Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category

Look, I get it. A big majority of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq, independent of any UN inspections. Congress voted with substantial majorities to authorize the use of military force.

But I can’t help but notice a similarity among the names touted for key administration positions: every single one favored the invasion of Iraq in 2003. John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Michele Flournoy, Susan Rice — they all supported the initial invasion. Yes, there are lots of reasons to pick someone for a job, especially one running a large bureaucracy. And I also dislike litmus tests generally; a good nominee will necessarily have some flaws.

Still, were there really no Iraq War opponents available? None? Zero? Couldn’t find anyone?

21 Senators opposed the AUMF. Were they just not “serious” enough? Want to appoint a Republican? How about Brent Scowcroft? Want to appoint someone with military experience? Maybe former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Hugh Shelton is more your speed.

Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in no small part because of his opposition to the Iraq War from the beginning. It gave him liberal credibility against Clinton, and signaled a clear break from the Bush administration policies of preemptive war and a national security state run amok.

Instead, he has shown himself to be, on the state of our military and national security state, to be of a piece with his predecessor. Worse, he has shown that the only way for a Democrat to be taken “seriously” on national security is to be a hawk.

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The term “black swan” refers to an event that has enormous impact and is rare and difficult to predict. The prime example used by Taleb is 9/11 — an event of outsize importance that typical risk analyses would have been unable to predict or identify. There’s a fair amount of focus now on black swans, how to predict and control for them.

Sometimes, though, we are looking for black swans when we should be looking for white ones — events that have enormous impact, but that are neither rare nor particularly difficult to predict. An event like the Newtown murders may feel like a black swan — who could have predicted? But the preconditions for the event make it more of a white swan than a black one. For one, mass gun violence is relatively common in America; about 80 people die every day from gun violence. Although it is tragic that 27 murders and 1 suicide occurred in one place, and that many of the dead are children, it is not extraordinary in a world where gun violence occurs with regularity.

As long as it is easier for a mentally disturbed young man to get a handgun than mental health treatment, President Obama’s exhortations that we will do more to protect children strike me as hollow. Gun control laws have been eviscerated by the Supreme Court, and the gun lobby’s loud voice in the public conversation make movement on that front almost unimaginable. Mental health treatment is only slightly more likely, and my guess is that such laws would be targeted at committing people to quasi-incarceration rather than actually providing therapeutic treatment.

We cannot predict mass murder with precision, of course, but we can say with some probability that murders with guns will occur regularly through the day, week, month, year, etc. Without concerted efforts to either reduce the availability of firearms or increase the availability and reduce the stigma of mental health services, mass murder will continue to be a white swan rather than a black one.

(On the gun control topic for a second, I get all the 2nd Amendment stuff — we need to have firearms in case we need to overthrow the government. Sure. But a state monopoly on violence goes a long way to reducing violence among the populace. If this is an explicit trade-off being made, then fine, but I don’t think we have properly costed in the price of lost lives and mental/physical trauma.)

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A new podcast about the election! You bet!

We discuss:

  • Why pundits hate Nate Silver
  • Why issues don’t end up mattering
  • Ballot initiatives
  • What will happen if/when Obama wins
  • Our picks
[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/14175885/Podcast9.mp3]

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Last night was the “foreign policy” presidential debate, which takes place in a magical fairyland with no connection to the real world.

The President’s signature foreign policy — drone strikes and targeted killing — received a brief mention and total agreement from Mitt Romney.

Both Obama and Romney “talked tough” on China, but failed to mention that a currency war with China would mean 20% inflation. But let’s ignore that, why not?

Both Obama and Romney said that they would stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons using diplomacy, but failed to mention what concessions the United States might make. After all, in negotiations, if one side gives something up, the other side has to give something up.

As bad as Romney was, Obama was almost as bad — dodging every question of substance (Iraq/Afghanistan draw-down, military funding, Syria, Libya) and pivoting to areas of strength.

Obama has always prided himself on treating the American people like adults. In the case of foreign policy, unfortunately, there is nothing but demagoguery, jingoism, and rah-rah over-the-top patriotism.

Is there any hope for the foreign policy debate? Goofy though they are, at least the domestic policy debates give some notion of the kind of economic policy the candidates espouse. The foreign policy debates are simply untethered from reality.

One solution might be the questions asked. Schieffer did all right, but consider what was not discussed. Our allies? Forget them. Free trade agreements? Never heard of ’em. Latin America? One platitude by Romney. India? Nonexistent. Japan? Only mentioned in a question about Israel. Although geopolitical hotspots are of great importance to us, America’s success in the next century will have more to do with our allies than our perceived enemies. Instead of just asking questions about how best to warmonger, we should be considering America’s full foreign policy when asking who will lead us.

Foreign policy wonks seem to believe that the American polity simply can’t handle nuanced foreign policy discussions, but that strikes me as massively cynical. The only way to combat this is with genuine engagement with the issues by public figures, like, say, presidential candidates. Otherwise, we may as well just give the presidency to the guy who waves the flag the hardest.

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Ok, I know I’m not supposed to be cocky. And I am overall a rather pessimistic person, so I don’t even feel comfortable saying this, anyway. Plus, like everyone else, my political predictions frequently turn out to be wrong.

But, with Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan for VP, this election is now over. Obama will win, and fairly easily.

You may recall that in the past few weeks, there has been some uproar over Harry Reid’s claim that Romney paid zero taxes over the course of a decade.  It’s a claim that could be easily disproved by Romney releasing his taxes, but of course he seems loath to do that.

But now the conversation has changed. Forget the past, let’s look at the future. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which now becomes the Romney/Ryan budget plan, has some specific ideas for cutting taxes. In particular, it would slash corporate taxes to zero. For the one year of tax returns Romney has released, in 2010, Romney paid about 14% in taxes on his income. Under his new Romney/Ryan budget plan, that number would be… 0.82%. The reason? Nearly all of Romney’s income in that year comes from capital gains/dividends and the like.

This is unimaginably toxic. The political ads write themselves. Romney always had to fight against his image as a rich guy who just wants to cut taxes so that he becomes richer, while the middle class foots the bill. Now he picks a guy who has proposed to do exactly that.

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We typically try to refrain from over-analyzing the horse race, but sometimes, we allow ourselves some horse-race bullshit. After all, it does matter who wins a presidential election.

Thus, the podcast follows. Topics include:

  • Romney and Bain: Is Romney being Swift-boated (i.e., attacked with misleading reports that undermine his core strength)? Is it working?
  • Is it fair to attack Romney for being an out-of-touch rich guy, even if he is?
  • Do narratives matter?
  • How much to economic indicators matter?
  • What are our best guesses on the presidential race so far?
  • Will the Supreme Court Obamacare decision matter?
[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/14175885/Podcast8.mp3]


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Here it is:

This ad impressed me. Not because it hits Romney hard (though it does), but because of the sound editing. Listen to it again, and make sure to note the images that appear as the sound changes. The editing manages to evoke empty warehouses, open spaces, an office intercom, and a voice from very far away. An interesting discussion of how this is done, including reverberation and high-pass filtering, can be found here.

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