Thursday, June 30, 2011

Harry Truman? Oh, Please.

Chris Matthew led off Hardball last night declaring

|Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington. Leading off tonight: Wild about Harry -- Truman, that is. President Obama called out a do-nothing Congress today, saying Congress needs to stop taking vacations and do its job. He shaped the battlefield for both 2011 and 2012.

A moment later, he would make it worse (or, in the cliche of the day, he "doubled down"), adding

Let me finish, by the way, with the president of the United States finally telling the Republicans, in his own way, he`s mad as hell and he`s not going to take it anymore. We start with President Obama`s press conference today, including those hot words.

Oooh- the Republicans are scared. So intimidated that House Speaker John Boehner

laid out clear criteria for a deal that could pass the Republican-controlled House: spending cuts that exceed the debt limit increase, long-term solutions for reining in spending, and no tax increases.

“The longer the president denies these realities, the more difficult he makes this process,” Boehner said. “If the president embraces a measure that meets these tests, he has my word that the House will act on it. Anything less cannot pass the House.”

In the opening statement to the press conference (transcript here) the President held yesterday, Obama explained

Over the last few weeks, the Vice President has been leading negotiations with Democrats and Republicans on this issue, and they’ve made some real progress in narrowing down the differences. As of last week, both parties had identified more than $1 trillion worth of spending cuts already.

But everyone also knows that we’ll need to do more to close the deficit. We can’t get to the $4 trillion in savings that we need by just cutting the 12 percent of the budget that pays for things like medical research and education funding and food inspectors and the weather service. And we can’t just do it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. So we’re going to need to look at the whole budget, as I said several months ago. And we’ve got to eliminate waste wherever we find it and make some tough decisions about worthy priorities.

And that means trimming the defense budget, while still meeting our security needs. It means we’ll have to tackle entitlements, as long as we keep faith with seniors and children with disabilities by maintaining the fundamental security that Medicare and Medicaid provide. And, yes, we’re going to have to tackle spending in the tax code.

The President's team already has agreed to more than $1 trillion of spending reductions and promises to cut more than "the 12 percent of the budget that pays for things like...." Uncomfortable with the political advantage the Ryan Kill Medicare Budget gives his party, Obama promises to "tackle entitlements." And the GOP interprets"tackle spending in the tax code" as slash, slash, slash spending and taxes.

The President a moment later adds "The tax cuts I’m proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners." But as Digby notes, "It’s the Democratic equivalent of Republicans pretending that the deficit can be closed by cutting PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts.." While the GOP is "all-in on splashing spending," she recognizes," so are Democrats, except they want some symbolic tax increases on some symbolic rich people to make the medicine go down a little bit more smoothly." Eliminating the tax breaks on corporate jets, while a fine idea, nevertheless would save only around $3 billion over ten years.

When the President says, as he did yesterday, "Call me naïve, but my expectation is that leaders are going to lead," the temptation is to say: "O.K., you are naive. Clearly." But it is hardly likely, given this President's experience in negotiating with Republicans, that he would think that he could give away the far- or about 83% of it- and then expect the other side to give in and compromise, even a little. The Administration repeatedly has sounded the alarm about the danger of not raising the debt ceiling but has chosen not to make a concerted effort to explain it to the American people, leaving the latter opposed, and the former practically begging Republicans to be responsible ("my expectation is that they'll do the responsible thing"). The GOP leadership has little incentive to come to any agreement until 11:59 p.m., once it has wrenched the maximum number of concessions from the President.

Yesterday, President Obama assured the public of the good intentions of the GOP, claiming "it’s not often that Washington sees both parties agree on the scale and the urgency of the challenge at hand. Nobody wants to put the creditworthiness of the United States in jeopardy." That may be naivete in extremis or the plea of a President who is willing to nudge the nation back into recession as long as he is perceived as bipartisan. But Harry Truman it's not.

Backwards, Sometimes

Back in January 2010, when it appeared that the Obama Administration might not quite expand the Executive Branch's grip on civil liberties in the name of national security, Glenn Greenwald cited

what can only be called the grotesque immorality of the "Look Forward, Not Backwards" consensus which our political class -- led by the President -- has embraced. During the Bush years, the United States government committed some of the most egregious crimes a government can commit. They plainly violated domestic law, international law, and multiple treaties to which the U.S. has long been a party. Despite that, not only has President Obama insisted that these crimes not be prosecuted, and not only has his Justice Department made clear that -- at most -- they will pursue a handful of low-level scapegoats, but far worse, the Obama administration has used every weapon it possesses to keep these crimes concealed, prevent any accountability for them, and even venerated them as important "state secrets," thus actively preserving the architecture of lawlessness and torture that gave rise to these crimes in the first place.

Two days earlier, while interviewed on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the President had asserted “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” He has been, in the manner of legitimate allegations against the Bush-Cheney regime, good to his word.

Unfortunately, while this "don't look backward" concept has proven useful to the President in deflecting proposals for investigating past crimes against the Constitution and the people of the United States, he now finds it less applicable. Yesterday, in a press conference (transcript, here) focusing on the economy, Obama bragged

But what I have done — and this is unprecedented, by the way, no administration has done this before — is I’ve said to each agency, don’t just look at current regulations — or don’t just look at future regulations, regulations that we’re proposing, let’s go backwards and look at regulations that are already on the books, and if they don’t make sense, let’s get rid of them. And we are in the process of doing that, and we’ve already identified changes that could potentially save billions of dollars for companies over the next several years.

Now- now! Obama wants to "go backwards."

Eager to turn backwards and eliminate regulations, the President may have forgotten that companies are sitting on record profits as unemployment climbs to 9.1%, wages stagnate, and benefits are cut. But then, the President added "we can’t afford to have labor and management fighting all the time," perhaps forgetting that not only has management turned against labor, state governments led by Republicans in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere have done so.

Still, with the spending cuts President Obama and the GOP are touting, "let's go backwards" might be an apt slogan.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Money Talks In New York

Choosing the democratic route- through the people's representatives rather than the courts- New York State legalizes same-sex marriage, and the reaction was immediate and gleeful in several quarters.

Hollywood, predictably and understandably, was exultant:

"I can't stop crying.. The revolution is ours to fight for love, justice+equality. Rejoice NY, and propose. We did it!!!" -- Lady Gaga

"I'm thrilled about the news from NY. Marriage equality! Every day we get a little closer. What an amazing feeling." -- Ellen DeGeneres

"NEW YORK! I (heart) U! You're OFFICIALLY the coolest place on the planet!" -- Katy Perry

"Nice work, Gov Andrew Cuomo! Proud to be FROM NY!" -- Lindsay Lohan

"happy gays r here again !!!!!" --Rosie O'Donnell

"tonight we're all New Yorkers! Straight & gay alike, let's all celebrate marriage equality. The right side of history!" --Kathy Griffin

"Yay for Gay Marriage! NY, it's about time...jersey we're next! How you doin?" -- Wendy Williams

Excitedly, The New York Times editorialized

New York State has made a powerful and principled choice by giving all couples the right to wed and enjoy the legal rights of marriage. It is a proud moment for New Yorkers, thousands of whom took to the streets on Sunday to celebrate this step forward.

Maureen Dowd of the Times, grasping an opportunity to bash Obama on gay rights, wrote

Obama’s reluctance to come out for gay marriage seems hugely and willfully inconsistent with what we know about his progressive worldview. And it is odd that the first black president is letting Andrew Cuomo, who pushed through a gay-marriage bill in Albany on Friday night, go down in history as the leader on the front lines of the civil rights issue of our time.

The Washington Post editorialized, gushing

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who took office in January, made legalizing same-sex marriage a priority. He used the bully pulpit to garner support and harnessed the power and prestige of his office behind the scenes. A coalition of organizations conducted the largest grass-roots effort the state had ever seen..... as we learned in New York, legislation of this significance needs more than rhetorical hand-holding by the governor. It needs determined leadership.

Panting, the Post's Chris Cillizza declared

But, political strategists are forever looking toward the future and the next big thing — and Cuomo made a claim to that title by finessing passage of the gay marriage bill through the Republican-controlled state Senate. (Four Republican lawmakers voted with Democrats to pass the bill.)

But the best- or worst- came from someone who, borrowing from a term the Governor's brother and ABC News reporter Chris Cuomo reportedly employed, tweeted "we're all Cuomosexuals today."

Count me out- I've never been a cuomosexual (not that there's anything wrong with that), nor even a Cuomophile. Eric Alterman explains

To see the plain truth of our political lives today—that “money talks and bullshit walks”—as one of those ABSCAM criminals so pithily put it, one need only look closely at the backstory to this (genuinely) historic moment. To win the necessary votes for passage, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his team turned not to Republican senators or their constitutents, but to their top-dollar donors. People like former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and the billionaire Paul Singer, who speaks proudly of the “wedding album of my son and son-in-law,” married in Massachusetts, and the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb who “had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure.” Within days, Cuomo had $1 million in his Republican gay marriage fund and a “path to victory"....

Cuomo, himself, is a perfect symbol of the transition of American liberalism from an ideology focused on the standing of working people to one based on issues of social and cultural freedom that do not interfere with anyone’s ability to make money hand over fist without paying too much of it in taxes....

This inexorable march through America’s political institutions has largely been a ground game of paying politicians and winning public opinion—which has been trending both much more friendly to gay rights specifically as well as much more libertarian on all matters. When the numbers reached a sufficient plateau—60 percent in favor of gay marriage in New York—it became easier for a cautious, poll-driven politician like Cuomo to hop on board. That moment is still a ways off nationally; only 53 percent nationwide say they support gay marriage. (Barack Obama, it must be noted, happily accepted the campaign donations of over 600 wealthy gays last Thursday in Manhattan, but was not willing to take the leap into endorsing gay marriage.)

Amidst this moment of joy for so many, a transformation in the nature of American liberalism can be seen in the transition from one New York Governor Cuomo to the next. As one profiler of Andrew’s put it, “Mario was an FDR liberal (and child of immigrants) with an unyielding faith in the government’s power to improve people’s lives; Andrew is a product of the Nixon era, when that faith was tested and the government again had to prove its competence.” That’s a generous way of saying that while he is, with his party, progressive on social issues, Andrew Cuomo sucks up to money just about as energetically as his Republican opposition. His impressive leadership on gay marriage—where he put money to work for social liberal causes—has been matched by an equally intensive commitment to ensuring that the wealthy are not asked to make any special contributions to what used to be called “the public good.” When Cuomo proposed recently that New York would cap annual increases in the amount of property taxes collected annually by school districts and towns at 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, he tried to explain to the Old Man that the decision was “operational,” while same sex marriage, he insisted, was “at the heart of leadership and progressive government."

The same liberal Democrat who fights for gay marriage is presiding over a budget agreement that will cost New York City schools 2,600 teachers, 600 more than estimated, and lay off 1,000 city workers, many of whom work in health care for the poor, at a time when the need for both could hardly be greater. Cuomo, who one must sometimes remind oneself, is a Democrat, also fought tooth and nail to ensure the death of New York’s millionaire tax, at exactly the moment when its proceeds might have been able to prevent exactly the kinds of cuts described above. In his willingness to play “bulldog for the rich,” as Michael Powell puts it, he is distinguishable from Roger Ailes’ favorite politician, right-wing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie only in degree, rather than in kind.

There’s a lesson in all this: Yes, the arc of history bends, on occasion, in the direction of justice. But you had better be able to afford the admission price. Sadly the folk who had every right to feel both represented and inspired by the likes of Franklin Roosevelt, Ted Kennedy and Mario Cuomo—the people who Bill Clinton said “work hard and play by the rules” —need not apply.

During the Cold War, George Will lamented that some conservatives "love commerce more than they hate communism." Now, with organized labor, the elderly, the poor and the middle class under assault unprecedented in several generations, a portion of the liberal elite has joined conservatives in loving money more than they love principle.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sensitivity, And Killings, Up in Philadelphia

A controversial, though (as far as can be determined by a shaky poll) popular, anti-crime policy has in Philadelphia will be adjusted as a result of an out-of-court settlement in a suit filed by the ACLU. The Philadelphia Tribune- on June 21- reports

A court-appointed monitor will oversee city police officers' use of "stop and frisk" searches, a high-profile part of the mayor's efforts to combat violent crime, according to a settlement agreement announced Tuesday.

Authorities also will take additional steps to make sure the stops are made only when there is reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. The city also agreed to pay a total of $115,000 to seven of the plaintiffs, plus legal costs.

The settlement stems from a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in November alleging that the searches were violating the rights of blacks and Latinos who had done nothing wrong. The ACLU sued on behalf of eight men — including a state lawmaker — it says were subjected to illegal searches since the city started using "stop and frisk," a controversial element of Mayor Michael Nutter's 2007 election campaign.

As part of the agreement, the city denies wrongdoing and denies claims made by the plaintiffs...

The use of "stop and frisk" searches has been a focal point of Nutter's campaign to slow violent crime, which is down since he took office in 2008. Both Nutter and police Commissioner Charles Ramsey are black.

An officer making a pedestrian stop under "stop and frisk" must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed, according to David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who is an expert on street stops.

In a typical stop, an officer will order the person to put their hands on a wall and then ask questions before beginning a search for weapons. If the officer is going to frisk, Harris said, he or she must suspect that the person is armed or that the crime they are suspected of requires a weapon.

(Sarcasm Alert) Announcement of the change of policy came just in time. The Philadelphia Inquirer- on Monday, June 2- reports

It was a weekend of violence and mayhem - brutal even by Philadelphia standards. From Friday through Sunday, 32 people were wounded, six fatally, in about 20 shootings across the city, police said, and a seventh person died in a stabbing.

Police had not yet determined if the 33 victims represented the worst three-day span of violence in the department's recent history. But Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said the onslaught stood out as one of the worst in his 31/2-year Philadelphia tenure.

"I don't know if we've ever had any more over a three-day period," he said of the shootings during a news conference Monday at Police Headquarters. "This certainly ranks right at the top, if not the top. It shows just how violent it can become on the streets of our city."

"We are lucky we did not have more homicides," Ramsey said, referring to two shootings in which 10 people were injured and in which police recovered more than 20 shell casings.

It was a particularly bad weekend in Philadelphia, but one which highlighted the activity which provided the catalyst for the "stop and frisk" policy initiated by the mayor. The Police Commissioner knows "it can get violent on the streets of our city" and frequently does, aided by the habit of firearms finding themselves in the possession of habitual felons. But Philadelphia generally, and the neighborhoods most affected by the policy, are probably not the ones most ACLU attorneys choose to live in. Good thing, too, given the utter disregard the organization has for the fear the residents of such neighborhoods endure daily.

Opponents of gun control frequently gloat about the high crime rate in big cities such as Philadelphia to justify its mindless mantra, "guns don't kill people, people kill people." In this instance, the ACLU, with a misguided sense of civil libertarianism, has given them solace and support.

Somewhere the NRA is laughing hysterically.


Monday, June 27, 2011

No Excuses

Appearing yesterday on CBS' Face the Nation (transcript, here), Michele Bachmann made one accurate statement. She was asked by host Bob Schieffer"if you can't get an agreement with the Democrats to cut spending, would you really vote against raising the debt ceiling and allow the government or force the government to begin defaulting on its debts?" Bachmann responded

Well, first of all it isn't true that the government would default because very simply the Treasury Secretary can pay the interest on the debt first and then and from there we just have to prioritize our spending.

As American Action Forum President and former McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin explains in the 58 second video below, presumably the federal government would, with its $2.25 trillion in reserves, pay the $300 billion interest on the debt. It then would have $1.95 trillion remaining with which to satisfy mandatory spending (including farm programs, but overwhelmingly entitlements), approximately $2.10 trillion. The money available would be insufficient to make all these payments while $1.375 trillion dollars in discretionary spending would go unpaid.

At the very least, then, failure to lift the debt ceiling would probably mean some mandatory spending obligations for Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid would go unmet and there would be no additional money for highways, education, or soldiers.

The Executive Branch owns the task of determining where the limited funds go, authority both programatically and politically advantageous. President Obama, clearly determined to avoid default (and failure to agree on a deal to lift the debt ceiling) could cite the needs which would be shortchanged by GOP failure to raise the debt limit. That would include, most likely, Medicare and Social Security, two wildly popular programs. Obama could accuse the GOP- credibly, ethically, and effectively- of endangering the safety of American fighting men and women. The man who got bin Laden vs. those who would make it impossible. Or as Susie Madrak pointed out six months ago, Treasury Secretary Geithner simply could

stop paying the salaries of members of Congress and their staffs. It probably wouldn't take long, in that event, for Congress to vote Obama the debt-ceiling raise he needs.

The debt ceiling, as Holtz-Eakin and Nate Silver persuasively argue, will be raised. It will be done with or without trillions of dollars in cuts that would undermine the social-safety net and jeopardize the economic recovery. As Silver notes, "in practice, most of the measures that might be employed"- aside from increasing taxes on the wealthy, supported by most Democrats- in a budget deal "are popular only "in theory." With reductions in Medicare, Social Security, or support for "the troops" highly unpopular and the bully pulpit well within reach, it's up to President Obama to get done a deal consistent with Democratic values.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Quick-Thinking, Deluded Candidate

In one segment of her interview with Chris Wallace on GOP News Sunday, Michele Bachman managed to be ludicrous, dishonest, and cowardly. She is, in short, a skilled Republican politician. Here she is fielding questions (transcript of discussion, here) from the host on Medicare:

BACHMANN: What I want to do is to make sure that we fully repeal Obamacare. This will be one of the largest spending initiatives we will ever see in our country. And also, it will take away choice from the American people. It will hurt senior citizens, because Obama took away $500 billion, as you say, from Medicare and will transfer it younger people in Obamacare. Even worse, the Congressional Budget Office is saying ill lose 800,000 jobs with Obamacare. When we're in a situation now where we have massive job loss, this is not what we want to do with Obamacare.

WALLACE: But I want to ask about the Medicare part of it, because as you just said, it took away -- would take away almost half a trillion dollars, $500 billion, from Medicare, for a new entitlement. But you voted for the Paul Ryan House budget, which also take away almost half a trillion dollars from Medicare.

BACHMANN: Well, what we -- what we need to do is revise and change what we're doing in Washington, D.C. We do need to have changes in the budget. We do need to have changes in spending. But the one thing we know about Obamacare, it will be a brand new bureaucracy, larger than anything we've ever seen before in Washington. And we simply can't afford it. What seniors --

WALLACE: But if I may, I understand all that part of it. But specifically on Medicare, Obamacare would take away half a trillion dollars from Medicare. The Ryan budget which you voted for would take away half a trillion dollars for Medicare.

BACHMANN: Well, let's be clear. The Ryan budget is really the 55 and under plan. People need to recognize --

WALLACE: No, no, no. But

BACHMANN: -- no one over 55 will be touched.

WALLACE: No, no. But it would take away -- that's for the voucher plan. But it would take away --

BACHMANN: It's not a voucher plan.

WALLACE: We can talk about that. I mean, it's a premium support and a lot of people say that's the same thing.

BACHMANN: But it's not.

WALLACE: The point is, though, that it's taking half a trillion dollars away in the next decade for people over 55.

BACHMANN: For -- what the Ryan plan is trying to do is present a budget framework. It's important for people to recognize it's not legislation.

WALLACE: It's a legislation, as intended.

BACHMANN: It's a budget framework. And this is -- this is a starting point for us to have a discussion. I have put an asterisk, I voted for the plan because this is right, we need to get to our house in order with our fiscal spending. But my asterisk is, we have to make sure going forward with senior citizens, that we're focusing on a higher quality of life, dealing with cures for instance for senior citizens.

Ludicrous: Representative Bachmann is exorcised that the Affordable Care Act cuts $500 billion from Medicare. It does, as everyone in the US Congress is aware, reduce the cost of Medicare (which, except when discussing the Obama health care plan, is an object of enthusiasm for Republicans) by reducing the payments given to providers in the (private) Medicare Advantage Program. Meanwhile, Bachmann favors the Ryan plan, which saves federal revenues by, specifically and solely, increasing individual costs for the (elderly) consumer. And rescinds the Medicare program, which Bachmann pretends to support.

Dishonest: No, the Ryan budget is not the 55 and under plan. It's the plan for elderly individuals. It affects only those currently under 55 but will affect them only when older. Consider: the state of Transylvania, in which individuals 17 and older are eligible to drive, this year lowers its speed limit on its state highways from 65 to 55, to take effect on June 26, 2015. Do Transylvania officials announce its laws apply to persons 13 and younger? If so, a lot of 13, 12, 11, and 10 year olds will jump for joy- they've just been handed a driver's license! No, the law will be thought to apply only to the 17+ set, the only group that drives. Announcing that a health care scheme for the elderly applies only to the 55 and under crowd is an attempt to decouple government health care from the idea that it services the elderly. Young and middle-aged people don't get Medicare- hence, insisting that the Ryan plan applies only to those under 55 implies that these individuals are losing, and will lose, nothing they don't already have.

Additionally, the elderly health care plan in the House-approved budget is a voucher plan- not "premium support." Take it from the one of the guys, Hall of Famer* Henry Aaron, who devised the original premium support plan (emphasis that of CAP's Igor Volsky):

The defining attribute of the plans that Reischauer and I christened “premium support” was that the amount of support was to be indexed to average health care costs, not, as in voucher plans, to a price index or per person income. If savings were to result from the exercise of consumer choice and market discipline, that would be well and good, we argued. But savings should not come from erosion of the adequacy of support resulting from linking the payment to a slowly growing index. This difference is crucial. Voucher plans are virtually guaranteed to become increasingly inadequate; premium support plans will not.

Courageous: Time to put on your man-pants, Michele, as one of your fellow Republicans would put it. She contends "what the Ryan plan is trying to do is present a budget framework. It's important for people to recognize it's not legislation." The budget resolution is a is a blueprint for spending and budget resolution and was defeated- as expected- in the Senate. But given how "serious" the proposal, and how "bold" Ryan, was deemed by the media and the GOP, it seems a little odd and weak-kneed now to try to claim that it really didn't count. It was only to prompt discussion, don't you know. Just a thought, nothing else.

New to the race, Michele Bachmann is a little bit of a novelty, and still enjoying a honeymoon period with the media, though Chris Wallace did a professional job interviewing her. Bachmann is determined and skilled, and will need every bit of those attributes when the real questions begin.

* obviously, not this Henry Aaron.

Good Luck With That

At what has been described as an LGBT DNC fundraiser (transcript from Pam's House Blend), on Wednesday night President Obama listed his accomplishments, inspired with rhetoric, and added

And with your help, if you keep up the fight, and if you will devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter in that story. And we are going to leave a new generation with a brighter future and a more hopeful future. And I'll be standing there, right there with you.

If you will devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter in that story. Perhaps the LGBT community ought to get that in writing. It sounds a little like another promise, this one made by Senator Obama during his presidential campaign (video, below):

If American workers are being denied their right to organize when I'm in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States.

With the attack on workers' rights in full bloom in Wisconsin, Democratic legislators slipping out of state to avoid enabling Governor Walker and his GOP allies to crush organized labor, and unions organizing numerous rallies, President Obama at first remained silent. Eventually, he noted "seems like more of an assault upon unions and added "everybody's gotta make adjustments," but didn't get anywhere near the picket line- there or anywhere else Repub governors are trying to demolish the rights of public sector workers and the middle class.

At the time, Michael Monk, blogging on Firedoglake, commented

Well, will we see it? Or will it end up like the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a public option, or restoring constitutional checks and balances? He has given credence lately to false framing from the right with his freezing of pay of government workers, extension of the Bush tax cuts, a “deficit commission,” more budget cutting, and lip service to looking into deregulation when deregulation led us to financial collapse. Will he find those shoes?

No, he didn't find those shoes. And Obama's audience should consider carefully his exact words: if you will devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter in that story. The President didn't say that he would help or "write another chapter." He said if they would devote time and energy, he would promise them. Sure, he'll promise them. He just won't deliver. (It depends on what the meaning of "is" is- or in this case, "I promise you.")

But maybe a second-term President Obama "will write another chapter in that story," inasmuch as same-sex marriage gradually has become far more popular with the public and by then Obama may have sufficiently "evolved" to support the LGBT cause. Perhaps a large influx of campaign cash from the gay community will have the salutary impact upon President Obama as did the generous funding of his campaign by Wall Street in 2008.

But anything short of huge campaign checks (and maybe even then, given there will be no third campaign) won't get it done. Neither work on behalf of the campaign nor fervent public support will engender from the Administration support for its cause the LGBT community yearns for. Just ask John Edwards.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Boehner Speaks, Obama Comes A-Runnin'

Disturbed by the thought of discussion of a budget deal in which oil companies and the uber-wealthy might almost sacrifice a little, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Arizona Senator Jon Kyl have left the debt discussions led by Vice-President Biden.

It is, on the face of it, two immature individuals taking their ball and going home. And no doubt Cantor would rather have House Speaker Boehner negotiate, and be accountable for, an agreement which would include an increase in revenue, better to cement his relationship with the extreme conservatives most House freshmen are.

Howard Fineman, though, tired of the trite (though increasingly useful) "good cop, bad cop" cliche, remarked that Boehner and Cantor "think they are playing a sort o bad cop and worse cop routine here, where Boehner, the golfing buddy --"

They not only think it- they are playing it and quite successfully, thank you. President Obama's press spokesman, following the departure of Cantor and Kyl, maintains "we believe that we can move forward as long as no one in the talks takes a “my way or the highway” approach." Undeterred, Boehner challenges Obama:

If the president wants this done, he must lead. We have an extraordinary opportunity to do something big for our economy and our country. With presidential leadership, we can seize this moment and deliver something important for the people we serve.

With Cantor out, Boehner has a stronger hand and is able to say

Gee, I'd like to, but you know these newbies in my caucus don't even want to talk about revenue enhancement and are adamantly opposed to hiking the debt limit. But if you insist, I'll take your offer back to them and see what they have to say.

Fortunately, with Obama not directly involved, the Vice-President is able to play the same game, arguing that he likes the deal but has to run it past the big guy. So, recognizing the "good cop, bad cop" show and not being completely naive, the President, of course, refuses.

Not exactly. According to USA Today yesterday (I always wanted to write that):

President Obama is getting directly involved in bipartisan talks about increasing the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, agreeing to meet Monday with Senate Democratic and Republican leaders.

Obama and Vice President Biden will meet Monday morning with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and in the evening with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The goal is "to discuss the status of the negotiations to find common ground on a balanced approach to deficit reduction," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

McConnell said he hopes Obama requested the meeting "in order to finally explain what it is that he's prepared to do to solve our nation's fiscal crisis."

The President should "finally explain what it is that he's prepared to do to solve our nation's fiscal crisis." Further, he should explain what the other side is prepared to do to solve the fiscal crisis. The Democratic party has proposed generous cuts, eliminating tax loopholes, and increasing taxes on multi-millionaires; the Republican Party wants this great country to default on its debts, drive interest rates up, and increase the cost for businesses and consumers to borrow money. And the GOP is doing this in order to slash Medicare. The President could explain this in prime time, on television. He could do it, in the manner of presidential statements and speeches, in a lengthy address. Alternatively, he could do it in a matter of a few minutes, keeping it simple. Of course, it might be difficult for a man who brags "And I'm prepared to bring down our debt by trillions of dollars -- that's "trillions" with a 't.'"

This is an obvious course for a President who is determined to keep the social safety net intact, defending and protecting government programs which have remained popular with the vast majority of the American people. That is, of course, assuming Barack Obama wants to protect these programs.

Standing Strong, Maybe

At his press availability (transcript here) on June 24, Presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney explained his boss' approach to the deficit reduction talks as

we are confident that we can continue to seek common ground and that we will achieve a balanced approach to deficit reduction -- if we continue to seek common ground, rather. And we remain confident that we can get that done....

But we believe that we can move forward as long as no one in the talks takes a “my way or the highway” approach.

The previous day, House Speaker John Boehner had said "tax increases are off the table," including, apparently, elimination of tax loopholes for the oil industry and others whose profits have soared while the economy remains in the tank. And Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl quit the deficit reduction talks led by the Vice-President, withthe House Majority Leader whining "the Democrats insist that any deal must include tax increases."

Yes, whining. When federal tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (graph, below, from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis via Krugman) are at their lowest level in over half a century, it is whining. When Republicans are demanding approximately $4 trillion in spending cuts over ten years, it's whining. And when the top Republican in talks takes a hike (for whatever reason), it's whining.

The President's spokesman advocates "a balanced approach." He decries "a 'my way or the highway approach.'"

But over two months ago Barack Obama showed his hand when he called for a twelve-year cut of $4 trillion in the deficit. Republican administrations come, blow up the deficit, Republican administrations go- then deficits must be slashed in Democratic administrations, even when spending cuts will endanger an economy struggling to recover.

So which President will it be? The one who stands strong against 'my way or the highway'? Or the one who brags about spending cuts he achieves and proposes new ones?

Next: The answer, as if you don't already know it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Keep 'Em Barefoot, Pregnant- And Ignorant

At the Games for Change Festival on Monday in New York City, Al Gore displayed dangerous radicalism, remarking

One of the things we could do about it is to change the technologies, to put out less of this pollution, to stabilize the population, and one of the principal ways of doing that is to empower and educate girls and women. You have to have ubiquitous availability of fertility management so women can choose how many children to have, the spacing of the children. You have to lift child-survival rates so that parents feel comfortable having small families. And most important, you have to educate girls and empower women. And that's the most powerful leveraging factor, and when that happens, then the population begins to stabilize and societies begin to make better choices and more balanced choices.

It must be dangerous radicalism because Rush Limbaugh remarked

"'You have to have ubiquitous availability of fertility management so women can choose how many children to have, the spacing of the children.'" He has acknowledged that he has no interest, no intention of controlling any sexual urges, so women better be prepared to deal with guys like him -- and they better be able to have access to abortion or what have you. There's much more to this. This is descent, folks, into inanity. Algore is doing Paul Ehrlich now: Overpopulation. The key is women. Women must be made to do the right thing, in order to save the planet.

Ignore the ad hominem attack upon Al Gore by a guy who himself appears to have enjoyed a sexual escapade or two. More critically, the guy just makes things up: "they better be able to have access to abortion or what have you." The tipoff that Gore never mentioned abortion would be the "or what have you." Limbaugh then claims Gore urged "women must be able to do the right thing, in order to save the planet."

What part of choice does Rush Limbaugh claim not to understand? The former Vice President mentioned "choose" or "choices" three (3) times and suggested that we "empower and educate girls and women" so that "the population begins to stabilize and societies begin to make better choices and more balanced choices." A radical idea, that.

Limbaugh calls "overpopulation" a "theorem that has been totally debunked.' As with everything he claims has been disproven, he does not tell us who and how his worldview has been confirmed. In this case, we know it's not the United Nations, which has noted that there were 1 billion people in 1804 and only 2 billion individuals 123 years later, in 1927. But 72 years later, in 1999, the world's population had tripled to 6 billion and is projected to reach 10 billion by 2100. Yes, it took approximately 7,000 years since Adam and Eve reportedly showed up for the world to reach 1 billion people- and fewer than 200 years for it to increase sixfold. No pattern there.

The latest attack on the guy elected President in 2000 might have been prompted by the right's obsessive Gore-hatred or by its obsessive hatred of environmentalists. But it is probably primarily a part of the increasing war on family planning, which has found its latest iteration in the effort in Kansas to legislate abortion out of existence. (Fat chance, that; coat hangers are still inexpensive.) Ultimately, it's not about abortion but about family planning as suggested (video, below) by Texas State Representative Wayne Christian, who spilled the beans:

Conservatives everywhere used to be exorcised about teenage and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Upon discovering that Bristol Palin, an unwed teenager, was pregnant, conservatives uttered nary a gasp- not only because she was the daughter of a conservative Republican, but because there would be a live birth, unhindered by family planning. When a Democrat recommends that women become educated and empowered so they are able to make choices freely, and the right gets in an uproar, it ought to give the rest of us an inkling that it's not just abortion anymore.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Michele Bachmann And The Politics Of Ridicule

Democrats and Republicans alike, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi maintains, "are making the mistake of laughing at (Michele) Bachmann."

In a profile which is thoroughly entertaining, if less-than intellectually rigorous, Taibbi portrays a candidate whose support among tea party supporters and "brilliantly fortifying lack of self-doubt.... mixed with pathological, relentless, conscienceless lying" makes her a legitimate threat to seize the Repub nomination for President. Mary Cecconi, who once defeated Michelle Bachmann in a school board race, added "I think Michele honestly believes whatever she says in the moment," which suggests a politician who can credibly make any remark advantageous at the time.

Taibbi cites Bachmann's "TV-ready looks, her easy confidence in public speaking, her quick command of a mountainous database of (frequently bogus) facts." Warning critics not to laugh at Bachmann, he then mocks her supporters, arguing

tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can't tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously.

Taibbi maintains that if we wrongly conclude that the Minnesota Republican "is uniquely crazy" and "laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don't learn that she is wrong." But while ridicule of Bachmann (and especially of her supporters) is counter-productive, failing to analyze critically her comment and record also would backfire.

Another GOP presidential candidate, the subject of considerable criticism, would understand. Newt Gingrich's candidacy is not tanking; it has tanked. And, with some justification, he blames it on the abuse heaped upon him since he began his quest. The former House Speaker wrongly believes that he was targeted because Democrats fear him, but evidently knows that reports about campaign aides deserting him, as well as his Tiffany line of credit (and an obnoxious, but effective, glittering incident), contributed to his demise.

While attributing coastal elitism Taibbi primarily to others (in his last sentence, appearing to include himself), Taibbi doesn't quite understand conservatives, in images of pop culture, recognize that

Here liberalism is a matter of shallow appearances, of fatuous self-righteousness; it is arrogant and condescending, a politics in which the beautiful and the wellborn tell the unwashed and the beaten-down and the funny-looking how they ought to behave, how they should stop being racist or homophobic, how they should be better people. In an America where the chief sources of one's ideas about life's possibilities are TV and the movies, it's not hard to be convinced that we inhabit a liberal-dominated world.....

Frank wrote seven years ago, when conservative talk radio was not as dominant and social media practically non-existent. But he asserted, in a way Taibbi does not, the value of confronting the self-serving arguments of the conservative elite, rather than the constituency that elite targets. And it is not only Bachmann or Sarah Palin whose rise would be aborted by such scrutiny, but that of Riok Perry and other manipulators on the right.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not So Surprising, In Retrospect

It did not come upon the midnight clear- it was an evening, in fact. But we were told the event was nearly as transforming as

For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.

What better time to be reminded of a Christmas hymn than when much of the country is suffering from sweltering heat and humidity? And weren't we informed "lo! the days are hastening on.... comes round the age of gold"? The Associated Press reported on March 22:

A transformative health care bill is headed to President Barack Obama for his signature as Congress takes the final steps in Democrats' improbable and history-making push for near-universal medical coverage.

On the cusp of succeeding where numerous past congresses and administrations have failed, jubilant House Democrats voted 219-212 late Sunday to send legislation to Obama that would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, reduce deficits and ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

"This is what change looks like," Obama said later in televised remarks that stirred memories of his 2008 campaign promise of "change we can believe in."

"We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people."

Transformative, improbable, history-making, "change we can believe in" from "a government of the people and by the people." That seemed almost as good as was a birth, even more improbable and transformative, in Bethlehem.

But the Affordable Care Act has been beset by numerous challenges, in the courts and in Congress. Sebastian Jones describes the effort by both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party to destroy the Independent Payment Advisory Board established by the Act:

a little-known Democratic congresswoman named Allyson Schwartz signed on as a cosponsor of Roe’s bill. Her defection was enough of a partisan hiccup to earn some prominent ink in the Beltway press. An article that landed on the cover of the New York Times in mid-April suggested that conscientious opposition to IPAB was becoming an issue that crossed the political aisle.

What Schwartz’s defection really represented, however, was not the MacGuffin of earnest bipartisanship but a serious moment of escalation in a war that the medical industry is waging against the lynchpin of President Obama’s health care reforms. To understand why, it helps to know a little bit about Schwartz and who she represents. A former health care executive from a suburban district outside Philadelphia, she is the health policy brains of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of forty-two House members whose close relationship with several hundred Washington lobbyists has made them one of the most successful political money machines since the Republican K Street Project collapsed in 2007. In the past several years, they have played an instrumental role in helping the financial and health care industries limit and weaken proposed reforms; IPAB would appear to be their next target. And if the history of the group is any indication, where Schwartz goes, the votes of a substantial number of her New Democrat colleagues are liable to follow.

Schwartz is "little known" but has become much more than a back-bencher. She has been tapped by Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to head candidate services for the DCCC, in which role she appears to be recruiting centrist and/or pro-corporate Democrats to run for the House. So Digby remarks

I continue to be surprised that the administration is allowing so much play on the health care reforms. If that is his signature legacy you'd think he would exercise strong control over the Democrats on this one issue if nothing else. Certainly, the president is the head of the Democratic Party and could nix a big promotion of someone who is leading the charge to destroy the most important piece of the cost savings in the reforms if he wanted to. I don't get why any of this is on the table. Particularly when the stakes are this high.

Neither did I, less-connected, insightful, or eloquent (and far less pithy) than Ms. Parton, see coming the President's apparent acquiescence in the effort to chip away at his signature accomplishment. (Although this probably has been the President's most important- and first- achievement globally, one subject to reversal by any future President.)

But it was probably naive. The PAD may be revoked by Congress, the insurance mandate junked by the Court, or the Act defunded, but the Affordable Care Act itself is highly unlikely to be rescinded. And would it still not be historic? Would it still not stand as an accomplishment which Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton did not achieve? Would it not still be the "landmark health-care legislation" the Washington Post characterized on the afternoon of March 22, 2010 the President would be signing into law the following day? Its impact may prove to be less transformative than minimal- or even detrimental- but the President would have achieved something he and his supporters have claimed for him since March 21, 2011.

And isn't that what it was mostly about?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Audaciousness of Joe

Joe Scarborough is daring and fearless. He has convinced himself, and wants to convince us.

It began Sunday, when Senator John McCain appeared with Christiane Amanpour on ABC's This Week (transcript here) and revealed

Well, I was more concerned about what the candidates in New Hampshire the other night said. This is isolationism. There's always been an isolation strain, isolation strain in the Republican Party, the Pat Buchanan wing of our party. But now it seems to have moved more center stage, so to speak.

A few moments later, McCain commented

I wonder what Ronald Reagan would be saying today.... He would be saying that's not the Republican Party of the 20th century and now the 21st century. That is not the Republican Party that has been willing to stand up for freedom for people for all over the world, whether it be in Gren, that Ronald Reagan had a quick operation about, or whether it be in our enduring commitment to countering the Soviet Union.

This was too much for Scarborough, who on Monday in one of his recurring pieces for Politico wrote

It is laughable to suggest that any Republican who does not support being involved simultaneously in three hot wars is taking up the cause of the John Birch Society, turning their backs on internationalism and calling for bringing our troops home.

That's obvious on its face, but Scarborough couldn't contain himself, remarking

Following the terrorist attack against Marines stationed in Beirut, Reagan’s Defense Department began developing a foreign policy designed to prevent the kind of military tragedies that plagued America from Vietnam through Beirut. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, with the help of Colin Powell, created a conservative approach to military intervention that clearly outlined when military troops should be committed to foreign wars.

The Reagan doctrine limited such events to a limited number of circumstances where the armed conflict is vital to American interests, where our objectives are clearly defined, where our commitment is full and overwhelming and where the war has public support.

These are lovely sentiments. But as this site catalogs, since Ronald Reagan left office there have been 33 terrorist attacks against the United States and/or Americans abroad, not including the under-reported and little understood incident on January 17, 2011 in Spokane, Washington.

It would seem that the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and one intended for the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001 (three among the 33) would have some impact on American foreign policy. However, Scarborough, hot for a doctrine developed in the 1980s, apparently doesn't think so.

The acts of terrorism of nearly ten years ago do not of themselves justify the current wars in Libya, Afghanistan, or Iraq, but U.S. foreign policy must be formulated and evaluated in light of conditions as they currently exist, rather than as they existed over a quarter of a century ago.

Scarborough is pleased "Some GOP candidates are finally getting that message.... that there is a there is a middle ground between McCain’s interventionism and Ron Paul’s isolationism." There is, in fact, approximately 80 yards of a football field in that middle ground, room for practically everyone. He concludes

But these days, Reagan finally seems to be more than a punch line for Republican politicians. These days, it seems, a few candidates are actually following the great man’s advice by supporting a more realistic approach to war and peace.

Courageously criticizing a losing GOP presidential nominee, Scarborough sees himself as boldly breaking with a neo-conservative orthodoxy in foreign affairs. But there is nothing so conventional, nothing so politically safe, and nothing so divorced from reality as a Republican pol or pundit ignoring present realities and wrapping himself in the shroud of Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6).

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Free Pass For Clarence Thomas

The sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and Clarence Thomas has demonstrated that he lacks the basic integrity required of judges below the level of the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times reports

The publicity-shy friend turned out to be Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate magnate and a major contributor to conservative causes. Mr. Crow stepped in to finance the multimillion-dollar purchase and restoration of the cannery, featuring a museum about the culture and history of Pin Point that has become a pet project of Justice Thomas’s.

The project throws a spotlight on an unusual, and ethically sensitive, friendship that appears to be markedly different from those of other justices on the nation’s highest court.

The two men met in the mid-1990s, a few years after Justice Thomas joined the court. Since then, Mr. Crow has done many favors for the justice and his wife, Virginia, helping finance a Savannah library project dedicated to Justice Thomas, presenting him with a Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass and reportedly providing $500,000 for Ms. Thomas to start a Tea Party-related group. They have also spent time together at gatherings of prominent Republicans and businesspeople at Mr. Crow’s Adirondacks estate and his camp in East Texas.

In several instances, news reports of Mr. Crow’s largess provoked controversy and questions, adding fuel to a rising debate about Supreme Court ethics. But Mr. Crow’s financing of the museum, his largest such act of generosity, previously unreported, raises the sharpest questions yet — both about Justice Thomas’s extrajudicial activities and about the extent to which the justices should remain exempt from the code of conduct for federal judges.

Although the Supreme Court is not bound by the code, justices have said they adhere to it. Legal ethicists differed on whether Justice Thomas’s dealings with Mr. Crow pose a problem under the code. But they agreed that one facet of the relationship was both unusual and important in weighing any ethical implications: Justice Thomas’s role in Mr. Crow’s donation for the museum.

The code says judges “should not personally participate” in raising money for charitable endeavors, out of concern that donors might feel pressured to give or entitled to favorable treatment from the judge. In addition, judges are not even supposed to know who donates to projects honoring them....

Mr. Crow, 61, manages the real estate and investment businesses founded by his late father, Trammell Crow, once the largest landlord in the United States. The Crow family portfolio is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and includes investments in hotels, medical facilities, public equities and hedge funds.

A friend of the Bush family, Mr. Crow is a trustee of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and has donated close to $5 million to Republican campaigns and conservative groups. Among his contributions were $100,000 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group formed to attack the Vietnam War record of Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, and $500,000 to an organization that ran advertisements urging the confirmation of President George W. Bush’s nominees to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Crow has not personally been a party to Supreme Court litigation, but his companies have been involved in federal court cases, including four that went to the appellate level. And he has served on the boards of two conservative organizations involved in filing supporting briefs in cases before the Supreme Court. One of them, the American Enterprise Institute, with Mr. Crow as a trustee, gave Justice Thomas a bust of Lincoln valued at $15,000 and praised his jurisprudence at an awards gala in 2001.

The institute’s Project on Fair Representation later filed briefs in several cases, and in 2006 the project brought a lawsuit challenging federal voting rights laws, a case in which Justice Thomas filed a lone dissent, embracing the project’s arguments. The project director, an institute fellow named Edward Blum, said the institute supported his research but did not finance the brief filings or the Texas suit, which was litigated pro bono by a former clerk of Justice Thomas’s.

The relationship is similar to that held by then-Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, who also took inappropriate gifts from wealthy benefactors and, unlike, Thomas, resigned in pressure. Clarence Thomas is a special guy, one who has attended a Koch-sponsored political fundraiser; refused to recuse himself from lawsuits filed against the Affordable Care Act while wife Ginni, a lobbyist for right-wing organizations, has publicly and actively worked against the Act; and reported to the IRS that Ginni earned no non-investment income even while she was working for the Heritage Foundation.

Digby sees "no chance" Justice Thomas will resign over the latest scandal, in part because Bush v. Gore set the Court on a much more partisan course. She believes though, that if Thomas is found to have utilized social media in the same manner as did Anthony Weiner, "all bets are off."

No, even then, the chance that Clarence Thomas, a man without shame, would resign from the Supreme Court is nil to minimal, and minimal is on its way out of town. Representative Weiner did not have his wife stand beside him during either of his press conferences, while it is likely Thomas- if pressed to depend his behavior would insist that she go the Wendy Vitter route. Additionally, it is unlikely Ginni Thomas would be as successful professionally were her husband not sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court. (Indeed, the relationship is the basis of a portion of the conflict of interest Thomas enjoys.)

And there is an additional reason that Clarence Thomas would not be forced from the Court- there probably is no one in the Executive or Legislative Branch who would press the point. That seems to have been taken care of as Earl Ofari Hutchinson, writing before the Crow/Thomas interplay, notes:

Democrats, from the White House down, screamed for New York Representative Anthony Weiner to resign, and he finally did. But it’s not a Democrat who’s breathing the biggest sigh of relief at Weiner’s downfall. It’s Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

There was much talk a year ago that Weiner would be the point man on the House Judiciary Committee if it decided to go after Thomas for his long trail of financial manipulations, abuse, and duplicity. Weiner gave signs that he’d be the go-to guy against Thomas. He had been publicly hammering Thomas’ dealings and demanding that he recuse himself from any High Court deliberations on the constitutionality of the health care reform law that conservatives loathe.

Weiner certainly had a lot of ammunition to make Thomas’ misdeeds a prima facie legal and political embarrassment for the GOP. Thomas’ wife Ginni had earned money from assorted right-wing foundations and think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Koch brothers, the Coors family and Richard Mellon Scaife, all of whom had a major interest in a number of Supreme Court rulings. While Thomas disclosed her earnings, he did not disclose the speaking fees and perks he got from the same conservative groups that his wife worked for. He refused to acknowledge her involvement with Liberty Central, for example.

This is, as Hutchison recalls, the guy who became a Supreme Court Justice only by committing perjury before the Senate Judiciary Committee. His resignation probably would leave him vulnerable to a rehash of the Thomas-Anita Hill affair (pun intended), which would crush his reputation and legacy.

But the primary reason Clarence Thomas will not resign under any circumstances is because he won't have to do so. And for that, we can thank in part Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama, in what was a disappointing performance by the first two.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

And Now, Libya

In an interview on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos shortly before assuming the Presidency, Barack Obama asserted "a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” signaling the policy of giving a pass to the abuses of the Bush Administration. Asked to comment, former Bush White House lawyer Bradford A. Berenson remarked "the last thing a new administration wants to do is spend its time and energy rehashing the perceived sins of the old one."

Senator Barack Obama had said of whistleblowers, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, "Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled." Asked in a December, 2007 interview with the Boston Globe about Iran, presidential candidate Obama stated "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation....”

Reporting in The New Yorker last month about the prosecution for violation of the (1917) Espionage Act of Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency (the government’s electronic-espionage service), Jane Mayer wrote

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”

Later in her article, and more broadly, she added

Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. "We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state," he says. In his view, zealous leak prosecutions are consonant with other political shifts since 9/11: the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counter-terrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force. Obama, Balkin says, has "systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration."

Remaining consistent with adopting policies of the prior presidency, Barack Obama appears to have reversed himself on the Executive's war-making authority. The War Powers Resolution mandates "Whenever United States Armed Forces are introduced into hostilities," the President submit a report to Congress, after which "the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces" unless Congress has declared war or specifically authorized such military action.

But not this President. According to the New York Times' Charlie Savage

President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.

Presidents have the legal authority to override the legal conclusions of the Office of Legal Counsel and to act in a manner that is contrary to its advice, but it is extraordinarily rare for that to happen. Under normal circumstances, the office’s interpretation of the law is legally binding on the executive branch.

Balkin explains that President Obama's decision borrows from that of his immediate predecessor

who sought legal justification for his decision to engage in waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques," which constituted torture. Bush wanted above all to be able to deny that he was violating the anti-torture statute and other laws and treaties. So he found a small group of lawyers in the OLC, headed by John Yoo, and asked for their opinions. This short-circuited the usual process through which the OLC collected views from various agencies and then used them to develop legal opinions for the executive branch. That is, Bush (assisted by his Vice-President, Dick Cheney) arranged matters so that decisions about waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques would be in the hands of lawyers he knew would tell him yes; the normal process of collating opinions was short-circuited and other lawyers were effectively frozen out.

Obama's practice is different, but it has disturbing similarities. Normally, Obama would have asked the OLC for its opinion, and as noted above, the OLC would have polled legal expertise in various agencies, consulted its precedents, had long discussions, and then come up with a scholarly opinion that is normally binding on the executive branch. Instead, Obama routed around the OLC, asking for opinions from various lawyers, including the White House Counsel and the Attorney-Advisor for the State Department. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that from the outset Obama was prospecting for opinions that would tell him that his actions were legal, and once he found them, he felt comfortable in rejecting the opinion of the OLC.

Obama's strategy, like Bush's, also short circuits the normal process of seeking opinions from the OLC; it simply does so in a different way.

Clearly, Bradford Berenson was right- President Obama does not want to "rehash" old "perceived sin," as long as it took place under the eye of the prior President. (John Edwards should be so lucky.) Imagine how much easier it would be for a prosecutor or District Attorney not to have to "rehash perceived sins," such as embezzlement or armed robbery, which had taken place a few years earlier.

But Berenson was wrong when he suggested that Obama would let bygones be bygones because "the president himself doesn’t seem to share that bloodlust" of the silly left demanding accountability. It appears, instead, that President Obama declined to challenge the sins of the past because it would have been uncomfortable to be investigating that behavior at the same time he engaged in the same tactics.

Civil libertarian and war critic Glenn Greenwald notes "it should also go without saying that a belief in the morality of this war is not an excuse for waging it illegally." The Administration's contempt for Congress and the law is unrelated to the wisdom (or lack thereof) of conducting what are, to anyone with an I.Q. reaching into the double digits, "hostilities."

Demonstrating skill as both a legislator and comedian, Al Franken stated-or quipped- of the President's rationale, "you know, whatever it is, I don't agree with it." The President can relax, however. He may have, as Greenwald observed in January, invoked due-process-free assassination hit lists of American citizens, sweeping executive power and secrecy theories used to justify it, the multi-tiered, "state-always-wins" justice system for detainees, a vastly more aggressive war on whistleblowers and press freedoms, and new presidential immunity doctrines. But he has not tweeted a body part, committed adultery with his campaign's videographer, or lied to a grand jury about sex. The important things.


The husband-wife (or, rather, wife-husband) duo of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito nee Bomgardner flew an upside do...