Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

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


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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The past few days have brought several expressions of the Dem’s new strategy: focus on the GOP as a party that takes special interest money (including funds from foreigners) and moves to the right as puppet masters Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie pull on the strings. David Axelrod’s case is a subtle one and the logic is compelling, as revealed on Sunday’s Face the Nation (as revisited in  Mike Allen’s piece in today’s Politico.)

But when asked by Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” for proof that the foreign funds were “anything other than peanuts,” Axerod said: “Do you have any evidence that it’s NOT, Bob? The fact is that the Chamber [of Commerce] has asserted that, but they won’t release any information about where their campaign money is coming from.”

“Is that the best you can do?” Schieffer asked in response.

President Obama has made the same assertions. As reported by the Washington Post:

President Obama, speaking at a rally in Philadelphia, said “the American people deserve to know who is trying to sway their elections” and raised the possibility that foreigners could be funding his opponents.

“You don’t know,” Obama said at the rally for Senate candidate Joe Sestak and other Democrats. “It could be the oil industry. It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.”

In an odd moment of candor, the New York Times actually questioned the empirical foundations of the claims, and noted:

But a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.

Similarly, the Post stated:

Legal experts from both parties say the prohibition against foreign funding in U.S. elections is clear, and noted that Democrats have turned up no hard evidence that the chamber is violating that ban.

It says quite a bit about the administration’s evaluation of its own considerable legislative achievements that it has embraced this strategy. Health care (“a big “f’ing deal,” as Mr. Biden correctly observed) and financial reforms should provide strong empirical support for the claim that the Democrats have delivered on some of their largest promises. Why not make the case aggressively?

Moreover, with all the low-hanging fruit that the GOP has provided the Democrats (e.g., Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch” ad, Rich Lott’s Nazi reenactments, Paladino’s comments regarding gay “brainwashing,” and virtually everything coming out of Newt’s mouth), stories about fundraising seem like rather thin gruel.



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There is an excellent and quite revealing interview with President Obama (conducted by Jann Wenner) in the October 15 edition of Rolling Stone. Several things are clear. First, President Obama views his accomplishments in the first two years quite positively:

When I talk to Democrats around the country, I tell them, “Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.” I came in and had to prevent a Great Depression, restore the financial system so that it functions, and manage two wars. In the midst of all that, I ended one of those wars, at least in terms of combat operations. We passed historic health care legislation, historic financial regulatory reform and a huge number of legislative victories that people don’t even notice. We wrestled away billions of dollars of profit that were going to the banks and middlemen through the student-loan program, and now we have tens of billions of dollars that are going directly to students to help them pay for college. We expanded national service more than we ever have before.

The Recovery Act alone represented the largest investment in research and development in our history, the largest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower, the largest investment in education — and that was combined, by the way, with the kind of education reform that we hadn’t seen in this country in 30 years — and the largest investment in clean energy in our history.

You look at all this, and you say, “Folks, that’s what you elected me to do.” I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we’ve probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do — and by the way, I’ve got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum. So I think that it is very important for Democrats to take pride in what we’ve accomplished.

Second, he views things with a streak of pragmatism and is disinclined to follow the lead of many of his former disciples and make the perfect the enemy of the good:

What is true, and this is part of what can frustrate folks, is that over the past 20 months, we made a series of decisions that were focused on governance, and sometimes there was a conflict between governance and politics. So there were some areas where we could have picked a fight with Republicans that might have gotten our base feeling good, but would have resulted in us not getting legislation done.

I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post, and we would not have health care legislation now. I could have taken certain positions on aspects of the financial regulatory bill, where we got 90 percent of what we set out to get, and I could have held out for that last 10 percent, and we wouldn’t have a bill. You’ve got to make a set of decisions in terms of “What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you’re actually trying to govern?” I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I’m going to go ahead and take it.

Third, his post-partisan yearnings aside,  he has nothing positive to say of the GOP.

It “has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place.”

The Republicans assumed a strategy of “sitting on the sidelines, trying to gum up the works, based on the assumption that given the scope and size of the recovery, the economy probably wouldn’t be very good, even in 2010, and that they were better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve the problem.”

This strategy ( “the unprecedented obstruction”) “ sent a message to the public that ‘Gosh, Obama said he was going to come in and change Washington, and it’s exactly the same, it’s more contentious than ever.’ … it created an atmosphere in which a public that is already very skeptical of government, but was maybe feeling hopeful right after my election, felt deflated and sort of felt, “We’re just seeing more of the same.”

Fourth, the President recognizes the diversity of the Tea Party activists but believes they are being used by K street.

It is an “amalgam” of “sincere libertarians,” social conservatives, people who are “troubled by what they saw as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working-class people have been abused or hurt by special interests and Washington”  and “some aspects of the Tea Party that are a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president.”

“There’s no doubt that the infrastructure and the financing of the Tea Party come from some very traditional, very powerful, special-interest lobbies. …financed by very conservative industries and forces that are opposed to enforcement of environmental laws, that are opposed to an energy policy that would be different than the fossil-fuel-based approach we’ve been taking, that don’t believe in regulations that protect workers from safety violations in the workplace, that want to make sure that we are not regulating the financial industries in ways that we have.”

Finally, he is quite frustrated with the Progressive base that put him into office, particularly in anticipation of what is likely to be a very difficult midterm election:

“It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. …The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible….

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we’ve got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.

If you’re serious, now’s exactly the time that people have to step up.”

This is an interesting interview and I strongly recommend it to readers of Pileus. It is very clear that “hope and change” and the “post-partisan” aspirations that were so central to the 2008 campaign have collided with political reality. It is also quite clear that much of this has taken Mr. Obama by surprise.

Outside of his most ardent supporters (now his critics), he may have been the only one who would have found this surprising.

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Jumping the Carp

Look how affectionate they are.

At what point does the appointing of federal government “czars” become just one too many? Perhaps when President Obama appoints an Asian carp czar? I know it’s getting bad with these lovable fish (see, for example, the discussion and pictures here), but must every problem get its own czar now?

That last question makes me wonder what other problems czars should be appointed to oversee. Any suggestions?

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The Obama administration’s new wave of economic proposals is a curious mixture of revenue-neutral spending and modest tax cuts. On Labor Day, President Obama mounted the stage in Milwaukee to offer a $50 billion in new infrastructure spending (combined with the creation of an infrastructure bank and renewal of the surface transportation infrastructure bill).  (see WSJ coverage here).

According to Jackie Calmes (NYT), the President will introduce additional measures at a scheduled Wednesday speech in Cleveland. They will include changes in the tax code “allowing businesses to deduct from their taxes through 2011 the full value of new equipment purchase, from computers to utility generators, to increase demand for goods and create jobs” and “a provision to expand and make permanent a tax credit for corporations’ research and development expenses.”

Clearly, the administration is attempting to salvage the midterm elections by creating the impression that it is focused like a laser beam on the economy. At the same time, it is attempting to design programs that could potentially win the favor of Republicans and deficit-weary Democrats facing a tough November. Thus, the infrastructure initiative is to be deficit neutral, funded through the elimination of various corporate tax deductions and the depletion allowances for oil and gas companies. And the other measures are tax cuts for business. As Calmes reports:

Though liberal and labor groups have been agitating for public works spending, Mr. Obama and his advisers are emphasizing business tax cuts in hopes of drawing Republican support — or, failing that, to show that Republicans are so determined to thwart Mr. Obama that they will oppose even ideas that they and most business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, advocate.

Will any of this matter? To begin with, there is little to suggest that Republicans are going to support any economic  proposal made by the administration (if you have any doubt, consult the WSJ piece cited above). President Obama might as well right off the Right.

Hypothetically, the Left—currently dispirited—could be mobilized in greater numbers if the administration embraced a larger stimulus. But a revenue-neutral infrastructure project (so much for the embrace of Keynesianism) and a scattering of business tax cuts are likely to have little effect  and only fuel the criticisms of Left intellectuals. Consider Paul Krugman, who argues that the $50 billion package is too small and won’t pass anyway. “My response to the administration plan, at least as best as I can respond given a massive case of jet lag, is a big eh.”

Voters, already skeptical of Washington and convinced that the administration is incapable of managing the economy will likely view the administration’s proposals as transparently political, if they notice any at all.

Corporations, sitting on cash and unwilling to invest under conditions of uncertainty will be unlikely to reverse their positions on the even of an election.

So what is to be gained?

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The new jobless figures are out. The US lost another 54,000 jobs, pushing unemployment from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent. There should be no real surprises here. (See the WSJ coverage). Following the release of the job numbers, the President remarked the economy is moving in “the right direction; we just have to speed it up” and promised  “a broader package of new ideas next week.”

The “broader package of new ideas” has been under consideration for some time. According to Glenn Thrush (Politico): “Administration officials have been huddling almost continuously during the past week, brainstorming for ideas that would boost employment without hiking the massive federal deficit.” Regardless of the outcome, Thrush predicts: “the administration will have a tough time selling nearly any package to terrified, Obama-phobic Hill Democrats who increasingly blame the president – and his ambitious, expensive legislative agenda – for their dismal prospects this November.”

A piece by Anne E. Kornblut and Lori Montgomery in yesterday’s Washington Post conveyed a similar sense of crisis. As the administration weighs its options—including a pay-roll tax holiday—“panic is setting in among many Democratic candidates who fear it is too late for Obama to convince voters that he understands the depth of the nation’s economic woes and can fix them.”

Yet, even if the administration can steer additional stimulus through the Congress, it is doubtful that it will make a difference by the elections.

If administration officials can agree on a policy path, it is not clear that it would be approved in the current environment on Capitol Hill. And even if Congress did approve new measures to bolster the economy, they would probably come too late to make a difference in the lives of recession-weary voters before the midterms. “Substantively, there is nothing they could do between now and Election Day that would have any measurable effect on the economy. Nothing,” said the Brookings Institution’s William Galston, who was a domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Regardless of the administration’s “broader package of new ideas,” all of this may be moot. At this point, there would seem to be few incentives for House and Senate Republicans to cooperate with the administration given their rather stunning lead in recent polls.  Absent some exogenous shock, the GOP seems on a glide path to electoral victory.

Of course, two things should temper Republican elation. First, there is evidence that current voter preferences are best interpreted as being as much a rejection of incumbent Democrats as they are an embrace of the GOP.  As a new Gallup Poll reveals: “Among voters backing Republican candidates, 44% say their preference is ‘more a vote against the Democratic candidate,’ while 48% say it is ‘more a vote for the Republican candidate.’” The implications: “negative voting may be the pivotal factor.”

Second, if the GOP prevails in the elections it will have to do something other than rely on worn talking points.  It will have to prove that it is capable of governing and delivering a set of policy outcomes that are superior to those provided by the current Democratic majority. Those of us who remember the last  GOP majority might find this  to be a tall order. Unfortunately for the GOP, the most detailed proposals to date have focused on serious entitlement reform that will be

(1) difficult to sell in the midst of a deep recession, and

(2) all  too easy to portray as part of a “reckless privatization  plan” designed to force old people to eat dog food while favoring big business (I can already imagine Krugman’s columns).

Absent serious progress on the economy, the same fickle majority that votes against the Democrats in 2010 may well vote against the Republicans in 2012.

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Overhaul: A Must Read

Marcus Baram at Huffington Post has an extensive discussion of the forthcoming book by Obama’s former auto industry czar Steven Rattner, Overhaul.  The book, due to be released in October, should be quite interesting insofar as it provides some accounts of the administration’s internal dynamics.

President Obama does not come off to well, asking insightful questions like: “Why can’t they make a Corolla?” when first confronting the problems in the auto industry and refusing to coordinate actions with the outgoing Bush administration. In Rattner’s words: “if his team had linked arms with the outgoing administration, as President Bush’s advisers had proposed, billions of dollars could well have been saved.”

Rahm Emanuel does not come off too well either. He is portrayed as dictating much of what went on at Treasury:

“And Rahm never hesitated to seize command, as he did after Tim’s rocky start as Treasury Secretary — Rahm had stepped in and effectively started supervising Tim on a daily basis. Such aggressiveness is fine when all is going well, but it breeds resentment that can turn into sniping when the tide recedes, as it did briefly for Rahm in early 2010 when health care reform bogged down.”

And the following may not prove endearing to the union leaders who placed so much faith in the new administration (remember card check?):

Emanuel could also be spectacularly blunt, once telling Rattner during a meeting about GM and Chrysler’s massive problems and potential bankruptcies: “Why even save GM?” When Rattner adviser Ron Bloom noted that tens of thousands of autoworker jobs were at stake, Emanuel huffed, “F*ck the UAW,” referring to the United Auto Workers union.

Overhaul sounds like a must read. Until its release, go to Baram’s piece and enjoy the excerpts. I am sure UAW President Bob King will be enjoying them.

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Albert R. Hunt defends the administration against the charge made by Verizon chairman Ivan Seidenberg. (Part of the reason for Seidenberg’s charge is the FCC’s aggressive push to regulate the Internet without apparent statutory authority.) Hunt’s defenses of Obama are as follows:

President Barack Obama rejected calls last year to nationalize the big banks, opting instead for market-based stress tests and injecting more private capital; he disappointed liberals by turning down a government-run national health-care program, and assists the struggling U.S. automobile industry to survive as a private enterprise.

In the face of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, corporate profits since Obama took office have soared 40 percent, and the stock market, despite the recent slump, has risen more than 27 percent.

The U.S. corporate tax rate is the second-highest among major industrial countries, the Verizon CEO correctly noted. He neglected to point out that the effective marginal rate paid by corporations, according to a study by the administration of President George W. Bush, is within the average of these countries because of all the loopholes championed by business interests.

So almost all of Hunt’s defenses of Obama’s record have to do with the fact that his administration (and to be fair, the one before as well) is willing to use the power of the federal government to pick winners in the marketplace. That’s certainly “pro-particular businesses,” but one can see how those overlooked for special treatment might be miffed. The final point left is the rise in corporate profits. Given that Obama took office at the nadir of the worst postwar recession, I hardly think this trend can be credited to his account. Finally, we would do well to remember the distinction between being pro-business and pro-market. No, Obama’s not a socialist ideologue, but his administration is reintroducing old-fashioned industrial policy to the American political economy in a big way.

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The Economist, which supported Barack Obama enthusiastically in his election campaign, has issued a shot across his bow. Frankly, I think the whole politics of the BP fiasco reflects the tendency of humans to think that everything that goes wrong requires someone to blame. Is BP really worse than all the other oil companies? And would Obama be trying so hard to look “tough” if people didn’t think it was the job of the U.S. President to stop a deep-sea oil leak?

The oil spill should teach us something about public policy. If we want these things never to happen, we should shut down deep-sea oil drilling. But if we allow it, accidents – bad, perhaps unfixable ones – sometimes will happen. (And yes, the liability cap may have made these accidents more likely.) Many Americans seem to be unwilling to accept that these tradeoffs exist, perhaps because if they did, they’d have to give themselves some share of the blame for this disaster.

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David Brooks is so smitten with President Obama I’m starting to wonder what color roses he’ll send the White House on Valentine’s Day.  So, is Brooks becoming the Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. of our age?

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In his essay, “Of the First Principles of Government,” David Hume wrote:

Nothing appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded.

Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, is complaining loudly that the federal government is not doing enough about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Jindal lays the fault mainly at the feet of President Obama. My co-blogger Grover Cleveland has linked to a couple articles critical of the attitude of many—including, apparently, Jindal—that (a) the president should just do something, anything; that (b) the president is responsible for all problems, big or small; and that (c) no matter what the problem is, the president can, as if by magic, fix it. Of course, this president has done his share to court these attitudes by enjoying the posture of the I-can-do-anything superhero. (Remember his 2008 “This Is Our Moment” speech, in which he said that his election would mark the moment when, among many other things, the “rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”?)

The catastrophe in the Gulf is showing us once again the silliness of believing that the president, or any other person, can, like Zeus, change the world merely by nodding his head.

But back to Jindal for a moment. Why doesn’t he just do what he wants to do? Why is he waiting for permission from President Obama, or from anyone else? I understand that while Louisiana has authority over its own coastline the federal government has jurisdiction in the Gulf where the oil leak is, but so what? This is clearly an emergency situation in which standard operating procedures may not apply. If there is something Jindal believes needs to be done, and he is ready and prepared to do it—both of which he is claiming are the case—then by all means go ahead!

The power that the federal government enjoys in this case may have statutory authority, but I think Hume’s dictum is right: It rests ultimately on opinion. Jindal has been waiting for permission because it is his opinion, and that of most others, that he needs to ask for permission. It is a habit of obedience and subservience that might serve well in other, normal circumstances. This is a time of crisis, however. So I say: Governor Jindal, become the leader you deride President Obama for failing to be. The near and practical consequence might be a lessening of the consequences of this present disaster; the further consequence might be a healthy challenge to the growing, and I think worrying, consensus that the federal government is the seat of all authority.


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It is quite clear by now that President Obama has a very, very expansive view of what the U.S. government can and should do.  Indeed, he thinks that the Constitution authorizes the government to force people to engage in economic activity (see law professor Randy Barnett on why the president is wrong). 

But according to NBC, the administration has denied individual aid to those in Connecticut harmed by recent storms.  I’m not sure upon what  basis this heartless decision was made given everything President Obama thinks the government should do.  It does, though, bring to mind the words of my namesake – who had a better understanding of the proper role of the U.S. Federal Government in dealing with our individual problems:

In 1887, President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill aimed at providing financial assistance to Texas farmers hurt by a severe drought.  President Cleveland argued:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution; and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.

Of course, Cleveland was not unconcerned by the plight of the farmers.  He just thought that the Constitution did not give the Federal Government the authority to dole out money for individual relief.  Instead, he thought that “The friendliness and charity of our fellow countrymen can always be relied on to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune.”  And as Thomas Reed of the Mackinac Center has noted, “Americans proved him right. Those Texas farmers eventually received in private aid more than 10 times what the vetoed bill would have provided.”  For more, see Bob Higgs on the Texas Seed Bill.

Wouldn’t it be nice if President Obama thought likewise?  Unfortunately, as H.L. Mencken wrote about Cleveland: “It is not likely that we shall see his like again, at least in the present age. The Presidency is now closed to the kind of character that he had so abundantly.”

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