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Showing posts from May, 2014

Why the Shinseki resignation was the pragmatic thing to do; and why that pisses off this pragmatist

When the story about the problems at the Phoenix VA gained national attention, the media could have launched journalistic investigations into what created the problem. And Congress could have held hearings to educate both themselves and the public about what went wrong. But that's not what they did. Both groups determined that it was in their self-interests to engage in finger-pointing and scapegoating. And so the discussion centered around whether or not General Shinseki should resign. That fed the media's need for the hysteria that generates good linkbait and it gave politicians running for re-election a 5-second sound bite to assure voters they cared about the issue. Once that frenzi got going, even people like Rep. Tammy Duckworth - who had originally focused on fixing the real problems - decided to join in the call for Shinseki's resignation because nothing was going to get done until/unless that was taken off the table. That's what pragmatists who actually c

Nancy's "New Rules"

Democrats don't need to be more like Republicans. Women don't need to be more like men. People of color don't need to be more like white people. But then, those aren't really "new" rules. Audre Lorde put it this way quite a while ago:

What states like Mississippi are doing that progressives should be applauding

As I noted recently, not only is crime going down in this country, but  prison admissions are actually dropping after over 30 years of exponential growth. Hello! Is anyone paying attention?! One of the few people talking about the big picture of this trend is Dr. Keith Humphreys, who writes at The Reality-Based Community (a blog you should be following). Today he notes that part of the reason for this trend is that conservatives in states like Mississippi and South Carolina are getting on board and reforming their criminal justice systems. Take a look at the specifics of the bill recently signed into law in Mississippi: These reforms enact in policy something we have known to be true for a long time: namely, what helps the offender get back on his feet, hold down a job, secure stable housing and stay clear of trouble is good for all Mississippians. HB585 expands and strengthens alternatives to prison, such as drug court, and builds a re-entry infrastructure so that offenders l

"Without us firing a shot"

In his speech at West Point yesterday, one of the points President Obama made was about the need for the United States to demonstrate leadership by strengthening institutions that provide for international order. As he did in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech , he referred to President Kennedy's call for a peace based upon "a gradual evolution in human institutions." As I've been saying all along, those human institutions are based on the power of partnership rather than the dominance of unilateralism. To point to the effectiveness of such an approach, the President gave two examples. The first is the global response to Russian incursion into the Ukraine. In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe. But this isn’t the Cold War. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined

Reporters: Please do just a bit of homework before you write a story

I'm thinking about starting a regular series that perhaps I'll title "Dumb things reporters write." You'll be able to recognize an entry because this will be my motto: Here's yesterday's installment that focused on the importance of actually listening to what someone said before reporting on it.  Today's entry comes from Dara Lind at Vox  and the moral is about the importance of taking at least a moment to do some background work before writing a story. Lind's title gives you a pretty big clue about her agenda: Did Obama just get played by Republicans on immigration ?  She enters the story midway through its development and focuses on the fact that President Obama has asked his Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to delay an announcement on recommendations for changes to deportations priorities until the end of summer. Lind sees this as some kind of fig leaf (or preemptive compromise - OH MY!!!) President Obama is holding out t

"The world as it is and the world as it should be"

Once again today President Obama summoned the paradox that undergirds the work of his favorite philosopher - Reinhold Niebuhr. Now, ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty. We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency, but American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be -- a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters, where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in the direction of justice. As I read various pundits react to the President's speech on foreign policy at West Point's commencement, I am struck by how difficult it is for many Americans to deal with the reality of "the world as it is." There persists in our imagination a myth that if we simply summoned the right formula for our foreign policy approach, we could control the outcome and cr

And Still I Rise

I don't have much to say through the tears at the passing of this phenomenal woman. All I know is that I want to wallow in her words of wisdom and mourn the loss of a great soul on this earth.

Not listening makes actual reporting pretty impossible

The other day I wrote about the importance of understanding President Obama's goals in foreign policy in order to measure his success. But perhaps I should have taken it one step further. It would be helpful if we started by actually listening to what he says. In an age where we can re-read speeches or listen to the video-tapped recordings of them, this kind of reporting on the outcome of the President's speech last year on counterterrorism is a perfect example of why our media has lost credibility. The title of the article pretty much tells you all you need to know: One Year After Obama's Big Drone Speech, Many Promises Left Unkept . First of all, it was not a big drone speech!!!!  It was a speech about the indefinite war we've been waging since 9/11 (of which drones are a part) and a call for the country to contemplate ending that war . If you don't get that, you don't get the speech. When someone knows how to put together a speech that makes a logica

A summer of action for President Obama

There will be no lazy days of summer for this White House. If you want to know what we'll all be talking about soon, take a look at how President Obama is setting the table for action over the next few months. First of all, tomorrow he will give the commencement address at West Point . President Barack Obama will use his speech at the West Point commencement Wednesday to lay out a broad vision of American foreign policy that a White House official Saturday called “both interventionist and internationalist, but not isolationist or unilateral.” Those of us who have been listening to him since his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech and watching him act on the world stage will likely hear the Obama Doctrine  affirmed. But for the isolationists and unilateralists, it will once again confuse them and spark an interesting debate. Next Monday President Obama will announce the new EPA rules governing carbon emissions from existing power plants. As Jonathan Cohn suggests, this is

What you should read this Memorial Day about the VA

The one thing you should read this Memorial Day about the VA is what retired U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer  Jim Wright at StoneKettle Station wrote about it. The problem isn’t Barack Obama. The problem isn’t George W. Bush. The problem isn’t Eric Shinseki, or whoever takes the fall for this. The problem is systemic and a symptom of a much larger malaise. The problem is an ineffective deadlocked Congress who’ve abdicated their actual constitutional responsibilities and oversight for conspiracy theories and witch hunts, hysteria mongering and political theater. If these people had put but one tenth of their efforts into responding to their veteran constituents as they did chasing after blowjobs and Benghazi, if they would have allocated but a hundredth of the funds to veterans affairs as they wasted on cancelled weapons programs and pork barrel projects, if they had put half the effort into creating jobs for veterans as they did into protecting those who continue to liquida


Here's an excerpt from Senator Elizabeth Warren's book A Fighting Chance. It recalls an exchange over dinner with Larry Summers who was then President Obama's Director of the National Economic Council. Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders. I'd like to contrast two responses to this advice from Summers. First of all, Glenn Greenwald : My book, and my writing and speaking more generally, usually criticizes insiders, and does so harshly and by name, so much of this reaction is simply a ritual of expulsion based on my chronic violation of Summers’ rule. I find that a relief. And seco

Wall Street and Main Street: Our inescapable network of mutuality

I believe that one of the problems with a lot of liberals is that they focus too much on the enemy. Looking at the treatment of our financial system and the 1%ers by them is often instructive. The rhetoric is all tied up in calls for retribution and defeat of the enemy. In saying that, I am in no way attempting to excuse the injustices. They are very real. But if we are going to address them, we must maintain our North Star - a focus on who we are fighting FOR. I am often struck by the approach of leaders from the past that we revere...people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both of those men led movements against oppression far beyond what we experience today. I believe that much of what guided them can be summed up in these words Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. It is the same grounding that Pres

The sane folks

Here's my theory: whenever President Obama gets thoroughly disgusted with obstructionist Republicans, media hysterics, battles he has to fight in his own administration and dealing with foreign tyrants, he gets the heck out of dodge and goes someplace where he can hang out with a few sane folks.

Who gets to decide?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. That is the text of the First Amendment to our Constitution. It clearly states that Congress can't pass laws that interfere with the freedom of the press. And so it has become conventional wisdom in this country that journalists enjoy special privileges against prosecution for the stories they tell and the things they write. The New York Times was never taken to court for publishing the Pentagon Papers. But Daniel Ellsberg faced trail for leaking them to the press. This issue has resurfaced lately with reporters who play more than a passive role in publishing leaked documents. For example, if Glenn Greenwald is to be believed, Edward Snowden gave him thousands of documents and basically told him "you deci

Steve Benen got it wrong

Its very rare to find Steve Benen making a mistake. He is one of the best in a media full of problems. But today is one of those times he got something wrong. It comes in the midst of writing about the Obama administration's decision to release the memo written by the Office of Legal Counsel justifying the drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki. In recapping how we got here, Benen summarized the White House response to questions about the legality of its actions this way: The Obama administration responded that it absolutely has the legal authority to use force under conditions like these. The tricky part came after – when the administration’s attorneys didn’t want to tell anyone how or why it had the authority. In effect, the argument was, “What we did was legal. Honest. Take our word for it. We can’t elaborate, but we looked into it and we’re sure.” That totally ignores the following: Attorney General Eric Holder's  speech in March 2012 outlining the legal rationale for target

Intelligence community is fighting back on ending the indefinite war

For over two years now I've been saying that rather than focusing on drones and Gitmo, liberals should be talking about actually ending the indefinite war . A year ago this week, the President said we should do just that. But as Eli Lake reports, he's facing some pretty tough opposition on that front from the intelligence community. The title of his article is telling: 'Over My Dead Body': Spies Fight Obama Push to Downsize Terror War . In interviews with many of them, a common theme is sounded: The threat from al Qaeda is rising, but the White House is looking to ratchet down the war against these Islamic extremists. Lake goes on to dutifully quote many in the intelligence community about why we should still be afraid of "the terrorists" - even if it means ramping up the current furor over Benghazi! and the freak-out about ending the war in Afghanistan. But to get an idea of how the President views all of this, here's a fascinating exchange. Tommy V

Health insurers cut profits/admin costs by $1.4 billion

Rick Ungar was the first to name the bomb that was buried in Obamacare - the medical loss ratios. In case you haven't heard, that is the provision that limits insurers profit and administrative costs to 80/85% of the premiums they collect. Anything less that those minimums has to be refunded to their customers. Now comes word that in 2011 and 2012, health insurance companies sent out rebates totaling $1.5 billion. But get this, they also cut their profits/admin costs . The rule also led insurance companies to reduce their own profit margins, spending on brokers fees, marketing and others administrative costs to the tune of $1.4 billion . These costs are overhead fees that insurance companies have typically pushed on to their customers. “The Affordable Care Act has changed how health insurance is bought, sold, and managed and, on balance, those changes have produced substantial benefits for consumers without harming insurance markets,” said Michael McCue, the study’s lead aut

The pen and phone strategy

Over the last few years I've written about the various strategies President Obama has employed to deal with Republican obstructionism. As has been well documented, on the day the President was inaugurated in 2009, Republican leaders met to develop an opposition strategy. The one they decided on was to simply oppose anything and everything he tried to do - regardless of whether it included things they'd supported in the past. Initially the President's response was to enlist conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy . The best description I've found of that came from Mark Schmitt . One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware

Measuring President Obama's success in foreign policy

Lot's of people are weighing in on whether or not they think President Obama's approach to foreign policy has been a success. One way they often do that is to assume that the President's goals are the same as theirs. For example, if you think that he took military action in Libya or threatened it in Syria in order to implement "regime change" and impose American democracy on those countries, of course you would label his policy a failure. In general, if you think the President's response to the Arab Spring should have mirrored what our leaders have done in the past (including Bush's ultimate rationale for invading Iraq), of course you are going to judge Obama harshly. The other route to go would be to actually listen to the President's stated goals. For example, in Libya he said he wanted to stop the massacre of civilians, and in Syria he said that his efforts were to stop the use of chemical weapons in that country's civil war. By that measure

Getting the history right

Years ago I was a member of a professional association that staged a coup against the man who had served as its president since its founding. Members had lost trust in him and his vision for the association. In a surprise move, they coalesced a majority to elect me as president. The next couple of years were ugly as I dug into the finances and found that the previous president has "skirted" the law and created potential legal problems for the association. So I had a pretty big mess to clean up and it took some time. Once that was finally completed, we opened up the doors of the association to a lot of new members (something the previous president had opposed) and folks came flooding in. Knowing nothing about the mess we had been busy working to clean up for the past few years, they criticized the association for lack of vision, took the reigns, and ran with it. I was happy to pass the baton on to a next generation that would take the association where we'd always drea

President Obama: Harnessing the power of big business for change

I've written before about how President Obama's time as a community organizer and his understanding of power relations informs his foreign policy and the development of the Obama Doctrine . See if you can connect those dots with why  Max Fisher says his strategy of letting Putin hang himself is working . Most of this is economic. Russia's self-imposed economic problems started pretty quickly after its annexation of Crimea in March and have kept up. Whether or not American or European governments sanction Russia's broader economy, the global investment community has a mind of its own, and they seem to have decided that Russia's behavior has made it a risky place to put money. So risky that they're pulling more money out. A lot of that may have come from the targeted sanctions that Obama pushed for against individual Russian leaders and oligarchs. Those targeted sanctions did not themselves do much damage to the Russian economy. But, along with Russia'

Its time to weigh in on ending the indefinite war

A year ago  President Obama said this: Now, all these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact -- in sometimes unintended ways -- the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing. The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Con

An administration committed to civil rights

Ever since Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, I've wanted to watch every moment of his journey because I think something truly remarkable is happening. There are times when it is the relatively small things that often go unnoticed by our media that actually stand out to me. For example, did you know that today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia? And are you aware that yesterday the President issued a statement commemorating it? Tomorrow, as we commemorate the 10th annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, we recommit ourselves to the fundamental belief that all people should be treated equally, that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, and that no one should face violence or discrimination -- no matter who they are or whom they love. This comes a week after Obama's Secretary of Defense said it was time to review the military's ban on transexuals. B.F.D!!! And then, of course today we

Photo of the Day: He's always been his brother's keeper

I simply cannot say all the ways I love this picture. But then, I don't have to. It says it all for me :-)

PUMA alive and the GOP

In 2008, as it became clear that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee for president, a group of disgruntled Clinton supporters took on the moniker of PUMA - Party Unity, My Ass. But in the end, they weren't able to divide the Democratic Party and Obama won...twice. Nobody is giving that same moniker to a group of conservatives who are disenchanted with the Republican Party these days. But perhaps we should. If you remember, they are the group that organized the government shutdown over Obamacare - against Speaker Boehner's wishes. You might have thought they'd fade into the woodwork after that debacle. But they haven't . The very same people - Ed Meese, Ted Cruz, the Heritage Foundation, etc - met yesterday and developed a 10-page manifesto for the 2014 elections. The group, alarmed by a resurgence of the GOP establishment in recent primaries and what activists view as a softened message, drafted demands to be shared with senior lawmakers calling on the par

Shinseki under attack...again

Calls for General Shinseki's resignation as Secretary of Veteran's Affairs have gone out. In case you haven't heard what this is all about, here's a summary . The latest scandal erupted when a former VA doctor alleged the department’s Phoenix health clinic developed a secret system to hide treatment delays, possibly affecting dozens of patients who died while waiting for care. But this isn't the first time Shinseki has faced the fire. In 2003 he was  Army Chief of Staff when the Bush/Cheney administration was beating the war drums for an invasion of Iraq. Appearing before the Armed Services Committee a month before the invasion of Iraq, Shinseki said that occupying the country would require “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers.” That estimation put him at odds with the war’s chief architects, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who dismissed his opinion as “wildly off the mark.” Their plans called

The constraints of civil disobedience

Ben Sasse , who just won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate race in Nebraska, says this on his web site: Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances. Since this is the foundation for the Holly Lobby suit against providing employees with birth control via their health care coverage, liberals are all a-flutter over this "bold" statement by Sasse. But wait a minute - compare that with what Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter From Birmingham Jail : One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all." Now, what is the differ

No country for old hostage-takers

Anyone else notice that its all quiet on the hostage-taking front lately? As the saying goes, I'm old enough to remember when Republicans weren't simply content to obstruct anything President Obama tried to do. After awhile they started threatening to shut down the government and/or blow up the entire global economy if they didn't get what they wanted. At first, President Obama used the opportunity to try to get a Grand Bargain on deficit reduction - including both increased revenue and spending cuts. But because he was so busy watching his back , Speaker Boehner said "no deal." As a result, we went through a period of one hostage crisis after another...always walking up to the brink of the cliff before the Republicans figured out they'd have to negotiate a compromise. And then President Obama said, "we're not playing that game any more." The Republicans went ahead and shut down the government and we skated within inches of passing by th