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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

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.]

Health care Politics

Senator David Vitter Lies Again: Claims Health Reform Creating “Abortion Mandate” That Will Kill “Millions Upon Millions”

[digg-reddit-me] – who previously had sent this email claiming people needed to act immediately to prevent Obama from killing your grandparents and babies just now forwarded a message from Senator David Vitter.

The complete email from Vitter is below – but his main point is that health care reform is secretly a “new abortion entitlement” claiming that it contains an “abortion mandate” and that “millions upon millions will be killed each year” if the bill passes. Politifact – a nonpartisan fact checking organization hasn’t dealt with Vitter’s lies yet, but they have evaluated a number of similar claims that are circulating:

[W]e checked a claim by Rep. John Boehner that the plan would require Americans to “subsidize abortion with their hard-earned tax dollars.” While there are several versions of the health care plan floating around Congress, and it seems that full abortion coverage would be permitted in the government-sponsored program, we didn’t see anything in them that would put taxpayers on the hook for subsidizing abortions. In fact, we found an amendment in a key version of the House plan that specifically seeks to ensure that federal funds are not used to subsidize abortion coverage. And so we ruled that claim False. [my emphasis]

The White House and Democrats have in fact attempted to make their health care reforms “abortion neutral” so that the bill would neither encourage nor discourage abortion. If the amendment referenced above does not pass, the health care reform bills would not cover any abortions that would not have been covered by private health insurance.

In other words, Senator David Vitter, paragon of moral virtue, is lying to pro-lifers in a desperate attempt to block health reform.

Dear Townhall Reader,

Now it’s time to turn up the heat.

I’ve spent the last several days talking with fellow pro-life Senators about our strategy to ensure that any new national health care plan does NOT include coverage for abortion on demand.

We’re all agreed on two main points:

  1. This has to be the #1 objective of the pro-life cause right now — if we fail, millions of babies will pay the ultimate price, and;
  1. We have the truth and public opinion on our side, but what’s needed is steady grassroots pressure on key lawmakers nationwide.

And it needs to begin right now.

That’s why I’m asking you to click here to sign the Susan B. Anthony List’s petition to keep abortion out of healthcare.

We must ACT to stop the abortion mandate today.

Because if President Barack Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi pass a national health insurance plan that includes full coverage for abortion on demand:

  • Taxpayer-funded abortions will be the law of the land in all 50 states.
  • Health clinics nationwide will become federal abortion facilities.
  • Millions upon millions will be killed each year.

That’s some kind of “hope and change” isn’t it?

I don’t know about hope, but it’s a definite change away from everything we’ve achieved these past eight years to promote a culture of life.

So please act right now  and sign the petition-–  if we all come together and make our voices heard, this could be the biggest victory for unborn children in a decade.

What makes this such a desperate fight?

For beginners, new entitlements never go away.

President Obama knows that, and so do Nancy Pelosi and the lobbyists at Emily’s List and NARAL –- they see this as a way to solidify government policy in support of abortion for generations to come. Of course, we created federal entitlements like Social Security and Medicare in the past to help people live. This new entitlement promotes abortion, not life.

That’s not a sign of progress.  It’s horrifying, and we cannot allow it.

So after you sign the petition, I hope you will rush the most urgent contribution you can afford right now to the Susan B. Anthony List.

This legislation creating a new national health care plan is changing rapidly, moving through various committees, with anti-life lobbyists trying to sneak abortion coverage in at every turn.

You have my word that I am paying close attention to all the language in these bills, and so are my pro-life colleagues both in the House and the Senate.

Emily’s List, NARAL and Nancy Pelosi’s pro-abortion friends won’t sneak anything by us. If they want to create a new abortion entitlement, they’re going to have to cast a series of public roll-call votes.

And those votes will be very close.

Because I don’t have pro-life stalwarts like Elizabeth Dole and Rick Santorum here with me anymore, I’m not working with a big margin in the Senate.

The numbers are difficult in the House as well.

But there is hope.

Recently, 19 House Democrats signed a letter to Speaker Pelosi expressing their opposition to abortion funding in health care reform.

I’m told a handful of Senate Democrats are prepared to express similar principles to Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The rest –– and victory or defeat — is up to you.

If you and the really dedicated pro-life footsoldiers across America can summon enough energy, outrage, noise and financial generosity on our side, we’ll win.

Susan B. Anthony List staffers and I have identified the dozen lawmakers we consider the key “swing votes” on this issue, and our petition with thousands of names of Americans nationwide will go directly towards applying pressure on them to vote against taxpayer-funded abortions.

We need to act quickly, so please click here to sign the SBA List petition to keep abortion out of health care.

I’m doing everything in my power as Senator to stop Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi from creating a new national health insurance program that funds abortions, and the Susan B. Anthony List is playing a vital role in this fight.

Townhall Reader, we really need your help.

David Vitter
U.S. Senator

P.S.    Townhall Reader, this will come down to one or two Senators and maybe ten Representatives -– that’s who will make the difference between a huge pro-life victory or a new national health insurance plan that will use taxpayer dollars to fund the entire abortion-on-demand agenda and result in millions of murdered babies.

I’m doing everything I possibly can in the Senate to stop this new abortion entitlement, but I need your help.  Please sign the SBA List petition to keep abortion out of health care TODAY.

Barack Obama Domestic issues Health care Politics The Opinionsphere

Lies About Health Care Reform

[digg-reddit-me]The August War for Health Care Reform has begun. The forces for health care reform and those against it (working with those who are against it right now) have both begun to wage the battle for public opinion and to influence Congress. Many on the pro-reform side are not sure if they are happy with the plans being considered – and are frustrated with what they see as the lack of forthrightness in selling the plan. There are currently multiple versions of the legislation in Congress – and the president has yet to state what he will require to be in the bill. This all seems part of a strategy, but it makes organizing more difficult. In the end, there is little choice but to trust that if given the proper space and pressure politically, Obama and the Democratic Congress will do the right thing.

But while this may be frustrating what has become very clear is that the opponents of reform are willing to lie outrageously in order to turn the tide in this fight. And those people who favor reform must beat back these complaints vigorously. Here’s a roundup of recent lies told by the opponents of reform:

1. Last week in an opening volley, I received a charming email from stating that “ObamaCare=Gov’t Funded Abortion and Euthanasia.” This is clearly not true.

2. Then, this morning, I opened up the Drudge Report and found as his main link a heavily edited video claiming that it showed Obama “IN HIS OWN WORDS” saying his health care plan will eliminate private insurance. Even in its heavily edited version, it didn’t show this. Instead it showed Obama endorsing the generally accepted idea that we should gradually end our employer-based health insurance. Obama’s views on single-payer health insurance have been gone over repeatedly. His campaign website gave three examples of him using the same formulation – which incidentally he also used in at least one debate that I recall:

If you’re starting from scratch, then a single-payer system’-a government-managed system like Canada’s, which disconnects health insurance from employment-‘would probably make sense. But we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.

So, what we have is a obviously edited video of Obama at various times in the past ten years saying that he supports a single-payer system (cutting out the second half of the statement) and his admission that he believes we should move away from employer-based health insurance. The video though is being promoted as proving that Obama is admitting that his plan would secretly impose government insurance on everyone. The video very clearly shows no such thing.

Yet, even so, the Libertarian sub-reddit was fooled and promoted the video.

The White House has helpfully provided the videos with some context in what I think is an excellent effort to combat this smear.

3. The hysteria over Obama’s health care reform even bled over into my walk home through Midtown Manhattan. On the way, I passed a booth run by the LaRouche PAC with a picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache (similar to this one) and an older black woman explaining to passers-by that Obama was seeking to kill older Americans just like Hitler did. Everyone knows the LaRouchites are a bit crazy. But how different is this from what Rush Limbaugh says? Or Fox News? I took a flyer from the women – though not before telling the person she was preaching to that Obama really wasn’t actually trying to kill her. The flyer explained (the PDF linked is slightly different version from what I received):

U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a nationally-televised press conference at 8 p.m. on July 22nd, in which on five separate occasions he called for health reform legislation featuring the establishment of “an independent board of doctors and health care experts” to make the life-and-death decisions of what care to provide, and what not, based on cost-effectiveness criteria – exactly the infamous “T-4” policy imposed by Adolf Hitler in 1939, for which the Nazi regime was tried and condemned at Nuremberg.

Lyndon LaRouche commented, within minutes of Obama’s remarks:

“President Obama is now impeachable, because he has, in effect, proposed legislation which is an exact copy of the legislation for which the Hitler regime was condemned in the post-war trials. This is an impeachable offense: to propose such a thing in this time, is an impeachable offense. The time has come that the President of the United States deserves impeachment. With this statement from him, the President now deserves impeachment.”

On how many levels is this ridiculous? The independent board of doctors and health care experts would replace MedPAC – a board that currently provides guidance to Congress in setting Medicare rates. Instead of advising, Obama’s new board – the IMAC – would make recommendations as to levels of pay that would be sent to the president and, if then endorsed by him, would be subject to the approval of Congress. They would also do studies of the comparative effectiveness of different types of treatments. Does this sound like a euthanasia program to you?

4. There is also an email is circulating that makes all sorts of outrageous claims about the bills under consideration on health care reform – including many of the above claims – and pretends to cite the pages and lines of the bill that mandate what it describes. Like many of these viral email lists of lies, it relies on the laziness and gullibility of the American people – trusting that people will pass it on rather than check the truthfulness of the claims themselves. The email was pretty thoroughly debunked by Linda Bergthold, a health care policy consultant and researcher who has been working in the field for 25 years, and Politifact, an arm of the St. Petersburg Times that analyzes the truth of political statements.

A lot of this stuff is hard to believe – but as Bill Maher pointed out last week – if you let even stupidest arguments stand unchallenged, they will take root and destroy even one’s best efforts. Which is why I’m going to try to make a point of calling bullshit on these outrageous lies as they come by…and you should too…

[Image by criswell; used without permission, but hopefully he’ll respond and give it to me soon.]