Thursday, December 12, 2013
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
At Commentary, Peter Wehner makes a good point about deliberation and disagreement:
Over the weekend, while doing research for an essay, I re-read Catherine Drinker Bowen’s wonderful book Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention from May to September 1787. In it she quotes George Washington (a strong Federalist) on the value of the opposition.
“Upon the whole,” Washington wrote, “I doubt whether the opposition to the Constitution will not ultimately be productive of more good than evil; it has called forth, in its defence, abilities which would not perhaps have been otherwise exerted that have thrown new light upon the science of Government, they have given the rights of man a full and fair discussion, and explained them in so clear and forcible a manner, as cannot fail to make a lasting impression.”
Two centuries later the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin echoed these observations inan interview in which he was asked about critics of the Enlightenment (which Berlin was a great admirer of).
“I am interested in the views of the opposition because I think that understanding it can sharpen one’s own vision,” Berlin said. “Clever and gifted enemies often pinpoint fallacies or shallow analyses in the thought of the Enlightenment. I am more interested in critical attacks which lead to knowledge than simply in repeating and defending the commonplaces of and about the Enlightenment.”
I cite both Washington and Berlin because what they are saying doesn’t come naturally to most of us and, in fact, runs deeply against our grain. Many of us have settled views on politics, on philosophy, on theology; we’re far more interested in refuting our critics than learning from them. Our moral intuitions and dispositions, our experiences and intellectual vanity can prevent us from appreciating the “new light” that can be cast by those with whom we disagree.
A previous post recounted the many times that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the Obamacare exchanges were "on track." She also repeatedly said that the enrollment target was seven million.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius once described 7 million new Obamacare customers in the first year as what “success looks like.”
The White House is now trying to affix another label to the estimate: meaningless.
It might be too late. For months, the Obama administration embraced the projection by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office as a way to explain enrollment goals, boosting their political significance. But the broken HealthCare.gov website caused the program to lag far behind on signing up customers, and it’s a steep climb to register 7 million people by the March deadline.
About 365,000 selected a plan through the state and federal insurance exchanges in the first two months, according to figures released Wednesday, only a fraction of what the administration had estimated.
Republicans are holding up the 7 million figure as the latest example of why Obamacare is failing. They’re comparing it to President Barack Obama’s failed pledge that consumers can keep their insurance plans or doctors if they like them — another case of the administration having to answer for its rhetorical shorthand.
But White House officials — backed up by policy wonks and insurance industry experts — say the figure has very little bearing on whether Obamacare can provide affordable coverage
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Many posts have discussed transparency and the Obama administration. Bloomberg reports:
President Barack Obama’s health agency said it has spent $319 million building an online health-insurance marketplace through October.
More than three years after the passage of Obama’s signature health-care law in 2010, it’s almost impossible to verify and track that spending through public records.
What the estimates don’t include is the around-the-clock effort to repair the website, which hundreds of thousands of Americans found unusable after its Oct. 1 debut. The race to fix it brought in computer engineers from companies such as Google Inc., Red Hat Inc. and Oracle Corp. and is ongoing today.
The figures include what has been paid to contractors, according to Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the health department. The spending details should be accessible on public websites intended to offer government transparency. Instead, the sites present incomplete and sometimes contradictory data, according to open government advocates.
“The administration hasn’t been transparent about enrollment figures, costs and other key metrics -- almost everything they release has a qualifying asterisk with a built-in spin,” U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight committee, said in an e-mailed statement. “‘The most transparent administration in history’ is as much of a punch line as ‘if you like your plan, you can keep it.’”
Monday, December 9, 2013
Our chapter on mass media looks at the ways in which government tries to influence news coverage. The Chinese government is intimidating outside journalists and thus limiting what Americans can learn about it.
The visa question has insidious ways of sowing the seeds of self-censorship,” Dorinda Elliott, the global affairs editor at Condé Nast Traveler, wrote on ChinaFile last month. “I am ashamed to admit that I personally have worried about the risk of reporting on sensitive topics, such as human rights lawyers: what if they don’t let me back in?” Elliott is a longtime China hand who worked asNewsweek’s Beijing bureau chief in the late 1980s. “My decision to not write that story—at least not yet—proves that I am complicit in China’s control games,” she continued. “After all, there are plenty of other interesting subjects to pursue, right?”
The most shocking thing about Elliott’s statement is its honesty. Western journalists are not supposed to make any concessions to China, and even when they do, they rarely admit it. Many people were thus horrified by recent reports that Matt Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, spiked an investigative piece about one of China's richest men out of fear of offending the government. (Winkler denied killing the piece and said it is still under consideration.)
People are understandably angry about the Bloomberg reports, but they shouldn’t be surprised. This is all part of a larger story. China may force some two dozen correspondents from The New York Times and Bloomberg News to leave the country by the end of the year, apparently in response to their investigative reports on the familial wealth of the Chinese leadership.
“Chinese officials have all but said that American reporters know what they need to do to get their visas renewed: tailor their coverage,” The New York Times wrote. On Thursday, Vice President Joseph Biden, who was visiting Beijing, said he had “profound disagreements” with China’s “treatment of U.S. journalists.” As China more harshly intimidates foreign reporters, incidents of Western self-censorship will only increase. Bloomberg is not the first case, and it will not be the last.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
A previous post discussed foreign lobbying. Laurel Rosenhall writes at The Sacramento Bee about a public affairs campaign by Sheik Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi, exiled crown prince of one of the United Arab Emirates.
Before his 2009 inauguration, newly elected President Barack Obama made a public pledge not to accept money for the celebration from representatives of foreign interests.
That didn’t stop a top partner at California Strategies, one of Sacramento’s premier public affairs firms, and his wife from donating big dollars. The firm had taken an exiled Arab sheik on as a client just before the 2008 election and registered with the federal government as a foreign agent, designating partner Jason Kinney as the one in charge of a publicity campaign on the sheik’s behalf.
But Kinney himself did not register as required, and within months he and his wife gave $52,000 for the inauguration, according to data tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. In total, the records show, two California Strategies partners, one associate and one spouse gave a combined $158,000 to the committee planning Obama’s inaugural festivities.
Over the next two years [2008-2010], Sheik Khalid, through California Strategies, spent $3.08 million on the campaign, including payments to lobbyists, advertisers, bloggers, photographers and highly connected Democratic consultants. His message appeared on billboards in Washington, D.C., on bus ads in New York City and on a Twitter feed, where the sheik described meetings with former Vice President Al Gore and retired Army General Wesley Clark. The sheik was welcomed with a special message on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ scoreboard.
The firm dispensed gifts from the sheik – described in federal filings as maps of the Middle East – to more than a dozen officials, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
The strategy also included hiring former New York Times reporter Michael Janofsky to write a blog in the sheik’s voice. After 24 years with the newspaper, Janofsky was launching a career as a freelance writer. He said a political consultant working for the sheik – whom he declined to identify – connected him to the $5,000-a-month job.
The campaign appears to have been ineffective. Today, the sheik’s half-brother, Sheik Saud, is the ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, according to the emirate’s official website. The status of Sheik Khalid is unclear. The United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington did not respond to The Sacramento Bee’s question about him, and his former attorney in England did not answer The Sacramento Bee’s email. His blogs and Twitter account are inactive.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/12/08/5980984/sacramento-firm-represented-arab.html#storylink=cpy
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Stanford's Center on Adolescence held a February conference on civic education has a report titled Youth Civic Development and Education. One passage deals with deliberation:
In the classroom, young people can learn about the issues as well as be guided by a skilled teacher in discussing them. Constructive participation requires the ability to work with people one disagrees with in a respectful way and in a spirit of progress toward mutually beneficial outcomes. This involves skills of civil discussion and compromise, and also the ability to advocate and deliberate effectively and tenaciously about important issues. Deliberation requires that individuals assert positions they feel strongly about through reason and persuasion. By learning how to deliberate about controversial political issues, students also learn how to hear the opinions of others with an open mind, weigh diverse opinions and ideas, wrestle with a clash of principles that may never be resolved, and ultimately find a way forward. Schools should prepare students for constructive civic life by embracing political controversies and disagreements in the classroom and using them as a teaching tool.