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Charming but naïve: Obama shouldn’t run for reelection 2010-Nov-14 at 01:23 PST

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From One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012, by Douglas E. Schoen and Patrick H. Caddell, 14-Nov-2010:

This is a critical moment for the country. From the faltering economy to the burdensome deficit to our foreign policy struggles, America is suffering a widespread sense of crisis and anxiety about the future. Under these circumstances, Obama has the opportunity to seize the high ground and the imagination of the nation once again, and to galvanize the public for the hard decisions that must be made. The only way he can do so, though, is by putting national interests ahead of personal or political ones.

To that end, we believe Obama should announce immediately that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2012.

If the president goes down the reelection road, we are guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it. But by explicitly saying he will be a one-term president, Obama can deliver on his central campaign promise of 2008, draining the poison from our culture of polarization and ending the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity and common purpose.

If Obama announced this week that he wouldn’t seek reelection, it would Bring Hope Back™ for a little while.  That’s why this idea is so charming… for a little while, it’ll be right.  The country would seem united again, there would be excitement that we could work through our problems quickly, and that we could come together around some simple ideas that most of us agree on.  Unfortunately, after some months, it would fade, and impatience would once again take over.

Soon the Democrats in Congress would stop listening to President Obama, because their neck is on the line in the next election, but not his.

And the Republicans… if you think that what you’ve seen so far is what an uncooperative Republican Caucus looks like, you haven’t seen them when he’s not even an opponent anymore.  Don’t forget, Republicans believe that the policies they’re advocating are better for the country, and a whole bunch of them just got elected, so they think they’re on the right track.  Anything he proposes that doesn’t match the story they’re selling gets stonewalled immediately, and there won’t be enough Democrats who want to fight about it to get things done.

So, really, it would lead to an even worse version of Congress than we’re seeing right now.  But what we’d really lose is the potential to have our first Integral President serve for another four years.

If he runs and loses, I’ll be disappointed and I’ll be among those who reevaluates the pace of development I think I’m seeing.  But if Obama doesn’t run at all… I’ll wonder what could have been, and where the country could have gone if someone with a clearly Integral perspective were running things just as the Integral movement heated up around the world.  I’ll wonder if we’re missing out on a chance to ride out this current storm and end up in some smoother sailing by the end of his second term, thanks to a segment of the public undergoing rapid transformation, as they take on broader perspectives.

So, I’m sorry, I must disagree with this sweet and well-intentioned idea we find written up in the Opinion section of the Washington Post.  Charming idea, but it won’t lead to the world that they think it will.

This doesn’t make a pessimist, by the way, just a realist.  I trust you already know how optimistic I am about where we’re going, because I am.

And don’t despair: the Republicans don’t actually have a credible candidate right now who can beat him in a general election, and we’re two years out.  I know that’s a lot of time, but in the world of United States National Politics, that’s less time than it might seem.  I really don’t think President Obama has much to worry about in 2012.

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Rahm Emanuel leaves the White House 2010-Oct-02 at 08:08 PST

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This has been an interesting time in Washington the last couple of years.  We had an incredible combination at the helm… perhaps the smartest man in our history as President, and the best Washington political operator in a generation, with experience at both ends of Pennsylvania Ave., as the Chief of Staff.  I believe we’ll look back on these first two years of the Obama Administration in awe of how much was accomplished in the face of the most polarized Congress we’ve seen in decades.

I remember two days after the 2008 election, when President-elect Obama made his first staffing announcement, and it was to announce that Rahm Emanuel had agreed to leave Congress, and what surely would have been a future as the Speaker of the House, to become White House Chief of Staff.  I remember thinking… you know, I was a big fan of Obama already, but now I’m really a fan.  Wow… Obama and Emanuel together, that’s a combination that works.

And it has.  We’ve seen more significant legislation passed by a supposedly unpopular President in the last two years than anyone ever could have expected, and this during the worst economic crisis – not created by him, but managed well by him – in generations, and during two wars.  Really impressive stuff.

I know that Pete Rouse has been an incredible behind-the-scenes Capitol Hill player for many years, and the main job of the Chief of Staff under President Obama is to get legislation passed, so I’m hopeful that we’ll not see a significant drop-off in effectiveness in this position.

Chicago’s gain is our loss.  I can’t wait to visit a Chicago run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

And I hope that, one day, he decides to run for President himself.  We’ll be a fortunate nation when that happens.

President Obama at the United Nations 2010-Sep-23 at 14:21 PST

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Another great, if short, speech by President Obama today at the United Nations.  Here, he presents a balanced and serious approach for all nations dealing with the recession, with wars, and with global development.  Seriously, the only guy with more hits than Obama is Jay-Z.

My endorsement for the 2012 Republican Primary 2010-Jun-07 at 22:41 PST

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I know it’s way early for this, but I just wanted to get it out there for everyone to see who I’m supporting in the 2012 Republican Primary.  There’s really only one candidate that I’d like to see get this.

Gov. Sarah Palin.

That’s right… Gov. Sarah Palin.

Katie Couric: "What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?"

Sarah Palin: "Well, let’s see. There’s –of course — in the great history of America rulings there have been rulings, there’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are — those issues, again, like Roe v Wade where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know — going through the history of America, there would be others but—"

Couric: "Can you think of any?"

Palin: "Well, I could think of — of any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a Vice President, if I’m so privileged to serve, wouldn’t be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today."

–unable to name any Supreme Court decisions other than Roe v. Wade, CBS News interview, Oct. 1, 2008

Yes, that Sarah Palin.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “Scott, have you lost your mind?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Scott, are you drunk?” or even “What the fuck is wrong with you?” but, really, if you think about it, I hope you’ll come to agree with me.

You see, a Sarah Palin vs. Barack Obama election in 2012 would be an absolute trouncing.  She simply can’t handle that level of pressure and that level of scrutiny.  My only hope, of course, is that somehow she convinces enough conservatives and Tea Partiers that it’s the right thing to do to nominate her in the first place.  Once that happens, in the General Election… Obama is going to walk all over her.  I can only hope this happens, because I’ll be there with popcorn watching the Obama-Palin debates, followed by the Saturday Night Live re-enactment of the Obama-Palin debates.

You know that would be awesome.

So, if you believe as I do, that President Obama is amazingly smart and balanced and has been doing an incredible (not perfect, but incredible) job through crisis after crisis, I hope you’ll join me on the Palin for Republican Nomination bandwagon.

The oil spill is not Ken Salazar’s or Barack Obama’s fault 2010-May-30 at 14:25 PST

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Time for Salazar to go?, by Mark Hertsgaard, 27-May-2010

No, it’s not.  And this accident is not the President’s fault.  And there’s nothing he could have done to prevent it.  And there’s nothing the government could have done to stop the flow of oil by now.  This is an unprecedented disaster — one mile below sea level — and there is no known technology to deal with it, so engineers are inventing solutions right now.  It sucks, but that’s the situation.  BP and Halliburton screwed up in terms of building the well, they didn’t have the kind of mission-critical safeguards they should have had, and it led to a total systems failure.  My only complaint here is in terms of BP’s own processes to ensure that this kind of failure would never, ever, ever happen, which just weren’t nearly good enough.

And the only way that government regulators ever learn about these kinds of problems is in a reactive way, through some sort of systems failure.  It seems to me that those who think otherwise are unfamiliar with culture and structure in large organizations.  The bad hand we all got dealt is that, in this case, the level of failure that regulators could learn from wasn’t much smaller.  With a partial failure, for instance, we would have been able to change the inspection regime to make sure that something this big would never happen.  Unfortunately, the first failure was the biggest possible one.

We’ve seen this movie before with Obama. When Wall Street nearly crashed the global economy, Obama responded by listening to advisers—notably chief White House economic adviser Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner—whose sympathies lay with the megabanks that gamed the system rather than with the ordinary Americans who paid the price in the form of unemployment slips and foreclosure notices. The bailout plan Obama ended up backing was a great deal for Wall Street, a terrible deal for Main Street. What’s more, the president allowed himself to be seen during the bank bailout drama as taking the side of the villains rather than the victims—a damaging and unnecessary political choice.

Now, Obama is in danger of making the same mistake with the BP oil disaster. Substitute Salazar for Geithner, substitute continued offshore oil drilling after the worst environmental disaster in history for continued lax banking regulation after the worst financial breakdown in decades, and the parallel is complete. In his final remark of the press conference, Obama drew the parallel himself, saying, “As in the financial markets, when big crises happen, it forces us to do some soul-searching.” Obama signaled today he wants to look tough on BP and demand exemplary behavior from the oil industry in general. But credibly standing up to Big Oil is difficult when your administration’s point man on the issue has long been the industry’s chief cheerleader and shows few signs of changing his views. If Obama truly wants to chart a new course in dealing with the BP disaster and accelerating America’s transition to a clean energy future, he should start by requesting Ken Salazar’s resignation.

The parallels being drawn in these last two paragraphs between the financial crisis and this crisis are so distorted as to be laughable.  The assumptions are silly, and then the comparisons made between those silly assumptions and this situation stretch credulity.  Calling Salazar “the [oil] industry’s biggest cheerleader”? C’mon.

No one is happy about this, and this kind of knee-jerk search for the guilty is what I’d expect from both the extreme left- and right-wing publications (such as The Nation), but a moderate point of view allows us calmly to realize that we’re just in uncharted territory here, and we’re making it up as we go.

Is this a wake-up call about alternative energy sources?  I mean, sure, whatever.  There was already enough profit motive behind moving to renewable energy (particularly solar) before this incident to have it developing as quickly as it could.  It won’t come any sooner after this than it otherwise would have.  It’s not about government investment in it, it’s about private investment and research, and it’s coming right on time, and much faster than most people realize.

President Obama loses exactly none of my support around this issue.  He’s as frustrated and pissed as all of us are.  If there was a reasonable solution that involved using the U.S. Navy Submarine fleet, or divers, or sinking a decommissioned ship over the hole, or detonating a mine down there, or anything that the military could do, it would have been done already.  There’s nothing more that he can personally do… it’s up to the experts and the engineers now.  And they’re doing everything they can think of.

Only global banking regulations make sense now 2010-May-26 at 17:47 PST

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Regulators Seek Global Capital Rule, by Binyamin Appelbaum, 25-May-2010

Now one of the most consequential decisions about new restraints on the banking industry — how much more capital banks should hold in their rainy day reserves — is being decided not on Capitol Hill but far from Washington, by a committee based in Basel, Switzerland.

The Obama administration is pursuing an international agreement to make banks hold significantly larger reserves, which it regards as essential to increase the stability of the global financial system. It wants to complete the negotiations, which are being coordinated by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, by the end of the year.

Having tighter capital requirements only in the United States would drive investment to other places in the world through arbitrage.  The Obama Administration rightly now looks for a global consensus on a new, higher level of capital reserves for banks to prevent another global economic crisis like the one that we just experienced.

As you might imagine, the banks have reacted with shock and horror at the thought that they might need to be better capitalized:

Banks also warned that governments were piling on proposals to tax and constrain the beleaguered industry.

“The cumulative financial impact represents a level of conservatism so extreme that it will harm the banking sector, banking customers and national economies,” Wells Fargo’s chief financial officer, Howard I. Atkins, wrote in a letter to the committee.

If the “harm” is more security vs. slightly more profits for banks… I’ll take the security right now, thanks very much.

This process is inevitable after what we went through, and although I would have wished for it to be done already, it’s good that it’s moving through the system even within a few years of such systemic shock.

A flatland look at the rift between Obama and Wall St. 2010-May-25 at 12:36 PST

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Obama Is From Mars, Wall Street Is From Venus, by John Heilemann, 22-May-2010

The speed and severity of the swing from enchantment to enmity would be difficult to overstate. When Obama was sworn into office, Democrats on Wall Street rejoiced at the ascension of a president in whom they saw many qualities to admire: brains, composure, bi-partisan instincts, an aversion to class-based combat. And many Wall Street Republicans—after witnessing the horror show that constituted John McCain’s response to the financial crisis—quietly admitted relief that the other guy had prevailed.

Today, it’s hard to find anyone on Wall Street who doesn’t speak of Obama as if he were an unholy hybrid of Bernie Sanders and Eldridge Cleaver. One night not long ago, over dinner with ten executives in the finance industry, I heard the president described as “hostile to business,” “anti-wealth,” and “anti-capitalism”; as a “redistributionist,” a “vilifier,” and a “thug.” A few days later, I recounted this experience to the same Wall Street CEO who’d called the Volcker Rule a testicular blow, and mentioned I’d been told that one of the most prominent megabank chiefs, who once boasted to friends of voting for Obama, now refers to him privately as a “Chicago mob guy.” Do all your brethren feel this way? I asked. “Oh, not everybody—just most of them,” he replied. “Jamie [Dimon]? Lloyd [Blankfein]? They might not say Obama’s a socialist, but they come pretty close.”

For Obama, Wall Street’s cluelessness is a source of intense frustration—“He’s like, ‘What the fuck, you guys?’ ” says a White House official—and its ire toward him one of the cruelest paradoxes of his presidency. Rather than bowing to bailout rage or indulging the yearning for what Geithner calls “Old Testament justice,” Obama believes, justifiably, that he has taken a moderate approach to dealing with the financial system. On arriving in office, he chose to shore up the banks, not nationalize them. The regulations he has advocated aren’t punitive or radical. Despite the occasional burst of opprobrium, his stance has been one he summed up pithily at a meeting with the heads of the largest banks: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

This is a solid long piece that tries to find a way to categorize the viewpoints as best as possible, while pointing out the reasonable middle ground fairly often.

From the left: “Why aren’t you putting the screws to Wall St.?”

From the right: “Anything you do that even seems to slow down anything that Wall St. does is completely anti-business.”

From the center: “Main Street is mad at the president because he’s too close to Wall Street, and Wall Street is mad at him because he’s too populist,” Altman says. “Therefore, almost by definition, he’s in the right place.”

From an Integral point-of-view, of course, we see Orange/Achiever reacting to Yellow/Strategist as if it were Green/Individualist… which is to be expected.  And we also see Green/Individualist reacting to this instance of Yellow/Strategist as if it were caving in to Orange/Achiever… which is to be expected.

Sigh.

Unfortunately, the Tea Partiers only view Obama through the lens of some actions that he was basically forced to take in the first few months of his administration to, oh, I don’t know, SAVE THE ENTIRE WORLD ECONOMY!  People have conveniently forgotten how bad things were at the end of 2008, and how gross the situation was that President Bush left for President Obama.

I mean, if you want to see the Orange/Achiever mindset spelled out, here it is [my italics]:

“They’re not accustomed to being engaged in politics this way,” says a private-equity investor. “Their skin isn’t toughened. They actually take [the attacks by Obama] personally. This is a profession with a lot of smart people, but who aren’t necessarily terribly introspective. They think they actually deserve to make all this money. So any attack on their livelihood is, ahem, unpleasant.”

There is no reform of Wall St. that they’ll be happy with.  Anything that takes away an opportunity to achieve short-term profits is anathema.  And, again, that’s to be expected.  But we still have to manage it from a later level of development.

I’d suggest that if you really think Obama wanted to do trillions of dollars of bailout that it’s your projection onto him.  He didn’t like it, but he didn’t have a choice, as he’s spelled out many times in many speeches, including the most recent State Of The Union.  If you were in that hot seat in the Oval Office, and were told, “Either we do this, or the world economy goes into Depression” by both conservative and liberal advisors… you’d do it too, no matter what.

Imagine a population with, say, 10% at Integral, meaning Yellow/Strategist or later, and 10% of Congress there, too.  We’d easily have the votes to reform Wall St. in a reasonable way that lets Orange/Achiever do its thing within the limits of rational regulation… which is what the Obama Administration has been supporting all along, anyway.  If you look at the final Senate bill, it’s pretty much in line with what the Administration has been supporting, without going all that far in terms of breaking up big banks.  We might see that sort of move if another one goes bad, but right now we’re taking a reasonable step forward… one that will impact the profitability of large Wall St. institutions only in areas where their activities just almost screwed the entire population of Earth.

We’re not far from getting that 10% – maybe a decade – and it gets even easier at 20%.  Hang in there….

The bleak view of Europe right now 2010-May-18 at 09:30 PST

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The Euro’s Lost Promise, by David Marsh, 17-May-2010

In any international crisis, there will be those who believe that the crisis-in-question merely portends an even more difficult future.

The dream of monetary union across Europe has turned into a nightmare. Led by France and Germany, European countries have decided to spend colossal sums of taxpayers’ money they cannot afford to heal mounting internal disparities they cannot conceal to shore up an edifice many believe cannot stand.

Yeah, well, when you look at it that way, it does suck.

Look, the voters in Europe aren’t all that different from the voters in the United States. It’s not like they’re all at Exit Green, just about to pop to Second Tier.  There are lots of them at Blue, lots of them at Orange, and lots of them at Green.  Just shift the center of gravity up about half a level from where the United States is, and you’re getting the picture.

And even within that group, there are different countries with different centers-of-gravity… just like we have amongst the states here.

Some of those countries will have an easier time understanding why this bailout had to be done, and some will have a much more difficult time.  That’s to be expected.  So the rollercoaster we’re about to go on will, sometimes, look a lot like Mr. Marsh is describing.

There was, however, one thing I heard in the article that made it clear to me where Mr. Marsh was coming from.

Decisive backing came from President Obama, who on the eve of the Brussels meeting telephoned Mrs. Merkel to warn her that Europe’s failure to act could set off another worldwide credit crunch. His intervention was incongruous in the extreme: an American president urging the German chancellor to shore up a currency union that was meant to bolster Europe’s financial independence from the United States.

If you can’t imagine that President Obama would want to weigh in on something that could affect the lives and happiness of over 830 million people in Europe, and billions more around the world trying to do business with Europe… you probably also have a needlessly pessimistic view of things in general, and perhaps a center-of-gravity from somewhere in First Tier which would make global cooperation seem “incongruous.”

So let’s be clear… this is the bleak view of things.  This is the warning from those who think the worst-case is coming: the dismantling of the Euro, which could lead to growing tensions and competition amongst those countries who no longer make common cause over currency.

The United States gets nothing out of shaming Karzai 2010-May-10 at 12:36 PST

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Obama makes personal diplomacy part of Afghan strategy, by Scott Wilson and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, 9-May-2010

President Obama has bluntly instructed his national security team to treat Afghan President Hamid Karzai with more public respect, after a recent round of heavy-handed statements by U.S. officials and other setbacks infuriated the Afghan leader and called into question his relationship with Washington.

Karzai’s meeting with Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday will be the centerpiece of a rare extended visit. Over the next four days, Karzai and many of his senior cabinet ministers will be publicly embraced and privately reassured by Obama of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, which officials say will endure long after American forces begin leaving in July 2011.

Karzai has been frightened by the deadline, U.S. officials acknowledge. Obama intends to devote much of his meeting with him to spelling out a long-term relationship that includes far fewer U.S. troops but deeper diplomatic and economic support.

This is a simple, brilliant move by the President.  So let’s just state the obvious truth:

Did Karzai steal the election?  Yeah, probably.

Is his brother completely corrupt?  It sure looks that way.

Does the United States benefit from continuing to remind them of that?  Uh, well… no.  Not at all.  We get absolutely nothing from it.

How can we get the level of cooperation from this government that we absolutely need if we keep reminding them that we don’t like them and don’t think they’re legitimate?  What difficult things will they be willing to do for us if we treat them like this?  What do they expect from us in this situation?

Let me emphasize this sentence: “Karzai has been frightened by the deadline, U.S. officials acknowledge.”  If you were frightened by something that you had to accomplish, and the very people that you’re counting on to help you accomplish it are publicly calling you corrupt and illegitimate, how would you feel?  Would you trust the very people who are criticizing you to be invested completely in your success?  I wouldn’t… and so you start to understand why President Karzai threatened last month that he might even join with the Taliban in trying to govern.

Conservatives generally like to treat foreign policy as a matter of national interests… personalities only matter to the extent they get in the way of talking about true interests.  Liberals generally like to treat foreign policy as if it were a matter merely of psychology… just be nice to people and try to understand them, good things will come.  The Integral perspective is: they’re both true, it just depends on the situation.  It depends on the level of development of the players, and the level of development of the nations involved, and the overall amount of pressure that’s involved in the given negotiation.

In this case, President Obama wisely reconciles the positions by realizing that the psychological aspects of this are getting in the way of our national interests, and ultimately the national interests of Afghanistan as well.  So when the United States says nice things about Karzai… recognize that it’s good for both of us that we do, and if it makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat when you hear it, try to take the broader view that the White House is taking.