on the right, can only think, “Oy.”
Poor David Brooks. You just never know when he is going to get in over his head, and neither does he. One can only marvel at some of the “out of left” field claims and arguments that he has made, while continuing to present himself as the most reasonable man on the planet. Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard to dislike the guy, with his schoolboy enthusiasms and his deferential comments about the brains (specifically, the high SAT scores) of the members of the new administration. And you have to prefer him to Rush.
But sometimes in his desire to show off and create a splash he goes too far. Yesterday, April 7, 2009, was just such a day. Brooks entitled his column in the NY Times, “The End of Philosophy.” If that wasn’t pretentious enough, he then proceeded to tell us how philosophers have spent 2,500 years barking up the wrong tree because scientists have now discovered connections between morality and emotion. (As if this is not an old topic, even in Ethics 101.)
Well, I couldn’t resist a quick response, and it appears that neither could hundreds of others. I am reproducing my comments here (unedited) because it seems that they were recommended by good number of readers, and well, you know, one can never pass up an opportunity to knock David’s books out of his hands, figuratively speaking, that is. His article, The End of Philosophy, is a wonderful example of what happens when one goes into the water before one knows how to swim, believing that one doesn’t have to learn. (Just act naturally.) I recommend it to instructors of philosophy (and writing) as a useful classroom tool. Don’t do as David does, or else…. I recommended it to everyone else as a rewarding screamer.
Oy. I think that we need to talk. I am afraid that you are practicing philosophy without a license, which is okay, up to a point. (First rule: do no harm.) What is striking is how consistent you have been over the years in basically holding to a view of morality that Adam Smith and his followers would fine congenial, especially on cooperation. And then presenting from time to time “new insights” that support this position. (The notion that sympathy is the foundation of our moral sensibilities is certainly a feature of this school.) The one place where this School would have let you down in the past (that is, before you discovered emotion) was your desire to believe that Reason (with a capital R) can be depended on for moral guidance. (More on this below.)
I hope that you will not be offended if I say, your piece needs a bit more work. It is not entirely consistent and cogent, for example, in the way that it leans on emotions and then suddenly takes a turn toward “responsibility” at the end, without any sort of explanation for how the latter relates to the former. (And how are we to understand the development of the responsibility?)
But it also contains some rather bizarre claims, for example,
“Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.”
Are you really claiming the babies make moral judgments? Is any sort of emotional response to be understood as a moral judgment? Is the fact that we can’t explain why we think something is wrong always a failure of reason or a failure to appreciate the ways in which habits and judgments get built up over time? (Not all failures in understanding are failures of reason. I am afraid that you suffer a bit from the jilted lover of reason syndrome. You were a believer and now Reason hasn’t lived up to its billing. So, we jump from Reason to Emotion.)
Much to be said here. But this is only a space for quick comments. I have a suggestion. You might want to take a look a classical American Pragmatism, for it tries to grapple with morality in terms of values without relying on a “traditional” notion of reason. (This may be especially interesting to you, since it can be argued that Obama is a philosophical pragmatist, a topic I have written about, if I can engage in a bit of germane self-promotion.)
— Mitchell Aboulafia, NY
Aretha Franklin sang it, “Respect,” and the Obama administration is making it a watchword of both foreign and domestic policy. Obama’s repeated invocation of “respect” isn’t merely a ploy, a tactic. It is driven by a deep egalitarianism. It is very Obama, and it’s America at its best. And it’s worth considering the recent handshake incident at 10 Downing Street in this light.
By A. A. GILL, New York Times, April 4, 2009
IT’S invariably the little things, the unconsidered, off the cuff, in passing, unrehearsed things that snag our attention, and seem to be telling of the bigger things. In the case of Barack Obama’s first visit to London and the Group of 20 conference to save the endangered habitat of bankers and real estate salesmen, it was the handshake with the bobby that seemed to be emblematic. In a forest of waving palms, this handshake meant more.
As the president stepped up to 10 Downing Street, he leant over, made eye contact, said something courteous, and shook the hand of the police officer standing guard. There’s always a police officer there; he is a tourist logo in his ridiculous helmet. He tells you that this is London, and the late 19th century. No one has ever shaken the hand of the policeman before, and like everyone else who has his palm touched by Barack Obama, he was visibly transported and briefly forgot himself. He offered the hand to Gordon Brown, the prime minister, who was scuttling behind.
It was ignored. He was left empty-handed. It isn’t that Mr. Brown snubbed the police officer; he just didn’t see him. To a British politician, a police officer is as invisible as the railings.