Issue 55 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

The West Wing displays a rotating gallery of photos of the president taken by White House photographers. However, one picture has remained permanently on display: a photograph taken of the president bowing deeply so that a young African American boy can pat the president’s hair to see if it feels the same as his.

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At the dedication ceremony of his namesake building, the headquarters for the Department of Health and Human Services, Hubert Humphrey stated:, “The moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” This was summarized by a progressive speaker as suggesting that the test of how we govern is how we deal with the poor—a liberal reading but hardly what Humphrey allowed.

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Researchers found some clues as to who seems to have made the most recently discovered virus that infected Iran’s computers: Its programmers did not work between Friday and Saturday nights or when it was late at night in Jerusalem. Inept? A secret desire to leave a signature on your creation? A coded message to Iran—or…??

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NJ governor Chris Christie told a dinner of Cato supporters at the Washington Hilton that “America” needs to be congratulated for killing Osama bin Laden. If the mission had failed, I wonder if Christie would have been equally reluctant to mention the President.

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A colleague, unhappy with the data presented to him by his staff, exclaimed that it reminded him of Groucho Marx, who told his hostess that he had a fabulous evening, but it was not this one.

We have a number of free copies of Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy to be shipped, first come first served. To receive your complimentary copy, please send an email to [email protected] with the subject line “Security First.” Be sure to include your shipping information in the body of the email.

U.S. economy heading straight for the cliff

You do not have to be an investor in the stock market or real estate or looking for a job to be alarmed when several highly regarded observers warn that the United States economy is about to be driven “off the cliff” by increasing debt, the expiration of tax cuts and the prospect of deep spending cuts.

The alarm should concern anyone who cares about our democratic system.

The reason we are getting awfully close to the edge is because the Democrats and Republicans are inclined to pull the steering wheel in opposite directions. Granted, alarms are often sounded, but as we shall see shortly, this time there are strong reasons to fear that our gridlocked political system will prevent us from responding before we go over the edge.

Read the rest at

Select Comments (click here to read more):

This country might have a future if people who actually pay attention would turn their cynical eyes on both parties equally rather than play the media-promoted “game of politics”. The time for games is well past.


The Tea Baggers are so obsessed with the possibility that “their” tax dollars will be used to pay for things they object to and are so caught up with fretting about the shortcomings of the underclass that they are blind to the huge issues facing this country’s economy.  With them at the wheel, we will not be able to avoid the cliff.  As we all lay broken and dying at the foot of the cliff, they will be able to say, “At least I didn’t have to pay for someone else’s health care!”  Our once great, good-spirited, democratic nation  has been brought to its knees by these ignorant losers and the big money who controls them.


The GOP would gladly, gladly let the economy tank just so they can blame the Democrats. All Republicans care about is getting elected and the hell with what’s best for the American people.


Obama’s flailing foreign policy

The consensus that President Obama has a strong foreign-policy record holds only if one limits this assessment mainly to security matters. Bending History, a new book by three Brookings authors—Martin Indyk, Kenneth Lieberthal and Michael O’Hanlon—provides a fine opportunity to review this part of the president’s record during his first three years in office. The authors are learned, meticulous and grant Obama the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. But a close reading of the book reveals that Obama acts as if speechmaking will change the world, often splitting the difference between conflicting views or buying into someone else’s strategy.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Despite Facebook, privacy is far from dead

Whatever the outcome of Facebook’s public offering of stock, the social network has already enriched quite a few — as well as famously offered many hundreds of millions of people a new virtual social world. Yet critics claim that Facebook is hastening the demise of privacy, which as the cliché goes, is already on life support.

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy says that “Facebook has purposefully worked to erode the concept of privacy by disingenuously claiming users want to share all of their personal information.” Human Rights First CEO Elisa Massimino argues, “Facebook’s privacy policies are prohibitively confusing, make it difficult for users to protect personal information, expose to disclosure information users believe is private, and are changed without adequate warning or consent from users.”

Read the rest at CNN.

Recent Publications

“Rationing by Any Other Name.” Policy Review 173 (June & July 2012) p. 19-28.

Newspapers and magazines do not usually regurgitate ideas that have been bandied about for decades, especially when they are replayed one more time by the same leading author. Hence, it is telling that the New Republic republished in mid-2oII the brief by Daniel Callahan (this time co-authored with Sherwin Nuland). The authors call for a ceasefire in America’s “war against death,” arguing that those who surrender gracefully to death “may die earlier than [is now common], but they will die better deaths.” They urge the medical profession – and ultimately, the American people – to undergo a cultural shift they argue is necessary to prevent the otherwise inevitable financial failure of our health care system. This shift will replace a “medical culture of cure” with a “culture of care.” They note that “rationing and limit-setting will be necessary” to bring about this change. Callahan and Nuland point to evidence that little progress has been made in our quest for cures for chronic diseases (like Alzheimer’s) or will likely be made in our efforts to significantly extend our life expectancy. Given the marginal benefit and high cost of medical advancements, they argue that we need to invest much more of our limited funds in preventive, affordable care, rather than in strenuous efforts to wring a few more years out of life.

“The Privacy Merchants: What Is To Be Done?” University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law 14.4 (March 2012) p. 929-951.

Rights have been long understood, first and foremost, as protection of the private from the public, the individual from the State. True, we also recognize positive rights (such as socioeconomic rights) and the government’s duty to protect citizens from violations of rights by other actors besides the State. However, when violations of privacy are discussed, the first violator that typically comes to mind is “Big Brother”—that is, the State.

This Article focuses on the growing threat to privacy from private actors, specifically profit-making corporations. It briefly outlines a range of options aimed at protecting individual privacy against encroachment by private actors, and it evaluates them within the prevailing normative, legal, and political context in the United States.

The Best Government Money Can Buy

Lincoln Caplan writes in The American Scholar about the impact ofCitizens United on judicial elections, which are held in 38 states (including those that have retention elections, where judges run for additional terms after they have been appointed). Caplan finds that “independent spending threatens to overwhelm the system of electing judges, making them and the candidates running against them dependent on private money and eroding the public’s confidence in the courts.”

I Read

On the jacket of E.J. Dionne’s new book Our Divided Political Heart: “This is a brilliant book about America’s current political divide. But, more important, it’s an insightful explanation of our nation’s history and our ability to balance individualism with community. That sense of balance has been lost, and this book shows how we can restore a shared appreciation for our historic values.” –Walter Isaacson

The Outsourced Self by Arlie Russell Hochschild argues that we increasingly turn to paying others to help meet our emotional needs. Hochschild worries about the negative impact this as on both sides of the commercial interaction, those who pay others to do things they choose not to do (creating online dating profiles, childcare, etc.) and those who take money to perform these tasks for others.

study in the Annals of Internal Medicine tested more than 400 physicians and found that a majority were unable to understand and make correct recommendations based on cancer screening statistics.

Kenneth Anderson’s new book, Living with the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order(Hoover Press, 2012) analyzes the U.S.’s relationship with the UN and offers policy suggestions as to how and when the U.S. can engage with the United Nations more effectively.

Rick Wicks has published a collection of his papers on The Place of Conventional Economics in a World with Communities and Social Goods.

In The National Interest, Nikolas K. Gvosdev suggests that we replace the concept of “nation building” with one of “nation cultivating,” which suggests a much more fragile process, and one that starts with assessing the initial landscape, rather than attempting to “build” from scratch.

Upcoming Events

Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) 24th Annual Conference

Global Shifts: Implications for Business, Government and Labour

Massachusetts Institute for Technology, Cambridge, MA

June 28-30, 2012


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