Posts Tagged ‘Marc Ambinder’

Must-Reads of the Week: Obama’s Accomplishments and Diplomatic Brand, Facebook, Epistemic Closure, Financial Reform, Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis and Problem-Solving Capacity, and Mike Allen

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

1. Obama’s Accomplishments. Jonathan Bernstein explains how Obama has gotten so many of his legislative goals accomplished despite the GOP’s constant obstructionism: By loading up the major bills with many other smaller items. In fact, according to PolitiFact, Obama has accomplished almost a third of his campaign promises if compromises count (and a fifth if they don’t).

2. Facebook v. Google. Ian Schafer in the Advertising Age has a smart take on Facebook’s recent challenge to Google and how Facebook is trying to reorganize the web.

3. Epistemic Closure. Julian Sanchez follows up on his starting post on the epistemic closure of the right wing. Every single link he provides in the article is worth following as the conversation he started extended across many people and was full of insights all around.

4. Obama’s Diplomatic Brand. Marc Ambinder has an excellent post on “the essence of Obama’s diplomatic brand.” While Ambinder acknowledges it’s too early to assess how effective Obama’s diplomacy will be and has been, he does a good job of describing it — and little wonder it bears little resemblance to the weak, anti-American apologizing that the right sees as Obama’s trademark. Ambinder lists a few qualities, but let me focus on one:

Bush assumed a position of direct strength, not deference, when he met with leaders. Obama has been decidedly deferential, which, in the traditional binary way the media covers foreign policy, allegedly suggests weakness. From Obama’s perspective, deference is both strategic and is demanded by the goals he sets out. Treating countries as equals foists certain obligations upon them. It helps leaders deal with internal politics. Year one, Obama was the star, and wasn’t seen as a heavyweight, even by some allies. Year two is different: he’s charted a course on legacy problems (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East peace), so the world knows where he stands.

5. How Financial Reform is Playing. There was some disagreement around the opinionosphere about how financial reform is “playing.” Initially, there was concern that the Republicans would once again follow their tried and true strategy of: Make up stuff that’s really awful — and pretend the bill is about that. There was concern that the Obama administration didn’t have a plan for this contingency, presuming that Republicans would crack under public pressure. And then, the SEC filed suit against Goldman and Blanche Lincoln (who was expected to water down the bill) adopted the strongest language we’ve seen and the Republicans seem to be breaking ranks over this with Bob Corker critizing McConnell’s lies and Chuck Grassley voting for the bill in committee. Kevin Drum suggests McConnell crossed some line of absurdity:

[I]t turns out there really is a limit to just how baldly you can lie and get away with it…[W]e seem to have reached a limit of some kind, and McConnell crossed it. Maybe we should name this the McConnell Line or something so that we know when future politicians have crossed it.

I tend to think Matt Yglesias is more right when he observed:

This time around, though, it doesn’t seem to be working nearly as well, perhaps because people realize we’ve seen this movie before.

6. Our Long-Term Fiscal Crisis. Jonathan Chait observes what may prove to be a fatal flaw in the political strategy of the GOP on fiscal matters if they authentically do support a smaller government:

Distrust of government makes Americans distrust everything people in governemnt say or do, including cut spending, which — with the exception of a few programs seen to help “others,” like welfare and foreign aid — tends to be wildly unpopular.

Their current strategy has been to provoke a fiscal catastrophe and cut government spending in the aftermath. But Chait suggests that this strategy of starve-the-beast governance may not work. On a related note, William Galston has an astutely even-handed piece describing the fiscal problems we are facing and what the solution must realistically be. He quotes Donald B. Marron in National Affairs who explains an idea that is antithetical to ideological right wingers:

Policymakers should not always assume that a larger government will necessarily translate into weaker economic performance. As few years ago, Peter Lindert—an economist at the University of California, Davis—looked across countries and across time in an effort to answer the question, “Is the welfare state a free lunch?” He found that countries with high levels of government spending did not perform any worse, economically speaking, than countries with low levels of government spending. The result was surprising, given the usual intuition that a larger government would levy higher taxes and engage in more income redistribution—both of which would undermine economic growth.

Lindert found that the reason for this apparent paradox is that countries with large welfare states try to minimize the extent to which government actions undermine the economy. Thus, high-budget nations tend to adopt more efficient tax system—with flatter rates and a greater reliance on consumption taxes—than do countries with lower budget. High-budget countries also adopt more efficient benefits systems—taking care, for example, to minimize the degree to which subsidy programs discourage beneficiaries from working.”

Right wingers rarely acknowledge this even as they oppose measures that would improve the efficiency of government (like the VAT). They simply call it “European-style socialism” and move on with addressing why on the substance more efficient government measures shouldn’t be adopted.

7. Our Problem-Solving Capacity. Stephen Walt has a very long and very, very good post that attempts to balance optimism (global violence is at historic lows!) with some pessimism:

One way to think about the current state of world politics is as a ratio of the number of important problems to be solved and our overall “problem-solving capacity.” When the ratio of “emerging problems” to “problem-solving capacity” rises, challenges pile up faster than we can deal with them and we end up neglecting some important issues and mishandling others.  Something of this sort happened during the 1930s, for example, when a fatal combination of global economic depression, aggressive dictatorships, inadequate institutions, declining empires, and incomplete knowledge overwhelmed leaders around the world and led to a devastating world war…

[Today] Washington D.C. has become synonymous with the term “gridlock,” leading the Economist magazine to describe the U.S.  political system as “a study in paralysis.” Obama did get a health care reform package through, but it still took an enormous effort to pass a watered-down bill that pandered to insurance companies and other well-funded special interests. Meanwhile, decisive action to address climate change, the persistent U.S. budget deficit, or financial sector reform remain elusive, and it’s going to get a lot tougher if the GOP makes big gains in the 2010 midterms. Nor is it reassuring to realize that the Republican Party seems to be taking its marching orders from two entertainers — Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck — the latter of whom has made it clear that he’s interested in making money and doesn’t really care about public affairs at all…

Nor is this problem confined to the United States. Japan’s ossified political order remains incapable of either decisive action or meaningful reform; the Berlusconi-government in Italy is an exercise inopera bouffe rather than responsible leadership, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s early flurry of reform efforts have stalled and Mexico remains beset by drug-fueled violence and endemic corruption. Britan’s ruling Labor Party is a spent force, but the rival Conservatives do not present a very appealing alternative and may even lose an election that once seemed in the bag. And so on.

There are some countries where decision leadership is not lacking, of course, such as China (at one end of the size scale) and Dubai (at the other). Yet in both these cases, a lack of genuine democratic accountability creates the opposite problem. These government can act quickly and launch (overly?) ambitious long-term plans, but they are also more likely to make big mistakes that are difficult to correct them in time…

In short, what I am suggesting is that our inability to cope with a rising number of global challenges is not due to a lack of knowledge or insufficient resources, but rather to the inability of existingpolitical institutions to address these problems in a timely and appropriate way.

8. Mike Allen. Mark Leibovitch in the New York Times Magazine has an excellent profile of Mike Allen of Politico and how that organization is changing the news business by covering it like some combination of ESPN and Facebook’s feed of data on the activity of your friends. As a character study, it succeeds given Mike Allen’s unique personality — and as a look at the changing media landscape in politics, it succeeds in raising many questions about where we’re headed. Marc Ambinder responds.

[Image by me.]

Evaluating Mitt Romney’s 2012 Candidacy

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

The blogs discuss whether or not Mitt Romney’s 2012 prospects have been passed by the health care reform so similar to his own in Massachusetts:

Marc Ambinder makes the case that the conventional wisdom on the left that health care reform’s passage has killed Romney’s 2012 candidacy is a reflection of “anchor bias — the same type of bias that consigned the Democratic majority to history the day after Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts.” Ambinder continues:

Romney is a serious, sober guy. Just read his book. It’s half a cliche campaign book, and half a really learned and well-thought-out disquisition on the problems facing American today. If the fundamental divide in the party is between the lambs being led to slaughter wing — the bleating, noisy wing — and the wing that seeks a solutions-oriented leader, Romney has a case to make.

Jonathan Chait responds to Ambinder:

Actually, I think Ambinder has this backwards. Right now, Romney looks fine — he has money, name recognition, decent polling, and the like. What you have to do is project how the current dynamic is going to play in 2012. At the moment, Republican leaders are trying to demonize the Affordable Care Act, so they have little incentive to point out that it’s basically Romneycare plus cost controls. But in the context of the 2012 race, with the Affordable Care Act settled into law and a contested GOP primary going on, there will be lots of Republicans playing up the comparisons between Romneycare and Obamacare. Romney appears political viable right now because most Republican voters have not been exposed to the Romneycare-Obamacare comparison — or if they have, it’s been made by advocates of the latter, rather than by Republicans who they trust. When the attacks come, Romney just has no convincing reply…

[But] I’d like to see Romney win the nomination, because he’s intelligent, competent, and has some decent moral instincts buried somewhere beneath a thick coat of pandering demagoguery. I just don’t see it happening.

Ezra Klein:

The passage of Obamacare is going to make life harder for Mitt Romney in 2012. Which makes the White House pretty happy. Romney isn’t the world’s most skilled politician, but he’s one of the more credible challengers Republicans can muster. If the passage of health-care reform wounds his candidacy without killing it off entirely, that’s a big win for the Obama administration: It means Romney takes up some, but not enough, of the sensible Republican vote, making it even likelier that someone totally unelectable wins the nomination…

The White House thinks that 2012 is where they can deal a serious blow to the Fox Newsification of the Republican Party. But that only works if someone from the Fox News wings of the party wins the nomination (and, of course, if Obama really trounces that person)

Jonathan Chait responds to Klein:

From Obama’s perspective, the crazier the Republican nominee, the better. Better Tim Pawlenty than Mitt Romney, and better Sarah Palin than Tim Pawlenty.

The broader liberal calculation is different. It’s almost certainly true that liberals will want Obama to win reelection. But we have to balance that desire against minimizing the downside in case he doesn’t.

Andrew Sullivan:

I’m sorry but he says he’s running against an all-powerful central government, but he backed the indefinite, open-ended, unlimited, “Double Gitmo!” executive powers seized by Bush and Cheney? He set up a mini-version of Obamacare and now wants to lead a party that wants to repeal Obamacare? Worse for him, Obama is now shrewdly embracing Romney…

And how do you get past the problem that no one likes him and no one rightly trusts him? And that he’s a Mormon running for the nomination of a Southern evangelical organization?

Palin is the one to beat. She’s the real identity of the current GOP – and as fake as the rest of them (though nowhere near as fake as Romney, but, then, who is?).

Meanwhile, David Harsanyi chips in from the Denver Post in a piece being promoted by the National Review (which has been notably quiet on this issue):

“Overall, ours is a model that works,” Romney explained. “We solved our problem at the state level. Like it or not, it was a state solution. Why is it that President Obama is stepping in and saying ‘one size fits all’ “?

Federalism is a good argument that has nothing to do with health care reform models, as Romney knows well. Here’s what he should have said years ago:

“Everyone makes mistakes. Heck, I made a huge one. My plan, first hijacked by state liberals and now copied by Barack Obama, has created a fiscal nightmare in my state… I am here to extract my name from that botched experiment by repealing its ugly stepson Obamacare so Americans work together to pass genuine, common sense, market-based reform.”

Then again, it is entirely possible Romney genuinely believes his health care model works.

In which case, his position just doesn’t cut it.

My two cents: Projections are inherently flawed – and long-term political projections are akin to predicting the weather in a particular days several years away: Sometimes, rules of thumb work (“March goes in like a lion and out like a lamb” to “Opposition parties do well in the first mid-terms after a presidential election.”), but you can’t count on them. Looking at the fundamentals is more important than looking at current trends. (“November is usually cold,” does better than “It’s gotten hotter in 5 successive days this April!”) But even projections based on the fundamentals don’t always hold.

As I read the fundamentals: Whether the Obama administration embraces Romney or not, I don’t see how he can win the Republican nomination for the reasons that Chait raised (when his Republicans opponents tar him with supporting Obamacare, it will stick) – added to the complications that Sullivan harps on (a Mormon running to lead an evangelical party). If Romney wins the Republican nomination, his flip-flopping on health care would only solidify the image of him as a pandering demagogue with no real principles. Still, he’s the Republican I’d most like to see win the nomination on the off-chance the Republicans are able to win in 2012. The fundamentals there look very weak for any Republican though unless unemployment is rising in 2012.

[Image by Paul Chenowith licensed under Creative Commons.]

Must-Reads During This Week: Perfect Storm for Health Reform, Making Controversy, Cyberwar, Limiting Government, Liz Cheney’s Al Qaeda Connection, George Will, and the Coffee Party

Monday, March 8th, 2010

In lieu of a substantial post today (as I’m having trouble getting back into the blog-writing habit), here’s a few links to worthwhile articles.

1. Perfect Storm. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic explains that a “Perfect Storm Nearly Killed Health Reform; Another Storm May Save It.” However, what Ambinder describes as the “perfect storm” that might save health reform seems to be more properly called Obama’s willingness to wait out bad news cycles.

2. Controversy. Ezra Klein opines usefully on “how to make something controversial“:

The media is giving blanket coverage to this “controversial” procedure being used by the Democrats. But using reconciliation for a few fixes and tweaks isn’t controversial historically, and it’s not controversial procedurally. It’s only controversial because Republicans are saying it is. Which is good enough, as it turns out. In our political system, if Democrats and Republicans are yelling at each other over something, then for the media, that is, by definition, controversy.

3. Cyberwar? Ryan Singel of Wired‘s Threat Level reported some of the back-and-forth among the U.S. intelligence community, explaining why Republicans want to undermine and destroy the internet for national security as well as for commercial reasons. The Obama administration’s web security chief maintains in an interview with Threat Level that, “There is no cyberwar.”

4. Limiting government. Jacob Weisberg of Slate always seems to be looking for the zeitgeist. His piece this week is on how Obama can embrace the vision of limited government.  While all the pieces are there, he doesn’t quite make the connection I want to make: that government is absolutely needed even as it must be limited and its power checked. A post on this line has been percolating in my mind for some time, and now that Weisberg has written his piece, I feel its just about time for me to write mine.

5. Liz Cheney, Al Qaeda Sympathizer? Dahlia Lithwick slams Liz Cheney for her recent ad calling the Justice Department the “Department of Jihad” and labeling some attorneys there the “Al-Qaeda 7″:

Given that the Bill of Rights pretty much evaporates once you’ve been deemed a jihadi lover of Bin Laden, you might think Liz Cheney would be super-careful tossing around such words They have very serious legal implications…Having worked for years to ensure that the word jihadist is legally synonymous with guilty, Cheney cannot be allowed to use it casually to describe anyone she simply doesn’t like.

6. George Will: More Partisan Than Independent? Ezra Klein catches George Will out in a rather telling fit of procedural outrage over the Democrats’ use of reconciliation in the Senate. Plus, Klein uses this nifty chart to illustrate that dramatic change that George Will doesn’t happen to comment upon:

7. Coffee Party. I’m intrigued by this idea, though I don’t know how workable it is.

[Image taken by me over the weekend.]

Richard Shelby’s Brazen Exposure of Senate Flaws

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I fear Josh Marshall was right in this prediction regarding the outrage over Senator Richard Shelby’s blanket hold of all of Obama’s nominees until he got a guarantee of some pork spending:

Perhaps, like so many other times, this will be today’s outrage that is the new normal by tomorrow.

Marc Ambinder gets the politics of this exactly right in his description.

Yet, the outrage seems to be dying down. The fact that someone like Shelby has this power doesn’t seem to disturb the general public as much as whether or not he is forced to go through the spectacle of using it.

Here’s hoping the Democrats find some dramatic way to showcase this dramatic exhibit of how off-the-rails the Senate has become.

[Image not subject to copyright.]

Remembering Those Who Were Killed While the Pundits Glorify the Gunman

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Obama’s speech at Fort Hood on Tuesday didn’t get much coverage. It was lost amidst the constant churning of the news. In it, he said nothing “newsworthy.” But while it was not newsworthy, it was important. Obama focused on those who died that day, rather than the gunman. By his very approach, he made manifest the words of his erstwhile opponent, who in considering what America’s reaction to such threats should be said, “It is not about them; it is about us.” Marc Ambinder called the speech “The Best Speech Obama’s Given Since…Maybe Ever.” John Dickerson called it a “small masterpiece.”

While critics such as Charles Krauthammer may claim that Obama believes America should decline in power and Rush Limbaugh believes that Obama hates America so, Obama himself tells a different story of America:

[A]s we honor the many generations who have served, I think all of us – every single American – must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who have come before.

We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.

This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in a time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war. They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and stations – all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life…

[W]hen today’s servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown – it will be said of this generation that they believed under the most trying of tests; that they persevered not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; and that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.

Do yourself a favor – and as an antidote to the constant media circus of pundits bloviating and focusing their attention on the gunman and the other force that “killed those patriotic Americans at Ft. Hood as surely as the Islamist gunman did” (political correctness) - take a few minutes and pay attention to the story of us, and specifically to remember those who were killed on that day. It is, quite simply, the least we can do – to take a moment to pay attention to their lives instead of to glorify their killer and use their deaths as a cudgel against our domestic opponents.

Must-Reads of Last Week: Data Warfare, Gay Rights, McCaughey, Summers, and Yankee Tickets

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Data Warfare. Marc Ambinder got hold of Catalist’s after-action report on the 2008 elections – describing how effective the Democrats were in pushing their voters to vote. According to the report, the combination of the effectiveness of data targeting and the pull of Obama’s candidacy made the difference in at least four states: Ohio, Florida, Indiana in North Carolina.

Gay Rights. Andrew Sullivan takes on the Weekly Standard‘s arguments in favor of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and continues his crusade to push the gay rights movement to agitate for change instead of simple accepting leaders who make the right noises. He continued over the weekend:

The president wasn’t vilified on the streets on Sunday as he has been recently. We are not attacking the president; we are simply demanding he do what he promised to do and supporting the troops who do not have the luxury of deciding to wait before they risk their lives for us.

We know it isn’t easy; but the Democrats need to know we weren’t kidding. You cannot summon these forces and then ask them to leave the stage. We won’t.

Remember: we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Not him, us.

A Professional Health-Care Policy Liar. Ezra Klein recommends: “Michelle Cottle’s take down of professional health-care policy liar Betsy McCaughey is deservedly vicious and unabashedly welcome.” The entire article is illuminating, but I want to point out Cottle’s nice summary of McCaughey’s brilliance at debate:

Ironically, her familiarity with the data, combined with her unrecognizable interpretation of it, makes it nearly impossible to combat McCaughey’s claims in a traditional debate. Her standard m.o. (as “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart recently experienced) is to greet each bit of contradictory evidence by insisting that her questioner is poorly informed and should take a closer look at paragraph X or footnote Z. When those sections don’t support her interpretation, she continues to throw out page numbers and footnotes until the mountain of data is so high as to obscure the fact that none of the numbers add up to what she has claimed.

But it is Klein, in recommending the article that gets at the heart of why McCaughey is so effective:

She’s among the best in the business at the Big Lie: not the dull claim that health-care reform will slightly increase the deficit or trim Medicare Advantage benefits, but the claim that it will result in Death Panels that decide the fate of the elderly, or a new model of medical ethics in which the lives of the old are sacrificed for the good of the young, or a government agency that will review the actions of every doctor. McCaughey isn’t just a liar. She’s anexciting liar.

Summers. Ryan Lizza profiles Larry Summers for the New Yorker. Read the piece. This excerpt isn’t typical of the approach of the Obama team that the article describes, but it touches on something I plan on picking up later:

Summers opened with a tone of skepticism: The future of activist government was at stake, he warned. If Obama’s programs wasted money, they would discredit progressivism itself. “I would have guessed that bailing out big banks was going to be unpopular, and bailing out real companies where people work was going to be popular,” he said. “But I was wrong. They were both unpopular. There’s a lot of suspicion around. Why this business but not that business? Is this industrial policy? Is this socialism? Why is the government moving in?”

Noblesse oblige. Wright Thompson for ESPN explains the reason for the exorbitant prices and examines their affect on the loyalty of longtime fans. The article provides a close-up view of the  of the corrosive effect of the concentration of wealth and Wall Street culture – and how it destroys what the very things it enriches.

NSA’s Secret Pinwale Program Used to Spy on Bill Clinton

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the Times - who previously broke the wireless wiretapping story - relay concerns of a number of Congressmen about the extent of email surveillance by the NSA. These Congressmen are concerned about the number of domestic emails being intercepted and analyzed under the current program – which is identified as “Pinwale.” Marc Ambinder identifies this as the fourth NSA anti-terrorist surveillance program we’ve found out about in his piece responding to the story. Risen and Lichtblau also reveal for the first time that it was this Pinwale program that was at the heart of the dispute that led to the dramatic middle-of-the-night hospital room showdown between Acting Attorney General Comey, ailing Attorney General Ashcroft, and FBI director Mueller and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez and Chief of Staff Andy Card.

But what got my attention was a small side-note buried in the story:

The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.

I had presumed the program worked by screening vast amounts of email for keywords and perhaps tracking who particular people emailed, creating webs of relationships – with attempts to filter results to exclude Americans. This is how the program had been described – and through most of this most recent piece, it clearly suggests the program works this way. But this particular item here suggests that this NSA program is of a different sort – and  is capable of accessing any email account individually – and that this is so easy to do that one can look into a prominent former official’s emails just to see what’s up.

The possibility of abuse in this is clearly enormous  - from spying on one’s girlfriend or wife to fishing for embarassing information on politicians whose job it is to regulate you.

What this story confirms is that if the potential for abuse exists, abuse will occur.

[Image by jacromer licensed under Creative Commons]

Rewriting the Rules of Capitalism

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Marc Ambinder discusses what he terms “Obama’s New Capitalism” in a recent piece. He asserts that the administration is “rewriting the rules of capitalism” but goes on to not discuss what these rules are. Which is fine – Ambinder’s piece makes some good points. One which I’ve made before is that Obama has not been violating the Rule of Law with regard to his GM and Chrysler interventions as his conservative critics allege:

Note that, aside from threats and suasion, the administration hasn’t done anything. The bondholders (with notable exceptions) agreed to these two deals. No laws have been broken. Everyone has sacrificed. And the unions have already given up a great deal – and, in doing so, put their trust in the administration.

I had written earlier:

These authors make a big point of the fact that Obama is abrogating contracts – but this objection is a bit silly. Obama is not a party to these contracts – and thus has no obligation to honor them personally. The Contracts clause of the Constitution – the Law which it is being alleged Obama has broken – was meant to constrain the individual states rather than the President or even the Congress. Congress was in fact given the power to abrogate contracts through bankruptcy proceedings in the Constitution. Obama – in intervening in the case of Chrysler – helped to negotiate an out-of-court settlement of the matter. Out-of-court settlements happen all the time – and are welcomed by overburdened judges who see it as better to allow all sides to come to an agreement rather than having to order them to agree.

To call this a violation of the Rule of Law is disingenuous at best.

What these authors are right to be concerned about is the concentration of power that undermines the system of the Rule of Law – as the government’s role in backstopping the finance and auto industries leaves it with enormous leverage.

Ambinder’s point that the UAW is putting a lot of trust in the Obama administration by accepting these deals is well-taken.

But I look forward to reading (or perhaps writing) the piece that Ambinder’s title seems to promise – explaining what amendments to the capitalist system have been wrought in the final days of the Bush administration and in these opening days of the Obama administration. We obviously don’t know everything yet – as that big piece of legislation which attempts to regulate the purported roots of this financial crisis has not been drafted to my knowledge.

But I can make a few educated guesses about the shape of this capitalism. So far anyway, institutions that are too big to fail have now combined into even larger institutions. It seems unlikely this will reverse. These enormous institutions now seem to have a implicit government backstop. This will need to be dealt with either with more regulation of such institutions – or by breaking them up into smaller pieces. It seems that in the future new financial instruments will be regulated more closely – and hopefully traded over some public exchange. Obama seems to want labor forces to have a greater role in running corporations – which is a relatively unique prospect in American history – and one that if it catches on could be revolutionary. At the moment, this depends on how well the UAW is able to handle its ownership stakes in Chrysler and GM – but one can see this creating either an advantage or a disadvantage competitively. There is also the issue of systematic risk – and finding a regulator responsible for monitoring this. Perhaps most significantly – the federal government has explicitly accepted what has long been its implicit promise to keep economic growth going.

The Abuse of the State Secrets Privilege

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Glenn Greenwald, yet again demonstrating his usefulness, holds Obama’s feet to the fire for the apparent decision of his Justice Department to maintain the Bush administration’s radical view on state secrets. Highlighting the ridiculousness of the Obama Justice Department’s legal position here, Greenwald points out that:

The entire claim of “state secrets” in this case is based on two sworn Declarations from CIA Director Michael Hayden – one public and one filed secretly with the court.  In them, Hayden argues that courts cannot adjudicate this case because to do so would be to disclose and thus degrade key CIA programs of rendition and interrogation - the very policies which Obama, in his first week in office, ordered shall no longer exist.  How, then, could continuation of this case possibly jeopardize national security when the rendition and interrogation practices which gave rise to these lawsuits are the very ones that the U.S. Government, under the new administration, claims to have banned? 

Greenwald follows up today with a piece that gets to the core of the issue:

Nobody — not the ACLU or anyone else — argues that the State Secrets privilege is inherently invalid.  Nobody contests that there is such a thing as a legitimate state secret.  Nobody believes that Obama should declassify every last secret and never classify anything else ever again.  Nor does anyone even assert that this particular lawsuit clearly involves no specific documents or portions of documents that might be legitimately subject to the privilege.  Those are all transparent, moronic strawmen advanced by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

What was abusive and dangerous about the Bush administration’s version of the States Secret privilege — just as the Obama/Biden campaign pointed out – was that it was used not (as originally intended) to argue that specific pieces of evidence or documents were secret and therefore shouldn’t be allowed in a court case, but instead, to compel dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance based on the claim that any judicial adjudication of even the most illegal secret government programs would harm national security.  Thatis the theory that caused the bulk of the controversy when used by the Bush DOJ — because it shields entire government programs from any judicial scrutiny – and it is that exact version of the privilege that the Obama DOJ yesterday expressly advocated (and, by implication, sought to preserve for all Presidents, including Obama).  

Greenwald ends his piece by misconstruing a remark made by Marc Ambinder – who in fairness to Greenwald probably misunderstands the essence of this issue – and turning it into a strawman he can take down. This is Greenwald at his worst – but the start of the article is Greenwald at his best, explaining succinctly and cleary why outrage is called for. I’m sure Greenwald mocks Ambinder only because his comments are illustrative of the wrong-headed Washington establishment thinking.

More important though is the question of, ‘What’s next?’ Greenwald clearly explains how this use of the state secrets privilege is abusive – and how Obama and Biden clearly opposed it when used by Bush. So, how do we begin to pressure Obama to change this position?

Fuming Over Their Own Confusions

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

It’s become a minor meme on the right that Obama keeps changing his tax plan – which is their way of suggesting that YOU(!!) could be the next person he taxes.

McCain said on Sunday on Meet the Press that under Obama’s plan those who are exempt keeps changing:

…now it’s $200,000.  I guess last week it was $250,000. It changes with ever – whatever the polling data tells him and his advisers.

And now, over at The Corner, Mark Hemingway steams:

Wait, we’ve been hearing endlessly that Obama will never raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000!

But that Krugman is saying it is for those heads of household with:

an income, after deductions, of $182,400 a year.

Of course, Hemingway’s source on this change in the Obama plan is Paul Krugman – who doesn’t describe it as a change, and who certainly isn’t someone who speaks for Obama’s campaign.

But the easier explanation is that either Hemingway and McCain are confused or they are being deliberately misleading. Obama’s tax plan calls for those individuals making under $200,000 to be exempt, and those married couples making under $250,000 to be exempt. Hence what McCain claims is inconsistency is in fact a consistent plan. As for Hemingway, he’s just a dumbass who read what he wanted into Krugman’s description.

I’m guessing that $182,400 after deductions is about $250,000 or more before deductions – as the difference is about 26% – lower than the average tax rate.

The question becomes – are these people deliberately trying to confuse others – or have they confused themselves by attempting to look for changes without understanding the underlying plan?

Update: Missed Byron York chiming in. He has the same issue – in an ad, Obama claims that he will cut taxes for any family making less than $200,000. York cries foul – he said $250,000 before. But again – the problem is he never looked at the plan which calls for a tax cut for those making below $200,000 with no additional taxes for those making between $200,000 and $250,000. Again – the plan is consistent. The descriptions of different parts of it vary – depending on whether you are saying whose taxes will be raised versus whose taxes will be cut, and other distinctions.

Updated again: Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic points out the same things I have.