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Showing posts from June, 2014

A constitutional crisis

The latest gambit the Republicans have launched to challenge the legitimacy of Barack Obama's presidency was announced yesterday when Speaker Boehner said the House will sue him for "not faithfully executing the laws passed by Congress." At its root is the idea that Barack Obama's presidency is inherently illegitimate, and whatever he does in that office must be illegal, or nearly so. In reading about this today, I'm not finding any liberals or Democrats who are taking this move seriously. Even if Boehner can fill in the specific charges he left out of yesterday's announcement, no one thinks anything will come of this until President Obama is long gone from office. In the end, this is about the fact that the tools Republicans were planning to use to fire up their base for the November midterms (Obamacare and Benghazi) have been effectively de-fanged. So this is their alternative. But there is a message in all this that we shouldn't completely ignore.

Outputs vs outcomes

Daniel Drezner is right to point out that polling on the public's approval of President Obama's foreign policy is now the new Obamacare. In other words, people like the individual policies but don't give the President credit for them. Drezner's way of explaining this is to differentiate between outputs (which the public approves) and outcomes (which they don't). So what’s going on? It’s not rocket science, it’s the difference between policy outputs and policy outcomes. A policy output is, say, the decision to send military advisers into Iraq, or the decision to rule out the use of combat troops there. A policy outcome is what actually happens on the ground — in the case of Iraq, a worsening sectarian war. The thing about American foreign policy is that even the best foreign policy outputs do not necessarily translate into the best outcome, because the United States, for all its superpower-yness, is not actually an omnipotent deity. Of course that explanation

Quote of the Day: Obama on taking risks

Back in 1990, Tammerlin Drummond interviewed Barack Obama after he'd been elected the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review. Here's what he said about the value of a Harvard education: "One of the luxuries of going to Harvard Law School is it means you can take risks in your life," Obama said recently. "You can try to do things to improve society and still land on your feet. That's what a Harvard education should buy - enough confidence and security to pursue your dreams and give something back."

Why Beinart is wrong about Obama's Iraq Policy

I always find it interesting to hear what Peter Beinart has to say - even when I don't agree with him. Mostly that's because - as an avowed liberal - he doesn't tend to follow the common orthodoxies, which means that he thinks for himself. Its true that Beinart blew it when he came out as a vocal proponent of the Iraq War. But unlike some of his neocon counterparts, he openly admitted his error and examined how it came about. Instructive for understanding his recent column criticizing President Obama's Iraq policy are his insights about what he got wrong . I supported the war because I considered it the only remaining way to prevent Saddam Hussein from obtaining a nuclear bomb. I also believed it could produce a decent, pluralistic Iraqi regime that might help open a democratic third way in the Middle East between secular autocrats and their theocratic opponents: a third way that offered the best long-term hope for protecting the US. On both counts, I was wrong.

Republican rhetoric is dangerous

Over the last six years, we've seen challenges to the legitimacy of Barack Obama's presidency take the form of demands to see his birth certificate, threats to blow up the global economy if he doesn't comply with Republican demands, and a government shutdown with this as an accompanying visual. The latest craze has been to call the President "lawless."  House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls President Obama’s tenure “an increasingly lawless presidency.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) cites “the president’s persistent pattern of lawlessness.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) called a hearing to examine how Obama “has blatantly disregarded the Constitution’s mandate to faithfully execute the laws.” And first-term Rep. Randy Weber (R-Tex.) amped up the rhetoric an ugly notch, with pre-State of the Union tweets — from the House floor, no less — denouncing Obama as “Kommandant-In-Chief” and a “Socialist dictator.” And no

Photo of the Day: Legacy

Fifty years ago today three civil rights workers went missing in Mississippi. It took 44 days for us to learn their terrible fate. Their legacy lives on as a part of the great Civil Rights Movement in this country. But it is also captured hauntingly in this photo of James Chaney's brother.

President Obama and Speaker Boehner: Compare and Contrast

I'd like the return to Josh Marshall's article that I mentioned the other day titled: The Long Truce . In it he notes that after bruising battles since the last midterm election, both President Obama and Speaker Boehner have given up on Congress doing any legislating. So lets compare and contrast the alternatives that each have chosen to pursue (via Steve Benen ). First of all, the President is implementing the pen and phone strategy he announced in his State of the Union speech: Obama and his team have recently moved on addressing carbon pollution, raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, creating a vast new ocean reserve, making more resources available to entrepreneurs, combating discrimination, and today, helping same-sex families. And here is Speaker Boehner's response from his press conference yesterday: If there were any doubts about GOP lawmakers giving up on passing bills and focusing all of their energy on manufactured “scandals,” Boehner couldn’

The "what about me?" syndrome

For years black academics criticized the Obama administration for not targeting programs to the African American community. Obamacare didn't count - even though it has disproportionately affected people of color. All of his talk about income inequality didn't matter, neither did his proposal for universal pre-K. What they wanted to see were initiatives that directly (and only) affected African Americans. Then along came the announcement about President Obama's " My Brother's Keeper " program targeting boys of color. It didn't take long for many of the same critics to go after that one because it didn't include girls. As I see it, this is what most efforts to target a specific community will eventually face...the "what about me?" syndrome. That's not to say that its wrong to initiate and promote targeted programs. Sometimes they're needed. Its more about the fact that when they are proposed, we need to remember WHY they're targ

A question for the lazy media

Last week I commented on the fact that too many in the media display a laziness in their reporting . One way they demonstrate that is by an over-reliance on the polls and the horse race of elections. Today we're hearing a chorus of folks commenting on the latest NBC/WSJ poll with hysterical statements like " the Obama presidency is over ." In contrast, I'd point to a recent article by Josh Marshall at TPM titled: The Long Truce . While I don't agree with Marshall's entire frame on the current political situation, he's showing some thoughtful creativity that is much needed. Marshall points out that President Obama has pretty much given up on legislating. And that the Republican leadership has gone full-throttle on scandal-mania. But... ...the kicker is, I'm not sure GOP congressional leaders particularly care either. Because it doesn't really matter if the Democrats care or the White House does or even the actual media does. It's a convers

Krugman admits Geithner was right and he was wrong

A lot of political commentary these days is focused on forecasting the future. As we learned with the Eric Cantor primary defeat, an awful lot of people get that prognosticating wrong. Sometimes its even more instructive to look backwards and see what we can learn from how actions taken in the past are working out in the present. On that front, the big news these days is that Obamacare is turning out to be way more effective than many on both the left and right predicted it would be. The release of former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's book Stress Test has allowed folks like economist Paul Krugman to take some time to reflect on how the Obama administration's efforts to deal with the Great Recession look in hindsight. As we all know Geithner became the lightening rod for people who went on a rage about the bailout of the banks by the federal government. Krugman was part of the left's contingent on that front. His recommendation - along with many other liberals - wa

What racism usually sounds like these days

The kind of racism expressed by Donald Sterling is rarely uttered in public. As a matter of fact, we wouldn't know about what he said if his girlfriend hadn't recorded his private conversation. Most often these days, public statements of racism tend to come in the form of what North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis said in an interview back in 2012. The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It's not growing. The African American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers. The "dog whistle" nature of a statement like that is that everyone knows that when he says "traditional," he means "white." The suggestion therefore is that people of color in North Carolina and the United States are "non-traditional." In saying that, he marginalized Native Americans and Latinos who preceded the arrival o


I doubt that anyone has ever honestly used the word "authentic" to describe Hillary Clinton . And so as far as I'm concerned, if she decides to run in 2016 and gets the Democratic nomination, it will be back to politics as usual. In contrast, we are living in an era where the President of the United States is described this way : He doesn't do schtick well, right? It goes back to that authenticity thing. He knows who he is, he believes who he is and he's not going to put on some facade just because he's supposed to glad-handle someone. When a person is authentic you can trust them, whether you agree or disagree on any particular issue. Its a sad but true fact of politics that having someone in the White House that you trust is probably a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. That's why I've wanted to savor every moment of these eight years. I'm not very confident it will ever happen again.

Preserving the soul

There have been those over the years who have suggested that reveling in photos like the one above is simply succumbing to propaganda and/or engaging in hagiography. Of course I disagree. In particular, this photo of the first African American President and First Lady finding such joy in meeting a young Native American girl speaks volumes as a symbol of our hope for healing from a bloody and painful history. But the fact is, whenever I see our President's genuine delight in interactions with children, I think of something Alice Walker wrote shortly after he was elected.  I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life...From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy

From protesting to governing

Paul Waldman has written a great analysis of what ails the tea partiers. I hope he won't mind if I make a few alterations in order to show that the same thing applies to some on the left. Lets start with the tag line: As far as the activist base is concerned, the very act of taking office is little more than a prelude to betrayal. For far too many liberals, their "disappointment" started the moment President Obama was sworn in. Lets dig in and see why. ...they have embraced a permanent revolution, in which it's necessary to fight not just against Democrats  Republicans but against Republicans  Democrats as well, since every GOP  Democratic leader is little more than a traitor waiting to be revealed... ...the very act of joining the Republican  Democratic leadership is enough to make clear to them that you're on the wrong side. People in the leadership organize things, try to master the system, and plan legislative strategy. All of that is suspect at best;

Photos of the Day: #PrezRezVisit

I'll never be able to keep up with the great Chipsticks over at The Obama Diary , but I do want to document some of the amazing photos from President Obama's historic visit to Indian Country today.

President Obama refuses to take sides in the Sunni/Shia conflict (updated)

I'm certainly no expert on Middle Eastern politics. But I know enough to realize that it is impossible to understand what is happening in Iraq (and Syria) unless you have some basic knowledge about how the various players line up in the conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. According to this article , only about 10-15% of the world's Muslims are Shia (the rest are mostly Sunni). But the Shia are concentrated in the Middle East. As you can see, Iran is 90% Shia, which puts them at odds with one of their closest neighbors - Saudi Arabia - which is 95% Sunni. Saddam Hussein was Sunni and brutally abused the Shia when he was in power. After the United States invaded Iraq (which is 63% Shia), the Bush administration purged all Sunni's from both political office and the military. Now its payback time for the Shiite government of Prime Minister Maliki, who is excluding and abusing the Sunni. The ISIL, which is the terrorist group that is gaining ground in Iraq, is a Su

Ideologues are NOT the answer to what ails us

When it comes to the civil war currently underway in the Republican Party (as evidenced by Rep. Eric Cantor's defeat), I've taken the position that I don't have a dog in that fight. In other words, I'm not going to take a position on who I'd like to see "win" that one. That's because I have concerns about both the lunacy of most of the tea party positions and the monied interests of the establishment. There are voices on the left that want to embrace the "populism" that has gripped the tea party faction in this battle. If, by populism, we mean an equality of voice that balances an inequality of resources , then yes, I'm all for it. But Richard Eskow is asking us to embrace the very thing that makes tea partiers dangerous. Unlike Cantor, who was a party apparatchik first and foremost, Brat is an ideologue. But is that bad?  We all have our opinions about public policy. And most of the time those group into an overall philosophy that

Crafting the narrative that explains Cantor's defeat

Eric Cantor's primary defeat is one of those things that fascinates me about politics. As I mentioned yesterday, pundits are not only tripping over themselves to understand why it happened, but also to predict what it means for the future.  In order to do so, they have to examine the motivations for human social behavior - and I suppose it shouldn't surprise us that an awful lot of them are really bad at that. It strikes me that what happened is that a narrative everyone had settled on to understand social behavior (how Republican primary voters would behave in the midterms) got broken by Cantor's loss.  And now everyone is scrambling to be the one who tells us what the new narrative will be. We need a narrative to understand what's happening - that's why storytelling is so important. The trouble is, these things take time to develop and understand...and we're impatient. In the meantime, we have folks telling us that it was all about immigration reform , or

A lazy media once again misses how politics has changed

Today the media pundits are tripping over themselves to tell us what Cantor's primary defeat means for the future of national politics. But one word of caution about listening to their prognostications: these are the very same people who never saw this one coming. At some point we have to question their predictive capacities. Unless/until they are willing to do a little self-examination to uncover why they were so wrong, we should take their current machinations with one HUGE grain of salt. I've been hesitant to say this outright, but I think one of the biggest reasons they get so much wrong is that too many of these pundits are lazy. Its much easier (and more conducive to lucrative linkbait) to simply run with the latest hysteria craze created by the right wingnuts. Over the last few years we've watched them become consumed with everything from presidential birth certificates to literally buying wingnut lies about an American POW before we have the facts. When it comes t

If you're in the mood for some sanity

The other day I was chatting with one of my neighbors and told her what a political junkie I am. She asked me if there was a reliable place she could go to for news that she could trust. I told her that the truth was, I didn't have a recommendation. What a sad commentary. I thought about that conversation when I read the two latests posts from Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station about the Sergeant Bergdahl case. Here's the first and here's the second . Jim's second post was both a pleasure to read and a really bad commentary on the status of our political conversation these days. And yes, there is an element of "both sides" that applies here. In it he quotes from an email he received from a Marine Corp Captain. Even though I don't agree with all the Captain said, as Jim points out, he stated his position in a direct and respectful manner. I actually long for a conversation with someone who can do that. But Jim had to write a couple of addendums because

Obama Derangement Syndrome

Nate Cohn has written an interesting article addressing the question about whether or not President Obama's approval ratings will affect other Democrats in upcoming elections. Buried in his argument is this little nugget: Nonetheless, Mr. Clinton earned significantly higher general approval ratings than Mr. Obama because he earned considerable crossover support, including from about 30 percent of Republicans. Mr. Obama’s opposition has been extremely unified. That makes it difficult for Mr. Obama to earn overall approval ratings at or above 50 percent. The next time you hear someone say that Republicans were just as hard on Clinton as they've been on President Obama, there's your comeback. The truth is that there has been a unified ferocity in the opposition to this President. That is simply a fact. Given how accommodating he's been, its pretty difficult to write that off to policy differences. So what are we left with to explain it? I think that ultimately we all

Thought for the day: Glass half full

The power of cartoons is usually not in their humor, but in their ability (much like poetry) to say SO much with so few words. I'll just leave this one here for you to ponder.

How should we measure a president's success?

I, for one, really appreciate Jonathan Chait's column yesterday titled: Obama Promised to do 4 Big Things as President. Now He's Done Them All . He uses the following statement from the President's 2008 Inaugural Address to name those 4 things: Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. And so President Obama's initiatives on the stimulus bill, Wall Street reform, health care reform, education reform and now climate change are noted as major accomplishments. But what strikes me in this kind of analysis is that most of that list involves legislative accomplishments. That is primarily the job of Congress. In the separation of powers outlined by our founders, the main job of the presidency is not to legislate, but to administer the functions of the federal government. And yet when it

Phenomenal Black Women

If you ever doubted that having a black family in the White House dramatically changes the racial dynamics in this country, please take a few moments to watch First Lady Michelle Obama speak at the memorial service for Dr. Maya Angelou. No other FLOTUS could speak to/for black women like this. Can you feel the change happening? I'm sure that millions of phenomenal black women/girls can.

Photo of the Day: Honored to meet you, Sir/Mam


I'm having a bit of a chuckle at my peers who - in the midst of all the lunacy over the prisoner exchange - have been trying to explain that George W. Bush released hundreds of Gitmo prisoners and that Ronald Reagan traded arms for hostages. The reason why I laugh is because of the assumption that any of this is about a rational argument. When we go there, it gives this nonsense credibility. Thank goodness Michelle Malkin did us a favor by actually saying what its all about. The Bowe Bergdahl mess isn't just a story about one deserter, but two. Just in case you missed it, the second "deserter" is the guy a majority of people in this country elected President...twice. As these hysteria eruptions come and go, it always helps to remember that there is a faction in this country that never accepted the legitimacy of PRESIDENT Obama. In case Malkin's truth-telling doesn't convince you that's what all this is about, the whole incident has put life back in

A negotiated peace in Afghanistan is the goal

At this point, the hysteria about Sergeant Bergdahl's home-coming is so perverse that its almost impossible for actual information to penetrate. But as I've been saying since day one of this prisoner exchange, there is a bigger context to the story. At least the Associated Press , via reporter Kathy Gannon, is telling it. The announcement that the U.S. government had secured the release of missing U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and that it was freeing five senior Taliban figures from Guantanamo Bay has been portrayed first and foremost as a prisoner exchange. But the four-year history of secret dialogue that led to Saturday's release suggests that the main goal of each side may have been far more sweeping. It was about setting the stage for larger discussions on a future peaceful Afghanistan. Gannon then goes on to describe the fits and starts to this process of attempting to set up negotiations that began in 2010. So why does it seem to have finally come to fruition now?

Why the prisoner exchange is a big issue for the neocons

We're hearing all kinds of hysteria about the prisoner exchange that resulted in the release of Sergeant Bergdahl. The media is indulging claims about Bergdahl's state of mind, whether or not the President was required to consult with Congress prior to finalizing the exchange and stories about soldiers who may have died trying to rescue him. But that's all hyperbole designed to gin up the anti-Obama base. I propose that the real issue for conservatives actually centers on the other side of the exchange...the release of the 5 Taliban detainees from Gitmo. Ken Gude writing at Think Progress is one of the few journalists who got to the heart of the issue with an article titled Why the Five Taliban Detainees Had to be Released Soon, No Matter What . The United States is engaged in an armed conflict in Afghanistan against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces authorized by Congress under the 2001 Authorizations to Use Military Force...President Obama recently announce

Benghazi? What Benghazi?

Over the years I've watched as people criticized President Obama's administration for being bad at the public relations game. And so today I'm having a little chuckle about that. Because at this point, he is SO controlling the agenda that the lunatics can't figure out which head-exploding action to focus on. Remember a few weeks ago when conventional wisdom said that Republicans would be running on an anti-Obamacare platform in the 2014 midterms? With its actual success, they were forced to change their tune and the prediction was that it would be all Benghazi all the time. But wait, the President paid a visit to our troops in Afghanistan to remind us that war will be over soon and gave a major foreign policy speech. Gotta talk about that outrage, don't we? Just about when that got rolling came news that Sergeant Bergdahl was coming home...oh my...he's negotiating with terrists! That surely will be the   one thing everyone is talking about until November. And

Passing on a clean slate

Yesterday's release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was joyous news to his family, his community and his country.  But in order to understand the broader importance of this news, it needs to be placed in context. Following 9/11, the Bush/Cheney administration attempted to put this country on a permanent war footing to fight the global war on terror. In doing so, they took actions that go against our basic ideals as a country and called America's leadership in the world into question. That included invading another country based on lies, the use of torture and setting up a prison for indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay. These actions left legal and foreign policy challenges that - while not as imminent as the financial crisis - were necessary to address. When President Obama assumed office, he began working on cleaning up the mess from day one. His first actions were to stop the use of torture and re-focus the global war on terror into a war on al Qaeda. The latter action provi