Gantry cranes & cargo containers, Port of Vancouver, BC, Canada, May 2009, Kenneth M. Kambara

Bad ones shouldn’t.

I recently read an embarrassingly naïve blog post by an economist criticizing the Obama administration and Tim Geithner of the Treasury for their export strategy of doubling strategy over the next 5 years. The blogger’s take was that you cannot increase exports without softening the dollar {making exports relatively cheaper}, at least in the short run, and that that makes no sense to him. Huh?

Well, I’m no fan of Geithner and his policies, but I’m also not a fan of handwaving economics that makes observations at the 50,000 foot level and ignore complexity and the role of organizations and strategy.

First off, I tend to agree with Fortune reporter Nin-Hai Tseng, who says that devaluing the dollar is a bad idea and that the problem with the dollar these days is its volatility. Travelling in Canada with an Visa card with a US-based bank, Wells Fargo, I got to see first hand how volatile the US dollar can be with respect to its northern counterpart. Such volatility makes business decisions riskier and much of my doctoral dissertation way back when demonstrated how at the organizational level, operational volatility has a negative effect on brands, accounting profits, and stock price.

This week, one of this big G20 concerns is currency wars, particularly in the wake of the “quantitative easing” plans by the US Federal Reserve that is pumping $600B into the economy over the next 8 months. Well, the idea is in the short run to stimulate exports, although with a “currency war”, other nations attempt to devalue their currencies to do the same. What’s the bottom line, in terms of what’s going on now? Tseng reports::

“Who knows how low the dollar might fall, but so far the drop of its value has accelerated with the second round of quantitative easing. After reaching a one-year high on June 7, the dollar weakened 7.5% against a basket of major currencies through the end October, and a whopping 18% against the euro.

All the while, the outlook for U.S. exports looks strong as household incomes grow in emerging economics including China, India and Brazil grow. In September, U.S. exports climbed to the highest level in two years, increasing by 0.3% to $154.1 billion, the US Commerce Department reported Wednesday. This helped narrow the trade deficit by 5.3% to $44 billion.

It’s true that exports only make up about 12% of the US economy, but with GDP growth so anemic, the trend in exports might actually add to growth in the short-run.”

A big issue is increased protectionism, although it should be noted that the “quantitative easing” is a form of trade barrier in that it devalues the US dollar, and increased tariffs and protectionist policies that inhibit trade could erase any export gains and cause the economy to slump further. A weakened dollar also makes imports more expensive, which could allow for increased import substitution, where buyers buy {and hire} domestically {as opposed to outsourcing}.

From an organizational point of view, a critical factor in an international business strategy is the delivery of value in global markets. Sure, currency devaluation helps, but it’s not the only factor, which is my beef with overly-generalized statements by economists. I feel that North American competitiveness, given relatively high wages and standard of living, is contingent on developing markets that leverage distinctive competencies and exports of new innovations and technologies. Rather that quibble with the South Koreans about allowing gas-guzzling US-manufactured vehicles to be exported, I’d much rather see increased focus and spending on the development and market development of US innovations. I’d like to see Canada do the same, increasingly shifting from natural resources towards increased value-added, technology, and innovation, using alliances and networks to jumpstart competitiveness, particularly in areas such as medical {red} biotech.

In the short-run, the “quantitative easing” might allow exports to pump some much-needed growth into the economy and at this point, anything helps. Does this make no sense? I think it actually does make sense, but I doubt if the Obama administration expects to fuel a doubling of exports with a weak dollar strategy for years and years.

Twitterversion:: [blog] Economist criticizes Obama/Geithner for export and dollar devaluation policies. Dismal science or dismal intellect? @Prof_K

Video:: Biden to Obama, “This is a big f*cking deal”

The signing of the healthcare bill last week was significant in more ways than one. I feel it galvanized the Democrats and I also feel it was critical for Obama to make the healthcare bill “personal” and get fellow Democrats to be rowing in the same direction. I think this was quite a challenge, as the liberal factions of the party are ideologically distinct from the more conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

In the wake of the signing, the Democrats got good news in the form of a public opinion poll reporting 49% saying the bill was a good thing, compared to 40% saying it was bad. There was also a spike in donations, with $1M pouring in last Tuesday without a direct ask.

There has been a backlash and alleged incidents of offices being vandalized. The Republicans needed to respond to thwart any momentum, but I’m not convinced their strategy is sound. Sarah Palin started a bit of controversy with her reload and targeting comments in a speech in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hometown of Searchlight, NV::

The media tried to whip Sarah Palin’s “targeting” and “reload” comments into pageview fodder, but I think the big issue for Republicans is a lack of a message that resonates with a country in the economic doldrums. John McCain claims that Palin’s words are just political rhetoric::

While this all makes for good drama, I’m not sure how effective this type of press coverage is in building support. I can’t help but think of the utter carnage of the 1994 midterm elections. Bill Clinton was weakened by a lack of support in Congress from his own party as a Washington outsider and…Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. This C-SPAN footage is a bit dry, but it shows a systematic delineation of undermining public support of Democrats and was more successful than many anticipated. The Democrats would go on to lose 8 seats in the Senate and 54 in the House, earning a majority in both.

I think there was and perhaps still is an opportunity for the Republicans to pick up quite a few seats, but there needs to be rhetoric that moderates can sink their teeth into. Without a more substantial agenda resonating, I predict low turnout, as voters sit the midterms out.

Twitterversion:: Post healthcare, Dems get bump in polls & donations last wk. Rep. backlash ensues. Doubtful if 2010 will be another 1994 @Prof_K

Song:: Okkervil River-‘Our Life Is Not a Movie’

Research 2000 has a shudder inducing poll on Republican attitudes and beliefs regarding Pres. Obama. Here are the highlights via Ben Smith (Politico)

Should Barack Obama be impeached, or not?
Yes 39
No 32
Not Sure 29

Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?
Yes 63
No 21
Not Sure 16

Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States, or not?
Yes 42
No 36
Not Sure 22

Do you believe ACORN stole the 2008 election?
Yes 21
No 24
Not Sure 55

Should openly gay men and women be allowed to teach in public schools?
Yes 8
No 73
Not Sure 19

I’m not sure which one of these results is more startling. Let’s go with 63% of Republicans believing that Pres. Obama is a socialist. This suggests to me that level-headed, moderates have fled the party. I still content that this “lunatic fringe” is only a fraction of the U.S. electorate and the Republicans still have structural problems they need to work out. They are primed to get closer to control of both houses of congress, but to do that, they’ll have to win back moderates and become a “normal” party again with the same problems the Dems currently enjoy.

A few caveats are in order. Research 2000 was contracted by Daily Kos to do the poll, which doesn’t mean anything in particular, but it would be useful to look at the methodology more closely. Having said that, these results give us some good insight as to why the current president is having such trouble getting health care passed through Congress. If this poll is accurate, the Republican party is a right wing party. If you’re a Republican legislator, you run a serious risk of losing your seat to a “real republican” in upcoming primaries. This fear is allowing the Republicans to enjoy an amazing amount of party discipline. In our system, the minority always wants to be the “party of no” but is usually not able to because there are centrists who can be “peeled off” by the majority. Not so with this group of Republicans.

Update: Nate Silver looks at the crosstabs and finds marginal difference between demographic groups. Take the “socialist” question for instance:

Translation…the Republican tent is shrinking. Good for maintaining party discipline…let’s see about governing.

Pointing out the obvious
Pointing out the obvious

Anyone curious on how how pro-single payer physicians think about the issues, I encourage you to check out the Physicians for a National Healthcare Program {PNHP} FAQ.  Here’s a list of PNHP single-payer resources, as well.  As stated in an earlier post, I view health care as infrastructure that can spur innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship and like many in the biotech. industry, I see a single-payer model {public finance of healthcare, as opposed to provision} as important for implementation of genomic medicine.

I won’t go into the healthcare debate and media circus, but will link to an article on a recent NBC poll.  Interestingly, 36% believe that Obama’s reform efforts are a good idea, but 53% support a paragraph describing his plans.  It’s a communication problem.  If you think all of the cacophony at the town halls is helping the GOP, you’re wrong.  The NBC poll reports 62% disapprove of their handling of health care.

The PNHP is highly critical of the administrative costs of healthcare and are no fans of the insurance industry.  Insurance also affects how healthcare providers do their jobs.  I have access to hospital data that’s used to “manage care” to maximize insurance reimbursement.  Moreover, there are powerful incentives in the insurance industry to maximize profits by denying claims.  The PNHP recognizes that a single-payer system will adversely affect insurance::

“The new system will still need some people to administer claims. Administration will shrink, however, eliminating the need for many insurance workers, as well as administrative staff in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. More health care providers, especially in the fields of long-term care, home health care, and public health, will be needed, and many insurance clerks can be retrained to enter these fields. Many people now working in the insurance industry are, in fact, already health professionals (e.g. nurses) who will be able to find work in the health care field again. But many insurance and health administrative workers will need a job retraining and placement program. We anticipate that such a program would cost about $20 billion, a small fraction of the administrative savings from the transition to national health insurance.”

So, shouldn’t we be concerned about insurance ?  Are they getting a bad rap?  Are they really evil?  Isn’t it a part of financial intermediation, providing the critical function of polling resources and spreading risk?

Malcolm Gladwell in a 2005 New Yorker article did a good job of explaining two forms of insurance:: social and actuarial.  Social insurance pools money from many for a public good, regardless of usage, in order to sustain an infrastructure.  Actuarial insurance is quite different and has been the pathway that US healthcare has been going::

“How much you pay is in large part a function of your individual situation and history: someone who drives a sports car and has received twenty speeding tickets in the past two years pays a much higher annual premium than a soccer mom with a minivan.”

Think pre-existing conditions.  The actuarial model is why biotech. wants a single-payer system.  Genomics identify risks and will eventually match individuals, diseases, and therapies on the basis of genetic information.  Doctors see this on the horizon and Robin Cook, MD offered this NY Times op. ed. on how he had revised his views on universal health care.

But, if you were to craft a business model, which would you choose to invest in, if you wanted to make the most profit?::  {1} social insurance that pools equal premiums from all and allocates care to all or {2} actuarial insurance that charges more for people who have a higher likelihood of becoming ill and can deny care for pre-existing conditions or treatment deemed unwarranted.  The actuarial model can easily align with a set of values of individualism, as well as moral judgments about treating certain diseases {e.g., a smoker with lung cancer}.  I’ve seen people on discussion boards claim that “I can take care of my own” and perplexed why everyone else cannot.  How I see it, the current debates are really about using individualism to protect corporate interests.  I see plenty of incentives for the actuarial insurance industry and politicians to fan the argumentative flames about wild-eyed hypotheticals, as opposed to substantive debates about implementation. The devil is in the details.

Gladwell concluded his article with the following::

“In the rest of the industrialized world, it is assumed that the more equally and widely the burdens of illness are shared, the better off the population as a whole is likely to be. The reason the United States has forty-five million people without coverage is that its health-care policy is in the hands of people who disagree, and who regard health insurance not as the solution but as the problem.”

Twitterversion:: Who will weep 4 actuarial US health insur. indstry? Are they/backers obfuscating real debates on implmntatn w/histrionics?http://url.ie/28qa @Prof_K

Song:: Pay For It – Lloyd Cole

Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada
Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada

Notes from north of 49ºN

Update 4 August:: Video on Jack Layton from MSNBC-below.

Jack Layton is the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada whose riding is the next one over from me, Toronto-Danforth.  Over on the Huffington Post, Jack did a post on the realities of the Canadian health care system.

I have a lot of strong views on health care in the US based on my work in non-profit health and my research on the biotech industry.  It’s worth mentioning that today’s US health care system began as employer perquisites {benefits}, back when health care and pharmaceuticals were cheap.  The private insurance model starts to break down when costs escalate resulting in employers and employees getting squeezed and uninsured rates rising.  Some say a perfect storm of events {recession, rising costs, uninsured rate of 19%, and Obama} is leading to a tipping point in health care.  It should be noted that the US will not adopt a health care system like Canada’s, where the government {provinces} provide health care, but rather a system where the government finances health care delivered by private enterprise.

On the The Huffington Post, Jack makes some compelling points, whether you agree with his politics or not::

“Costs are under control in Canada. We spend similar amounts on public care – around 7% of GDP. For that price, Canada covers everyone, the U.S. just one third of the population. In case you’re worried Canada wastes money on bureaucracy, know that just 2.4% of our total costs go to administration compared to 7% of what your government spends. In end, Canadian care costs $2,500 less per capita – and covers everyone.”

He points out that the system isn’t perfect::

“Our system does have flaws. We need better prescription drug coverage, better remote access to care and better practices in hospitals and clinics. No honest advocate for our health care system would dismiss these things. But Canadian health care works — and works well.”

Does all this mean that the United States should adopt Canada’s health care system?…No. America can no more adopt our health care system than we can swap hockey for baseball as our national pastime. A good health care system reflects a country’s values, and each country’s values are different…But a system with 47 million uninsured, coverage denied due to pre-existing conditions and people thrown off plans when they become ill? That doesn’t reflect American values.”

Unfortunately, there are other competing values in play in the US, making healthcare a contentious issue.  It’s not a simple matter of costs and taxes, but one that also affects innovation and entrepreneurship.  Biotechnology is predicated upon using the human genome to better match diseases, patients, and therapies.  “Pre-existing conditions” and genetic skeletons in one’s closet can thwart innovation in biotech because it adds additional business risk.  If insurance refuses to pay, where are the revenues?

One question on my mind and one I pose to my students, is healthcare a public infrastructure or should it be treated strictly as a business?  The Canadian model is one where the state is the financier and provider, where the provinces oversee a large, integrated health infrastructure.  As stated above, a new US healthcare model is unlikely to be this comprehensive, instead focusing in financing.  The current US model uses market mechanisms heavily, where healthcare delivery, insurance, and pharmaceuticals all having a dog in the healthcare reform fight.  Altering the landscape through healthcare reform will alter business models and likely create windfall gains and losses.  On the other hand, we have that perfect storm of recession, rising costs, uninsured rate of 19%, and Obama.  Another implication of the current model, where healthcare is an employment benefit, is that it limits new business creation, i.e., creates “entrepreneurship lock.”  A recent working paper supports this reasoning::

“Overall we find some evidence that the U.S. emphasis on employer-provided health insurance may be limiting entrepreneurship.  The clearest evidence comes from the regression discontinuity results which create the most comparability in experimental and controls groups.  The finding of ‘entrepreneurship lock’ is important as it suggests that the bundling of health insurance and employment may create an inefficient allocation of which or when workers start businesses.”

Healthcare can also has an affect on the arts in the US in same fashion, necessitating that creatives take on dayjobs with health benefits.  One artist once told me that money {or lower costs} means the freedom to create.  The current system does precious little to create incentives for cash-strapped entrepreneurs and creatives to innovate and create.  Does this matter?  I think it does in terms of sustainable economic growth and treating healthcare as a publicly financed infrastructure, i.e., a social good, paid with {gasp} taxpayer dollars makes more sense than the current system, but the devil’s in the details and good implementation is critical in order for a new system to be successful.  That said, these challenges shouldn’t be reasons not to do it.
Video:: Jack Layton on MSNBC’s The Ed Show, NDP Blog via Twitter


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Twitterversion:: Jack Layton of #NDP clarifies healthcare in #Canada. Should healthcare be infrastructure? Implications for innovation & entrepreneurship. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song::  Planet Health – Chairlift {Brooklyn, NY of iPod Nano fame}

Jack Welch, ex-CEO of GE, online MBA namesake {this Economist article is funny}, and policy critic is no stranger to controversy.  Here’s “Neutron” Jack warning of Obama running up deficits::

I have no problem with criticizing policy, but when it drifts from rhetoric towards potshots, my patience wears thin remarkably fast, regardless of the ideology.  Welch offered the curious advice of a “fake plan” after revisions of the deficit came out and Obama already responded to the news.  In my book, Welch isn’t offering analysis, but just stirring the pot and trying to seem relevant in the eye of the public.

Fast forward to June 28, when Welch offered up more controversy at a human resource management conference and was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article.   Now, after his comments have gotten into the press, Welch is getting into a bit of hot water for statements he made on there not being such a thing as a work-life balance.  Welch said those taking time off for family won’t be there “in the clutch” and could be passed over for promotions.

“We’d love to have more women moving up faster…But they’ve got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one.”

According to Welch, there is a consolation.  While you might not get to the top for trying the career-family balancing act, you can still have a nice career, nevertheless.  Some praised Welch for his bluntness, while others lambasted him for being “out of touch.”

One comment on the article accused the WSJ of attempting to increase pageviews with inflammatory articles and another accused Welch of trying to peddle his book.   The Twittersphere was abuzz with Welch’s statements, as of 7:12 EDT, with plenty of retweets of the article and quite a few naysayers.  Welch himself, who has a Twitter account, is in the hospital with a serious spinal infection, so don’t expect anything from him on the matter any time soon.  One Tweet called him a grumpy old man, as did a blog at The Conglomerate {via Salon}.  Grumpy or not, is he right?

While his words might seem to apply to both men an women equally, the fact of the matter is that there are key perceptual gendered differences in organizations when it comes to family, bringing up a double-standard.  Scott Coltrane’s paper, “Elite Careers and Family Commitment: It’s (Still) about Gender,” makes this point clear::

  • “Family men” are viewed as having mature leadership qualities
  • Women getting married or having children can derail their previous “fast track” status, as that choice renders her as less-qualified

Welch is advocating what some in sociology call a “separate spheres” ideology, regarding gender, allowing the double-standard on the meaning of “family” to persist.  The fact of the matter is that even if you talk about “family” with respect to both men and women, the meanings aren’t the same.  Research on CEO succession are consistent with the tenets of economic sociology, i.e., if one desires to be heir to the CEO throne, social relations within the organization and with the corporate board matter {e.g., See Cannella & Shen}.  So, if you’re up for a CEO spot, it matters how others perceive you, whether you like the double standard or not.  Welch is promoting a mythology of the CEO as an individual totally committed to the organization.  Along with his other statements, CEOs and managers all should have a draconian stance and total obeisance to the almighty shareholder value, or perceptions thereof {including cooking the books?}.

It’s a bottom-line world, right?  Companies face a reality and Jack is simply reflecting it.  Maybe not.  BusinessWeek taped a Q&A session with the CEOs of Sony {Howard Stringer} and Best Buy {Brad Anderson}, two companies with very different attitudes towards the “balance” issue::

“What became apparent in subsequent discussions from both CEOs was that personal time was pretty hard to come by. Stringer talked about the differences in the Japanese and U.S. career cultures. The Japanese work much longer hours including one weekend day, and the idea of a great deal of leisure time, or time spent in their homes with their families, is still not part of their culture. He also noted that many employees, manager level really, were still mostly male (something he hoped to help change).

This was in stark contrast to the recent changes at Best Buy and their new flexible hours program being implemented at all levels of the company. Mr. Anderson gave the example of two women (working mothers) promoted to manager who were now able to job share, since neither due to child care commitments could work the hours required.”

Organizations are social systems and are often in states of flux.  Welch is advocating a received-view way of thinking, but on the basis of what logic?  I would argue that we need to rethink the role of the CEO, away from organizational financial performance and towards meaning and leadership.  A strong leader creates meaning, which guides actions throughout.  It would be interesting to compare the meaning systems of Sony and Best Buy and how it affects corporate culture and decision-making.  Maybe students in Welch’s online MBA programme can take that on.

Twitterversion:: Jack Welch stirring pot w/comments on work-life balance. Oldschool ideas reinforce faulty logic. #Fail  http://url.ie/21sr #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Work Is A Four-Letter Word – The Smiths

The president has to be one of the most photographed in history. A look at his active Flickr stream will provide testimony to his ubiquitousness. This is a deliberate strategy by the white house to control message (and put the paparazzi out of business…two birds with one stone!)

But the downside of this visual feast of White House images is that your chin is exposed. Take this image of the president talking with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu:

Innocuous looking? It has apparently created a stir in Israel, presumably because showing the soles of your shoes in seen as an insult in the Arab world (i.e. the secret Muslim is thumbing his nose at Israel)!

Is this just acceptable collateral damage from an administration that bathes us in images? Or is this a signal that the administration needs to be more cautious about the POTUS’ presentation of self?

After being on the road for a week, I finally had the chance to catch up on news and such, including the US Supreme Court appointment controversy of Sonia Sotomayor.  The Meet the Press {NBC} soundbite that caused the maelstrom was this Sotomayor quote from 8 years ago::

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

This quote was from a 2001 UC Berkeley-Boalt Hall lecture, which was published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.  This soundbite ignited lively debate, as well as charges of racism and reverse-racism, serving to frame Sotomayor::


David Gregory, host of Meet the Press, opted to provide a little more context this week, but he still failed to provide the widest context for her 2001 remarks.  MediaMatters highlighted the parts Gregory omitted in bold::

“Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.


Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion. I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.”

Gregory added more context, but his spin still doesn’t give the full picture.  I “get it” why Gregory chose to focus on the text he did, as it was controversial and generated buzz.  {Don’t get me started on press coverage of the BC election, particularly the supposed “beer tax” [non-]issue.}  I grow tired of journalists or this new breed of quasi-journalist, the commentator {read:: infotainment}, engage in ratings-grabbing soundbitery from both ends of the ideological spectrum.

I feel that Barack himself has thwarted to a certain extent being “soundbit” into a pigeonhole.  

  • Is this because of a specific relationship that has evolved with the media -or- is this particular to his rhetorical skills that embrace complexity?  

In contrast, the US has had 16 years of “bubbas” who made it a point to boil things down to a lowest-common-denominator vernacular.  In other Sotomayor news, I saw this sociogram {below} of her present and past relationships.  I haven’t verified this mapping, but I wonder if the Senate Republicans will try to go after her in the confirmation hearings based upon this type of “evidence,” which can always be used to trip people up.  Given that Republicans are already backing off on the racism angle, I’m wondering how much of this racism angle will even be used.  Why bother, when you can frame her as “dumb”?

Sotomayor sociogram on Muckety.com
Sotomayor sociogram on Muckety.com

Twitterversion::  Sotomayor soundbite framed as racism-wider context less damning. More journalism fail? Obama defies soundbites-why? WWSD? Whatwillsenatedo?

Song::  It Says Here (LP Version) – Billy Bragg


Ségolène Royal-French Socialist & possible French Presidential Candidate in 2012
Ségolène Royal-French Socialist & probable French Presidential Candidate in 2012

It was May Day here in Ontario.  I just Tweeted about a program I saw on TVO with socialism as a theme with Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, and political scientist at York University, Leo Panitch.

The discussions were interesting, but what really stuck with me was whether or not good politicians follow the votes or get the electorate to see things differently.  For example, given the anti-corporate climate, will politicians pander to where they think the electorate is or will they try to shape thinking about the economy?

Sell the sizzle, not the steak

In a shameless attempt to drive more pageviews, I included a pic. and cartoon of Ségolène Royal {Ségolène is a ThickCulture crowd-pleaser, according to our Google Analytics}, a French socialist {Parti Socialiste, PS} centre-left politician who ran for President in 2007 {losing to Sarkozy} and may run in 2012.    Say what you will about Ségolène, she manages to capture attention.  She has been known to have a quirky, evangelical style and has been accused by some as having a Joan of Arc complex.  Well, this sounds familiar (see Glenn Beck video from last fall).

The comparison isn’t accidental.  Obama with his power of persuasion, thus far, and the state of the economy may be providing a perfect storm for a change in the political zeitgeist. Will the Democrats see this as an opportunity to embrace that dreaded third-rail word, socialism, in terms of either rhetoric or implemented policy -or- would that just bring about a Gingrichian revolt akin to 1994?  Change?  What kind of change?  New Deal change?  New Frontier change?  Great Society change?  Is it a matter of the public looking for it -or- will savvy politicians frame a “new” economic order for them?  I think we’re in for seeing plenty of sizzle sold, but at some point, steak will have to be on the table, specifically, in terms of economic recovery.

The upcoming election in British Columbia is pitting the centre-left  (NDP) versus the centre-right (BC Liberal) {e.g., see blog on the BC Carbon Tax issue}, where the centre-left has a shot of controlling the provincial government.  Nationwide, the NDP support has risen 1 point since December to 13%, while the Liberals and Tories swapped positions and are polling 36 and 33%, respectively.  Perhaps regionally, there may a shift to the left {Canada has had NDP provincial governments in the past}, but I wonder as joblessness continues and bailouts persist, will national-scene politics in Canada and the US move towards a more socialist agenda?  While Barack is far from a socialist, he’s gaining comfort in his centre-left stance::

“The economic philosophy that Mr. Obama developed during the presidential campaign drew from across the ideological spectrum even as it remained rooted on the center-left. As that philosophy has been tested in practice through his early months in office, the president has if anything become more comfortable with an occasionally intrusive government as a counterweight to market forces that are now so powerful and fast-moving that they cannot be counted on to be self-correcting when things go wrong.”

–“Obamanomics: Redefining Capitalism After the Fall,” NYT, Richard W. Stevenson

So, are you ready for some socialism?  Will we see the selling of socialism?  Sounds like an oxymoron, but it may be a matter of time before we see something like this.  What’s Springsteen up to this summer?

I welcome any and all thoughts.

OK Ségo fans, while not entirely flattering, the following cartoon should help you with your fix. 

Caption - François Hollande (fellow Socialist & now ex-partner): "Ségolène, what are you doing in my wardrobe?" Ségolène Royal: "Frankly, don't you find it looks better on me than on you?") Via Hillblogger3

Twitterversion:: EpicFail for capitalism? Given current econ & political climate, is US/Canada ready for socialism? Will politicns pander or reshape thinkng?


OK, the Internet provides citizens with new vehicles to get involved in the political process, but will people “walk through the portal”? We will soon find out. The WhiteHouse has created a site called “open for questions,” a Digg-like site where residents can submit questions and vote on their favorites. The president will answer some of the most popular questions at a Thursday town hall. Here’s a metric for how much desire there is to engage directly with the federal government — as of 6pm Eastern time on March 25th, 2009 33,040 people had submitted 34,090 questions and cast 1,226,081 votes. 32,000 out of over 300 million citizens is not much, but here’s what makes this so intriguing. Check out a random sampling of questions leading the “voting” so far:

“With over 1 out of 30 Americans controlled by the penal system, why not legalize, control, and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy? Do we really need that many victimless criminals?”

“We have been forced to slowly liquidate my wife’s 401K to make our monthly mortgage payments. We dread the implications ahead when we have to file our 2009 federal tax returns. Do you foresee leniency on 401K liquidating for “qualified” candidates?”

“Will we ever see high speed passenger rail service in the U.S.?”

“I’m hard working, always make my mortgage payment on time, and bought a house I knew I could afford. My ARM is adjusting, and I’m not eligible for any great program. Why haven’t better loan options become available for the responsible middle class”

Compare these questions to those posed by the media at last nights press conference:

Apparently the demand for marijuana law reform is huge (insert Peter Tosh lyrics here). Now I’m not saying that marijuana laws should be at the top of the president’s agenda, but it’s significant that the Web 2.0 provide a new mechanism for agenda access. Rather than relying on institutions to “problematize” issues for the public agenda, individual citizens can throw their hat in the ring and potentially get a brief hearing. The serious test will be whether large numbers of people watch the Thursday morning town hall. If they do, the “on-line town hall” become a new avenue for policy entrepreneurs to reach the public agenda.