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What We Should Be Talking About on the Anniversary of 9/11

Fifteen years ago this Wednesday Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) Against Terrorists. Just three days after the attacks on 9/11, it passed unanimously in the Senate and only one member of the House - Rep. Barbara Lee - voted against it. If you have some time, I suggest that you listen to her accounting of that decision that was part of RadioLab's broadcast called "60 Words" (the number of words contained in the AUMF).

The reason those 60 words are so important is because they changed the way this country deals with terrorism - and it is still in effect 15 years later. If you remember, prior to that time, terrorists like Ramzi Ahmed Yousef (WTC bombing) were apprehended and tried in our court system. The 2001 AUMF launched the Bush/Cheney "global war on terror" which not only led to the war in Afghanistan, but was used to justify things like torture and the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Of all the legacies of President Obama, hi…

Parallels with JFK

Rebecca Onion reminds us that this flier was making the rounds in Dallas, Texas in the days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.


It is hard to avoid the parallels to what we are witnessing today. The one big difference is that we're not just hearing that kind of thing from fringe groups - it is coming directly from the Republican presidential nominee.

That prompted me to go back and re-read something Frank Rich wrote back in 2011 titled, "What Killed JFK: The hate that ended his presidency is eerily familiar."
But if the JFK story has resonance in our era, that is not because it triggers the vaguely noble sentiments of affection, loss, and nostalgia that keepers of the Kennedy flame would like to believe. Even the romantic Broadway musical that bequeathed Camelot its brand is not much revived anymore. What defines the Kennedy legacy today is less the fallen president’s short, often admirable life than the particular strain of virulent hatred that helped br…

A Tale of Two Ground Games

I recently ran across two stories about what things look like on the ground in Southwestern Ohio - a state where the RCP polling average gives Hillary Clinton a 2.6 lead over Donald Trump.

The first comes from a blogger at Daily Kos with the screen name mt41w. He attended the opening of a field office in "deeply red" Mason.
The fact that Hillary’s ground game is focused, extremely competent, hard-working and ready to GOTV was plain with the opening of the Mason, Ohio office on Wednesday evening August 10th. This was one of seven offices “opening for business” Wednesday in Ohio...

Anyhow, the house was literally standing-room-only. In the room where I stood and sweated — the A/C was overwhelmed — I counted 35 people, including the Channel 12 CBS Local News crew and cameraman. And I was in the smaller of six rooms in this converted house on Mason’s Main Street. I could see more people outside on the porch and sidewalk unwilling or unable to brave the crowded rooms, so I’d take…

How President Obama Moved the Overton Window to the Left

I first started paying attention to Barack Obama about the time he won the Iowa primary in 2008. Prior to that, I figured he was just another insurgent candidate who would make a name for himself by challenging Hillary Clinton - but would ultimately lose.

The closer I looked, the more intrigued I became. Eventually it seemed to me that he was a very different kind of politician and that most pundits were viewing him through a lens of what they expected, rather than being genuinely curious. That's how I started my blogging career - by trying to understand who this guy was and how he operated.

From the beginning, one of the few pundits that seemed to be peeking behind the curtain of conventional wisdom was Richard Wolfe. That's why it is no surprise to me that - as we near the end of Obama's second term - he has written one of the most intriguing essays about how this President has contributed to the implosion of the GOP.
It may seem too early to call, but we already have a …

Re-Imagining the Dream

To listen to most politicians and pundits these days is to believe that the American dream - if not dead already - its certainly facing imminent demise. Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency by saying, "The fact is, the American Dream is dead..." Liberal web sites provide data and charts documenting that it is gone. A recent documentary that is a compilation of interviews with Noam Chomsky is titled: Requiem for the American Dream. In other words, in a country defined by political polarization, this seems to be the one thing that both conservatives and liberals agree on.

I'm not sure that I know exactly what it is we mean when we talk about the American dream. If it refers to the size and trajectory of the middle class, the data and charts I linked to up above certainly point to a demise. But at the beginning of that documentary, Chomsky suggests that we have seen similar trajectories in American history (i.e., just prior to the Great Depression), but t…

Adapting to Change Requires Curiosity and Creativity

Our 24/7 news cycle that is addicted to the crisis of the moment and the horse race of electoral politics doesn't do a good job of recognizing the tectonic shifts of change that are undergirding our lives.

The attacks of 9/11 followed by the Great Recession changed the way a lot of (mostly white) people feel about America in ways that aren't articulated often enough. We are experiencing demographic change that is unprecedented, are nearing the end of two terms for our first African American president and are likely on the cusp of electing our first female president. All of that is happening as we are experiencing the effects of globalization and automation in our economy while technology becomes more central to how we live our everyday lives. Finally, we are just beginning to feel the effects of climate change - with effects that most of us are unable to predict.

We can play the political parlor game of trying to suss out which of these is the most responsible for the dynamics…

How Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Will Differ From President Obama's

As I've said before, the concern I hear most often about Hillary Clinton from Democrats is her more "hawkish" views on foreign policy. On the campaign trail, that isn't addressed by her opponents when they resort to soundbites about how she is simply in favor of "regime change." That is an attempt to use an old frame to describe something that is much more complex when it comes to the challenges we face in the world today.

That is why I was interested in a discussion between Jeffrey Goldberg and Mark Landler where they delve into the differences between Clinton and Obama on foreign policy.  I suspect that they might be on to something here:
Landler: But my argument is that if you look at their instincts and reflexes and the way that they are apt to respond to a crisis, they just come at it very differently, and this is in part because they come from very different places both in terms of time and geography. Obama grew up in the ’70s, and he had this itineran…

Playing the Woman Card on Foreign Policy

After the recent primaries, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the woman card. In response, she said "deal me in." The examples Clinton used in connection to that remark were all related to domestic policy. But as I've suggested in the past, we also need to aspire to a more feminist foreign policy.

When I talk with my Democratic friends about the 2016 presidential election, this is the concern about Clinton that always comes up: is she too much of a hawk on foreign policy? That question was confirmed recently by Mark Landler's article in the New York Times Magazine titled: How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk. It only heightened the concern about Clinton's tendency to favor military intervention - especially as the Middle East continues to be such a global hot-spot.

What is interesting to note about Landler's article is that it is entirely constructed around what President Obama called the "Washington playbook." In other words, it assumes …

How Change Happens

Over the weekend I watched the HBO movie Confirmation about the Clarance Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. It was painful to live through that period - and almost as painful to re-live it via this film. But the one benefit of hindsight is that we know what happened as a result of the ordeal Ms. Hill endured.
Her appearance became a catalyst for change. The following year was designated the "Year of the Woman" after women across the political spectrum ran for public office in record numbers. This was seen as a direct response to the treatment Hill received from the Senate, which was then 98 percent male...

And the spike in sexual harassment claims showed Hill was not alone. Hill's testimony helped other women identify the unwanted sexual advances they'd experienced. In 1992, the EEOC saw a 71 percent increase in sexual harassment claims, continuing throughout the decade and peaking in 2000 with 15,836 claims. I doubt that Senator Patty Murray is the only one who responded t…

Southern States Do Not Distort the Primary

At the end of the last Democratic debate, Dana Bash asked Sanders whether he will take the contest to the convention in Philadelphia if neither candidate clinches the nomination via pledged delegates. Sanders responded by saying that he plans to win the nomination outright. But then he injected something that both he and his campaign staff have said frequently.
Look, let me acknowledge what is absolutely true. Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That's the fact. For the last several weeks, this is a contention the Sanders campaign has made in various forms. Most recently, the candidate told Larry Wilmore that having the Southern states vote early in the primary "distorts reality." If we combine that statement with what he said last night, the argument becomes: having Southern states vote early in the primary distorts reality because it is the most con…

I'm Ready For This Primary to be Over

As I watched the Democratic presidential debate in New York, I wondered if anyone who was doing so was still in the process of making up their mind about who to support. Of course, we don't yet know how many people actually watched. But it's likely that most Americans didn't. Those of us who did are probably die-hard political junkies who made up our minds long ago.

The reason I was thinking about that is because this one was a lot more contentious than previous debates. While issues were discussed, no real new ground was broken about where they stand - but both candidates spent a lot of time pointing the finger at each other to identify flaws in their past and/or present positions. The object seemed to be to score a "hit" on your opponent. In other words, it shed more heat than light.

I suppose that is to be expected at this point in a campaign. But it sure seemed like the kind of debate that each candidate's supporters will score as a "win" for th…

Incentivizing Change in the Largest Financial Institutions

After writing this morning about the "living wills" required from large financial institutions via Dodd-Frank, I've read some additional information about the fact that the Federal Reserve and FDIC rejected five of them yesterday. I hope you'll stick with me and follow this trail of information. The topic is sure to come up in tonight's Democratic presidential debate and it's always good to be informed.

Senator Warren released a statement yesterday about the rejection of the living wills. Here is how she begins:
Today, after an extensive, multi-year review process, federal regulators concluded that five of the country's biggest banks are still - literally - Too Big to Fail. They officially determined that five US banks are large enough that any one of them could crash the economy again if they started to fail and were not bailed out. Based on what I've read so far, that last sentence is a bit of an overstatement of what the federal regulators did yest…

Dodd-Frank Continues to Work as Planned

Key portions of the Dodd-Frank bill were devoted to identifying and regulating "Systemically Important Financial Institutions" (SIFI's), which are sometimes referred to as "too big to fail banks" following the Great Recession. Throughout this post I will refer to them as financial institutions because the list of those identified includes insurance companies (i.e., AIG). The reforms contained in Dodd-Frank imposed three regulations on these companies once they have been identified.

1. Capital requirements - which require these financial institutions to fund themselves with a minimum amount of equity rather than debt. They are designed to ensure that they bail themselves out in the event of problems rather than rely on American taxpayers. Avoiding these requirements is the reason cited for why GE and MetLife recently downsized themselves.

2. Stress tests - every year these financial firms are tested for how they would perform in the event of a global recession. …

Obama Administration Forgives Student Debt for the Disabled

We've been hearing a lot about the rising problem of student debt. For Americans who couple that challenge with a disability, the Obama administration brought some good news yesterday.
Hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers will now have an easier path to getting their loans discharged, the Obama administration announced Tuesday. The Department of Education will send letters to 387,000 people they’ve identified as being eligible for a total and permanent disability discharge, a designation that allows federal student loan borrowers who can’t work because of a disability to have their loans forgiven. The borrowers identified by the Department won’t have to go through the typical application process for receiving a disability discharge, which requires sending in documented proof of their disability. Instead, the borrower will simply have to sign and return the completed application enclosed in the letter. If every borrower identified by the Department decides to have his or…

Sanders and Clinton on Climate Change

Recently two liberal activists have publicly stated their positions in the Democratic presidential primary: Bill McKibben endorsed Sanders and Tom Hayden endorsed Clinton. With the campaigns moving into territory like New York, Pennsylvania and eventually California, it is interesting to compare what these two men said about the candidate's positions on climate change (especially fracking).

McKibben mostly critiques Clinton for her "evolution" on issues.
Ties to the past define Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She’s run on her experience, and she’s relied on senior voters for her margins of victory. Her call is for slow and evolutionary change, for a “realism” that rejects the supposedly romantic and idealistic hopes of her competitor. At least on climate change, slow and evolutionary change is another way of giving up. Because the world is changing so damned fast. Here's why he supports Sanders.
...mostly it’s because there’s never been any need for his positions on thes…

Young Arabs Are Rejecting ISIS

Joby Warrick brings some interesting news today in the Washington Post.
Two years after proclaiming a new “caliphate” for Muslims in the Middle East, the Islamic State is seeing a steep slide in support among the young Arab men and women it most wants to attract, a new poll shows. Overwhelming majorities of Arab teens and young adults now strongly oppose the terrorist group, the survey suggests, with nearly 80 percent ruling out any possibility of supporting the Islamic State, even if it were to renounce its brutal tactics. A year ago, about 60 percent expressed that view, according to the 16-country survey released Tuesday. “Tacit support for the militant group is declining,” concludes a summary report by the poll’s sponsor, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm that has tracked young Arabs’ views in annual surveys for the past eight years. Other recent surveys have found similarly high disapproval rates for the Islamic State among general populations in Muslim-majority c…

Cost Control Measures in Obamacare

Prior to Obamacare, there were two big problems in our health care delivery system: access and affordability. Most of what people know about what has changed since the reforms were passed in 2010 have to do with access. Other than expansion of Medicaid and subsidies, there hasn't been much discussion about what Obamacare put in place to tackle the affordability problem.

For example, I find that very few people are aware of the provision related to medical loss ratios (what Rick Ungar once called "the bomb buried in Obamacare"). They limit the amount of premium dollars that insurance companies can collect to pay for administration and profit to 15% (20% for those who market to individuals and small groups*). If insurance companies collect more than that limit in any given year - they are required to provide refunds to their customers.

Of course, that is a reform to the way health insurance is provided. I remember that when Obamacare originally passed, Ezra Klein pointed o…

Is Uncertainty a Liberal Value?

When the Obamas moved in to the White House, they made some changes to the artwork that decorated their new home. The painting above by Ed Ruscha titled "I Think I'll..." was one they chose. At the time, a friend of mine told me that he thought it said something important about our new president. James Kloppenberg, who wrote the book Reading Obama, would probably agree.
It has become a cliche to characterize Obama as a pragmatist, by which most commentators mean only that he has a talent for compromise - or an unprincipled politician’s weakness for the path of least resistance. But there is a decisive difference between such vulgar pragmatism, which is merely an instinctive hankering for what is possible in the short term, and philosophical pragmatism, which challenges the claims of absolutists…and instead embraces uncertainty, provisionality, and the continuous testing of hypotheses through experimentation. Elsewhere he wrote:
After almost two years as president, Obama…

President Obama Lets His Nerd Flag Fly

One of the lesser-discussed controversies about President Obama is whether or not he qualifies as a jock or a nerd. We all know that he loves sports (both as a spectator and participant) and is quite competitive. But I remember that early on in his presidency, the nerds of the world were pretty excited about finally having one of their own in the White House. That was true for a resident blogger at Political Animal.
For the record, President Obama has collected Spider-Man comics; he knows the name of Superman’s father; he’s a fan of Star Trek; and can, rather effortlessly, offer a Vulcan salute. Ezra Klein (noted nerd) was impressed as well.
Obama is by far the most culturally awesome president this country has witnessed. That doesn't mean his presidency won't be a catastrophic failure. But, if anything, the press has been much too restrained in their commentary on Obama's virtues. Forget beers: This is a president I could play Halo 3 with. But perhaps the greatest disqui…

Grover Norquist's Plan to Stop Hillary...Seriously

Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about the Rising American Electorate (unmarried women, millennials and people of color) that Barack Obama tapped into in order to win two presidential elections. Back in November, Stan Greenberg cautioned that these voters weren't being engaged in the 2016 election. But in a more recent poll, he found that things had changed.
The disengagement pall has been lifted. Our focus groups with white unmarried women, millennials and African Americans showed a new consciousness about the stakes in November. In this poll, the percentage of Democrats giving the highest level of engagement has increased 10 points. The result is that the country might be heading for an earthquake election in November.

Rather than embrace the recommendations of the RNC autopsy report following the 2012 presidential election, the response of Republicans has typically been to drill down on the idea that there are millions of white voters they can tap into…

Preserving National Monuments is Good for the Economy

As I have noted previously, President Obama has used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to preserve over 260 million acres of land and water as national monuments - more than any previous president. The stunning vista in the photograph above comes from the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, which was designated in March 2013. I have had the good fortune to visit this area on several occasions, and it is truly a remarkable place.
The monument includes an assortment of geographical attractions. The most prominent is the Rio Grande Gorge. The gorge is the result of a continental rift where two plates are separating at an extremely slow pace. This part of the Rio Grande has numerous hot springs and some class 5 rapids at the “Taos Box”. The gorge is home to bighorn sheep, river otters, beaver, ringtail, porcupine, bear, cougar, and many other species. The petroglyphs created by early Native Americans can be found on the rocks adjacent to the river. In addition to the Rio Grande Gorge, the …