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Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Secretary Clinton congratulating Barack Obama on the passage of health care legislation before a meeting in the Situation Room.

[Ed. corrected Clinton’s title. That was a silly mistake to make.]

[Image adapted by me and from one not subject to copyright. This is true despite notice on image that it cannot be altered, etc.]

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Posted in Barack Obama, Health care, Politics, The Clintons | 6 Comments »

Health Care Graphs, Cold War Deer, Evaluating Hillary, An Armey of Tea Baggers, and Rubio

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Kaiser Permanente. Ezra Klein interviewed Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson this week – and got two fascinating posts out of it so far (with the second part of the interview still to come.) The most interesting post for me was the one that included a number of graphs, including this one.  Ezra bills these charts as “An insurance industry CEO explains why American health care costs so much” – which comes down to this fact: in other countries, government set medical fees.

The Cold War Lives On. Cecilie Rohwedder of the Wall Street Journal tells the fascinating story of how several herds of deer still seem to be stuck in the Cold War.

Evaluating Hillary. Joe Klein has a balanced and insightful evaluation of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. It is a bit early – as he acknowledges. But while the piece is worthwhile, he gives too little credit for the positive progress made by Hillary and the Obama administration in checking the deterioration of U.S. interests around the world, especially with regards to public diplomacy.

Armey of Tea Baggers. Michael Sokolove for the New York Times Magazine has a nice profile of Dick Armey, in the news of late for his Freedom Works organization and the tea parties they’ve been organizing. The difference between Armey the public speaker and Armey the man comes out in the story, as Armey the man seems like a bit of an ass, but a reasonable fellow; while Armey the public speaker is a demagogue, for example stating:

Nearly every important office in Washington, D.C., today is occupied by someone with an aggressive dislike for our heritage, our freedom, our history and our Constitution.

The trick of the organizing Armey is attempting is that he extols the virtues of the individual while trying to unite these individuals into a collective “we” who will fight to protect “our heritage, our freedom, our history.” He is speaking the language of a member of a beleaguered minority – while claiming majority support. Political pressure in the right way should relatively easily disturb the balance he is now able to so effortlessly achieve.

Marco Rubio. NPR profiles the man who – if I were betting – is the future of the Republican Party, after it escapes the Sarah Palin death spiral: Marco Rubio. (Listen to the audio of the story if you can.) He’s very conservative – and makes many political mistakes in positioning himself against common sense, which by all rights should come back to haunt him when he is chosen as a Vice Presidential nominee – for example, coming out against the fact that government spending can stimulate the economy. This betrays a basic disregard for macroeconomics, at least when put as unsubtly as Rubio does. But he keeps well within the mainstream of Republican positions on these issues, so as unhinged as those positions may be, he will be insulated from charges of kooky-ness.

But he’s Hispanic; his wife is a former cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins; he’s a darling of the far right, but seems smart enough to tack to the center in a general election campaign – and the fact that he’s already accepted by the far right means he will be able to get away with it; he speaks convincingly of America as a nation of “go-getters;” he seems to have a natural charisma and charm, and is at ease with those who disagree with him; and finally, he’s ambitious as hell and has enough self-regard to believe he can beat the extremely popular Governor Charlie Crist for his Senate seat.

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Posted in Criticism, Foreign Policy, Health care, History, Politics, The Opinionsphere | 58 Comments »

Rothkopfian Aphorisms

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Although the conventional wisdom holds that blogging and the internet is leading us to become cretins who cannot compose full sentences (lest they run longer than 140 characters), there is reason for hope. And not just because Twitter and WordPress have made more prolific writers out of all of us. I have never read the news as intensely as I have this past years, so I cannot judge from even the limited perspective of my life, but there is some great prose written on blogs. I’ve found though, that when reading on a computer screen, I “read/skim” and don’t notice the finer sentences as I jump about the piece searching for the most interesting bits. However, I have taken to printing out substantial entries from blogs, and found much of the writing is in fact quite good.

One of the writers who has consistently drawn my attention with his witty aphorisms is David Rothkopf. His blog is well worth reading, for the insight, yes – but also for the wit.

On diplomacy:

In marriage, a lack of intimacy usually means you are not getting fucked… but in diplomacy, it means you almost certainly will be.

On the advantages America has over most other potential great powers:

We’re also protected by two great oceans and our neighbors are fairly easy to get along with. (Mexico is a bit of a concern at the moment but Canada lost its last remaining offensive capability when Wayne Gretzky moved to the United States.)

On Venezuela’s announcement of a nuclear program:

I’ve been predicting this problem for so long that it gives me a little lift even if it is a potential calamity for millions of others. Take note: that’s what narcissism makes possible.

On Eliot Spitzer’s desire for publicity:

The A.I.G. scandal and the collapse of Wall Street could have been [Spitzer’s] apotheosis, the moment the howling dogs of ambition in his breast might have finally gotten enough red meat of press exposure.

On the mania of the government for ensuring constant economic growth, specifically of GDP growth:

Didn’t our founders specify that the purpose of our country was to guarantee the right of all of us (well, white men anyway) to life, liberty, and the pursuit of constant growth in “the total market values of goods and services produced by workers and capital within a nation’s borders during a given period (usually 1 year).”

Commenting on GQ’s “50 Most Powerful People in Washington” edition:

If you follow Washington without losing your appetite, you’re not paying attention.

On the relationship between capitalism and Wall Street:

Because 21st Century Wall Street is to capitalism as Pope Alexander VI was to the teachings of Jesus Christ. There was a connection but it was remote and observed more in the breach than in the honoring of the essentially good underlying ideas.

On why Wall Street will finally be reformed:

Personally, I think they miscalculate. They finally may be undone by their greed. Except it won’t be because they stole too much or blew up the international economy. It’ll be because they stopped paying off the people who set the rules. And nothing puts a politician back in touch with his principles like a failure to keep up payments by the banker to whom he has mortgaged them.

Describing the dust-up between Kim Jong Il and Hillary Clintons:

No doubt drawing on his extensive training in rhetoric and stand-up comedy at the University of Malta (training ground for all of Malta’s best comics), Kim fired back with the tell-tale wit that once had him referred to as “the anti-factionalist Oscar Wilde of Baekdu Mountain” until someone discovered who Oscar Wilde was and the guy who invented the nickname was dropped out of a Russian helicopter into the Amnok River. (Wilde, meanwhile, might have called North Korean official efforts at humor “the unspeakable in pursuit of the unattainable.”)

Comparing America’s hegemony with Microsoft’s monopoly:

In the mid-90s, America and Microsoft were clearly the future of the world. Then both started to abuse their power. America, in the wake of 9/11, undercut the international system it built, rhetorically flaunted its hallowed values and then crudely and repeatedly undercut them in its behaviors. Microsoft went from a symbol of the garage-launched entrepreneurial energy of the tech revolution to being a ruthless crusher of competitors. In fact, it became so dominant, that it felt it could foist on the American public products that didn’t work, were full of bugs, were vulnerable to security breaches and, as in the case of Vista, should never have been released in the first place.

Defining the foreign policy precept, the law of the prior incident:

A reason for the swift action on Honduras is that old faithful of U.S. foreign policy: the law of the prior incident. This law states that whatever we did wrong (or took heat for) during a preceding event we will try to correct in the next one … regardless of whether or not the correction is appropriate. A particularly infamous instance of this was trying to avoid the on-the-ground disasters of the Somalia campaign by deciding not to intervene in Rwanda. Often this can mean tough with China on pirated t-shirts today, easy with them on WMD proliferation tomorrow, which is not a good thing. In any event, in this instance it produced: too slow on Iran yesterday, hair-trigger on Honduras today.

I had also accidentally included this Paul Krugman quote in the mix of Rothkopfian aphorisms – because it seemed so like something he’d say. Only on searching for the quote did I find its true author, but I’ll include it here anyway:

Serious Person Syndrome, aka it’s better to have been conventionally wrong than unconventionally right.

[Image adapted from a photograph by the New America Foundation licensed under Creative Commons.]

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Posted in Prose, Quotations, The Opinionsphere, The Web and Technology | 1 Comment »

Hillary Mis-Speaks Again!!!

Monday, October 19th, 2009

You have to wonder who’s pushing this story. It reads like a political attack by some opponent trying to undermine Clinton – as the facts are stretched so much to get the necessary spin – but she has positioned herself so masterfully over these past months that it’s hard to figure out who might stand to benefit from taking her down a peg.

In this case, Clinton mentioned during a speech to the Stormont parliament that when she stayed at Belfast’s famous (and famously bombed many times) Europa Hotel, “there were sections boarded up because of damage from bombs.” According to research by David Sharrok of the Times of London, this couldn’t have been true as the last reconstruction after a bomb blast at the Europa occurred almost two years before the Clintons arrived. The Clintons first visit to Belfast came just over a year after the ceasefire by the IRA. But while the Bosnia sniper incident could be seen as boosting her own political clout and experience, this seems far more innocent. I would presume she could have easily seen other buildings around Belfast boarded up from bomb blasts, and almost 15 years after the trip confused this detail. For a similar reason, I also never made a big deal of the sniper incident, though I think the controversy over that, while legitimate was exaggerated beyond reason. For this story to get any play at all – let alone to be featured as a major story by the Drudge Report – demonstrates how stupid our media culture can be.

It’s also interesting to see this story pop up shortly after the White House seemed to have fully embraced her, as Jon Heileman reported:

[A]lthough the president himself and Emanuel never had much doubt that she could be a team player, many others in the Obamasphere were supremely skeptical. But no longer. “In terms of loyalty, discretion, and collegiality,” says a senior White House official, “she’s been everything we could have asked or hoped for.”

H/t Kevin Drum who adds his own interesting take – which I wholeheartedly agree with.

[Image by Juska Wendland licensed under Creative Commons.]

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Military Envy

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Under the Obama administration, the nonmilitary parts of America’s national security team have begun to increasingly imitate the Pentagon’s bureaucratic strategies and organization.

David Kilcullen, an Australian military officer embedded at various times in the State Department and in the Department of Defense during the Bush administration, one of the architects of the Surge, and a consultant to the Obama administration spoke at the Carneige Council about a number of problems with America’s approach to terrorism and its power – including what he saw as a serious mismatch between the “military and nonmilitary elements of national power.” He explained:

There’s 1.68 million people in the U.S. armed services, 2.1 million if you count all the civilians in the Department of Defense. I served in the State Department but this isn’t a State/Defense thing because I also served in the Defense Department, but between State and AID combined there are about 8,000 diplomats/foreign service officers in the U.S. So that’s 360 to 1 in terms of budget and 210 to 1 in terms of military guys to diplomats.

Contrast that to most other countries in the world, which have a ratio between 8 and 10 to 1. So we are dramatically out of proportion. We have this huge, well developed, highly expensive, well-coordinated military arm of national power and this tiny, shriveled, little puny diplomatic arm of national power. Not surprisingly we tend to see most problems as military problems and we tend to approach them with military solutions, because that’s the asset set that we have available.

By comparison there are five times as many accountants in the Department of Defense as there are diplomats in the U.S. diplomatic service. There’s as many lawyers in the Department of Defense as there are in the diplomatic service. There are actually more people playing as musicians in defense bands than there are diplomats. [Here the crowd titters.] So there’s a pretty substantial mismatch.

And of course that leads us to militarize our foreign policy.

He’s obviously right about this. But the military is not just seen to be bigger and better funded, but to be more effective than these other elements of national power. Its interesting to note that in the opening months of the Obama administration, the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Treasury have all sought to adopt elements of the Pentagon’s framework and seem to be using the Pentagon itself as a model.

Most recently, Noam Scheiber reported that the Treasury Department wanted to “put Treasury on a Pentagon-style footing.” He explained that in this new world of sudden financial movements, the Treasury needed to have greater capabilities to react to threats, as the military does:

Inevitably, it’s Treasury that must lead in this terrifying new order. Which is why its limitations have become so glaring. “The Pentagon is geared up to fight two wars at once, that’s the mission. The White House is a crisis management operation, it runs twenty-four hours a day,” says one Treasury official. “We want that capability.” And so, once the dust settles, Geithner is determined to put Treasury on a Pentagon-style footing. “One of things I hope to be able to do is leave a stronger institutional architecture in domestic finance with more depth in the career staff, more weight, more full-scale expertise in markets, regulatory policy, economics, the legal financial area,” he told me. When that day comes, you probably still won’t see much of Lee Sachs. But you can bet he’ll be manning the situation room. [my emphasis]

At the very start of this administration, Obama’s National Security Advisor, retired General Jim Jones pushed for the State Department and National Security Council to “reorganize their regional bureaus to conform with the military model,” according to Foreign Policy‘s Laura Rozen. So far, he has been unsuccessful.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself has sought to adapt at least one Pentagon practice to her new fiefdom – as she announced with great fanfare several weeks ago:

To deliver concrete results, we have to maximize our effectiveness. That’s why I’m excited to be here today to discuss a new enterprise, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which I announced at the State Department on Friday.

We are adopting this idea from the Pentagon. The Pentagon has successfully used this quadrennial review process to improve effectiveness and to establish a long-term vision. And I know from my time – about six years on the Senate Armed Services Committee – that the defense review helped convey the Department’s mission to all stakeholders, from members of Congress, to the members of the armed forces and their civilian colleagues, and to the rest of government, as well as to the American public. [my emphasis]

There has been a great deal of commentary in the past decade about the “creeping militarization” of America’s foreign policy. These changes seem more akin to powerful players in the Obama administration adopting the best practices of the Pentagon and adapting them across the government. In general, this is a good thing – but like the focus on technocratic, independent institutions solving intractable problems, this could also become problematic over time.

[Image by army.mil.]

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Posted in Barack Obama, Criticism, Foreign Policy, National Security, The War on Terrorism | No Comments »

Did Kim Jong Il Apologize for Calling Hillary A “Funny Lady”?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

David Rothkopf asks an interesting question:

I wonder how our former president and Kim Jong Il handled the “funny lady” who looks like a “pensioner going shopping” comments at dinner tonight?  And however they handled it, if only we could have gotten a glimpse of the “Annie Hall” subtitles that would have revealed what they were really thinking.”

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Piercing the White House Bubble

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Eli Saslow in the Washington Post quotes White House scheduler Alyssa Mastromonaco who was perhaps unintentionally revealing in her formulation of people not to be kept waiting:

“Since we’ve gotten to the White House, the president has told us that there’s too much padding and things can be back to back because he needs to fit a lot into the day,” Mastromonaco said. “I still err with caution, because you don’t want someone like Secretary Clinton or a foreign leader waiting for 40 minutes. But he feels like ‘I’m here.’ And he wants to get things done.”

“Someone like Secretary Clinton or a foreign leader” – as opposed to a Cabinet Secretary or a foreign leader; or Tony Blair or Hillary Clinton. It makes it seem as if Obama’s staff is treating Hillary Clinton with a kind of distant respect rather than camraderie. 

The article later goes on to describe the steps which Obama takes to remain in contact with a somewhat normal life:

Younger staff members said Obama likes to be kept up on their gossip about weekend nights and new girlfriends and feels left out anytime he’s the last to know what’s going on in their lives. On Super Bowl Sunday, he invited a few dozen people to the White House for a party and implemented two rules: no talking about politics and no posed pictures. Instead, Obama instructed a personal photographer to follow him during the party and take candid shots of him chatting with his guests, which would be mailed to them later. Obama explained to a few congressmen in attendance that he wanted to feel like a part of the group, not apart from it.

Still, whenever Obama hosts, his guests must first submit their Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and cities of birth to the Secret Service – a screening process for which Obama has sometimes felt compelled to apologize.

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A Defense of Indiscretion (cont.)

Monday, December 15th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]Kathleen Parker, who since breaking with Republican orthodoxy and criticizing Sarah Palin with her obvious flaws, has been a writer I pay attention to found time to comment on the mini-scandal of a former Holy Cross alum:

One day, Favreau was the golden boy of silken tongue. The next, he was just another dimwitted dude acting dumb…Feminists groups such as NOW and The New Agenda are outraged that Clinton – or at least her image – is being treated disrespectfully by the boys. Conservatives are outraged that there’s not enough outrage, as would be the case were the party boys Republicans…

Only Hillary Clinton has made light of the “incident,” hereinafter known as Night of BBB (Boys Being Boys). In an e-mail to The Washington Post’s Al Kamen, a Clinton adviser wrote: “Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon’s obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application.”

Hear, hear. Nipping nonsense in the bud is an essential skill for a secretary of state and Clinton used her shears deftly. If anyone recognizes a little harmless male sport, it would be the bride of President “Is.” One thing is harmful; another thing isn’t…

Puritans and prohibitionists would adore our brave new world of shutterbug infamy. The fact is, no one’s having fun anymore, especially in the nation’s capital, where one can’t afford to let the tongue slip or risk being caught in the cross hairs of a cell camera.

Of course, Parker had the good sense to see Sarah Palin for what she was – a dazzling media phenomenon with little substance. People like Amy Siskind and Campbell Brown couldn’t see beyond Palin’s ovaries – defending her and blaming “the boys” in the McCain campaign for holding her back.

Robert Schlesinger of U.S. News & World Report manages to look beyond sexism to the more fundamental issues involved.

The trifecta of a lack of privacy, a disappearing sense of humor, and a zero-tolerance attitude regarding offenses real and perceived will leave us dysfunctional: We’re all human, after all, and make mistakes. Show me someone who has never in their life done something embarrassing, inappropriate, rude, or regrettable and I’ll show you someone either too inhuman to work in a position of power or someone who was fortunate that a camera phone wasn’t around when they erred.

Amen. That’s exactly the argument I made last week.

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Why Hillary Clinton Should Not Be Secretary of State

Monday, November 17th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]Hillary Clinton is not the best candidate for Barack Obama to choose as his Secretary of State.

She has the necessary gravitas; she has the experience; she has a similar worldview (more on that later); she has significant political weight in America; she has many established relationships with worldwide leaders; she has an undeniable star power since her primary campaign; she has been a workhorse in the Senate; she knows – at almost all times – the proper and diplomatic answer to preserve the status quo.

There are a few obvious obstacles to placing Hillary in this position:

All of these obstacles can and should be overcome – if she is the best candidate for the job.

But she isn’t. There is in fact another high profile candidate who brings considerable assets Hillary lacks while also lacking her deficiencies: Chuck Hagel.

Hagel:

I think Hillary Clinton is – of the possible choices I have heard mentioned – the second best of all the options. But Hagel is far better – because he agrees with Obama on these significant matters of controversy.

The ideal place for Hillary would be in the Department of Defense. She would be a ground-breaking pick – and one that would burnish the national security creditials she will want to use again in her almost inevitable retry.

It would make even better sense to leave Robert Gates in as Secretary of Defense for the next year or two – and work with him to start those tough spending cuts on big, Cold War era projects that will be needed. Then, after those cuts have been pushed through – get Hillary in as Secretary of Defense. This would also have the secondary effect of keeping her extra busy mastering her new position in the run-up to the 2012 election, helping prevent any potential mischief. In the meantime, Hillary could spend the next two years in the Senate working with Ted Kennedy on the project that she started her political career working on: health care. She could also focus on infrastructure improvements – as she has been – and which are extremely important if less than glamorous.

Update: Ken Silverstein over at Harper’s has his own list of reasons Hillary shouldn’t be Secretary of State.

His number 2 is a very important point I overlooked:

H/t to Andrew Sullivan on the link.

[Above image by Angela Radulescu.]

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Posted in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, National Security, Politics | 3 Comments »

What’s Next: Secretaries of State and Defense

Friday, November 14th, 2008

It seems as if Hillary Clinton is going to be the next Secretary of State. And it seems like a done deal at this point – with the coy public statements and influentials lining up behind it.

I’m not thrilled. I think she’s a better choice than John Kerry or Bill Richardson, whose names were also being bandied about. 

But the candidate I think would be truly brilliant for Secretary of State would be Chuck Hagel. Obama is certainly going to do some controversial things in foreign policy – common sense things really that became political fodder for attacks – such as engaging in direct diplomacy with Iran, being more aggressive with regards to Pakistan, etcetera. A Republican as Secretary of State would help help provide political cover for these controversial decisions; but more importantly, it would make it clear that Obama is not taking “liberal” positions – but common sense ones. It would serve as notice to the world that Obama’s foreign policy is bipartisan, reflecting not just this president but a broad consensus across political parties. In fact, Chuck Hagel is perfect for this role as defended Obama’s foreign policy positions against both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. 

The position I would reccomend for Hillary would be Secretary of Defense. Obama could come to some agreement with Robert Gates that allows him to stay for a year or so – and offer to put Hillary in after that. She’s tough enough; it would give her important credentials for a later run for president; it would be breaking yet another glass ceiling.

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