How cynical should Obama make us?

As the Bush administration was coming to a close, Barack Obama looked like an almost ideal leader for the United States: internationalist, concerned with the constitution and rule of law, apparently concerned about the environment, and so on.

Now, a year and a half after Obama was inaugurated, there are a lot of disappointments to deal with. Guantanamo Bay remains open, the United States maintains an active policy of assassinations in Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan has been a failure in relation to our original aims, and nothing significant has been done on climate change. Instead, the administration can point to its response to the economic crisis and health care as its accomplishments.

As I have said before, I think the credit crisis was a real waste of this administration. It seems like they could have devoted their energy in so much more productive ways, if the banks hadn’t terrified politicians into pulling out all the stops to save them. The unpopularity of doing so has revitalized the Republican Party and sapped public support for the Obama administration. Furthermore, very little has been done to prevent the occurrence of such crises in the future.

What should we take from all of this? Is Obama really as promising a figure as we thought, blocked in his efforts by the political system? Do we need to give the administration more time to effect its policies? Or was the kind of optimism that fueled the Obama campaign misplaced? Perhaps the world simply doesn’t permit the success of idealists.

In fairness, Obama did make an effort to stress how difficult real change would be, while he was campaigning and after he was elected. There is a huge amount of momentum bound up in the status quo, and changing the direction of things in meaningful ways is always difficult. Hopefully, there has been more happening in the background than has been immediately observable to outsiders and the years Obama has left will be filled with meaningful accomplishments.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

89 thoughts on “How cynical should Obama make us?”

  1. Yup, the motto was ‘change you can believe in’. And you fell for that? Lol!

  2. It is easy to overestimate the influence of the US President. Even with the expansion of executive power from FDR to G.W. Bush, Congress remains the most powerful branch of government. It is not exactly packed with reformers, even on the Democrat side.

    Plus, the man still has two and a half years in this term.

  3. The credit crisis was an opportunity for this administration to begin reversing the de regulations which since the 70s have caused deeper and deeper crises. So long as you keep implicitly repeating the dogma that such crises are natural and not the product of specific policies which benefit specific groups over other groups, you remain under some version of Chicago school dogma and are part of the problem.

    Guantanamo bay not only remains open, but Obama has fought to reverse the US court decision that US detainees anywhere in the world have the right of habeus corpus.

    What do you mean by “idealist”?

    What we should take from all of this is exactly what Chomsky claimed before the election: of course a public relations campaign will run on the principle of “change” when the public faith in the system is at an incredible low. Remember that the republicans and democrats both ran on the principle of change; Obama did so more effectively.

    The important thing to recognize is that the American political system is run by strong business interests, mostly the financial industry. It’s not clear that the financial industry produces any benefit at all – the practical solution is therefore, to get rid of the financial industry.

  4. I think that Obama was handed a country that was falling apart in every possible place. All of us hoped that he could simply turn things around and bring back some morality and humanity. I think that it will take a lot of time and he may not be as liberal as he made himself sound. If he is elected for a second term, he may have more support and may actually achieve some of the things that he promised. That said, some of that charisma and vitality that he charmed us with seems to have evaporated.

  5. He just announced $2b for solar projects in the states. Not a lot of money overall, but something nonetheless:

    Also, he has taken some action on the things he campaigned on; as you mentioned health care, and don’t ask don’t tell.

    Having said that, he hasn’t accomplished a lot he set out to do. Hindered by his loss of the super majority, you can expect even less to be accomplished. He has spent a lot of political capital to get health care through, and can only do so much with what remains. In addition to that, I suspect he has changed his views on certain things having been handed the power he has.

  6. Why did he lose his super-majority? Precisely through his lack of action on health care.

  7. Why did he lose his super-majority? Precisely through his lack of action on health care.

    I doubt it. Of the many factors at hand, the bank bailout is probably most responsible for his loss of the super-majority.

  8. Thinking about 2009 and 2017

    The immediate focus, which has dominated the campaign, looks daunting enough: repairing America’s economy and its international reputation. The financial crisis is far from finished. The United States is at the start of a painful recession. Some form of further fiscal stimulus is needed (see article), though estimates of the budget deficit next year already spiral above $1 trillion. Some 50m Americans have negligible health-care cover. Abroad, even though troops are dying in two countries, the cack-handed way in which George Bush has prosecuted his war on terror has left America less feared by its enemies and less admired by its friends than it once was.

    Yet there are also longer-term challenges, worth stressing if only because they have been so ignored on the campaign. Jump forward to 2017, when the next president will hope to relinquish office. A combination of demography and the rising costs of America’s huge entitlement programmes—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—will be starting to bankrupt the country (see article). Abroad a greater task is already evident: welding the new emerging powers to the West. That is not just a matter of handling the rise of India and China, drawing them into global efforts, such as curbs on climate change; it means reselling economic and political freedom to a world that too quickly associates American capitalism with Lehman Brothers and American justice with Guantánamo Bay. This will take patience, fortitude, salesmanship and strategy.

    Our main doubts about Mr Obama have to do with the damage a muddle-headed Democratic Congress might try to do to the economy. Despite the protectionist rhetoric that still sometimes seeps into his speeches, Mr Obama would not sponsor a China-bashing bill. But what happens if one appears out of Congress? Worryingly, he has a poor record of defying his party’s baronies, especially the unions. His advisers insist that Mr Obama is too clever to usher in a new age of over-regulation, that he will stop such nonsense getting out of Congress, that he is a political chameleon who would move to the centre in Washington. But the risk remains that on economic matters the centre that Mr Obama moves to would be that of his party, not that of the country as a whole.”

  9. The 44th president
    Renewing America
    George Bush has left a dismal legacy, but Barack Obama can do much to repair the damage

    Jan 15th 2009

    The American presidency
    Learning the hard way
    Barack Obama may at last be getting a grip. But he still needs to show more leadership, at home and abroad

    Mar 26th 2009

    Health-care reform in America
    This is going to hurt
    Barack Obama was elected in part to fix America’s health-care system. Now is the time for him to keep his word

    Jun 25th 2009

    A difficult summer for the White House
    Crunch time
    The next few weeks could determine the fate of Barack Obama’s presidency

    Jul 30th 2009

    The war in Afghanistan
    Obama’s war
    Why the Afghanistan war deserves more resources, commitment and political will

    Oct 15th 2009

    Barack Obama’s foreign policy
    The quiet American
    Is Barack Obama’s diplomacy subtle and strategic, or weak and naive? The world is about to find out

    Nov 26th 2009

    The Obama presidency, one year on
    Time to get tough
    Barack Obama’s first year has been good, but not great—and things are going to get a lot harder

    Jan 14th 2010

    “One year on, how well has he done?

    Not too badly, by our reckoning (see article). In his first 12 months in office Mr Obama has overseen the stabilising of the economy, is on the point of bringing affordable health care to virtually every American citizen, has ended the era of torture, is robustly prosecuting the war in Afghanistan while gradually disengaging from Iraq; and perhaps more precious than any of these, he has cleared away much of the cloud of hatred and fear through which so much of the world saw the United States during George Bush’s presidency.

    More generally, Mr Obama has run a competent, disciplined yet heterodox administration, with few of the snafus that characterised Bill Clinton’s first year. Just as important have been the roads not taken. Mr Obama has resisted the temptation to give in to the populists in his own party and saddle Wall Street with regulations that would choke it. He has eschewed punitive taxation on the entrepreneurs who animate the economy; and he has even, with the notable exception of a boneheaded tariff on cheap Chinese tyres, turned a deaf ear to the siren-song of the protectionists. In short, what’s not to like?

    Only one thing, really; but it is a big one, and it is the reason why most of the achievements listed above must be qualified. Mr Obama has too often remained above the fray, too anxious to be liked, and too ready to do the popular thing now and leave the awkward stuff till later. Far from living up to the bracing rhetoric of his inaugural, he has not been tough enough. In this second year of his presidency, to quote his formerly favourite preacher, his chickens will come home to roost. ”

    American politics after health reform
    Now what?
    Barack Obama needs to use a bruising victory to unleash the promise of his presidency

    Mar 25th 2010

  10. Why did he lose his super-majority? Precisely through his lack of action on health care.

    I also find this claim very dubious.

    Obama is under pressure largely from opponents who want to do nothing on issues like health care and the environment. As a result, he is likely to be punished electorally for being too active, rather than not active enough.

    That being said, I do think the kind of progressive policies that are so hard to push through Congress would actually benefit the United States in the long run, in areas as diverse as immigration, drug policy, and climate change.

  11. “It is true that Obama’s healthcare program was a factor in the Massachusetts election. The headlines are correct when they report that the public is turning against the program.

    The poll figures explain why: the bill does not go far enough.

    The WSJ/NBC poll found that a majority of voters disapprove of the handling of healthcare by both the Republicans and Obama.

    These figures align with recent nationwide polls. The public option was favored by 56% of those polled, and the Medicare buy-in at age 55 by 64% — both programs that have been abandoned.

    Eighty-five percent believe the government should have the right to negotiate drug prices, as in other countries. Obama has guaranteed the big pharmaceutical corporations that he would not pursue that option.”

  12. “Obama is under pressure largely from opponents who want to do nothing on issues like health care and the environment. As a result, he is likely to be punished electorally for being too active, rather than not active enough.”

    You assume that his opponents vote. Obama’s opponents do not vote; but they do wield money that helps produce votes. It’s called public relations; it used to be called “propaganda” but the name was changed for various reasons. As for the electorate, they have been overwhelmingly in support of Health Care reform for the last 30 years – his opponents are not the “electorate”, they are one wing of the business party which represents a tiny minority of interests.

  13. “That being said, I do think the kind of progressive policies that are so hard to push through Congress would actually benefit the United States in the long run”

    It is not a trivial thing to do to convince business to act in long term interest. If Obama was serious about fighting the influence of short term business interest in American domestic and foreign policy, he would eliminate lobbyists, eliminate corporate campaign funding, and eliminate the financial sector.

  14. Campaign finance came up here before

    If Obama was serious about fighting the influence of short term business interest in American domestic and foreign policy, he would eliminate lobbyists, eliminate corporate campaign funding, and eliminate the financial sector.

    It seems likely that Obama would get impeached before he could do these things, especially the third.

  15. The first thing to do is to turn the country into a democracy. After that, it would be easy to make major reforms that were in the country’s interests.

  16. It seems wrong to suggest that there is some single standard of ‘democracy’ and that adopting it will automatically lead to longer-term thinking on policy.

    After all, individuals also have strong incentives to be selfish and to privilege immediate gains over long-term losses.

    If anything, we need political mechanisms to incorporate the welfare of future generations into political decisionmaking, even when the policies that requires are unpopular among both elites and the general population.

  17. An individual acting on capitalist interests is the most short sighted – in comparison, people acting in their own interests are long term planners. Of course, the best would be to have individuals acting on both their interests and the interests of future generations. It seems naive to think you can turn business interests into long term interests without changing something essential about a country run on short term interests of the business lobby. In relation with the state of things, calls for “democracy” are more than appropriate.

  18. It is also worth pointing out that environmental regulations to date have arisen much more as the result of professionalism than as a the result of ‘democracy.’ The regulation of substances that cause smog, acid rain, and ozone depletion was basically the product of negotiations between scientists, government, and industry.

    The general public wasn’t overly involved.

  19. Great. I’m sure business and government can solve Global warming then. And business has definitely not sponsored the huge campaign of climate denial dis-information. I bet that was sponsored by the “general public”.

  20. “One believes that the leaders had presumed everything of their own accord in the blind rage of a selfish egotism and arranged everything in accordance with their own will [Eigensinn]. In truth, however, leaders are the necessary consequence of the fact that beings have gone over to a way of errancy, in which an emptiness expands that requires a single ordering and securing of beings.” (GA 7: 89/EP, 105; tm)

  21. “The general public wasn’t overly involved.”

    How could the general public be involved? Was it a democracy?

  22. “People aren’t in a mood to believe in promises from Washington. And, for different reasons, neither party has much to say. Democrats can’t excite people with the programs they’ve passed. Only 33 percent of those asked in a recent Pew poll think the stimulus bill has helped create jobs. Health care reform is getting more popular, but even in the most optimistic polls, fewer than 50 percent of respondents view it favorably. Republicans aren’t offering detailed solutions because they have made a tactical decision to stay vague about what they would actually do if they took control. They don’t want to offend anyone, and they’d prefer this election be a referendum on unpopular Democratic programs.”

  23. “Republicans have constructed an elaborate listening exercise called “America Speaking Out,” which seeks to solicit ideas from voters that will inform the future GOP agenda. By hearing from the people, Boehner promises, Republicans will “change the way Washington works.” The theory underlying the Republican position is that if something isn’t popular, the president shouldn’t be doing it. Boehner has taken this view one step further. When debating whether the stimulus bill has worked, he has cited not the number of jobs created, but public opinion polls that show people don’t like it. As Steve Benen pointed out recently, Boehner is using the listening exercise to avoid being specific on policy.

    This view is a complete reversal from what was once the prevailing Republican view of leadership. During the Bush presidency, public opposition to the war didn’t matter. As Dick Cheney put it: “It may not be popular with the public—it doesn’t matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re not running for office. We’re doing what we think is right.”

    This was also true of domestic affairs during the Bush era. When the president launched his plan to create Social Security private accounts, he cited the idea’s unpopularity as one of its virtues. “That’s why we run for office,” Bush said in a 2005 speech about the political opposition he faced. (Only 35 percent of Americans approved of the plan at the time.) “Someone said, ‘It’s a steep hill to climb, Mr. President.’ Well, my attitude is, the steeper, the better—because when you get up top, you realize you have left a significant contribution behind.” By this unpopularity/elevation calculus, Obama’s health care plan puts him above the treeline.

    Politicians have been saying their opponents are out of touch for ages. But it’s a terrible idea to link a politician’s fortunes to his ability to “hear” the public. This is not a claim that comes from the cable-news era. It is the thesis of Walter Lippmann’s book Public Opinion, published in 1922. Some 88 years later, politicians are debating how to stimulate the economy and tame the deficit, which will require making hard choices. Yet according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, the people politicians are supposed to be listening to in order to show they “get it” are themselves incapable of making those hard choices. Respondents said that, yes, they wanted states to balance their budgets—and then large majorities opposed specific measures required to do so. In short: They don’t get it.”

  24. How could the general public be involved? Was it a democracy?

    How much good can more democracy do, if people are unwilling to make hard choices and even hostile towards those who do?

    It seems plausible that what we need is courage and leadership, not pandering to public sentiment.

  25. Why do you think democracy is about “pandering to public sentiment”? What do you think democracy is, anyway? Do you equivocate it with populism? Did you learn anything about democracy in political science?

  26. You seem to have the unlikely hope that if society becomes ‘democratic’ according to your definition, the general public will start to agree with you.

    This seems exceedingly unlikely. They aren’t likely to agree with me either – certainly not quickly enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. That said, once measures like rising carbon prices are in place, it might be hoped that people will just accept them as a fact of life.

  27. Do you have a concept of democracy that grasps in what ways our society is un-democratic? Or do you understand “democracy” simply as the word is used by current western institutions? I.e., did you learn anything about democracy in school.

  28. “according to your definition”

    Do you think words just mean what we want to mean by them? Sure, words are used in different senses by different people working from different traditions. But the new meanings don’t come out of nothing – they have histories, there are canons, this stuff has been being-worked-on for centuries. It’s not like I invented some new idea and then complained that you didn’t agree with me.

  29. ‘Democracy’ is a rough description for a set of political systems in which people are either directly consulted on which policies should be adopted (direct democracy) or on who they want to have representing them in such decision-making (representative democracy).

    The term covers a huge swathe of possible political setups, many of which are quite incapable of long-term planning of the sort required to deal with climate change.

  30. It’s true it covers a huge swathe of possible political set ups, but in fact, it covers very few actual political set ups.

    For instance do we have representative democracy? Clearly not – the political system is, and has been for at least a century, in the control of narrow interests – largely business interests. Elections are run like public relations campaigns, and people think “being represented” by an MP or MLA is simply a choice between various conflagrations of interest group sponsorship.

    There seems to not be enough evidence to judge whether democracy could produce good long term planning. We’d have to try it first.

  31. “‘Democracy’ is a rough description”

    ‘Democracy’ is a word. Democracy is a concept, and that concept is not a set of descriptions, it’s an idea. It’s an idea that has a history, and it’s an idea whose enactment in history is usually partial for reasons which are not impossible to understand. That’s why it’s sometimes called an “ideal” – to emphasize the extent to which democracy is always, in Derrida’s words “Democracy to come”. But this ideal character doesn’t make it impossible to judge various political regimes as more or less democratic.

    Democracy is also not a single concept, not an idea which has one unified historical meaning. In fact, there are various democratic traditions, which have similar and different historical origins, founding moments, ideas, etc…

    Wikipedia is a remarkably good source for information on “Democracy”.

    Democracy is also an important part of most varieties of Anarchism, i.e.:

  32. One of the problems is that expectations were simply too high, not just for Obama but for anyone. Expectations is one measure but another is simply what has occurred.

    Any substantive health care reform is a change. For this Obama is a success by the realistic measure of what can be done.

  33. I wrote about the game linked above before.

    It is the one where I got this outcome:

    * Well done!

    * Europe emitted a very low level of carbon emissions, which is likely to result in global temperatures increasing by 1.4-2.5 degrees Celsius.

    * You left the economy in ruins. Hyper-inflation and joblessness are endemic across Europe. People are starving and crime and lawlessness have taken hold.

    * You were generally liked and seemed to consider public opinion on almost all the decisions you took.

  34. Not everyone’s expectations were high. But I suppose liberals will find some retro-spective way of justifying their unreasonable expectations, and still claim that those whose outlook on Obama was by their own view correct, were wrong and ought not be listened to.

    “Question: What has Obama done that has disappointed you?
    Noam Chomsky: Nothing much because I never expected anything. I was a little surprised by the fact that he re-instituted some of the judicial practices that were kind of unconscionable, that [George W.] Bush made use of. Like, he wants preventive detention permanently. He’s been waffling about torture. He’s refusing to grant normal criminal trials to people that they have no evidence against, they claim to have none. Things like that have been a little surprising. I don’t think he had to be that extreme in his interpretation of—actually deviation from any reasonable legal system.

    Recorded on: Aug 18, 2009.”

  35. Lexington
    A gambling man
    Barack Obama will be judged on the success of his own big bets, not on somebody else’s oil spill

    Jun 10th 2010

    CONTRARY to what a lot of people say, voters are not stupid. They know that Barack Obama did not make the hole in the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. They know that not even a president can magic away a spill this size. That is why all the recent talk about Deepwater Horizon putting an indelible stain on Mr Obama’s first term, perhaps even deciding the fate of his presidency, is overblown. He will decide the fate of his presidency. You could in fact argue that he has decided it already, by placing three huge and deliberate bets during his first year and a half in office. What he is mainly doing now is waiting to see whether they come good or not.

    Mr Obama placed bet one as soon as he arrived in office, by staking what will add up to a cool $1 trillion on economic stimulus. Since the counter-factual—what would have happened to the swooning American economy without the cash injection—cannot be known, historians will squabble for decades about how good a bet it was. But by one critical measure, job creation, it has so far been a woeful disappointment. Only 431,000 new jobs were added in May, compared with the 540,000 or so that had been expected, and almost all of those new jobs were temporary, filled by workers taken on to conduct the census. Mr Obama can argue that stimulus staved off a depression, but Democrats will go into the mid-term congressional elections in November with unemployment hovering near 10% and will be hammered for it.

    The president placed his second bet in the autumn of last year when he decided to recast America’s military strategy in Afghanistan and send more troops. Foreign wars have long been the bane of presidents who long to transform America at home. Lyndon Johnson said that he knew he was killing his hopes of creating a Great Society by choosing to get involved in “that bitch of a war on the other side of the world”. Like Johnson in Vietnam, Mr Obama agonised over the Afghan war. In a new history of his first year (“The Promise”, Simon & Schuster), Jonathan Alter of Newsweek claims that the 20 hours the president spent in meetings last autumn, “balancing Socratic dialogue with a hard-headed search for rational, if less than ideal, solutions”, represented probably the most sustained scrutiny of a national-security question since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

  36. “Posterity may indeed one day thank the president for taking America a giant step closer to entrenching the principle of universal health coverage that other rich countries take for granted. But posterity has no vote. And as November’s mid-terms approach, polls suggest that most Americans will not be thanking the president for health reform when they go into the voting booth.

    Far from delivering a gain, health reform could well turn out to be a negative, at least for the mid-terms. When the Democrats won a victory last month by holding a white working-class district in a special election in western Pennsylvania, their own candidate felt obliged to assure angry voters that he for one would have opposed Obamacare if he had been in Congress at the time. “

  37. Could Republicans Take the House?
    The White House would like you to think so.
    By John Dickerson
    Posted Monday, July 12, 2010, at 7:13 PM ET

    This is not the time for Obama to embrace his trademark penchant for complexity by admitting there’s a solid case to be made that Republicans won’t win back the House. Instead, he has jumped on every Republican gaffe to help him put on the fright show. When Rep. Joe Barton apologized to BP for the White House pressure that led to the $20 billion fund to pay oil-spill claims, Gibbs pointed out that if Republicans take control, Barton would be in charge of the committee that helps shape energy policy. When Republican Minority Leader John Boehner seemed to compare the financial crisis to an insect, Obama and his aides seized on that, too.

    Gibbs was was also trying to set expectations. Obama’s party is on track to lose in the midterms. If Gibbs and fellow Democrats can make retaking Congress the standard by which Republican gains are judged, they shape the coverage of election night. If Republicans win big but don’t take control of Congress, reporters might write fewer words about how the loss was a huge defeat for the president.

    Just because Gibbs is working a strategy doesn’t mean Republican political operatives were dumb to make an issue of the comment. That’s what campaign committees of both parties do. They overreact in the hopes that flipping out will catch on with their bases. There’s a chance that less-hardcore voters might pay attention, too. What’s an obvious “truth” to Washington insiders isn’t so obvious to the rest of the country.

    And they have reason to celebrate. The White House does not take this approach because it is in a position of strength. Eighteen months ago, after the Obama victory, the GOP was declared dead. Time magazine put the GOP elephant on the cover with the headline “Endangered Species.” The NRCC’s Spain pointed this out in his third e-mail in 24 hours on Gibbs’ remarks. The White House is trying to energize its own voters, but the other side is getting pretty excited, too.

  38. Tackling homelessness
    Getting strategic
    A national plan to end a national disgrace

    Jun 24th 2010 | new york

    IT USED to be the case that the homeless were, almost exclusively, single adults. Today homelessness is affecting a growing share of families with children too. The number of homeless families has increased by 30% during the past two years. During the 2008-09 school year, America’s public schools reported more than 956,000 homeless pupils, a 20% increase over the previous school year. In New York City alone, some 8,200 families with children are homeless.

    Overall, the number without homes is staggering. The number of homeless veterans of the Vietnam war is greater than the number who died in it. On any given night in America more than 640,000 men, women and children are forced to seek shelter, live in their cars, or sleep on the streets. Last year nearly 1.6m people used an emergency shelter.

    The Obama administration unveiled a multi-agency national strategy to combat this national disgrace on June 22nd. The plan has four goals. It aims to end chronic homelessness (defined as being continuously homeless for more than a year) in five years, and homelessness among veterans in five years, too. It also seeks to end homelessness for families and children within a decade. And it will lay down a strategy for tackling all other types of homelessness as well. The 67-page plan, called “Opening Doors”, is the first comprehensive federal effort to end the evil, which is normally a matter for the states. This is “a tragedy we can solve” says Shaun Donovan, secretary of housing and urban development and chair of the Inter-agency Council on Homelessness, which drew up the plan.

  39. Iran’s nuclear program: Threats, Agression and “Crazy”

    by NorthernSong

    “Wherever U.S forces go, nuclear weapons go with them or can be made to follow in short order. The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy. ” (Martin Levi van Creveld) ”

    “In short, Iran is effectively being encouraged to develop Nuclear weapons by American imperialist foreign policy in the region. If we were to find that Iran was developing a bomb, we should not be in the least surprised – and we should not interpret it as an aggressive act at all but as self-defence.”

  40. “IT IS touted as the biggest overhaul of American finance since the Great Depression. The 2,319-page Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, now nearing the end of its odyssey through Congress, tackles almost every aspect of American finance from municipal bonds to executive pay. Its success, however, rests on a simple question: does it make another crisis significantly less likely?

    The reform does make progress in three critical areas: regulatory oversight, derivatives and dealing with troubled banks that are too big to fail. Yet by itself, this bill, whose passage in the Senate is still not quite secure, is an incomplete remedy (see article). Much depends on how American regulators implement its provisions. Congress left several meaty matters for later, including the crippled mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And even more is riding on how the Basel club of international banking supervisors compel banks to raise their buffers of capital and liquidity.”

  41. Senate Shelves Efforts to Cap Carbon Emissions

    WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate is shelving efforts to pass legislation that would limit emissions of heat-trapping gases linked to climate change, dealing a major blow to one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Thursday that neither he nor the White House had persuaded 60 senators to support even a limited proposal seeking to restrict emission from electric-power companies. Mr. Reid offered no timetable for action on such a bill, but said Democrats would continue trying to build support for such legislation.

    Mr. Reid said the party’s leadership will push instead for more limited legislation, aimed at holding oil giant BP PLC “accountable” for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Specifically, he said the measure would include a provision to remove the cap on economic damages paid to residents and small businesses by oil companies after oil spills. Mr. Reid said the bill would also include incentives to encourage the production and purchase of vehicles fueled by natural gas, and to fund various land and water-conservation programs.

    Senate abandons effort to pass climate bill this summer

    The Senate has given up plans to pass a broad energy bill this summer, as Democrats said Thursday they will focus instead on dealing with the Gulf oil spill and promoting energy efficiency.

    “We don’t have a single Republican to work with us,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol after meeting with fellow Democrats. “We don’t have the votes.”

    Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., had crafted a comprehensive bill, similar to what the House of Representatives passed last year, to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but their effort got no GOP support. Even a scaled-back plan, capping the carbon emissions only of power plants, failed to gain traction.

  42. The truth, however, is that the only problem Republicans ever had with George W. Bush was his low approval rating. They always loved his policies and his governing style — and they want them back. In recent weeks, G.O.P. leaders have come out for a complete return to the Bush agenda, including tax breaks for the rich and financial deregulation. They’ve even resurrected the plan to cut future Social Security benefits.

    But they have a problem: how can they embrace President Bush’s policies, given his record? After all, Mr. Bush’s two signature initiatives were tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq; both, in the eyes of the public, were abject failures. Tax cuts never yielded the promised prosperity, but along with other policies — especially the unfunded war in Iraq — they converted a budget surplus into a persistent deficit. Meanwhile, the W.M.D. we invaded Iraq to eliminate turned out not to exist, and by 2008 a majority of the public believed not just that the invasion was a mistake but that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into war. What’s a Republican to do?

  43. “But they have a problem: how can they embrace President Bush’s policies, given his record? After all, Mr. Bush’s two signature initiatives were tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq; both, in the eyes of the public, were abject failures. ”

    You’re witnessing the democratic deficit.

  44. Ultimate bunker buster: U.S military speed plans for 13-ton bomb… but deny Iran nuclear standoff is the reason

    Daily Mail

    “Call it Plan B for dealing with Iran, which recently revealed a long-suspected nuclear site deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.

    The 15-ton behemoth — called the ‘massive ordnance penetrator,’ or MOP — will be the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal and will carry 5,300 pounds of explosives.

    News of the giant bomb, which is about 10 times more powerful than the weapon it is designed to replace, comes just days after it was announced that Barack Obama was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    The Pentagon has awarded a nearly $52 million contract to speed up placement of the bomb aboard the B-2 Stealth bomber, and officials say the bomb could be fielded as soon as next summer.

    Officials acknowledge that the new bomb is intended to blow up fortified sites like those used by Iran and North Korea for their nuclear programs, but they deny there is a specific target in mind.”

  45. the best policy
    Two Crises Wasted
    Washington’s perverse refusal to grapple with the energy crisis or to genuinely reform Wall Street.
    By Eliot Spitzer
    Posted Tuesday, July 27, 2010, at 10:04 AM ET

    The past news week was dominated by the Shirley Sherrod saga, a miserable episode that involved political operatives masquerading as journalists distorting fact in order to promote pre-existing bias, followed by a rush to judgment on the part of those too weak or fearful to exercise independent thought. A casualty of the Sherrod story’s domination of the news is that it obscured the whimpering end of two of the largest crises of the past several years: the signing of the Dodd-Frank financial services reform bill and the plugging of the BP well.

    As we all now know, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and here we have wasted two of them. The momentum for change will now fade into the haze of a long, hot summer. Many Americans hoped that the BP leak would finally focus us on generating an energy/climate policy that would deal simultaneously with global warming and our dependence on fossil fuels. That hope has now totally disappeared. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the end of meaningful reform in the energy arena, and the politics after the midterm elections will make that issue even less palatable.

    Behind the Dodd-Frank celebrations and Rose Garden linguistic bouquets, nothing really changed about the financial sector: The same regulators are in charge, the same CEOs are still running bigger, more concentrated financial institutions, and, oh, by the way, the pay czar announced last week that TARP beneficiary institutions overpaid their executives by $ 1.7 billion—yet nothing will or can be done about it. The TARP IG reported last week that the Treasury-department mortgage reformation program has been a disaster: Fewer than 400,000 mortgages have been altered. And while Goldman was paying a fine of two weeks’ profits to give the SEC cover, there was no structural reform in the securities industry. A decade has gone by with no net private-sector job growth, initial unemployment claims last week jumped to 464,000, the average duration of unemployment is the longest in modern history, and the deficit for fiscal year 2010 is projected to exceed 2009’s 1.41 trillion dollars.

    So all in all, a pretty dismal week. The White House needs to do something to transform this dreadful political moment. How about a simple, three-part proposal? First, adopt a carbon tax (supported by virtually all in the environmental community and some conservatives as well; see Pete Peterson in the Wall Street Journal) . Second, offset the revenues from the carbon tax with a reduction or even elimination of the payroll tax for all new hires. Third, increase the retirement age for Social Security one year for every two calendar years over the next six years (a net increase in three years on the retirement front), and start to put in place some obligation for the wealthiest to pay more for Medicare. These are simple but necessary bargains.

  46. ‘Why Has He Fallen Short?’

    by Frank Rich

    Of course Barack Obama was too hot not to cool down. He was the one so many were waiting for—not only the first African-American president but also the nation’s long-awaited liberator after eight years of Bush-Cheney, the golden-tongued evangelist who could at long last revive and sell the old liberal faith, the first American president in memory to speak to voters as if they might be thinking adults, the first national politician in years to electrify the young. He was even, of all implausible oddities, a contemporary politician- author who actually wrote his own books.

    The Obama of Hope and Change was too tough an act for Obama, a mere chief executive, to follow. Only Hollywood might have the power to create a superhero who could fulfill the messianic dreams kindled by his presence and rhetoric, maintain the riveting drama of his unlikely ascent, and sustain the national mood of deliverance that greeted his victory. As soon as Inauguration Day turned to night, the real Obama was destined to depreciate like the shiny new luxury car that starts to lose its book value the moment it’s driven off the lot.

    There was, however, one contradictory footnote to the many provisional Obama obituaries of late spring and early summer 2010. For all the President’s travails, his approval rating, somewhere between 45 and 50 percent depending on the poll, still made him the most popular national politician in the country. By contrast, Congress’s popularity was in Bernie Madoff territory, with Republicans even more despised than Democrats.

  47. ”, a database of the St. Petersburg Times that won a Pulitzer Prize for its fact-checking of the 2008 campaign, had catalogued 502 promises that Obama made during the campaign. At the one-year mark the totals showed that he had already kept 91 of them and made progress on another 285. The database’s “Obameter” rated 14 promises as “broken” and 87 as “stalled.” With promises ranging from “Remove more brush and vegetation that fuel wildfires” to “Establish a playoff system for college football,” PolitiFact selected 25 as Obama’s most significant. Of those, an impressive 20 were “kept” or “in the works.”

    Alter goes on to cite some of Obama’s more substantive achievements. Despite continued violence and political stalemate in Iraq, he was on track to withdraw combat troops (however loosely defined) by his stated August 2010 deadline. He scrapped the F-22 fighter, ended Homeland Security pork in states where terrorist threats are minimal, attached strings to US military aid to Pakistan, and banned torture (if not “extraordinary rendition”). He pushed the Pentagon to abandon “don’t ask, don’t tell,” expanded AmeriCorps, increased funding for national parks and forests, and “overperformed on education” (at least for those who buy into the reforms of Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan). And then there’s the piece de resistance, the health care bill, which among other things will extend Medicaid to some 16 million relatively poor people. “He had won ugly—without a single Republican—but won all the same,” writes Alter in his book’s concluding paragraph. “Whatever happened next—however bad it got—Barack Obama was in the company of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson now in terms of domestic achievement, a figure of history for reasons far beyond the color of his skin.”

    That achievement has since been joined by another legislative victory for Obama’s domestic agenda, the enactment of what he has called “the toughest financial reform since the ones we created in the aftermath of the Great Depression.” Never mind that the financial regulatory bill, like the health care bill, fell considerably short of many progressives’ ambitions. (Not for nothing did the stocks of JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley rise more than 3 percent on June 25, once the bill emerged from the congressional reconciliation process.) A win is a win, and when you toss in the stimulus package at the inception of the Obama presidency, it is hard to deny the administration’s record of accomplishment, however irksome some of the small print. “

  48. The project is interesting. Some of the “broken promises” were pretty important:

    No. 511: Recognize the Armenian genocide
    “Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. … as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”>>More

    No. 240: Tougher rules against revolving door for lobbyists and former officials
    “No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.”>>More

    No. 292: Urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws
    As president, “will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws.”>>More

    No. 71: Allow imported prescription drugs
    “Allow Americans to buy their medicines from other developed countries if the drugs are safe and prices are lower outside the U.S.”>>More

    No. 313: Allow bankruptcy judges to modify terms of a home mortgage
    Will repeal provisions of the Chapter 13 law that prohibit bankruptcy judges from modifying the original terms of home mortgages for ordinary families — regardless of whether the loan was predatory or unfair or is otherwise unaffordable — “so that ordinary families can also get relief that bankruptcy laws were intended to provide.”>>More

    No. 428: Give annual “State of the World” address
    “I’ll give an annual ‘State of the World’ address to the American people in which I lay out our national security policy.”>>More

  49. Kelly McParland: Obama could save America and lose the election

    Barack Obama got some good news today, sort of, depending on how much faith you put in surveys and studies. The authors of this one sound legit enough — a former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve and a chief economist at Moody’s. They have concluded, after extensive research, that the President’s stimulus program did in fact avert disaster. Even though the U.S. economy is hardly rosy, it would have been much worse without Washington’s intervention, the say.

    “Without the fiscal stimulus, banking and auto bailouts, and extraordinary measures from the Federal Reserve, the study’s authors say, U.S. GDP would be 11.5% lower this year; an 8.5 million additional Americans would be out of work; and the economy would still be struggling to climb its way out of a depression.”

    Obama could use the support, govern that his popularity is down below 50% and crucial congressional elections are four months away. Opponents will likely whip up their own study reaching a very different conclusion, of course, but that’s politics.

    The thing is, even if the study is correct, it’s questionable the Obama administration will reap much benefit. People don’t care about “8.5 million additional Americans” who would be out of work without stimulus, they care about themselves., And if they still don’t have the job they want, then as far as they’re concerned the program is a failure.

  50. “So what’s the lesson here? Politicians should ignore the experts and do what makes people happy, even if it’s unlikely to have much long-term benefit? Politicians should never expect the public to appreciate their efforts unless there’s some kind of individual payoff? Politicians should stay out of the economy, because no one is ever satisfied anyway?

    Pick any one of those. Just don’t run for president or prime minister if you want to be popular.”

  51. “Barack Obama used a speech to veterans to confirm that America will end combat operations in Iraq on August 31st, “as promised and on schedule”. Around 50,000 troops will stay to train Iraqi security forces. Meanwhile, America disputed the number killed in attacks in July: the Americans say 222 people died while the Iraqis insist it was 535, which would make it the worst month for deadly violence in more than two years. See article

  52. “On July 21st, President Obama signed the completed bill. The two lasting achievements of this Senate, financial regulation and health care, required a year and a half of legislative warfare that nearly destroyed the body. They depended on a set of circumstances—a large majority of Democrats, a charismatic President with an electoral mandate, and a national crisis—that will not last long or be repeated anytime soon. Two days after financial reform became law, Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not take up comprehensive energy-reform legislation for the rest of the year. And so climate change joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans’ care, campaign finance, transportation security, labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing. Already, you can feel the Senate slipping back into stagnant waters.”

  53. “We think of the presidency as somehow eternal and unchanging, a straight-line progression from 1 to 44, from the first to the latest. And in some respects it is. Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They’ve all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency—Barack Obama’s presidency—has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the “news” by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth—these forces have made today’s Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself.

    For much of the past half-century, the problems that have brought Washington to its current state have been concealed or made tolerable by other circumstances. The discipline of the Cold War kept certain kinds of debate within bounds. America’s artificial “last one standing” postwar economy allowed the country to ignore obvious signs of political and social decay. Wars and other military interventions provided ample distraction from matters of substance at home. Like many changes that are revolutionary, none of Washington’s problems happened overnight. But slow and steady change over many decades—at a rate barely noticeable while it’s happening—produces change that is transformative. In this instance, it’s the kind of evolution that happens inevitably to rich and powerful states, from imperial Rome to Victorian England. The neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively. And thus a new president, who was elected with 53 percent of the popular vote, and who began office with 80 percent public-approval ratings and large majorities in both houses of Congress, found himself for much of his first year in office in stalemate, pronounced an incipient failure, until the narrowest possible passage of a health-care bill made him a sudden success in the fickle view of the commentariat, whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight. And whose opinion spun around once more when he strong-armed BP into putting $20 billion aside to settle claims, and asserted presidential authority by replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus. The commentariat’s opinion will keep spinning with the wind.”

  54. “Ajami’s central assertion was that as far as this presidency is concerned, it is all over but the entropy. Due to mistakes already made, he suggested that the president had sealed his own fate, couldn’t recover and that he (and we) are doomed to a Carter-like descent into presidential impotence and irrelevance. “There is little evidence,” the professor writes, “that the Obama presidency could yet find new vindication, another lease on life. Mr. Obama will mark time, but henceforth he will not define the national agenda.”

    It was a well-argued, quite passionate piece. The problem with it was that it was arrant nonsense. (I recognize that the term “arrant nonsense” should usually be reserved for gaunt English character actors playing the Sherriff of Nottingham but in this instance it fits, and if you heard me say it with my not-so-plummy Central New Jersey accent, you wouldn’t think it sounded half as pompous as it might appear in print.)

    The fatal flaw in the piece was that its central thesis is dependent on the notion that all the events that will define the Obama presidency have already happened. Ajami pays lip service to the notion that “there remains the fact of his biography, a man’s journey.” But he is dismissive that the future can further define or revitalize this presidency. Obama, lacks “the suppleness” of Clinton, a term cleverly selected to imply both flexibility and sleaziness all at once — a nice nuance from the point of view of partisan political writing, showing this was the work of a pro.

    While Ajami writes with the serious language of a scholar, it is clear that history is of little interest to him. The die has been cast: Obama’s character as president, his political viability and his future options will all be defined by how he has thus far handled the events of the first year-and-a-half of his presidency.

    This is just silliness, of course. First of all, at this point in the presidencies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush they had not defined themselves and indeed, each appeared very different from how we view them today.

    Kennedy was still pretty much a work in progress and the Cuban Missile Crisis was still two months away. Johnson accomplished a great deal including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act and, if defined by his first 18 months, would have been regarded as a great success. It wasn’t until after 1966 that his political fortunes began to turn with the deepening involvement in Vietnam and spreading unrest in American cities. Nixon was years away from Watergate at this point. It was in August of his second year that the Camp David process began in the Carter presidency and a deal would not be struck until March of the following year. The “malaise” speech and the Iran hostage crisis were well over a year away.”

  55. “Barack Obama’s redecoration of the Oval Office includes a nice personal touch: a carpet ringed with favorite quotations from Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, both Presidents Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. The King quote, in particular, has become a kind of emblem for him: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” For all the carping about his every move, the only big problem with the Obama Presidency is the gap between what’s written on his rug, and what’s buried under it—the distance between the President’s veneration of moral leadership past and his failure, so far, to exhibit much of it himself.

    Obama has had numerous occasions to assert leadership on values issues this summer: Arizona’s crude anti-immigrant law, the battle over Prop 8 and gay marriage, and the backlash against what Fox News persists in calling the “Ground Zero mosque.” These battles raise fundamental questions of national identity, liberty, and individual rights. When Lindsey Graham argues for rewriting the Constitution to eliminate the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment, or Newt Gingrich proposes a Saudi standard for the free exercise of religion, they’re taking positions at odds with America’s basic ideals. But Obama’s instinctive caution has steered him away from casting these questions as moral or civil rights issues. On none of them has he shown anything resembling courage.

    Responding to the fight over the mosque, Obama has been characteristically legalistic and technical. At an Iftar dinner he hosted at the White House, the president supported the right of Muslims “to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan”—itself a too-picky allowance. The next day, he hedged even further, telling reporters, “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.” This sail-trimming, where a bold defense of freedom of worship was wanted, left it to the newly heroic Michael Bloomberg to instruct us, at his own Iftar dinner in New York, that the issue was “a test of our commitment to American values.””

  56. “In his speech Mr Obama reiterated a promise to start reducing the number of soldiers in Afghanistan by next July and to remove all American forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. But Americans now consider Mr Obama and his fellow Democrats marginally less reliable on the subject of Iraq than Republicans, according to Rasmussen Reports—a dramatic reversal from just a couple of years ago. Scott Rasmussen, the firm’s boss, cautions that this finding may simply reflect a broader swing towards the Republicans, rather than shifting views on Iraq itself. But that is scant consolation to Democratic candidates facing difficult races at the mid-term elections in November.”

  57. That is a pretty shocking poll result, given (a) Republicans started the war and (b) Obama has largely been following George W. Bush’s strategy and schedule for ending it.

  58. It isn’t surprising if people are opposing Obama out of general dissatisfaction with how things are going, rather than because of his specific policies.

  59. Chomsky: US won’t acknowledge Iraq war crimes
    By Saba Hamedy

    “The Battle of Fallujah shows “the incapacity of Americans to recognize U.S. crimes,” Noam Chomsky said Thursday.
    About 150 people listened to Chomsky, journalist Dahr Jamail and College of Arts and Sciences junior Ross Caputi speak about the importance of remembering Fallujah in order to raise money for the Justice for Fallujah Project.
    The project organized the “Emergency Fundraiser for Fallujah” at the Paulist Center on Park Street to help raise money to bring Dr. Muhammad Tareq Al-Darraji and Dr. Entesar Ariabi to Boston University in November. Singer and songwriter Simon Rios kicked off the event by performing original songs such as “The Bipartisan Hymn of the American Fascist” and “Struggle of Fallujah.”
    Following the musical performance, Caputi, veteran and co-founder of Justice for Fallujah, talked about his experiences in Iraq and the incidents that made him turn to promoting solidarity with the victims of what the panel said were war crimes in Fallujah.
    Caputi showed audience members photos he took with a disposable camera in Fallujah that depicted life in the war zone.
    “I remember feeling ridiculous and thinking the only real difference between me and them was they had every right in the world to be fighting against me where as I had no right to be fighting against them,” he said.
    Caputi said after he returned home, he wanted to forget everything.
    “I wanted to go home, work, drink beer and be the hometown hero I set out to be,” he said. “But it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. In the back of my mind I was always wondering what happened to the people who lived in Fallujah – where did they go how did they survive in the desert?”
    Last year, Caputi found in his research that the people in Fallujah were suffering from major health crises, “which coincidentally began after the assault in 2004,” he said.
    Infant mortality, birth defects and cancer rates, especially in young children, are extremely high, he said.
    The research shows the health problems in Fallujah are most likely a result of uranium-depleted weapons, Caputi said.
    Some experts said the genetic damage in Fallujah is worse than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombs, Caputi said.
    Jamail, author of “Beyond the Green Zone,” addressed the crowd via video conference call from Texas.
    “I think we need to remember Fallujah really is an example of the lengths the U.S. government was willing to go to pacify a population,” he said.
    Jamail, who spent over nine months reporting in Fallujah, said he is greatful for the project because it’s important for people to remember what happened in Fallujah six years ago.
    “Fallujah really stands out as a monument to brutality that the U.S. military used in Iraq, not just in Fallujah but other instances as well,” he said.
    Chomsky, world-renowned author and Massachusetts Institution of Technology professor emeritus, concluded the event by elaborating on the importance of people recognizing what happened in Fallujah.
    “If we can’t acknowledge the facts of what we’ve done, very recently for that matter, then the world is in real trouble,” he said.
    Chomsky also said this lack of remorse was reflected in the media, citing a front page New York Times photo from after the first Fallujah siege.
    The photo, he said, depicts marines attacking the Fallujah General Hospital.
    “. . .According to the liberal thinkers of The Times. . . it was legitimate to destroy a propaganda center that is reporting civilian casualties,” he said.
    Chomsky also talked about how Fallujah is similar to Vietnam and other incidents in history that show the “incapacity of Americans to recognize U.S. crimes or even know they have occurred.”
    “Fallujah is a partial illustration of this lack of remorse, but only partial,” he said. “It was accurately recorded but it was celebrated so it wasn’t a lack of remorse, it was celebration of ongoing war crimes.””

  60. Pingback: Obama and just war
  61. “But that thinking rests on the assumption that advocates of gay rights or immigration amnesties or healthy firemen will blame the Republicans (and the filibuster) for their misfortune. The problem is that increasing numbers of them blame Mr Reid and the Democrats instead. They, after all, had the votes before the death of Ted Kennedy to push all these measures through the Senate, but instead hummed and hawed until it was too late. Mr Reid cannot embarrass the Republicans by inducing them to filibuster a seemingly unobjectionable bill without reminding the left of how little the Democrats did with their filibuster-proof majority when they had it. And the more used Democratic activists feel, the less likely they are to rush to the polls to castigate the Republicans. In addition to the despondent liberals, Mr Reid’s tactic may end up a disappointment to its author.”

  62. “And yet Mr Obama’s programme of Muslim outreach is already faltering. The Pew Research Centre reported in June that the percentage of Muslims expressing confidence in him had declined in a year from 42% to 33% in Egypt and from 13% to 8% in Pakistan. The reason is not hard to fathom. Whatever expectations the Cairo speech aroused in the Muslim world have yet to be fulfilled. Like Americans waiting for economic recovery, Muslim countries have been waiting for Mr Obama to match his words with deeds, and have so far been disappointed.

    Under Mr Obama America no longer waterboards detainees, but that stopped on Mr Bush’s watch. Mr Obama promised to close Guantánamo, but so did Mr Bush—and it is still in operation. Mr Obama has withdrawn combat troops from Iraq, but sent more to Afghanistan and used drones to kill far more suspected terrorists in Pakistan. He said in Cairo that the plight of the Palestinians was intolerable, but the Palestinians are still stateless. To Muslim eyes, the formerly exotic Mr Obama has metamorphosed in office into just another American president, doing the things American presidents do to defend America’s interests. “

  63. “The friendly fire may bother him even more. “Democrats just congenitally tend to see the glass as half empty,” Obama said at a fund-raiser in Greenwich, Conn., last month. “If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particular derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And, gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace. I thought that was going to happen quicker.”

    Then again, it is Obama himself, and not just his supporters, who casts his presidency in grandiose terms. As he pleaded with Democrats for patience at another fund-raiser in Washington two weeks later: “It took time to free the slaves. It took time for women to get the vote. It took time for workers to get the right to organize.””

  64. The sourness toward Mr. Obama reminds me of the crankiness toward Al Gore in 2000. We in the news media were tough on Mr. Gore, magnifying his weaknesses, and that fed into a general disdain. So some liberals voted for Ralph Nader, and George W. Bush moved into the White House.

    Like others, I have my disappointments with Mr. Obama, including his tripling of forces in Afghanistan. Yet the central problem isn’t that Mr. Obama has been a weak communicator as president or squandered his political capital — although both are true — but that we’re mired in the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s.

    After all, Gallup polls still show Mr. Obama with public approval a hair ahead of Ronald Reagan’s at a similar point in his presidency (when America was also in recession). And maybe the best comparison is with President George H. W. Bush, a solid president and admirable man who had stratospheric approval ratings in 1991 at the end of the Persian Gulf war and then was fired by the public a year later when he sought re-election — because of a much milder recession than today’s.

  65. It’s not that I can’t understand voters’ frustration with, for example, the fact that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is still open. So Obama is an imperfect president—who wouldn’t be? During the almost two years he’s been in office, I (apparently alone among sentient voters) don’t think he’s made any major missteps: As far as I can tell, the economic stimulus package might not have been perfect, but it prevented something bad from being even worse. Health care reform will offer better coverage—or coverage, period—to millions of Americans, including children and those with pre-existing conditions. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is providing billions of dollars to improve education and infrastructure. And, hell, I have no idea what Obama could have done differently with the oil spill, with the possible exception of not succumbing to political pressure and so-called optics by making Sasha go swimming with him off the coast of Florida.

    So he hasn’t yet gotten Congress to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”—at least he’s explicitly assured us he wants to, and he recently indicated his view on gay marriage could “evolve.” And, yes, it did give me pause in December 2009 when he announced that he was sending more troops to Afghanistan, but here’s the thing: Although he was criticized for taking too long to decide on that plan, I was reassured by his aversion to acting hastily. In general, when I hear the criticisms of Obama—that he’s professorial or wonky or emotionally restrained, that he’s willing to listen to various points of view, that he likes arugula—I often think, wait, those are supposed to be insults?

    But, my fellow Americans, how quickly we forget! After an excruciating eight years of Bush, the thrill still hasn’t worn off for me of once again having an intellectually nimble president, not to mention one who doesn’t pride himself on going with his gut when it comes to foreign policy.

  66. IT TAKES an effort these days to recall the thrill that surged through the world when Barack Obama was elected America’s president. It was not only that he was the first black person to assume the globe’s greatest office. He seemed to be preternaturally thoughtful, dignified and decent; a man who could heal America’s wounds at home and restore its reputation abroad. Though too many were swept away in a collective longing to see hope triumph over experience, none of it seemed wholly unreasonable at the time. Yes, many thought, he can.

    Two years later, the magnitude of the let-down is palpable everywhere; and at home the president is caught in a vice. To many on the left, he is a cowardly compromiser, whose half-baked plans to get America back to work have done little to help those who voted for him, and whose health-care and financial reforms were gutted at the behest of special interests. To many on the right, he seems a doctrinaire spendthrift who has squandered trillions of dollars on wasteful bureaucracy, mortgaging the future while failing to grapple with the present. To centrists who backed him, including this newspaper, he has been a disappointment, his skills as a president falling far short of his genius as a campaigner.

    It looks as though an angry America is about to exact its revenge, giving Mr Obama’s Democrats a painful kicking in the mid-terms on November 2nd. The likeliest outcome is that the Republicans will take back the House of Representatives and make solid gains in the Senate, where, though falling short of majority control, they will effortlessly be able to block any bill they wish. But, in our view, the rage directed at Mr Obama is overdone.

    Consider the main reason why Americans are angry: the economy. The slow pace of job re-creation is primarily the result of consumers and companies trying to rebuild their finances. Balance-sheet recessions always take time to recover from. Mr Obama is guilty of promising that the pain would be over sooner than was ever likely. But he did not cause the bust, and he deserves more credit than he is getting for steering America clear of a much worse fate, especially considering the constraints of a political system designed to make big changes difficult. He was right to go for a big, bold and immediate stimulus plan. He has been right to resist, with minor exceptions, calls for a wave of protectionism. He is guilty of having no credible medium-term plan to reduce the deficit. But then nor do the Republicans; and it was they, after all, who oversaw the tax cuts, the entry into two wars and the financial collapse that are the source of most of America’s gigantic deficit.

  67. As to hubris, the Republican freshmen bound for Congress next January are in danger of reading into the election a message of their own creation. Many see the mid-terms as a popular rejection of the president’s “extreme” policies. This is doubtful. Voters were more likely registering a protest at the economy than repudiating an ideology. Besides, to the disgust of his own progressive base, Mr Obama enacted no extreme policies. Obamacare is a good deal less radical than the plan Richard Nixon proposed in 1974 or Bill Clinton 20 years later. In fact it closely resembles the bill the Republicans put up as an alternative to Mr Clinton’s, and its central idea—the individual mandate—was introduced in Massachusetts by none other than Mitt Romney, who hopes to become the Republicans’ presidential nominee in 2012.

    There are grounds for doubting whether any compromise is possible given the ever-widening ideological distance between the parties. Even before the mid-terms, pundits wondered whether Mr Obama had it in him to follow the example of Mr Clinton when he faced the same predicament after 1994. Many have concluded that he does not. Mr Clinton’s admirers recall how the former president’s political smarts enabled him to beguile and outwit Mr Gingrich by stealing the Republicans’ best ideas: a balanced budget, welfare reform, smaller government, deregulation. His detractors claim that only a lack of firm convictions made it possible for him to turn on a dime. Either way, it is agreed, Mr Obama lacks the suppleness for Clintonian triangulation (“a fancy word for betrayal”, as one Clinton aide put it).

    This conclusion is premature. Those who consider Mr Obama too high-minded to save himself cannot have been paying attention. Whether it was dropping the public option in Obamacare, kicking immigration reform into the long grass or going slow on gays in the military, Mr Obama has shown himself perfectly capable of bending with the wind: just ask those disgusted progressives. A better question is whether today’s Republicans have any ideas worth stealing. Of course, one good thing they say they believe in is reducing the deficit by reforming entitlements. As we report in this article, Mr Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission has now sketched out some of the painful choices that doing so would entail. Is it conceivable that in the delicate game of bluff and counter-bluff about to begin in Washington each side will at last goad the other into real movement on this? Here’s hoping.

  68. Pingback: Obama the schemer?
  69. Barack Obama – Either Doing His Best In One of The Most Difficult Times In American History, Or Hitler
    U.S. President

    December 17, 2010 | ISSUE 46•50

    Barack Obama, the first black president, proved to millions this year that he is either trying his best to lead the nation during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, or he is the modern-day incarnation of Adolph Hitler. One of the two.

    In 2010, Obama made a number of political compromises while still trying to pursue many of the reforms laid out during his 2008 campaign. Also, he was a totalitarian monster comparable to the perpetrator of one of the worst genocides in history. He is either a president who passed a comprehensive health care measure despite staunch opposition from powerful private interests, or a radical-Islamist sympathizer bent on systematically dismantling American democracy and eradicating all human liberty. He either lowered taxes for most Americans while failing to communicate that effectively, or he is pure evil. Whichever.

  70. GOP Asks “Does Obama Love Bo?”

    The GOP is contending Obama doesn’t actually love his Portuguese Water Dog, Bo. Their claims include:

    * Obama rarely calls Bo good boy or scratches his ears.
    * The president admitted he “doesn’t know” which day Bo gets his monthly heartworm preventative.
    * Obama has not clipped Bo’s nail’s once. The duty falls to others in White House staff.
    * Bo is often left to sleep in hallway while president receives his Daily Briefing.

  71. Lexington
    The courage factor
    Has Barack Obama ever been brave? Perhaps more pertinently, will he ever be?

    IT IS hard to see risk-free options for outside intervention in Libya. And as Colonel Muammar Qaddafi closes in on the pro-democracy rebels, Barack Obama, as is his wont, is erring on the side of caution; carefully considering, as he has for weeks, what, if anything, he ought to do. But this prompts a question about the president. Has he, at any point in his presidency so far, demonstrated real political courage? It is surprisingly hard, more than two years in, to think of an unambiguous example.

    True, he went to the wire on health reform, but by the time he got round to doing so it would have been even riskier for him to accept defeat than to press forward. He spent nearly $1 trillion on economic stimulus and bailed out the car companies. But although they were controversial he had plenty of support for both decisions, which makes them bold rather than truly brave. If political courage is taking a clear stand against the majority on some gut instinct or principle, it is much easier to list the cases where Mr Obama has chosen discretion over valour.

    He has left Guantánamo open, despite promising to close it. He reinforced the troops in Afghanistan, but set a date to start withdrawing, a careful bit of bet-hedging. He pushed for peace in Palestine, but retreated at the first whiff of domestic opposition. He created a bipartisan commission on the deficit, but then distanced himself from its recommendations. He said he would let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for the rich, but backed down after the mid-term elections. His support for gay rights has been a study in caution, like his position on gun control. He declined to criticise the treatment of Private Bradley Manning, the alleged WikiLeaks informant, whom the Marine Corps holds in solitary confinement and who has to stand naked outside his cell every morning. He fired an official who did speak out.

  72. Interest groups work especially well in systems like America’s where money needs to be raised and where party primaries matter. A Republican politician describes how the gun lobby works. If a Republican congressman signs up to the National Rifle Association’s agenda, he gets a little money and some organisational help from vocal supporters. If he does not, the NRA will put a lot of resources behind his opponent in the primary. Going with the NRA is thus a lot easier. Many Democrats would say exactly the same about the teachers’ unions and education reform. Opposing them is not worth the hassle.

    Olson’s theory also helps explain why broad-based lobbying by big business has given way to narrower special interests. Fifty years ago California was run by a business elite, keen to keep taxes down and infrastructure spending up but with a broad interest in the well-being of the state. Since then Californian businesspeople have discovered that targeted lobbying can do a lot for their specific business. That has made it harder to get commercial interests to support projects of general benefit such as transport in the Bay area. It has also brought about an increase in regulation as individual businesses have lobbied for rule changes that create barriers to entry for other firms.

  73. Cowardly, Stupid, and Tragically Wrong
    The Obama administration’s appalling decision to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a military trial.
    By Dahlia Lithwick

    Today, by ordering a military trial at Guantanamo for 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants, Attorney General Eric Holder finally put the Obama administration’s stamp on the proposition that some criminals are “too dangerous to have fair trials.”

    In reversing one of its last principled positions—that American courts are sufficiently nimble, fair, and transparent to try Mohammed and his confederates—the administration surrendered to the bullying, fear-mongering, and demagoguery of those seeking to create two separate kinds of American law. This isn’t just about the administration allowing itself to be bullied out of its commitment to the rule of law. It’s about the president and his Justice Department conceding that the system of justice in the United States will have multiple tiers—first-class law for some and junk law for others.

    Every argument advanced to scuttle the Manhattan trial for KSM was false or feeble: Open trials are too dangerous; major trials are too expensive; too many secrets will be spilled; public trials will radicalize the enemy; the public doesn’t want it.

  74. “We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.”

  75. These are hardly ideas to set the world on fire. And that may be a good thing: you do not want an American foreign policy that sets the world on fire. All the same, there are two jarring aspects to Mr Romney’s caution.

    The first is that however you tart it up, a message of broad continuity makes a nonsense of the Grand Old Party’s shrill disparagement of the incumbent president’s foreign policy. As the Republicans tell it, Mr Obama has spent his presidency projecting weakness, leading from behind, apologising for America, denying American exceptionalism and throwing Israel under a bus. Only Ron Paul, the candidate who wants to end America’s wars immediately and bring all the troops home, admits that Mr Obama has prosecuted the war on al-Qaeda at least as robustly as George Bush did, hitting people and places, such as Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, his Republican predecessor did not reach. That has not stopped Mr Romney from calling Mr Obama’s foreign policy “feckless” and accusing him of “an eloquently justified surrender of world leadership”.

  76. Students Lose Zeal for Aiding Obama Again

    LAS VEGAS — For much of the presidential election of 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign was Emma Guerrero’s life. She was one of a dozen volunteers who showed up at an Obama campaign office here every night, taking time from her studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to be part of what she still remembers as the most exciting period of her life.

    It was largely because of Ms. Guerrero — and hundreds of other college students like her across the country — that Mr. Obama assembled a formidable machine that helped him roll to victory in 2008, a triumph that included putting Nevada into the Democratic column for the first time in 12 years.

    “We did everything,” she said. “We went canvassing. Phone banking. Cleaning the offices. Taking out my bosses’ dry cleaning. Whatever they needed. It was such an amazing time because we all believed and wanted him to get elected.”

  77. Second, the past few months have confirmed even more strongly the near-irrelevance of the president. A Ronald Reagan or a Bill Clinton would have been much more effectively engaged in twisting arms and, where necessary, dispensing favours. Barack Obama remained damagingly aloof throughout the supercommittee’s fruitless deliberations. This should not have been surprising, given his lamentable failure a year ago to endorse the effective and brave conclusions of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission that he personally appointed. But it does not bode well for the future—assuming that he has one, and is not turfed out of office in a year’s time.

  78. The zero-sum president

    Jan 25th 2012, 9:31 by R.A. | LONDON

    STATE of the Union addresses tend to be long, winding affairs, filled with a grab bag of policy ideas that will altenatively appeal to and irk people across the political spectrum. Barack Obama’s latest address had plenty of sensible ideas in it: tax reform, including reductions in corporate rates; more spending and accountability on education and infrastructure investment; streamlining of the regulatory environment; and so on. He led off, however, with a call for a reshoring of manufacturing jobs seemingly calculated to cost him The Economist’s endorsement. Granted, annoying The Economist is, almost definitionally, good politics. For a president whose hallmark has been soaring orations promising hope, however, Mr Obama’s take on the global economy is strikingly bleak and depressing.

    The president was not so unreasonable as to suggest that the American economy could recapture all of its lost manufacturing jobs. Nor was he wrong to point out that countries like China have used direct subsidies, financial shenanigans and currency manipulation to give their exporters a leg up. Yet at no point did he attempt to justify the unstated assumption that what America ought really to do is develop an economy like China’s—a place, recall, scarcely one-sixth as rich as America, riddled with potentially debilitating economic imbalances, and governed by an unaccountable monopoly of a communist party. Perhaps more distressing, he implied in several places that the reason to become more like China was that only by doing so could America defeat China, and others, at economics.

  79. In 2008 Mr Obama promised audacity, hope and “change we can believe in”. His appeal sprang from who he was: a fresh young senator offering a new direction after the clapped-out administration of George Bush and a safer pair of hands than the 72-year-old John McCain. But incumbents cannot run on promise alone. This time he will be judged less on who he is and more on what he has done.

    Considering the circumstances, he has not done badly. He can justly claim to have prevented a great recession from turning into a great depression. He rescued Detroit’s carmakers and finished the job of stabilising the banks. Mr Romney says he made a bad situation worse, but if Mr Obama had not used billions of borrowed dollars to stimulate the sagging economy, even more Americans would be out of work today. By battering al-Qaeda and killing Osama bin Laden, he has disproved the notion that Democrats are soft on national security.

  80. “In response to the national kill list revealed by the New York Times a few weeks ago, an online “Do Not Kill” Registry has been launched where users can sign up to avoid being mistakenly added. From the Do Not Kill website: ‘Through an active collaboration between the Do not Kill Registry, the brave pilots and operators of the U.S. drone program, and the American public, we believe that we can find the political and moral solutions needed to both protect the security of the United States while also satisfying the concerns of the broader global community’. ”

  81. Barack Obama and the presidency
    W’s apprentice
    The president’s use of executive orders, many of them with praiseworthy aims, will end unhappily for his party

    Mr Obama has occasionally resorted to a tactic favoured by his predecessor, George W. Bush, that enraged the left and earned criticism from Mr Obama himself when he was running for president: the signing statement, a sort of declaration of principles issued when a president signs a bill into law. Although these have been around since the early 19th century, Mr Bush used them like a line-item veto, identifying portions of laws he did not intend to enforce. Mr Obama has done the same, albeit far less often, arguing that Congress has no right to tell him what to do with the prisoners America is holding at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, for instance.

    Mr Obama’s administration has also mimicked Mr Bush’s refusal to hand over documents to congressional investigators, on the grounds that the internal deliberations of the executive branch are privileged. It is thought to have drafted at least one secret Bush-like memo, awarding the president sweeping powers in the war on terror. Eric Holder, the attorney-general, has asserted that under certain circumstances the government, without any sort of judicial process, has the right to assassinate American citizens plotting attacks against their own country, even though Mr Obama as a candidate was unwilling to countenance detaining or wiretapping such people without a judge’s approval.

  82. Here’s Obama speaking in Cushing, Oklahoma, last year, in a speech that historians will quote many generations hence. It is to energy what Mitt Romney’s secretly taped talk about the 47 percent was to inequality. Except that Obama was out in public, boasting for all the world to hear:

    “Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth, and then some… In fact, the problem … is that we’re actually producing so much oil and gas …. that we don’t have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needs to go.”

    Actually, of course, “the problem” is that climate change is spiraling out of control.

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