Archive for the ‘Obama’ category

Hey Pufferfish! Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 11-D Chess Edition

November 6, 2013

Yūhi_Cormorants_catching_Fish

Someone somewhere on the web said last night that they thought it would be perfect  11-D chess — 2016 style — if the Kenyan Muslim Usurper (D-Acorn) called Governor Chris Christie to congratulate him on his victory.

Well…

White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama was happy to call Christie after the two worked together on Hurricane Sandy relief. [via TPM]

And just to show that the President (and his team) have not lost a step since November 6, 2013, there’s this:

“Obviously he and the governor have spent a lot of time together,” Carney said. “The president was glad to congratulate him on his victory.”

What’s that I hear? The Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Walker, Cain, and Stassen oppo teams all downloading this picture?

As for me — I’m left with the Yogi accolade.  Our president is smarter than your average bear elephant.

Image: Yūhi, Cormorants catching fish, 1755.

Sermons in Stones

January 22, 2013

Plenty of folks have responded to what seems to me to have been an extraordinary Second Inaugural address by President Obama.  See two Jim Fallows posts for starters.  It was, as Fallows says, a striking speech on at least two levels:  that of content, with the president’s clear and unequivocal declaration of liberal intent; and that of rhetoric with its phrases infused with historical intent, American civic scripture, and compact, elegant, present-day exegesis.

But the symbolism within the speech did one aspect of the speech that hasn’t got much (any?) notice — perhaps because Chuck Schumer told the story, not Obama.

That is:  the setting of the president’s speech, the porch of the US Capitol, provided a visual and material rhetorical grace note to the claims on history and present urgency that President Obama expressed in words.

Here’s the background: design work had begun on a new dome  for the building in 1854, following an expansion of its two wings of the Capitol, completed in 1855.  That work was nowhere near complete on 4 March, 1861, the day of Lincoln’s first inauguration:

LincolnInauguration1861a

Work on the dome — or rather payment for the work — ceased for most of 1861.  The lead contractor on the project had $1.3 million worth of building materials on site — I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that you can see some  of the construction materials for the dome in the foreground of the image above — and decided it was better to keep going and hope that the federal government would pay up in time, which they did.  As the Historian of the Capitol, William Allen, notes the story that the new president himself  [PDF] ordered the continuation of the work is a myth — but the symbolic significance of the project didn’t escape Lincoln either.

The exact form of the Lincoln quote in reply to a question as to why spend money on architecture in the midst of war seems a bit apocryphal to me, but there seems to be a pretty broad recollection that he said something like  “if people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.”  Certainly, when I interviewed him for this film, Allen emphasized how potent the ongoing construction was for the troops from all over the Union who mustered on the Mall before marching off to the forward positions of the Army of the Potomac.

The dome wasn’t quite complete in March, 1864, but it looked mostly as it does now — that towering white, grandly neo-classical confection, its domed shape a recognized symbol of the cosmos as a whole — of the order of heaven — in a bit of architectural iconography established at least as far back as the Emperor Hadrian, who so pointedly staked his claim of divine sanction in one of the foundational statements of western architecture.

And of course, to play a little of the political numerology so beloved of pundits, that means that the first Second Inaugural to play out against the backdrop of the dome was Abraham Lincoln’s.  The most recent, complete with language deliberately echoing Lincoln’s, came yesterday.

Schumer’s anecdote played on that connection — that Lincoln asserted the claims of union against the forces of disunion and authoritarian oppression, while Obama yesterday advanced the notion that we are a society, not an atomized cloud of individual secessionists.

We’ve lived a to-me unprecedented four years in which the opposing party has challenged not just the policies or politics of the administration, but its legitimacy, the right to exercise power conferred by democratic choice.  The echoes of race, of secessionism, of the authoritarian claim that the consent of the governed is tolerated only so long as hoi polloi make the right choices are all distant (and not always so muted) echoes of 1860 and 1861.  And yet the black man with the funny name just took the president’s oath for a second time, directly beneath what we might, not quite accurately, nonetheless call Mr. Lincoln’s dome.

This is how rhetoric engages historical change. The meaning of the dome is not the same as it was in March, 1865.  Still, it connects.  And even if President Obama’s opponents cannot bring themselves to accept the blunt reality of a Democrat, an African American, and  a mainstream-progressive (if that characterization makes sense, and I think it does) not just winning, but holding power, the dome is there to remind them of a lesson very similar to what the traitors of 1865 learned to such cost: that the union is not merely the property of entrenched power.

That’s the chief significance of the visual language of Obama’s greying head beneath that wedding cake of dome.  It’s sufficient.

But there is actually one more thing.  Somewhere — it may have been a Balloon Juice comment thread, actually — I read someone quip that with all of Obama’s talk of internal improvements, infrastructure and investments in the future, the man sounded like a Whig…just like that railroad lawyer, the young Abe Lincoln.  In that context, the Capitol dome is a perfect symbol of the innovation and swelling ambition of the nation, then and now.

For the dome is a glorious lie.  It may look like shining marble, a masonry structure just like the grand baroque domes of Europe, St. Peter’s and the like.  It’s not.  The entire thing, inside and out is a jigsaw puzzle of cast iron, painted to fool the eye.  I’ve had the exceptional good fortune to climb inside the dome, between the inner shape you see from the rotunda and the familiar gleaming confection that stands over the mall.  When you do you climb up the stairs there you duck through the ribs that hold up the outer skin and from which rods connect to the (self-supporting) inner one, each made of plates bolted together.

kknine

(Don’t be fooled — all those coffers on the inner dome that appear to be pale carved stone in the drawing above are cast iron too, painted a dull grey on the side the punters don’t see.)

The iron segments that accrete into the dome were cast — in NY, I believe, though I’m on the road, away from my notes, and my memory may be playing tricks.  The material was shipped to Capitol Hill and assembled there, like a giant erector set.

The meaning — or at least a meaning?

You see in the fabric of the building at least two connected thoughts:  an object lesson in the sources of the defeat of the Confederacy:  already, by the 1860s, the American metal working industries — largely concentrated in the loyal North –  were advancing to and past the capabilities of the world leader, Britain.  And in our Civil War, Yankee industrial power and skill beat an economy based on the theft of human labor.  Paying attention to science, to technology, to the skills needed to play in the big leagues actually made a difference in that war, logistically, the difference.

Such attention is still all-in-all. . Hence the significance of that portion of President Obama’s campaign and inaugural address that spoke and speak to the need to invest in the brains and the technologies that matter right now.  And all the while he spoke, the dome stood behind him, granting historical assent.

Material objects have always been able to serve as both things and symbols. That China has just opened the longest high-speed rail line in the world is of obvious practical consequence for that nation.  No one doubts it has rhetorical significance as well.  The Mars rover Curiousity is so much more than a go-cart.  And so on.

Symbols as they age change:  they gain resonance; that accumulate layers of meaning, perhaps even some that complicate each other.  The Capitol Dome was completed as an element in the argument over what kind of country the United States could hope to be.

The second inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, performed under that great structure, advances the cause of union and of this Union at this precise moment in time.  It is altogether fitting and proper that it should do this.

*Actually, the first dome was a visual disaster all on its own, one of Charles Bulfinch’s least impressive efforts — though it must be admitted that he didn’t have an entirely free hand in his design.

Post Debate Punditing Without A License

October 4, 2012

I’m going to do something I very rarely wish to inflict on y’all.  Usually, I like to invoke at least a schmear of empirical evidence to drive an argument, but just this once I’m going to go all pundity…

….which means, I guess, that I gotta with a Penetrating Glimpse of the Obvious:

Last night’s debate was a poor showing for President Obama and those of us who see the prospect of a President Romney as a clear and present danger to the Republic and our kids’ future.

Which leads to the equally obvious (but true) pivot:

No campaign is a single event. Counting today there are 32 full days to go before the polls open on Tuesday, November 6.  Last night’s farrago will become part of the river of stories that flow towards that day — but it is the sum of those tales, not any single shiny moment, that will determine the outcome.

Already, some folks — partisans for now, to be sure — are trying to draw attention to what Romney actually said, and in doing so, identifying the significant vulnerabilities this debate exposed for the Republican cause.  For example, I agree with Mistermix that Romney’s signal mistake was to open himself up for a renewed assault on his Medicare position — and that link to Krugman shows it ain’t just us DFH’s paying attention.   I also think Romney’s tripling down on his tax plan will allow a lot of people, and not just wonks, to remind folks of the gap between arithmetic and all the BS Romney and Ryan have thrown out on this one.

As Josh Marshall says in that second link, this is the kind of thing that takes several news cycles to build.  But recall:  we were all enraged at the brazen embrace of easily refutable lies in the Ryan RNC Convention speech.  We didn’t have faith in either the MSM or the Obama campaign (Democrats after all!) to take on the deceit with anything like the attention needed to defuse such weaponized ruminant excrement.  But they did, and (with some help from the marathon man himself) Ryan has become at least a bit of punchline ever since.*

So:  President Obama missed many opportunities last night, perhaps most significantly in not drawing a sharp enough line between the “you’re on your own” Romney vision and the “we’re all in this together” music Obama has played to such great effect in the past (and I’m sure will again, soon).

But the real test of the Obama campaign will be what it does over the next week with the actual missteps Romney made last night.  How will they use his internal contradictions in the ads?  What will Obama and his surrogates say to local news folks?  How quickly can their operation drive the mainstream media to go to town on stories like this one? (Shorter: it took almost no time at all for a Romney aide to contradict Romney’s core claim about pre-existing conditions and Medicare.)  No guarantees exist, but I have to say I’ve been damn impressed with the side of the Obama campaign that pursues such ends.  (Note also that Fallows reminds us that (in his view) debating is the best campaign technique for Romney.  Obama’s operation has been superior to his rival’s in every other phase so far.)

To repeat the cliché — holy hell, if I’m pretending to be a pundit I’ve got to hammer those too — but campaigns are marathons, not sprints.  Romney’s performance last night was like ripping off an 15 second 100 yard dash in mile 18th on the way to the Back Bay.**  Yup, he won that stretch of road.  Now comes the time to reel him in.

Which leads me to my last thought, the one I hope y’all take home: 32 days, peeps. It’s not just Obama and the grandees of the profession, the Axelrod’s and the Plouffe’s who can’t let themselves get too much sleep between now and then.  There’s the rest of us.  There’s me.

I have to confess — I’ve been less involved in a boots-on-the-ground kind of way in this election than the last, and by a good margin too.  My wife and I have been giving money on a regular basis, but I used to be a phone bank hero, and then got into door-to-door as my preferred mode of participation.  Haven’t done that this year; pretty much all I’ve done that requires me to upgrade from a bathrobe in front of a screen in my basement*** is to show up at a couple of Warren events.  That’s not enough — if there is one true lesson to be gained from the debate it is that nothing is in the bag, not the Presidency, not the Senate, surely not the House.

I’m not Tim F.  I can’t match his gift for catalyzing action.  But action is needed, so here’s my pledge.  I’m going to do something every week from now through Monday, 5 November.  I’ve got the day job and I’ve got the kid and there’s some real life stuff happening in my extended family, so I can’t do what I did when I was a mere pup, and just take off for New Hampshire for the last two weeks of the 1992 election.  But I’ll be heading that way to canvas this weekend and everyday I can liberate from my daily round between now and the 6th; I’ll be tossing more bucks in the pot today, and no doubt on days to come; I’ll keep looking for useful tasks that I can tackle.  I really don’t want to do this — I’m becoming more misanthropic and generally grumpy with each passing year, but that’s what’s required, so I’m just going to kick my ass out the door as much as I possibly can.

You?

Update: Just to show it ain’t just my rose-colored monitor screens coloring my view, here’s a dispatch from the inner sanctum of the Village, NBC’s First Read:

*** Who wins the post-debate? If Romney won the instant reactions from last night’s debate, it is more than possible that the Obama camp can win the next 24 hours. Why? Because Romney said several things that could make life difficult for him today or in the next debate. First, Romney declared, “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” But in addition to supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are skewed heavily to the wealthy, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says that Romney’s tax plan would give the Top 0.1% an average tax cut of more than $246,000. Next, he stated that “there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.” While he has said his plan will be paid for, he’s yet to lay out any SPECIFICS on how he’ll pay for it. Romney also said, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.” But the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has said he’d sign into law, leads to long-term spending reductions in education. And Romney also didn’t disagree with the description that his Medicare plan would consist of “vouchers” for future retirees. Winning a “debate” is always a two-part deal — the night itself, and then the aftermath. This is now an opportunity for Team Obama and a challenge for Team Romney.

Update 2: And on cue, here’s an opening shot from Team Obama (via):

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None of this is to say all is well.

It isn’t.

This election is a month away and it really, truly ain’t in the bag yet.  So what I said above:  If the idea of waking up on November 7 to the words President-Elect Romney gives you the cold sweats, listen to the man — and don’t just vote, put mind, money and muscle behind the campaign to get your fri

*Via DeLong, a new game:  Where’s Waldo Paulie?

**Boston stuff — never mind.

***Not intended to be a factual statement.

Image:  Franz Marc, The Yellow Cow, 1911.

Reality, Meet Conor. Conor, Meet the Real World.

September 27, 2012

As Mistermix has already discussed, the young, and earnest Conor Friedersdorf  wrote this yesterday:

The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans — along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers — just aren’t valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama’s tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man’s transgressions, have done over and over again.

Keen on Obama’s civil-libertarian message and reassertion of basic American values, I supported him in 2008. Today I would feel ashamed to associate myself with his first term or the likely course of his second. I refuse to vote for Barack Obama.

I and lots here agree, I think, that Obama’s record on civil liberties, the use of military power and so on is hardly perfect — not what many of his supporters hoped for in 2008.  I’d disagree with Conor on the weight I’d assign to different counts in his indictment, and it does seem to me important to recognize that presidenting is much harder than it looks (and it looks damn difficult).  Some of the choices Obama has made, as Michael Lewis makes clear at that link, have involved actions Friedersdorf deplores for reasons that nonetheless have a direct moral calculus of their own.  (See especially the discussion of whether and how to intervene in Libya before Qaddafi’s forces got to Benghazi.)

That said, and acknowledging that Friedersdorf has both reason and the right to feel moral revulsion at some of the acts of the Obama administration, in this fallen world you don’t get the choice of the perfect man or government.  Friedersdorf acknowledges the “lesser of two evils” argument with a faint sneer:

If you’re a utilitarian who plans to vote for Obama, better to mournfully acknowledge that you regard him as the lesser of two evils, with all that phrase denotes.

But moral relativism is not for the stalwart Friedersdorf:

Today I would feel ashamed to associate myself with his first term or the likely course of his second. I refuse to vote for Barack Obama. Have you any deal-breakers?

Ahh, the eternal righteousness of the resolutely disengaged.

Much of this is down to the dangerous folly of true single-issue voters.  Friedersdorf ridicules what he sees as the liberal caricture of Mitt Romney as “a malign, hard-hearted cretin,” which, he argues “depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans — along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers — just aren’t valued.”  In the reduction of Obama and Romney to the one issue of the exercise of state violence, Friedersdorf fails to value the old, the young, the sick, the uninsured and so on…but let that slide, as part of the necessary pathology of someone for whom the complications of living in the world are too much for the enduring sunshine of their spotless consciences.

But the problem for Friederdorf is more basic.  His argument rests on the claim that on the crucial matter Romney and Obama are the same.  Which is why this report in today’s New York Times is such a firecracker up his rhetorical butt:

In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in the Army Field Manual. Even as he embraced a hawkish approach to other counterterrorism issues — like drone strikes, military commissions, indefinite detention and the Patriot Act — Mr. Obama has stuck to that strict no-torture policy.

By contrast, Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.

While the memo is a policy proposal drafted by Mr. Romney’s advisers in September 2011 — not a final decision by him — its detailed analysis dovetails with his rare and limited public comments about interrogation.

“We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now,” he said at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., in December. [mp3 at the link]

The shorter:  there are still lives and deaths in the balance even in the face of imperfect alternatives. Symbolic gestures can kill just as surely as sword (ask a Ralph Nader voter).

One last thought.  Memory that extends past the last election can help grasp the catastrophes that can attend principled disengagement.  The historian Peter Gay has written of the “rational republicans” who so honorably undercut the German revolution and the Weimar Republic that emerged from it:

The Vernunftrepublikaner [rational republicans] were reasonable men who had been willing to learn the first lesson of modernity but not the second:  they acknowledged that nostalgia for the Empire was ridiculous, bu they could not see that the Republci might deserve wholehearted support–or, rather, that it might become deserving if enough deserving persons supported it.¹ [italics added]

So it is with Friedersdorf, and with all those who pine for the second coming of whoever.  No doubt we need to keep pressure on both the president and congress to walk back the assault on life and liberty that has taken place in American politics after 9/11.* But to assume that a holy vote for Gary Johnson is somehow going to advance either that cause or make a material difference in the life of a US prisoner under the tender mercies of a Romney administration…that’s worse than foolishness.  It is a cowardly abdication of a basic human responsibility:  the necessity that we make choices where no alternative is without cost.

Or, shorter: Friedersdorf = Wanker!

*And before, of course — but what Conor’s complaining about has a pretty straight line of descent from that moment.

¹Peter Gay, Weimar Culture, Harper Torchbook edition, 1970, p. 25

Image:  Nicolaes Maes, Christ before Pilate, mid 17th century.

Samuel L. Jackson Calmly Discusses The Issue Of Democratic Voter Lassitude

September 27, 2012

One more celebrity weighing in on the imperatives of this election: (Bleeped, but not entirely SFW)

(Non-bleeped, unequivocally NSFW original here.)

In other news — I just this moment received an email from one Barack Obama, asking me to send money…to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  I know this is pretty close to routine, but still, I take it as a good sign for both the presidential race and what’s happening down ticket that he’s extending the use of his network to support the rest of the party.  It isn’t a big thing, of course, but still a positive.

And yeah, I know this is another drive-by post, but work is still brutal.  TL;DR posting to resume…but when? I dunno.

Because Soshalism, That’s Why!

August 31, 2011

Further evidence of the Kenyan Mooslim’s utter failure to grasp the essentials of free market economics.

Bonus flashback [Huffpo link]:

On the auto bailout, despite GM going public last week and sending billions of dollars back to taxpayers, Perry still insisted that it wasn’t successful and said the federal government shouldn’t be involved in private sector growth.

Double bonus flashback:

In 2009, Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama’s plans for rescuing the automobile industry were “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.”

Of course, this being Romney, he now says that this tragic idea was really his in the first place, which contortion is one of many reasons that Rick Perry is the most likely GOP nominee.

Image:  Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Pulcinella and the Tumblers,  1797.

Send in the Clowns

August 22, 2011

It’s the end game in Tripoli.

From the Guardian’s live feed on events there:

10.45pm: Libyan rebels are now within two miles of the centre of Tripoli, AP reports…

…and this:

11.04pm: Al Jazeera is reporting that two of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam and Al-Saadi, have been arrested and another son, Muhammad, has surrendered.

And so on.  All, as commenter Jenny points out in the last thread, without a single US casualty.

Which means that there are some folks who have some ‘splainin’ to do.  Republican folks.  Would-be presidents.  E.g:

Romney (to Hugh Hewitt, March 21, 2011):

America has been feared sometimes, has been respected, but today, that America is seen as being weak.

We’re following the French into Libya.

I appreciate the fact that others are participating in this effort, but I think we look to America to be the leader of the world. You know, the cause of liberty can endure the mistakes that are inevitable consequences of human fallibility. But liberty’s standard can’t prevail if it’s not proudly, decisively and consistently held aloft.

Bachmann, March 30, 2011:

The Minnesota Republican, who’s weighing a run for president in 2012, said had she been in the Oval Office and faced with the choice of intervening militarily in Libya, “I would not have gone in.”

Bachmann, April 16, 2011 (warning:  Politico link):

Michele Bachmann laced into President Barack Obama at a South Carolina tea party rally Saturday, saying his decision to take military action in Libya was “foolish” and that he’s “not on our side anymore.”

Pawlenty, March 29, 2011:

President Obama’s “timid” response to the crisis in Libya made it more difficult to remove Moammar Kadafi from power, former Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty charged Tuesday.

Pawlenty, who became the first top-flight Republican to form a presidential exploratory committee last week, said that he supported the U.S. airstrikes against the Libyan dictator, but would have acted sooner when rebel forces had “substantial momentum.”

“Now we’re in this position of having the president of the United States saying Kadafi must go, but we’re not going to necessarily make him go. And that’s untenable,” he said.

(I know that he’s out now — but Pawlenty was still a semi-seriously-taken candidate at the time.)

Rick Santorum (I know, I know…but just for giggles) winning the flip-flop award on March 20, 2011 (warning, another Politico link):

Flip: Santorum led the way among GOP presidential hopefuls in calling for airstrikes on Libya. He invoked Ronald Reagan’s 1986 bombing campaign against military targets in Libya, ordered as retaliation for an attack on a West Berlin nightclub that killed two American servicemen masterminded by the Libyan secret service.

“If you want to be Reaganesque, it seems the path is pretty clear,” he told an Iowa radio station earlier this month.

Flop:  But in a Sunday phone interview from his backyard in Pennsylvania, Santorum said that action made more sense 12 days ago because it looked like “a little nudge and a push” from the United States could tip the scale for the rebels. He’s upset that the U.S. has not been insistent on regime change and faulted the administration for making the comment that it was time for Qadhafi to give up power without continuing to insist on that over the weekend….

The former senator speculated that Obama might have only agreed to go along with the military option under pressure from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“He’s not decisive,” Santorum said of Obama. “He’s being the military for the [United Nations]. The French were the first ones out there. He’s following the lead.”

Backflip:  He expressed fear that rebels inside Libya may not be friendly to the United States.

“Maybe folks have better intel, but I’m not confident I know what the makeup of the rebels are,” he said. “From everything I’ve seen reported, we don’t know that.”

Ooops: And he raised the specter that Qadhafi could survive because of Obama’s early indecisiveness, which would mean potential retaliation against the U.S.

“Under any score, I don’t know how you could play this worse than this president has,” he said…

Except, just to reprise the thought with which we began:

TRIPOLI, Libya — Rebels surged into the Libyan capital Sunday night, meeting little resistance from troops loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and setting off raucous street celebrations by residents hailing the end of his 42 years in power.

And so on.  All, as commenter Jenny points out in the last thread, without a single US casualty.

You can, and many have and will, argue hard about the merits of US action in Libya, or inaction in Syria.* But if you are a Republican — or an actually sane American, for that matter — who believes in both a robust and effective foreign policy, there is not a single clown seeking your vote on the GOP side who would seem to merit your trust.

That community organizer in the White House, though?  Unlike the all-hat-no-cattle types we are increasingly seeing over there, he may take his time, but he does seem to get his man.

Should make for interesting cognitive dissonance over on the dark side. Recall that Qaddafi outlasted Reagan and both Bushes.  Then consider that the chief alternative to crediting Obama’s administration for the crucial support that has enabled the Libyans to come to the point of ending that miserable reign is to praise — wait for it — the French…

…and you have what some might call a jalapeño suppository up your philosophical fundament.

Wouldn’t you say?

*That said, I’m betting Assad is getting a little nervous, just now.  Obama has finally called for his exit, and, as has been demonstrated again, this President may grind slowly, but he seems to do so with a certain…how to say it?…emphasis.

Image: Ernst Ludwig Kirshner, Two acrobats – sculpture, 1932-33.

For the Record

August 4, 2011

The White House’s version of the debt ceiling agreement.

Also, FWIW, someone I know in the moneyed world sent me this from a highly numerically literate type at another MRU on what the actual agreement entails in the here-and-now:

There are no cuts to this years federal budget. For the one that start Oct 2011 there will be a cut of $21 billion. The total budget this year is 3.4 trillion (that includes entitlements). So, if my arithmetic is correct the cut is about 0.6 of 1 percent! If one takes only discretionary spending of $1.3 trillion then the cut is 1.6%. And my guess is that this cut is not to be taken to the actual budget but to the “inflation adjusted budget” which will be up about 3%, so there is probably a net increase planned for the discretionary budget of over 2% and an increase of the entitlement budget of over 5%. So the whole thing is smoke and mirrors. All of the rest of the changes are back loaded to “later” or to “after there is a committee agreement’.. The theatre will continue.

I have not checked these numbers myself — I don’t have the arithmetic sheet from this source, only his conclusion.  But it tracks the CBO analysis (link to the CBO analysis (PDF) at the bottom of that page), and it is being incorporated into green eye shade-jaundiced  views of the economy.

 

I might go so far as to say as that Obama fellow may not be quite so dumb as he looks. Doesn’t alter the message problem, nor the inherent danger-and-tragedy of double digit unemployment (viewed from the wider perspective).  But given the hands to be dealt, it does not appear that Obama is quite the terrible poker player that some of us — myself on occasion certainly included — have believed him to be.

Image:  Edgar Degas, Arlequin danse, c. 1890

Social Security: Undead

July 8, 2011

Per John and ABL yesterday, this:

Rep. Barney Frank says Minority Leader Pelosi reassured House Democrats that the COLA change (which amounts to escalating cuts to Social Security over time) floated in the press will not happen.

Democrats are far from perfect, still waaay to naive about GOPer feral behavior, and all that, but they aren’t bone stupid — certainly not of the balanced budget amendment/weeks-wages-in-wine-swilling variety.  They know (from recent, bitter experience — remember that 1/2 trillion buck Medicare “cut” that was actually simply an end to the transfer payments to private insurers) that there is a reason entitlement support, and especially Social Security, is called the “third rail” of politics.  One that the Republicans seem determined to lick.

I’m coming to something of an eleven dimensional chess explanation for Obama’s current behavior — which is to me very scary, because even if you win the game, when you play with clout-foreheaded louts, the inevitable smashing of the board is a real loss.  And maybe I’m wrong, and this isn’t clever strategy at all, and Obama really is trying to solve a problem I don’t think is the one we actually face in his global attempt to reframe the US budget.  But I’m with ABL and John:  there’s enough to be angry about in the world before blowing skull shrapnel all over the ceiling about some disaster that hasn’t happened yet.

Oh — and it looks like one of the most cynical and disastrous politicians of my lifetime is finally waking up and smelling the coffee.  Too late, I fear.

Image:  J. M. W. Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed-The Great Western Railway, 1844

Quote of the Day: Adam Smith Profiles Barack Obama

March 1, 2011

Reading Nicholas Phillipson’s admirable new(ish) biography of Adam Smith walking to my office this morning, I came across a passage from The Theory of Moral Sentiments that seems to me to capture Obama’s style and theory of governance remarkably well:

When he cannot conquer the rooted prejudices of the people by reason and persuasion …(h)e will accommodate, as well as he can, his public arrangements to the confirmed habits and prejudices of the people; and will remedy as well as he can, the”inconveniencies” which may flow from the want of those regulations which the people are averse to submit to. When he cannot establish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong; but like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system of laws, he will endeavour to establish the best that the people can bear.

(The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part VI, Section II, Chapter II, paragraph 41.*)

All this in the context of the discussion to the post immediatelly preceding this one, in which I note Obama’s quiet reversal of one of the Bush administration’s most archtypal illiberal and disempowering attacks on the autonomy of women (and others):  putting an end to the expansive “conscience” (sic) exception that allowed pharmacists and medical professionals to deny reproductive and other services as they chose.

My suggestion that this kind of action helps make clear the distinction between Democrats and Republicans, Obama and Bush — and hence the urgency of the next election — evoked a few sharply argued claims in the comment thread over at the post’s Balloon Juice incarnation that this was mere cosmetics, a little lipstick on the pig that has perpetuated the Bush line in all its essentials.

In that context, Smith’s description of the virtuous leader struck me as remarkably apt:  this seems very much like a capsule portrait of Obama, here captured in the very sharp sight of a thinker whose work is more an inquiry into sociability taken all in all — how humans contrive to live together — than it is, as usually mischaracterized, merely that part of it which is concerned with the economics of such co-existence.

That such an approach may fail — or at least fall well short of producing not merely a somewhat better society, but a good one — is obvious.  But consider the recent alternatives.

Top of the morning to y’all.

*That link takes you direct to an HTML version of Moral Sentiments. For rapid access to a broad Adam Smith archive, the Liberty Forum — broadly part of the Wingnut archipelago –  performs an undeniable service by posting the entire Glasgow Edition of Adam Smiths Works and Correspondence, which was previously available at considerable expense from Oxford University Press.  Browse at will.

Image:  Dosso Dossi, Jupiter, Mercury, and Virtue, ~1520-1530


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