Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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The right to compromise

September 23, 2009

Though smaller than it should be, there is an ongoing debate in the non-profit community about whether or not non-elected advocates have the right to make compromises during the legislative or regulatory process.

Whether its land conservationists compromising on CAFE standards at the national level or wildlife enthusiasts at the state level promising not to object to the next site chosen as long as the military moves away from this migratory bird nesting site, advocates cut deals on our behalf all the time.

The only thing is, unlike elected officials, we didn’t elect them.  And worse, they aren’t really accountable to us in any way.

It’s a problem for a supposedly democratic society that currently houses much of its policy expertise in the non-profit sector.

Jonas

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Obama mobilizes the troops

September 3, 2009

I’m sure some of you received the same email I just did, the one with the From: field occupied by “President Barack Obama.” It’s a DNC email, of course, asking for monetary support to help pass health care reform. It includes these two sentences:

The pundits told us it was impossible — that the donations working people could afford and the hours volunteers could give would never loosen the vise grip of big money and powerful special interests. We proved them wrong.

Did we really? I’m not seeing it.

But that’s not why I’m moved to write about this. I’m moved to write about this because it is fairly unprecedented – a president using the massive email list that he built during his campaign and attempting to mobilize them to help him pass a key policy initiative. This has never happened before, and my concerns come in two closely related flavors.

First, Obama’s list is very likely an enormous list of people who are not activists. Moreover, it’s an enormous list of people without a defined politics. It’s people who were fed up with George W. Bush, people who were taken in by Obama’s personality, or his (deserved) unique appeal as the first African-American president, or his elegant rhetoric. It’s not a homogeneous group of people dedicated to any particular policy agenda or ideology. This is not necessarily a huge concern, but it does create an interesting dynamic – how will these people respond to a specific policy request? Will they tune out, will they do whatever Obama asks them to do, or will it be something in between?

Secondly, and more significantly, if the result of this is closer to “they’ll do whatever Obama asks them to do,” does this represent a significant expansion of executive power? No president has ever before had a direct line to his supporters like this. If Obama can use his supporters to change the course of legislation in Congress, what does that do to checks and balances?

I’m not sure what the answers are, or if this is actually anything to be worried about. But it’s certainly worth thinking about.

Flying Whale

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The meaning of “liberal”

August 21, 2009

Writer Andreas Kluth, discussing the Michael Hirschorn article on The Economist that I quoted in an earlier post, says this about Hirschorn’s attempt to define The Economist‘s political slant:

This is the American part of any article about us, which is always amusing, since there is a one-word synonym for the convoluted phrase “free-market right-center, if you want to be technical about it; with a dose of left-center social progressivism”: That word is liberal. [emphasis in original]

I think he’s right, and I also think that when “liberal” defines the left edge of mainstream American politics (let’s disregard the asinine “socialist” name-calling by the clueless and the deliberately misleading), it’s no wonder that economic progressives in this country often feel completely marginalized. One of the things that an instructor said to me once that has stuck with me ever since is, “there is no such thing as left-wing politics in America.” Overstatement perhaps, but pretty close to being functionally true, and something which we have certainly been seeing played out this year.

Flying Whale

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Overheard

August 17, 2009

Missing a Wheel?Within a passionate and expletive-laced conversation about the current healthcare reform discussion:

“If I were offerred a partisan car with four wheels or a bipartisan car with two wheels, I wouldn’t have any trouble deciding which car to choose.”

Perhaps not that simple.  But it does make me realize that I don’t understand the high value being placed on getting a bipartisan bill out of committee.  Anyone?

Jonas

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Hillary Clinton on the A-list?

August 13, 2009

Jeffrey Gettleman over at the NYT has been earning some criticism lately.   Perhaps it’s unfair, but I’m going to add mine to the mix.

Like everyone, he can’t resist repeating, one more time, Secretary Clinton’s response when asked to relay what BILL Clinton thinks about Chinese investment in Africa.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think there is anything wrong with her answer, and wish we could exit the echo chamber in which it’s endlessly framed as a mistake.

But back to Gettleman’s article: he acknowledges that Clinton’s aides have been frustrated that this single sound byte has dominated the coverage of the trip and then CONTINUES TO PERPETUATE THE TREND HIMSELF.  His next paragraph reads:

But her evident irritation at the question quickly fueled speculation that Mrs. Clinton felt eclipsed by former President Bill Clinton’s trip to North Korea last week, in which he rapidly secured the release of two American journalists who had been sentenced to years of hard labor.

Mr. Gettleman, thank you so much for voicing that rumor.  Also, thank you for taking more time to talk about her “sunken cheeks,” her visible tiredness (mentioned three times for anyone counting), the inadequate emotion and urgency in her language, and her “prickl[iness]” than to discussing the substance of her words—good governance, ending conflict, addressing sexual violence, and women’s rights.

And just in case it wasn’t clear, he ends the article with this:

As one journalist covering her trip put it: “She is a celebrity. We have a celebrity secretary of state. When you have a celebrity, you get celebrity coverage.”

And, it appears, when you’re a woman, you get a woman’s coverage.

Jonas

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List of Enemies?

August 13, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This clip drives me more than slightly crazy (watch it all the way through; the punch is at the end). But rather than waste time on an analysis it doesn’t deserve, I’ll just ask this: why didn’t SOMEBODY suggest that folks delete email addresses from the body of the email BEFORE they forward it on the White House?

The White House can’t legally delete emails; people with their facts wrong don’t want to be identified. Seems like there is a relatively elegant solution to this conundrum…

Jonas

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Navigating the North-South divide

August 12, 2009

Scott Gration, the Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan, reports on his team’s current work in the country, This I Believe style.

What struck me was this:

While the current US sanctions against the government in Khartoum explicitly exclude Southern Sudan, in practical terms they do not.  Large equipment needed for infrastructure or economic development in the South must go through Port Sudan and/or Khartoum in the North, which makes these necessary investments for the South subject to our sanctions. “Smart,” targeted sanctions are absolutely necessary and desirable against key components of the government in Khartoum. I want to be clear. These sanctions should not be lifted.  However, I believe that we must consider specific exceptions or selective rollbacks to facilitate development in the South and fully implement the CPA. We need more flexibility to achieve our desired results, which are: pressuring the North, developing the South, and incentivizing good behavior on all sides.

This almost never happens: admitting failure, acknowledging complexity, avoiding paralysis,  suggesting solutions, and  maintaining clarity about big-picture goals—all at the same time!

(CPA provisions here)

Jonas