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Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

Doesn’t it figure that President Obama shoots left-handed?!

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I’m really just kidding as I also shoot rifles and shotguns lefty (though pistols right-handed) and few serious people would accuse me of being a man of the left.  Moreover, I think the traditional left-right scale is fairly unhelpful (see here).

But I do find the release of this photo by the White House to be pure propaganda and thus offensive to the democratic spirit.

First, does anyone really expect us to believe that this Harvard-trained, elite, Chicago libgressive is a big shooting enthusiast?  Of course, someone with that profile could be.  However, it is very unlikely.  I can count the number of northern academics and elites who regularly shoot guns on my fingers (hello Marc!).  And none of them are Democrats.  Of course, there is the big Vermont anomaly - but I don’t think Barry would agree with the Green Mountain State’s gun control regime (which is basically this: aim well and point your gun downrange- for now).  More importantly, there is little support for any claim that Obama is a shooter.  That is why this Onion piece works as humor.  Heck, the guy couldn’t even pretend to be a decent bowler!

And this is fine. Just because I like to do something and have the right to do it does not mean that others have to agree with my preferences.  Indeed, I’d be perfectly ok with a President who said, “I don’t care for guns and have little interest in using them for any reason.  Indeed, I think owning a gun is a poor use of one’s freedom.  However, I do think that the Constitution secures the individual right to bear arms, and since I have pledged to support and uphold the Constitution, I will work to protect that right even as I disagree with its exercise.”  This is how I think about many rights that individuals enjoy and often (unfortunately) exercise.  Yet, I don’t believe the President really cares what the Constitution says nor that he should let it get in the way of his policy preferences.

Second, it is probably not chance that Obama is shooting a shotgun in the information operations/propaganda photo since this is how the Dems are trying to triangulate the gun control issue – “We don’t want to stop sportsmen from owning and shooting guns.  But true sportsmen don’t need ‘assault weapons.'”  I’d be more convinced of Obama’s credibility on the 2nd Amendment if the WH showed him firing my handgun of choice: the Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm.  But that would hurt the narrative even though the Administration claims it isn’t going after handguns (despite the fact that Marc pointed out earlier that these are the real weapons of choice for those killing others).

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The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (don’t call it “Obamacare”!) gives me a great sigh of relief. Although I was one of those who thought it well-nigh impossible to be overturned when the lawsuits were initially filed, over the last several months I began to think that there was actually a chance it could happen. I must say I am enormously relieved that the ACA will remain the law of the land.

The primary reason for my relief is that my health care bills are big, and getting bigger. And as I age, I expect they will continue to go up, as I will need various tests, procedures, medications, and so on. These are expensive! And I really believe that I have been having to pay too high a proportion of those costs myself. I do not ask to get sick, so why should I have to shoulder the entire burden of the costs of my illnesses?

The so-called individual mandate is absolutely necessary to the functioning of ACA. Remember, “affordable” is the first word in its name—and affordability could not be accomplished if younger and healthier people were not required to pay for insurance that they would not use. We assume they will consume less in health benefits than they will pay, which means that the remainder will go to pay for people like me who are the reverse—consuming more than we pay for. Without the individual mandate, many of those younger and healthier people would simply have not bought insurance, because they (selfishly) would have seen it as a bad bargain; but that would have meant that there would not be the funds to pay for others’ health care.

Now, however, they will be required to pay, which means I, like millions of others like me, won’t have to pay as much for my own care. That does mean, I concede, that we are effectively using others to serve our own ends. By not allowing those younger and healthier people the chance to give or withhold their voluntary consent, a Kantian might say we are violating their rational autonomy, their moral agency, their ‘personhood’—using them merely as a means to our own ends, thus violating the Categorical Imperative of morality. But that is far too extreme and restrictive a standard. Sometimes social justice requires violating others’ “rational autonomy” just a bit, especially when others benefit so much from it.

Now it is true that among those younger and healthier who will now be paying for my and others’ health care benefits are my own children. And because they are my children, I do worry about the financial burden that is now placed on them to pay the trillions of dollars this will cost (in addition, of course, to the trillions of dollars in national debt we already have that will also be their burden). But they are still young enough that they don’t really notice it at the moment. And, in any case, I have sacrificed a lot for them, so why shouldn’t they sacrifice for me? Plus, they have been irritating me recently anyway, so I’m not exactly inclined to “put the children first,” if you know what I mean. When it comes time for them to pay these bills, let them figure out a way to do it. Maybe they can put it off on their children.

A perhaps surprising benefit of the ACA is that it makes me care much more about my fellow Americans, especially those younger and healthier ones. I may not care about them as so-called rationally autonomous moral agents, but now I do very much care about them as laborers generating the wealth that will fund my health care. They need to keep working, and I am really concerned about their ability, and willingness, to do so. So I will be thinking about them a lot, and I will be most interested to make sure that Secretary Sibelius adopts appropriate measures to ensure that their willingness to keep working hard does not flag.

This, then, is a great day for our social democracy. The nineteenth-century economist Frédéric Bastiat once wrote that under any government, there are only three possibilities: (1) the few plunder the many, (2) everybody plunders everybody, and (3) nobody plunders anybody. Although Bastiat argued for option (3), that was a pretty extreme position. It wasn’t very practical, and it was also extremely limiting as to what the government could do. The ACA is more like option (1), which, for those of us among the “few,” is clearly the best option.

As it happens, just this week my family and I have been struggling with some relatively difficult health care decisions. Cost was one large part of our considerations. Thanks to President Obama and the ACA, however, cost will soon be a much smaller factor in the health care decisions we make. Also, soon we won’t have to worry about difficult decisions like which tests or procedures to have, or which medications to take. Not only will the costs be borne by others, but the hard decisions will be made by others too. I don’t know who those “others” will be, but another underappreciated aspect of the ACA is that it doesn’t matter—I don’t have to know who they are. Just as long as it’s not me!

If you are my age or older, then, I hope you will join me in celebrating this day. If you are younger, I hope you will come to appreciate how important you are to me and those like me. We need you, now more than ever! The ACA will now give you a chance to really do your patriotic and moral duty. Remember, sacrifice is always involved when doing one’s duty. So if you find your patriotism wavering in the future, just keep in mind that you are doing your part to keep America strong!

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Supposedly on national security according to the HuffPost.  Ground war in Libya?  Qaddafi killed?  Bin Laden?  Or something far less dramatic?

UPDATE, 10:48 PM EDT: New York Times reporting that Bin Laden has been killed.  If true, great news (though it won’t end the war)!

UPDATE, 11.11 PM EDT: Al Jazeera reports that US has Bin Laden’s body. 

Ok, now what do we do with it?  Head on spike at Ground Zero?  Does he deserve an honorable burial? (I say no, he was a nasty terrorist who brought great pain and suffering to the US and Americans while significantly and negatively changing our lives and government).

UPDATE, 11:47 EDT: Decent speech by Obama.  Hard to screw up really great news.  Perhaps a bit too long?  Why no mention of Embassy bombings and USS Cole attacks before 9/11?  Taking too much credit with that Panetta line (not as if this wasn’t an important goal of the Bush administration)?  I like the strategic communication line about how Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.

UPDATE, 12:08 EDT:  Kudos to US military for what sounds like a job well done.  Of course, it will take some time before we know the entire story.  I can’t wait to hear how it went down.  President Obama deserves a lot of credit for not flinching when it came time to make the call (assuming that his narrative of the events is accurate).  I’m extremely pleased with all of this – but now let’s get Zawahiri and Mullah Omar.  While degrading enemy C2 (command and control) can often be overhyped, COIN theorists tend to underrate it given their emphasis on the civilian population as the center of gravity.

UPDATE, 12:32 EDT: U.S. Navy Seals apparently took down Bin Laden according to CNN.

UPDATE, 2:43 EDT:  Mansion where Bin Laden was killed is reportedly on fire.  And given that Bin Laden wasn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere hiding in a cave, what did the Pakistanis know (and not tell) about Bin Laden’s post-9/11 life as it kept sucking money from the US Treasury?

UPDATE, 3:00 am EDT: Not sure how reliable the photo is (for all I know it is doctored or fake), but Al Jazeera is reporting that there is a unconfirmed picture of the dead Bin Laden being shown on two Pakistani television stations.  It is a fake from what I’ve been seeing around the internets.

UPDATE, 4:38 am EDT:  Bin Laden already buried at sea?  NBC is reporting that “bin Laden was later buried at sea ‘in accordance with Islamic law and tradition.'”  I wonder if such a quick burial will only feed bogus conspiracy theories in a region where these thrive (namely, that Bin Laden isn’t really dead and his killing was manufactured by Obama and the US).  I guess a lot will depend on whether AQ or the family confirm his death.  I wish the government had not acted so quickly to bury the body – though making sure there is no burial ground is a good thing, and it is probably (despite what I said earlier) a good thing as far as the strategic communication value to have done so “in accordance with Islamic law and tradition.”    

NBC also comments on something I raised earlier: “Abbottabad is home to three Pakistan army regiments and thousands of military personnel and is dotted with military buildings. The discovery that bin Laden’s [sic] was living in an army town in Pakistan raises pointed questions about how he managed to evade capture and even whether Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership knew of his whereabouts and sheltered him.”

UPDATE, 4:46 am EDT: Well, this is going to be an inconvenient truth in a must-read piece in the New York Times about how Bin Laden was found:  “Detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had given the courier’s pseudonym to American interrogators and said that the man was a protégé of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.”

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President Obama recently complained about the technological backwardness of the White House.  According to news reports, he said:

“The Oval Office, I always thought I was going to have really cool phones and stuff.  I’m like, c’mon guys, I’m the president of the United States.  Where’s the fancy buttons and stuff and the big screen comes up? It doesn’t happen.” 

Brian Williams of NBC News added that this “extends to the president’s aircraft.  The truth is Jetblue had live tv on its planes before air force one did.”

Score: Market 1, Government 0. 

This is hardly surprising.  But I wonder why such realities don’t cause the President and others with excessive faith in the government to stop and consider how much better the market is compared to government in providing what we want or need in area after area (which is not to say there isn’t a role for government in some realms).  In particular, would you want Obama’s technology provider to also provide health care or groceries??  More sharply, would you rather have the government (and its contractors) provide the skills and technology to do an appendectomy and eye surgery or market participants like doctors and medical industries (with the government tort system in the background of course)?

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As one plank in his “winning the future” program, President Obama called recently for more Americans to get college degrees. People with college degrees, the President reminded us, make more money over their lifetimes than people who do not. That is true, but of course by itself it does not mean that the college degree is what made the difference. Perhaps these people would have made more money anyway. Perhaps indeed they would have made yet more money had they not gone to college.  Without more information about what value college adds, we just don’t know.

The new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses raises serious worries about the value added from a college degree. The authors of the book tracked performance on standardized tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skill of 2,300 college students when they entered college and as they progressed through their college years. The students attended 24 schools, which, though not named as a condition of their participation in the study, are claimed to represent a wide swath of institutions of higher learning in America.

The results? There are many summaries available; see here, for example. But here are a couple of the more arresting numbers. Forty-five percent of students “show no significant improvement” in the measured skills after two years of college education. After four years, “36 percent of students did not demonstrate significant improvement.” That means that about half and about two-thirds, respectively, did show significant improvement, which is the good news; but it would still mean that hundreds of thousands of college students in America today are not receiving measurable benefits in reading, writing, and thinking.

The study has other interesting findings. For example, students who study alone, rather than in groups, show more improvement; students who majored in “traditional arts and science majors,” instead of some of the recently created specialty majors, showed more improvement; and participation in extra-curricular activities had, depending on the nature of the activity, either no effect or a negative one.

This article about the study quotes Phil Hampton, “a UCLA spokesman,” as claiming that his “university offers a rigorous and well-rounded curriculum led by faculty committed to student learning, and pointed to a study that showed high student satisfaction with their experience.” Not very convincing, I’m afraid. It smacks of teachers’ unions’ annual pledge, usually around budget negotiation time, that this year they will really crack down on teachers who are incompetent, pedophiles, etc.

There are lots of ways one might address the problem of so many young men and women wiling away prime productive years engaged in activities of at best only marginal benefit. But creating more federal aid to make it even less costly to the individuals themselves, as the President recommends, is not one of them. In fact, I think we should do precisely the opposite: expose more and more of the actual cost of their college experience (I will not say “education”) to the persons engaging in it themselves. If it is true that a college education confers benefits on its recipients, then they should pay for it. When, as the study cited above suggests, in fact many people who do not benefit from it engage in it anyway, a likely explanation is that they do so because they are induced into it by an artificially lowered cost to them.

If, by contrast, they had to pay for it all themselves—out of their own pockets (minus any scholarships), or with the help of loans received without government subsidy—then, at least, they could make a fair accounting of the potential benefits and costs. Is it really worth it to go to University A for $x per year, when I could go to University B for $x-y per year? Should I spend a fifth (or sixth, etc.) year, when it will cost this much and likely gain me this much?

Because of massive government interposition, from all levels of government and from many directions, it is today almost impossible to take a real reckoning of the costs and benefits involved in going to college. It must also be noted that government distortions like this create special interests who benefit from them. As with various “stimulus” packages and other government “investments,” thousands and thousands of college and university employees benefit from the mere presence of live bodies on their campuses—whether they learn anything or not.

This is not a healthy way to proceed, especially when the federal government and most state governments are facing massive deficits and debt.

Let us instead remind ourselves that a college education is a privilege, not a right, and that shielding recipients from its costs does not eliminate those costs but only forces others to pay them. Eliminating government subsidy of higher education would at a stroke trigger a healthy, and I would also argue proper, investigation into whether what college students are learning is really worth the cost and, by the same token, whether what colleges are teaching is really worth their price.

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There is an interesting piece by Josh Gerstein (on Politico) regarding the Obama administration’s difficulties with DADT. According to Gerstein:

Obama’s current predicament is a result of a collision between a go-slow White House strategy that deferred to Pentagon and military leaders on the pace of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the progress of a stuttering federal lawsuit that a small group of gay Republicans filed more than six years ago.

The Obama White House, led in large part by Clinton veteran Rahm Emanuel, sought to avoid a showdown with the military over the issue. Particularly as Obama, a relative neophyte on national security, faced critical decisions on Iran and Afghanistan, he didn’t want the process derailed by the culturally freighted gays-in-the-military fight.

“The part of this that was smart was that they figured the only way to get this done was to get the Pentagon’s buy-in. That is informed by the Clinton experience,” Socarides said. “You cannot outsmart the Pentagon on this kind of thing.”

Of course, now the courts have forced the administration’s hand and it will be interesting to see how much our first African American president is willing to invest in maintaining a set of discriminatory practices that he has explicitly rejected.

I have no sympathy for the administration on this one.  Candidate Obama struck an unambiguous position on DADT on the campaign trail (and in my mind, the correct one). And although legislative action appears necessary to end DADT, the president could have issued an executive order ending separations on the basis of sexual orientation. It should have been done on day one of his administration.

What seems ironic to me, is that the “go slow White House strategy” with its focus on consultation, investigation, and consensus building might have been quite appropriate for major initiatives including health care and financial reform. In the first case, there was little interest in building a coalition that would have been sufficiently strong to guarantee the long-term success of the policy. In the second case, there was little interest in waiting for the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to complete its work and submit its report (as required by Congress) on 15 December 2010. Both of these critical issues are highly complex, requiring one to make sense of a complicated labyrinth of existing policies, institutions and dynamics. In the end, both were driven by the political calendar with complete disregard for the need to get things right.

On the far simpler issue of ending discrimination, the administration has endless patience.

 

 

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The Learning Curve

There is an excellent piece by Peter Baker on President Obama for this Sunday’s NYT Magazine (advance copy here).   This tasty excerpt should be enough to whet your appetite:

While proud of his record, Obama has already begun thinking about what went wrong — and what he needs to do to change course for the next two years. He has spent what one aide called “a lot of time talking about Obama 2.0” with his new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina. During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called “tactical lessons.” He let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.” He realized too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise.

This piece is best read in combination with the fine interview in the new Rolling Stone magazine, mentioned a few days ago.

 

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