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    • Rationality Is A Process, Not A Conclusion (Nuclear Weapons Edition)
      A lot of mistakes come from assuming rationality means “thinks the same way I do” rather than “reasons from premises I might not share.” Left than 1/1000 economists predicted the financial collapse, because they reasoned from assumptions like “the market is self-correcting” or “housing prices never go down.” (Sometimes both at the same time, which is rarely […]
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Defending Government By Astroturf

barack_obama_on_the_primaryThe latest trumpeter of the “Obama Drama Equals Bad PR” song, Marc Ambinder is the most recent addition to the growing chorus of Obama fluffers playing what’s rapidly becoming a hauntingly familiar and disturbingly discordant  tune.  The reason the American public is getting impatient with the whole stimulus bill kerfuffle and the Spokesmodel in Chief’s early performance of presidential duty is not because they fear it is a bloated, most likely ineffective bill that will probably cost them money in the long run, or they’re afraid that he really is the empty suit he’s been accused of being and now actually appears to be, but because the Republicans got to tell the public more bad stories than the Obama team could effectively Astroturf over.  We, the people, are only upset with Obama’s cabinet picks’ lack of ethics and stuff because Fox News made a big deal about it, so the theory goes.  News outlet after news outlet is putting forth variations of this Axelrod-generated theme, straight-faced, no chaser, and offering the sage advice that all that’s needed to lead us transparently on the way to financial recovery is a really good TelePrompTer-read speech, the kind the candidate Obama used to read in front of thousands of people who had already pledged their love and devotion to him by attending his campaign rallies.  That anyone would dismiss legitimate criticisms of a president’s performance as merely opposition pushback in a spin war is bad enough, to use it as a defense for incompetence is appalling.  To forget that half the country is not predisposed to embrace anything that comes out of his mouth as gospel is stupid.

If Obama sucks, he sucks because he sucks, not because Rush Limbaugh says he sucks.  Whether Obama forcefully denies that he sucks or not, does not change the fact that he does or he doesn’t.  So, why are so many people in the media, mainstream and otherwise, rallying behind the “he’s just been getting bad pr” theme?

Like Politico, Ambinder blames the lack of bipartisan support for Obama’s stimulus plan, and all his other problems in the first two weeks in office, on the White House email system.  According to these guys, the problem is not that Obama was trying to stuff the cabinet with crooks, and shove a high-fat and cholesterol pork-laden stimulus plan down the country’s throats on top of the mystery-shrouded TARP, or that his bumbling outreach for Republican support was clumsy, stupid and unnecessary, it was because the ancient email system didn’t allow reporters to get their talking points in a timely enough manner:

When news of Daschle’s car-and-driver tax problem was disclosed, the White House faced an immediate communications challenge. Mr. Obama had campaign on a platform of single standards and transparency, and here he seemed to be making an exception for a good friend of his on the basis of, well, nothing but the friendship.

He campaigned on a platform of blocking lobbyists from serving in his administration, but he had just given several of them a waiver, and here was standing by a Washington insider who ostensibly (although unintentionally) broke the law to the tine of over $100,000.

I know White House aides were worried about this appearance, but I also know they had a tough time figuring out which reporter was working on which story, and they didn’t respond to events as quickly as Republicans in Congress were able to exploit them.

During the campaign, Mr. Obama’s team was known for its ability to proceed along several tracks simultaneously. It’s been harder in the White House.

The trouble with Daschle bled over into the debate about Mr. Obama’s stimulus principles, forcing the White House to use Mr. Obama’s personal charm as a pitchman. He spent three hours of daylight in television interviews on Tuesday.

Nobody is offering any practical advice on how to fix the bill in a way that efficiently serves the public’s interests, or pushing for Turbo Tax Timmy Geithner, tax cheat to be fired and replaced in an effort to shore up the Neophyte Naked Emperor’s ethical transparent government creds.  Nope, just give a speech, send out some emails, manage the message, massage the messengers.  Why not?  That’s what got him elected.  But the presidency is not a 4 year campaign for the next election, or at least, it shouldn’t be.  And even if that is an element of a politician’s life, it is not the goal of governing.  You don’t perpetually run for office and do a little of the people’s business on the side.  Unless you’re Barack Obama.

That’s why he has met his ultimate Peter Principle level of incompetence, and will ultimately fail.  He probably reached it earlier, but the miracle of elections as popularity contests obscured that particular truth until now.  Unfortunately for him, and us, there’s no higher office to try to attain; it’s put up or shut up time.  And sadly, his media baby sitters, enablers, and defenders don’t realize that every time they blame his setbacks on the opposition’s better campaign spin, rather than a rectifiable lapse of some sort on his part, they admit he’s got nothing else.

Somehow, the Post-Racial President’s “it ain’t perfect, but it’s something” argument in support of a 900 billion dollar spending spree during yet another “this is our moment” rah-rah, just doesn’t cut it for me.

Now, I believe that legislation of such magnitude deserves the scrutiny that it’s received, and you will get another chance to vote for this bill in the days to come. But I urge all of us to not make the perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary. The scale and scope of this plan is right.

Sez you.

X-Posted at Cinie’s World

When is Geithner resigning?

I wish people would stop telling me to be relieved that President Obama is not President Bush. I detested President Bush, and I detested him from the moment he arrived on the national scene, from the way he ran his campaign which led us to the debacle of an election stolen in Florida (decided by 547 votes in the state George’s brother was then Governor; and a long-time Bush supporter designed a confusing ballot and refused to go through the sort of recount that Al Franken is now having to endure); a campaign filled with bait and switch promises (viz: local control over schools, only to be followed by the No Child Left Behind Act: one of the greatest federal government takeovers of local affairs in recent memory.) But these bad-faith measures were just the prelude to an administration that pursued an agenda of putting the President and the executive branch above the law: George W. Bush personally committed war crimes, had his administration engage in illegal surveillance of American citizens, directed his Justice department to come up with justifications for U.S. violations of international law, tolerated or encouraged a host of troubling cronyistic contacts and relationships between his vice-president and members of the energy industries, tolerated or encouraged his justice department to go after government lawyers for their political positions, encouraged the expansion of executive privilege to cover the the office of the vice-president in unprecedented ways, and used various suspect methods (e.g. substituting executive regulation for legislation) to flout the separation of powers and checks and balances built in to the structure of the U.S. Constitution. George W. Bush was shady and underhanded, rivaled in recent times only by Richard M. Nixon, who was literally a crook.

I have no idea whether Barack H. Obama will turn out to be more or less unscrupulous than George W. Bush, more or less interested in the rule of law, and the place of the executive branch in American constitutional democracy. But less than a month into the new administration and, sure, I’m relieved that Obama isn’t Bush, but I am not at all persuaded that he is going to be qualitatively more honest, in better faith, and more sensitive to the ideal of a government of laws rather than persons. Continue reading

Question: If Barack Obama reminds you of Richard Nixon…

then who does Timothy Geithner remind you of?

Spiro Agnew, anyone?

Spiro_AgnewOn October 10, 1973, Spiro “Ted” Agnew became the first U.S. vice president to resign in disgrace. His resignation was part of an agreement with the Justice Department in which he pleaded no contest to income tax evasion charges stemming from contract kickbacks received while he was governor of Maryland and vice president. Fined $10,000, Agnew was placed on three years’ probation. (source)

More on Agnew:

After Nixon and Agnew were elected to a second term, Agnew became the focus of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Maryland for financial irregularities while he held state office. Rather than face trial, Agnew resigned and entered a plea of no contest to charges of evading income tax. He was sentenced to three years probation and fined $10,000. After he left office Agnew avoided publicity and went into business as an international broker. In 1981 he was ordered by a Maryland court to repay more than $248,000 to cover bribes he took while in state office. (source)

I know, I know it is early days to be noting the resemblance.  Geithner has not yet held elected office and he’s already admitted to dodging the tax man. Difference from Agnew noted: Agnew didn’t pay up until investigated by DOJ and sued in Maryland. Yes, yes, Geithner paid up before a court ordered him to do so or a DOJ settlement has become necessary, but Geithner waited to pay his taxes until he got caught. Indeed he waited twice: first he paid up only upon an IRS audit; then he paid up again when it looked like this gig he wanted – Secretary of the United States Treasury – might be in the offing. (For clear reporting on the nature of Geithner’s failure to pay taxes – which types he did not pay, for example – go here.) And yes, I do understand that Agnew was a tax evader who did not claim any special expertise on financial matters, which makes him very different indeed from Timothy Geithner, somebody currently aspiring to be Secretary of the Treasury. If he does get the nod, I am sure that whoever becomes Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service – a post whose occupant reports directly to the Secretary of the Treasury – will gladly note all of these dissimilarities.

So let the record reflect: I am not saying that Timothy Geithner is as corrupt as Spiro Agnew proved to be or as unfit for the office to which he, Geithner, aims. It would be far too premature to make these claims.

(Cross-posted from Heidi Li’s Potpourri)

McClatchy: Obama Already Acting as “Co-President”


Barack Obama is a man in a very big hurry. For those of us who have been paying attention, this is nothing new. As soon as he won his Senate seat–if not before–Obama began planning a run for the presidency. A humbler man might have waited until he had a little experience under his belt, but Obama didn’t want to wait.

During his primary run he repeatedly claimed to have already won the nomination. No sooner had he come in first in Iowa, then his minions at the cable networks and the Cheeto blogs were calling for Hillary Clinton to step aside so he could get on with the general election. Hillary managed to slow him down a bit when she won New Hampshire and went on to do well on Super Tuesday. But even as Hillary continued to win primary after primary in traditionally Democratic states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, Obama’s campaign continued to claim that he had already won. Continue reading