Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

George Says He Wants to Do It

Monday, June 1st, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

George Pataki ...  presidential candidate

George Pataki … presidential candidate

George Pataki is running for president. For those of you not familiar with the name, Pataki was governor of New York state for 12 years. He is the 285th announced or soon-to-be-announced candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. I exaggerate, but not by much.

Pataki is quiet and unassuming — things most of the other members of the GOP presidential gaggle are not. He also may be delusional, which does put him in good company with the rest of the crowd.

But here’s the funny thing about Pataki: He says he’s a Republican. If that’s so, it’s not any kind of Republican that Americans have been exposed to in the 21st century. The Grand Old Party is surely old, but in 2015, it is hardly grand. It is, sad to say, a party that has lost its mind and sold its soul. The onetime Party of Lincoln today is not even the Party of Ford. It’s the party of Cheney and pick-a-Bush, sponsored by the brothers Koch.

I have resisted jumping into the 2016 presidential “debate” until now, figuring it was too early. Like, a year too early. But as the body count has increased (much more modestly on the Democratic side), I started wondering if my lack of zeal for what I was witnessing would somehow risk me being left behind. Then again, I told myself, so what?

Then George Pataki, all 6 feet, 5 inches of him, pulled me in. Is this guy serious? President? Of the United States? Yeah, he’s an easygoing, likable sort. Bright. Actually grew up on a farm. Once upon a time, I even wrote editorials endorsing him for the New York State Legislature. And he was elected governor of New York three times. That’s no easy trick for  a Republican since it’s a liberal state with a Democratic voting edge. Even more impressive, Pataki beat liberal icon and incumbent governor, Mario Cuomo, the first time out. In getting re-elected twice, Pataki showed that he can work with people of differing political views to get things done.

But … George … Republicans don’t care about that today. In fact, they run away from it. Since you’ve been away from politics for eight years, maybe you haven’t noticed that the word “bipartisan” has been stricken from the party vocabulary. If Democrats like it, Republicans don’t. Period.

The real irony of the Pataki candidacy, though, centers on his positions on the issues. While he is definitely a state’s rights, low-tax, fiscal conservative in the traditional Republican mold, his views on a host of hot-button issues are simply not in sync with today’s Republican Party.

Let’s start with climate change. Republicans have fought President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat it at every turn. The GOP-dominated Senate even went so far as to vote that humans are not causing climate change and the Republican governor of Florida has actually banned state employees from using the term, “global warming.” Finally, polls regularly show that a majority of Republicans, who proudly proclaim they are not scientists, do not believe global warming is happening.

Pataki? Unlike many Republican politicians, the Columbia and Yale graduate respects science. Strike one. He believes global warming is real. Strike two. In fact, he co-chaired a 2007 blue-ribbon,  Independent Task Force on Climate Change  organized by the Council on Foreign Relations. The other co-chair was Tom Vilsack, former Democratic governor of Iowa who is President Obama’s agriculture secretary. The panel issued a thick report stating that human-caused climate change represented a world crisis that required immediate attention. Strike three.

How about abortion? Pataki is pro-choice. Enough said.

Immigration? He supports a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in this country. “We can’t send 11 million people back in railroad cars and buses and trains,” he has said.

He believes the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to the states, but as governor he signed a law providing rights for gays, including benefits for same-sex couples.

He also pushed through a tough gun-control law banning some assault weapons and requiring ballistic fingerprinting for weapons as well as raising the legal age to own a gun from 18 to 21. And he thinks it should be up to each state to decide whether to legalize marijuana.

For good measure, the former mayor of Peekskill thinks the nation should invest billions into building a first-class rail system.

Does that sound like a Republican to you?

Yes, he rips Obamacare and thinks the president hasn’t been militarily aggressive enough with ISIS and shouldn’t be negotiating with Iran on nuclear power. But virtually all the Republican candidates say those things, whether they believe them or not.

The point is, Pataki, who turns 70 this month, offers a bipartisan governing approach and reasonable views on some emotional issues in a party virtually devoid of such. In a general election against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, that might sway some Democratic voters of a more conservative bent. But first he’s got to get through the Republican primaries and emerge victorious over the likes of : Ted (I will renounce my Canadian citizenship) Cruz; Marco (I’m young, Cuban and have a sugar daddy) Rubio; Rand (every citizen for himself) Paul; Ben (the perfect prescription for the Tea Party) Carson; Carly (I’m as wacky as any of the guys) Fiorina; Mike (the huckster) Huckabee; Rick (one more time) Santorum; Lindsay (I’m the most conservative of them all) Graham; Jeb (it’s my turn) Bush; Scott (fire the unions) Walker; Chris (I didn’t close the bridge) Christie; Rick (I can count to three now) Perry; Bobby (I really messed up Louisiana) Jindal; John (who?) Kasich; and Donald (oh shut up) Trump. Sarah Palin, where are you?

Fox News, the mouthpiece of the Republican Party, says it’s only going to put 10 candidates on stage for its televised GOP debates. Pataki might have trouble just cracking the starting lineup, which tells you where reasonableness, a respect for science and a willingness to compromise in governing get you today in the GOP.

In reporting on his decision to run for president, the Wall Street Journal described Pataki as a “centrist.” Talk about the kiss of death. They might just as well have called him a socialist, as far as today’s Republicans are concerned. It’s enough to make a guy want to switch parties.

Whaddaya think, George?

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Messenger is the Message

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

By Jeffrey Page

Close to 2 million people gathered in Paris on Sunday to condemn the murderous attacks on the staff of Charlie Hebdo and on a kosher supermarket that resulted in the deaths of 17 people. One of those attending the march was David Cameron, the British prime minister. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as there. So was Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi were there as well.

Oh, and Jane D. Hartley was there to represent us. Hartley is the United States ambassador to France, and probably known to as many Frenchmen and women as the French ambassador to the United States is known to Americans. You know; whatsisname, Gérard Araud.

But President Obama couldn’t make it. Nor could Vice President Joe Biden. Nor could Secretary of State John Kerry. Apparently nobody from America could make it, so we sent Jane D. Hartley.

And in doing so, Obama revealed an insensitivity not worthy of a world leader. France, after all, is America’s oldest ally, and you just don’t treat old friends quite as shabbily as Obama has with France and its people.

While President Obama may have been too busy to travel to Paris, his counterpart, François Hollande, took the American disrespect gracefully and, speaking through a spokeswoman, declared that he had not been offended. “President Obama supported France in their common struggle against terrorism,” he said.

As though imitating a Ringling Bros. clown stepping into a bucket, Obama caused further embarrassment to himself by giving some of his sharpest critics a free ride for a couple of news cycles.

–Sending Jane D. Hartley to the Paris march was “beyond crass, even for this administration,” said Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

–“Our president should have been there,” Senator Ted Cruz wrote in Time Magazine.

–Obama is “a failure when it comes to fighting Islamic jihadists,” said Mike Huckabee.

–“Skipping this rally will be remembered as a new low in American diplomacy,” said Rick Perry.

–“There’s a plethora of people they could have sent,” said Senator Marco Rubio.

They’re right.

No one would remember “Ich bin ein Berliner” if John Kennedy had ordered some deputy assistant secretary of state no one ever heard of to deliver it. Nor would anyone recall “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” if it had been uttered by anyone but Ronald Reagan.

Sometimes the messenger is the message.

Knee-Deep in the Big Muddy

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

For a moment, I gave Sarah Palin credit for voicing one of the cleverer observations about the sound of war drums in Washington.

 “So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria?” she said. “And I’m the idiot?” 

So it’s like this. President Obama is outraged at Bashar al-Assad’s murderous use of chemical weapons against the easiest target of all – his own people. These would include subversive 4-year olds and other enemies of the regime, such as the rest of Syria’s children plus their mothers, fathers and grandparents, brothers and sisters.

In going after them, Assad has proved himself to be a very special kind of monster. No one on record – prince, president or prime minister – has done what he has done. Which is to say no national leader has ever given the order to assassinate his people with nerve gas, a substance hard to avoid once it’s deployed and one that produces a particularly nasty death.

But Obama has been unable to find many allies. Britain won’t join him – France will – and once again the United States is searching for a coalition, which is something you do long before you order the Navy into Middle Eastern waters. Who knows? Maybe Andorra will send a couple of soldiers to assist America. Or maybe Lichtenstein. Or Honduras. Maybe one of these days, there’s going to be a need for a worldwide response to some atrocity and some outraged nation, other than the U.S., will take the first step.

Obama is out there all by himself. In polling, the Pew Research Center found that 48 percent of those polled were opposed to U.S. military action in Syria. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found 60 percent against war, and an amazing 73 percent of Move On members – Obama’s base – say no to action in Syria.

But to paraphrase Pete Seeger about a different president in a different adventure in a different time, we could use our might against Assad and quickly find ourselves neck deep in the big muddy [or big sandy] while the big fool says to push on.

The official American position: Assad’s a thug. We hate Assad. Assad’s regime is opposed by “Syrian rebel fighters” – whoever they are – so let’s cozy up to them and hope for the best. But who knows? The “best” may have appeared on Page 1 of The New York Times yesterday, Sept. 5. See the seven prone Assad soldiers, their arms bound, their faces in the dirt. See the eight “Syrian rebel fighters” standing over them, seven with automatic rifles and one with a handgun. The event was the summary executions of the soldiers by people we’d in bed with, at least as far as our mutual loathing of Assad is concerned. You can see a video of the last moment in the soldiers’ lives at The Times’ web site. It is difficult to watch.

And the big fool says to push on.

The specific goal of an American military strike against Syria hasn’t been fully articulated yet, but one must suppose that destruction of Assad’s chemical plants and storage facilities must be high on the target list. But you never know what will happen when you play with gas. Hit a chemical factory or storage site the wrong way and things get very ugly very quickly.

Here’s a quick story about the uncertainties of gas warfare; this one is almost humorous. On a hot summer day at Fort Dix in 1964, Tango Company went for gas training. We were ordered to put our gas masks on and then file into a small hut whose air had been contaminated with chlorine gas. Then, one by one, we had to stand before the instructor, remove the mask, count to 10, salute, and leave the building. Most of us weren’t fast enough and inhaled some of the gas. We didn’t merely vomit, which is what chlorine gas is supposed to make you do, but we retched to a degree that felt like someone was ripping out our throats.

Here’s gas’ unpredictability. Our sergeants, who never carried backpacks or gas masks, were sitting under a tree, smoking cigarettes and getting a kick out of the sight of us rushing out of the gas house, choking and gasping for clear air.

And then, the gentle August breeze changed direction and some of the gas residue escaping from the hut fell on the sergeants, who bolted. We laughed – from our side of the rest area.

Has anyone figured out the potential damage to Syria’s children and other noncombatants if we bomb Syria’s gas facilities?

 

‘Barack Attack’ Times Three

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

By Emily Theroux

Let me get this straight.

  1. A recent document dump of emailed Obama administration talking points on Benghazi has provoked an enormous uproar on the right. But Obama press secretary Jay Carney says that these very emails had been given a pass by congressional Republicans months ago.
  2. After the classified details of a thwarted terrorist plot were leaked by an unknown government source, the Department of Justice seized the phone records of numerous Associated Press reporters and editors. President Obama claimed he knew nothing about this unconstitutional power play — an admission that led conservatives to dub him “the bystander president.” Meanwhile, news of the DOJ’s actions scared off carefully cultivated sources from talking to journalists.
  3. An Internal Revenue Service report revealed that the agency improperly targeted conservative organizations (particularly those with Tea Party affiliations) that applied for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status during the 2012 presidential campaign.

This triple whammy of bad news hit both the Obama administration PR machine and the right-wing Obama scandal-mongering industry with superstorm force. The president, the attorney general, and IRS officials were left with a toxic omelet on their faces and more than a little explaining to do. The right reaped a bonanza of new fronts to exploit in their ongoing assault on Obama’s integrity as well as his second-term agenda, and loose talk of “the ‘I’ word” — impeachment — was fast-tracked by the extremists around whom the notion first began to coalesce.

The Fourth Estate and indeed, anyone concerned with maintaining a free press, are hopping mad over the AP controversy — and understandably paranoid.  Attorney General Eric Holder claimed he had “recused himself” from any involvement in the matter, thus shirking all responsibility for calling for the AP subpoenas. (Harry Truman must be rolling over in his grave. What happened to “The buck stops here”?)

As for the GOP’s tiresome Benghazi obsession, the right has been trolling since the president’s election for an “Obama Watergate.” First, they seized on birtherism, then the president’s historic health care reform act. Near the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, the right pounced on the consulate attack in Benghazi, even though 12 terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities occurred during the Bush era, with numerous fatalities, and Republicans issued nary a peep about any of them.

Darrell Issa will undoubtedly forge ahead with his House Oversight Committee’s Benghazi witch hunt. The right’s main event, however, seems to be pivoting to exploitation of the IRS “crisis,” along with a generous side helping of denial that the much-reviled “Obamacare” reforms have already begun contributing to the reduction of the deficit. (And sure enough, just before the 38th vote by Boehner’s GOP House majority to repeal the Affordable Care Act, batcrap-crazy Michelle Bachmann stepped up to the mic to conflate Benghazi hysteria with what she considers Obamacare’s “government overreach.”)

Shades of Casablanca! The GOP is “shocked — SHOCKED!” that the IRS would use seemingly underhanded tactics against an administration’s political enemies. Never mind that the IRS has employed similar tactics during Republican administrations — or that it is the agency’s job to investigate tax-exempt  groups that appear to be pursuing primarily political goals.

Not that conservative groups are the only culprits. Both Republican and Democratic super-PACs have exhibited  a penchant for flouting the rules that govern assignment of tax-exempt status (although it’s the proliferation of applications by conservative groups that has attracted so much recent IRS attention).

Both camps have been guilty of exploiting the laxity and chaos created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, taking advantage of the confusion to set up political organs that masquerade as “social welfare” groups —and, as 501 (c)(4)s,are able to raise stupendous sums of money without being required to disclose the identities of their donors.

Yet while John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and Rush Limbaugh rant on, blowing the brouhaha out of all reasonable proportion, they conveniently ignore the fact that during Dubya’s tenure, the agency went after liberal organizations, including the NAACP, Greenpeace, and a progressive Pasadena church.

* * *

Is this triple threat a tempest in a teapot? Not necessarily, but journalists can bet their White House press passes that members of the GOP/wingnut media circus will flog it for all they’re worth, right up to Election Day 2014.

The Obama team has swung into damage control mode. At the IRS, one head has rolled, although likely not the right one. The president is no longer calling the Benghazi hearings “a sideshow,” and though he’s offered no apology for the DOJ’s AP snooping, he has cynically attempted to “make nice” by proposing a dead-in-the-water federal journalist shield law that the president of the Society of Professional Journalists has branded “a blatantly political move.”

Meanwhile, the Bobbleheads babble randomly and pose nonsensical paradoxes. “Is the president too passive and too reactive?” one pundit asked another. Is Obama “Nixonian”? Has “the narrative” undergone a sea change, or is this just “same-old, same-old”? Does the Obama White House have a “transparency issue”?  Is the right merely proposing “retreads”?

Is there really no “there” there?

At this early stage in the game, I’ve been able to make neither elephant’s trunks nor donkey’s asses of this mind-boggling travesty. So I decided to toss the “three-headed hydra” (salutations to MSNBC’s Alex Wagner) into an acronym salad in verse, served up with extra-tart vinaigrette dressing. (My humblest apologies to Calvin Trillin, who uses longer lines to much better effect — and nails both rhyme and meter every time.)

 

No ‘There’ There

Triple scandal!
How to handle?
Nonchalantly;
Doesn’t daunt me.

“I just heard it
Same day you did.”
Who disclosed it?
“Don’t know who did.”

POTUS aloof.
Colbert spoofs.
McConnell drools;
He’s no fool.

Wingnut right
Spoils for fight.
All they see:
Benghazi.

Congress bickers;
Cantor snickers.
Boehner rails,
“Who’s going to jail?”

Secrets leaked.
AP tweaked.
Press freaked.
Villain “seeked.”

Brewing tea?
Iced for me.
Effect’s chilling.
Colbert’s killing!

IRS —
What a mess!
Nixon did this?
Couldn’t care less.

Hypocrites!
Issa snits.
Bachmann conflates.
Rand Paul’s irate.

House votes.
Sh-t floats.
Obamacare?
“No there there.”

POTUS steps up,
Doesn’t fess up.
His D.O.J.
Is M.I.A.

Buck passed.
Freepers pissed.
Don’t know what
To make of this.

AG recuses;
Press refuses
To back down,
So POTUS loses.

Term Two derailed.
Epic FAIL!
White House snoozes:
Electorate loses.

Living the Iron Lady’s Legacy

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

President Barack Obama slipped the controversial "chained CPI" formula for cutting Social Security cost-of-living increases into his 2014 budget, angering liberal Democrats in the Senate, the House, and progressive organizations.

By Emily Theroux

When Barack Obama introduced his 2014 budget today, one controversial item made it look more like the kind of austerity plan that might have been devised by formidable British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher than a fiscal proposal by a “stateside” Democratic president.

That’s because, for the first time, a Democratic president has dared to propose cutting increases in Social Security benefits — the linchpin of the American social safety net. His inclusion in the budget of “$230 billion in savings from using a chained measure of inflation for cost-of-living adjustments” broke a campaign promise not to cut benefits for current or near-term retirees. The move infuriated progressives, who delivered 2 million petition signatures to the White House yesterday, demanding that the item be expunged.

An Obama adviser termed the infamous “chained CPI” budget item a “goodwill gesture” to Republicans. The president himself, according to Politico, viewed it as serving “a tactical purpose” by proving he’s not afraid to “flout party orthodoxy.” Liberal organizations like MoveOn, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the National Organization for Women, and the Campaign for America’s Future called it a betrayal.

I call using the left (by goading them into a heated public confrontation purely to score points with his opposition) unmitigated, full-throttle political posturing.

 

New formula would cost retirees $112 billion

Robert Reich

President George W. Bush, barnstorming the country to hawk his much-maligned Social Security privatization plan in 2005, got zero, zilch, nada for his trouble. No one was buying Dubya’s scheme to turn the popular entitlement program into a high-stakes casino.

Obama might have paid more heed to the lessons of recent history before attempting to foist chained CPI on the American electorate. This ill-advised modification of the formula for calculating the consumer price index — a “market basket” of goods and services on which annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to Social Security are based — would result in what the AARP has understated as “not a small benefit change” for the oldest and most vulnerable retirees, as well as for military veterans.

As economist Robert Reich observed in a videotape last week introducing an anti-CCPI petition later submitted to the president:

“The idea is that when prices go up, most people substitute lower-cost items. So a true calculation of the cost of living should take account of this substitution effect. This makes no sense for seniors, because they spend 20 to 40 percent of their incomes on health care, and they can’t substitute lower-cost alternatives.”

AARP estimates that chained CPI will cost Social Security beneficiaries $112 billion and veterans $25 billion during the next decade. Because the formula compounds benefit reductions over time, it will result in an annual benefit that is “roughly $1,000 (in 2012 dollars) lower by the time a beneficiary reaches age 85,” according to AARP’s Josh Rosenblum. “Eventually, … beneficiaries would lose a month’s worth of benefits every year.”

For veterans, the cuts are even worse. “Permanently disabled veterans who started receiving disability benefits at age 30 would see their benefits cut by … $3,200 a year at age 65,” wrote AARP’s David Certner.

 

CCPI ‘an idea not befitting a Democratic president’

“Mr. President, the chained CPI is a cut to Social Security benefits that would hurt seniors. It’s an idea not befitting a Democratic president. If you want to reform Social Security, make the wealthy pay their fair share by lifting the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes.”

That was the message delivered by former Secretary of Labor Reich’s petition. On this side of the pond, liberal economists like Reich and  Paul Krugman agree with advocacy groups for retirees and veterans that CCPI is a raw deal for Social Security recipients.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher/Getty Images

Yet Thatcher, who died Monday at age 87, would no doubt have applauded Obama’s heartless formula. (Thatcher, Reich tweeted, “gave Ronald Reagan the courage of his misguided conviction.”) She didn’t cotton to coddling “the less fortunate,” whom she regarded, as many on the extreme right do, as moochers, malingerers, and reprobates. Baroness Thatcher would have been right at home with Mitt Romney’s opinion of the “47 percent” of Americans who, in his flawed estimation, “believe that government has a responsibility to care for them.”

Mme. Thatcher once opined:

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand, ‘I have a problem; it is the government’s job to cope with it,’ or ‘I have a problem; I will go and get a grant to cope with it’; ‘I am homeless, the government must house me!’ … They are casting their problems on society, and who is society? There is no such thing. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

 

Even tax-averse millionaires hate chained CPI

Chained CPI has a single dubious claim to fame: virtually everyone loathes it, from wealthy investors to veterans, from aged “pensioners,” as the Baroness would have called them, to hordes of boomers on the brink of retirement.

Everyone, of course, except Thatcherites “dismissing Britons in need as parasites and wastrels” (in the words of progressive blogger Richard Eskow), like-minded congressional Republicans  — and, now, our own inconstant leader. The Barack Obama of hope and change has transformed himself into someone that his once-loyal liberal base no longer recognizes.

Our peerless 2008 presidential nominee, whom we hurried to endow with shimmering waves of potentiality and purpose, turned out to be a mirage. Like the Nobel committee did a year later, we pinned on Candidate Obama our most quixotic aspirations, as the seemingly interminable nightmare of the Bush/Cheney oligarchy neared its bitter denouement.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker/AP photo

But our champion inevitably let us down. President Obama didn’t prosecute the torture-mongers for war crimes or the Wall Street banksters for the financial crisis. He didn’t slip on that pair of comfortable shoes and march with union members protesting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s legislative assault on collective bargaining rights. He didn’t advocate single-payer health insurance, fight institutional racism, or battle poverty. He didn’t swoop in to advance gay civil rights or create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants. He didn’t close Guantanamo or reject indefinite detention of prisoners or halt drone warfare, but instead took their precepts to lengths no one could have envisioned.

Despite an impressive record of policy achievements, Barack Obama is not now, nor has he likely ever been, the transformative president he vowed he would become if we worked our collective asses off to put him in office. Home safe after his successful reelection; dissed and thwarted by GOP obstructionists so many times, you’d think he swear off any notion of a “grand bargain,” he’s still trying to burnish his bipartisan cred. The far right may brand him a socialist, but Obama governs, as many on the left complain, like a predictable, center-right Clintonian Democrat or a moderate Republican — not the progressive icon we so badly needed him to be.

 

Congressional firebrands take action

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders/AP photo

I’m not alone in uttering this heresy. The din of disillusionment has been almost deafening in the blogosphere and on Twitter for the past week. If Congress cuts Social Security by implementing this callous adjustment — a deliberate and unnecessary “sacrifice” that, as Reich points out, the Republicans haven’t even asked for —– Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as well as members of progressive groups, have suggested there may be 2014 primary challenges to Democratic members of Congress who vote for it. As for the House, Representatives Alan Grayson and Mark Takano collected the signatures of 29 progressives who vowed to vote against any bill that includes Social Security benefit cuts.

Florida Rep. Alan Grayson

Did Obama at least mean well, before ascending to the tantalizing pinnacle of power? We’ll have to leave that question to history. No one can imagine, before the fact, what it’s going to be like up there, in that rarefied stratum that’s only been attained by 44 Americans in the brief span of almost 237 years.

In the words of the troubadour, it’s lonely at the top, and — as I’m sure the Iron Lady could have told us if her lips weren’t sealed against anyone’s ears but Saint Ronnie’s —– as magnetic as the polar north.

emily@zestoforange.com

GOP ‘Reform’: The Crying Game

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, 113th Congress

By Emily Theroux

By focusing his second inaugural address on equal opportunity, did Barack Obama finally give John Boehner something to cry about?

I certainly hope so.

At the very least, the Weeper of the House still appears to be running scared. After Obama walloped Republican prognosticators in November by depriving Mitt Romney of what they envisioned as certain victory, Boehner appeared shell-shocked during his post-election press briefing.

“We’re ready to be led, not as Democrats or as Republicans but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative but as a President of the United States of America. We want you to succeed. Let’s challenge ourselves to finding the common ground that has eluded us. Let’s rise above the dysfunction and do the right thing together for our country.”

Boehner’s acquiescence was a far cry from his disingenuous “Hell no, you don’t!” eruption in 2010. As columnist Dana Milbank noted, Boehner delivered his 2012 speech in a room named for Speaker Sam Rayburn, who allegedly said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one.” (“Boehner sounds as though he’s ready to pick up hammer and nail,” Milbank observed. “But will his fellow Republicans stop kicking?”)

President Barack Obama

That question set the stage for the contentious two-headed behemoth that the Republican Party has devolved into since last fall. Boehner has already changed strategies several times. After the president’s speech, the beleaguered House speaker told the conservative Ripon Society he believes Obama intends to “annihilate the Republican Party, to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”

(If Boehner asked me, I’d advise him to guard his right flank. He won a second term as speaker with a record 12 GOP defections — probably revenge for ousting four recalcitrant teabaggers from their committee assignments in December. The refusal of far-right ideologues to support the speaker’s agenda — particularly when it emerges from a bargain with the president — has driven Boehner to assemble a pragmatic yet uncertain coalition of  moderate Republicans and Democrats who have voted so far to thwart the fiscal cliff, pass Obama’s tax increase on the wealthy, allocate Hurricane Sandy aid, and postpone another disastrous debt-ceiling stalemate.)

Republicans are terrified by Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda of passing progressive legislation on comprehensive immigration reform, gun control, gay rights,  and climate change. They’re dismayed that the president has converted his campaign machinery into a nonprofit group, to promote his initiatives and oppose GOP intractability. They’re also rattled because Obama is bypassing them, as he did during the campaign, and speaking to Americans directly — and Americans appear to be listening.)

 

Will Republicans ever stop kicking?

In the three months since the president’s reelection threw them for a loop, Republicans have advanced and retreated; pissed and moaned; stamped their feet and squealed like stuck pigs. On occasion, they’ve done a 180 and meekly fallen in line to vote with Democrats. Here are a few highlights of the GOP’s baffling recent machinations on matters of policy, posturing, and the subterfuge known as “messaging”:

La. Gov. Bobby Jindal

1) The ‘stupid party’: Immediately after Gov. Willard “Mitt” Romney lost the 2012 election, Gov. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, the son of Punjabi immigrants (and Louisiana’s first non-white governor since African-American newspaper publisher P.B.S. Pinchback served for 35 days during Reconstruction), began angling to position himself as the multicultural face of the “new” GOP. “We’ve got to stop being the ‘stupid party’,” Jindal railed. Unfortunately, his harsh, regressive policy proposals (drastically cutting Medicaid benefits for nursing homes and the poor, and replacing state income and corporate taxes with a sales tax increase targeting the bottom 80 percent of Louisiana residents) tarnish any claim he might eventually stake to the 2016 nomination.

 2) Rekindling the ‘war on women’: Jindal and other Republicans have called out failed Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock for making “offensive and bizarre” remarks about rape. For awhile, the GOP appeared to have shifted its frenzied campaign against women’s reproductive rights to the back burner. Then John Boehner inexplicably dialed up the misogyny by throwing red meat to the culture warriors at the “March for Life”, an annual D.C. anti-abortion protest. Boehner vowed “to make abortion a relic of the past” and a fundamental Republican goal.  (Translation:  to criminalize safe, legal abortion, returning us to an era of butchery that all too frequently terminated the woman along with the pregnancy.)

3) ‘And build the danged fence’: After Romney lost the Latino vote by 40 points, pols and pundits proclaimed that the GOP needed to retire its blatant aversion to immigrants. What Republican policy-makers fail to realize is that even if they eventually climb aboard Obama’s bandwagon and support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, it may do little to thwart the repercussions from decades of right-wing ethnic prejudice against Latinos. (Right now, green cards look like a distant prospect. The president’s immigration proposal is meeting determined resistance from GOP hardliners who would rather shine the president on than cooperate, strutting their belligerent “border security” stuff  all the way from Laredo to San Diego.)

 

Summit attendees oddly complacent

What does the Republican Party need to do to recoup?” asked MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. “They need to get back to a message of hope, instead of a message of rejection.”

The problem with the “evolving” GOP is that it many of its members seem to have reached a premature verdict (especially in light of the strange complacency on display at last weekend’s National Review post-election summit): The party’s problem resides not in its core precepts, but in its candidates, its tactics, its “messaging.” These folks have decided they don’t need to change what they’re saying; just rejiggering the words they’re using, and the people who are saying them, should suffice. They’re probably too deeply invested in Machiavellian chicanery (which masquerades, for them, as “principle”) to truly change.

The Republican Party has become a figment of its own delusions, the same ones it devised to foist on unwary simpletons. It has no moral center, and Americans know it.

Faced with the enormity of the GOP’s decline into selfishness, avarice, and intolerance, Professor David Schultz pronounced its aging white constituency “the real takers.” Columnist David Brooks advised throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them,” Brooks observed, adding that the GOP conundrum of battling government is incompatible with actual governance. His conclusion: “It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party” that can compete outside the South and rural West.

Do any of the cagey, conflicted partisans in the current GOP dare call their recent experimentation with “messaging” and theatrics “Republican Party reform”? Don’t believe it until you see the whites of their eyes — and then be sure to look for any trace of genuine tears.

The Speech, etc.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

–I liked it. But even more, I liked the attitude. For this was no happy thank-you. This was no self-congratulation. And this was no wise-acre government-is-the-problem complaint. This was a call to work for a better America.

–I liked Obama’s use of 18th century imagery that Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, other Congressional yahoos, and the Second Amendment crowd could understand (if not appreciate): “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.” The message I took from the business of “privileges of the few” is that no longer will the middle class be required to preserve, protect and defend the insanely low tax rates of the wealthy.

–Obama’s several uses of “we the people” amounted to a message to those who forget that “we the people” are the first three words of the Constitution, and are quickly followed by “in order to form a more perfect union.” I may be politically naïve – I lost $5 betting on McGovern in ’72 – but the use of “we the people” suggests that it’s him and us together on this train, and if the forces of darkness want to hop aboard for the ride to enlightenment, that’s OK. But they’ve got to wipe the manure from their shoes. If, however, they choose to stand on the tracks to stop the train, they’d do well to bring their last political wills and testaments up to date. We’re not stopping, Obama said.

–“For we the people,” Obama said, “understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” Maybe this time the right wing will understand that the poorest Americans are just that – Americans who are broke but not evil – and thus deserving of all the assistance the nation offers to the Chryslers, the Trumps, the Kochs, the Adelsons. Maybe the right will understand this, but I doubt it. I hope President Obama is aware of the coming struggles.

–The president said that we the people agree that every American “deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Which means to me, if not to the Tea Party, that when a hurricane ravishes a southern town, of course we rebuild and make repair. And if the storm wreaks havoc on the northeast we fix that as quickly as possible and do not play Tea Party budget games when people are made homeless. Sane human beings never would say: OK, here’s $1 for hurricane relief but you can have it only if you cut other spending by a like amount.

–Obama said children, “from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown,” must know that they are safe. I wish he had said something a little more substantive on the matter of guns.

–Doubtless, Obama recalled the GOP hand-wringing about saddling our children and grandchildren with current national debt when he chose the line: “We the people still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” There’s more than money to worry about.

–What I heard in Obama’s 2,126-word speech was a call to the opposition to get on board or get out of the way. Throughout his talk, I heard reminders to the Tea Party and its unhappy Republican backers that it was Barack Obama who won the election, not what’s-his-name. If they are to be taken seriously, Republicans should remember this.

–The GOP should also remember that when they let loose personal attacks on the president, they let loose on the majority of the American people that re-elected him. True to predictions, the turnout in Washington to bear witness to Obama’s second inauguration was lower than the first one four years ago. But let it be known on the right: He still drew 600,000 people to listen in bitter cold. The White House says it was more like 1 million. Pick a number and know that it was crowded in D.C.

–Clearly, the president will have tough going through 2017. For even as some Republican members of Congress were wishing him well in a second term, I heard a Tea Party woman from Texas express concern on National Public Radio that she still has yet to see Obama’s birth certificate. Again, Obama will have to deal with irrational nitwits who’ll say anything to make him look bad but who wind up looking foolish themselves. Recall, the genius Mitch McConnell saying in 2010 “the single most important [emphasis added] thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Recall the esteemed Sarah Palin warning us that part of Obama’s medical plan were “death panels.”

–If Obama was polite, at times almost obsequious, in his dealings with the GOP for the last four years, he sounded this week like a man who knows he’s been slapped and otherwise disrespected a few too many times. Will he give as good as he gets? Will he tell the next birther with a big mouth to get stuffed? I hope so.

–Obama reminded us of Martin Luther King’s definition of freedom; either we are all free or none of us is free. Those are words that should be recited by Americans every morning before breakfast. He said gay men and women ought to be treated “like anyone else under the law.” That’s a worthy morning prayer as well.

–Great speech. I wish him and us the best.

The Right’s ‘Nobama’ Melodrama

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

In the continuum between “fiscal cliff” brinksmanship and “right-to-work” trickery, I can’t decide whether to laugh, throw rocks, or avert my gaze in disgust from the spectacle of angry old white men, locked in a grudge match with President Obama and behaving churlishly.

The past week has been a mash-up of bad actors and worse theatrics. Which should we ring down the curtain on first?

 

The Speaker of the House resorts to high-risk stagecraft

John Boehner isn’t entirely sure who he’s representing in the fiscal cliff fiasco, but he’s certainly had to tiptoe through the muck left over after the Republican campaign splattered like an overripe tomato against the brick wall of the electorate. Republicans have no idea what they’re mutating into – since, at this early stage, it’s still bubbling up from the primordial ooze of spent teabags, long-form personhood certificates, forcible rape-rap, and amnesty antics into its own form of lame-duck lunacy.

Among Boehner’s recent one-liners:

  • (Re: his fiscal cliff avoidance plan, which proposes cutting $600 billion in “entitlement” spending, partly by raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, but doesn’t raise the marginal tax rate on rich people; collecting $200 billion in revenues by closing unspecified income tax deductions and loopholes; then trimming billions more by slashing agency budgets, eliminating other mandatory programs, and reducing beneficiaries’ cost-of-living increases – all without offering specifics or even mentioning the payroll tax, unemployment, or the coming debt-ceiling debacle): “A credible plan that deserves serious consideration by the White House.”
  • (Re: President Obama’s standing offer of generating $1.4 trillion in revenues (revised downward from an initial figure of $1.6 trillion in an attempt to appease Tea Party holdouts) by reinstating Clinton-era tax rates for the extremely wealthy; cutting entitlement spending by $400 billion; adding another $50 billion in stimulus spending; and requiring that Congress cede power over raising the debt limit to the executive branch): Obama’s “la-la land offer.”

Why is Speaker Boehner slow-walking an eventual deal with Democrats? The National Review’s Robert Costa said the House Weeper may be facing a leadership challenge from no-nonsense conservative Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, if Boehner colludes with moderates to achieve the dreaded “compromise.” Moreover, the GOP’s festering Tea Party flank isn’t in any hurry to cave in to raising their single-minded constituents’ taxes. Creative gerrymandering by Republican-controlled state legislatures may have put the kibosh on reaching common ground.

Worrying the bejesus out of small business owners (who fear losing customers to Medicare cuts) and the general public is the looming prospect of  economic collapse. The Congressional Budget Office warned in August that the fiscal cliff impasse, if not resolved by January (when the Bush tax cuts expire and the extreme “sequestration” budget cuts kick in), would hurtle the U.S. economy into another recession. As International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde cautioned Sunday, failure to reach “a comprehensive deal” before January will crash the fragile recovery, reverse recent gains in employment, and reduce growth to “zero.”

The House Speaker (who holds more power at this moment than anyone with his self-serving mindset, indecisive temperament, and appalling incompetence ever merited) dithers while America burns. Republican intransigence continues to edge us closer every day to plunging headlong into catastrophe. We can’t afford to play these dangerous games with the future of the U.S. economy so that Boehner and the House’s far-right cohort can “save face.”

John Boehner needs to stop worrying about saving his own job and focus on saving his country instead. He might go down in flames among the rabble-rousers in his own caucus, but he’ll also improve his chances of going down in history as a principled patriot rather than the worst Speaker the U.S. House of Representatives has ever had.

 

Krauthammer’s cruel logic: Right-to-work equals lower wages

Yesterday, Michigan’s lame-duck state legislature passed the Orwellian-sounding “right-to-work” law, which labeled union-busting “freedom of choice” while its proponents proclaimed it “pro-worker” and “pro-choice.” With a stroke of his pen, Governor Rick Snyder vanquished organized labor in the birthplace of the United Auto Workers union.

Right-to-work laws, as Ezra Klein explained in The Washington Post, don’t give you the right to work. “They give you the right to refuse to pay union dues when you work for a union shop, even though you get the wages the union bargained for, and the benefits the union bargained for, and the grievance process the union bargained for.”

If you live in Michigan and watch your salary and benefits steadily decline over the next several years, don’t ask Charles Krauthammer to cry for you.

During a Fox News “Special Report,” the insufferable Dr. K averred that successful American auto unions like the UAW resulted from a postwar “anomaly” that no longer exists in a globally competitive world.

“I sympathize with the unions, but the fact is that in a global economy, where you have to compete on wages and other elements of production, you can either have high wages with low employment, or you can, as Obama would say, ‘spread around the wealth’,” Krauthammer (who worked for years as a shrink!) said with sublime sensitivity, unable to resist a rapier-like pun. “In the right-to-work states, unemployment is 6.9 percent, and in the non-right-to-work states, it’s 8.7. So you can choose to have fewer workers who enjoy higher, inflated, unnatural wages, uncompetitive wages, or you can have competitive wages and more people employed, more people with the dignity of a job, and less unemployment and more taxation and more activity. I think it’s the right choice, but I understand how it’s a wrenching choice.”

Sorry, Charlie, but, as the wingnuts like to say, “That dog don’t hunt.” If CEOs and other company managers weren’t awarded salaries totally out of proportion to those earned by their employees, gazillion-dollar annual bonuses regardless of performance, corporate welfare, tax credits for outsourcing jobs, “golden parachutes,” and other incentives to gamble away corporate profits instead of reinvesting a portion of them in living wages, well-deserved benefits, and decent pension programs for their most valuable assets – the human kind – the economy wouldn’t be in this godawful mess.

If you have no heart, at least have the sense to keep your deficiencies to yourself!

 

Scalia compares ‘homosexual sodomy’ with murder

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has once again stepped in a steaming heap of controversy over a topic under consideration by the Court. During a nationwide book tour, Scalia brought up “having moral feelings against homosexuality,” only two days after the Court agreed to hear two cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman.”

During a speech at Princeton University promoting his new book, Reading Law, Scalia responded to a question from a gay student about why his writings compare “laws banning sodomy with those barring bestiality and murder,” the Associated Press reported Monday. The justice opined that legislative bodies can prohibit acts they believe to be “immoral.”

If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have (them) against murder? Can we have (them) against other things?” Scalia wondered aloud. What, this caused me to marvel, should this man’s personal musings about morality have to do with interpreting the law?

The questioner, freshman Duncan Hosie of San Francisco, remained unconvinced by this outrageous line of chatter, even though the justice insisted “he (was) not equating sodomy with murder but drawing a parallel between the bans on both.” Hosie told the AP reporter that he believes Scalia’s writings tend to “dehumanize” gays.

Scalia should immediately recuse himself from deliberating on any case about which he has already publicly revealed his prejudices – something he apparently has no intention of doing, since blurting out two months ago at a similar event, held at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, “Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.” As far as Scalia, who calls himself a “textualist,” is concerned, if the Constitution didn’t ban the death penalty or preclude restrictions on abortion and sodomy, then neither should he.

As Michael Tomasky concluded in Time, “What blithering nonsense! … And Scalia is a bigot.”

Drones: The Real Petraeus Controversy

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Former C.I.A. Director David Petraeus

If it took adultery and flirty emails to force people to discuss U.S. military and intelligence policy, I’m fine with that.”

– Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations

By Emily Theroux

As if Republican melodrama over losing the election (come on, people – secession?) and Democratic schadenfreude (well, okay, outright gloating) weren’t bad enough, now we have “Generalized mission creeps” to contend with, and the 2012 election results are only a week old!

The sexual peccadilloes of former four-star combat general and CENTCOM commander David Petraeus would be as insignificant as those of Bill Clinton, if the latter didn’t happen to be our 42nd president and the former, the director of the C.I.A. Whether state secrets were divulged as careless pillow talk concerns me less than the pass the press seems to have given both Petraeus and our just-reelected 44th president, after the latter appointed the former to preside over the dangerous militarization of our national intelligence agency.

Petraeus’ pursuit of “a more militarily overt role” for the C.I.A. developed at a time when drone strikes had begun to make both warfare and national security policy look as arbitrary and disconnected as contract execution. By adding intelligence gathering into the mix, the erstwhile general betrayed more than his marriage vows. Why the powerful cheat “is a sociologically interesting question … but a more important question to the political life of our republic is why powerful men such as Petraeus and his recently reelected boss cheat on their oaths of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”

Obama did so by significantly expanding both drone strikes (into North Africa and Pakistan) and executive power. Not that drone policy would have been much different in a GOP presidency, had Mitt Romney won the election. Obama and Romney agreed, during the final presidential debate, that targeted strikes by UAVs  – unmanned aerial vehicles,” the preferred military euphemism for drones – offer the ideal method for dispatching America’s designated enemies. Drone strikes are “surgical,” both would tell you, “precise,” and  “save American lives” because we don’t have to send our troops into a war zone.

No politician who is actively running for office, however, wants to talk about the “collateral damage” of wiping out any hapless bystanders in the vicinity of a Hellfire missile’s human target when the weapon incinerates him.” The number of estimated deaths from the Obama administration’s drone strikes is more than four times what it was during the Bush administration – somewhere between 1,494 and 2,618,” CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and Megan Braun wrote last month. “Under Obama, the drone campaign, which during the Bush administration had put emphasis on killing significant members of Al Qaeda, has undergone a quiet and unheralded shift to focus increasingly on killing Taliban foot soldiers,” the article’s co-authors added.

Jane Mayer’s seminal 2009 New Yorker expose of the dual U.S. unmanned drone programs – the official targeting by the military of known members of Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the unofficial killing by the C.I.A. of suspected terrorists in countries with which we are not at war – noted the fact that President Barack Obama had dramatically stepped up American drone strikes since taking office earlier that year. Mayer’s piece included the following horrific description of drone-strike carnage:

“People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying. ‘You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,’ a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. … Human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: ‘squirters.'”

The “targeted killing” policies that have developed  – since the 9/11 attacks shifted the tactics of warfare and national security in a frightening new century onto morally ambiguous ground – should shake progressives to the core. Yet we’ve scarcely heard a peep, much less a sustained outcry, from anyone but a small but strident chorus of voices on the far left.

Some are idealists for whom matters of conscience trump political expediency; others are sticklers for ideological “purity,” who refused to acknowledge even the narrowest sliver of difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, declining on principle to vote for “the lesser of two evils.” The rest are pragmatists who voted for a third-party candidate only if they lived in a solidly blue (or dismally red) state, or voted against Romney to reelect Obama in battleground states – as antiwar luminary of Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers fame, Daniel Ellsberg, advised in an open letter to swing-state progressives.

 

Liberals who protested Bush policies silent about Obama

Just after Obama took office in January 2009, Bush-era national security policy still shocked the conscience. When it was revealed soon afterward that Obama had ordered his first drone strike on the third day of his presidency, surprisingly little negative reaction from the public ensued. That the reliance on drones to “eliminate” foreign nationals as if they were cockroaches – and carry out once-prohibited extrajudicial assassinations of U.S. citizens abroad) seems almost commonplace now is a hideous testament to the darker elements of human nature.

Did liberals “accept” these morally ambiguous policies because a new, Democratic president had enacted them? Did we go on to largely ignore “targeted killing” because it would have been politically inconvenient to bring it up before the election? The left was extremely vocal when the “culprits” (in that case, the Republicans who espoused “preemptive war” and condoned violating the Geneva Conventions by permitting the torture of captive suspects believed to be “enemy combatants”) were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The neocons were easy villains for progressives to revile. When a likeable and iconic Democrat, however (who also happened to be America’s first black president, an epic milestone for a republic that once condoned slavery, as well as a point of progressive pride), not only perpetuated but accelerated a number of execrable Bush administration policies on national security, center-left Democrats dropped the ball.

 

You, too, can be targeted for assassination by the C.I.A.!

The summary execution of terrorism suspects without indictment, trial or conviction can still be ordered against American citizens abroad, thanks to the Obama administration’s acknowledgement in February 2010 that it planned to preserve that particularly odious Bush-era policy.

“Being a U.S. citizen will not spare an American from getting assassinated by military or intelligence operatives overseas, if the individual is working with terrorists and planning to attack fellow Americans,” then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair threatened, while testifying before a congressional committee.

Lovely. (No possibility of abuse there, right?) But drones can be deceptively invasive predators.

“The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counter-terrorism adviser, told The Washington Post. “You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”

The terrorists, I assume he meant, will inevitably proliferate if we don’t keep mowing them down. I’ve got a few problems with that:

  • Our drones, despite assurances from Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, that they’re capable of “surgical precision” with “very few instances of collateral damage,” have killed numerous innocent bystanders, including the wives and children of their targets. I can’t think of a more calamitous definition for the term “overkill” than a Hellfire missile aimed from a great distance at a single individual.
  • Drone strikes are perfectly legal, constitutional, and consistent with international law. Why? Because Attorney General Eric Holder, top State Department attorney Harold Koh, Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson, and President Obama himself said so. (John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez said “enhanced interrogation techniques” were also legal. I didn’t buy their rationalizations when Bush was president; why am I so afraid of even considering such a thing about Barack Obama?)
  • In April, Obama authorized the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) “to fire on targets based solely on their intelligence ‘signatures’ patterns of behavior that are detected through signals intercepts, human sources and aerial surveillance, and that indicate the presence of an important operative or a plot against U.S. interests,” wrote Julian E. Barnes in The Wall Street Journal. “Under the previous rules, the CIA and the U.S. military (were) only allowed to use drone strikes against known terrorist leaders whose location could be confirmed and who appeared on secret CIA and JSOC target lists.”
  • Of course you have to mow the “lawn” all the time! Rain sudden death down from the sky by mistake at a Pakistani wedding or two, a meeting of Afghan tribal elders, or the funeral of your most recent Somalian or Yemeni victim. Then watch what “crops up”: a whole village full of mourners, at least a few of whom will be galvanized by a torrent of grief, anger, and blind hatred for America into seeking revenge.
  • The same caveat applies to those who open this particularly seductive Pandora’s box. Once you acquire the power to kill anyone you choose simply by pronouncing him a terrorist, an “enemy combatant,” a “terrorist sympathizer,” or even a “suspected terrorist,” where do you draw the line? Anarchists? Occupy protesters? Antiwar demonstrators?

Holding dominion over life and death (for enemies designated on a “kill list” at the behest of the chief executive alone) is an exercise in unadulterated power, no matter who wins the election. Drone strikes are also frightfully remote acts. Targeting people in a faraway country who resemble ants or specks of dirt on a computer monitor, and then issuing the order to obliterate them from a safe, mind-numbing distance by pushing a button, is so impersonal that it may soon become easy or even routine – the ultimate banality of evil.

Obama’s Varied ‘American Family’

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

President Barack Obama walks on stage with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia to deliver his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place in Chicago. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

By Emily Theroux
Why did Mitt Romney lose the 2012 election he was so certain he could win by appealing almost entirely to angry, aging white men?

America, it turns out, isn’t nearly as uniformly white as its white residents have long imagined it to be. Women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians (as well as young voters of both genders and all ethnic groups) had a much larger say in this election than the Romney campaign calculated. Barack Obama’s “noisy, messy, complicated” democracy of 300 million people bears what he called, in his brilliant victory speech, “a mark of our liberty” in the very contentiousness that so polarizes us.

“The story of this election is that the Republican Party has not kept up with the changing face of America,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd proclaimed just after the nation’s first black president won reelection.

The improving economy played a part in Obama’s stunning victory, as did the success in Midwestern states of his auto bailout, his foreign-policy experience, and his quick, effective, and compassionate response to Hurricane Sandy. Romney’s consistently high negative ratings (over everything from his obvious mendacity and persistent flip-flopping to his unsavory “vulture capitalist” career, obsessive secrecy about both his wealth and his taxes, refusal to provide any substantive details about the policies he might pursue as president, and repellent, robotic personality) certainly made voters less likely to trust him or view him as “presidential.”

“But make no mistake,” Todd opined. “What happened last night was a demographic time bomb that had been ticking and that blew up in GOP faces.” The white portion of the electorate dropped to 72 percent, Todd noted, and the president won only 39 percent of that vote. Among other demographic groups, however, Obama rode the crest of an unstoppable wave of change.

  • Obama carried 93 percent of black voters  (now 13 percent of the electorate).
  • Obama won 71 percent of Latinos (10 percent) nationwide; about 70 percent of the Latino vote in Colorado and Nevada; and 60 percent in Florida, despite the large number of Cuban-American Republicans in the state’s population.
  • The president won 73 percent of Asians (3 percent of the electorate).
  • Despite predictions that youth turnout would be depressed because young voters were believed to have become disillusioned with the president’s policies, voters in the 18-29 demographic represented 19 percent of the 2012 electorate (up from 18 percent in 2008); Obama won 60 percent of that age group.

The American people won this election, fair and square. Despite a GOP strategy of blatant racism and xenophobia, a broad-based voter suppression machine that put Jim Crow to shame, the “caging” of targeted groups from voter rolls, actual election fraud committed by a shady voter-registration firm used repeatedly (and under different names) by the Republican National Committee and various GOP candidates (including Romney) since the 2004 election, and a coordinated voter intimidation effort in swing states, Democrats and left-leaning independents toughed out enough attempts to thwart their votes that they were able to outnumber Republicans in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, and, thus far, Florida — every other battleground state but Indiana and North Carolina.

There simply weren’t enough white voters remaining in the electorate to dominate the vote in the nine swing states. A working coalition of single women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and young voters collaborated to defeat Romney and Republican Senate candidates in state after state.

Twenty years ago, said Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, “an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney would have trounced Obama.” As bigoted and uncharitable as O’Reilly was about the black, Latino, and female voters who “feel that the economic system is stacked against them” and “feel they are entitled to things,” O’Reilly had a point.

Romney won 61 percent of the white vote last night, said Todd. The last candidate to win with that high a percentage of the white vote was George H.W. Bush in 1988. Since then, the share of the white vote in the general electorate has shrunk, and 61 percent of a shrinking slice of the electoral pie no longer puts GOP candidates in the White House.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” O’Reilly lamented. “The demographics of the country have changed. It’s not a traditional America any more.”

An anonymous comment following the Daily Beast’s story about Mitt Romney’s “bust” of a “victory party” elaborated on the point:

“The most telling aspect of Romney’s election night gathering is (that) just about every single person in the audience was white. The GOP is going to have to learn that they will not win if they do not court our racial minorities, and to court them means to give up on their racial bias. It’s politics, people; you are supposed to represent your constituency, and if you do not do that, you are going to continue to fail.”

This country’s been way too white for way too long. It was engendered as a melting pot, but an unequal one. Now, with the reelection of America’s first black president, the path that leads away from a government of, by, and for old, wealthy white men is well on its way to being leveled. This societal upheaval has inspired a great, ragged cry of protest from the privileged few who are being inexorably replaced — not by revolution or the “reparations” they’ve imagined being expected to pay, but by the births of “non-white” children (whose “right to life” remains the near-universal obsession of the very people who most resist immigration, integration, and assimilation).

I call them “world children.” The urban block I live on is a virtual “United Nations” of racial and ethnic backgrounds. My neighbors’ son, Sir William, 7, is French-Canadian and African-American. Becky, 8, who adores my dog, Zoe, and dresses her up in costumes, has a Mexican mother, Remedios, and a Honduran father, Jesus. Amanda, 10, is Afro-Caribbean and Dominican. MacKenzie, 6, and Natalia, 4, are Irish, Portuguese, Cherokee, and black. Jovaughan, 9, and his little sisters, are Haitian; while Elijah, 5, and Joelle, 2, have an African-American father and an Irish mother.

My baby grandaughter, Dulcinea,1, is Italian, Scotch-Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, and Palestinian. My husband’s two grown children, Kailey, 26, and Alexander, 23, are French-Canadian, Irish, and Jewish.

These children are the future of an electorate that, by 2040, will cross the invisible threshhold from “majority white” to “majority other.” No longer “illegal” or “alien,” their varied and blended ethnicities may one day succeed in eradicating the scourge of racism from a country where everyone, after all, is originally from somewhere else.