March 02, 2009
Bob Samuelson's Elitist Economics
According to Robert Samuelson in this morning's Washington Post, the heart of the housing crisis isn't foreclosures, but the lack of demand, driven by the self-fulfilling expectation that prices have further to fall. But "the Obama administration," he writes, "essentially ignores this problem, though it can be addressed." Except that Obama is addressing it, with an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers--a fact that Samuelson concedes later in the piece, but then dismisses.
March 01, 2009
So why did it take so long for Obama to decide on Kathleen Sebelius for HHS Secretary? Several factors were at play, including political considerations about taking her out of the running for the Kansas Senate seat up for election in 2010. But it's even more clear today that, as several media outlets have been reporting, the administration was weighing the pros and cons of a fight over abortion rights--and then preparing to fight it. Admittedly, Obama was never going to appoint an HHS Secretary opposed to abortion rights.
Budget Director Peter Orszag's appearance on ABC's "This Week" was full of revealing statements about the administration's plans and priorities. But this exchange, in particular, caught my eye: GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Some key Democrats on Capitol Hill are saying, if you want to do all of these big projects this year, you're going to have to follow what is called the reconciliation process, put health care, put energy inside the reconciliation process so that the effect of it is you only need 51 votes, not 60.
The Freeman Blunder
I wrote an op-ed in Saturday's Washington Post making the case against Chas Freeman, who is the new director of the National Intelligence Council. Update: Matthew Yglesias, in a measured response, points out that having an extreme realist in the administration won't be a disaster because Obama listens to lots of dissenting voices. I agree that this is reassuring and likely to mitigate the damage. On the other hand, Freeman is not just one foreign policy advisor -- his position is a bottleneck that filters the intelligence Obama will see.
February 28, 2009
In Defense Of Obamanomics
Christina Romer, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, gave a pretty good defense yesterday of the administration’s stimulus plan. Romer, speaking at the University of Chicago, responded to some conservative criticisms of the plan. One of these concerns how to calculate the “multiplier”--the degree to which a dollar in spending or tax increases will lead to more than a dollar in output and effective demand. The administration’s estimate that its plan would create about 3.5 million jobs was based on using a multiplier of 1.6 for spending and 1.0 for tax cuts.
February 27, 2009
Let Us See the Angel Flights
U.S. Marines, not noted for their sentimentality, call the flights that carry their dead comrades home "angel flights." I witnessed my first of these at a remote airfield in Anbar province, Iraq, in 2005. For about an hour, all activity on the tarmac ceased, including my own unloading of a 727 in my job as a commercial shipper. A furious Marine officer ran to confront me and demand that my pilot cut the 727's engines. The pilot protested--his plane was nearly unloaded, and he wanted to fly to a safer airport as soon as possible--but the Marine permitted no debate.
What Realignments Look Like
I don't know about you, but for me these are disorienting times. I had just turned eleven years old when Ronald Reagan first won the presidency. That means that pretty much from the beginning, my political consciousness has been shaped by the Republican critique of liberalism.
Durban Ii Was A Disaster Avoided
The Obama administration sent a delegation to Geneva to see if the United States could participate in any way in Durban II. Well, it wasted some air fare and hotel charges. But it found that there was no way that American could or should join in what was clearly to turn into a hate fest: against western democracies, liberals, Israel, Jews and--surprise--the United States itself. The decision to stay away from the April gathering was made last night and has just begun to filter through Washington. I think the metaphor used to me was that I was being looped in.
When Dogs Bark Softly
The Obama administration skipped over a lot of the details on Thursday when it unveiled its principles for health care reform. But among the few specifics was a call to reduce payments the goverment makes to private insurers who operate as part of the Medicare Advantage program. The rationale for making these payments is that virtually every unbiased authority who has looked at the payments has concluded they are too high--that what the plans offer do not justify the extra money they're getting. As always, one person's waste is another person's profit.
It's Sebelius For Hhs
Administration officials say that President Obama will nominate Kathleen Sebelius to be his Secretary of Health and Human Services. During her years as insurance commissioner and then the governor of Kansas, Sebelius proved herself an effective manager of govenrment agencies, an effective watchdog over the insurance industry, and a reliable defender of safety net programs for the poor. She is popular with liberal health care advocates, who have been touting her candidacy ever since Tom Daschle, Obama's original appointee, withdrew.