The Obama Administration

Did Austerity Abet the Ebola Crisis?

A conversation with Terry O'Sullivan, an expert in the dynamics of catastrophic disease outbreaks, on the high human cost of cutbacks to public-health funding.

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Licensed clinician Hala Fawal practices drawing blood from a patient using a dummy on Monday, October 6, 2014, in Anniston, Alabama. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed an introductory training course for licensed clinicians. According to the CDC, the course is to ensure that clinicians intending to provide medical care to patients with Ebola have sufficient knowledge of the disease. T erry O'Sullivan is a professor of political science at the University of Akron. His research focuses on "the risk and dynamics of catastrophic infectious diseases threats from naturally occurring infectious disease outbreaks such as influenza and SARS, and from biological terrorism." In this special podcast (transcript below) from Politics and Reality Radio , O'Sullivan makes two important points in his conversation with host Joshua Holland: First, Ebola poses a minimal threat to a country like the United States, with a functional health-care...

Whether Lies or B.S., Netanyahu's Interviews Pose Special Challenges for Journalists

The storyline and most of the details of a tale told by the Israeli prime minister on American television were deliberately untrue.

Face The Nation/CBS News
Face the Nation/CBS News Benjamin Netanyau, prime minister of Israel, is interviewed by Bob Schieffer of CBS News on the October 5, 2014, edition of Face the Nation . A journalist colleague in Jerusalem sent me a link to the prime minister of our land speaking to a faraway audience on CBS News’s Face the Nation . She expected the video clip to make me laugh and choke at the same time. She was right. It also made me think of philosopher Harry Frankfurt's immortal essay , "On Bullshit," because the unavoidable question, while watching Benjamin Netanyahu responding to White House criticism of settlement activity in Jerusalem, was whether he was deliberately speaking untruths, or was spinning words with absolutely no concern about whether they were true or not. As Frankfurt demonstrated, this is the difference between lying and bullshitting. (Understand that I follow Frankfurt in using the latter word strictly as a philosophical category. In contrast to the New York Times , therefore, the...

More Trade Agreements Won't Fix the Mess Made by Austerity

Even T-TIP's supporters know it will have little more than a trivial effect on growth.

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) A demonstrator holds a banner in Parliament Square in London, Saturday, October 11, 2014. The demonstration was one of many across Europe against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post. T he U.S. economy is growing slowly and Europe's hardly at all. The stock market lurch last week is a belated acknowledgement that our two economies share a common affliction, and Europe suffers more seriously. The affliction is austerity. And yet the main remedy being promoted by the U.S. government and its European allies is a trade and investment deal known as T-TIP, which stands for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to the deal's sponsors, T-TIP would help stimulate recovery by removing barriers to trade and promoting regulatory convergence and hence investment. The proposed deal is not popular in the U.S. Congress, which has to approve negotiating authority...

Sex, Lies and the Secret Service

MSNBC
Paul Waldman talks with MSNBC's Chris Hayes about the likelihood that someone either in or close to the Secret Service leaked the story of a White House volunteer's alleged dalliance with a sex worker in Cartagena while working advance for President Barack Obama's visit there in 2012—and the implications of a rift between the president's staff and the people sworn to protect his very life.

Why Your New iPhone Has Law Enforcement In a Tizzy

Apple’s move won’t lead to terrorist attacks or unsolved kidnappings; it will simply make FBI investigators’ jobs a bit harder.

iStock/07-12-09 © billyfoto
07-12-09 © billyfoto T he debut of a new iPhone is always big news, but this time it’s surrounded by unusual controversy. That’s because the iPhone6 automatically encrypts the phone’s contents. Decrypting requires a code that the user sets and does not share with Apple—which means that, if the FBI orders Apple to turn over data kept on the customer’s phone, the company will produce data that amount to “gibberish” (as the New York Times reported ). The FBI then will have to decrypt the data—a process that could take years—or try to compel the user to reveal the code. FBI director James Comey responded with outrage, claiming that companies like Apple are “marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law.” Other law enforcement officials have made similar pronouncements. Yet the law doesn’t give the government any right to the contents of your phone. It’s more accurate to say that, in recent years, the advent of widespread third-party data storage has...

Why President Obama Can't Get Any Love From the Public On the Economy

White House photo by Pete Souza.
One common axiom about presidential popularity is that presidents get more credit than they deserve for the good times and more blame than they deserve for the bad times. But Barack Obama is probably wondering why he can't get any credit at all. Today job numbers for the month of September were released, and the news looks excellent: 248,000 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate is now 5.9 percent. Since Steve Benen regularly updates his chart on job growth during the Obama administration, we'll use his : That looks pretty good. In fact, we've now had 55 consecutive months of private sector job growth, the longest stretch on record (weirdly, that job-killing Obamacare hasn't actually killed all the jobs). But now let's look at another chart, this one from Huffpost Pollster : Not so good! Not good at all, in fact. Obama crossed from net approval to disapproval in October 2009, and never got back into positive territory. The latest polls have his approval on the economy at around...

The War With No Name

Every president, along with the people who work for him, will tell you that they barely ever think about politics and public relations. "Good policy is good politics," they'll say, or "We believe that if we do the right thing, the politics will take care of themselves." Of course, it'll all baloney. Even in the most serious matters, like making war, appearances are never far from their minds. Which is why, every time we get ready to bomb or invade somebody, the military comes up with a super-cool name for the operation. Not only does it give the enterprise the proper triumphal air, it gives the media something to call it, so they can make their jazzy graphics and pick out the right musical accompaniment. So why doesn't our new quasi-war have a name yet? The idea of naming military operations began in World War I, but initially they were secret code names, intended to conceal rather than to boast. Winston Churchill was very concerned with the code names of military operations in World...

Palestinian Despair Plays Into Netanyahu's Hands -- For Now

At the U.N., Abbas's use of the word "genocide" made the Israeli leader's work easier.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
(AP Photo/Richard Drew) President Mahmoud Abbas, of Palestine, addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. T he tone was almost bureaucratic: a tired man in a suit reading from a prepared text. The man was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; the bureaucratic ritual he performed was that of a national leader addressing the United Nations General Assembly. The words, though, expressed an undiplomatic—a quite un-Abbas-like—fury. In his opening sentence, referring to the conflict in Gaza this summer, Abbas charged Israel with perpetrating "a new war of genocide… against the Palestinian people." After that, when he described Israel's actions as "a series of absolute war crimes," it almost seemed like a softening of the rhetoric. Abbas not only referred to Israel as the "occupying power"—a neutral term—but sprinkled in the words "colonial" and "racist." In the operative part of his address, Abbas declared that "it is...

In Political System Disconnected From Society's Ills, Remedies Pushed to Fringes of Public Debate

(Kike Calvo via AP Images)
(Kike Calvo via AP Images) More than 100,000 people march through midtown Manhattan on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 as part of the People's Climate March, a worldwide mobilization calling on world leaders meeting at the UN to commit to urgent action on climate change. F or half a century beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, there was a direct connection between the problems that afflicted American society and the remedies on offer from our democratic system. High unemployment? The New Deal, the World War II mobilization, and the postwar boom took care of that. Stagnant wages? With unions, growing productivity, minimum wage laws, and other regulation of labor standards, American real wages tripled. Education? The G.I. bill, massive investment in public universities, community colleges, and later in public elementary and secondary education produced a better educated and more productive population. And until the 1980s, public higher education was practically free. The exclusion of blacks from...

Missiles and Rebels: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

(Rex Features via AP Images)
L ast weekend, the New York Times reported on a meeting President Obama had with a group of foreign policy experts and pundits to talk about combatting ISIL, among other topics. "Asked by one of the columnists what he would do if his strategy did not work and he had to escalate further," reporter Peter Baker wrote, "Mr. Obama rejected the premise. 'I'm not going to anticipate failure at this point,' he said." Now of course, this meeting wasn't about soliciting ideas so much as it was about convincing important opinion leaders that the administration is on the right track, so there was naturally going to be some spinning. But now that this military campaign has begun in earnest, there are few more important questions than this one: Is the administration anticipating failure? And what are they doing about it? We've been through this once before. In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration and its supporters told us that the Iraq War would be a piece of cake. We'd storm into Baghdad, be "...

ISIL, Iraq and Syria: Why Military Action Won’t Do The Trick

(AP Photo, File)
O n September 10, 2014, President Obama announced a new strategy aimed at “ degrading and destroying ” ISIL (also known as ISIS and the Islamic State). Ideally, the United States should avoid fighting in Iraq and Syria. Now that that the U.S. has committed itself to bombing Iraq and Syria, however, ISIL and the threat it represents should be placed into a historical context that until now has only sporadically informed U.S. plans. In 1994 the United States faced a similar Salafi Islamist non-state entity: the Afghan Taliban. ( Salafism is a strict interpretation of Islamic theology, as laid out by the Qur’an and the Hadith, wherein life must adhere as closely as possible to the conditions that existed during the religion’s first three generations). ISIL, like the Taliban, is a militant Islamist reaction to failed governance. Examining American-Taliban history can help American leaders understand the threat posed by ISIL, the dangers of trying to defeat the movement outright, as well...

So Much For the End of the War on Terror

U.S. Navy photo by Carmichael Yepez
Remember when Barack Obama was going to end the War on Terror? Well today, not only did the U.S. launch air strikes within Syria to target ISIL, we also struck against the Khorasan group, a small al-Qaeda offshoot that was purportedly plotting to blow up American airplanes, and the al-Nusra front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Back in May of last year, Obama gave a speech meant to signal a break with the prior twelve years, in which he said, "we must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." One could argue that that's a distinction without a difference, that it's only about rhetoric. You might also say that the War on Terror isn't so much a set of military actions as it is a mindset. It's the state of being terrorized, in which the nation is constantly on the edge of panic, willing to approve almost anything in the name of staying "...

The Politics of Pre-K: How A Program Known to Help Poor Mothers Could Doom Your Candidacy

When the emphasis is kept on how it's good for business, early-childhood education is popular. Just don't call it childcare. 

(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez)
(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez) I n Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, education has emerged as one of the most heated issues. A Quinnipiac University poll released this month found education ranked as the most important issue for voters, after jobs and the economy. Despite contentious politics surrounding reform of public education from kindergarten through twelfth grade, Republican incumbent Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf have discovered that plugging expansion of pre-kindergarten programs wins them political points without treading into treacherous waters. That is, as long as they don't mention the mothers who will inevitably benefit, too. The governor’s record is haunted by his 2011 budget, from which he cut nearly $900 million in public education funds—a decrease of more than 10 percent. The severe cuts have garnered national attention , particularly for Philadelphia—the state’s largest school district—which wrestled with a $304 million cut this past school...

Congress Didn't Pay a Lot to Go to College: Today's Students Shouldn't Either

Building photo: Architect of the Capitol - Dome: Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress
Architect of the Capitol This article originally appeared on the website of Demos . O ne of the oldest attack lines in politics is that a candidate or elected official is “out of touch” with the American people. The phrase, deployed often and by both parties, is often used to outline how a statement, voting record, or ideology is on the minority side of public opinion. In other cases, it’s used to target legislators who have served several terms, inferring that their tenure in office has left them too cozy and unresponsive to the needs of constituents. In the case of both Mitt Romney and John Kerry , it was used to infer that the very life experiences of a candidate left them out of touch with those of the “everyday American.” It’s designed to remove any and all appearances of empathy from the equation. In some cases, it’s actually true. Look no further than the cost of higher education. This week, the Senate was expected to (but looks like it no longer will) vote on a bill to allow...

Why This Will Be the Unaccountable War

He stands alone.
Yesterday the House voted 273-156 to train and equip Syrian rebels, a part of President Obama's plan to combat ISIL, and today the Senate is expected to do the same. While it might look on the surface like Congress taking a stand and accepting responsibility for this new engagement, in fact, this is likely to be a war with no accountability for any political figure other than Barack Obama himself. The "no" votes were a combination of Democrats who opposed the Iraq War in 2003 and don't want to see us pulled back into another war there, and Republicans who either want a bigger war with massive numbers of ground troops or just hate Barack Obama so much they can't cast a vote for anything he proposes (or both). Today, the Senate is expected to pass the measure as well, and we'll probably see the same thing: members from both parties on each side, with drastically different reasons for voting the same way. The whole thing is the kind of war you'd expect from the Obama presidency, defined...

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