Monday, September 30, 2013

Obamacare Arrives

Obamacare begins tomorrow. The Exchanges open, although benefits won't start until January 1. What should we expect to see?

Not very much, really. People will begin the process of application, which the Massachusetts experts tell us will take 5 or 6 site visits before actual sign up commitment takes place. Signups will start slowly; hit a peak before January 1; run strong through January and February; and then peak again as we approach the March 31 end of the open enrollment period.

Many people are utterly confused about the law, and will have to be walked through the process by a Navigator, a friend, a member of a community organization or church. The process will not be quick.

Additionally, there will be variations by state - blue states are expected to outperform red states, most of which have bitterly resisted the ACA. Twenty six (mostly red) states are not opening a state-run Exchange, leaving the job to the Federal Government. As for the Medicaid expansion, here's the map as of September 17:

20 states have signed up for sure; 15 have definitely opted out. Florida and Texas together have almost 20% of the country's uninsured, about 40% of whom would be eligible for the Medicaid expansion - so it's easy to see what these state's decisions (and others like them) can do to blunt the impact of the ACA. Here are some of the key questions and my take on their answers:

  • Will there be fireworks? Yes, but less than expected. Website overload will, in some places, be a problem. Subsidies will probably be incorrectly calculated in other places. But more or less, overall, the complex database systems will talk to each other, and will compute eligibility, subsidies and required individual payments. System managers will probably give a B grade, that will move up to A- by the January 1 benefit start day. Not too shabby!
  • Will folks sign up at target levels (7 million on the Exchanges, of which 2.7 million will be under 35)? This is the heart of the entire argument: if people signup, and enough of them are in the lower health-risk, under 35 age group, Obamacare will work. The marketplace will render a verdict, as it always does, and very (if not perfectly) efficiently at that. If the uninsured buy in, particularly the younger folks, it means the value equation works: the price-value relationship is right - the prices charged (net of subsidies) are seen by those buying as fair, in relationship to how they feel about the value of the insurance product they are buying. If this happens - and I am confident it will - most of the Conservative arguments are out the window: prices will not have ratcheted up too much; young and healthy folks will mostly choose the insurance path over the penalty route, because having solid insurance is more valuable to them than any conservative analysts could see; and this is neither "crappy insurance" nor more coverage than they really wanted.
By Christmas we will have a huge policy and implementation success on our hands. Combine this with the then developing peace and disarmament agreements emerging with Syria and Iran plus the now practically inevitable GOP humiliation in the budget and debt ceiling fights, and our President and his Party will be in a strong position going into 2014.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Simply Amazing!

These are tweets from Hossan Rouhani after his phone talk with President Obama, and just before he boarded his plane to return to Tehran. Simply amazing!

A Necessary Fight

Go to 32 minute mark

President Obama just finished delivering his statement at the White House. He announced the good news of his phone conversation with President Rouhani; and he celebrated the diplomatic breakthrough in the Syrian CW disarmament initiative by saying that the Security Council permanent members (US, UK, France, China, and Russia) have agreed on a Resolution to Disarm and Dismantle Syrian CW. But the core of his statement was a stern, clear warning to Congress: Do not shut down the Government. Do not prevent Treasury from paying the country's bills by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And I will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.

It all seems very clear to me: If Congress (meaning the House) does not fulfill its obligation to pass a Budget or a Continuing Resolution before the beginning of the new fiscal year (12:01 am, Tuesday, October 1), the Government will shut down; our modest recovery could abort; working folks will suffer. If this happens, it will be the fault of the GOP-led House. The Senate has done its job: it passed a CR stripping out the Obamacare defunding, and sent it back to the House. It's up to the House, and therefore up to the House GOP.

On raising the debt ceiling (drop dead date is October 17), Obama will not negotiate. If the ceiling is breached and we go into default, this will be on the GOP entirely.

I'm convinced the President is rock solid on this. Many liberals are less sure. Jonathan Chait wrote a powerful piece this morning for New York Magazine titled "The Debt Ceiling Showdown is the Fight of Obama's Life", one he simply must win. I presume Chait is hoping to help Obama "screw his courage to the sticking point", so he won't repeat what he feels were the mistakes of the summer of 2011. Here's Chait

As the debt-ceiling deadline ticks toward midnight, Obama ought to be able to make his determination clear enough that House Republican leaders understand their only choices are to raise the debt ceiling or breach it. Default would risk not only economic calamity but the potential of an electoral one for the otherwise unassailable Republican majority. But history is replete with disastrous miscalculations. They’re often made by weak, short-sighted leaders facing pressure to demonstrate toughness from internal opponents. That is to say, Boehner is exactly the kind of leader who would blunder into a calamity like a debt default.
Yet Obama simply has no alternative but to accept that risk. The stakes are higher than resisting the specific demands Republicans are making, and higher even than the economic havoc of a debt breach. Obama is fighting to save his presidency.
I believe Chait is entirely correct. This is a necessary fight, with retreat not an option. But this is not just to save Obama's presidency; it's to secure the country. As I wrote yesterday, I think Boehner will come around, both on the Budget and the Debt Ceiling, and allow a vote that will pass with mostly Democratic votes; but my confidence in that prediction is modest at best.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shutdown and/or Default

After today, four days to go before a possible shutdown. After that, seventeen days to possible default. What's the forecast? Here's what I see, albeit with little clarity:
  • Friday or Saturday the Senate will return a clean CR at sequester spending levels back to the House. Right now, don't think Boehner can pass a clean CR without relying on Democrats. He was hoping to pass an omnibus conditional debt ceiling resolution on Saturday, before the budget vote, to get his caucus to shift focus to the  debt ceiling. This afternoon, he found he doesn't have the votes. People want to see what happens on the Budget CR. So Boehner must put a conditional CR back to the Senate, ensuring a Tuesday shutdown, or ask Democrats for help. If Democrats say yes without conditions, there will be no shutdown. If they ask for something, most likely moving the budget target off the sequester levels, we will have shutdown, since the Senate won't have time to respond before the midnight Monday deadline. Best Guess: Boehner will ask for Democratic help and pass a clean CR - so no Shutdown.
  • The debt ceiling could follow a similar trajectory: the House will pass a contingent debt ceiling resolution containing a long list of demands - one year Obamacare delay, the Keystone pipeline, drilling on federal lands and offshore, reverse new EPA carbon capture rules, cut back the wings of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, etc. The Senate will strip all this out and send back a clean 14 month debt ceiling increase resolution. Meanwhile a very high stakes game of chicken will be going on: Obama says he will not negotiate the debt ceiling; Boehner says he has to and ultimately will. Boehner has raised the expectations of the GOP caucus very high - saying the debt ceiling is the maximum point of leverage with the Democrats, and that is where the GOP can make the most progress. I am very clear that Obama will not budge on this, and that the Democratic leadership team in the House and Senate will back him up. Will Boehner realize this in time? In their last big negotiation in 2011, Obama caved to save the country from default. I think Republicans expect him to cave. Will they all realize their mistake in time? And if they do, will they turn back and pass a clean resolution? Best Guess: Boehner will figure it out and decide to move with a clean resolution just in time to get it signed before October 17.
This is a highly hopeful forecast and I am basing it mostly on my assessment of Boehner as a person who will do the right thing - not for himself, but for his Party and his country, once he sees there are no good alternatives. Do not think he will take the lead in causing a shutdown; nor will he refuse to take a path that prevents default just to please the base. I am not at all confident, though. I assign just a 50-60% probability to the above scenario - in other words, not very high.

And here's another low probability forecast: If the game plays out as above, we will land on October 18 with a very angry and frustrated GOP base, an ecstatic Democratic Party, a deeply wounded Speaker Boehner, and the next budget deadline coming up on November 15, less than 30 days away. I think there's a chance that Boehner, possibly realizing his time is up as Speaker, will lead a Grand Bargain negotiation with Obama (cancel the sequester, replace it with a mix of targeted cuts, new tax revenues from tax reform, and chained CPI for Medicare and Social Security) that will pass the House with Democratic votes and be signed into law.

Pretty far out, I admit. I give it a 30% chance. But that's not zero. And wouldn't that be a great day for the country!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Integral Leader (2)

Both Pictures from

President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly this morning. The full transcript of his remarks are here. It was a great speech. It was the speech of an integral leader.

Why do I say that? What elements does the speech need to have to be called integral? Let me list a few:
  • An integral speech will most likely be given by an integral leader. This means that the leader is speaking from an integral perspective; it considers, includes and integrates all perspectives. No single perspective dominates; yet all perspectives are not equally valuable and there is an integrating perspective giving coherence, foundation and solidity - creating a whole out of parts.
  • It will incorporate some, but not all of the viewpoints of the traditional, modern, and post-modern (roughly, conservative, moderate, and liberal) viewpoints. In fact each group, or each level will find something to like and something to hate about an integral speech.
  • This integrating function is not cutting and pasting different ideas from different perspectives willy nilly. It emerges out of a natural selection of elements that fit easily with the higher, broader, often more complex integral perspective.
  • Integral speeches, given by integral leaders, have important common characteristics: They are inclusive; invariably hopeful; driven by values; in the service of ideals, but not idealistic; fiercely clear-eyed and honest about assessments, evaluations and strategies; humble, not about aggrandizing the speaker, deeply desiring broad participation; and there is never an enemy, only adversaries who will be dealt with harshly only if they eschew the shared discourse and sanctions of the relevant community; peacemaking with a crystal clear understanding of the need for force or the threat of force to give peace a chance.
Obama's speech today was integral in every sense of the word. This is Obama as peacemaker - the man who can eat humble pie if it helps give grounding to a new diplomatic initiative (Syria), but the man who is fully ready to use force if important international norms and values are threatened. Peace through shared accountability. This is where we are now with Russia in regards to Syria, and today Obama invited the rest of the world, and specifically the members of the Security Council to help ensure Syria remains accountable.

This is Obama as hopeful peacemaker offering an olive branch to Iran - accepting their implied initiative to begin real negotiations and saying, "Let's give diplomacy a chance."

This is our integral leader fully honoring both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and their legitimate security concerns, but also their deeper aspirational feelings about having a secure home, and being able to live and grow their respective countries in peace. And he called on every nation member present to join in this broader conversation to provide each side with support, honoring, and commitment to find a peaceful way forward.

This is our integral President. We are blessed indeed.

Monday, September 23, 2013

30 Days From Now

What will we see in 30 days from now, on October 23, my 72nd birthday? Here's what I'm hoping for:

  • The Government has a budget, at least until December 15. The CR was passed through the House late Monday evening (September 30) and was actually signed by the President a bit after the midnight deadline. The Obamacare defunding provision was stripped out in the Senate, and a clean CR was sent back to the House. Boehner could not convince his caucus to support the CR, so he asked for Pelosi's help, and got it. The CR passed easily with mostly Democratic votes. The Conservative wing of the GOP is in revolt, and there is talk of dethroning the Speaker.
  • On October 1 Obamacare "opened its doors" in the form of the Exchanges opening in all 50 states to take enrollment for the ACA. There were many glitches, particularly in red states, but nothing catastrophic. Signups were strong, particularly in blue states, assisted by Obama volunteers and paid "navigators". Premiums did jump up in a fair number of states for the under 35 age group, but signups in this category were strong across most states. Conservative media is focusing on the glitches; most are telling "Good News Stories". Pundits are beginning to sense that this will be a big winner for the Dems in the coming mid-terms, especially since it looks like enrollment rates will slowly pickup over time, as the "word" gets out.
  • A debt default was averted at the very last minute by the House GOP caving on their conditional debt ceiling increase bill (tied to a one year delay in Obamacare) and passing a 14 month unconditional increase. This was a big defeat for Speaker Boehner, whose Tea Party members (along with Boehner) were convinced Obama would cave and negotiate for the hike. Obama did not budge. Nor did House and Senate Dem leadership. The level of accusatory vitriol against the President by Conservatives was remarkable, focusing on his "dictatorial unreasonableness". But now the fire is shifting to Boehner, who "chickened out" and "refused to maintain the fight". The GOP ended this phase of the Budget Battle getting absolutely nothing, plus the dreaded Obamacare is in full forward and funded motion. Looking forward to December 15, when the Budget CR expires, Conservatives and Tea Partiers want to develop a committed shut down strategy; but moderate voices in the Senate are calling for a real budget agreement, including taxes.
  • The Syria CW disarmament plan is moving ahead. Russia and the US worked out their disagreement over what consequences would Syria suffer, if they did not fulfill their commitments. The US agreed to proceed without a military force provision under Chapter 7 of the UN Rules, which cleared the path for a unanimous (no abstentions) vote in the Security Council, approving the Resolution. Syria is preparing the way for UN CW inspectors to enter the country, beginning November 1. The disarmament plan is meeting its deadlines; the US and Russia are working together to start peace talks in Geneva, with the goal of a negotiated peace deal by June, 2014.
  • Obama met briefly with Hossan Rouhani at the UN in New York during the last week of September. A handshake of historic significance did, in fact, take place, and its image flew virally around the world. Rouhani presented a specific plan to Obama, in person, and outlined the same commitments in his speech to the UN General Assembly: Iran will cease enrichment beyond the 5% level and will shut down the Fordo enrichment plant immediately. UN inspectors will be granted full access to confirm Iran is meeting its commitments. Iran wants affirmation of its right to enrich, short of creating weapons grade material, and agrees to an ongoing process of inspections. In return it wants a rapid end to sanctions and bilateral meetings with the US. Obama has accepted this framework, arousing fierce opposition from neocons, with Israel remaining skeptical. Obama is sticking to his guns, and it looks like an important corner has been turned in US-Iranian relations.
Most likely, things will not move quite so quickly in our Iran discussions, but all of the above is 

In 30 days, President Obama will be standing on visibly firmer ground. The next checkpoint will be December 15, and there is some chance that a real budget agreement could be reached then. The Conservative wing is still gnashing its teeth and announcing ruin.But we are moving, as a country, in the right direction. And we are increasingly proud of our President.

Friday, September 20, 2013

More Progress

David Sanger, writing this morning in the New York Times, gives us evidence that a few more mainstream voices, albeit grudgingly, are giving the President some credit for getting a few things right:

Without much warning, diplomacy is suddenly alive again after a decade of debilitating war in the region. After years of increasing tension with Iran, there is talk of finding a way for it to maintain a face-saving capacity to produce a very limited amount of nuclear fuel while allaying fears in the United States and Israel that it could race for a bomb.

Syria, given little room for maneuver, suddenly faces imminent deadlines to account for and surrender its chemical weapons stockpiles — or risk losing the support of its last ally, Russia.

For Mr. Obama, it is a shift of fortunes that one senior American diplomat described this week as “head spinning.”

And this just in:

And this:

With an integral leader, there is an underlying coherence to actions that seem conflicting and disjointed; but this coherence is not visible to most others. But specific results are visible; and if you are honest, you begin to look back and ask, "Did he intend this all along?"

And my answer: Yes. He did. All along.

Game On

The end game is on. The House just passed a 90 day CR that defunds Obamacare. In the Senate, Ted Cruz and Company will attempt to filibuster; but Harry Reid should file for cloture before debate opens, shutting Cruz out, since he surely has the needed 60 votes. So the CR with the defunding provision stripped out should arrive back in the House by mid-week. Current rumors are that Boehner may bring it to a vote, after attaching a debt ceiling increase amendment, including a one year Obamacare delay. I presume the Senate would then strip out the Obamacare delay and send it back to the House. Will the Speaker allow a vote, which would surely pass with Democratic votes, and say he did his best? Or would he strip out the debt ceiling language, vote on the clean CR, send it back to the Senate (which would approve it) and wait to fight the debt ceiling end game two weeks later?

I am honestly not sure, but my guess is the latter. For reasons I don't get, Speaker Boehner thinks Obama may blink on the debt ceiling, despite the President's repeated commitments not to bargain over the debt ceiling. Republicans think he will allow a shutdown, since he is confident the GOP will be blamed; but they uniformly seem to think he'll cave on the debt ceiling.

If the Speaker tries to stare the President down on this one, he will lose, either a week from Monday, or 2-3 weeks after that, when the debt limit is reached.

The Speaker, I believe, has the correct calculus on the Shutdown, and the wrong one on the debt ceiling. Obama will not back down.

Will the Speaker realize this in time?

Nancy Pelosi

This is a remarkable testament to our President by Nancy Pelosi in an interview with Politico.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Some Progress

Smartypants raises a central question in her blog this morning:

From the beginning, one of the questions I've had is whether or not America is ready for the kind of leadership President Obama would provide. Are we ready to explore the power of partnership rather than simply rely on dominance? I suspect that is the experiment we're seeing unfold. As Michelle Obama said about her husband years ago:
Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.

This blogpost was written in response to Politico's big piece yesterday "What's Wrong with Obama?", where authors John Harris and Todd Purdum hammer Obama for just about everything, but especially this:

This president lately has faced situations that cried out for a black-and-white sense of purpose, and unquestioned public command.

And then they hasten to point out how completely the President's circuitous, confusing route to a plan failed to deliver on this public need for black and white analysis and purpose. So the answer to Smartypants' question, "Is America ready for Obama," is clearly No. We have an integral leader in a non-integral culture. They can't see this man to understand how he sees the world, how he makes decisions, how he deals with uncertainty, or even how he acts.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Integral Leader (1)

I plan to do a series of posts (not consecutively) expanding on comments in my recent post, where I said Obama was an integral leader. What do I mean by that? Where does the idea come from? What characterizes such a leader? Can someone learn to become an integral leader? How do we recognize one? And other similar questions. I have studied our President since 2007, and most of you readers (in one way or another) are also students of this man, so I will use Obama as the model. As I explore the capacities that an integral leader displays, I will take Obama as the reference point - looking to see if he has displayed such qualities. I will also work the other way - by examining key policy actions and presenting the aspects of Obama's engagement with those that I consider integral.

Since looking at Obama's actions in the context of developing a listing of integral capacities is much more interesting, at least initially, than studying the details of the philosophical and psychological model, I will start there: looking at specific actions that demonstrate important qualities of an integral leader. I will preface my remarks by saying American philosopher, and self-described map-maker, Ken Wilber is the founder of the integral movement. For those who want to explore Ken's prolific writings, take a look at his Amazon page. To get a feeling for the breadth of the integral movement, go to, or Ken's own site And I can guarantee that if you get started in the integral conversation and study, you will never stop, because the work is all about personal transformation and the path to integral leadership. For in demonstrating integral leadership, the President is not a distant and unachievable model; he is using and expressing capacities that all of us can develop with lots of hard, interior work; patience; and commitment.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Next 100 Days

Let's look at what's on the country's Fall agenda:

  • 2014 Budget resolution (October 1) and raising the debt ceiling (October 18)
  • Obamacare Exchange launch (October 1)
  • Syria Chemical Weapons (ongoing)
  • Iran Nuclear discussions (possibly beginning late September)
I feel the next 100 days, in other words between now and January 1, will prove to be the most consequential period in Obama's presidency. Let's look briefly at each bullet point:

Budget Resolution and Debt Ceiling

The President sternly lectured the GOP, with particular focus on the "Conservative faction", in his Economic Speech in the Rose Garden yesterday, on the fifth anniversary of the Great Financial Crisis. He said that the deficit is falling at the fastest rate since the end of World War II, and that it makes no sense to shutdown the Government over an attempt to defund Obamacare. He said he would absolutely not negotiate over the debt ceiling. This morning Senate Minority Leader McConnell said that the GOP fully intended to use the debt ceiling issue to get concessions from Dems, because it's the time we have the most leverage.

Apparently the two sides are not even talking. No negotiations are underway. Instead Republican leadership is trying to figure out how to craft a continuing resolution that conservatives will support. The plan to pass a CR at sequester levels, with an amendment defunding Obamacare that the Senate could peel off and reject, was rejected by 43 conservatives, which meant 218 votes in the House was not achievable, and the vote was cancelled. The group of 43 has grown to almost 60: this group of Republicans have vowed not to vote for any CR that funds Obamacare.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Iran is Next

This just in from Der Spiegel:

But the long-smoldering nuclear dispute with Tehran may be about to take a sensational turn. SPIEGEL has learned from intelligence sources that Iran's new president, Hassan Rohani, is reportedly prepared to decommission the Fordo enrichment plant and allow international inspectors to monitor the removal of the centrifuges. In return, he could demand that the United States and Europe rescind their sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lift the ban on Iranian oil exports and allow the country's central bank to do international business again.

Rohani reportedly intends to announce the details of the offer, perhaps already during his speech before the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will meet Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top diplomat, in New York next Sunday and give her a rough outline of the deal. If he were to make such wide-ranging concessions, President Rohani would initiate a negotiating process that could conceivably even lead to a resumption of bilateral diplomatic relations with Washington.

This has surely been in process for some time. But what an amazing confluence of events! Iran observes us following a two-track, force/diplomacy path with Syria: We are willing to strike; but we prefer diplomacy to achieve CW elimination in the interest of non-proliferation. We will even take a risk - working with our erstwhile Russian adversaries to secure the weapons. All this is a great blueprint for moving strongly ahead with Iran.

Obama has just taken a huge risk in the Syria actions: he has chosen to trust Russia, that they will work effectively with their client Syria to identify and begin the removal of Syria's CW. He retains the option of force, but if Russia fizzles out, he will be embarrassed. If Iranian President Rohani does, in fact, offer to shut down the Fordo enrichment facility, Obama will be faced with new trust and leap of faith issues: whether/how much to pull back on the sanctions and does the West affirm Iran's right to enrich uranium, subject to inspections.

Up until now, we and our partners have said: no enrichment, and no sanction relief until all your work is done. This won't fly, I don't think. Just like Reagan helped Gorbachev convince his hardline Russian associates that letting go of satellite Europe was OK, because the US was going to dramatically reduce its strategic weapons along with Russia - we need to help Rohani sell an agreement to the Iranian hardliners and the Supreme Leader Khamenei. We need to affirm Iran's right to enrich, subject to inspection; and we need to offer quick sanction relief. Most likely, Obama will be hammered from the Right if he supports these moves.

Hang onto your hat! Exciting times are right here, right now!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Looking Ahead

Received positive comments on yesterday's posting "Reflections", where I argue that Obama is an integral leader, that he operates in and out of an integral level of consciousness, that he sees things differently than 95% of other people, and that he will engage skillfully and coherently in strategies that look unconnected, discontinuous, or just plain stupid to most others. Smartypants picked up my post in her posting today titled (marvelously) "A Both/And Leader in an Either/Or World". In future posts, I will flesh out the details of the integral leadership model. Today I want to look just a bit ahead, say out to Christmas.

For a reference point, I will use George Stephanopoulos' excellent interview with the President that aired this morning, including the  Roundtable discussion following the interview segment, with Matthew Dowd (ABC), Cokie Roberts (NPR), Paul Gigot (WSJ), Justin Amash (R, MI), and Donna
Edwards (D, MD). There is nothing unusual about this roundtable group, except that it was a bit more articulate, more thoughtful, and less doctrinaire than Meet the Press, Face the Nation or Fox News Panel Plus. Summary points from This Week's panel (shared in large part by the other networks panels):

  • Assad and Putin are the big winners from yesterday's events; the Syrian opposition and the US are the big losers.
  • Obama has taken a hit to his leadership image - the zig zags, turnabouts and reversals are clear evidence of shoddy thinking, poor planning, indecisiveness, and, yes, ineptitude.
  • 2013 will amount to a total write-off for the President: gun control rejected; immigration reform probably stuck in the House;  healthcare/ACA a train wreck; a failed Syria policy requiring rescue by Putin;  and a possible shutdown and/or debt default.
  • Obama's miscues in Syria will probably embolden Iran to keep pursuing nuclear weapons.
  • Obama's power as President is almost reduced to irrelevancy.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


I was thrilled beyond words this morning, when I went online to Huffington Post and saw this:

I sensed right away that this was possibly a transforming moment. So I "noodled" on this idea for several hours. And here are some thoughts and reflections:

  • When was the last time we teamed up with another country to make peace, instead of war? Certainly there has been no true peace initiatives since 9/11 - i.e., 2001. I suspect the last major peace initiative was the Dayton Accord in 1995, ending the Bosnian War. Americans cherish peace, yet we clearly engage in a lot of war. Why? Am honestly not sure: Perhaps we think that peace only comes after the war has been won. Perhaps Reagan's continuing use of the Peace Through Strength motto has been seared into our consciousness, regardless of Party. We have witnessed great leaders who "waged peace" highly successfully: Gandhi in India; Mandela in South Africa, and King here in America. But these were neither shooting wars nor conflicts between nations. On balance, most of us in the US and elsewhere have a binary view of conflict: if you win, I lose, and vice versa. And we are completely immersed in the consciousness of scarcity, resource conflict, and fear of the other. Clearly, Gandhi, Mandela and King operated from a different level of consciousness, where abundance, peacemaking, and trust were the qualities seen first, and were part of each leader's basic operating system. Developmental psychologists call this level of consciousness integral, and tell us that less than 5% of the world has attained this consciousness level. Obama, I believe, is part of this small percentage of people who see things whole; who trust the complexity of events to reveal deep structures and patterns, not single point answers or finite solutions; who know with absolute conviction that truth is found not in resolving paradox, but living in its tensions; that flow and generative action requires letting go of ego; and that all people, at every developmental level have something important to say, even your adversaries and enemies, because the brain is not capable of 100% error. In the precise sense that I believe Jesus meant it in the Beatitudes - "Blessed are the peacemakers...", Obama is a peacemaker, while also remembering that Jesus told us to be "Gentle as a dove, and shrewd as a serpent."
  • We see with the consciousness we have. That is perhaps why most commentators simply cannot see what Obama's up to. They are looking for the binary juxtapositions: winner or loser; strong or weak; enemy or friend. The idea of engaging your enemy as the one and only way to find a solution for the conflict you both share an interest in - simply doesn't compute; you can't see it. Running parallel and entirely oppositional strategies simultaneously can also be hard to detect, especially if it hasn't been openly declared. Letting your opponent/adversary/enemy get all the credit for whatever breakthrough is achieved - even going so far as to "plan a gaffe" that your Secretary of State will offer as a seemingly offhanded proposal, which can be accepted by your opponent in such a way that he gets all the credit - none of this makes sense to our pundits - that operational mode doesn't compute - power is everything; the powerful are always the winners; never let your guard down; he who has the gold rules, etc, - so folks just cannot see it when something like what has just happened, occurs. And central to this: Obama truly does not care. He is not attached to being the "last man standing"; he is attached only to the result, to the outcome, to the vision - the North Star he has been following. You may not believe me, or really understand what the hell I am talking about. But this is what has just gone down, and the actions, the patterns, the apparent sudden reversals, the willingness to look the fool - all these are products of an integral consciousness. Obama is an integral leader.
  • We now have a peacemaking template. It will be used a good bit in the next three years - first in Syria to eliminate their CW and get to a negotiated peace; then in Iran, where I am convinced the leadership will understand this as non-proliferation through peacemaking, and not through threatening or making war; then in North Korea, where we will work with China to  deweaponize the North Koreans; and finally Israel-Palestine. I predict all of these will be partly or largely solved by the end of Obama's second term.
Needless to say, a glorious day!

The Key for Success

This picture and article are from yesterday's Financial Times. Well written. Pretty balanced. But still a very incomplete conclusion, that this was Putin's week, and that he rescued Obama, and that Putin is clearly the winner. Always the binary view: If you win, I lose. If I am right, you are wrong. You are either a friend or an enemy. In Philosophy, this worldview is called Manichaean - the world is starkly divided between the forces of Light and those of the Darkness, between Good and Evil. These completely separate and irreconcilable forces are in perpetual conflict, that will not be resolved until Armageddon and the Last Day, the Day of Judgment.

What is the Key For Success in Diplomacy? Not caring who gets the credit.

We Have A Deal!

The headline says it all! Huffington Post has the details.

Nest up: Iran!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Deadlines Approaching

We are approaching two critical domestic deadlines: October 1 for the Budget and October 18 for the Debt Ceiling. My earlier analyses assumed there would be short term Continuing Resolutions (60-90 days) passed before those dates for both the Budget and the Debt Ceiling. Now I am not so sure,

Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic writes that "The GOP is About to Crack Up: Three Theories Why". In a lead New York Times article this morning,  Jonathan Weisman writes "Boehner Seeks Democrats' Help on Fiscal Talks". And BooMan Tribune writes this afternoon "Will Boehner Call Off the Attack?" So what's up?

The GOP wants to put through a 90 day CR, without taking a Do-or-Die stand on defunding Obamacare. Tea Party members - 43 of them - have revolted. Without them, Boehner can't pass a CR without Democrats' help. But Democrats want a budget with the sequester taken out, a No-No for Conservatives. On the Budget CR, Boehner seems to have two choices:

  • Kick the can a bit down the road. Tell conservatives he will fight the Obamacare defunding fight when the Debt Ceiling comes up, and ask Conservatives to back him now.
  • Do a deal with Democrats, raising the 2014 Budget up to, or close to non-sequester levels, and pass the Budget CR with mostly Democratic votes, effectively breaking the Hastert Rule, risking a challenge to his Speakership.
Either course is perilous: in the first instance, he raises Tea Party expectations about what a Debt Ceiling negotiation can accomplish; and in the second, he alienates his Conservative base, which could cost him his Speakership.

Suspect he'll go with the former; but it's not clear he can get the 218 votes he needs to pass the Budget CR without Democratic help. The House is supposed to go on Fall recess after next week, and noise is already being heard about the need to cancel the recess. If they do, there will be 11 more work days in September. If they don't, only the five days next week.

We could have a shutdown over the Budget on October 1, just as the debt ceiling drop-dead date arrives.

I think something will get cobbled together for October 1. If so, October 18 may be the crisis date. If not, October 1 it is. Government shut-down, with a possible default crisis two weeks later.

I cannot see how the GOP makes it through to Christmas without either a shut-down, a debt-default or near default, or both.

And this should cook their chances to hold the House in the 2014 mid-terms.

Obamacare Stories

I always respond to stories like this:

This is a spot Obamacare/OFA paid to shoot. But how about this one, from a local Indiana TV news station. What happens when these start popping up more frequently around the country? (Both spots from The Obama Diary)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Diplomacy Path

There are so few good analyses of Syria and the emergent Diplomacy Path, in my opinion. Here's one of the very few, from BooMan Tribune, titled "What Makes Syria Hard." Here's another: Smartypants on Monday, titled "What's In It for Putin." And here from The People's View today titled "The Power of Explanation: Why the President's Speech Got It Right." Today, will just give you a short list of MSM pundits who are totally panning our President:

And to many in Congress and in the media, Vladimir Putin's Op-Ed in the New York Times "A Plea For Caution From Russia", just added insult to injury. Senator Menendez (D, NJ) said it "made him want to vomit."

Wow!! And why exactly do I see lots of light in this picture? I will try (briefly) to explain:
  • Negotiations have just begun in Geneva between Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Kerry spoke briefly to the press before beginning, saying the US has high hopes for the discussions, but that it retains the right to use military force if these talks break down.
  • Syria has submitted an application request to the UN to join the Chemical Weapons Treaty.
  • Discussions are progressing at the UN over drafting a Security Council Resolution requiring Syria to give up their CW. The contentious issue is whether force will be authorized for non-compliance. Russia says no. We open saying yes. Believe we will relent on this, reserving to ourselves, as always, the right to strike unilaterally.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Critique

The majority of the reviews this morning were blistering. Here's an extended quote from The Wall Street Journal this morning:

The world will see through this spin (that the US initiated the CW idea). A British commentator in the Telegraph on Monday called this "the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began," and that's only a mild exaggeration. A weak and inconstant U.S. President has been maneuvered by America's enemies into claiming that a defeat for his Syria policy is really a triumph.

The Iranians will take it as a signal that they can similarly trap Mr. Obama in a diplomatic morass that claims to have stopped their nuclear program. Israel will conclude the same and will now have to decide if it must risk a solo strike on Tehran. America's friends and foes around the world will recalculate the risks ahead in the 40 dangerous months left of this unserious Presidency.

Peggy Noonan said the Russian proposal was "absurd" on its face. Assad would never even contemplate giving up his CW, his survival insurance. William Dobson of Slate said, "If your foreign policy has to be rescued by a dictator, you are doing it wrong." Jonathan Chait at NY Magazine, normally an Administration supporter, said, "But, having arguably blundered into the precipice of war, the administration seems to have indisputably blundered into a promising solution." Peter Wehner at Commentary called the damage caused by Obama unilaterally giving up the US' dominant mid-East strategic position as "historic" and potentially irreversible. John Podhoretz at the New York Post titled his piece this afternoon: "Feckless Obama Embarrasses the Nation." Bob Dreyfuss, at The Nation, an anti-war, very liberal publication, had this to say:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The President's Speech

The game has changed. Tonight the President made the moral case for American action, calling for targeted strikes against Syrian regime assets. And then he said that in light of the recent overtures from Russia and apparent agreement by Syria to sign the Treaty Banning Chemical Weapons, to turn their CW over to the UN, and to assist in their destruction, he has asked Congressional leaders to put off voting on the Authorization to Use Military Force. It looks like we will spend time trying to get a Security Council resolution demanding that Syria sign the CW Treaty and turn over all chemical weapons.

How much time? That's the question now. And what penalties if Russia and Syria just try to run out the clock. This is where the Manchin-Heitkamp resolution circulating in the Senate may come to the fore. The resolution has been under development for ten days or so, so it precedes the recent diplomatic flurry; and it is being rewritten, I understand, to specifically authorize the President to use force, if the diplomatic process drags out beyond, say, 45 or 60 days: Security Council Resolution, Syria signing the CW Treaty, and beginning the process of UN inspectors securing the weapons.

Suspect they will proceed with this in the Senate, certainly through committee. And it might well be brought to a vote. My hunch says such a resolution would pass the Senate, but not the House. However, even if just the Senate approves such a conditional resolution, Russia and Syria will see confirmation that the threat of force has not been voted off the table. And I think diplomacy would work, mainly because Russia and the US actually share the interest of not letting Islamist terrorists get their hands on chemical weapons. Assad wants to stay in power and he will do what his sponsor tells him to. Also, although we in the US weren't much impressed with our Libya strike, I suspect Assad was very impressed, and does not want to be put in a similar bulls eye.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Our President

Humor Break

Can't help myself - I love this from The People's View:

The Tide Shifts

The Syria conversation may yet end well. This from Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast :

The Russian foreign minister’s support for international control over Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is a big deal, it seems to me. And the scenario for this sweet spot in dealing with Assad’s chemical weapons is not new. Here is Israel’s former intelligence head, Amos Yadlin, on how that compromise could turn a disaster into something far more constructive:

"Were Putin to offer to take Assad’s chemical weapons out of Syria, said Yadlin in an Israeli Channel 2 news interview, “that would be an offer that could stop the attack.” It would be a “genuine achievement” for President Barack Obama to have ensured the clearing out of Assad’s capacity, and that would justify holding fire, said Yadlin. For Putin, such a deal would also keep the US from acting militarily in a state with which Russia is closely allied.

The UN Secretary General has also now endorsed the idea.

And some recent tweets:

It certainly appears that Russia and Syria believe Obama will strike. They probably also believe they can win without chemical weapons, which may be true. But we will not strike if there is a real chance of getting the Syrian chemical weapons under international control. And note that this is the first time Syria has officially admitted to having these weapons; so my instinct is that Russia and Syria are serious about turning them over to avoid a US strike. Suspect the next step may well be a Security Council call for Syria to turn over all CW by a date certain.

What will the US do right now? My guess: proceed with a conditional authorization, on a slightly slower schedule, to see if Russia moves this forward through the UN Security Council. If they do, we might or might not continue with a conditional authorization.

And here's my overall prediction: Obama may or may not secure a conditional authorization. In either case, Russia will take the lead in getting Syria to turn over their CW weapons. There will not be a strike. And this will be a big win for Obama.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Betting

My guess is that a significant majority of the GOP and a fair number of Democrats are betting that the following will happen on an unclear timeline, but certainly before Christmas:

  • Obama will lose the Syria vote and will emerge from the legislative tussle bruised, humiliated and ineffective. 
  • Obamacare Exchanges will open in a bit more than three weeks, and the"train wreck" pundits have been talking about will occur. Even where Exchanges have reasonably smooth openings, the fundamental flaws in the program's architecture will soon become obvious - that young, healthy people would rather pay the penalty than sign up, and the resulting "older, sicker" insurance pool will doom the program.
  • Obama is desperate to kill the sequester. He may not agree to defund Obamacare, but he will accept significant entitlement cuts and other discretionary reductions in order to cancel the sequester.
  • Obama says he won't negotiate over the debt ceiling. GOP negotiators will seek a 45-60 day extension for both the budget and the debt ceiling, moving the drop dead dates on both to late November/early December. Keeping the two dates close together allows Obama to say he did not negotiate over the debt ceiling, that all cuts are related to the new Budget - although anyone with half a brain will see right through this.
  • Obama may ask for tax increases as part of an agreement, but in his weakened state he will be unable to get them.
  • The country still has a serious debt and deficit problem, even if the soft recovery has dropped deficit levels a bit. Obama is a big-spending President that still needs to be firmly reined in.
  • Obama has lost every negotiation he has engaged in, so this Fall will be a walk in the park for GOP negotiators.

Syria Vote (2)

I have just spent almost two hours listening to highlight segments of the Sunday talk shows. The discussions have been animated, boisterous even, and with less predictable ideological commentary than usual. Here's what I take to be the summary right now:

  • The President will win the vote in the Senate, but lose in the House. Liberal Democrats will link with libertarian and Tea Party Republicans to effect the defeat.
  • This would be the first time a President has asked for authorization for the use of military force and been turned down by Congress.
  • If the vote is defeated, Obama will be crippled domestically, and the US' credibility will be seriously damaged on the world stage, especially vis a vis Iran.
  • A good many were baffled by why the President chose to go to Congress, when he could have struck without seeking authorization, and it was obvious he would lose the vote. No one suggested that he might have done this because he felt it was simply the right thing to do; passing the buck to Congress, to remove the decision from his shoulders, was the favored explanation. Almost everyone agreed that this course change represented the President "blinking", showing himself to be indecisive.
So what will happen? The President will put on a full court press this week, including a Tuesday evening speech. Israel, through its lobbying group, AIPAC, is going to flood Congress with 250 lobbyists to talk to every single member of Congress to let them know this is a crucial vote. Will it be enough? I don't really know, but here's what intuition is telling me: the President will get a conditional authorization to use force, subject to his spending a specified number of days trying to get Syria/Assad to stand down from using chemical weapons, to sign the Chemical Weapons Treaty, and possibly to destroy their current stockpile and/or turn it over to UN observers. Senators Manchin and Heitkamp are circulating such a resolution in the Senate right now. I think momentum will build for a compromise like this throughout the week.

My conclusion: the President will get a resolution he can support within 10-14 days. I'm not as confident as I was in my first post, but I think the political tide will turn by mid-week. Many, but certainly not all, will conclude that bringing the question to Congress is really a demonstration of strength, not weakness; that the President needs to forcefully make the point that chemical weapons use is unacceptable; that defeating the strike resolution would not just weaken the President, it would weaken the country; that we must send consistent messages to Iran; and that making a short-term diplomatic push (before striking) could make good sense.

An important week coming up.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

China Rebalancing

From Michael Pettis

The above chart comes from Michael Pettis, who is probably the smartest China analyst I have encountered. For two years or more, Pettis has been predicting a slowdown in China's GDP growth. His arguments with other China analysts are famous. One of his highly publicized bets is with the Economist, that is predicting that China's GDP will eclipse ours in 2016. At this point, almost all the bettors are siding with Pettis.

In his blog, he says very clearly that he is not making direct predictions. He is saying:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Syria Vote

So far the President seems to be winning the positioning battle: the coming vote will not directly be a vote of confidence in Obama; it will be a vote on America's willingness to act decisively and, when needed, militarily, in defense of its direct interests or essential international norms.

It will also test whether America can act cohesively in the world arena, when it cannot do so in its domestic affairs. This last point is central to Obama's case, and a key part, I believe, in explaining why he sought a vote at all. It's not just because of the "red line" that we are now told he mistakenly declared, although that is part of it. The big question some in the world have, and quite likely among that group are adversaries like Iran, is whether the US, split as it is politically, can nonetheless act powerfully on the world stage. A positive vote will demonstrate this to be true.

Had the anti-strike vote been successful in making this a vote on whether we want Obama to take the lead in a strike on Syria, he might have lost. Most likely, he would have won the Senate and lost the House, which would have meant a loss. This happened to Clinton in 1999 in the Kosovo bombing campaign: the Senate said yes; the House tied 213-213, thus not saying yes; and Clinton continued the bombing (already begun) until a successful conclusion six weeks later.

Boehner and Cantor have joined Senators McCain and Graham in support. Don't know that we've heard from McConnell yet. My prediction right now: solid win in the Senate; close call, but a win in the House. And because this will not be viewed as primarily an anti-Obama vote, the large number of House GOP voting No will be viewed as the new isolationist voice emerging in the Republican Party, connecting with libertarians Rand Paul and Mike Lee in the Senate.

Of course, as always, I could be wrong.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Good News

The above is exceptionally good news: healthcare spending growth is slowing. Peter Orzag signaled this in a recent Bloomberg column. He referenced a CBO technical paper Why Has Growth in Spending for Fee For Service Medicare Slowed, from which the chart above is taken. The study's authors say they don't know the slowdown's causes for sure. Here's the Abstract:

The Coming Vote


Do you think he'll get the vote? I'm not confident - but I think he will. I hope so.

Realignment to Radicalization

Everyone in the GOP-controlling Tea Party can't be paranoid, even if the word paranoid is broadened from  its clinical definition to include paranoid politics, where we react to threats to the polity as if they were direct threats to us, thus eliminating the boundaries between the personal and the political. Every Tea Partier can't be a deep conspiracy nut, I said after finishing yesterday's piece. Something else must be going on to give broad credence to paranoid conspiracy theories.

And I think there is, and we find it in Kim Messick's second great Salon articleThe Conservative Crackup: How the GOP Lost Its Mind, where he tracks the GOP realignment since 1960, leading to polarization and finally to our current gridlock. Key elements:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Paranoid Politics

Have been reading and rereading two remarkable articles by Kim Messick in Salon: The Tea Party's Paranoid Aesthetic and The Conservative Crackup: How the Republican Party Lost Its Mind. Thoughtful, powerful and scary stuff. Here's the wrap-up to the first article:

The question the rest of us confront, then, is not how to tutor the Tea Party in the realities of democratic governance. It is what we should think when one of our two major political parties is captured by a faction that rejects the possibility of normal politics. In his essay, “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt — 1954,” Richard Hofstadter left us these strikingly prescient words:

[I]n a populistic culture like ours, which seems to lack a responsible elite with political and moral autonomy, and in which it is possible to exploit the wildest currents of public sentiment for private purposes, it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active, and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.

What our own time is in the process of proving, however glumly, is that such a political climate is much more than merely “conceivable.”

Again, this from Richard Hofstadter almost 60 years ago:

 it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active, and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.