Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

So long and thanks for all the fish

Dec 28, 2011 17:49 UTC

Pundits, columnists and editorialists are good at saying who and what they don’t like. But what is it that they do like? All opinion-makers should be required to pen regular accounts of who and what they admire. As my two-year stint as a Reuters weekly columnist concludes – you’re not out of the woods, I may pop up occasionally – let me offer an incomplete accounting of ideas, organizations and people I view as worthy of praise:

World Vision: Many Christians conveniently ignore Jesus’s teachings about the poor. Many Americans don’t care about the billion people globally who are impoverished. World Vision, an evangelical organization, combats both problems by working to end poverty in developing nations. World Vision has done more to help the global poor than most governments, is pragmatic regarding economics, and its staffers don’t proselytize. There are few organizations one can admire without reservation: World Vision is one.

Barack Obama: His “next year we will get serious about the national debt” act is wearing thin. But in the main, Obama has been a good president – and Americans are turning post-racial so quickly that already we seem to shrug about the incredible historic significance of an African-American in the Oval Office.

Obama took command of the country at a low point: a deep recession, a costly quagmire in Iraq. If he’d come onto the national stage under the conditions encountered by the previous two chief executives – Bill Clinton took the White House at the start of an economic boom, George W. Bush took the White House just before 9-11, which ensured him a five-year honeymoon as the nation rallied – Obama might already be viewed as a great president. And he might still cross that threshold. ObamaCare was a major legislative achievement, and though it has bureaucratic-nightmare potential, bear in mind that few of its advantages have yet taken effect.

Doctors Without Borders: In the parts of the developing world where there are medical emergencies, workers of Medecins Sans Frontieres are viewed as saints walking among men. That’s the way I feel, too.

Who would Obama rather run against: Mitt or Newt?

Dec 15, 2011 15:44 UTC

By Gregg Easterbrook
The opinions expressed are his own.


Conventional wisdom says the Republican presidential nomination will go to Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich. This could change – don’t be surprised if it changes more than once. But suppose conventional wisdom proves correct. If you were Barack Obama, which would you rather run against?

A follower of polls might say, “Of course Obama wants to run against Gingrich.” An Obama-Gingrich race could end with a walkover for the incumbent, as happened in LBJ-Goldwater of 1964 and Nixon-McGovern of 1972.

Gingrich, some thinking goes, has a borderline personality. His past is full of strange diatribes on a weird range of subjects. As Ronald Reagan sometimes confused movies with reality, Gingrich confuses science fiction novels with reality. He threw a temper tantrum about his seat on Air Force One. Hardly anyone likes him personally. He was a transparent opportunist with Fannie and Freddie, organizations that voters hate. Gingrich is proficient at bloviating, and the one time in his life he held actual responsibility as Speaker of the House he did a terrible job. Would you trust the nation’s budget to a man who ran a $1 million tab at Tiffany?

The former governor factor

Oct 13, 2011 20:25 UTC

If you’re thinking the jumbled Republican presidential field does not matter because whomever gets the nomination can’t win – think again. A Republican could well take the White House in 2012.

At this point in the 1992 election cycle, the elder George Bush held an 89 a 66 percent approval rating (update: on October 13, 1991, according to Gallup data on the Roper Center website). Back then, Democratic figures including Mario Cuomo did not enter the 1992 race because they thought the elder Bush was “unbeatable” – just as today many Republicans are not entering the race, thinking Obama is unbeatable.

But Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton, who, a year before his victory, was a low-name-recognition outsider with personal baggage.

Tax cuts and giveaways won’t save the economy

Dec 8, 2010 03:05 UTC

“If we don’t take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could …  jeopardize our recovery.”

–President Barack Obama, January 2010.

“Next year [I will] start presenting some very difficult choices to the country” on debt reduction.

–Obama, June 2010

Bartender, giveaways for everyone!

–Essentially what Obama said, in so many words, December 2010.

Barack Obama pledged to reduce the national debt during his presidential campaign, but instead has added $2.7 trillion to that debt so far – more than the entire national debt in the year 1975. Throughout 2010, he repeatedly promised there will be no more treating the Treasury as a cookie jar. Now, suddenly, there will be $900 billion in new giveaways, financed entirely by borrowing.

Why a Republican House will make Obama a better president

Nov 11, 2010 11:00 UTC

CLINTON/

If you are a Barack Obama supporter — as I am — you should be glad the House of Representatives is changing to Republican. For this is likely to make Obama a better president.

Bill Clinton was ineffective in the first two years of his presidency, with Capitol Hill debacles on health care and the forgotten BTU tax. Then Clinton’s party lost the House in 1994: and his performance as president began to improve.

Sure, there was some kind of fuss between the White House and the House regarding somebody named Monica. But all of Clinton’s signature achievements — welfare reform, the Good Friday Agreement, conversion of federal deficits into surpluses, the Camp David summit — came after the Democrats lost the House.

It’s time for Obama to stop declaring new recovery plans

Sep 7, 2010 17:29 UTC

Pundits are restless, an election looms – so this week, President Barack Obama is proposing yet another round of special favors, aimed at improving the economy. Prominent columnist Paul Krugman wants the plans to be “bold” and to involve huge amounts of money. Here’s a contrasting view: government should stop declaring recovery plans, bold or otherwise.

Maybe the constant announcing of new plans – especially plans backed by borrowing or tax cuts – is, itself, an impediment to economic growth.

Two years ago this month saw the beginning of the financial-sector meltdown that is the primary feature of the current high-unemployment, slow-growth mess. Since then, Republican and Democratic presidents and Treasury Secretaries alike have announced bold plan after bold plan after bold plan. Often the plans change week-to-week. Many of the plans are just political talking points, with no follow-through. Many are mutually contradictory, like advocating tax cuts and tax increases simultaneously.

Get over the moon. We need NASA to save the Earth

Apr 15, 2010 05:01 UTC

Gregg Easterbrook is a Reuters columnist. Any views expressed are his own.

Space policy is a small fraction of the U.S. federal budget – around one percent, when NASA and Air Force spending are combined – and much less important than topics such as health care, defense or debt. But if government can’t get minor policy right, how can it be trusted with major issues? That is the underlying question of President Barack Obama’s appearance at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today. Cable-news commentary may focus on the political fight: who gets the biggest handouts. More important is whether Obama can change NASA from an example of what’s wrong with government (wasteful projects that serve only political favorites) to an example of what can be right (an agency that provides tangible benefits to taxpayers).

Yes, the Apollo moon landings were significant and memorable, but the last one occurred 38 years ago. In recent decades, NASA’s record has been spotty. The agency’s space science program – probes of the outer planets, telescopes that scan the far heavens – is successful and cost-effective. But for decades manned space flight, which receives the bulk of NASA funds, has accomplished: um, what? More money than was spent for the Apollo moon missions has been invested in the International Space Station, whose primary function is to give the space shuttle a destination. The shuttle, in turn, exists mainly to fly to the space station. The space station has no notable scientific achievements: it is such a white elephant that already NASA is studying the best way to “deorbit” the whole 380-ton structure, meaning allow it to burn in the upper atmosphere. This may happen as soon as 2016.

While spending freely on the space station and the shuttle, NASA has avoided research into new launch strategies that might cut the cost of access to orbit. Lower cost isn’t wanted – the whole point is to make the manned program expensive! And NASA has done just shy of nothing to plan for protecting the Earth from an asteroid strike: more on that in a moment.

A magnificent day

Apr 8, 2010 05:01 UTC

Today, Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev meet in Prague to sign an agreement that will eliminate more than 1,000 large nuclear bombs from the Earth. Ho-hum! Commentators are carping that this development is not splashy or dramatic enough. Quite the contrary: it is magnificent news for our world.

When historians look back on the present generation, they will say that there were three trends of historic import – and none involve the effluvial trivia that dominate most contemporary discourse.

One trend of historic import is the spread of democracy, a sanguine development which seemed impossible as recently as the 1980s. The second is the rapid decline of global poverty – an improvement barely remarked upon in the West, because it isn’t happening there, and violates the chic-pessimism script preferred by tastemakers. China has moved 220 million people, nearly the population of the United States, out of poverty in a single generation. This production-and-output achievement is every bit the equal of America’s production-and-output achievement to win World War II. Poverty is declining in many though of course not all other developing nations.

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