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Obama takes on oil speculators.

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Lev filed this under: ,  

Over in the UK, Labour is now up big over the ruling Tories. Part of that is almost certainly a stalled, ailing economy, but what’s sort of interesting because a big part of their drop is due to implementing a cap on charitable deductions, which is essentially what Obama wanted to do here to cut the deficit. It’s good policy, but really terrible politics. I have no idea if implementing such a cap would limit charitable deductions by wealthy people, I suspect it wouldn’t, but intuitively it seems as though it would, and it’s a short hop from this and austerity to getting the “heartless” tag. Or maybe it’s already done. Of course, none of this wouldn’t have been necessary had the Tories not made a huge cut in the highest tax bracket a few weeks back. I’m beginning to think that all those stories about how thoughtful and moderate the Tories are might be overblown, don’t you?

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The Guardian is brutal on Julian Assange’s new talk show:

The most insidious aspect of Assange’s show is not what is in it, but what isn’t. Russia Today – now styled RT – is state-owned and Kremlin-controlled. It is remarkable for how little reporting it devotes to what is going on inside Russia today. There is no mention, for example, of top-level corruption, Vladimir Putin’s alleged secret fortune – referenced in US embassy cables leaked by WikiLeaks – or the brutal behaviour of Russian security forces and their local proxies in the north Caucasus.

Instead, the channel offers a shiny updated version of Soviet propaganda. The west, and America in particular, is depicted as crime-ridden, failing, and in thrall to big business and evil elites. RT’s favourite theme is western hypocrisy: “How dare you criticise us when you do the same?” The English-language channel portrays itself as “anti-mainstream”. In reality it reflects Putin’s own conspiratorial, touchy and xenophobic world-view while staying mute about Russia’s own failings. […]

US cables released by WikiLeaks in December 2010 paint a dismal picture of Putin’s Russia as a “virtual mafia state”. Has Assange read them? It seems extraordinary that Assange – described by RT as the world’s most famous whistleblower – should team up with an opaque regime where investigative journalists are shot dead (16 unsolved murders) and human rights activists kidnapped and executed, especially in Chechnya and other southern Muslim republics. Strange and obscene.

This really is just about the final nail in the coffin. Assange is a self-styled opponent of empire and hegemony, and oppressive government, who sees no problem going into business with one of the most anti-democratic regimes going. But he’s got a public profile to keep up, for pete’s sake!

Admittedly, I find it tedious when people turn themselves into one-man crusades against censorship. Jello Biafra never cut a good record after he became obsessed with fighting free speech battles, to name an example. After a certain point, it gets impossible to tell where the serious concern about issues ends, and where the martyrdom and self-aggrandizement begins. To be fair, Assange had to negotiate forces much more powerful than the former Dead Kennedys frontman ever did. But while there might initially have been some tinge of idealism in what he did, I don’t think the endpoints were that different. In any event, it seems clear at this point that Assange’s anarchist tendencies were just posturing.

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Lev filed this under: ,  

One of the more interesting questions of the Obama era is: could Obama somehow have gotten along better with Republicans, or was it a doomed cause from the outset? Jon Chait looks at the question from a few angles and basically concludes he couldn’t have, which I think I agree with. Obama could hardly have offered the right any more of a carrot to cooperate with him, as we now know that the Administration even worried about what right-wing talk show hosts thought about them. Such obsessive carefulness might actually have made bipartisanship less likely–Republicans learned quickly that they could walk all over Obama and suffer no consequences.  As soon as Obama figured out that he couldn’t let them do that anymore, his position and public standing improved immediately.

To me, the most painful failures of Obama’s tenure have been failures of pragmatism, far more so than failures of liberal ideals. The latter you expect to some extent, as it’s the nature of governing. I honestly was fine with dropping the public option if that was what was needed for the bill to pass, and I still feel that way. Of course, I would rather have had a cap-and-trade bill be priority #1–it actually got eight Republican votes in the House and the problem was more urgent, the benefits easier to sell, and the timing was right for the issue. I don’t think you can really get wholesale health reform until the current system has gotten much more broken than it is now. Too many people don’t want the status quo to be changed or even threatened. But that’s not what happened, and despite the lousy political spadework that led to it I like the ACA just fine.

If moderation just to get things done were the predominant paradigm I’d probably be more unreserved in my support of Obama, but I don’t really think that’s the theme of the man’s presidency. Really, the overarching theme has been that Obama is trying to do two different types of reform at the same time that are fundamentally incompatible. He’s tried to reform policy while also trying to reform the process, and has seemed to be equally invested in fixing both. But generally speaking, you can only do one or the other, at least at once. In the stimulus, in healthcare, and in the debt ceiling–which I’d argue are the three defining moments of Obama’s presidency to date–what you see are on one hand a commitment to solve big, real policy problems of varying degrees of immediacy, coupled with an equal commitment to fix the process by renewing bipartisanship, fixing problems together, adopting a civil tone, avoiding attacks and hardball tactics and all that. The thing is, pursuing the procedural goal made the policy more difficult, in some cases, much more difficult. Obama has tried to have it both ways, pursuing an incredibly ambitious reform agenda while somehow not worsening partisan divisions or irritating established interests. At times it’s almost been as though no conflict was expected to arise from all this activity, and when it came, paralysis set in. I don’t see how very smart people convinced themselves repeatedly to see possibilities that weren’t there–perhaps just wanting to have these opportunities was enough. And so we actually lose popular, important policies because there is a strong desire not to have to play a partisan role, rather than just accepting that some level of partisanship is unavoidable. That is not pragmatic, it’s desperation to avoid the practical reality that Obama has no choice but to work in. And the effect on morale was devastating, as the 2010 results and the president’s standing for most of last year showed.

The point I wish to make here is that this isn’t pragmatism. In fact, I don’t see Obama as a particularly pragmatic figure. A pragmatist would have given up on cooperation from Congressional Republicans ages before Obama did, probably after the stimulus, and just figured that the only way to get Republican support would be to either shame or strongarm Repubs into backing his policies. Really, what we’re dealing with is a reformer whose idealism, attention to process and distaste for partisan argument frequently has led him in decidedly nonpragmatic directions. Republicans savvily realized this and capitalized on it, so that the conversation was all about them even when they were a small minority. Really, that covers most of what’s been going on the last three years. Let’s hope it doesn’t define the rest of Obama’s time in office.

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Apropos of nothing:

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Metavirus filed this under:  

Connecticut ends the practice. I have to say, this is one of those social movements that is regularly winning big victories, but almost nobody seems to be paying attention. Which is fine by me–under the wire is probably the best way for this thing to go for now.

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Lev filed this under: ,  

Look, Mitt, I know you want to get women back on your side, but the notion that women have lost 92.3% of jobs in the recession may be technically correct in some manipulated and spun context, but it’s not correct, and it’s not even a good bullshit statistic. You might have been able to get away with it if you’d said, I don’t know, 65%. But the notion that guys only lost 7.3% of jobs is just downright silly, and as a numbers guy you do realize that you can only have 100% in a case like this?

Congratulations, GOP, on picking such a lame liar. And this is despite all the practice he’s had!

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