the Interim Iran Nuclear Agreement

clip_image001

Lisa Benson

The West and Iran have been negotiating over Tehran’s undefined nuclear program since 2003. Two aspects of last week’s Geneva talks differentiate them from past sessions. This time, it’s Iran that needs to negotiate, and; this time it’s the West that is buying time.

Over the course of these negotiations, Iran has made progress on non-energy-producing aspects of having nuclear reactors that could serve as precursors to producing nuclear weapons. The negotiations themselves – between Tehran and the European Union – have been a symphony of concessions from the West for unkept promises from Iran. The concessions have been trivial, but Iran wasn’t working the negotiations for concession – it was “taking the temperature” of the West – testing our political will. Tehran views the West as the “weak horse,” and they wanted to be sure to sense any change in that status.

Also during this time, the West has slowly built up a regime of sanctions against Iran, aimed at pressuring the Islamic Republic into allowing the international community to confirm Iran’s claim to be pursuing only peaceful uses of nuclear power. This includes six United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for, among other things, complete cessation of uranium enrichment.

Why has Iran requested another round of negotiations now? Two reasons: sanctions are finally beginning to work, and; the last Iranian elections were orchestrated to take advantage of secret talks the Obama administration has been conducting since March.

First the sanctions. Henry Kissinger noted that sanctions are enormously difficult to operate, as they require leak-proof enforcement, and they take time to work. Additionally he warned that historically, sanctions were relaxed – for “humanitarian” reasons – just as they began to work. Sanctions work, he noted, because they tend to align internal and external pressures on the target regime. In other words, they are supposed to hurt the population, thus dissatisfying the people with the regime. Well, the sanctions on Iran are beginning to show results – the rial is becoming instable (inflation rate of ~40%). The conditions for the civilian population is becoming evermore precarious as store shelves are increasingly devoid of product, and that which is there is continually raising in price, cheapening the value of Iranians’ disposable income. This trajectory is regime-threatening.

Now to the election. The fact that we initiated secret talks once again posits us as the weak horse – casting the overt negotiations in debatable status – did Iran ask us to come to the table, or merely agree to a publication of ongoing talks. Once the covert talks looked favorable for a relaxation of the sanctions, the mullahs put Hassan Rouhani up as a “moderate” candidate and saw to it that he won. Mr Rouhani is the face of Iran that the mullahs wish to present to the world. His previous position was that of chief nuclear negotiator against the Europeans. Hardly a practicing moderate.

What they want is simple – a relaxation of crippling sanctions while deterring their nuclear ambitions (whatever they are) as little as possible. What we want is assurances that Iran’s nuclear program has no applicability to their missile program (or any other kinetic applications). What was arrived at in Geneva was Western concessions for promises. Same old, same old. Only this time, the concessions are not trivial.

By ceding around $7 billion dollars of immediate relief, we are instantly assuaging Iran’s most pressing problem – the instability of their currency, which is an existential threat to their regime. They are doing next to nothing toward our goal of accountability of their nuclear activity. The only mention of Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, for instance, in the White House talking points is: “Dilute below 5% or convert to a form not suitable for further enrichment (convert it to uranium oxide, for example) its entire stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium before the end of the initial phase.” Both of these “solutions” are easily reversible, whereas the confiscation of 20% enriched uranium would take it out of their inventory (an option not taken).

We have apparently resisted the opportunity to hold out for a deal that would establish the West as the strong horse. This in the face of what the Iranians know to be a president desperate for a foreign policy success and a secretary of state desperate to attain gravitas. And an administration desperate for a distraction from a crumbling domestic landscape.

Fiasco

clip_image002

In a delicious display of applied irony, the press is asking “how could President Obama have lied to us?”

It’s the culmination of searching for boundaries. The same press has let this administration get away with everything for nearly five years now. Had they exercised the tiniest bit of scrutiny of a sitting administration, we would have a vastly different Obama presidency. Power, in the presence of complicity by opinion-makers, will increasingly trod on the rights of those in the way of its agenda. Finally, it has trod upon a dearly-held belief of the opinion-makers – national healthcare. And they will have no truck with it.

The administration looked upon the face of impending disaster and chose to ignore it, because they thought they could. “The press will buy whatever we say,” the thinking went[1], so the total meltdown of HealthCare.gov would be a “glitch.” The press knew better, and they were infuriated by the sloppy work done on behalf of their national healthcare. “It will give national healthcare a bad name,” their thinking went.

The lack of critical analysis also breeds complacency – the feeling that they can get away with anything, including slap-dash execution of complex programs. The total lack of critical analysis of the Affordable Care Act has given us this law in the first place. Sure, the conservative press did their job, but liberals don’t pay any attention to them. What would have made a difference is if their press – the New York Times, Washington Post, etc – was diligent in the analysis. They weren’t, so here we are – the administration feels impervious to responsibility and we’re saddled with an enormous entitlement that will weigh on the budget indefinitely.

Also part of the problem is the blinding inexperience this team brings to the office – the first two years were run by, largely, a campaign team, not an administrative one. The thinking was political rather than governance. They had legislative majorities in both Houses of Congress – they could do anything they wanted. And they did. And the press yawned.

The 2010s brought a dose of reality, but by then, group-think had metastasized throughout government, and public repudiation became just another hindrance to be shoved aside – better yet, a whipping boy for their mistakes. And the press yawned.

The Attorney General of the United States told us he was unaware of Fast & Furious, in spite of a basketful of memos to him on the subject. And the press yawned.

The president was incredulous at the idea of a General Motors, Chrysler or Ford bankruptcy, and then forced GM and Chrysler to submit to an artificial government-orchestrated bankruptcy. And the press yawned.

DoJ conducted surveillance on FOX News’ James Rosen and several AP reporters and editors, denied it when the stories broke, and have remained silent since the facts have come out. And the press yawned.

The IRS politically targeted conservative groups applying for 501(c)3 and 4 status, significantly cutting into Republican grassroots fund raising efforts through two election cycles. And the press yawned.

The disaster in Benghazi was met – in real-time with indifference – post-facto with deception. An American ambassador and three DoS personnel were murdered in an act of terrorism, and administration saw it as a political problem. And the press yawned.

In each instance, the president and the head of the relevant agencies claimed total bliss – they knew nothing of the events – ignoring the obvious implications that they were either incompetent or they were naïve. And the press yawned.

No wonder they proceeded with reckless abandon on going live with a website that was, at a minimum, six months away from being ready. The highly public roll-out of his signature program – his legacy – is besmirching the very idea. “If they can’t even build a website, how the hell are they going to operate a sixth of the economy?!” the thinking goes. And this time, it’s the press that’s asking. This is blindsiding an impervious administration and they don’t know what to do.

My bet is they double-down on treating it as a political problem with their signature program, rather than the signature behavior of an inept administration.

It’ll be interesting to see how the press continues to cover the administration, now that they have been cuckold.


[1] After all, they let us get away with Fort Hood as “workplace violence”.

the Hell Were You Thinking?!

clip_image002

The Boeing Company

In what could be likened to Carnival Lines’ Carnival Breeze accidently berthing at somebody’s yacht club, a highly modified Boeing 747-400 Dreamlifter (shown above) accidently landed at Wichita’s Jabara Airport, on the city’s northeast side, instead of McConnell AFB, some 12 miles south.

Who was at the yoke and throttles? I want his name.

The Dreamlifter requires a 9,199-foot runway for takeoff. Jabara Airport’s – upon which he landed – is 6,601 feet long. Problem.

Jabara doesn’t even have a control tower – something you might think this guy would’ve noticed. As TVNews[1] immediately asked, “Who was he talking to?” My first thought was, didn’t the air controllers at McConnell notice their arrival was sinking slowly in the north? Where they talking to him? And you gotta ask, does a six-thousand-foot commuter airport without a tower really look like a sprawling Air Force base with crossing 12,000-foot runways? Really?  Nothing different in the approach lights? The [single] runway lights? No control tower lights? Nothing looked different than it should? And wouldn’t McConnell have been visible from the air, just 12 miles south of Jabara[2]?

All this is mystifying because this guy was entrusted with one of only four of the type built – this shouldn’t have been just another pilot. I would assume the captain to be a veteran of large aircraft operations. And yet he set down his eight-hundred-thousand-pound machine at a community airport by mistake.

A line from Absence of Malice, when Wilfred Brimley asked a bumbling federal attorney, “Have you given any thought to what you would do when your public service is over?” comes to mind. Wonder what this guy is going to be doing next Thursday.

David Copperfield, David Blaine, Criss Angel … you know how you guys are always telling us how magic is “real?” OK … move this plane twelve miles south. We’ll wait.


[1] A frequent contributor to these pages and veteran pilot of both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

[2] Kansas has the topology of a pool table – you can see for 12 miles by standing on a chair.

Up from PaleoConservatism

clip_image002

PaleoConservatives have an idealistic view of minimalist government and the resultant individual liberty thus spawned. “If A then B,” the thinking goes. But we can see the real-world results of minimalist government in any of our inner cities. Liberty equates with freedom only coincidentally. In a suddenly and vastly less governed space, human behavior becomes very Hobbesian.

“Minimalist” and “anarchy” are not separated by a bright line – one sort of blends into the other – and in a rapidly dynamic system, the more brutish and better armed will emerge with operational control. It’s the transition that must be managed so as not to lose civil order and the rule of law. It is a principle of organizational pathology that a lessening of controls generally improves output – the “productivity” of the organism improves as constraints are removed. There is, however, a point beyond which the accelerating system is threatened by emergent behavior that can thrash the system apart – like removing a turbine blade from a spool in a jet engine. It will fly apart from the imbalance, and shell the entire engine. The trick is to stop removing constraints before the tipping-point is reached. What makes it a trick is that you must do it while the organism is running.

The system that drives the whole is the economy. The better the economy, the more government can do with its share. The more purchasing power is in the markets (it’s the secondary economy that sustains the primary economy – as disposable income is spent, vendors generate orders which stimulate suppliers, and so on). The unemployed-pool becomes an applicants’ market as upward pressure on wages increases). Investment is encouraged. Price and cost mechanisms are working. A stagnant or shrinking economy, of course, blunts or reverses these trends. The chief function of Congress, as I see it, is to craft its legislation so as to protect the health of the economy, and a chief function of the executive is to keep Congress’ eye on that ball.

Notice that none of this speaks to the specifics of policy – only to its effect on the economy.

PaleoConservatives would invariably wait too long to stop removing constraints – or remove too many at once – resulting in a Darwinian taste to daily life. That’s the problem with purists. They keep their gaze on the goal-state when it’s the transition that needs to be managed. For one thing, if you want to establish a new norm, you’re going to need popular support all along the way – it’s going to take more than one administration to construct it, and it will be maintained by others (than the architects). Each phase must be carefully crafted and explained to the people – not a sugar-coated half-truth, but what you are about to do and why. And listen to the public feedback. If the people don’t want it, or the opposition party openly resists it, it will never work. Critics will pick at it like scavengers on carrion. And importantly, each phase must actually do what you told the people it would do.

An example of their tendency for extremism is the partial government shutdown instigated by an insistence that ObamaCare be defunded in return for debt ceiling relaxation. It was a fool’s errand as the Senate would never even bring it up for a vote, and the president would certainly never sign such a deal. Later, they opted for a one-year delay in the individual mandate (a deal the Democrats now wish they had accepted). But it was too little, too late. It all started with Ted Cruz’s mini-filibuster, which turned out to be a “look-at-me” test balloon for a possible presidential run in 2016. It motivated his base (the enthusiastic wing of paleoconservatives – the Tea Party), got (mostly negative) national attention, and proved to be prescient. ObamaCare is, in principle architect Max Baucus’ words, “a train wreck.” It’s a case of taking a defensible position and turning it into a circus act. And this is the main source of tension between the Tea Party and conventional conservatives – their antics reflect poorly on the conservative movement by taking extreme positions and nominating extreme candidates. For example, they somehow found Sharron Angle, the only person in Nevada who couldn’t beat Harry Reid in 2010.

Purists, on both sides of the aisle, do not live in the real world. Theirs’ is an existence of tilting at windmills, and like the dog that chases cars, don’t know what to do when they succeed. The Tea Party, for example, needs to recognize that it’s a political force, not a political party – it demonstrably lacks the perspective to put reasonable candidates forward and advocate for workable policies. It’s not that what they stand for is bad – the Constitution, the rule of law, sane economic policy – but the way in which they put those ideas forth is flawed. An “instant gratitude” approach to problem-solving is unrealistic. You can’t rapidly, fundamentally change a complex system without unpredictable disruption – ask the Democrats. The fundamental course of the nation is a heart-and-minds sort of thing, not the product of an election-cycle.

The instinctual drives of a complex system – analogous to our survival, feeding and procreation – are to sustain the status quo, to grow, and to accumulate power (the desire to establish homeostasis). Left to its own devices, such an organization will resist any change, enlarge, and usurp surrounding power. One of the jobs of Congress, therefore, is to make sure these forces aren’t driving the debate, and if proposed legislation will collaterally reinforce these tendencies, that checks on coincident empowerment are in the legislative language of the proposed bill. One of the few zero-sum games in Washington is the relationship between government and the governed – a new power to government is a newly lost freedom of the people. That should be done explicitly and very carefully.

This is why the Constitution is established as the highest law of the land – to change how government is designed to work (the subject of the Constitution) should be done carefully and deliberately, just as the amending process assures. Case law can, and should, yield to the whims of colloquial and contemporary forces. Not so how government is allowed to function. It is designed to assure individual liberty, and any usurpation of that principle should be done explicitly – honestly tell the people what you want to do and why.

For example, the extreme right’s desire to abolish the Fed should take into account what this would do to world markets and the reputation of the United States abroad – and the value of the dollar. If it still seems a worthy goal, these considerations, and their counter to them, should be explained. Out loud and in the same encounter that the idea is offered. Purists take too much as a priori, as axiomatic, when most people don’t even consider the matters under discussion, let alone have axiomatic assumptions about them. The whole discussion is somewhat of a shock to most people, as noted, so the debate takes on an apocalyptic hue – listening to both sides’ hyperbole tends to frighten voters rather than inform them. Both sides exploit this tendency rather than concentrate on explanatory rhetoric. It’s the arrogance of power.

As to which side has the high ground, I say have patients – neither side is the superior actor. Should the GOP regain the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, I dare say, they will abuse their power just as the Democrats did from 2009 to 2011. These people are politicians first, GOP/Democrats second, and Americans third. They are professional hunters-and-gatherers of votes, ideological partisans and share our native tongue. And beyond being English-speakers, they share little with the people over which they lord. Extremists, even less.

Purists shouldn’t be excluded from the debate – indeed their input is healthy as they tend to keep the ongoing political tug-of-war focused on actual issues rather than sophomoric tit-for-tat. Their problem is operational – they demonstrate no aptitude for exercising operational control over complex systems. They are idea people, not executives. Entrepreneurs, not CEOs.

Both parties need to address their internal ideological struggles. The alternative is liable to be a fracturing of the current bipolar arrangement, and that would be disruptive rather than therapeutic. Our two-party system isn’t sacrosanct, but probably should be. The defining issue is basic and easily understood – the concentration of power, pro and con. A diffusion into multiple parties necessarily narrows the field of view, and therefore speaks to an incomplete range of issues. Once the bipolar organization is cast aside, the tendency to devolve into single-issue parties is almost irresistible, and that requires a coalition government rather than the current binary relationship. You think the noise out of Washington is shrill now, wait until you have a multitude of three-year-olds screaming for your attention, about things most of which most people don’t care. Fortunately, both parties realize that the very beginning of this, the creation of a third party, would almost fatally weaken whichever party spawned it. So both Republicans and Democrats resist the temptation to separate from the status quo, and would rather adjust to strong internal opposition. This is to our benefit.

PaleoConservatives need to realize that if they wish to govern, they need to learn how to do it. Their political philosophy need not be watered down, but knowledge of the outside world (and how it actually works) is required. A desirable change, the root of all legislative initiative, may not be eminently doable. Change may need to be incremental, or the people may need to be educated as to the benefits of making the change, as well as the costs. The status quo is the status quo because change is disruptive. Most people focus on “change” rather than “desirable.” From there the debate usually slides into partial- and non-truths issuing from both sides, and the issue is resolved emotionally rather than intellectually. If PaleoConservatives think they have the moral high ground (and all purists do), then they should be willing – nay eager – to engage the opposition in honest debate, recognizing legitimate concerns and articulating their remedy.

Don’t hold your breath.

Up from NeoLiberalism

clip_image002

We are living the operational weakness of modern American liberalism (neoliberalism) – it’s bored by the details of erecting the dream.

Neoliberals have a utopian view of neoliberalism realized, and that view is based upon a collection of social-, economic-, gender- and racial-justice principles taken to be axiomatic. In foreign policy, for example, neoliberals favor an arms-length relationship with foreign capitals, friend or foe. They are by nature Liberal Internationalists, eschewing the harshness of Realism. Domestically, neoliberals tend to be Euro-style Social Democrats, believing that the prime function of central government is to provide for the people. Neoliberals are, in other words, broad-brush visionaries – theoreticians on the macro-level. They favor large, sweeping programs that establish new norms.

It’s actually carrying out those visions that bore neoliberals.

A textbook example, if somewhat Gilbert & Sullivan in its execution, is the whole Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act saga. Neoliberals were flush with winning the White House and legislative majorities in both Houses of Congress. They had total control of the government of the United States of America. They could pass anything they wanted. And what they wanted was a grand gesture, of course, to usher-in the Age of NeoLiberalism – healthcare as a right.

From those four words on a page, had to be fashioned the next level of detail: “we’re going to put 30 million needy new patients into a shrinking doctor-pool, and give everyone improved care at lowered cost without increasing taxes or indebtedness.” The writing of the bill would delineate how to manipulate the existing national economy into compliance with those four words on a page. For this task, they hunkered down in political isolation (“We won [the election] and we’ll write the bill”) with the century-old liberal dream of universal healthcare. So much had been written about this, so many think tank studies, so many speeches, that the architecture of the proposal was well understood. They had the conceptual and political freedom to craft the bill in as pure as they wanted.

The process quickly broke-down into an orgasm of “2+2=Grapefruit” thinking, and colloquial political assaults and exemptions dominated the synthesis of the bill. They emerged with a 1,726-page tome that explained the bill in what they call “plain language,” as to distinguish it from the “legislative language” version (2,300+ pages) which is what appears in the US Code. The “simple” version ran over 1,700 pages! No one bothered to read the thing (with the possible exception of Paul Ryan, who took exception with it) – “You’ll have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.”

It’s a kaleidoscopic salad of double-accounting (e.g., using $500 billion of Social Security money twice), self-defeating trajectories (e.g., low penalties on the prime players for not participating), and does nothing to realize the promise (e.g., “putting 30 million needy new patients into a shrinking doctor-pool, and giving everyone improved care at lowered cost without increasing taxes or indebtedness”).

They had a chance to craft from the heights of a hundred years of theory – the best and the brightest of neoliberalism – and they chose to go small-ball. They blew it.

The very complexity of the thing precludes it from working. Nobody can write that much code – computer or legal – into a workable whole because of the myriad of unintended consequences unwinding simultaneously. Frank Lloyd Wright would admonish his students that “a thing will do precisely what its design permits it to do, regardless of what the designer had in mind.” You can’t wish a flawed premise workable. And “30 million needy new patients into a shrinking doctor-pool, giving everyone improved care at lowered cost without increasing taxes or indebtedness” is a flawed premise.

The economic model is inter-demographical wealth transfer – the young and healthy pay for the old, the infirm, and the uninsurable. And then they stipulate that offspring can remain on their parents’ policy until 26 years of age. These are the prime financiers of the program, and they are exempted! The rest of the young and healthy are to choose between $400 to $500 a month premiums with $6,000 deductables, or an annual fine ranging from $95 or 1% of income (the first year) to $325 or 2% of income (the second year) to $695 or 2.5% of income (thereafter). Only in the third year does the penalty exceed one month’s premium, and those premiums are needed from year-one for the business model to work. The combination of these two features almost assures that the economics are going to be upside down from day-one.

Doctors and hospitals are refusing to participate (they lose money), and doctors are retiring early (seeing rough seas ahead). There aren’t enough residency slots in the country to replace the exiting doctors in near enough time to counterbalance the trend, and even if there were, you are replacing seasoned skills with raw, new ones. Quality of care would necessarily diminish. When demand badly outstrips supply, the economy spawns black markets and rationing. The rich will be able to go offshore for quality care and everyone else will get their care rationed.

The natural tendency of ObamaCare is to fly apart from contradictions in the premise.

While all of this was going on, we experienced a politically corrupt IRS, serial Justice Department failings, a complete collapse of State Department’s responsibilities to its own, and two election cycles. The unseemly way in which the bill was passed – without a single Republican vote, and over the omnipresent polled objections of a majority of the American people – cost Democrats their legislative majorities in both Houses. They retained a simple majority in the Senate, and retained the White House in the second election cycle.

Then came the rollout. A website with an embedded Data Hub – a “server” of information between customer and federal agencies, for the verification of customer-supplied information, and access to the policies for which they qualify. They had three years to design the thing, and let contracts totaling more than $400 million dollars (on a cost-plus basis). It was, and is, a disaster. The picture that’s emerging is that virtually all the people actually working on it knew it wasn’t ready, and virtually all the political types were committed to going live on October 1st. The political types won the day, and the coders were proven right. Forty-five days later, we are up to being able to handle 11,000 visitors a day (Drudge Report fields over two million unique visitors daily), and three twentysomethings in San Francisco took a week and developed an enrollment screen that works[1]. It does so by bypassing all the “exchanges,” state and federal, asking you only to fill-in your zip code, age, number of people covered and salary (if you want to see if you qualify for subsidies), and listing the policies for which you qualify. If you see one you like, click on it, and the screen directs you to the insurer offering that plan. It doesn’t care about your name, address or Social Security number, etc (only the insurer needs personal data). Simplicity itself.

The general contractors, and their sub-contractors (and their suppliers), produced a hodge-podge of code that doesn’t work, has copyright problems, wasn’t end-to-end tested (the consumers were alpha-testers), exhibits data-security as an afterthought (the backup transaction file isn’t even encrypted), and was running on too few servers. It would be amateurish if not for the hundreds of millions of dollars we paid them to produce it. The only conclusion is that there was no oversight. I have dealt with government contracts in the defense sector, and they always contain benchmarks – “phases” of the contract that must be demonstrated to be attained by the prime contractor before proceeding (and collecting another increment of funding). It doesn’t sound as though the programmers for the enrollment screen had such provisions in their contracts. They showed up on October 1 with a broken, non-functional product. And “no one knew it.” If true, that’s a condemnation of malfeasance by CMS, and by extension, HHS. If not true (if somebody knew), that’s a condemnation of leadership character or ability.

Coincident to the rollout was the ever-growing number of people losing their existing policies, obviating President Obama’s principle selling point during the 2012 campaign – “If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance. Period. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.” It can now be documented that he made that promise some 36 times between 2009 (when the bill was being written) and 2012 (after he signed the bill). The perception is that he lied. Now he says “What we said was ‘if you like your insurance, and it hasn’t changed since the bill was signed into law, you can keep it.’ ” He’s trying to reconcile what he said with what the law says, and they are irreconcilable. Gaffe or lie, it’s just more incompetence being heaped on the Act.

Modern American Liberalism had its best shot at demonstrating their ability to live up to their rhetoric, and they didn’t. We didn’t get a gleaming edifice of social justice, we got a garish finger-painting of special interests, cronyism, magical thinking and surreal economics. People losing their insurance outnumber those getting new policies by a hundred to one. Fewer than 50,000 have enrolled as of this writing, and most of those are takers – the infirm and uninsurable who will consume services far in excess of their premiums. And it’s going to get worse. Next year, when the business mandate kicks-in, millions more will dumped onto the exchanges (from policies they liked, and severed from doctors they liked). It was a lost opportunity that all liberals should mourn. Politically, liberals have lost a high-stakes poker hand – their signature achievement, totally attributable to Democrats, is failing before their eyes.

And it is this that is the lesson here: neoliberals are too ethereal to efficiently run complex processes. They seem to lack the discipline to keep a process running within sustainable bounds. Neoliberals aren’t good with bounds. When they get something enacted, they’re off to the next big dream. The pedestrian task of making the last idea work is alien to them.

They have, over the last five years, shown their utter contempt for day-to-day management. All of the crises during this period are attributable to a lack of, or wholly incompetent, oversight – the day-to-day management of process. Neoliberals aren’t good at it, they don’t like it, and all failures are somebody else’s fault. There is no visible institutional inquisitiveness – they don’t appear to want to be good at it, don’t want to like it, and failure is irrelevant.

This is not a partisan attack, rather an observation of operational ineptitude. Regardless of their political agenda, they are proving incapable of governing, and that is a dangerous attribute from those who are supposed to be governing.


[1] See John Blackstone, SF programmers build alternative to HealthCare.gov, CBS News, November 8 2013, 1926EST.

In the Jury Room

clip_image002[4]

Might as well address the “Christy Postulation,” as the political class seems absolutely breathless with it.

Only I look at it a little differently. I don’t start with “is he electable?”, rather “should he be elected?” What kind of president would he likely be? Is he up to the responsibility of the authority he will inherit? Things like that.

I’ve seen enough of Governor Christy to know the personality-type he approximates. They are de rigueur in the military. He is deliberative and decisive. When he issues an instruction, he expects you to carry it out – and will hold you responsible if it’s not (or if it is, but poorly). Whereas David Petraeus was a scholar-general, Ross Perot was a warrior and Dwight Eisenhower a politician. We need to know what type Chris Christy is.

Ross Perot (a veteran of special operations) would have been a terrible president. Not only does he not suffer fools easily (a good trait), his lexicon doesn’t define the concept of “No.” He’s intransigent when resisted (not debated, but resisted). He’s more apt to seek revenge than understanding. Eisenhower knew how to delegate and knew how to negotiate. After all, he had to juggle Churchill, de Gaulle and Roosevelt into consensus on enormous issues, upon which balanced the fate of nations.

Governor Christy seems to get things done in New Jersey – a heavily Blue state – so he’s got to be working both sides of the aisle. His famous/infamous congeniality with President Obama post-Sandy demonstrates the tendency. I take is as axiomatic that any president must be on good terms with both parties in Congress in order to be effective. Rick Perry and Ron Paul appear more rigid – more ideological – than Christy in this regard.

Having said that, Governor Christy has been dealing with New Jersey legislators. Washington is the Big Leagues. These people are nasty and ideological – they don’t care about solving problems, they are addressing everything in terms of advancing their party and/or hurting the other one. Both sides of the aisle. In order to heal Washington in one term – and that’s all the time he will have – he’ll need to lead the effort at reconciliation between the parties. That means he will be the head negotiator on large issues. He will be the face of the American people (not of the Republican Party) to Congress. He will elocute for pragmatism, efficacy and relevance in public policy, both to the public and to Congress.

He will also be titular head of the Republican Party during his tenure – he needs to use that influence to moderate the voice of the party – not the disparate views within the party, but the public voice with which it speaks. It requires legislators to possess discipline in their public discourse, even as healthy debate occurs in the caucus. He is, in other words, going to spend an extraordinary amount of time, not just on domestic affairs, but inside the process of legislating them.

He will need an active partner as vice president who has expertise in foreign affairs and geopolitics. His cabinet secretaries are going to have to be strong personalities – not abrasive, but able to imprint their will on their agency, not the other way around. And I don’t know if he knows enough of these leaders to tap for the available slots. There are only so many Henry Kissingers, Robert Kennedys and Henry Stimsons to go around.

Can he be elected? Of course – Dick Nixon and Jimmy Carter proved that anybody can get elected – the real question is, “can he be nominated?”

He would have to campaign on the thesis of healing Washington as his manifest. Yes, he will work to further Republican ideas, but his primary, self-imposed mission will be to get Congress working as a rational deliberative body again. He needs to convince all stripes of Republicans that if Washington can get back to debating legitimate issues (rather than using issues to mask partisan quibbling), then conservative ideas will get a fair hearing. That’s all a conservative should want. By “all stripes” I mean to include the deep-pockets and movers-and-shakers who cavort in the shadows. We are all better off if Washington is more centripetal than centrifugal – actually trying to govern rather than endlessly demonizing the opposition. The personal enmity must end. Members of the opposite party are not your enemies, they are your interlocutors. That message must be the taste of the campaign – what people think of when they think of the candidate.

Having said that, any Republican candidate needs to keep pressure on ObamaCare, not for political gain, but because its design won’t let it work, and because of that, it’s bad law – it won’t do what we were told it would do. The campaigns, both primary and general, must be directed at the people who aren’t in the room. Too many candidates are selling to the room. The next candidate needs to sell to the voters. “This is who I am, and this is what I can do.” Sell his ideas, don’t base the campaign on opposing whatever the opposition candidate proposes. Keep the candidate’s ideas in the forefront, not the opponent’s.

Will such a campaign work? Don’t know – I just know it’s what the country needs right now; not a promise to whipsaw the people toward the other political pole (or a promise to extend the current aimless, ineffective national trajectory).

Washington doesn’t work and the people know it. What the people seem to forget is that they can change that – stop allowing the incumbents to recidivate. Before you go into a voting booth, look around … and remember that incumbents have done this.

Broken Presidency

clip_image001

“If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance[1],” is what he said; “If I like your insurance, you can keep your insurance,” is apparently what he meant.

This is such an obvious misstatement that none less than the Washington Post gave the statement four Pinocchios, its maximum “false” rating for political statements[2]. Is the statement wrong? Obviously. Did he know it at the time? Well, his administration did – it’s in the language of the law he signed (he apparently didn’t read it either), and the IRS issued a statement in 2010 noting that 40% to 60% of the ~14 million people who buy their own insurance would lose their policy because of the Affordable Care Act. He made the statement so many times over a four year period that it couldn’t have been one of his famous ad libs – the statement was, in other words, repeatedly vetted by staff. The only reasonable conclusion is that he lied.

The most honest comment from within the administration is that, “well, you know, it was during the campaign” – people lie (not just exaggerate) while running for office is an axiom within this outfit. This apparently holds during the next four years (accounting for the same lie being repeated through 2012). Now, in the face of the facts, he’s qualifying the statement to mean that if your policy matched up to the administration’s yardstick, you could keep it. This Harvard Law-trained counselor – words is what they do – now claims that he was misunderstood. Yet those ten words are clear enough that had he uttered them under oath in open court, he would now be a convicted felon.

He was intentionally misleading the American people.

On September 16 2012, five days after the attack, Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, repeated on national television the “a video made them do it” fairytale started by President Obama and SecState Hillary Clinton immediately after the lethal attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi. Did they know better? CIA did, DoD did (which means that this information was prominently included in the Presidential Daily Briefing, or PDB). Why was Susan Rice chosen to be the face of the administration on this issue? She was the highest-ranking official who was tabula rosa on Benghazi. CBS’s Bob Schieffer asked the pertinent question, “Why am I talking to you?” General Hamm (AFRICOM Commander) was in town, David Petraeus (CIA Director) was in town, Leon Panetta (SecDef) was in town, Hillary Clinton (SecState) was in town, the president was in town – none of them wanted to shop the video story around to the Sunday talks (“I’d rather chew tin foil” was Clinton’s response to the request). Knowing nothing about the incident, Ms Rice would repeat whatever was handed her, and “a video made them do it” was what was handed her. The administration lied.

They intentionally misled the American people.

The silliness started with his very first official action as POTUS – the Executive Order that ordered Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay [Cuba] closed within a year. He signed it on Day 1 of his administration, January 20 2009. It’s still operating. Did he know it was impossible to responsibly close this facility? Probably not, it couldn’t have been studied closely in the two hours between entering the Oval Office and the signing of the EO. He had a plan (to try the terrorists in New York City), but that proved as impossible as the order itself. Did he know that? Probably not, as he has no experience in managing complex operations – and arranging the logistics and security required to bring these people into the country – and afford them American legal niceties – would have involved Byzantine complexities.

Then there was Fast & Furious, an operation that had been previously tried and abandoned for the very reasons that sank it – unaccountability – they lost track of the weapons they sent to Mexican drug cartels. The president said he didn’t know anything about it. How ‘bout you, Mr Attorney General? Never heard of it (even though he was repeatedly memo’ed about it). Nobody knew. That’s not very comforting.

If the trillion-dollar stimulus package was enacted, unemployment wouldn’t expand beyond 8% we were told. It almost immediately ballooned to 9% and continued to climb for a couple of years. Keep in mind, all of this was done after the recession had already ended. All this was supposed to help cut the deficit by half by the end of Mr Obama’s first term. Annual trillion-dollar deficits ensued. All of the administration’s economic policies proved to be “inoperative.”

When the IRS was shown be politically corrupt, the president said he didn’t know anything about it. How ‘bout you Secretary Geithner? Nope. No idea. “Ah ha! It was a couple of rogue agents in the Cincinnati office, our president assured us. Well, that proved to be false – the trail went all the way to Washington.

There are countless other examples, but the impression forming is one of utter incompetence, at best, and utter disingenuousness, at worst. I see a combination of the two, lying borne out of incompetence. Barack Obama’s legendary inexperience has taken a toll – in both surrounding himself with sycophants and the inability of that think-alike team to deal with rapidly developing crises. Repeated embarrassment leads to just lying to get past the moment.

But it never works in the presence of a robust press, and the whoppers told about ObamaCare in order to sell a power-grab to the American people have finally awakened the press. If this was the first serious misstep for the administration, it would be manageable, but unfortunately, Barack Obama has presided over five years of continued economic sluggishness that have not diverted public attention. If unemployment were down to 5%, the GDP growing at 4% and the budget nearly balanced, we might have forgotten about the Benghazi cover-up, the monitoring of AP reporters, the politicization of the IRS and its vast overpayment in income tax credits, the NSA disclosures and the Syrian mess. Or if Obama had spoken untruthfully only once, made false promises just twice, or offered empty boasts merely three times, he might have been forgiven. An outcry now about Obama’s dishonesty and the way he has used lying to take away from an unwilling public a right they would never have knowingly surrendered, but it is too late. “It’s the law,” we are told, much in the spirit of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “we won, and we’re going to write [the bill].” It’s the arrogance on top of the silliness, incompetence and lying that’s beginning to wear very thin in flyover country – not to mention growing within the Beltway.


[1] President Obama, speech to the American Medical Association, June 15 2009 (as the law was being written by all Democrats); President Obama, remarks in Portland, April 1 2010 (after the healthcare law was signed into law); and numerous times between and since.

[2] Glenn Kessler, Obama’s Pledge that “No one will take away” your health plan, in Washington Post, October 30 3013, 0600EDT.