No, we don’t live in ‘1984’

Sorry, We’re Not Living in Orwell’s ‘1984’:

The information leaked by Snowden should cause alarm as should the loose legal oversight governing the NSA’s massive data-mining campaign. Nevertheless, the invocations of Orwell are not unlike Bush-era claims of an emerging strain of American fascism, or the Tea Party’s frequent panting that Obama is indistinguishable from Fidel Castro. A few points of similarity, like the monitoring of huge amounts of data without sufficient congressional or legal oversight, do not establish the literary analogy. The rule here is simple: If you are invoking 1984 in a country in which 1984 is available for purchase and can be freely deployed as a rhetorical device, you likely don’t understand the point of 1984.

[…]

In his 1941 essay “England Your England,” Orwell took pains to highlight this distinction. While identifying the United Kingdom’s numerous “barbarities and anachronisms”—and even declaring the country not a “genuine democracy”—he argued that these defects meant that ideas like “democracy is ‘just the same as’ or ‘just as bad as’ totalitarianism” were colossally wrong, employing fallacious “arguments [that] boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread.”

Yes, the NSA is collecting a lot of data about our communications. That doesn’t mean we live under a totalitarian state. To claim that we do is overly reactionary and keeps us from looking at realistic reforms.

Why the ITC’s ban on Apple importing the iPhone and iPad doesn’t matter

U.S. agency: Apple infringes Samsung patent on older iPhones, iPads:

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled on Tuesday that the Silicon Valley giant had infringed on a patent owned by Samsung that involves the ability of devices to transmit multiple services simultaneously and correctly through 3G wireless technology.

The independent federal agency slapped a ban on the import or sale of the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G distributed by AT&T, the biggest seller of Apple devices in the United States when Samsung filed its complaint in 2011. The products are assembled in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has 60 days to review the ruling. If he does not veto the order, it will go into effect.

60 days from now, we’ll probably be about two months away from the release of the next iPhone. Assuming that there isn’t a lower-cost iPhone introduced as well, we can assume that in September or October:

  • The iPhone 5S will become the new $199 flagship model.
  • The iPhone 5 will move down to the mid-range $99 position.
  • The iPhone 4S will become the new “free on contract” model.

So the iPhone 4 is either not going to be a factor or will be $300 or so off-contract. Meanwhile, the iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G, and iPad 2 3G models are already irrelevant. Even without Apple appealing the decision (which it will on principle alone), this ruling will cause *literally* zero damage to Apple’s bottom line. But hey, at least it makes a good headline for news sites:

Screen Shot 2013 06 05 at 4 31 44 PM

No one supports closing the tax loopholes the GOP is after

boehner budget

The White House wants to include tax reform in the entitlement discussion, but the Republicans will only talk if that means closing loopholes and lowering rates:

Privately, House Republican leaders think they’ve checked two of the three boxes of a grand bargain: first, the Jan. 1 tax increases; second, the spending cuts via the sequester. Now, in their view, all that’s left is entitlement reform. Top Republicans are also skeptical Obama would agree to the kind of tax reform that House Republicans have drawn a firm line on: The revenue to be generated by closing loopholes would go to lowering rates.

Too bad this strategy is unpopular with just about everybody:

But any tax expenditures, or loopholes, worth undoing already enjoy huge support from the electorate.

Will anyone really eliminate the 401(k) exemption, which allows us to park tax-free dollars in a retirement fund? Or how about that mortgage-interest tax deduction, which allows us to deduct interest from our taxes, or the capital gains exclusion, which allows us to keep any profit we make on our homes? What about the deduction for state and local taxes? How about charitable deductions?

Obama’s new Republican outreach strategy

obama republican outreach

Greg Sargent, “The GOP’s easy route to victory in fiscal fight”:

Even if the GOP leadership is entirely entrenched in its no-revenues stance, sooner or later, the basic reality of the situation will become impossible for other GOP lawmakers to fail to acknowledge. These lawmakers have ducked this reality by taking refuge behind a party-wide distortion (Obama only wants more tax hikes!) of the actual compromise Obama is offering.

But the White House’s new outreach strategy is making that position harder to sustain. Via Steve Benen, consider this remarkable tidbit from First Read’s write-up of yesterday’s Obama dinner with Senators: “one senator told us that he learned, for the first time, the actual cuts that the president has put on the table. Leadership hadn’t shared that list with them before.”

There will be a lot more of this, as more GOP officials acknowledge what it is they’re actually being offered. This dynamic could be hastened if the pain of the sequester starts to be felt in individual districts and states, thanks to defense and other cuts, focusing the minds of the lawmakers who represent them. And there actually is a (difficult) route to a place where enough non-leadership Republicans agree to a deal.

GOP leadership: “We’re not going to work with you.”

White House: “No problem, we’ll just talk to vulnerable Republicans behind your back from now on.”

What makes a President successful? Controlling Congress

The Powerless Presidency : The New Yorker:

The boring fact of our system is that congressional math is the best predictor of a President’s success. This idea is not nearly as sexy as the notion that great Presidents are great because they twist arms in backrooms and inspire the American people to rise up and force Congress to bend to their will. But even the Presidents who are remembered for their relentless congressional lobbying and socializing were more often than not successful for more mundane reasons—like arithmetic.

Lyndon Johnson’s celebrated legislative achievements were in reality only a function of the congressional election results—not his powers of persuasion. In 1965 and 1966, after the enormous Democratic gains of the 1964 election, Johnson was a towering figure who passed sweeping legislation. In 1967 and 1968, after he lost forty-eight Democrats in the House, he was a midget.

The President does not have some magical power that allows him to change the mind of his political opponents. President Obama’s record of compromising with Republicans during the first term shows that he understands this. Pundits who claim that Obama has somehow failed to show “leadership” by being unwilling to work with the other side are simply ignoring reality:

And Obama most certainly did try to keep that promise — to the deep annoyance of his base. To entice Republicans to a deal, the president included tax cuts in the stimulus package; he dropped the public option during negotiations of the health-care bill, and he kept all of the Bush tax cuts in 2010. This penchant for compromise continues to drive Democrats and liberals nuts and makes them wary. Former labor secretary Robert B. Reich told the New York Times last month that Obama is “still the same President Obama who wants a deal above all else and seems willing to compromise on even the most basic principle.”

Pundits like to make the point that maybe Republicans would go along with Obama on fiscal matters if he were willing to follow a “balanced” approach – improving the state of the budget through both revenue increases and spending cuts. The only problem with their argument is that Obama has been pushing for that exact approach: 

The claim that Obama campaigned “on poll-tested tax hikes alone” is just flatly false. In February of 2012, Obama submitted a budget that contained hundreds of billions in spending cuts — including cuts to Medicare. The nonpartisan Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget analyzed Congressional Budget Office numbers and concluded that Obama’s budget proposed nearly $480 billion in spending cuts — several hundred billion of which were to Medicare.

In the link above, Greg Sargent goes on to give further examples to the present day of Obama advocating for both more tax revenue and spending cuts over time. What we see is that the opposition has time and time again rejected Obama’s offers of compromise.

If the President can’t force the other side to work with him, what can be done? As Obama said during his speech on March 1st, the day the sequester went in place, the American people can tell Congress that they don’t approve of constant obstructionism:

The question is can the American people help persuade their members of Congress to do the right thing, and I have a lot of confidence that over time, if the American people express their displeasure about how something is working, that eventually Congress responds. Sometimes there is a little gap between what the American people think and what Congress thinks. But eventually Congress catches up.

The fall of Republican realism

Aaron David Miller:

And one of the reasons is that Barack Obama has cornered their market and stolen pages from the GOP playbook. Obama has become a George H.W. Bush realist when it comes to avoiding ideological overreach, and a much more effective and less ideological version of Bush the younger too: willfully surging in Afghanistan, killing Osama, and whacking 10 times the number of bad guys with drones than his predecessor. He may well be the American president who just doesn’t talk about containing Iran’s nuclear program, but uses military power against it. One reason the Chuck Hagel fight has been so bitter is that former senator is the poster child for a Republican realism that some in the party detest. In many ways, that nomination fight says more about the state of the Republican Party than it does about the Hagel candidacy itself.

How much longer can the Republican party go on actively opposing its own members who try to base their policies on reality and reason? How far must a party fall before the public stops giving them the time of day?

Obama’s impact on foreign policy

obama foreign policy putin

Marco Rubio Is Not Ready for Prime Time – By Aaron David Miller | Foreign Policy:

And even though the foreign policy section of the SOTU might have been set to Engelbert Humperdink’s country classic “Make the World Go Away,” on balance Obama’s record — no spectacular successes (save killing Osama bin Laden) and no spectacular failures — has been pretty much on target. No attacks on the continental United States, al Qaeda central dismantled, a better image in parts of the cruel and unfriendly world? I’ll take it.

Despite his rhetorical aspirations, Obama wasn’t going to be a transformative figure in foreign policy as much as a transitional one. The world’s just too complex for grand bargains. And that transition was designed to move the country from a hyperactive foreign policy driven by ideology to an approach grounded more in the way the world actually is, including the reality of America’s own financial and economic travails. It was a downsized foreign policy in an age of austerity, fatigue, and impatience with grand plans for saving the world.

Has Obama’s foreign policy been perfect? Clearly not. With that said, America is safer now than it was under Bush and has a better image around the world.

The United States simply can’t be an global police force – the world doesn’t want us to be and we couldn’t afford it if they did.

Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?

Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence? – NYTimes.com:

Exhibit A is the performance of the Romney brain trust, which has suffered an unusually vigorous postelection thrashing for badly losing a winnable race. Criticism begins with the candidate — a self-described data-driven chief executive who put his trust in alarmingly off-the-mark internal polls and apparently did not think to ask his subordinates why, for example, they were operating on the assumption that fewer black voters would turn out for Obama than in 2008. Romney’s senior strategist, Stuart Stevens, may well be remembered by historians, as one House Republican senior staff member put it to me, “as the last guy to run a presidential campaign who never tweeted.” (“It was raised many times with him,” a senior Romney official told me, “and he was very categorical about not wanting to and not thinking it was worth it.”)

The disconnect between Romney and the average voter wasn’t the only reason he lost last November. It turns out his campaign (along with the rest of the GOP) was simply way behind Obama and the Democrats when it came to using technology and social media.

CBO: Government austerity has hurt the economy

gap between gdp and potential gdp

Austerity Has Harmed The Economy According To CBO | TPMDC:

In other words, intentional efforts to reduce annual deficits and stabilize the debt are working. But if you retrain your gaze from the government’s balance sheet to the real economy, you’ll see the impact of that austerity is fewer people working and slower growth. According to CBO, the recovery won’t really pick up steam until next year, and the economy won’t have recovered until the end of 2017, when it will reach its output potential, and unemployment will fall to 5.5 percent.

Austerity does not work. Austerity hurts the economy. Duh.

At least Obama gets to say he accomplished a campaign promise:

The report does contain a thin silver lining for President Obama, who pledged in his 2008 campaign to halve the deficit in his first term.

“At an estimated $845 billion, the 2013 imbalance would be the first deficit in five years below $1 trillion; and at 5.3 percent of GDP, it would be only about half as large, relative to the size of the economy, as the deficit was in 2009,” if current laws don’t change, according to CBO.

This isn’t a real victory. A real win for Obama would have been getting unemployment down below 7% during his first term and fixing the long-term deficit via adjustments to Social Security and Medicare.

Eliana Johnson of the National Review defends Nazism in a jab at President Obama

eliana johnson national review editor

President Obama Commemorates the ‘Senseless’ Holocaust – By Eliana Johnson – The Corner – National Review Online:

President Obama issued a statement yesterday to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He noted that survivors who bore witness to ‘the horrors of the cattle cars, ghettos, and concentration camps have witnessed humanity at its very worst and know too well the pain of losing loved ones to senseless violence.’ (We noted below how some in Europe chose to mark the day, which takes place each year on January 27, the day Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz.)

The idea that all violence is ‘senseless’ violence is one that has taken deep root on the left; it’s also, unfortunately, one that poses a major impediment to understanding the world.

Nazism may have been an ideology to which the United States was — and to which the president is — implacably opposed, but it is hardly ‘senseless.’ By the early 1930s, the Nazi party had hundreds of thousands of devoted members and repeatedly attracted a third of the votes in German elections; its political leaders campaigned on a platform comprising 25 non-senseless points, including the ‘unification of all Germans,’ a demand for ‘land and territory for the sustenance of our people,’ and an assertion that ‘no Jew can be a member of the race.’ Suffice it to say, many sensible Germans were persuaded.

What the what. Eliana is arguing that because some aspects of Nazism make sense, like “let’s make sure everyone is employed” and let’s be better than the rest of Europe,” that it wasn’t senseless to murder 6,000,000 Jews. To criticize the President for his statement commemorating the Holocaust. This confuses me,

because 

thought

Obama

was

Hitler.