The Obama Administration

Read Him His Rights

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The capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev presents an important test for federal and state authorities: Can the United States resist the temptation to violate the civil liberties of people suspected of engaging in acts of terrorism? In some important respects, we seem to have avoided the systematic civil-liberties violations of the Bush administration. But when it comes to informing Tsarnaev of his Fifth Amendment rights, Obama is buying into the myth that ordinary police process is inadequate to dealing with domestic terrorism.

Torture Report

Flickr/Shrieking Tree

As Americans grapple with the tragic bombings in Boston on Monday and the U.S. government works to track down those responsible, a new report on detainee treatment after 9/11 sheds important light on some of the measures adopted by the U.S. government in response to that attack. 

John Kerry's Middle East Mystery Tour

AP Photo/Paul Richards, Pool

The mysterious Mr. Kerry has come to the Middle East and gone. The secretary of State promises to return soon, but does not tell us exactly when. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, he says, he listened to leaders' suggestions for restarting peace talks. He does not say what those suggestions were. Curiously polite things happen while he in in the neighborhood. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for instance, postponed his previously announced trip to Gaza, lest he cause Israel grief. Kerry does not explain how he inspires such thoughtfulness.

Bi-Partisanship We Don’t Need

Flickr/BeckyF

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, revealed why it’s politically naive for the president to offer up cuts in Social Security in the hope of getting Republicans to close some tax loopholes for the rich. “If the President believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement released Friday. 

President Obama's Budget

President Barack Obama discusses his proposed federal budget. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Jack Lew: Obama’s Austerity Ambassador

AP Images

There is something seriously off about the mission of the new Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, to Europe. Secretary Lew has been visiting European capitals to persuade leaders there to ease up on the austerity. He has not had a good reception.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the chagrined Lew in Berlin, Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister and uber-austerity enforcer, dressed down Lew thusly: “Nobody in Europe sees this contradiction between fiscal consolidation and growth.”

Nobody among the elite, that is. 

Ordinary people in Greece, where output has declined by nearly 25 percent since the austerity tonic began, surely see the contradiction. So do young people in Spain, where the youth unemployment rate has reached 56 percent. 

Where's the Change?

AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

The Keystone Fight's Labor Pains

The battle over the tar sands pipeline among unions has been XL on drama.

AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File

“For too long we have allowed some corporations to hold a gun to our heads and demand that we choose jobs or choose the earth.” That’s what Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers International Union of North America, told green groups and fellow unions at a green-jobs conference in February 2009, just a few months after the union—one of the largest in the country—joined the Blue-Green Alliance, a group organized to advocate for a “clean economy.”

But by January 2012, O’Sullivan had made a choice. The climate bill had failed, the money from the recovery act had run out, political tides had turned against government spending, and the union was no longer so keen to partner with the environmental movement. “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” O’Sullivan said. This heady “job killer” rhetoric was aimed not just at green groups but at unions like SEIU and the Communications Workers of America. They hadn’t had to do much earn this scorn. They had just opened their mouth about the Keystone XL pipeline.

Destroying the Economy and the Democrats

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Job creation slowed to just 88,000 in March, signaling a sluggish economy. And President Obama, with unerring timing, picked this moment to put out an authorized leak that he is willing to put Social Security and Medicare on the block as part of a grand budget bargain that will only slow the economy further. The deterioration in economic performance was all too predictable, given the combined lead weights of the March 1 $85 billion of budget cuts in the sequester and the January deal to raise payroll taxes by about $120 billion. (The tax hike on working people was almost double the much-hyped tax increase on the top one percent, which totaled a little over $60 billion.)

Obama Pleads for Empathy on Guns

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has portrayed himself as Washington's last reasonable man, pleading that we can find some common ground on almost any issue despite our disagreements if we just listen to each other and open our hearts a little. Republicans complain that it's all just an act—he's just trying to look like the reasonable one, to make his opponents look more intransigent and stubborn and gain the upper hand politically. That may be partly true, even though they don't need his help to look unreasonable; they do a fine job of it all by themselves.

The latest narrative on the gun issue is that the prospects for meaningful legislation are slipping away as the tragedy of Newtown fades from our ridiculously short memories and members of Congress feel little of the public pressure required for them to stand up to the NRA. So Obama has been campaigning for his favored legislation, and yesterday he gave a speech in Colorado, the centerpiece of which was a plea to both sides to cultivate some empathy. Here's an excerpt:

The Pointlessness of Contrarianism for Its Own Sake

Contrarianism!

When you write for a magazine with a particular ideological bent, it's natural to wonder whether you're being too soft on "your" side. This question comes up more when your side is actually in power, since they're the ones who are implementing policies and making decisions; when the other side is in charge, most of your time is spent documenting and analyzing all the harmful and dangerous things they're doing, and your side is occupied with fighting the ruling party and waiting for its turn. Obviously, politics is a never-ending conflict, and that conflict can produce a certain siege mentality. For instance, when a Democratic president proposes a plan for universal health coverage and Republicans attack it with a campaign of mind-boggling hysteria and dishonesty (death panels!), it's natural to spend a good deal of time correcting the record and defending it, even if you think that plan is less than ideal. There are some people (like Glenn Greenwald) who write largely about one set of issues, and thus may find themselves regularly criticizing a president from the party they're closer to if that party doesn't live up to the standards they hold, but if you write about a range of issues, most of the time you won't be critical of your side for the simple reason that most of the time you agree with what they're doing.

That doesn't mean that by doing so you've abandoned critical thinking. On health care, for instance, my own position was like that of many liberals who wrote a lot about the issue—that the Affordable Care Act had a number of weaknesses and could have been much better than it was, but nevertheless represented an extraordinary advance that would have a positive impact on millions of lives. Did the second part of that position make us unthinking water-carriers? I don't think so, but Matt Welch of Reason might argue that it does. In an article titled "The Death of Contrarianism," Welch laments that while liberals (and liberal magazines) used to be skeptical of liberalism, in the Obama years they've become little more than a bunch of Democratic party apparatchiks. "The reformist urge to cross-examine Democratic policy ideas," he writes, "has fizzled out precisely at the time when those ideas are both ascendant and as questionable as ever." Welch seems to pine for the time when The New Republic was torpedoing Bill Clinton's attempt at health care reform by publishing the policy con artist Betsy McCaughey and beating the drums for the invasion of Iraq, because that represented a healthy contrarianism.

You should read Ed Kilgore's response to Welch, but I'd point out that contrarianism in and of itself is nothing to be proud of.

Why Politicians Aren't Sensitive to Public Opinion on the Economy

Flickr/Alex E. Proimos

Who says American politics is gridlocked? A tidal wave of politicians from both sides of the aisle who just a few years ago opposed same-sex marriage are now coming around to support it. Even if the Supreme Court were decide to do nothing about California’s Proposition 8 or DOMA, it would seem only matter of time before both were repealed. A significant number of elected officials who had been against allowing undocumented immigrants to become American citizens is now talking about “charting a path” for them; a bipartisan group of senators is expected to present a draft bill April 8. Even a few who were staunch gun advocates are now sounding more reasonable about background checks.

Falling Through the Looking Glass

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As I sat in the press gallery off to the side of the Supreme Court yesterday morning, waiting for the justices to file in and begin hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I had that sickly excited feeling that you get when the roller-coaster car is climbing the first hill. The day before was easier for me: I didn’t want the Court to take Perry, the Prop. 8 case, to begin with. I was relieved when very quickly we all could hear that the justices had no appetite for a broad ruling. But the DOMA case—and here please let me confess that I’m terribly human—the DOMA case is about my marriage. As regular readers will know, I’m married to my wife in Massachusetts, but because DOMA bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, I’m not married in the United States. The justices were going to discuss whether to end that split identity. This morning, it was very personal again, as it hasn’t been in awhile.

States' Rights > Gay Rights

AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren

By now you've heard from the various news sources that, in this week’s Supreme Court arguments on California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, a majority of justices expressed skepticism over both. So it's imaginable—even probable, if you believe the news—that we will find ourselves at the end of June with DOMA in the junk pile and marriage equality back on the books in California.

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