Category: Policy

Failure is Success

John Boehner1

“This is going to destroy the best healthcare delivery system in the world,” John Boehner stated last November as he discussed his fears over Obamacare. This is something that is often stated, especially by the America’s right wing. That we have the best healthcare in the world. “Moderates”, who try to be the mediator in these situations often pretending that both sides have “their points”, will respond by stating that our healthcare system merely being “different” than the rest of the Western world. In America you have a choice with the coverage you want and wait times are shorter due to not everyone having healthcare (not true). If you take both of these points at face value they still don’t really make any sense. If anything they demonstrate the weakness without the policy. Why would it be a good thing that everyone chooses their coverage? There should be no “choice” in this. If you get sick or injured the hospital treats your wounds as much as humanly possible, that’s it. Why exactly should somebody risk not being covered and having to owe tens of thousands? That isn’t a strength but a weakness. If the wait time argument was even true why would that be a good thing? If the lines are so much shorter due to people not seeking care who need it then it is a clear indication that the system isn’t doing its job.

This is something I like to phrase as “failure is success” in which failure caused by the policy is looked as a success, sort of like somebody looking at a faux silver-lining. We see this all the time in politics. When politicians give praise for savings made by cutting social services “to help those who are really in need”. How is cutting money that is meant to be a transfer from the rich to the poor, in the country where they have it the least in the first world, something to support? The entire purpose of these programs is to fund the poorest in our system. With income inequality and poverty being so high cutting these programs is the last thing we should be doing. But yet due to the government lacking more of its spending on transferring money to the poor (a failure) it is seen as a success.

These are things that need to be pointed out during these arguments. Its not a good thing that people have “choice” for coverage, nor are short wait lines due to the lack of patients, and especially the poor getting less money due to the government wanting to save “to help those in real need” when its they who are likely to suffer the most from the lack of these services.

Jus Ad Bellum – Syrian Intervention

Yuddhisthra is the eldest prince among five siblings that have been deprived of their kingdom. Now after much machination, there is a chance for Yuddhisthra to wage war against his enemies and reclaim his kingdom. Yuddhisthra however is reluctant, because he is struggling to justify fighting his enemy because of inescapable collateral damage to innocent people that an ensuing war may cause. He counsels with his trusted uncle and advisor Bhimsa. Bhimsa appeals to Yuddhisthira’s sense of justice by offering him Rules of War so to speak (or ancient code of military conduct). Attack only the soldiers, do not attack innocent people, stop attacking when enemy has stopped, etc etc. Yudhisthra is unconvinced. Bhimsa then appeals to Yuddhisthra’s virtue:

“By restraining the wicked and encouraging the virtuous, and by rites of sacrificial worship and giving gifts, kings become pure and free of taint. Kings trouble their people when they seek conquest, but after they have won the victory they make their subjects thrive once again. They drive their evil deeds away through the power of gifts, sacrifices and ascetism. Their merit increases through their kindness to their subjects. Just as the reaper of a field kills the weeds and the grain at the time he mows the field, but does not get rid of the grain; so, kings slay those they want to kill at the time they shoot their sharp bladed weapons, and the entire atonement for that is the king’s making the inhabitants flourish once again. The king who guards his subjects from the plunder of their wealth, from slaughter, from affliction by barbarians, he, because he gives life, is truly a king bestowing wealth and happiness. Worshiping with all the rites of sacrifice, giving safety as the present to the priests, that king will experience blessings and reach the same heavenly world as Indra.”

Bhimsa gives Yuddhisthra the justification for war by saying that a righteous cause can be justly pursued to it’s conclusion, no matter how much pain is entailed. Yuddhisthra is now prepared for the battle.

What we are discussing today in US Congress for the need of Syrian Intervention is nothing new. The principles of Just War go back to the 3000 year old Indian Epic Mahabharata, where the five siblings discuss and deliberate exact same conundrums we are grappling with.

New World Order

In international relations, one government defers another belligerent government’s actions to a certain extent. It happens only until that government or its assets gets attacked by the belligerent government, or there is a clear and present danger to national security. For example, America did not spring into action in World War 2 until Pearl Harbor. This has more to do with human response than international relations during wartime. Kill the threat before it kills you.  But post-WW2 has changed the landscape of…everything. United Nations is established, NATO is formed, Geneva Conventions are updated, treaties are ratified. There is now a clear emphasis on preventing war from breaking out and a need for a (lack of better term) new world order. Much more importantly, there is a need for preventing loss of human lives in a grand scale. This new idea however has been exploited for reasons other than preventing death and destruction (most recently, US Invading and Occupying Iraq in 2003 under false pretenses). Remember mushroom cloud talk?

In a nutshell, what we have learned over the past 70 years is that we should make an active effort in preventing mass loss of human lives anywhere in the world, especially if it’s state sponsored military action because we’ve seen how those movies end.  The problem is that the New World Order is not perfect. We have had unspeakable crimes against humanity gone unpunished in the past. Why intervene now? What about *insert war torn state in Africa*? Why the double standards? Well, good cannot become the enemy of the perfect. Just because we failed to act in the past does not mean we should never act in the future. Maybe there is a national security interest, or maybe there isn’t. But a human life that is saved does not care about the national security interest or the other motive you may have had in intervening. Let’s make it a point to be more consistent in the future, rather than be shackled by the past. We intervened in Serbian conflict despite not given authorization by US Congress or UN. We intervened solely under Just War principle. It was Bill Clinton who spearheaded the intervention. Had we became paralyzed because of our past, ethnic Kosovar Albanian Muslims could have been wiped out from Eastern Europe. Or in more recent example of intervention in 2011, the city of Benghazi could have become a bloodbath.

Why now?

Weapons of Mass Destruction have significantly altered the calculus post WW2, and made the security of world a balance where deterrence is directly proportional to potential impact. For example, India and Pakistan (two countries that have gone to war 3 times since independence) have not gone to war once since nuclear armament (despite border skirmishes). Yet at the same time, the threat of destruction has catapulted to a mind numbingly catastrophic level.

Thus, when Bashar Al Assad allegedly uses Sarin gas to kill a number of his countrymen, the alarm bells go off in the government intelligence headquarters of every civilized country on earth. It is an abhorrently disproportional action, regardless of whether it was used against terrorists or innocent people. The law of proportionality dictates that as long as warring factions keep it to standard munitions, the alarm bells will not blare. In other words, US keeps the option open of giving Syrian government the benefit of doubt in their case against fighting terrorism within the parameters of conflict. Under this situation Assad could have theoretically slowly wiped out the entire Syrian population using nothing but small arms fire. But the usage of weapons like Sarin gas, nerve agent, mustard gas etc means that the parameters of conversation no longer hold true. The Syrian government is now slaughtering the civilians wholesale and making sure that the generations to come will be affected by it due to birth defects. In this modified situation, the US can no longer defer Syria’s actions. Their intentions are now clear, which no longer include the safety of it’s citizens. That is why the red line was drawn by Obama.

The situation right now isn’t clear cut because of the complexity of the issue, Russia and China’s stonewalling. Lack of evidence is no longer an issue. The majority of countries on the NATO Security Council agree that it was Syrian government that used the chemical weapon, along with Germany and other important EU nations. The fact that Assad could have used the chemical attack against his people not in spite of Obama’s warning, but because of it is also a unique factor in this conflict. He could have done so under the shelter of Russia’s protection, in order to show his friends in Iran and Lebanon that he was able to poke a dragon in it’s nose and get away with it. Maybe he will do it again because he knows the dragon is shackled by the weight of public cynicism and the current president’s confrontational relationship with the opposition in Congress. Also, the Arab League and OIC are both in favor of a military strike. These are the two largest and important regional bodies outside of UN, and one of them kicked out the Syrian seat.


Isolationism is a perfectly valid philosophy of how your country should behave with respect to other countries. It might sound opposite of what I am suggesting in this post, but it’s a respectable default position. I would rather a country have a default isolationist policy rather than default interventionist policy. The sweet spot however is finding the right balance obviously. But in my view, a judicious interventionist action is not mutually exclusive with a default isolationist country. There always has to be “all options on the table” leverage for a President to exercise his executive authority. But however, there has to be reconciliation with the moral quotient when it comes to isolationism. Does the death and suffering of a group of people be neglected, simply because they don’t share the same passport as you? Please keep in mind that we are looking at situation where all other peaceful options have failed. Diplomacy can only work if both sides can come to a common goal. Rwandan genocide provides a macabre case study for isolationism where an intervention could have possibly prevented or reduced the number of lives that were lost. When you look at the full historical context of the massacre, then there is even a more need for intervention. The power structure in place in Rwanda was created by Rwanda’s Colonial Master Belgium, which was the leading institutional culprit that led to the uprising against Tutsis. The west has created uneven power structures during it’s colonial period that have since become highly unstable and a powder keg of disillusionment waiting to be set off.

I am not suggesting that all colonial masters should go to their ex-colonies and fix everything. What I am saying is that the colonial masters do shoulder some responsibility as to what happens in their ex-colonies. The main culprits are the perpetrators themselves, let’s not deny that. But washing your hands of colonialism does not expiate all the injustice that may have happened or carried on since the freedom movements. At least France understands this concept.

Why us?

Yet, America was not a colonial power and did not own any colonies, so why should America have picked up Belgium’s slack? Simple answer is because it was in a position to. Ginormous military spending is an old addiction from Cold War that we cannot quit. America spends more on the Military than the next 3 countries combined, so at least put that effort to good use. I understand that the money can be argued to be better spent at home in education, infrastructure and healthcare, but I ask why not both? Are we really deluding ourselves into thinking that each $1.2m spent on a tomahawk missile can be just as easily directed to our public school system? It’s not like there is a limited set of money America can play with. America has it’s very own money printer. If our collective nation was concerned about the infrastructure, public education and healthcare, we would have printed enough money to last 100 years to fix them. But sadly, our priorities are directed elsewhere (thanks to the lifestyle that we have had to become used to due to corporate money in politics). If we are going to argue against intervention, let’s not use this excuse.

End Game

Whether America does intervene or not in Syria, that is for the President to decide. We should keep in mind that not all conflicts are exactly alike with same set of factors, externalities and outcomes, even if some of the actors look familiar. It’s simply ignorant to compare Iraq war fiasco with Syrian intervention. It’s also wrong to compare it with Operation Allied Force. Or Somalian intervention. Or even Libyan intervention. It’s fine to draw comparisons or look for patterns, but it’s wrong to arrive at same conclusions. It is a perfectly valid question to ask what we are trying to achieve. Just weapons degradation, or a complete government capitulation? For now, we are saying we simply want weapons degradation. This will result in just enough tipping in balance scales for rebels to gain momentum, but we are not the rebel’s Airforce. The US does not even recognize the National Transitional Council, let alone the Free Syrian Army. As a matter of fact, the US will likely also strike at what it perceives to be Al Qaida or elements that sponsor terrorism, which is why Al Nusra and friends have already packed their bags and are checking out. The best case scenario for US is that the rebels overthrow the government, and NTC takes over the command smoothly. The worst case scenario is the more unsavory types getting hold of the government reins and pushing aside moderates and NTC. I don’t see the worst case scenario happening, because the extremist elements do not have the Syrian mandate. Only Free Syrian Army does, and they are tolerating the extremists because they are both opposed to Assad. No rebellion is going to let a minority that gets its orders from foreigners take over the country after sacrificing so much blood and money. Syria will not become the Afghanistan of 1996. The conditions are not there for it to occur. For one, Syria has much higher literacy rate, standard of living and human development index than Afghanistan. Three important factors that work against extremism and descent into tribal chaos. There is also the National Transitional Council which will get the backing of every western nation, because there is no other suitable alternative. In any case, the situation would be lot better if chemical stockpiles were taken out of the equation so neither Assad nor the rebels have access to them.

The political solution will likely look something like from neighboring Iraq or Egypt, where majority Islamic parties will form a coalition with minorities. But, the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt’s political sphere has sent shockwaves throughout the middle-east, and every elected leader is going to be wary of taking drastic power-consolidation steps through executive branch.

I started my post with the 3000 year old epic Mahabharata. The questions our country is grappling with are complicated, tough and with no clear answers. If this problem was clear cut with simple “never intervene” or “always intervene” solutions, then who really cares for detail, minutiae and other nuanced discussion? The world does not fit into neatly cropped boxes. What we can do is understand the world that we live in is an unregulated mess. We know on a macro level no system can regulate itself. Laissez Faire theory has been an utter disaster for 80% of the country, while a godsend for the few, the powerful. In the same way, if we let the world regulate itself, the few, the powerful will consolidate gains and tilt the system in their favor.

Of Crabs and Men – How Economic Spite and Fear Gets Us Nowhere

“If I have it this bad, why shouldn’t they?” You’d think words like this only came from annoying toddlers, but I hear it all the time here, usually speaking about teachers, but more broadly it’s about all government employees. I had a discussion the other day with someone that claimed government employees never got hit by the recession. Not only that, but he argued that it’d be good if they did get hit even more. This isn’t the first person I’ve met with that sort of mindset, nor will it be the last.

First, this factually wrong, because pay raises were stopped and harsh budget cuts were enacted in state and local governments throughout the US. Many workers were laid off, and hiring was frozen, leaving  those lucky enough to have a job to pull things together and perhaps do the work of more than one person. The LA Times points to a report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, “which calculates that while private-sector employment is down 3.1% from its peak in January 2008 and on the rebound, state and local government employment is down 3.4% from its peak in August 2008 and continuing to slide.” In addition to this, because of the commitment the public sector has to equal opportunity and affirmative action, the recession in the public sector is hitting women and African Americans the hardest.

It’s not only wrong, though. It’s dangerous, and there’s a great phrase for it. That phrase is crab mentality, and it refers to a scenario of crabs in a bucket. Individually they could escape, but they end up pulling each other back down. In the end none of them escape. This collective antagonism kills any chance that any will survive. It’s a very similar thing here, especially when you’re talking about a recession. Conventional wisdom is that during a recession the government will need to spend a bit more in order to jump start things and get the economy back on its feet. Conventional wisdom also says during this time, through no real fault of their own, many more people will need government programs. That’s just factually what a recession does, and that’s just factually how one gets out of a recession. Like the crabs, stuck in their bucket, though, we end up either not helping each other upward or even not letting our fellow humans climb. Like the crabs we end up pulling others downward.

When people are frustrated with their own lives they have a tendency to lash out at others. This translates to a feeling that government employees should be cut down even more. Let’s go over exactly why such a reaction would be terrible. Right now we’re not in the midst of a recession, but our unemployment still sits at 7.9%, and a lot of people are wondering exactly why we can’t lower that. Well, if you look at this chart you can see at least one reason:


And here’s what the Economic Policy Institute says about that graphic:

How many more jobs would we have if the public sector hadn’t been shedding jobs for the last three years? The simplest answer is that the public sector has shed 627,000 jobs since June 2009. However, this raw job-loss figure understates the drag of public-sector employment relative to how the economy functions normally.

Over this same period, the overall population grew by 6.9 million. In June 2009 there were 7.3 public-sector workers for every 100 people in the U.S.; to keep that ratio constant given population growth, the public sector should have added roughly 505,000 jobs in the last three years. This means that, relative to a much more economically relevant trend, the public sector is now down more than 1.1 million jobs. And even against this more-realistic trend, these public-sector losses are dominated by austerity at the state and local level, with federal employment contributing only around 6 percent of this entire gap.

Paul Krugman points out a very similar thing here:

His assessment is that if public employment mirrored the growth under Bush that by the time he wrote this (April 25, 2012) we’d have 1.3 million more government workers, and our unemployment rate would be less than 7 percent. That’s a almost a full point lower than it is now, and he wrote this a year ago!

In Wisconsin this fight against public workers came down to a fight about collective bargaining. Despite the fact that there’s really no correlation between collective bargaining and state budget deficits, that right just had to go.

Here’s what The New Republic says about the rollback in rights:

What proponents of the rollback in public-sector bargaining rights are unable to explain is how taking rights away from some American workers will improve the lot of others. How will denying collective bargaining rights for teachers, social workers, or parks employees in Wisconsin create good jobs in the private sector? How will taking away the rights of prison guards to bargain collectively in Ohio keep manufacturing jobs in the United States? How will reducing the pensions promised to government workers (often in return for their agreement to forego salary increases) create retirement security for private sector workers whose paltry 401Ks are unable to support them? How will holding down public-sector pay stop the erosion of the American middle-class—of which public-sector workers constitute a significant proportion?

What proponents of cutting government employment are unable to explain is how taking away jobs and cutting pay will help improve the lot of others. How will it helps a small business owner to have one more potential customer lose his job? How will it help him to have another potential customer get a cut in pay? What needs to be explained to everyone who proposes something like this is the interconnectedness of our entire economy. We are not islands with no relation to each other. Your spending is my potential profit. A cut in your pay is a cut in my potential profit. If that teacher you’re so jealous of gets her job cut, then that means every business she shops at gets their business cut. It’s all connected.

A solid example of this is found in the numbers released last week that show the US economy shrunk by .1 percent late last year. The reason for this? Government spending cuts. A lot cheered because those are spending cuts in our bloated defense budget, and I’d likely agree, but we shouldn’t cheer about an all around cut at this point. Cuts should still be made up elsewhere with spending, so that someone can at least chase that profit and we can all experience more hiring and more growth. Every cut we make at this point represents a cut to someone’s income or job somewhere.

Krugman goes further in blaming that shrinkage on the shrinking government sector. He says that “transfer payments like Medicare and Social Security are rising (although unemployment benefits are falling), but government purchases of stuff — mostly at the state and local level, where the stuff in question includes hiring schoolteachers — has been in fairly rapid decline.”


What this shrinkage translates to is, according to him, a possible 1.5 percentage point higher unemployment than what we should have right now.

The result of his absolutely historic spite and fear throughout our state, local, and federal governments is seen here:

We’ve hit a historic decline in our government at one of the absolute worst times to do it.

John T. Harvey does a good job of pointing out exactly why the private sector needs the government to spend. He points out that the real drivers of economic growth are in Investment and Government Spending. Since WWII, government spending has been an affective counterbalance to business cycle falls in investment. When a recession hits, government spending, without any sort of legislation attached, goes up simply because of less tax receipts and more people qualifying for things like unemployment. It’s this spending that makes these recessions less severe and damaging to the country overall, and it’s at least partially why we didn’t experience another Great Depression.

So, we really should not give in to fear and spite. I realize that a lot of people now are working themselves to the bones, perhaps with two or three jobs, and not seeing much in the way of raises. Seeing someone else doing ok can be hard, but we must not let that mean we should take it from them. That hurts us all in the long run. It’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Pulling down your fellow humans as they try and escape from the bucket into the middle class during this recession does nothing but doom us all to continuing stagnation. Instead of looking to one another to see what we should cut down at this time, we in the private sector should really be looking to one another and seeing how we can come together to demand better. After all, the “U.S. corporations’ after-tax profits have grown by 171 percent under Obama, more than under any president since World War II.” The money is there. We just have to demand it. And then things will grow, because we all have more to spend.

Immigration and the Republican Divide

Image Source: Reuters

Image Source: Reuters

This past Monday, a group of eight senators, four Democrat and four Republican, announced a legislative plan to address the eleven million illegal immigrants who currently reside within the United States. Not only is the makeup of those making the announcement bipartisan, but the ideas within the proposal are as well. The legislation would create a path to citizenship for those who are already within the United States while making significant increases to border security. The following day, President Obama essentially endorsed the Senate proposal. Achieving true immigration reform is something that is politically beneficial to both parties, as it’s an issue that Democrats have sought to address for some time and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the GOP’s disastrous support among Latinos is a recipe for defeat on a national level, something Senator John McCain admitted.

Senator McCain’s public admission of their dire electoral situation highlights the feeling among establishment Republicans who see the writing on the wall that says that unless they do something to address the 3-to-1 advantage Democrats have with Latinos, they are going to be in trouble in future elections. Despite this reality, the base and the non-elected, de-facto representatives of the Republican base are not so pleased with this idea.

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The Changing World and the Rise of Drones


Before we begin, you might be wondering where I stand on the issue. I understand the need for it, but I also understand its concerns. To say it is right or it is wrong will mean that I have the answers. I do not. I neither promote nor condemn it, because it is not a black and white issue with clear cut answers. I could think of ways to reduce its usage and make everyone happy in the process, but it’s not that easy. Every one of us should deeply think about its place in today’s warfare and come up with at least a little bit of understanding on its usage. My article seeks to do that by expounding on its use in today’s global political climate.

In the light UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ review of American Military’s usage of Drone strikes, I think it’s apt to understand why modern warfare has changed. The inquiry was sponsored by Russia, China and Pakistan.

In my opinion, the 2003 invasion of Iraq will be the last time we will see a “traditional war”. Even though Russia, Pakistan and China have launched the anti-American policy inquiry, we will never go to war with them. Iran and North Korea are the only two countries on earth that are still remaining in our “Axis of Evil” list created by President George W. Bush. Despite the war cries from the likes of Sen. John McCain, there won’t be an Iran invasion partly due to the realization of drain on the economic health of a country, but mostly due to globalization. In the past 30 years, the world has become more open due to commerce, diplomatic efforts and citizen journalism. The last bastion of dictators has been wiped from South America, Eastern Europe and now Middle East, which always hosted some of the most ruthless rulers in modern history. Apartheid has failed. The walls have been shattered, revolutions have sprung, democracies incubated and voices heard. This era of transformations will continue our Global Village Project forward.

Moving forward, the greatest challenge the west faces is not sovereign countries, but non-state actors. Though there is always the possibility that a fringe group could successfully attempt a coup d’etat on a country like Russia or Pakistan and start a traditional war, the likelihood of that happening has been shrinking due to shared intel and joint operations between countries. Now I’m not saying that we will never ever see a large-scale war. We will, at some point in time. But it will be something like Operation Allied Force or more recently, Operation Unified Protector.

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Opinion: Socialist Politics – Aim for a Quiet Revolution

Red Flags

Socialism. Its a word that when people hear they either jump up in joy or run for their lives. There are none that are in between when it comes to this word, you either have a clear opinion of it or you do not. I personally cannot blame people to much. Over the twentieth century so many things used the socialist title that its pretty diluted from its true meaning. Socialism is defined as the means of production being in the public hands instead of the private. In laymans term this means that industries such as your local energy company and your job are under your control. Usually through democratic means. In theory it often involves a mixture between the common persons control over their work-life and how resources are allocated through the nation. Unfortunately far left, and just leftist policies in general have been succumbed to witch hunts in recent years and all have but completely left the political frame work.

There is still very much a reason for focus on empowering the modern worker and giving them much more control over the elite. The growing inequality in the first world, the handling of the Great Recession, the growth and power of the modern corporation. All these things need no explanation.

However it is incredibly obvious that performing such a change in a rapid manner can be very dangerous as demonstrated throughout history. I feel that I do not need to explain the horrors that occurred in many of the iron curtain nations. Yes you can say “Well that was hardly socialism” or “It was just a flavor of it”, but I think what people should take away from the iron and sickle era was the dangers of mixing untested extreme ideas with groupthink. A bloody revolution may sound cool and sexy, but at the end of the day modern history has shown that this isn’t how things should be done.

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Is The Era Of Liberalism Really Back?

This week, Mitch McConnell declared the “era of liberalism is back” in response to President Obama’s Inaugural Speech on Monday.  Conservatives in the media and online have gone ballistic over the speech; one that they claim is overly partisan and mixed with a highly liberal agenda.  But is this actually true?

Well, Obama’s speech didn’t talk much about the fiscal issues of the day and really seemed to focus on a much more social agenda.  These issues seemed to be focused on the rights of gays, climate change, immigration, and even a small nod to guns control.  And you know what?  Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are right to say that this was a very liberal speech.

For 1950.

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It’s Okay to Research Video Game Violence

Last week, when President Obama made his sweeping gun control proposals, one of the items mentioned was a request for Congress to fund research to determine the “effects violent video games have on young minds.” This comes after Vice President Biden met with figureheads of the video game industry before making his proposals to the President. In December, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia proposed a piece of legislation that would request the National Academy of Sciences do just that.

Many in the gaming community are not happy about this. Across various gaming message boards, people equate the violence in a first-person shooter to having as much in common with gun violence as Hot Wheels have with automobile accidents. Some have stated that just by meeting with the Vice President, the industry is admitting that it’s part of the problem.

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Is Obama a Magician? New Negotiating Tactics for his 2nd Term

When you’re dealing with a master of sleight of hand, even the simplest activity may be a complex deception. To understand the complexity of a magician’s life, according to Penn in this video, you need to know the seven basic principles of magic.

Palm – To hold an object with an apparently empty hand
Ditch – To secretly dispose of an unneeded object
Steal – To secretly obtain a needed object
Loan – Secretly move the needed object to where its needed
Simulation – To give the impression that something that hasn’t happened has
Misdirection – Lead attention away from the secret move
Switch – Secretly exchange one object for another

Those are the seven principles of magic, and with them you can do wondrous things. Now, what if I told you they could not only be applied to magic, but also to negotiating? When the new year rolled around, quite like magic, we witnessed a party begrudgingly going along with something they clearly didn’t want to. They enacted what was, while technically speaking a tax cut, in essence a tax raise in their minds with almost nothing in return for it. This was the same party refusing beforehand to vote on “what we all agree on,” as Obama put it. This was the party of no.

So, how did Obama perform this trickery? Like a well-trained magician, he had to know his audience. The audience in this act was threefold. One piece of this audience, the Republicans would always look to attack him on nearly anything and everything. Again, they’re the party of no. So, going into this he knew it would be no. No compromise. Nothing. Like the magician that must be keenly aware of what and where his audience will be watching and questioning, Obama had to know this. He had to finally understand this. Another of his audiences, the media, would always try and see things from the middle, and they’re obsessed with very serious people, as Paul Krugman puts them, and as such a push for a grand bargain that has tax raises and spending cuts would be just the sort of thing they could get their panties wet for. And last, he had to know us. That is, he had to know both the liberal and the republican base.

Next, quite like Teller, he used a bit of sleight of hand. Like the magician about to saw a lady in half, he stood atop the stage during his campaigning and proclaimed, “I will raise taxes on those making above $250,000 per year.” And, despite how popular this plan was, we all didn’t really know how it could be done with the Republicans likely still having control of the house. Their pledges to Grover Norquist make this feat about as hard as making an elephant disappear before your very eyes.

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“Power is where power goes”

It’s a phrase LBJ lived by. It’s not an analogy or a metaphor or anything tricky. It’s straightforward: If you want to be powerful, you go where the power is. It’s one reasoning why LBJ ultimately accepted Kennedy’s request to be the vice president on the Democratic ticket.

In my last post, I gave a rather glowing praise of LBJ, but never has a president been either completely good or completely bad. To provide a more critical eye to LBJ, I’ll post some snippets I’ve learned about him from reading The Passage of Power. I’m between a fourth and a third of the way through the book, so I might do this a couple more times, but I do highly recommend the novel. It’s a very good read about, aside from maybe Nixon, America’s most complicated president in modern history.

  • Johnson loved power, almost to a dangerous level. There’s a reason why Kennedy – smartly, as I now see it – never enlisted Johnson, though the most skillful politician of his time, for assistance in legislative matters. Johnson would have used any such opportunity to run the whole show, creating the impression that the President was following the lead of his Vice President. Additionally, right after his inauguration as Vice President, Johnson tried to expand the office’s power through two ways: First through the Senate, by trying to become the caucus leader of Senate Democrats, and secondly through the Kennedy administration, by trying to convince Kennedy that he should have an office next to his in the White House, and being able to review national security documents to advise the president. He also liked to flaunt his power whenever he had it. Once while he was Senate Majority Leader, Johnson kicked Humphrey very hard in the shin on the Senate floor for failing to carry out an order of his fast enough.
  • LBJ was a manipulative man. When he wanted something, he would use any means to get it, even if it meant toying with people’s emotions. After his ways to expand the officers of the vice president failed, Johnson would hardly talk at all in staff meetings Kennedy invited him to. Eventually he started to genuinely feel horrible and useless, for a while he faked it. In these meetings he would look very grim, his long face sunk with despair. No matter how he was really feeling, he rarely answered questions that weren’t more than one syllable replies. He would also have to be asked to repeat his answers because he was often very quiet.  This “feel sorry for me” method never worked on Kennedy, who was more annoyed with Johnson’s attitude than anything.
  • Johnson had mistresses, like Congresswoman Helen Douglas.
  • During the Cuban Missile Crises, Johnson, while not completely on the side of the warhawks during the ExComm meetings, thought Kennedy was being too weak in his dealing with the Russians, and at one point advocated bombing the missiles being built in Cuba. Most of the time, Johnson just complained about how Kennedy was handling the situation while offering no advice of his own. After reading the section about the Cuban Missile Crisis, I’m now *very* glad Kennedy was president. He, along with his brother, was one of the few people in the oval office arguing for a more pragmatic approach, and give Khrushchev to back down. He stuck to his guns. What would Johnson have done in that situation? Or Nixon? I’m a little apprehensive to think about it.