Now, before I defend the premise of this post, I just want to make three points. First, President Obama deciding to seek Congressional authority for a strike against Syria is a good thing from a purely constitutional standpoint. The idea of going to the people’s representatives and asking for permission before embroiling our military in conflict is a positive development for our democracy. Second, I am not endorsing any strike against Syria, let alone one that doesn’t have Congressional authority. I remain skeptical about exactly what such a strike would accomplish, and I’m concerned about what it could give way to in an already tumultuous part of the world. Finally, in last night’s Presidential Address, he asked Congress to delay the Syria vote and give diplomacy a chance to work. So, technically, the Obama Administration, at the very least, agrees that it’s probably not a good idea to have them vote to authorize a strike right now (read: ever).
Having said that, I often look at these sorts of things through the prism of politics and let the more capable people analyze the merits of the policy itself. After listening to the President’s address last night and considering exactly how we got to this point, it’s my humble estimation that the Obama Administration made several missteps that forced them to be reactionary rather than in a position of leadership. I hate to borrow an oft-used, hollow term like “leading from behind,” but there’s a serious case to be made that such a term applies here. Let’s examine why.
This entire episode goes back to August 2012, and it involves an off-the-cuff remark made by President Obama regarding intelligence involving Syria and chemical weapons. I’d like to point out that it was August 2012, approximately 3 months before the U.S. presidential election. Now, the timing may be contextually relevant to Obama’s remarks, and then again it may not be. Just thought I’d point it out. So, anyway, there’s intelligence piling up that strongly points to President Bashir Assad preparing to use chemical weapons. While the U.S. was working the diplomatic channels to stop that from happening, President Obama publicly commented on the situation and, according to NYTimes sources, went much further than some of his advisers were expecting
Here’s what he said:
“We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Mr. Obama said in response to questions at an impromptu news conference at the White House. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.”
Not a lot a wiggle-room there, right? There’s a lot to be said about the err of those comments, but I want to get to the part where he involved Congress, so I’ll move on. President Obama opened his mouth and created policy that day. It’s both a gift and curse of being the President of the United States. Anything you say can have world-affecting consequences, and this is a prime example of that. Fast-forward to exactly a year later, August 2013, and it turns out that the “red line” Obama talked about has been crossed. The U.S. immediately expresses outrage and announces that they are looking seriously into the matter. As evidence proving the Syrian government’s complicity in the use of chemical weapons mounts, the U.S. begins to posture towards a military response. On a basic level, I understand the move. President Obama, at that point, was thinking about American credibility and the kind of nightmare scenarios that could play out should American resolve and the commitment to backing up words with action be doubted. I’d argue that such a line of thinking lacks the nuance necessary for handling a crisis of this complexity, but that’s something we can re-litigate at another time.
Once the president and his top officials like Secretaries John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, heads of the State Department and the Department of Defense, respectively, began making the case for a military response, President Obama should have simply ordered the targeted strikes. Again, I am not endorsing this as good policy, but the political consequences would have paled in comparison to the fallout we’re seeing now. At the very least, it would have alleviated the worries the Administration clearly had about jeopardizing American credibility around the world. Assuming the stated objective of the strikes (sending a message to Assad and others that chemical weapons are a no-no, and also weakening Assad’s ability to carry out future attacks) were met, that would also have been a positive outcome. At home, President Obama would have some serious explaining to do, particularly with the war-weary left and the libertarian right, but, what’s the old adage? Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
It’s the asking for permission – going to Congress for authorization – that has President Obama looking funny in the light, more so than even his original “red line” comment. It’s hurt him on a few different levels. First, it projected American weakness. Keep in mind that, a week or so prior, the British Prime Minister made the same decision. He, too, went to his parliament for approval of military action. You know what happened? He was soundly defeated. It was actually pretty embarrassing for him. His parliament neutered him for the world to see, and now people are writing articles like this questioning what role the U.K. will play on the world stage going forward. And not just as it relates to Syria, either. In general. It’s real out here.
I’m convinced that it was the U.K.’s exit from any potential military involvement that triggered Obama’s desire to back away from a military strike. He made the “red line” comment without really giving it much thought, then was put in a position where he had to project strength and protect American credibility, a task he would have reluctantly gone through with had NATO, the Arab League, Britain – hell someone besides France – backed him up. Once he realized the military support wasn’t there, he pivoted towards seeking Congressional authority under the guise of respecting democracy and the role Congress plays in it. Again, it’s an excellent byproduct of his retreat, but probably not the primary intended purpose. It was a desperate move by someone in an uncomfortable and weak position.
Secondly, going to Congress, at the very least, gives the appearance of dithering. How do you go from clear saber-rattling and making a strong case for a military strike to suddenly wanting to ask for permission? That was another projection of weakness, in my opinion. It demonstrated that events are dictating policy at the highest levels of the Administration, rather than President Obama and his advisers getting ahead of it all and shaping events with a sound and coherent strategy. And that does happen. Ari Melber said recently that “sometimes diplomacy is unscripted.” My issue is more so with the incoherence of it all, though. His speech last night was a perfect example. It was a good speech because it made a strong, substantive case for striking Syria. It was also a good speech because it made a strong, substantive case against striking Syria. In his defense, the tone of his speech was influenced by the two competing objectives that the president wants to bring together: Preserving American credibility and avoiding a military conflict.
Basically, he wants to find a way to get out of this situation without America looking like a punk.
The Russian-backed proposal that would demand Syria transfer ownership of their chemical weapons arsenal to the international community, thereby avoiding a military response altogether, is seriously a blessing. Russia’s main objective wasn’t to bail out the United States, but rather to protect their interests by minimizing a conflict that could have serious ramifications for them. It just worked out that way for the president. It gave President Obama a chance to kill two birds with one stone: avoid an embarrassing rejection by Congress and seek the diplomatic option he’s probably secretly wanted all along.
So what does this all say about President Obama? Although I do believe it revealed some serious weaknesses, I think it confirms something about him that one could find rather encouraging. President Obama’s default mode is to be deliberative, careful and calculated. He is also not a war-monger, at least not the kind that goes out looking for conflict. He made an off-the-cuff, not very well thought out comment, and what we’re seeing is a president trying to fix that in the cleanest way possible. Going to Congress was an exit strategy of sorts. And to his credit, it worked. I think he’s someone who prefers international cooperation and the complete exhaustion of all diplomatic options before using force, which to me is a great thing. Going forward, he just needs to stake out a policy position and pursue it with a lot more savvy and conviction than he did with Syria.
We’ll see how this all plays out.
Here is the list provided by the White House:
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
Welcome to 2013, folks! I hope everyone had a safe and joyous holiday season. Let’s do tomorrow better than we did yesterday!
Whether you heard the phrase only in passing, have been following the negotiations obsessively, or fall somewhere in between, I’m sure you’re pretty tired of the term “fiscal cliff.” Like many others, my guess is you couldn’t wait for the crisis to be over and for the media to shut the hell up about it, once and for all! Well, let me assure you that this awesome, suspense-filled, drama-fueled last minute deal that was finally passed by Congress on January 1st, 2013 will totally not accomplish that!
Yeah, that’s right. Congress loved the whole “fiscal cliff” episode so much that they’ve decided to repeat the whole thing in March. Dope, right? Many will read this and point out that all the bad stuff that was to have happened had a deal not been reached didn’t happen, thereby making the deal good and everything in the world hunky-dory. But is that really the case? Let’s take a gander.
Since this entire “fiscal cliff” ordeal is actually a problem Washington literally created out of thin air, which led to all this political theater and brinkmanship, it’s probably appropriate to address the politics side of the fiscal deal first before getting into the actual deal itself. This entire self-inflicted crisis, oddly enough, is borne out of another self-inflicted crisis! Back in 2011, Congress — specifically House Republicans — had an awful hard time authorizing the raising of the debt ceiling, a once-routine, bipartisan procedure that had now been turned into a tool used to hold the economy hostage for political gain. Raising the debt ceiling is how the government meets its financial obligations and agrees to pay already-incurred debt. More detailed explanation, here.
To resolve the matter, the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed. What that did was immediately raise the debt ceiling, reduce the deficit by about $1 trillion dollars over the next decade, and, most relevant to the crisis we’re dealing with today, establish a committee tasked with making further budget cut recommendations that satisfied a pre-determined benchmark for deficit reduction. If Congress failed to pass a bill with those recommendations by December 23, 2011, dramatic across-the-board cuts would immediately take effect beginning January 1, 2013, potentially crippling the fragile economy. Long story short, December 23rd, 2011 came and went, thereby giving birth to the artificial shot-clock!
If you want a simpler way to look at that, think about it this way: say you have a paper for class that’s due in a couple of months that you need to have done if you want to pass the course. Rather than simply doing the paper like the responsible student that you should be, you decide that you need additional motivation. To ensure that you finish the paper on time, you pledge to drive your car off a bridge if you miss the due date! That’ll motivate you! You trust yourself so little to do the responsible adult stuff that you concoct a doomsday scenario to move things along. The only problem, though, is that as the deadline approaches, it becomes breathtakingly clear that you were right to trust your doubting instincts. Despite the horrible fate that awaits you and your car, you are really struggling to complete the assignment and turn it in on time. Not because you are incapable of completing the assignment, or anything. You just like to procrastinate!
So now, after all the brinkmanship and dramatics, Congress finally reached a deal. There was a whole bunch of drama that preceded the agreement, including the Speaker of the House telling the Senate Majority leader to “go fuck himself,” but I’d be lying if I said I wanted to get into that. Both sides fought to get what they wanted, some were more rational than others, but ultimately a deal was agreed upon, so let’s see what that means for us all.
So about those taxes… they’re going up. I know. This was all supposed to be about preventing taxes from going up, yet they still do. Weird. Could have been a lot worse, though:
Those increases are relatively modest compared to what the fiscal cliff would have imposed, however.The last-minute ‘fiscal cliff’ deal to reverse Congress’ ruinous, self-inflicted package of federal tax increases and spending cuts will raise the average American household’s tax bill by $1,250 this year, or about $25 a week.
For most Americans, the biggest impact will come from the expiration of a two-year payroll tax “holiday” enacted two years ago to boost the economy. That tax break amounted to two percent of wages.
Bottom line: you’re going to have less money in your check now, though it could have been far worse. Payroll taxes are what will be going up, not income taxes (unless you’re an individual making $400,000 or a couple making $450,000). Capital gains tax (tax on investments) will also remain at the same levels for everyone but those in the aforementioned higher income bracket. To calculate exactly how much more you’ll be paying in payroll taxes, go here:
…And that’s pretty much all the deal accomplishes. I’m not kidding. There are some other things about deductions and the closing of
loopholes, and all that good stuff related to taxes (that you are free to delve if you wish), but the deal still failed to address 2 HUGE reasons the fiscal cliff came to be in the 1st place, hence the “and why it sucks” part of the post title. This deal, except for what it does with taxes, is nothing more than the proverbial kicking of the can down the road.
The 1st major thing it fails to address is the whole dramatic across-the-board spending cuts thingy (also known as “sequestration” if you’re nasty or “driving your car off the bridge” if you’re a college student writing a paper) that was supposed to go into effect in the absence of a deal that achieved the desired level of long-term deficit reduction. It’s still going to effect, only later! So two months from now, just when you’re getting used to life without the phrase “fiscal cliff,” rest assured that you will once again be hearing it ad nauseum. To be sure, what I’m saying is that two months from now we will be going through the same exact fiscal cliff crisis that we put ourselves through and averted. Except it wasn’t averted. Just delayed. Or something. I don’t know. And when we do revisit this clusterfuck in two months, it will all be doubly more complicated thanks to…….
The debt ceiling! Yes, the debt ceiling that brought about the entire fiscal cliff to begin with! Emerging from behind the curtain like a menacing heel running towards the ring, the debt ceiling is back to taunt the crowd, do a few nonathletic wrestling moves and hit our fearless yet weary heroes, “logic” and “common sense” in the back with a steel chair!
Congress. They know drama.
Full transcript here:
It looks like the bad guys won:
Embattled U.N. envoy Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments, she told NBC News on Thursday.
“If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.
“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country…Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.
This is pretty weak. Susan Rice is a person with an impressive record and a stellar reputation. Many believed that the top job at Foggy Bottom would be hers once Secretary Hillary Clinton left her post shortly before — or after — President Obama is sworn in for a 2nd term. And then Benghazi happened. The attack on a US consulate took place smack-dab in the middle of a presidential campaign, so naturally opponents of the president jumped all over the tragedy in an effort to score political points against him. Many on the right, with Senator John McCain leading the charge, decided that Susan Rice would be their target. Her crime? Accurately repeating talking points she received from the CIA on Libya:
WASHINGTON – CBS News has obtained the CIA talking points given to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Sept. 15 regarding the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, four days earlier. CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan says the talking points, which were also given to members of the House intelligence committee, make no reference to terrorism being a likely factor in the assault, which left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
She was relentlessly attacked for stating that the attacks began “spontaneously.” McCain even went as far as to question her intelligence, charging that “she’s not very bright.” Hmm. Let’s see what the CIA memo she was given said in, its entirety:
- The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
- This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.
- The investigation is on-going, and the US Government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of US citizens.
So apparently she isn’t very bright because she did precisely what she was asked by the White House to do, and competently.
From the start of this public crusade against Rice’s nomination, very little of it made sense. Again, questioning her competency made zero sense and struck me as disrespectful. A Rhodes Scholar who has absolutely excelled at basically everything she’s done? Unqualified? Shut the entire fuck up. Also, that’s pretty rich coming from the guy who tapped SARAH PALIN to be his running mate.
And, beyond that, wouldn’t the sensible person to attack over the Benghazi situation be, I don’t know, the sitting Secretary of State? Not someone being considered for the job months from now, the actual, still-on-the-job Secretary of State? For Sen. McCain and others to hone in on Rice — the U.S. envoy to the U.N., by the way — instead of Secretary Clinton proved to me that this wasn’t at all about getting to the bottom of anything. And the fact that McCain skipped hearings on the Benghazi attack to complain about not being given enough information about the Benghazi attack confirmed it. This was about an old scumbag senator, who is probably still salty about getting his ass kicked in 2008, trying to hurt President Obama while simultaneously raising his own profile and keeping his name relevant. It’s as transparent a political play as it is sleazy.
I was actually looking forward to President Obama nominating her and watching Republicans look petty and small during the confirmation process. I was very happy when he stood by her and defended her unequivocally in the face of the maligning attacks. It’s pretty regrettable that she withdrew her name, but it’s yet further evidence of her character and the type of public servant she is. Those on the right that viciously maligned her should be absolutely ashamed of themselves, and it’s my hope that the media show this for what it is: a political hit job.
Since getting their derrieres handed to them this past election, the Republican Party has been busy trying to figure out exactly what happened. It’s the painful but natural process all losers must go through in order to prevent a loss that bad from happening again. While many in the party have acknowledged that the problem lies with the GOP itself, not all are on the same page. Yesterday, PPP released a poll that offered up an interesting theory for why they lost so badly. Brace yourselves:
49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. We found that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn’t exist anymore.
More Republican Alternate Universe for you. 49% (!) of GOP voters think a group that has been extinct since 2010 stole the election.
Stupidity should hurt.
Acclaimed author, Berkeley professor, and Clinton-era Secretary of Labor Robert Reich lays out the what, why and how of the Fiscal “Cliff”, the showdown in Congress that Republicans created to demand painful cuts in vital domestic programs in exchange for raising taxes on the top 2%. Learn the facts, and the best way out of this forced showdown.