Tag: Barack Obama

A New Tone toward the Muslim World

After his first major interview with an Arab TV network, it is clear President Obama is striking a decidedly different tone in talking about terrorism. In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, legal policy analyst David H. Rittgers discusses the new direction Obama will take in the fight against terrorism.

“This is a serious departure from some of the message that the Bush Administration put forth,” says Rittgers, who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan as an officer in the Army. “Using ‘you are with us or against us’ is appropriate in certain circumstances, but as a blanket approach that is not the message we need to be sending.”

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How Will Barack Obama Reform Social Security?

Barack Obama says he will make entitlement reform a central part of his attempt to control government spending. Just how serious is President Obama about entitlement reform? Are private accounts for Social Security on the table? In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, senior fellow Michael D. Tanner weighs in on Obama’s plan for the future of entitlement programs.

“The fact is, of course, private investment would still be a better deal than Social Security, but you have to face the fact that people are scared of the market right now,” Tanner says. “But I think you’ve got to give Barack Obama points for political courage. In addressing the need for entitlement reform he is taking on one of the mainstays of his party.”

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The Guantanamo Bubble Pops

Within a day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, he has asked the military commissions judges to halt all trials in Guantanamo.  All indications point toward detainees being tried in federal courts.  This is a good decision for a couple of reasons.

First, the military commissions play into the propaganda game that terrorists thrive on.  It confirms their message that normal courts can’t address the threat that they pose.  In fact, the opposite is true.  When you convict a terrorist and lock him up with murderers and rapists, you take away his freedom fighter mystique.

Second, the trial of Omar Khadr was about to start.  Khadr fought alongside a band of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists and allegedly killed Special Forces medic Christopher Speer with a hand grenade.  Khadr deserves to be locked up, and letting his military commission trial start would create a Double Jeopardy issue if we interrupt the proceedings somewhere down the road and move him to federal court.

President Obama is also circulating a draft order for the closing of detainee operations at Guantanamo.  The memo sets a 12 month deadline for deciding whether to try, release, or continue holding each detainee.  Good move.

The Obamacare to Come…

In Barack Obama’s inaugural address, he once again made it clear that he intends to fix our “too costly” health care system in order to “raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” This is to be expected. Then-candidate Obama made health care reform a major issue during the campaign, and his actions sincesuch as naming former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle as both Secretary of Health and Human Services and White house “health czar”—suggest that health care reform remains at the top of his agenda.

But what will Obamacare look like? The president has not yet released a plan, but from his campaign statements, the plan outlined by Senate finance committee chairman Max Baucus, a bill introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Secretary Daschle’s book, it’s possible to glimpse at the basic components.

Mandates: Almost certainly President Obama will propose a mandate on businesses to provide health insurance to their workers. There may or may not be an exemption for small business or some type of tax credit to offset costs. And, while President Obama opposed an individual mandate during the campaign, all the other Democratic plans embrace such a requirement, and the logic of President Obama’s plan leads inexorably toward an individual mandate.

Minimum Benefits Package: Both President Obama and congressional Democrats have long supported a requirement that all insurance plans offer a standard minimum package of benefits.

Regulation: All the Democratic plans call for a host of new regulation on insurers, including insurers to accept all applicants regardless of their health (guaranteed issue) and would forbid insurers from basing insurance premiums on risk factors such as health or age (community rating). There may also be a requirement that insurers pay out a minimum amount of premiums in benefits.

Subsidies: Low- and likely middle-income Americans will be subsidized. The changes in the SCHIP program passed by the House earlier this week, allowing states to subsidize children from families earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level, suggests the direction that any reform bill will take.

Imposed Cost-Effectiveness: Secretary Daschle, in particular, has called for a government panel to study the comparative effectiveness of various treatments and establish standards of practice for providers. A key battle will be over whether these standards become mandatory, effectively denying patients a full choice of treatments.

A Government-Plan: Both the president and leading Democratic health reformers embrace the concept of a government health care program similar to Medicare operating in competition with private health insurance.

The net result of a plan based on these concepts will be a system in which, while privately-owned health insurance will continue to exist, the government makes all the important decisions. As my colleague Michael Cannon has pointed out, that’s “socialized medicine” no matter how it is disguised.  And, it is bad news for American patients, health care providers, and taxpayers.

Is the New Obama Administration Walking Away from Transparency Already?

The new Whitehouse.gov went live shortly after Barack Obama became president yesterday. It has much of the look and feel of his transition Web site, Change.gov.

Among the featured items on the homepage today (they will change regularly, of course) is the site itself and the new administration’s commitment to transparency. However, the actual terms of that commitment come up pretty anemic.

In a post on the White House blog, Director of New Media Macon Phillips says:

President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. You can also learn about some of the senior leadership in the new administration and about the President’s policy priorities.

Executive orders and proclamations? Information about senior leadership and the president’s priorities? That’s not breaking any new ground on transparency.

The transition’s “Seat at the Table” program required “any documents from official meetings with outside organizations [to] be posted on our website for people to review and comment on.”

The decision to port this practice over to the White House has either not been made, or has been decided against. Given that meetings are already happening, it will be a tough policy to implement if it is not implemented right away.

There is an “Office of Public Liaison” (and intergovernmental affairs) on the Whitehouse.gov site, but it’s nothing more than an email submission form at this point. “More ways for you to interact” are promised.

Words aren’t deeds, and it’s already too late to demonstrate a day-one commitment to transparency. Let’s hope the first steps of the new administration are not steps away from the important transparency precedents set by the transition.

Update: As this post was being written and edited, news stories were coming out about new executive orders dealing with ethics and transparency. Though I haven’t been able to find them yet – hint hint, Whitehouse.gov – the change to the interpretation of FOIA sounds like a welcome, though modest, step in the right direction.

Responsibilities

President Obama delivered an interesting inaugural speech yesterday. His theme was responsibility, a theme that provides a useful frame for his administration.

The individual versus the collective: Americans generally affirm individual or personal responsibility for one’s life. To be an adult – to put aside childish things - means taking responsibility for one’s actions and outcomes. Yet language permits another possibility. “We” can take responsibility for this outcome or that injustice. Putting aside childish things means taking collective responsibility through government action. In this view, emphasizing the individual suggests a childish selfishness that should be overcome. Obama seems to be about both kinds of responsibility right now. But extending state control over society vitiates personal responsibility. The new president will have to choose between the two.

The rule of law versus charisma: In a free society, individuals associate together through consent within a set of impersonal rules enforced by an impartial judiciary. Societies may also be ruled by charismatic leaders who are thought to have special powers granted by divine favor or by other means. Charismatic authority undermines both individual and collective responsibility. No one need do anything: the special man will say the magic words and everything will change for the better. Moreover, charismatic men with special powers should not be restrained by mere laws. They are above such restraints and must be so to do their work.

Consequences versus absolute ends: In an ethic of responsibility, leaders and followers look to consequences in acting politically. President Obama alluded to an ethic of responsibility yesterday. We want a government that works; programs that do not work will be ended. The thought is admirable, the reality unpromising. Ronald Reagan eliminated two federal programs, one of which was a training program that worsened the lot of its clients. Reagan was thought to have a mandate to cut back government. Obama was elected for many reasons, none of which were constraining the federal government. More than a few of his followers expect he will, as he put it yesterday, “remake the world.” Those who set out to remake the world rarely notice the immediate consequences of their crusade. After all, the benefits of bringing heaven to earth will more than overcome the costs of the crusade.

Obama’s modest demeanor suggests an understanding of his own limitations.  If that is true, he may turn out to be more a politician and less a priest, a president content to live within the laws and achieve marginal changes in public policy.

But I wonder. Living in Washington, DC, I have recently had reason to recall Samuel Johnson’s remark about Shakespeare: “In his plays, there are no heroes, only men.” Obama seems to be telling a different story, a tale about charismatic heroes and utopian aspirations. When the talking stops and the doing begins, one question will be answered: Do Americans really want to live out a play where there are no men, only heroes?