John Edwards and Scandal

There are few things more sociologically interesting than a big scandal. I’m not talking about the scandals themselves; the behavior in question is never actually shocking. In fact, considering the Britney craze, and now John Edwards, they’re another thing entirely.

This is a conflict between Edwards and his wife, amplified by all the other folks who disapprove of his behavior. So he does something you don’t like. Politicians constantly do stuff I don’t like. In this case, at least it wasn’t any of my tax dollars misspent.

Yes, there's a chapter on presidents.
Yes, there’s a chapter on presidents.

Ari Adut studies scandals. He’s a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin.

On Scandal cracks these trends open wider than my musings can.

For a really good cross-section of popular attitudes, though, check out the comments section of Maureen Dowd’s column about John Edwards. Hundreds chime in, and opinions are all over the map.

To sum up many of them, here’s a representative example:

Maureen:

Absolutely agree with everything you wrote. There is a pathetic insincerity to Edward’s “preening apology” that makes me want to gag. And what does it really matter that he did it when his wife’s cancer was in remission? As if that is somehow supposed to makes it (and the public) more accepting. Get real!!

Blahblahblah.

Another important dimension is reflected in Elizabeth Edwards’ own blog post about the whole ordeal. Not surprisingly, she just wants everyone to shut up and leave her alone.

E.P.A. Will Require Ethanol in Gas

The Environmental Protection Agency will continue to require that ethanol be used in gas, as the NY Times reports:

…the goal of reducing the nation’s reliance on oil trumps any effect on food prices from making fuel from corn.

Look, I’m not a fan of higher food and grain prices. I love beer, and boy oh boy, it’s getting pricier every month from this squeeze, as are my home brewing supplies.

Food prices aside, this seems to be a purely economic, and not terribly environmental decision. Are weproducing ethanol efficiently enough yet? Corn farming is devastating to the environment, and

Click to Embiggen
Click to Embiggen

processing it is very energy-intensive. I’m not certain that we are creating enough fuel to justify the energy input. On top of that, it’s cost-effective because we subsidize it!

This is frustrating.

Here’s a graph from Mother Jones detailing the price relationships. According to this source, it’s a 1:1.3 relationship of energy input:output. Not too great.On the other hand, the folks wishing to lift the ban run cattle feedlots that fatten beef on corn (something they’re not supposed to eat). Which side am I supposed to take? Am I making any faulty assumptions?

Anyone with more expertise in this matter, sound off!

Free Trade = Good for Human Rights

Susan Aaronson, author of Trade Imbalance gave an opinion piece on NPR’s Marketplace yesterday afternoon.

Human rights groups may protest the Columbian free trade agreement, and point to Columbia’s shoddy record of human rights. Ok, yes, it’s shoddy. But should we wave a stick at it and hope it improves?

Aaronson points out that what many protesters fail to notice is that the agreement has built-in protections for human rights. This deal, in danger of failing, could be just what the critics should be rooting for.

Lynch and Singh at the Hudson Institute

Did you miss Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh‘s presentation at the Hudson Institute July 22?

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Andreas Daum on All Things Considered

Last week, Time turned to Andreas Daum to discuss Obama’s possible choice of the Brandenburg Gate as a speech location during his current tour abroad.

All Things Considered brought Daum on the air last night to discuss some of these same issues. There’s a lot involved here! Do Kennedy, Reagan and Obama face some of the same challenges? What differences are immediately apparent?

For the love of God, was John F. Kennedy a jelly doughnut?!

The conspiracy theories abound.

Click here to hear the show archive >>

The same page features a clip that answers the “Ich bin ein Berliner” jelly doughnut question too, by the way. I sincerely hope that it puts some of us at ease.

Obama, the Optimist on Trade

Today’s Financial Times offers commentary by Susan Aaronson, a scholar who analyzes the murky relationships between trade and human rights. In it she poses the question: if both candidates are pro-trade, what else will they do with their policies?

Around the world, the press has portrayed the 2008 US presidential election as a choice between freer trader John McCain and “protectionist” Barack Obama. That traditional paradigm has helped the media simplify the differences between the two men. However, such these labels do not accurately describe either candidate. And it does not fully portray the candidate, Mr Obama, who has the more optimistic vision of trade.

The conventional wisdom labels Mr McCain as a freer trader because he supports three bilateral trade agreements negotiated by the Bush administration. Mr Obama, in contrast, has come out forcefully against these agreements. Moreover, because Mr Obama states that he wants to review the effects of existing trade agreements, the press has found him to be unenthusiastic about trade liberalisation. (It is important to note that the US is already conducting a similar review of the World Trade Organisation.) Finally, Mr Obama has support from many US unions, which traditionally have taken a protectionist stance.

In fact, both men are pro-trade; they each support using trade agreements to open markets and create economic efficiencies. But the two have different perspectives regarding what trade agreements should do, what rules these agreements should include, and whom these agreements should directly benefit.
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Obama and the Third Bush Term — A Competent One

In recent days Barack Obama has sought to establish bluer water between himself and John McCain over Iraq.

Did he succeed?

Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh

Obama and McCain duel over foreign policy in this NY Times article

Yes, he has succeeded to a degree. He has made it clear that Afghanistan will be the first front in his revised war on terror. By wrapping up Iraq quickly – most US brigades, save for a residual force, to depart with sixteen months – he is promising to redirect US violence on the Taliban. McCain, alternatively, says that the Iraq war should not be judged according to a timetable established in a US electoral campaign. If winning takes time then time it shall take. The war on terror is not a debate between Iraq-firsters and Afghanistan-firsters. It is a global war on multiple fronts that demands attention to all those fronts.

Two features are worthy of note. First, despite what elements of his domestic base may be hoping, a President Obama is not seeking a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East theater. Rather, he is pledging to redeploy American troops so as to better advance the war on terror. His initial caution over the Iraq liberation was not grounded in a leftist pacifism. It was, instead, the product of his empiricism. The Iraq war was a tactical misstep which he is pledged to correct. But the essential strategy of Bush’s war on terror has not been disavowed. President Bush stands accused by the Illinois senator not for being a warmonger but for being an incompetent war monger. ‘Make me commander in chief,’ Obama is saying, ‘and I will make violence abroad more effectively. Pakistan watch out.’
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