Opinion

The Great Debate

The U.S. economy needs an exports-led boost

A recent visit by President Obama to an Ohio steel mill underscored his promise to create 1 million manufacturing jobs. On the same day, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker announced her department’s commitment to exports, saying “Trade must become a bigger part of the DNA of our economy.”

These two impulses — to reinvigorate manufacturing and to emphasize exports — are, or should be, joined at the hip. The U.S. needs an export strategy led by research and development, and it needs it now. A serious federal commitment to R&D would help arrest the long-term decline in manufacturing, and return America to its preeminent and competitive positions in high tech. At the same time, increasing sales of these once-key exports abroad would improve our also-declining balance of trade.

It’s the best shot the U.S. has to energize its weak economic recovery. R&D investment in products sold in foreign markets would yield a greater contribution to economic growth than any other feasible approach today. It would raise GDP, lower unemployment, and rehabilitate production operations in ways that would reverberate worldwide.

The Obama administration is proud of the 2012 increase of 4.4 percent in overall exports over 2011. But that rise hasn’t provided a major jolt to employment and growth rates, because our net exports — that is, exports minus imports — are languishing. Significantly, the U.S. is losing ground in the job-rich arena of exported manufactured goods with high-technology content. Once the world leader, we’ve now been surpassed by Germany.

America’s economic health won’t be strong while its trade deficit stands close to a problematically high 3 percent of GDP (and widening). Up until the Reagan administration, we ran trade surpluses. Then, manufacturing and net exports began to shrink almost in tandem.

Corporate espionage undermines democracy

It’s not just the NSA that has been caught spying on Americans. Some of our nation’s largest corporations have been conducting espionage as well, against civic groups.

For these big companies with pliable ethics, if they don’t win political conflicts with campaign donations or lobbying power, then they play dirty. Very dirty.

That’s the lesson of a new report on corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations, by my colleagues at Essential Information. The title of the report is Spooky Business, and it is apt.

The Senate after filibuster reform

The Washington Post editorial page led the charge in denouncing the change in Senate filibuster rules engineered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and 51 of his Democratic colleagues last Thursday. Many other media voices quickly followed suit.

Reid’s action to allow a simple majority of senators present and voting — not the longstanding 60 — to end debate and proceed to a vote on presidential nominations to executive and judicial offices (except the Supreme Court) has now been widely characterized as a radical step, certain to accelerate the poisonous partisanship in Congress. It will, critics insist, grievously damage the Senate’s comparative advantage over the House of Representatives in fostering bipartisan negotiation and compromise.

The procedure Reid used — setting a new cloture precedent with a simple majority despite a Senate rule requiring a two-thirds majority to change Senate rules — was gutsy. Yet this method has been long available to the Senate. It was even proposed by Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist in 2005 and occasionally used to make minor changes in the filibuster.

Iran’s future is now

Whether by design or accident, the nuclear deal struck in Geneva this past weekend is about far more than centrifuges, enrichment and breakout times.

Ultimately, the success of the nuclear negotiations will help determine who and what will define Iran for the next few decades.

Will Iran be defined by the confrontational and bombastic approach of its former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the conservatives around him? Or will it be defined by the more open and moderate approach of its current President Hassan Rouhani and his energetic and respected Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif.

from The Great Debate UK:

Multinational repositories can address nuclear waste stockpile

--Behnam Taebi is assistant professor of philosophy, focusing on issues of ethics and nuclear power, at Delft University of Technology.--

Across much of the world, nuclear power continues to spawn controversy.  For instance, concern over the Fukushima site continues, and a risky, unprecedented operation has just begun to remove thousands of fuel rods.

Meanwhile, despite the landmark international deal agreed on Sunday that saw parts of Iran’s nuclear programme frozen for six months, some critics wonder whether the deal contains sufficient non-proliferation safeguards.  Iran’s case is particularly relevant because it establishes a precedent for the twenty new countries that are planning to join the ‘nuclear club’ in coming decades.

Russia: Where has all the money gone?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had a good run over the past few months.

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, landed on his doorstep, a gift from the PR gods. Agreement on Syria went from no chance to golden opportunity in the course of one afternoon. Forbes dubbed Putin the most powerful man in the world. Yet all these successes obscure a basic fact: Russia is running out of money.

To be fair, Russia is far from broke. Revenues continue to stream in from oil and gas sales, and Moscow maintains healthy financial reserves for future rainy days. Russia also dislikes budget deficits and keeps its foreign debt down — a model of fiscal rectitude that most Western countries can only dream about.

Yet despite these accomplishments, the Russian government submitted an austere budget to the Duma in September that contemplated freezing government salaries and significant across-the-board cuts for most government agencies. Though the Duma restored some social spending in its budget amendments, Russia will be working under tight financial constraints for several years to come.

Antitrust enforcement goes global

As one of the world’s top cops on the antitrust beat, the U.S. has long led the fight to curtail price-fixing, collusion, and other anticompetitive behavior in global commerce. And the Justice Department’s antitrust division has wielded an especially big club of late.

In each of the past two years, criminal penalties in antitrust cases have exceeded more than $1 billion, thanks to groundbreaking settlements with DOJ following investigations into collusion in interbank lending rates among banks as well as price-fixing in the global auto parts industry. The $1.4 billion in fines collected in fiscal year 2012 was the largest recovery ever for the antitrust enforcement division in a 12-month span. Fiscal 2013 wasn’t far behind, hitting $1.02 billion.

Now that sequester-mandated budget cuts have taken hold, it may be tough for Justice to score another billion-dollar bounty in the year ahead. With fewer staff and tighter resources, trying existing cases and getting new investigations in the pipeline could be a challenge for U.S. antitrust enforcers.

JFK’s legacy: The party’s over

The current commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy raises one lingering question: What explains JFK’s enduring hold on the national imagination?

Why does Kennedy figure so largely in American memory when his presidency was so short, his accomplishments so few (particularly in the domestic arena where he cannot compare with his successor) and his legacy transient?

So is our collective fascination with Kennedy just superficial — a product of the remarkably attractive, compellingly visual nature of his presidency?

Even with a working website, we must tackle healthcare’s opacity

Would you purchase a new phone without knowing its data plan? For almost everybody, the answer is an obvious “no.” We simply cannot make a good choice if we don’t know how much coverage the phone will offer, or how much money it will end up costing us.

Unfortunately, this type of blind decision is exactly the sort that many could face when purchasing a plan in the new health insurance marketplaces — assuming Healthcare.gov will remedy the basic functionality issues that have dogged it in the weeks since launch.

Beginning January 1, 2014, everyone will be required by law to have health insurance; the marketplaces will help consumers find and purchase new plans. But what happens then? Are there easily available doctor appointments covered by these plans, or will patients come up empty-handed when seeking care? Is an insurer’s online directory up-to-date or wildly inaccurate? Which plans have better customer service and which have none?

Can Obama ever close Guantanamo?

Twelve years ago this month, President George W. Bush issued an order authorizing the U.S. military to detain non-U.S. citizen “international terrorists” indefinitely, and try some of them in military commissions. Within two months, those seized in the “war on terror” following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan were being sent to Guantanamo Bay.

A dozen years later, the United States is preparing to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, ending “the longest war in American history,” as President Barack Obama observed on Veteran’s Day. Yet the Guantanamo prison — now notorious as the site of torture and other abuses — remains open.

Obama pledged to close Guantanamo as one of his first official acts in office. Yet nearly six years into his presidency, the prison continues to hold 164 foreign captives. Only three have been convicted of a crime.

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