Barack Obama

What I Don't Understand

Why has President Obama burnt so much political capital on an economic program that is, obviously, destined to fail?

If I were a liberal and I believed that govt. spending was the best path to prosperity (as opposed to Free Market Capitalism and my favorite CNBC host) I would have been VERY careful to advocate the best possible big-govt. Keynesian 'stimulus' program I could possibly advocate.  In other words, such a program would be very long on building roads to nowhere and very short on welfare.  Instead, porkulus was very short on roads and very long on Welfare.

I'm starting to think that Ayn Rand created a Manchurian Candidate to discredit liberalism and revive conservatism after George W. Bush's highly imperfect (albeit highly courageous) eight years.

How else can we explain current events?

LIVE BLOG: President Obama's Address to Congress and Questions to Ask

* 10:12 EST PM *

Republican Leadership: The President of the United States has mastered rhetoric, storytelling, artificial confidence-building, and the ability to come off as someone with candor even though he has contradicted himself several times during his address. Will you be pro-freedom or Anti-Obama? Will you be in a reactionary position or a pro-action stance? Will you put message over policy or policy over message?

Republican Leadership: Will you offer ground-breaking ideas to President Obama before he offers his own?

Mr. President: Congratulations on your first address to Congress as President. If Republicans offer their ideas, will you seriously consider them, or will you continue to mask the lack of substantive bipartisanship with procedural bipartisanship (i.e. inviting them to White House Super Bowl parties)?


* 10:03 PM EST *

Mr. President: You say that you will end "direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them." Can you define "large" and "need" for the American people?

Mr. President: When it comes to making decisions on national security, do you believe in the sovereignty of the United States over international bodies that have no enforcement powers?


* 9:58 PM EST *

Mr. President: Exactly where in the tax code does it specify tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas?


* 9:52 PM EST *

Mr. President: I agree with you that education is important. Do you believe it's important to keep teachers accountable? Do you believe that bad teachers and administrators need to be fired?

Mr. President: Do you believe that college is appropriate for everybody?

Republican Leadership: Will you fight to protect the successful DC school voucher system?


* 9:45 PM EST *

Mr. President: Why is it up to government to determine the alternative energies that need to be used? Why is it up to government to determine the market cap on carbon?

Mr. President: When is an industry "too big too fail" or "too important to fail"? What makes the car industry more important than any other industry in America? Why should we reward an industry that is rooted in a bad business plan while plenty of small businesses in America have great business plans but are struggling because of the economic downturn?


* 9:39 PM EST *

Mr. President: You say that your budget will be a "blueprint for America's future." Why do you believe that our plan for America's future has to be completely quantitative?

Republican Leadership: Have you learned your lesson your time in the majority? Will you notice that the qualitative structure of government programs is more important than the amount of money you throw at these agencies?


* 9:32 PM EST *

Mr. President: You say you want to get rid of waste in government bureacracy. What is your definition of "waste"?

Mr. President: If economic recovery will be determined by regaining a proper flow of credit, why didn't you focus on lending in your first month as President instead of a spending bill of which less than a fifth will actually be spent this fiscal year?

Mr. President: Do you believe housing is so important that it deserves a further bailout of bad mortgages in the short term and a distortion in the tax code through the mortgage interest deduction in the long term?

Mr. President: Do you believe in the concept of moral hazard?


* 9:25 PM EST *

Mr. President: How can you talk about the wrongful actions of those who put short term gains over long term prosperty when the stimulus does exactly that? You say that the stimulus will create or save 3.5 million jobs. How exactly will you calculate a saved job?

Republican Leadership: If the tax "cut" provisions (which really are tax expenditures) in the stimulus were in a stand alone bill without the rest of the spending, would you have voted for that stand alone bill?


* 9:21 PM EST *

Mr. President: Who will rebuild? Who will recover? And who will emerge stronger than before? Will it be government? Or will it be our economy? Why do you feel that it's your job - the government's job - to pick who will rebuild and who will recover through your stimulus package?


* 8:56 PM EST *

Over three months have passed since the election, and a month since the inauguration. The new Congress and the new administration have successfully committed the single largest legislative generational theft in American history, otherwise known as the stimulus. Some Republican governors gave in. Congressional Republicans have taken a great stand against the stimulus, but have failed to come up with solid alternatives to promote economic growth.

Even worse, Republican leaders seem to have given up on trying to communicate complicated, but critical principles to proper governing: eliminating moral hazard, promoting long term economic growth vs. short term Keynesian countercyclical fiscal policy, reducing distortions and complexity in the tax code, targeting market failures instead of targeting the market. We are very close to conceding to Democrats that we should talk about how best to get government involved in everything, instead of talking about where government should or should not be involved at all.

I, for one, am very glad that Governor Bobby Jindal will be representing Republicans tonight in the response to President Obama's address to Congress. He has the best combination of both worlds: the ability to communicate simply with the average voter while also championing pragmatic intellectualism within public policy formulation. I just wish there was more opportunities for one-on-one debate within the political process between all branches and all levels of government.

Tonight, as I live blog the President's address to Congress, I will do so by using a favorite debate tactic of mine: asking questions. And I won't just pose questions to the President. I'll also be posing questions to the Republican leadership. So to those on both the left and the right who read this blog, feel free to answer any of these questions or come up with any relevant questions you might have.

Profiles in Cowardice: Rupert Murdoch

In what has to be one of the most shameful capitulations to the forces of political correctness I've ever seen, Rupert Murdoch has apologized for this hilarious cartoon:

As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you - without a doubt - that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.

This is so disapointing on so many levels.

1) In Context, this cartoon was obviously about Economic Policy, not Race -- Much like Ronald Reagan's speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, this cartoon was about economic policy, not race.  The monkey referered to the intellectual content, or lack thereof, in the bill.

2) This will embolden Rupert Murdoch's Enemies -- Does anyone think this craven act of appeasement will endear Rupert Murdoch to the left?  Of course it won't.  The left will always hate Rupert Murdoch because (along with Rush), he broke up their monopoly on public information.  Rupert Murdoch's cravenly callow capitulation is blood in the water to those who already want to destroy him.


3) This gives the Race Industry New Life -- I can't remember the last time these people scored a victory this big.  They just humiliated one of the most successful businessmen in human history.  How can this possibly help?

4) The First Amendement -- While, technically, there aren't any first amendment issues here, let's not kid ourselves.  THIS was the perfect issue on which to make a stand on principle.  The New York Post didn't do anything wrong; why should they apologize?  Shouldn't the liberals apologize for wasting our money?

Shameful...absoluely shameful.

That is all.

Cahnman out.

IL Sen: Draft Rick Santelli

Forget Mark Kirk.  Forget Pete Roskam.  Forget Mike Ditka.  Rick Santelli of CNBC is the best candidate we can possibly field for the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

Here's Why.

Update: Apparently, KLo beat me to the punch.  I guess great minds think alike!

Demanding Results from the Stimulus

With the stimulus signed into law, Barack Obama got the dramatic, unprecedented jolt to the economy that he wanted -- the yearly budgetary impact of the stimulus is about 3 times what the 2001 Bush tax cuts were -- and now we'll have a chance to see if it works. Today was the day Barack Obama took ownership of the economy. A President could traditionally expect an 18 to 24 month honeymoon -- but with this dramatic action that honeymoon period shortened to 6 to 12 months. For Obama's stake -- and for liberalism's -- it had better work. 

Let's lay down some markers on what success means, and hold the Democrats accountable for meeting them. Start with their own words. Advocates of the stimulus have taken one of two tacks to describe its impact: 

  • The President's contention that the stimulus will save or create 4 million new jobs
  • The fact that the stimulus needed to be be at least $775 billion since this was the projected difference between the economy's actual and potential capacity. 

President Obama is on the record stating that employment will be 4 million higher than if we did nothing by the end of 2010, and that economic growth will be about 2.8% higher (over two years, the stimulus represents about 2.8% of GDP) -- if you assume every dollar of stimulus is a dollar of economic growth, as is strongly implied by the second bullet. 

What does this mean in terms of actual levels of economic activity? 

First, we have to establish some baselines. Last week, Nate Silver posted an insightful chart forecasting the unemployment rate based on postwar recessions. If job growth continues along the average trajectory of the postwar period, unemployment will peak at about 8.1% this summer and begin declining. Most economists would say this is getting off relatively easy. However, if the trajectory continues along the lines predicted by recessions in the modern period marked by the Fed chairmanship of Alan Greenspan, unemployment will top out at 9.6% in June 2010 before beginning a steeper decline. 

This is if we "do nothing."

Obama's projected four million jobs saved translates to a projected 2.8% off the unemployment rate by the end of 2010. My reading of the post-1987 chart suggests that unemployment if we do nothing would be at 9.1% in January 2011 and 6.3% post-stimulus. This is the worst case scenario. Looking at the postwar curve, 6.8% unemployment pre-stimulus would be converted into an astonishing 4.0% post-stimulus. This is highly unlikely, but it's the best case scenario. 

Split the difference between these scenarios and you get an unemployment rate of 5.15% at the end of 2010. Either way, we should expect an unemployment rate no worse than 6.3% at the appointed date if Obama's economic theory proves correct. 

The economic growth targets are a bit more nebulous, but the implicit promise is that the economy will get no worse than it is when the stimulus first kicks in. So we should expect zero economic growth at a minimum over the next two years if what we are promised actually occurs -- and likely more, since even 1-2% percent declines in economic activity are rarely sustained over four quarters or more (Obama has seven economic quarters to make it happen). 

Defining Bipartisan

I wonder who wrote this . . . .

"Genuine bipartisanship assumes an honest process of give-and-take, and that the quality of the compromise is measured by how well it serves some agreed-upon goal, whether better schools or lower deficits. This in turn assumes that the majority will be constrained -- by an exacting press corps and ultimately an informed electorate -- to negotiate in good faith.

"If these conditions do not hold -- if nobody outside Washington is really paying attention to the substance of the bill, if the true costs . . . are buried in phony accounting and understated by a trillion dollars or so -- the majority party can begin every negotiation by asking for 100% of what it wants, go on to concede 10%, and then accuse any member of the minority party who fails to support this 'compromise' of being 'obstructionist.'

"For the minority party in such circumstances, 'bipartisanship' comes to mean getting chronically steamrolled, although individual senators may enjoy certain political rewards by consistently going along with the majority and hence gaining a reputation for being 'moderate' or 'centrist.'"

If you haven't seen it already, find out here.

Rules for Republicans -- A Word About Words

This chapter concerns accpeting reality and advancing an agenda within reality.  It discusses words related to social organizing and instructs the reader to their proper use in the real world.  Alinsky's views on this topic can be summed up thusly:

Nowhere is the prevailing political illiteracy more clearly revealed than in these typical interpretation of words....Power is the right word just as self-interest, compromise, and other simple poitical words are, for they were conceived in and have become part of politics from the beginning of time.  To pander to those who have no stomach for straight language, and insist upon bland, non controversial sauces, is a waste of time....[Quoting Neitzsche] Why stroke the hypersensitive ears of our modern weaklings....To travel down the sweeter-smelling, peaceful, more socially acceptable, more respectable, indefinite byways, ends in failure to acheive an honest understanding of the issues that we must come to grips with if we are to do the job.

As those of you who follow this blog know, I have no patience for those who whine about hardball politics.  As this chapter makes clear, Alinsky doesn't suffer these fools either.


Alinsky starts this section by explaining why he uses the word power and why it's important:

[i]t is a determination not to detour around reality....I do not propose to be trapped by tact at the expense of truth.

In other words, you need to have power to affect social change.  There's no way around this reality.  On a practical level, it means you need a certain amount of economic, political, and cultural power.

For our purposes, it means we need to start winning elections again.  There's no way around this reality.  We couldn't stop the stimulus.  We're not going to be able to stop any of Obama's judicial nominees.  We need more power.

Alinsky then continues to discuss power, ultimately reaching the point that:

Power is the very dynamo of life....It is the power of active citizen pulsating upward, providing a unified strength...The power of a gun may be used to enforce slavery, or to achieve freedom....To know power and not fear it is essential to it's constructive use and control [his italics].

This re-enforces the notion that the arena of power politics is where the contest for social change occurs.  We can't be afraid to compete in this arena.  This is made all the more important by the fact that the other side will compete in this arena no matter what we do.  To arms, friends, to arms!

Next, Alinsky hits on one of the main weaknesses of the modern Republican party:

To do a thing well, a man needs power and competance.

While many of the more malicious charges against Republicans aren't true, it's also true that the last time we had power, we had a competance problem.  We're the ones who passed billion dollar farm bills and bridges to nowhere.  We're the ones who covered up a pedophile in the house of representatives.  While Democrat scandals will probably give us a huge leg up in this regard, we still need to demonstrate competance to the voters.

I have one specific suggestion in this regard: during the middle years of the Bush administration, the Republican Congress and the administration didn't do nearly enough to hold each other accountable.  They lost sight of the fact that the legislative branch and the executive branch have different institutional responsibilities even when they're controlled by the same party (something the Dems don't understand right now either).  When the administration loses $8billion in Iraq, Congress should hold the President accountable.  When Congress passes a bridge to nowhere, the President should veto it.


Stating the obvious:

[t]here has always been near universal agreement on the part the self-interest plays as a prime moving face in man's behavior....To question the force of self-interest that pervades all areas of politcal life is to refuse to see man as he is, to see him only as he would like him to be.

This speaks to one of the major failings of the McCain campaign.  McCain never translated how his broader policy proposals translated into the self-interest of the average voter; he never bridged the gap between the theoretical and the practical.  Bush wasn't great at the self-interest thing either, but he was a heck of a lot better at it than McCain.

That said, self-interest by itself isn't enough.  Self-interest needs to be promoted from within a moral framework:

The overall case must be of larger dimensions than that of self-interest narrowly defined; it must be large enough to include and provide for the shifting dimensions of self-interest.

To illustrate this point, Alinsky describes the flexible nature of American alliances during and after World War II.  To ally with Stalin against Hitler, then to ally with Germany against the Soviet Union, required not just self-interest and also a moral foundation like fighting tyranny.


Alinsky takes the practical view:

[t]o an organizer, compromise is a key and beautiful word.  It is always present in the pragmatics of operations....If you start with nothing, demand 100 percent, then compromise for 30 percent, you're 30 percent ahead.

This one's tricky and I don't always agree with it.  While there are times you can get a good compromise, there are other times (like now) when such a strategy would be suicide.

Earlier in this chapter, we discussed power.  I think the amount of power you bring into any negotiation determines the quality of compromise you can get out of said negotiation.


Without getting into too much detail, there is a continuum in life from meek coward through confident courage of convictions to arrogance.  You should seek to be in the middle of said continuum.  This isn't just smart politics, it's also good advice for life.


Conflict is the essential core of a free and open society.

The only states without conflict are totalitarian states.



Reuters: Obama Adminstration Negotiates Nuclear Bailout Deal with Iran

Obama Adminstration Negotiates Nuclear Bailout Deal with Iran

by. Irving Peter Freely

WASHINGTON -- Declaring the World's Largest Sponsor of Terrorism "too big to fail," U.S. President Barack Obama today announced the Iranian Nuclear Reinvestment Act of 2009.  The controversal deal, opposed by Republicans, will commit the U.S. Government to funding the Iranian nuclear program through the end of 2010.  The Iranian Nuclear program had become a causalty of the global credit crisis and lower oil prices.

"In this time of global economic crisis," President Obama announced today, "when we stand on the edge of catastrophe, Vice President Biden, Secretary Geithner and Iranian president [Mahmoud] Ahmedinejad have negotiated a deal that should allow us to create or save over 400 jobs in the Iranian Nuclear Sector.  Given the unprecedented nature of the pressures Iran faces, not acting is simply not an option."

The deal is expected to meet resistance on Capitol Hill.

"Is the President serious?"  Asked Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), a member of House Republican Leadership.

"The American People do not want us to send billions of dollars to prop up the nuclear program of a country that regularly declares it's intention to destroy the United States of America," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN).

Not all members of Congress feel this way.

"I find it appaling that Herbert Hoover Repubilcans would follow Rush Limbaugh's marching orders to obstruct this crucial economic and national security measure in order to justify their own failed policies," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

"Who do these Republicans think they are?" asked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), "When the administration negotiates a bailout deal in secret with our enemies, they expect a certain amount of support from the United States Congress.  These Herbert Hoover Republicans seem to think that the Iranian nuclear program will survive if we do nothing.  These Republicans don't understand that real people work in the Iranian nuclear program."

While Republicans are anticpated to largely oppose the deal, Democrats expect the measure to pass largely along party lines, although moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is expected to support the administration.

"I just think that, given the size of the current crisis, we have to do something even if this approach isn't my first choice", Specter said this week on the Sean Hannity Radio show.  "I gave my word to the Senate Leadership and I intend to keep it."


Democrats Abandon Transparency for Stimulus Vote

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed this afternoon that Democrats will break their transparency pledge by bringing the stimulus bill to a vote tomorrow morning, giving lawmakers and the public significantly less time than the 48 hours promised.

The House is scheduled to meet at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow and is expected to proceed directly to consideration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment conference report. The conference report text will be filed this evening, giving members enough time to review the conference report before voting on it tomorrow afternoon.

Hoyer's statement is disappointing if not surprising. For a party that made open government a rallying cry in 2006 and again in 2008, Democrats have effectively abandoned transparency for political expediency -- and resorted to cajoling K Street lobbyists.

Even supposed transparency advocate Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said today: "Don't know when we're going to vote. Will the no votes delay vote just because they can? Speed is important. They know that."

Assuming Hoyer's plan is carried out, he would give House members about 13 hours to read the 780-page bill. A congressional staffer did the math. That means lawmakers would be required to read one page per minute without sleeping or taking bathroom breaks.

Why the rush? Democrats know the longer the economic stimulus bill lingers, the more likely the public is to turn against it. Within the past week, Americans for Prosperity has seen a significant spike in people signing its anti-stimulus petition; the number stands at 435,000.

Equally disappointing, there's no indication that President Barack Obama will fulfill his promise for a five-day waiting period. Despite pressure from groups like the Sunlight Foundation, the White House could violate Obama's campaign pledge for the third time in less than a month.

Obama promised to "end the practice of writing legislation behind closed doors" in hopes of restoring trust in government. Despite overwhelming public approval and significant political capital, the president has made clear he's not yet ready to change the ways of Washington. This creates a tremendous opportunity for the minority.

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