Browsing the archives for the Obama Administration category.

Greece Taken Over by Greeks

Obama Administration

The elites of Europe made a mad dash for their smelling salts yesterday when the Greek people rebelled against the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission and elected politicians who promised to govern Greece for the benefit of Greeks, which of course is a crazy far-left radical idea that no sensible elitist would approve. The new members of Parliament and their new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, ran on an anti-austerity platform that proposed the Greek people shouldn’t have to suffer for the sins of international finance.

Headline at the Wall Street Journal:

Greece Must Repay Debt, Europe Officials Say

Some Officials Concerned Syriza’s Election Win Could Encourage Other Antiausterity Movements

Ya think?

Krugman points out in his column today that the austerity measures crammed down Greece’s throat not only caused untold hardship for Greeks but left the country deeper in debt.

What went wrong? I fairly often encounter assertions to the effect that Greece didn’t carry through on its promises, that it failed to deliver the promised spending cuts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Greece imposed savage cuts in public services, wages of government workers and social benefits. Thanks to repeated further waves of austerity, public spending was cut much more than the original program envisaged, and it’s currently about 20 percent lower than it was in 2010.

Yet Greek debt troubles are if anything worse than before the program started. One reason is that the economic plunge has reduced revenues: The Greek government is collecting a substantially higher share of G.D.P. in taxes than it used to, but G.D.P. has fallen so quickly that the overall tax take is down. Furthermore, the plunge in G.D.P. has caused a key fiscal indicator, the ratio of debt to G.D.P., to keep rising even though debt growth has slowed and Greece received some modest debt relief in 2012.

Other commenters are skeptical that the new government can deliver what it promises, for a variety of reasons. But as Krugman says, ” in calling for a major change, Mr. Tsipras is being far more realistic than officials who want the beatings to continue until morale improves.”


Fox News = No Go Zone

Obama Administration

Europe is laughing at Fox News, in particular over hysterical claims that Europe is riddled with Muslim “no-go zones” where only Muslims may enter.

…the French equivalent of the David Letterman show, “Le Petit Journal,” managed to convey some much-needed comic relief to a national prime-time TV audience in France where much of the country grieved.

The Petit Journal’s broadcast of the Parisian neighborhoods could not have more patently depicted the absurdity of Fox’s portrayal of Paris, where, in reality, people of different ages, religions and ethnic origins freely go about their business, running errands, pushing strollers, etc.

Le Petit Journal correspondents were shown visiting the “no-go zones,” prompting guffaws from both the live studio audience and the incredulous passersby who were asked if their safe streets were comparable to those in Iraq or Afghanistan, if they ever saw someone wear bin Laden T-shirts, or other absurd questions. The U.S. equivalent would be asking people on the streets in Manhattan if Shariah law was the law of the streets there.

In another broadcast, Le Petit Journal cast members dressed up like U.S. journalists ventured into the “Most Dangerous City in the Universe.” They confronted such dangerous situations as a man with a “terrorist beard” driving a taxi or the site of a couscous restaurant. The sounds of a jackhammer are taken for gunfire as the fake TV reporter rolls on the ground in terror.

The Mayor of Paris threatened to sue Fox News for defaming her city, and British Prime Minister David Cameron famously said he “choked on his porridge” upon hearing the claim that Birmingham UK is “totally Muslim.”

Fox News has uncharacteristically issued apologies for the “no go zone” claims, but that has not deterred Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who made similar “no go zone” claims while in London this week. And unlike Fox News, Jindal is not backing down, but told CNN he was only “speaking the truth.”

Clearly, Jindal wants to be a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, a competition that’s something of a cross between a circus clown car act and “Survivor.” Speaking of which, if you missed Mike Huckabee on the Daily Show, you missed Jon Stewart being a little less kind than usual.


Highlights and Reviews

Obama Administration

The highlight film:

Some people have no sense of humor:

Republicans were irked by President Barack Obama’s caustic reminder in his State of the Union speech that he defeated them twice.

“I’ve run my last campaign,” Obama said toward the end of the nationally televised address. Republicans in the chamber applauded derisively, which prompted the president to ad-lib a zinger which wasn’t in his prepared remarks: “I know because I won both of them.”

Democrats erupted with applause.

In the Capitol after the speech, Republicans expressed displeasure at being jabbed by the president in the same speech where he asked for their cooperation.

“Probably not helpful when you rub the other guy’s nose in the dirt a little bit,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), told reporters.

The problem with Republicans is that they dish it out but can’t take it. Weenies. Maybe the baby party needs a nap.

The argument as I understand it is that all these policy initiatives will work to “expand” the middle class by enabling people to rise and to join it. But can it not be argued that this position is merely trickle-down in populist drag, merely trickle-down from a lower height?

Both the issues of the shrinking middle class and poverty have to be addressed, IMO, but let us not forget that this is the President who expanded Medicaid. That may have been the greatest single anti-poverty initiative undertaken in decades, even if it was denied to a lot of people because of the backward ideologies of their governors.

People seem uniformly underwhelmed by the several Republican responses, which were long on either folksiness or whining but short on any actual ideas that might remotely translate into policy.

As many have pointed out, the President has laid down a challenge to Republicans — how can they block his proposals and still claim to care about ordinary Americans instead of just the rich? I’m sure they’re deep into meetings right now to figure that out.


The Gulag Guantanamo

Obama Administration

I can remember when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a darling of the American Right. His books, especially The Gulag Archipelago, were cited time and time again as proof of the moral superiority of the West — America especially — over the wicked Soviet Union. The Soviets silenced critics by shipping them off to forced labor camps with no right to a fair hearing, and we didn’t do that, did we?

Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. A manuscript account of his captivity was released today, although not before being heavily redacted by the U.S. government. You can read it online at the Guardian. There’s an abridged version at Spiegel. The manuscript may not rise to the literary quality of Solzhenitsyn’s work, but I’d say it permanently relieves the U.S. of any assumption of moral superiority over the Soviets.

If it’s ever published in book form, the ruling in favor of his habeas petition needs to be an appendix. The judgment ends with these words:

The question, upon which the government had the burden of proof, was whether, at the time of his capture, Salahi was a “part of” al-Qaida. On the record before me, I cannot find that he was. The petition for writ of habeas corpus is granted. Salahi must be released from custody. It is SO ORDERED.

That was in 2010. The government appealed. Slahi remains in Guantanamo.

Slahi is a former mujahideen and al Qaeda member who claimed to have severed ties with al Qaeda in 1992. However, he is also a cousin and former brother-in-law of Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, a guy with direct connections to Osama bin Laden. On a couple of occasions he gave money to al-Walid. He is accused of conspiring with members of the “Hamburg Cell,” although according to some accounts all he may have done is let Ramzi bin al-Shibh stay overnight in his house in Germany once in 1999. Late in 1999 he moved to Montreal, where he was a member of the same mosque as Ahmed Ressam. His association with known jihadists got him on the radar, so to speak. He returned to his native Mauritania in 2000, but on the way home he was detained by FBI agents who believed him to be involved in the Millennium Plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. After three weeks he was released. In November 2001 he was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and has been in American custody ever since.

Joe Nocera writes,

What was he accused of? Slahi asked this question of his captors often and was never given a straight answer. This, of course, is part of the problem with Guantánamo, a prison where being formally charged with a crime is a luxury, not a requirement. His efforts to tell the truth — that he had no involvement in any acts of terrorism — only angered his interrogators. “Looks like a dog, walks like a dog, smells like a dog, barks like a dog, must be a dog,” one interrogator used to say. That was the best his captors could do to explain why he was there. Yet the military was so sure he was a key Al Qaeda player that he was subjected to “special interrogation” techniques that had been signed off by the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, himself.

“Special interrogation techniques,” of course, is a euphemism for torture. The sections of the book that describe his torture make for harrowing reading. Slahi was so sleep-deprived that he eventually started to hallucinate. Chained to the ground, he was forced to “stand” in positions that were extremely painful. Interrogators went at him in shifts — 24 hours a day. Sometimes during interrogations, female interrogators rubbed their breasts over his body and fondled him.

Yes, Slahi made confessions under torture, which he has recanted.

While it’s always possible Slahi was more directly involved with terrorism than his public record suggests, it appears he is a victim of zealotry on the part of U.S. national security. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and no doubt the Boy Wonder president wanted all the evildoers rounded up and punished, and those charged with carrying out these wishes don’t seem to have been terribly picky about who they nabbed to fill their quotas.

American conservatives, including former POW Sen. John McCain, continue to insist that the men detained in Guantanamo must stay there, because they are dangerous. It’s more like some people are trying to keep their own moral cowardice out of sight.


I’m not going to live blog the SOTU tonight, but feel free to comment here if you like.


Troller in Chief

Obama Administration

President Obama plans to make these recommendations in the SOTU:

President Obama will use his State of the Union address to call on Congress to raise taxes and fees on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms to finance an array of tax cuts for the middle class, pressing to reshape the tax code to help working families, administration officials said on Saturday.

He even proposes to raise the capital gains tax, peeps. And as many have pointed out, no way is a Republican controlled Congress going to pass that. But he’s pushing the GOP to have to publicly and loudly oppose raising taxes on the rich and to relieve the burden on the middle class, which polls have shown time and time again to be a popular idea.

I know, I know … let’s ask Mittens what he thinks and see how long his “champion of the working man” re-branding lasts. Of course, in Fox News World the sheep are just being told Obama wants to raise taxes.

Update: Nice analysis of Romney’s rebranding vis à vis the President’s tax proposals at Just Above Sunset. Definitely worth a read.


Opposing Income Inequality Is the New Black

elections, Mittens, Obama Administration, Republican Party

It was funny enough when Rick Santorum tried to rebrand himself as an economic populist. But you’ll never guess who’s getting on the “we are the 99 percent” bandwagon. Well, unless you’ve already read this.

Mitt Romney, sudden champion of Americans trying to make ends meet — it’s coming off to progressives and veterans of Obama’s winning re-election campaign as a little too rich.

The 2012 Republican nominee’s sudden return to presidential politics already had them dusting off old attack lines. His reinvention Friday night as an anti-poverty warrior has them in a frenzy of excitement, even glee at what they see as the Democratic Party’s stroke of good luck.

Yes, children, Mittens now fancies himself to be the Savior of the Downtrodden. This is something like making Ronald McDonald the poster boy for heart-healthy diets.
His message, or as much as I can glean from news stories, is this:
  • Mittens really cares about poor people. He knows this because his wife Ann says so.
“She knows my heart in a way that few people do,” he said. “She’s seen me not just as a business guy and a political guy, but for over 10 years as you know I served as a pastor for a congregation and for groups of congregations… She’s seen me work with folks that are looking for better work and jobs and providing care for the sick and the elderly. She knows where my heart is.”
  • Liberal policies haven’t worked. Of course they haven’t actually been tried for decades because they’ve been obstructed by conservatives, but let’s not quibble. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, and this must be Obama’s fault. The fact that the rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer since the Reagan Administration is water under the bridge.

“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before,” Romney said. “Under this president, his policies have not worked. Their liberal policies are good every four years for a campaign, but they don’t get the job done.”

  •  Mittens has a plan, something bold and original that hasn’t been done before. He explained to Republican National Committee members,
“The only policies that will reach into the hearts of the American people and pull people out of poverty and break the cycle of poverty are Republican principles, conservative principles,” Romney said to no applause from the Republican crowd.
I’m sure they forgot to applaud because they were struck numb by the boldness of Romney’s plan. And maybe he could get Gov. Sam Brownback to serve as an economic policy adviser.

Snark aside, it appears income inequality is going to be a big issue in 2016. Hillary Clinton also has been making noise about it and trying to tie herself to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a long-time friend and alleged progressive. Opposing income inequality is the new black.

But hearing it from Romney, de Blasio said, is a sign that income inequality has really arrived as the defining issue of the 2016 campaign.

“This is on the minds of more and more people around the country, because income inequality is basically the touchstone of what we’re dealing with right now,” de Blasio said. “It is very telling that a guy who’s trying to find his way back to political relevance will grab onto it.”

It is telling, and it suggests the 2016 election campaigns will be a ton of fun. But if we end up with a HRC-Jeb Bush general election choice the terrorists will have won.

The Week in Bullying

Obama Administration

Our fellow citizens at Texas Open Carry went to Austin to lobby their legislators. They want a bill passed that will allow open carry of handguns without a permit, because I guess standing in line at Dunkin Donuts with a 10-pound assault rifle must be making their little arms tired, and permits are so oppressive. So they went to Austin and lobbied. Someone might have explained to them that “lobbying” doesn’t normally involve threats and personal insults.

One elected representative who told the citizens that he did not intend to vote for the bill was accused of tyranny and informed he would be replaced.  The elected representative, Poncho Nevárez, had to call security to get the lobbying citizens out of his office. I’m not sure this crew grasps the subtleties of, well, what elected representatives are.

Wonkette also has a transcript.  The lobbyists also expressed their enthusiasm for deadly weapons by setting up a 3D printing thingie for making guns on the Statehouse steps.

But today’s armed rally, where members of Come and Take It Texas (CATITX) are manufacturing firearms on the statehouse steps using “The Ghost Gunner,” might trump even the most bizarre.

CATITX bought the very first Ghost Gunner, a $1,500 CNC machine—or computer controlled tool manufacturer—which can build the metal body of an AR-15 rifle with no serial number (meaning no background check and no method of tracking should a crime be committed with the firearm). To it, a builder can add necessary components like a barrel and trigger for a fully functional weapon. At the moment, the machine is legal, and the extra parts are not regulated in the U.S., as long as a maker doesn’t plan on selling his creation.

Apparently Rep. Nevárez wasn’t the only legislator who was alarmed by the gun, um, enthusiasts, and on Wednesday the Texas House approved rules that would allow legislators to install panic buttons in their offices and eject hostile visitors from their offices.  See also Digby.

At the other end of the scale, a new poll out from Quinnipiac found that the NYPD has not been winning hearts and minds of late. Josh Marshall writes,

New York City voters disapprove of police officers turning their backs on the Mayor at police funerals by 69% to 27%. 77% think police union President Pay Lynch’s “blood on his hands” remarks were “too extreme” and no racial or gender subset of the population considers the comments “appropriate.”

Though there are big differences across the city’s racial groups 47% of New Yorkers say de Blasio’s actions since he began his run for Mayor show he supports the city’s police. 37% say the opposite.

Finally 52% of New Yorkers (versus 38%) says police discipline has broken down.

Even better, earlier this week there were reports a meeting of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association nearly turned into a riot when members yelled down PBA President Patrick Lynch, telling him they didn’t need an apology from Mayor de Blasio.

“This is what my members want!” a cop yelled near the end of the raucous meeting. “They want more cars, better vests, more manpower!”

And then the cop — one of about 350 in attendance — took a verbal jab at Lynch, who has called on de Blasio to offer a mea culpa for his continued lack of support for police.

“They don’t want an apology,” he said.

Maybe the PBA members would do New York a favor and elect a new President.


Little Love for the NYPD

Obama Administration

The New York Times gave editorial space to an NYPD officer who wrote “Why We’re So Mad at de Blasio.” Somehow he managed to blow the opportunity and not provide a reason. The interesting thing are the comments — 1,198 as I write this — which overwhelmingly support Mayor de Blasio. I know it’s not a scientific poll, but if the NYPD are paying attention it might be a shock to them.


New Congress So Far (Be Afraid)

Congress, Obama Administration, Republican Party

This is just the stuff that happened yesterday.

The House passed its “dynamic scoring” bill directing the Congressional Budget Office to lie about the real effects of legislation on the budget. See also Jonathan Chait, “Why the Republican Congress’s First Act Was to Declare War on Math.”

This story provides a clue why the Republicans are determined to take the CBO in hand and dictate what conclusions it will reach:

One of the House Republican leadership’s first bills of the new Congress will add some $53 billion to the deficit and cost hundreds of thousands of Americans health insurance, according to a new report by Congress’ non-partisan budget office.

The bill, the Save American Workers Act, aims to redefine the number of hours that people work each week before their employers fall under the Affordable Care Act, raising the threshold from 30 hours to 40. Under current law, larger firms that don’t provide health insurance for people who work more than 30 hours will be fined. The bill would raise the fine threshold to 40 hours.

Republicans argue that by requiring companies to provide health benefits to anyone who works more than 30 hours, the Affordable Care Act creates an incentive for employers to cut hours to less than 30. Analysts say there is no evidence of that alleged trend, however, and a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that involuntary part-time work has actually fallen since the peak of the recession and the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

The Congressional Budget Office “score” of the bill released Wednesday suggested the shift proposed by the bill could actually worsen the healthcare situation, even as it raises costs to taxpayers.

Republicans can’t have the CBO saying things like that, can they?

Two House Republicans introduced a national 20-week abortion ban. Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that 20 weeks is “very late term.” Huh? A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Even I can calculate that 20 weeks is the mid point, not “very late.”  Also, too:

Franks compared late abortions to torture in a statement released with the bill.

“More than 18,000 ‘very late term’ abortions are performed every year on perfectly healthy unborn babies in America,” Franks said Tuesday.

“These are innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia.”

I don’t know about the number of abortions at 20 weeks or later in the U.S., but at this time it’s the broad consensus of medical science that a fetus at 20 weeks gestation lacks the nervous system apparatus required to feel pain (see “Navigating the Junk Science of Fetal Pain“).  And no infant born at 20 weeks gestation has ever survived outside the womb in recorded history. The threshold of viability currently is between 22 and 25 weeks, and at the very early end of that a fetus is so impaired that most of the time palliative care only is recommended.

But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. See Teresa Tritch in the New York Times: “Uh Oh, Republicans Are Trying to ‘Protect’ Social Security Again.”

Buried in the new rules being adopted by the House Republican majority for the current session of Congress is one that the drafters say will “protect” Social Security retirement benefits from being raided to pay for Social Security disability benefits. What this boils down to is using a misleading argument to tee up benefit cuts.

You can read the article for details, but basically the GOP is “fixing” something that ain’t broke. Michael Hiltzik writes at the Los Angeles Times that their “fix” prohibits reallocating money from the retirement fund into the disability fund without  “benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of the combined trust funds.” But there was no reason to do that; the disability allocations were not putting the retirement fund in jeopardy. But if this goes through, Hiltzik says, the most likely outcome will be that disability benefits will be cut by 20 percent sometime next year.

It begins.


The Massacre in Paris

Obama Administration

[Republished from Rethinking Religion blog.] Gunmen killed 12 people in the offices of a Paris satire magazine today. It’s widely assumed — and probably true — that the attacks were in retaliation for the magazine’s lampooning of militant Islam, although so far the “perps” have not been identified officially. In response, rightie blogs are having an insufferable self-righteousness orgy, and Richard Dawkins blames Islam. All of it.

Here is a page of cartoonists’ tributes to the magazine, Charlie Hebdo. I thought this one got closest to the truth of it.


Assuming the gunmen are fanatical Islamists seeking to “punish” the magazine — Yes, they assumed their righteousness trumped other peoples’ lives. Right now a lot of not-Islamic people are going to the same place. It ain’t the religion, folks, or at least not the religion by itself — see “Religious Violence Isn’t Just Religious.”

Read more about religious violence in Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World.

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