Skip to main content


Showing posts from February, 2015

Odds & Ends

I'm going to do something a little different today. That's because if you watched any of the speakers at CPAC, you might be tempted to think that ISIS is marching across the Middle East and is about to reach our shores. Of course that's not true. So I'm going to highlight some things that have been written recently and suggest that you read them to get a more accurate view of what's going on. Zack Beauchamp writes: ISIS is Losing If you want to understand what's happening in the Middle East today, you need to appreciate one fundamental fact: ISIS is losing its war for the Middle East. This may seem hard to believe: in Iraq and Syria, the group still holds a stretch of territory larger than the United Kingdom, manned by a steady stream of foreign fighters. Fighters pledging themselves to ISIS recently executed 21 Christians in Libya. It's certainly true that ISIS remains a terrible and urgent threat to the Middle East. The group is not on the verge of

Department of Education Fires Repo Man Contractors for College Loans

Back in 2012, Stephen Burd broke a story in the Washington Monthly about the predatory "repo man" tactics used by some of the contractors working for the Department of Education to collect payments on college loans. Gregory McNeil, 49, is living out his days at a veterans home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His room is so cramped he can barely fit his twin bed, dresser, and the computer desk he had to sneak in because it was against regulations. His only income comes from the Social Security disability payments he began receiving last year after undergoing quadruple-bypass heart surgery. These payments go directly to the veterans home, which then gives him $100 a month for his expenses. McNeil fears that if he leaves the home, the government will seize a portion of his Social Security to pay off the federal student loan he defaulted on two decades ago. “This veterans home may become my financial prison,” he says. “And this is no way to live.” McNeil’s fears are well grounded

The Scott Walker Antidote: Minnesota

Via Mother Jones With the Iowa caucus still 11 months away, the media has become obsessed with the candidacy of Scott Walker. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but in the midst of all that, a few good reporters are taking a look at flyover country and finding out that Wisconsin's next door neighbor provides a great antidote to his policy claims. Up here in the tundra, that comparison started a while ago. In 2013, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article reminding us that when it comes to population, commerce and politics, Minnesota and Wisconsin have an awful lot in common. But something drastically changed after the 2010 election. Wisconsin has been cutting taxes, curbing unions, expanding private school vouchers and rejecting hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding. Minnesota has been raising taxes, empowering unions, legalizing same-sex marriage and embracing Obamacare. Wisconsin is getting its most conservative governance in decades. Minn

A House Divided

The plan was to force President Obama to either sign a bill repealing his executive actions on immigration or veto it and shut down the Department of Homeland Security. But things didn't work out that way. Senator McConnell couldn't get the 6/7 Democratic votes he needed to pass a bill that paired funding for DHS to repealing the President's immigration actions and Speaker Boehner was unwilling to pass a stand-alone funding bill with primarily Democratic votes. So we got a one week reprieve before we do this all over again. The good news is that we found out that neither Republican leader is willing to follow through with their threats to blow up hostages in order to force Democrats to give them what they want. So at some point, they'll pass a bill that funds DHS. Here's the bad news : After the Republicans gained control of the Senate and increased their margins in the House in the November elections, both Mr. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky

Be Prepared for Bibi

In a couple of days, our news media is going to be consumed with what Prime Minister Netanyahu said to Congress about a possible deal with Iran to stop them from developing nuclear weapons. As a reminder, Netanyahu has said that he "will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement." Your assignment - should you chose to accept it - is to inform yourself about what some experts have said in support of the current negotiations and potential agreement. My purpose is to provide you with that information. So here you go: Paul Pillar: Get Over It: There's No Better Deal on Iran's Nuclear Program Robert Einhorn: Deterring an Iranian Nuclear Breakout David Ignatius: A Compelling Argument on Iran William Perry, Sean O'Keefe, Adm. James Stavridis and Joe Reeder: Let's Make the Deal With Iran Jeffrey Simpson: An Iran Opportunity Not to Be Missed And finally, I'll close with what Jeffrey Goldberg wrote this week. B

Quick Take

I have a hard time with the idea of conservatives having anything to say about what we teach our children about history when they can't even remember what was going on 6 years ago. Exhibit A: Here's Sarah Palin yesterday at CPAC: Now, in ’09 when Obama took over the war on terror, Islamists were in retreat and al Qaeda was a broken force. I'd venture a guess that Ms. Palin has totally forgotten what happened on May 2, 2011 . I also suspect she has no idea who these guys are , what they had planned, or how/when they met their fateful end.

Breakdown Dead Ahead

Don't ask me how, but I've been privy to private communication from Majority Leader McConnell to Speaker Boehner today about DHS funding. ;-)

One Young Man's Story of Being an ISIS Recruit

The right wingers have decided to make State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf their punching bag for saying that we can't kill our way out of the threat of terrorism. As she attempted to clarify in that interview, what she was addressing was how we reach the young (mostly) men who are attracted to the cause of ISIS. To put a face on what she's talking about, John Simpson wrote about his experience of watching the interrogation of a 17 year old ISIS recruit who was captured before he completed a suicide bomb mission at a Shia mosque in Baghdad. His name was Zakariya al-Rawi, and his story was sad and squalid. He had run away from home after rowing with his parents and gone to a nearby town that was occupied by Islamic State. An IS loudspeaker van drove up and down the streets constantly, calling on people to volunteer to serve Islam. That filled Zakariya with a new sense of purpose. He joined up, together with friends. The recruiters gave him some basic military tr

Liberia Says "Thank You"

Republicans are attempting to spread a meme about how President Obama has lost the trust and confidence of our friends around the globe. It's a blatant lie . As one small refutation of that nonsense, today Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed her country's gratitude for the role the United States played in combating ebola. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid emotional tribute to the American people on Thursday as the United States formally wound up its successful five-month mission to combat the west African nation's Ebola outbreak. With Liberia now in recovery from the worst outbreak of the deadly virus in history, the visiting Sirleaf thanked the United States for coming to the region's aid in its hour of need. "America responded, you did not run from Liberia," Sirleaf told US lawmakers in Washington, expressing the "profound gratitude" of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The American public has moved on from

Republicans Assume Obama Has a Plan to Save Us from Them

We're a little less than two months into this new Congress and it's already pretty clear that Republicans are much more adept at obstruction as a minority than they are at governing as a majority. But things are actually worse than we think when they have to  resort to claiming  that President Obama must have a secret plan to protect Americans from the stuff they're trying blow up. Some Republicans say they simply do not believe that the Obama administration isn’t developing a fallback plan in case the Supreme Court dismantles a piece of the healthcare law this summer... Both parties have repeatedly said that a plaintiff victory in the case could cause massive damage to ObamaCare, perhaps even crippling the law. With such high stakes, Republicans say the administration must be crafting a plan to avert disaster. So let's get this straight. Republicans crafted this ridiculous lawsuit that some of their own plaintiffs don't support in order to decimate Obamacar

What's Next for the Keystone Pipeline

Rebecca Leber is right. Environmental groups who are opposed to the Keystone Pipeline are being premature in celebrating President Obama's veto yesterday. Obama has long objected to Republicans circumventing a normal federal review process to determine the environmental and economic impact of the pipeline. His argument for the veto all along has been about process—not about the ecological merits of not building the pipeline, as some environmentalists claim. Even if Obama sounded skeptical of pro-Keystone arguments, he's made it clear that his veto is only to stop Republicans from overstepping their congressional authority. What Leber failed to do, however, was to outline where we are in that process the President's veto was meant to protect. So here's a summary: In January 2014 the State Department issued a report on the pipeline.  The State Department then asked for comments on the report from the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportat

Moving the Goal Posts on a Iranian Nuclear Agreement (updated)

The good news is that signs are pointing to the very real possibility that an agreement will be reached in the negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons by the deadline this coming Sunday (see update below). The bad news is that one of those signs is that some people are trying to move the goalposts for what the agreement should accomplish. Exhibit A: Eli Lake and Josh Rogin . For anyone hoping a nuclear deal with Iran might stop the Tehran government from destabilizing the Middle East or free its political prisoners, the Obama administration has some bad news: It's just an arms control agreement. As details of a proposed pact leaked out of the Geneva talks Monday, administration officials told us they will ask the world to judge any final nuclear agreement on the technical aspects only, not on whether the deal will spur Iranian reform. Excuse me...when did anyone in the Obama administration or any of the other 5 nations participating in these negotiations suggest that the

Dale Hansen Does It Again

Do you remember Dale Hansen? He's the Texas sports reporter who's commentary defending Michael Sam went viral last year. Well...he's at it again. Take a look. Here's another big shout-out to Dale. More of this please.

Quick Take

I see that Spencer Ackerman has a big story up at the Guardian about a prison in Chicago that he describes as using many of the same tactics that were employed by the "war on terror." While I applaud this kind of expose' about our criminal justice system, his inference that this kind of thing is happening because these practices were somehow invented by the war on terror is completely ahistorical . I remember that there were people who, when the topic of the day was the treatment of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, tried to point out that this was not a singular occurrence - that it happened in U.S. prisons all the time . This has been a consistent issue with our current crop of young poutrage reporters. I'm not sure why they need to pretend like what they uncover is something new rather than the continuation of a historical pattern.

President Obama's Impact on Racism

In many ways that picture captures how the presidency of Barack Obama has changed the country. Young black boys growing up in this era have a different perception of what is possible in their lives. And every day children of other races and genders are presented with an alternative to the image of the "angry black man" that has been so embedded in our culture. We should never underestimate the power of that shift. But what about the rest of us? A lot of pundits suggest that the presidency of Barack Obama has polarized the racial divide in this country. And there's some truth to that. At no point in my adult life has race been more front and center as an issue than its been over the last 6 years. And so the question becomes whether this President has moved us forward or backwards when it comes to the racial divide in this country. From the 1970's through the early 2000's, most white people could simply ignore the question of racism. There were times it came

Jay Smooth on Learning the Craft of Being Good

It's all well and good to point fingers at someone who said/did something racist/sexist/homophobic, etc. But Jay Smooth suggests that each of us has to work daily at the craft of being good. This is just what I needed to hear today. So I thought I'd share it with you.

Some Real Journalism About ISIS

While the American media is currently obsessed with whether or not Barack Obama loves America or is a Christian because he won't use the right words to describe terrorists, apparently the President's strategy to develop a global alliance to " degrade and ultimately destroy " ISIS is showing signs of success. Zach Beauchamp makes a pretty comprehensive argument about why ISIS is Losing . If you want to understand what's happening in the Middle East today, you need to appreciate one fundamental fact: ISIS is losing its war for the Middle East. This may seem hard to believe: in Iraq and Syria, the group still holds a stretch of territory larger than the United Kingdom, manned by a steady stream of foreign fighters. Fighters pledging themselves to ISIS recently executed 21 Christians in Libya. It's certainly true that ISIS remains a terrible and urgent threat to the Middle East. The group is not on the verge of defeat, nor is its total destruction guarante

Juan Williams Ignores Systemic/Structural Racism

In case you ever had any questions about how Fox News tolerated Juan Williams as their token black commentator, your answer can be found in what Williams wrote in a WSJ editorial titled: America's Most Influential Thinker on Race . Let's take this a step at a time. First of all, the person Williams is referring to is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Secondly, the use of the word "influential" can be taken to mean influential in a good way or a bad way. Williams suggests it in a good way. Now...the reaction Williams notes from a lot of people is to simply call Thomas - and Williams by this association - an "Uncle Tom." I totally understand that response. When I was reading this article I had to stop several times as my blood boiled. But I think its also important to take this kind of argument apart and demonstrate why it is so wrong. So I'm going to give it a go. Williams uses Thomas' words to suggest that government policies that attemp

Wrong Question!

This is not likely to happen again, but this one time I happen to agree with Scott Walker. Apparently Dan Balz and Robert Costa thought it was appropriate to ask him whether or not he thinks President Obama is a Christian. I suspect Walker was lying when he said he didn't know because he'd never read anything about that. But he went on to challenge the reporters for asking the question in the first place. Walker said such questions from reporters are reflective of a broader problem in the nation’s political-media culture, which he described as fixated on issues that are not relevant to most Americans. “To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he said. “The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.” He's right. But I'd take it a step or two farther than Walker did. Its a "gotcha" question designed to stir up hysteria on both sides. And it worked. As

Why Does Barack Obama Love America?

While most Republicans are either keeping mum on Rudy Giuliani's remarks about President Obama or are doing their best to distance themselves from them, Kevin Williamson at the National Review goes all-in on defending him with an article titled: Rudy is Right . In reading Williamson, I got stuck on this paragraph: Does Barack Obama like America? The people around him certainly seem to have their reservations. Michelle Obama said — twice, at separate campaign events — that her husband’s ascending to the presidency meant that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.” She was in her mid 40s at the time, her “adult lifetime” having spanned decades during which she could not be “really proud” of her country. Barack Obama spent years in the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church as the churchman fulminated: “God Damn America!” The Reverend Wright’s infamous “God Damn America!” sermon charges the country with a litany of abuses: slavery, mistreatment of th

Things In D.C. Are Going to Get Real Interesting Real Fast

In case you didn't notice, Congress has been in recess over the last week. In the meantime, things got pretty ugly out there . But if you recall, just before they left, the consensus was that the new Republican Congress was failing because they couldn't seem to come up with a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. We haven't heard much about that over the last few days as Republicans went on a rampage of accusing President Obama of "not being one of us." But all of that is going to change next week. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner have until next Friday to come up with a solution to the DHS funding issue. A look at the calendar suggests that Republican leadership is going to have their hands full just as that deadline approaches. For example, later this week  CPAC will be having their annual convention with headline speakers like Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz. That will give the lunatic "shut it all down" caucus a

The GOP's Obsession With Words

I am truly fascinated with the GOP's obsession with words over actions. It actually goes back much further than the recent nonsense about what President Obama calls the members of ISIS. Does anyone  remember this? Even people who acknowledge George Bush's failings point to that as one of the great moments of his presidency. But by 2002, here's what he said at a press conference . Asked about the hunt for Bin Laden at a March, 2002 press conference, Bush said, “I truly am not that concerned about him. I am deeply concerned about Iraq.” “I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you,” Bush added. By that time, President Bush wanted to invade Iraq and wasn't that interested in the "people who knocked these buildings down." That task was left to President Obama. Ten years after 9/11 came the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. Republicans immediately became obsessed with whether or not President Obama had called the perp

Jeb Bush: "Holy Schnikes"

Yesterday afternoon I decided to watch Jeb Bush's speech on foreign policy. To say I was shocked might be an overstatement. But I was really surprised. That's because I also watched his speech on domestic issues in San Francisco a few weeks ago and came away impressed...assuming he was going to be the Republican candidate to beat. During that speech, Jeb was polished, articulate and self-confident. But as many people have pointed out, yesterday he was a mess. I don't know what to make of Jeb's performance yesterday. It could be that he just had a bad day. But it reminded me of something Matt Yglesias wrote in reaction to Jeb's speech in Detroit: Jeb Bush sounds like he's running for Mayor of America . Launching his not-quite-a-presidential-campaign in Detroit this week, Jeb Bush delivered what I think would be an incredible speech for a job that doesn't actually exist. Call it "Mayor of America." What Jeb didn't do was offer a speech th

It's Getting Ugly Out There

If you are feeling a bit of "deja vu" all over again, there's a reason. Six years ago we heard a lot of talk from the right wing about birth certificates, Kenyan socialists, and a presidential candidate who "palled around with terrorists." You remember all that, don't you? While that kind of talk never really disappeared, it did eventually give way to other forms of hysteria - mostly about jobs, the economy, the federal deficit, the scourge of Obamacare, and unconstitutional executive actions (with a little Ebola thrown in there). But lately the whole zeitgeist of right wing talking points has gone back to the more familiar territory of the 2008 election. That's why yesterday I wrote about Franklin Graham's outrageous lies about President Obama - summed up by "He only knows Islam." Later in the day, Rudy Giuliani threw this one into the mix: I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that th

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that."

This story provided just the boost I needed today . A group of young Norwegian Muslims plans to create a human ring around Oslo’s synagogue following the Shabat celebration this Saturday, in a gesture they are calling a ’Peace Ring’. Hajrad Arshad, the event’s 17-year-old organiser, told Norway’s state broadcaster NRK that the group aimed to “extinguish the prejudices people have against Jews and against Muslims”... Ervin Kohn, the leader of Oslo’s Jewish community welcomed the initiative. "What they are communicating is that if anyone wants to do anything against Jews in Norway, they have to go through us first, and I think that is very positive,” he said... Arshad and her six co-organisers, who are part of a Facebook discussion forum called Urett Avsløres or Injustice Revealed, have already got more than 450 people signed up to attend. “Islam is about protecting our brothers and sisters, regardless of which religion they belong to,” the event page reads. “Islam is ab

Franklin Graham's Outrageous Lies About President Obama

Growing up in a Christian fundamentalist family and church, I learned to have a great deal of respect for Billy Graham. Even after my religious views evolved, I maintained that respect. As someone who was invited to provide spiritual counsel to both Republican and Democratic presidents, he always seemed to understand that the separation of church and state was as important to the church as it was to the state. That is why I've been so baffled at the way his son Franklin has veered from that course . But I was downright disturbed by what he had to say on Greta Vansusteren's show last night. Some people have focused on the initial part of the interview where he basically invites ISIS members to convert to Christianity. While probably pointless, it doesn't bother me. It was what he said at the end that was so disturbing. The President, his entire life, his whole influence has been Islam. His mother was married to a Muslim. His father's a Muslim. Then she married a

Photo of the Day: NASA Masterpiece

This one is off-the-charts: A not-so-long time from now in a planetary orbit not far away, a team of astronauts will head to the International Space Station. NASA just revealed the official poster for Expedition 45, and it is a Star Wars-themed masterpiece...Each astronaut has a differently hued lightsaber. There's a satellite that looks deceivingly like an X-Wing with its S-foils in attack position. And that eerily familiar object next to Scott Kelly's head... that's no moon.

What Will Defeat ISIS

I see that Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, is experiencing quite the backlash from conservatives for suggesting that - when it comes to ISIS - "We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups." Of course, that kind of thinking is anathema to the fear, anger and need for revenge that is invoked so often in this country. But my question is always - what is the end goal of all the killing that is usually offered as the alternative? Certainly we can interrupt the advancement of a group like ISIS and protect more people from being victims of their barbarism. But as President George W. Bush found out - there will be no "Mission Accomplished" moment when ISIS leaders formally "surrender" and the threat is eliminated. That's why President Obama said this during his interview with Matt Yglesias: But this is going to be a gene

Are We Heading Back Into a "Global War on Terror?"

In a way, Paul Waldman is correct in saying that - with ISIS - we're seeing the re-emergence of the "global war on terror." For the last three years I've been hopeful that the Obama presidency would mean an end to this indefinite war . It's now clear that is not likely to happen. But Waldman needlessly ramps up the rhetoric by implying that this one will resemble the one waged by the Bush/Cheney administration. For starters, we're not seeing torture employed or "enemy combatants" sent to Gitmo. But the big difference is that we're not hearing lies about the need to invade the wrong country. The "regime change" that was necessary for Iraq to effectively fight back against ISIS was done via diplomacy rather than "shock and awe." Another big difference is that this time there really is a "coalition of the willing." Much of that is a result of the fact that Muslim countries in the Middle East are significantly more

Netanyahu Should be Shunned

I don't need to hear any of this mess about how there's some false equivalency of "both sides" in terms of the widening gap in PM Netanyahu's relationship with President Obama. It's pretty clear what's going on here. I'll just remind you that last week Netanyahu said this publicly in reference to the current negotiations with Iran about their development of nuclear weapons: We will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement. So this shouldn't surprise us : The decision to reduce the exchange of sensitive information about the Iran talks was prompted by concerns that Netanyahu’s office had given Israeli journalists sensitive details of the U.S. position . What appears to be happening is that one of the actions Netanyahu has taken in an attempt to foil an agreement is that he has leaked misleading information about the contents of a potential deal to Israeli journalists. When he has as much as embraced a

What If McConnell Can't Lead?

Last week the Wall Street Journal editorial page critiqued this Republican Congress. But they're hardly the only ones. Here's a look at a few others: Daniel Newhouser at the National Journal writes: So Far, a Congress About Nothing . Michael Memoli and Lisa Mascaro at the LA Times write: Republican Majorities Struggle to Get Congress Working . Even Chuck Todd seems to have accurately grasped what's going on. In our experience, there's a simple rule to follow to make sense of any shutdown showdown: The side that's divided usually loses. And Republicans are the ones who are divided in the battle over funding the Department of Homeland Security -- over whether or not to include riders overturning Obama's executive actions on immigration... Playing politics with security is always problematic. But it's doubly problematic when your party is divided. It would be nice if a few of these pundits reflected just a bit on the fact that too many of them as

Odds & Ends

There was a second shooting in Copenhagen today. But police say they've killed the man they believe is responsible for both attacks. Speaker John Boehner  admitted today that he went behind President Obama's back to invite PM Netanyahu to speak to Congress because he wanted to "avoid interference" from the White House. I can only wonder how far these folks have to go before we start talking about Congressional overreach. Ian Millhiser takes a deep dive into how the Obama administration is quietly racking up court victories for birth control, despite Hobby Lobby . Ari Berman fills us in on what the Moral Monday Movement has planned for 2015. And Denise Oliver Velez tells us all about their March for Love and Justice yesterday in Raleigh. If you think that feminism is only for women, check yourself. Elizabeth Plank gives us the 23 Ways Feminism Has Made the World a Better Place for Men . Despite Clint Eastwood, James Woods and John Voight, conservatives are