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Tag: "Obama administration"

Obama’s war

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

An unfortunate aspect of the nature of politics is that principled opposition to disastrous and/or immoral policies tends to either disappear or at least lose much of its intensity when such policies are adopted by politicians one supports.

Certainly over the last year we’ve seen this among what passes for the political left in this country, in regard to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s true that Obama inherited these wars. He was elected to end them.

Yet today it’s being reported that, after nearly doubling the US military presence in Afghanistan earlier this year, he has decided to increase that number by 50%, at a direct cost of one million dollars per soldier. The indirect costs are incalcuable.

The administration’s plan contains “off-ramps,” points starting next June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or “begin looking very quickly at exiting” the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.

“We have to start showing progress within six months on the political side or military side or that’s it,” the U.S. defense official said.

In short, the next six months will be crucial.

If you haven’t yet seen this recent Frontline program on the current situation in that country it’s worth your time.

Of Bargaining And Leverage

[ 1 ] September 11, 2009 |

To follow up a bit on Rob, I would have to say that I’m if anything a little more in sympathy with Matt’s point. At the very least, if one thinks that Obama could get a good bill out of the Senate if he wanted one, I need to hear specifics about how, exactly, he can make this happen. While I agree with a lot of Armando’s recent health care arguments, I think that here he’s skating a little too easily over the fact that in order that for threats to gain leverage in bargaining they have to be credible. American political institutions don’t provide a symmetrical bargaining ground; supporters of the status quo and powerful interests have the playing field titlted strongly in their favor, particularly in the malapportioned and countermajoritarian-on-many-levels Senate. So, for example, Matt Taibbi’s argument that starting with single payer would have constituted the Democrats “start[ing] from a very strong bargaining position” is silly, because everyone knows that single payer had no chance of passing. In Matt’s comments, Petey does actually make a good case that Obama has considerable leverage over House Blue Dogs — owing to the fact that a health care bill failing to pass is going to mean a wave of Republicans taking over marginal House seats in 2010 — but as of now getting a decent bill out of the House hasn’t been the problem. Over the Senate, though, Obama’s sources of leverage are much less obvious unless you think a threat to defeat the whole process (which would obviously hurt Obama much more than marginal conservative Senators) would be credible.

I’d also be curious for those who think that the President is effectively in charge of domestic policy to explain the abject failure of Bush’s Social Security privatization scheme. Surely, this wasn’t because Bush lacked the willingness to engage in the requisite nut/ovary cutting, to shift rhetoric to the right, or to accept minimum-winning-coalition votes.

On Trust and Political Action

[ 0 ] September 11, 2009 |

I don’t trust the Obama administration either, but in the end that’s not a very relevant political fact. I guess I think that Chris sort of gives the game away when he says this:

Nonetheless, trust plays a large role in all aspects of political action. The degree to which an individual trusts a party, a policy, an individual politician will heavily influence that individual’s interpretations of the efficacy of and / or willingness to support, that party, policy or individual. As such, for no real other purpose but to provide disclosure on my general orientation to the ongoing health care fight, here is a long list of how much I trust the different players and aspects of the debate. Mainly, it is a long list of why I don’t really trust anyone involved.

What I don’t get is this; if trust plays a large role in all aspects of political action, and if Chris doesn’t trust anyone involved, and if Chris understands himself to be a political activist, then where does that leave us? I guess I’m not really seeing what role “trust” is playing; Chris sort of suggests that people who trust the Obama administration are less critical than those who don’t, but we don’t really get any farther than that. Chris’ lack of trust doesn’t seem to impede his activism on behalf of progressive causes, including direct and indirect support of candidates that he doesn’t trust. Call me excessively analytical, but I’m not seeing how trust is a critical variable.

I have the following expectations of political actors; that they will have policy preferences, that they will pursue those policy preferences, but that they will not pursue them to the extent that their own electoral survival is seriously endangered. Although I believe that politicians will *sometimes* make terrible miscalculations about how their behavior will affect their political prospects, I think that by and large they tend to be pretty good judges of the political landscape. As such, I tend to be a touch skeptical of arguments about how Republicans or Democrats as a whole just don’t understand that policy X will lead to utter electoral disaster. To give an example, I understand the tendency of Republican politicians to shift to the right, endangering their own general elections chances, as a relatively rational response to the threat of primary challenges. This is not to say that egregious miscalculations never happen, but I suspect they happen rather less often than you’d think from a cursory glance at the blogosphere, where you’ll find every conceivable variation of “don’t Democrats understand that X will lead to political disaster in Y!??!?!”

But this, of course, isn’t “trust” in the same sense that Bowers is using the term. The above is simply dependable, regular expectations of behavior; I “trust” that Republicans are going to be obstructionist, but that’s not trust in terms of a mobilizing attitude. However, if a) trust is critical to mobilization and political action, and b) you literally don’t trust any of the relevant political actors, then it’s really difficult for me to understand where you go.

I should also say that I don’t quite agree with Yglesias’ response to Bowers, because I tend to concur with Bowers that the Obama administration could pursue action that drives the debate to the left of the median Congress critter. Arms can be twisted, rhetoric can be crafted, favors can be offered, and so forth to push the envelope of the possible. I appreciate that it’s harder to press conservative Democrats than progressives, but there are still methods capable of winning agreement. These tactics have costs, however, and I don’t “trust” the Obama administration to be willing to pay these costs at the expense of other legislation or of its re-election chances. Where I part with Bowers, I suppose, is that I don’t find my lack of trust very politically relevant.

The News From the Speech

[ 0 ] September 10, 2009 |

I didn’t see it live, but this is a useful summary.

Cass Sunstein, Dangerous Radical

[ 0 ] September 9, 2009 |

Yeah, good luck with that. Although I am never surprised by anything from the winger puke funnel going mainstream…

Obama and Health Care

[ 0 ] August 28, 2009 |

If Obama is proven to have made mistakes when we see what comes out of the World’s Worst Deliberative Body, they will have been about his strategy with respect to Congress: being to willing to cave to Blue Dog objections while receiving nothing in return, not using whatever leverage he can to instill real party discipline. On the other hand, I don’t think changing his rhetorical strategy for selling health care could have made much difference. The McCaugheys and Palins would have put out all kinds of screaming nonsense about absolutely any proposal framed in any way and gotten in taken seriously in a large number of media outlets. Liberals need to figure out how to counteract it, not try to preempt it, because the latter is impossible.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

[ 0 ] August 12, 2009 |

I think this is definitely correct. I didn’t understand why Obama was appointing viable Senate candidates at the time, and it looks even worse in retrospect. (Although the subsequent analysis doesn’t apply in her case, one can also add Sebeius, who would have been at least a credible challenger for the soon-to-be vacant Senate seat in Kansas, and would likely have been more progressive than the typical red state senator to boot had she won.) If I understood the logic, Obama felt it was important to have ex-legislators in the cabinet to facilitate relations with Congress and help advance his agenda. Hence the failed Daschle nomination as well. But, as Matt says, I think that was misguided — what matters is power, and a credible challenger means vastly more than having someone in the cabinet with some experience as a legislator.

Unacceptable

[ 0 ] July 7, 2009 |

The Obama administration’s ongoing inaction with respect to the unpopular, unjust, and contrary to national security DADT policy is indeed a disgrace:

In all of this, nothing is more infuriating than Obama’s refusal to act on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It is true that the issue affects a relatively small number of gays and lesbians. But discrimination in our armed forces carries a potent symbolism: It tells an entire class of people that the country is not interested in their service. And it would be an easy problem to fix. As Nathaniel Frank argued at tnr Online last month, Obama may need Congress’s approval to officially repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but he has the legal authority to tell the Pentagon to stop enforcing the policy via executive order. He could do it tomorrow. As for the political risks: Obama should look at some polls. Unlike same-sex marriage, the question of whether gays should serve openly in the military is no longer a particularly controversial issue. According to Gallup, 69 percent of Americans believe gays should be able to serve openly. To put that number in perspective, it is 25 points higher than the percentage of Americans who endorse Obama’s handling of health care, 19 points higher than the percentage who currently support the war in Afghanistan, and 18 points higher than the percentage who approve of the administration’s economic policies. Obama is not afraid to push health care reform, send more troops to Afghanistan, or stand by his stimulus program–nor should he be. But why, when it comes to the far less controversial cause of gays serving in the military, is he apparently willing to punt?

As I said at the time, I could live with the bad symbolism of having Rick Warren at the inauguration…if it were accompanied by good policy on gays and lesbian rights, with the low-hanging fruit of working to repeal DADT the minimum acceptable baseline. But since it hasn’t been, Obama deserves all the criticism he received for it and more.

Clinton: Be Bold On Health Care

[ 0 ] June 15, 2009 |


I was fortunate enough to be part of a group of journalists and bloggers invited to meet with President Clinton at his offices in Harlem this afternoon. The main subject was the Clinton Foundation, but as one would expect the conversation ended up being quite wide-ranging. There was lots of interesting stuff, but perhaps best was Clinton’s argument for being very bold on health care. Clinton identified four major ways in which the current context differs from the one he faced in 1993:

  • A different psychological and political landscape. Because, as Clinton noted, Democrats in Congress had stopped Reagan’s strongest anti-government from being enacted, stated Republican retained a popularity that, after 8 years of Bush (much of it under unified government) they no longer do. Knee-jerk anti-government opposition won’t be nearly as effective. And, of course, Obama has larger and more liberal majorities to work with.
  • Obama doesn’t have the same budget restraints. Clinton, having barely gotten a minor tax increase through Congress, wasn’t in the position to raise taxes. Obama will have more options, along with a political context much more receptive to spending increases (although of course this window will close shortly, making quick action on health care essential.)
  • Obama doesn’t have to deal with a Republican Senate leader running for President. The famous letter from Bill Kristol to Dole played a significant role in killing Clinton’s proposed reforms, although Dole might have been willing to cut a deal in different circumstances.
  • Health Care has gotten even worse. Since the GOP killed reform, American health care has continued to get more expensive while failing to even come close to universal coverage and failing to produce outcomes any better than countries that provide care to more people for less money.

I might quibble with #3 — while of course this precise factor shouldn’t be an issue, it looks like most Republicans in Congress plan on being just as obstructionist. The other 3 points are certainly valid, and for this reason Obama needs to be aggressive rather than living in fear of the failure of reform that happened under Clinton.

From a strategic perspective, Clinton said that it was smart for Obama to try to get 60 votes rather than using reconciliation, to preserve his relationship with Congress for other issues. However, that doesn’t mean “giving away the store”; if the only way to get a good bill — i.e. universal coverage combined with policies that will contain spending — is a 50%+1 vote, then that’s what Obama should do. I think that this is right (and if Obama attempts to get a more bipartisan bill, this would also contain the political damage if he needs to do it with a simple majority.)

Reining In the Arbitrary Executive

[ 0 ] April 29, 2009 |

See Greenwald and Daphne Evitar on a potentially important decision from a Ninth Circuit panel repudiating at least one element of the expansive “state secrets” privilege claimed by the Bush and Obama administrations. In this case, the Bush admininstration put forward the position that this incredibly broad privelege could apply to a civil suit involving a third party, and (disgracefully) the Obama administration continued with this assertion. While the ruling does not deny that the privelege exists in certain narrow circumstances, it rejected the broader claims put forward by Bush and Obama:

Today, in a 26-page ruling (.pdf), the appellate court resoundingly rejected the Bush/Obama position, holding that the “state secrets” privilege — except in extremely rare circumstances not applicable here — does not entitle the Government to demand dismissal of an entire lawsuit based on the assertion that the “subject matter” of the lawsuit is a state secret. Instead, the privilege only allows the Government to make specific claims of secrecy with regard to specific documents and other facts — exactly how the privilege was virtually always used before the Bush and Obama DOJs sought to expand it into a vast weapon of immunity from all lawsuits challenging the legality of any executive branch program relating to national security.

We’ll have to see if this is heard en banc or by the Surpeme Court, but hopefully the suit against Jeppesen Dataplan for abetting an extraordinary rendition that led to torture will be allowed to proceed.

We Can Only Hope

[ 0 ] April 27, 2009 |

Yves Smith suggests, in light of this NYT front-pager, that the administration may be distancing itself from Geithner. Unfortunately they may be drawing the wrong implications:

Thus what is surprising about tonight’s New York Times story, “Member and Overseer of the Finance Club,” on Timothy Geithner is not its content, but that it was written at all, and moreover (as of now) is a front page item. It’s extraordinarily long for a weekday story. the number of column inches usually reserved for natural, not bureaucratic disasters.

Any reader of any remotely plugged in econoblog, or savvy enough to read between the lines of MSM reports will know that Geithner is a creature of the financial establishment. Probably the most important element in his pedigree is that he is a protege of Larry Summers and Bob Rubin. It also appears that he and Summers are working fist in glove (witness the marginalization of Paul Volcker).

At a minimum, Geithner crony capitalist policies are finally leading to a hard look at his loyalties. There is no reason to think Geithner is personally corrupt (well, there was his little tax problem) but rather that he is as die hard a believer of finance uber alles as Alan Greenspan, albeit without the libertarian zealotry.

Of course, if one were Machiavellian, this move may be Team Obama realizing rather late that they have made the success of Obama’s presidency contingent on the Summer/Geithner program, and now they are trying, even more so than before. to pin the policies on Geithner.

As Smith says, if that last speculation is true, it’s really bad politics. If Geithner and Summers fail, Obama takes the hit. (And, for that matter, he should — he hired them.) If the plan fails, it badly hurts the incumbent party, period — pin-the-blame-on-cabinet-secretary is a parlor game only of interest to insiders. If Obama thinks that their plan isn’t working, he needs to get rid of them.

Global Warming and the EPA

[ 0 ] April 17, 2009 |

I strongly recommend Kate Sheppard’s piece on the EPA’s new determination that “that planet-warming greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health and welfare,” both because it provides valuable information about the new policy shift (as well as its limitations), and it’s a good example of why so much policy-making gets delegated to the executive branch.

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