The Obama Administration

Why Congressional Democrats Are Upset that President Obama Doesn't Hang Out With Them More

A man alone with his thoughts. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
The other day, the New York Times published a long article on President Barack Obama's miserable relationship with Congress, particularly the members of his own party. The point of the article is that Obama doesn't put much effort into building personal relationships with congressional Democrats, and as a result they're rather disgruntled with him, which could make the remainder of his presidency more difficult. It's a good example of how, in its facts, a piece of journalism can be perfectly true, even revealing, and yet be completely misleading in its implications. Ezra Klein gave it the necessary dismantling : Obama does see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking...

How a Widely Beloved Tax Deduction Really Just Benefits the Well-Off and Exacerbates Inequality

National opinion polls show a majority of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction. Yet most U.S. homeowners receive very little benefit from it.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) This May 2, 2012, photo, shows a new home under construction in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. A nyone who is concerned about the country’s growing inequality crisis should be pushing for reform of the feature of the U.S. tax code known as the mortgage interest deduction. Not only does this wasteful tax subsidy primarily benefit the richest Americans, it also costs the U.S. Treasury between $70 and $100 billion annually in revenue, making it the third largest deduction on the books. National opinion polls indicate that between 60 and 90 percent of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction (MID), which allows taxpayers to deduct interest on $1.1 million in mortgages on primary residences, vacation homes and even yachts. And yet because of the way this tax subsidy is structured most U.S. homeowners receive very little if any benefit from it. Indeed, in its current form, the MID’s biggest beneficiaries are the real estate industry and its wealthiest...

No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue?

(AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty)
(AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty) Wal-Mart employee Nidia Flores arranges shirts, Thursday, August 7, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas. F or decades, the increasing precariousness of work has been a source of mass frustration for tens of millions of Americans. But the issue has been largely below the political radar. Politicians ritually invoke good jobs at good wages, yet presidents have been unwilling to name, much less remedy, the deep economic forces that are turning payroll jobs into what I've termed "The Task Rabbit Economy"—a collection of ad hoc gigs with no benefits, no job security, no career paths, and no employer reciprocity for worker diligence. But there are signs that maybe this issue is starting to break through. One manifestation of job insecurity is extremes of inequality as corporations, banks, and hedge funds capture more than their share of the economy's productive output at the expense of workers. The Occupy movement gave that super-elite a name: the One...

Why It's So Idiotic to Complain When the President Takes a Vacation

History's greatest American, attending to matters of state. (White House photo)
There are a lot of stupid ways people attack presidents from the other party, but there can't be that many as stupid as the complaint that he takes too many vacations. Since Obama is now on Martha's Vineyard, despite the fact that there are things going on in the world, the volume of these complaints has grown, like the inevitable rise of the tide. Conservatives are in full on mockery mode (did you know he plays golf!!!), and the press is getting into the act as well. For instance, the Washington Post 's Dana Milbank took on the vacation issue in a piece colorfully titled "Obama Vacations As the World Burns," explaining that "Even presidents need down time, and Obama can handle his commander-in-chief duties wherever he is. But his decision to proceed with his getaway just 36 hours after announcing the military action in Iraq risks fueling the impression that he is detached as the world burns." That pretty much sums up the problem with how the press discusses this issue. There's no...

A Question of Character: Craig Shirley's Scurrilous Attack on Liberal Historian Rick Perlstein

An assault on the character of a progressive intellectual invites an assessment of the attacker's character—not to mention his client list.

(craigshirley.com)
CraigShirley.com Craig Shirley of the public relations firm Shirley & Banister, whose clients have included Sarah Palin, Dinesh D'Souza, Ann Coulter and Newt Gingrich. I n a recent article about attacks on the character of historian Rick Perlstein, the New York Times dropped the ball of responsible journalism by giving equal weight to the claims of the attacker and the defense mounted by the attacked. So says the paper’s public editor , Margaret Sullivan: It’s as if The Times is saying: Here’s an accusation; here’s a denial; and, heck, we don’t really know. We’re staying out of it. Readers frequently complain to me about this he said, she said false equivalency — and for good reason. The incendiary charge against Perlstein, author of Invisible Bridge , the much-heralded book about the years leading up to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, was that of plagiarism, made by Craig Shirley, who would doubtless prefer to be credited as the author of his Reagan biographies, Rendezvous With...

Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...

If Having a Foreign Policy Doctrine Is So Important, Why Won't Hillary Clinton Spell Hers Out?

Official State Department Photo
J effrey Golberg has an interview with Hillary Clinton which is being billed as a rebuke of, or maybe a distancing from, her old boss, Barack Obama. While you'll probably think that an overstatement when you read the transcript, she does express a desire for a foreign policy "doctrine" of her own, even if she doesn't actually deliver it. While there are a few unsettling things in the interview (her comments on Israel could have come from Bibi Netanyahu himself), the doctrine question is worth paying attention to. As I've argued before , President Obama doesn't have a foreign policy doctrine, and that's by design. He explicitly rejected the idea that it was necessary to have some kind of bumper-sticker-ready idea guiding all his foreign policy decisions, a single phrase or sentence that sums up everything he'd be doing in foreign affairs. Even though doctrines don't have a particularly good track record of late, in this interview, Clinton says that a doctrine is necessary (though she...

The Inevitability of Republican Reactions

This is never going to be Barack Obama and John Boehner. It just isn't. (Flickr/RayMorris1)
Ron Fournier of the National Journal has become (to liberal bloggers anyway) the embodiment of multiple sins of the Washington press corps. Most notably, there's the High Broderism, in which the blame for every problem is apportioned in precisely equal measure to both parties, and the embrace of the Green Lantern theory of the presidency , in which anything can be accomplished, including winning over a recalcitrant opposition, by a simple act of will from the Oval Office. The latter's most comical manifestation is Fournier's frequent pleas for President Obama to "lead," with the content of said "leadership" almost always left undetailed (though one suspects it might involve giving a great speech, after which Republicans would decide to come together with Democrats to solve the nation's problems). Though lately I've been trying to limit my pundit-bashing to once or twice a month, I couldn't overlook this passage in Fournier's latest column expressing his dismay that Obama might take...

It Isn't About the Tunnels. So What Is the Gaza Conflict Really About?

The Israeli government's tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision.

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Update: August 8, 4:00 p.m. Israel time ( 9 a.m. EDT ): Hopes for an end to the Gaza War evaporated after indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo stalled. Hamas rejected an extension of the three-day ceasefire that began on Tuesday . Moments after the ceasefire ended, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel resumed this morning. Israeli artillery fire and air strikes followed, and the Israeli negotiators left Cairo. I. At four o'clock after the war —which is to say, 4 p.m. Tuesday—a Hebrew news site carried a telegraphic bulletin: The head of the Israeli army's Southern Command announced that residents of the area bordering Gaza could return to their homes and feel safe. The reassuring message was undercut by the bulletin that appeared on the same site one minute earlier: "IDF assessment: Hamas still has at least two to three tunnels reaching into...

Our Privacy and Liberty Still At Risk, Even If Leahy NSA Bill Passes

Under the USA Freedom Act, the executive branch could exploit the absence of a bright-line restriction to engage in collection that is far broader than necessary.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy arrives as his panel questions top Obama administration officials about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. A fter a brief hiatus, legislative reform of the NSA’s bulk collection program appears to be back on track. Thanks to skillful negotiations on the part of Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and other cosponsors, the version of the USA Freedom Act that was unveiled in the Senate last week restores many of the protections that House leadership and administration officials stripped out of the House version in secret, last-minute talks. Most notably, the Senate bill clearly would prohibit the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records and other types of information. And yet, even if the Senate version becomes law, Americans’ private information will remain vulnerable—under both the domestic programs addressed by the bill and other, much larger...

Liberal Heroes Miss the Mark in Today's Times Columns

(AP Photo/ Francisco Seco)
New York Times columnist Charles Blow sure blew one this morning and, for good measure, so did Paul Krugman—our two most reliably liberal and intelligent columnists! Blow’s subject was the do-nothing Congress. Ordinarily thoughtful and original, this time Blow fell into the media cliché of assigning symmetrical partisan blame for Congressional inaction, as if the two parties were equally culpable. The piece was full of Blow’s signature: accurate statistics. This Congress has passed only 108 pieces of substantive legislation, the lowest in decades, he reports. It was in session an average of only 28 hours a week. Citing the usual cause of “polarization,” Blow indignantly concluded: “Legislating is only a hobby for members of this Congress. Their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar of acceptable behavior.” Excuse me, but the problem is not “Congress.” One party—the Democratic Party— behaves quite normally, seeking to do the public’s business. The other...

House Intel Committee Finds No Benghazi Scandal; Will Boehner Ignore Its Findings?

House Speaker John Boehner faces a choice: Either he can accept the findings of a responsible, Republican committee chair, or cynically allow a kangaroo court to proceed. 

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
A ccording to Representative Mike Thompson , Democrat of California, a report from the Republican led House Intelligence Committee on the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, "confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given." Late last week, before Congress headed out of Washington for August recess, the body voted to declassify the document. After nearly two years of investigations, millions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of pages of documents handed over by the administration, a Republican-led committee is about to release a report stating that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Obama White House. In fact, nearly all of the accusations levied against the White House over the past year by conservatives in Congress, and amplified by the media, have now been determined to be false—by a Republican jury. House Speaker John Boehner is now left with a choice. Will he allow Rep...

How Republicans Are Heightening the Contradictions

Republican inspiration Vladimir Lenin. (Wikimedia Commons)
C ongress is going on recess at the end of this week, and they'll be doing it without a bill to address the large number of Central American children showing up at the southern border—John Boehner couldn't even come up with a bill that would pass his house after Ted Cruz convinced House conservatives to oppose it. On that issue, on the Affordable Care Act, and on other issues as well, we may be seeing the rise of a particular strategy on the right—sometimes gripping part of the GOP, and sometimes all of it—that can be traced back to that noted conservative Vladimir Lenin. I speak of "heightening the contradictions," the idea that you have to intentionally make conditions even more miserable than they are, so the people rise up and cast off the illegitimate rulers and replace them with you and your allies. Then the work of building a paradise can begin. In the end, the House GOP leadership wanted a bill that contained a small amount of money to actually address the problem, made a...

Republicans Take Careful Aim At Foot, Blast Away

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
L ast week, I asked how the GOP, whom Democrats used to admire for their strategic acumen, turned into such a bunch of clowns , constantly making political blunders and undermining their long-term goals with temper tantrums. It's a question we might continue to ponder as the House went ahead and voted to sue President Obama last night for his many acts of tyranny and lawlessness. Every Democrat voted in opposition, as did a grand total of five Republicans—but they were opposed only because they wanted to stop pussyfooting around and go right to impeachment. This, truly, is a party that's ready to lead. Since this suit is unprecedented, we don't know for sure how it will be received by the courts. Many legal experts think it will be quickly dismissed on the question of standing; since the House can't show any harm they've incurred because of the President's allegedly appalling behavior, they may not have the right to bring a case against him. On the other hand, we now understand that...

The Limits of American Power: Judging Obama's Foreign Policy

The Bush administration taught us the folly of overreach, but America simply can't exit the world stage. The dangers are too great.

AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo U.S. Army soldiers salute American flags at a ceremony at Camp Liberty in Baghdad on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W hen I was young, a mantra among progressives was that America had to stop operating as global policeman. Vietnam was the signal episode of arrogant and ultimately self-defeating American overreach. But there were plenty of other cases of the U.S. government doing the bidding of oil companies and banana barons, and blithely overthrowing left-democratic governments as well as outright communists (or driving nationalist reformers into the arms of communists.) As the late Phil Ochs tauntingly sang, " We're the cops of the world. " Or as Randy Newman mordantly put it, " Let's drop the big one and see what happens. " At the same time, I viewed myself as sensible left. I was the guy at the Moratorium demonstrations of the late 1960s and early 1970s (actually covering them for Pacifica) hoping to make...

Pages