U.S. government & governance 2013-2014

Written by  //  December 18, 2014  //  Government & Governance, U.S.  //  No comments

See also U.S. Government Shutdown 2013

Here’s All You Need To Know About The State Of The Union Address
(AP) — Some questions and answers about the State of the Union.
Questions and Answers From Obama’s SOTUWilliam Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution
At the end of the day, the question is whether President Obama’s agenda responds adequately to his own diagnosis of the problem. If we are in the grip of decades-old shifts toward globalization and the substitution of technology for labor, as he insists, it is not clear that all his proposals taken together would do much to change the basic equation for working families. The president is betting that a steady-as-you-go strategy with modest incremental adjustments will be enough to restore rising wages and opportunity for all. In the judgment of the American people, the results of this strategy so far have been far from adequate. If the rest of the world cooperates, the next few years may be better. If not, the calls for more far-reaching changes will intensify.
5 takeaways from President Obama’s State of the Union address
(WaPost) * Congress is so last year. As expected, President Obama made clear — both in terms of the policy proposals he outlined and the rhetoric he used to do it — that his focus for the next year would be on what he could do without Congress

Simon Baptist: A family affair
It is becoming harder and harder to make a name in US politics without a personal fortune and family connections.
(The Economist) Jeb Bush, son of George H. W. and brother of George W., announced on Tuesday that he was “actively exploring” the possibility of a presidential run in 2016. To many moderate Republicans, Mr Bush would be a smart choice: he has clout as a former governor of Florida, fantastic name recognition and a sufficiently centrist stance to steal votes from disaffected Democrats. Should Mr Bush eventually win the Republican nomination, his most likely opponent remains Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill and a former secretary of state.
The prospect of another Clinton vs Bush race brings back echoes of 1994, when Bill comfortably defeated H. W.’s bid for a second term. It also suggests that the US is in the grip of the sort of dynastic politics more readily associated with South and East Asia. Other potential presidential candidates include Andrew Cuomo (the son of a governor of New York) and Rand Paul (whose father was a congressman). This is discouraging for the land of opportunity, but reflects an ongoing trend. The median net wealth of US legislators passed the US$1m-mark in 2012.
Republicans livid over Cuba talks, call it appeasement They would, wouldn’t they?
(Politico) Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a likely 2016 presidential contender, was perhaps the most ardent voice to denounce the administration, and one of several Florida Republicans to do so. He and others in the GOP promised to try to derail the White House’s efforts, even as at least one Republican-leaning group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the news of improved ties with Cuba.
12 December
(NYT) First Draft on Politics: Spending Bill Passes as Party Alliances Crack
The near-death experience of a bipartisan, government-wide funding bill on Thursday highlighted a fundamental problem with Congress at the moment: the lost art of compromise.
As veteran lawmakers and congressional aides watched the struggles of a measure that was backed by the majority leadership of both the House and the Senate as well as the White House, they acknowledged that the deep partisanship and procedural disorder of recent years have taken a significant toll on the ability of the House and the Senate to get things done.
“You have a real breakdown in the institution, and this is the result of that breakdown,” said Representative Doc Hastings, the retiring Washington Republican. He presided over much of the House session as the funding measure came under attack from two directions just hours before the government was to run out of money. It finally passed on a vote of 219 to 206 just before 10 p.m.
21 November
Obama’s Immigration Plan Is Both Good Policy and Remarkably Shrewd Politics
“The whole thing is politically pretty brilliant. It unifies Democrats; wrecks the Republican agenda in Congress; cements the loyalty of Hispanics; and presents the American public with a year of Republican candidates spitting xenophobic fury during primary season. If you’re President Obama, what’s not to like?”
(Mother Jones) The downside, after all, is minimal: the public says it’s mildly unhappy with Obama using an executive order to change immigration rules. But that’s a nothingburger. Outside of the Fox News set that’s already convinced Obama is a tyrant bent on shredding the Constitution, this simply isn’t something that resonates very strongly or for very long. It will be forgotten in a few weeks.
The upside, conversely, is potentially huge. Obama has, indeed, waved a red flag in front of congressional tea partiers, turning them into frothing lunatics who want to shut down the government and maybe even impeach him. This has already turned into a huge headache for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who really don’t want this to be the public face of the party. In addition, it’s quite possibly wrecked the Republican agenda for the next year, which is obviously just fine with Obama. And it’s likely to turn next year’s primary season into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all that does permanent damage to the GOP brand.
(Reuters) Obama seeks support for immigration plan, blasts Boehner
17 November
Impeachable? Here Are 18 Immigration Executive Orders Issued by Recent Republican Presidents
Presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush all altered immigration law by executive action, yet none were impeached
10 July
How Obama has used executive powers compared to his predecessors
Is President Obama abusing his executive powers? His opponents are having fun by constantly reinforcing the notion that he’s out of control – and obviously, needs to be sued/impeached. But as we’ve explained on The Fix before, the number of executive orders signed by Obama isn’t huge. In fact out of the last 10 presidents, he’s signed the least amount of executive orders on average per year. … how far-reaching these orders are is subjective and many of Obama’s opponents would argue that combined with his efforts so far, his latest actions on gun control and immigration will go far beyond what his predecessors have done. But he’s certainly not alone among presidents who have used executive powers to get big things done.
John Boehner Says He Disagrees With Calls To Impeach Obama
(HuffPost) Boehner is currently pursuing a lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive actions to sidestep Congress. He is expected to bring legislation to the floor later this month that would authorize the House General Counsel to sue the Obama administration and “compel” the president to enforce existing law. The speaker has said the potential legal action is not about impeachment, despite speculation that it may be a prelude to impeachment proceedings in the House.
Frustrated by a gridlocked Congress, Obama declared 2014 a “year of action” and has issued executive orders on immigration, the federal minimum wage and federal pay discrimination. He is also planning to use his executive authority to take action to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and implement workplace protections for the LGBT community. Obama’s defenders have pointed out that the president has pursued relatively few executive orders compared to his predecessors.
11 March
David Brooks: The Leaderless Doctrine
We live in a country in which many people act as if history is leaderless. Events emerge spontaneously from the ground up. Such a society is very hard to lead and summon. It can be governed only by someone who arouses intense moral loyalty, and even that may be fleeting.
29 January
Obama warns divided Congress that he will act alone
(Reuters) – President Barack Obama vowed on Tuesday to bypass a divided Congress and take action on his own to bolster America’s middle class in a State of the Union address that he used to try to breathe new life into his second term after a troubled year.
Standing in the House of Representatives chamber before lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and VIP guests, Obama declared his independence from Congress by unveiling a series of executive orders and decisions – moves likely to inflame already tense relations between the Democratic president and Republicans.
While his rhetoric was high flying, Obama’s actions were relatively modest, collectively amounting to an outpouring of frustration at the pace of legislative action with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and able to slow the president’s agenda.
Retired Army General To Tea Party Group: I Would Lead A Coup Against The U.S. Government Vallely suggested that a new George Washington be discovered amid the ranks of retired military personnel to take a stand against the “tyranny of a corrupt government.” Only they, in Vallely’s view, have the right education, background, and experience to combat current politicians who only have “legislation experience, not leadership experience.” [Isn’t this sedition? No doubt he will invoke his Constitutional right to freedom of speech]
7 January
Obama Hopes For One Last Shot At Immigration Reform In 2014
(AP) — His agenda tattered by last year’s confrontations and missteps, President Barack Obama begins 2014 clinging to the hope of winning a lasting legislative achievement: an overhaul of immigration laws.
It will require a deft and careful use of his powers, combining a public campaign in the face of protests over his administration’s record number of deportations with quiet, behind-the-scenes outreach to Congress, something seen by lawmakers and immigration advocates as a major White House weakness.
In recent weeks, both Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have sent signals that raised expectations among overhaul supporters that 2014 could still yield the first comprehensive change in immigration laws in nearly three decades. If successful, it would fulfill an Obama promise many Latinos say is overdue.
5 January
Koch-backed political coalition, designed to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012

(WaPost) The resources and the breadth of the organization make it singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups aimed at stopping what its financiers view as government overreach. Members of the coalition target different constituencies but together have mounted attacks on the new health-care law, federal spending and environmental regulations.
Key players in the Koch-backed network have already begun engaging in the 2014 midterm elections, hiring new staff members to expand operations and strafing House and Senate Democrats with hard-hitting ads over their support for the Affordable Care Act. See accompanying graphic

2013

George Friedman: The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power
Editor’s Note: The following Geopolitical Weekly originally ran in January 2013.
(Stratfor) The threat to the United States is the persistent decline in the middle class’ standard of living, a problem that is reshaping the social order that has been in place since World War II and that, if it continues, poses a threat to American power.
The Long-Term Threat
The greatest danger is one that will not be faced for decades but that is lurking out there. The United States was built on the assumption that a rising tide lifts all ships. That has not been the case for the past generation, and there is no indication that this socio-economic reality will change any time soon. That means that a core assumption is at risk. The problem is that social stability has been built around this assumption — not on the assumption that everyone is owed a living, but the assumption that on the whole, all benefit from growing productivity and efficiency.
If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has accumulated. Other superpowers such as Britain or Rome did not have the idea of a perpetually improving condition of the middle class as a core value. The United States does. If it loses that, it loses one of the pillars of its geopolitical power.
It is unclear how the private sector can deal with the problem of pressure on the middle class. Government programs frequently fail to fulfill even minimal intentions while squandering scarce resources. The United States has been a fortunate country, with solutions frequently emerging in unexpected ways.
It would seem to me that unless the United States gets lucky again, its global dominance is in jeopardy. Considering its history, the United States can expect to get lucky again, but it usually gets lucky when it is frightened. And at this point it isn’t frightened but angry, believing that if only its own solutions were employed, this problem and all others would go away. I am arguing that the conventional solutions offered by all sides do not yet grasp the magnitude of the problem — that the foundation of American society is at risk — and therefore all sides are content to repeat what has been said before.
People who are smarter and luckier than I am will have to craft the solution. I am simply pointing out the potential consequences of the problem and the inadequacy of all the ideas I have seen so far   Read more: The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power | Stratfor 31 December 2013

13 December
Shields and Gerson discuss the budget breakthrough, Boehner’s backlash
(PBS Newshour) Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s top political news, including whether the budget deal making its way through Congress could lead to more compromise, Speaker John Boehner’s shot at the tea party and the president’s sinking approval ratings.
Analysis: Despite budget deal, atmosphere at U.S. Capitol remains toxic
(Reuters) – Anyone expecting a new era of good feeling to break out on Capitol Hill in the wake of this week’s bipartisan budget deal should probably forget about it.
That was the clear message from most lawmakers interviewed on Friday as well as from close observers of Congress, after the deal passed through the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday on its way to the Senate.
The budget bill, negotiated by Republican Representative Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray, is vague and non-specific, avoiding tough, divisive issues. But Congress’ agenda for the next year is full of specifics, including raising the debt ceiling, funding individual government programs, immigration reform and passing a farm bil
12 December
Republicans and Tea Party Activists in ‘Full Scale Civil War’
(ABC) Years of growing friction between the Republican Party leaders and its Tea Party faction has erupted into what one conservative said today was “full-scale civil war.”
House Speaker John Boehner, whose strategies have been repeatedly thwarted by Tea Party revolts in recent years, was blunt today when asked whether he thought the ultra-conservatives should get in line.
“Well, frankly, I think they’re misleading their followers,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters today. “I think they’re pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be.”
“And frankly, I just think that they’ve lost all credibility,” Boehner said.
Boehner’s frustration is perhaps matched by the fury among tea party conservatives who believe they have been betrayed by conservative leaders in Washington.
9 December
Our Broken Constitution
Everyone agrees that government isn’t working. Are the founders to blame?

by Jeffrey Toobin
(The New Yorker) It’s often noted that the United States is governed by the world’s oldest written constitution that is still in use. This is usually stated as praise, though most other products of the eighteenth century, like horse-borne travel and leech-based medical treatment, have been replaced by improved models. (Thomas Jefferson believed that any constitution should expire after nineteen years: “If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.”) . . Complete article available only to subscribers
21 November
Democrats Rein In Senate Filibusters
In Contentious Move, Bar Now Set at 51 Votes, Down From 60, to Advance President’s Nominees
(WSJ) A bitterly divided Senate voted Thursday to eliminate filibusters for most presidential nominees, a momentous and politically risky step that limits the ability of Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s choices for executive-branch and most judicial posts.
The change gives Mr. Obama more flexibility to shape the federal judiciary and to staff his administration for the remaining years of his presidency. But it could hand more power to Republicans if the GOP should win the White House and control of the Senate.
The immediate impact is to clear the way for the Senate to approve stalled Obama nominations, including three for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit—an influential court that handled legal challenges to Obama priorities, such as the Dodd-Frank financial-services law, and which likely would consider impending greenhouse-gas rules.

THE GHOST OF THE WEST, UNDER GLOBALISATION
By Roberto Savio
(Other News) Much has been written about U.S. brinkmanship with default, but the clear lesson that can be drawn from this unprecedented situation is that a lunatic fringe can block democracy. …
That American dream is gone, and the U.S. political fabric is in tatters. At every election, the number of white voters declines by 2%, making it probable that the President will be a Democrat and the Congress Republican, because of the district electoral system. The Founding Fathers of the United States established a system of balances among between the legislative, executive and judiciary arms of the state, but they could not foresee the birth of the Tea Party movement and Congress losing its function as an efficient balance to the executive. And they could not foresee that the judiciary (the Supreme Court) would become deeply politicised and give way to uncontrolled funding from corporations and billionaires, fundamentally altering democracy. (October 2013)

21 October
The Tea Party, Not Democrats or Republicans, Is the Problem
It’s de rigueur to decry ‘partisanship’ as Washington’s ‘real problem.’ Let’s get real—the most destructive force in American politics today is the Tea Party, says Jon Favreau.
(The Daily Beast) In Official Washington, decrying “partisanship” as the “real problem” is the prerequisite for being taken seriously as a smart, unbiased political commentator. But from where we stand right now, partisanship is not the problem. Democrats are not the problem. Republicans are not the problem. The relationship between President Obama and John Boehner is not the problem.
The Tea Party is the problem.
The Tea Party is the most destructive force in American politics today. Over the last few weeks, it has demonstrated again that its intent is not to shake up the establishment but to burn down the village. As a Democrat, I disagree with its policy positions, but its policy positions alone are not what make the Tea Party so dangerous. What makes the Tea Party dangerous is its members’ willful disregard for the most basic tenets of American democracy. They do not believe in the legitimacy of our president. They do not believe in the legitimacy of decisions handed down by our Supreme Court. Unlike President Obama, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, or a host of other Democratic and Republican lawmakers who grasp the basic reality of politics, they have never, not once shown a willingness to compromise on anything. Merely uttering the word is enough to draw a primary challenge.
20 October
Post-shutdown America is on the verge of outright civil conflict
(Globe & Mail op-ed) Investors, central bankers, governments and ordinary people around the world are relieved that the United States avoided default on its debt at the eleventh hour and ended its partial government shutdown. Everyone knows, however, that this is a very temporary solution and that the potential exists for another dramatic test of wills between Republicans in the House of Representatives and the White House early in 2014.

Robert Reich: What to Expect During the Cease-Fire

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming budget negotiations, it seems doubtful House Republicans will try to prevent the debt ceiling from being raised next February. Saner heads in the GOP will be able to point to the debacle Tea Partiers created this time around – the public’s anger, directed mostly at Republicans; upset among business leaders and Wall Street executives, who bankroll much of the GOP; and the sharply negative reaction of stock and bond markets, where the American middle class parks whatever savings it has.
The saner Republicans will also be able to point out that President Obama means it when he says he won’t ever negotiate over the debt ceiling. The fact that he negotiated over it in 2011 is now irrelevant.
On the other hand, there’s a significant chance of another government shutdown in January. By then we’ll be well into the gravitational pull of the 2014 midterm elections. Every House member is up for reelection – mostly from safe (often gerrymandered) districts in which their major competitors are likely to be primary opponents from the Tea Party right. (17 October)

Senator Rand Paul: We should read the Bill before we pass ithard to disagree with him. (29 June 2012)

One thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there is even one second left before you have to do what you’re supposed to do, they will use that last second. – President Obama

Fareed Zakaria: Can America Be Fixed? The New Crisis of Democracy
(Foreign Affairs January/February) As the United States continues its slow but steady recovery from the depths of the financial crisis, nobody actually wants a massive austerity package to shock the economy back into recession, and so the odds have always been high that the game of budgetary chicken will stop short of disaster. Looming past the cliff, however, is a deep chasm that poses a much greater challenge — the retooling of the country’s economy, society, and government necessary for the United States to perform effectively in the twenty-first century. The focus in Washington now is on taxing and cutting; it should be on reforming and investing. The United States needs serious change in its fiscal, entitlement, infrastructure, immigration, and education policies, among others. And yet a polarized and often paralyzed Washington has pushed dealing with these problems off into the future, which will only make them more difficult and expensive to solve.
Republicans Accuse Obama of Using Position as President to Lead Country
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Responding to reports that President Obama is considering signing as many as nineteen executive orders on gun control, Republicans in Congress unleashed a blistering attack on him today, accusing Mr. Obama of “cynically and systematically using his position as President to lead the country.”
Spearheading the offensive was Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who charged the President with the “wanton exploitation of powers that are legally granted to him under the U.S. Constitution.”
Calling him the “Law Professor-in-Chief,” Rep. Stockman accused Mr. Obama of “manipulating a little-known section of the Constitution,” Article II, which outlines the power of the President.

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Shields and Gerson discuss the budget breakthrough, Boehner’s backlash
(PBS Newshour) Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s top political news, including whether the budget deal making its way through Congress could lead to more compromise, Speaker John Boehner’s shot at the tea party and the president’s sinking approval ratings.
17 October
U.S. budget negotiators pledge to bridge vast gulf
(Reuters) – Hours after Congress voted to avert a disastrous U.S. debt default and reopen government agencies, budget negotiators kicked off a new round of talks on Thursday, pledging to bridge the vast gulf between Republican and Democratic fiscal priorities.
Meeting for breakfast, Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Patty Murray, said they would explore every avenue to reach a longer-term deal to reduce deficits and replace automatic “sequester” spending cuts.
12 August
Robert Reich: Why the Anger?
Why is the nation more bitterly divided today than it’s been in 80 years? Why is there more anger, vituperation, and political polarization now than even during Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s, the tempestuous struggle for civil rights in the 1960s, the divisive Vietnam war, or the Watergate scandal?
I think the deeper explanation for what has happened has economic roots. From the end of World War II through the late 1970s, the economy doubled in size — as did almost everyone’s income. Almost all Americans grew together. In fact, those in the bottom fifth of the income ladder saw their incomes more than double. Americans experienced upward mobility on a grand scale.
Yet for the last three and a half decades, the middle class has been losing ground. The median wage of male workers is now lower than it was in 1980, adjusted for inflation.
13 July
In Labor Board Filibuster Fight, Republicans Kindly Offer To Take Over Agency
As Capitol Hill has grown more partisan in recent years, it’s become more difficult for presidents from both parties to make clean appointments to the labor board. According to the NLRB’s own record of board members, presidents have increasingly relied on recess appointments simply to keep the board operating and issuing decisions. It’s now been a full decade since the board had five clean appointments serving.
During the Obama presidency, Republicans have gone to great lengths to render the board impotent. In addition to stonewalling nominations, they’ve introduced legislation to defund the board and have held numerous hearings to blast decisions and rules issued by its Democratic majority.11 July
Edward Snowden and the disaster of privatization
(Reuters Debate) Snowden’s leaks exposed a widespread lack of oversight of the contractors working at every level of our government; outsourcing can be nearly as damaging at the state and local levels as it is for federal contracts. The same lack of transparency, accountability and oversight threatening our national security threatens public services provided each day across the country. Cash-strapped mayors and governors are handing over control of critical public services and assets to for-profit corporations and Wall Street investment banks that promise to handle them better, faster and cheaper. Too often, such deals entirely undermine transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition — the very underpinnings of democracy.
6 July
Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay: Surveillance, Secrecy and Control in the Age of Big Brother
President Barack Obama has begun his second term with a series of scandals. Just a few months after his re-election, instances of abuse of power began to surface at a fast pace. The most serious scandal is the revelation that the U.S. government is involved in warrantless surveillance, keeping track of telephone calls and Internet emails of Americans, including those of journalists and reporters.
This revelation, in addition to the fact that the Obama administration has had the IRS targeting conservative groups—a throw-back to the Nixon administration targeting the income tax returns of Nixon’s “enemies”—is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizure, and of the First Amendment that prohibits the making of any law … infringing on the freedom of the press.
27 June
Immigration reform bill 2013: Senate passes legislation 68-32
(Politico) The Senate on Thursday passed the most monumental overhaul of U.S. immigration laws in a generation, which would clear the way for millions of undocumented residents to have a chance at citizenship, attract workers from all over the world and devote unprecedented resources for security along the U.S.-Mexico border. … Fourteen Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with all Democrats in favor. Thursday’s vote now puts the onus of immigration reform on the Republican-led House, where leaders have been resistant to the Senate legislation.
House GOP’s immigration playbook
(Politico) Leadership needs to find out where people stand on four main areas: the future flow of immigrants into the U.S., a possible pathway to citizenship, government benefits and border security. Could they tie these items together in one bill? It’s possible, but there are political upsides to putting them on the floor separately: One reason would be to jam Democrats who vote against them. Putting the bills together would allow members to say they supported a package with items they both liked and disliked. It’s possible that the House takes up the Senate bill in committee and strips it down to the studs and rewrites it.
A lot of this will be decided in a somewhat stealthy manner.
Ann Coulter Says Chris Christie Is Dead To Her For Jeff Chiesa’s Immigration Vote
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter is going after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) after Christie’s appointee to the U.S. Senate voted for the immigration bill. Can’t imagine that Governor Christie is quaking in his (rather large) boots. When will this tiresome woman go away?
16 June
Fmr. CIA Director: Intel Community will be ‘less effective’ in order to be Transparent
A Meet the Press panel of experts discusses how the intelligence community infrastructure prompts whistleblowers to leak information. (video)
12 June
Thomas L. Friedman: Blowing a Whistle
(NYT) I’m glad I live in a country with people who are vigilant in defending civil liberties. But as I listen to the debate about the disclosure of two government programs designed to track suspected phone and e-mail contacts of terrorists, I do wonder if some of those who unequivocally defend this disclosure are behaving as if 9/11 never happened — that the only thing we have to fear is government intrusion in our lives, not the intrusion of those who gather in secret cells in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot how to topple our tallest buildings or bring down U.S. airliners with bombs planted inside underwear, tennis shoes or computer printers.
World from Berlin: Prism Spying ‘Attacks Basic Civil Rights’
(Spiegel) The world has been scandalized to learn about Prism, the broad data surveillance program used by the US at home and abroad. German commentators say that both Berlin and Brussels must defend Europe from this invasion of privacy.
Revelations about a far-reaching intelligence program in the United States leaked last week aren’t just causing problems for President Barack Obama at home. While American citizens are left wondering whether their privacy has been violated by the Internet and phone surveillance, officials abroad are expressing serious concerns too.
Moore’s Law, J. Edgar Hoover and the real roots of the NSA surveillance scandal
(WaPost) The lines are already being drawn over whether to view Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, as a hero who blew the whistle on a dangerous government intrusion into privacy or a villain who criminally endangered our national security. But the debate over government surveillance should start with a different name: Gordon E. Moore.
10 June
Investigators looking into how Snowden gained access at NSA
(WaPost) Counterintelligence investigators are scrutinizing how a 29-year-old contractor who said he leaked top-secret National Security Agency documents was able to gain access to what should be highly compartmentalized information, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.
Edward J. Snowden worked as a systems administrator at an NSA Threat Operations Center in Hawaii, one of several such facilities that are tasked with detecting threats to government computer systems. He has previously worked for the CIA, U.S. officials said. … Officials questioned some of Snowden’s assertions in his interview with the Guardian, saying that several of his claims seemed exaggerated. … “When he said he had access to every CIA station around the world, he’s lying,” said a former senior agency official, who added that information is so closely compartmented that only a handful of top-ranking executives at the agency could access it.
9 June
Dr. Charles Cogan: Original Sin and the American Constitution
What the original Constitution did was to implicitly recognize slavery and to put down in black and white for history what was part of the genesis of the American republic. In addition, it negated the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” And last but not least, it gave the impression that a black man was worth three-fifths of a white man. [emphasis added] (Indians were not part of the counting and were not taxed).
Part of the reasoning behind this unfortunate “three-fifths” formula was that it was a sweetener for the southern states to enter the Union. By thus swelling the numbers in counting their representatives, the South was able to establish a political ascendancy that lasted until the Civil War. (9 June 2013)
NSA Verizon Phone RecordsIf the NSA Trusted Edward Snowden With Our Data, Why Should We Trust the NSA?
(Slate) Edward Snowden sounds like a thoughtful, patriotic young man, and I’m sure glad he blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance programs. But the more I learned about him this afternoon, the angrier I became. Wait, him? The NSA trusted its most sensitive documents to this guy? And now, after it has just proven itself so inept at handling its own information, the agency still wants us to believe that it can securely hold on to all of our data? Oy vey!
According to the Guardian, Snowden is a 29-year-old high school dropout who trained for the Army Special Forces before an injury forced him to leave the military. His IT credentials are apparently limited to a few “computer” classes he took at a community college in order to get his high school equivalency degree—courses that he did not complete. His first job at the NSA was as a security guard. Then, amazingly, he moved up the ranks of the United States’ national security infrastructure: The CIA gave him a job in IT security. He was given diplomatic cover in Geneva. He was hired by Booz Allen Hamilton, the government contractor, which paid him $200,000 a year to work on the NSA’s computer systems.
Let’s note what Snowden is not: He isn’t a seasoned FBI or CIA investigator. He isn’t a State Department analyst. He’s not an attorney with a specialty in national security or privacy law.
Instead, he’s the IT guy, and not a very accomplished, experienced one at that.
6 June
NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily
Exclusive: Top secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over all call data shows scale of domestic surveillance under Obama
(The Guardian) The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
4 June
Chris Christie: Special Election To Be Held In October For Frank Lautenberg’s Seat
(AP via HuffPost)Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced months ago that he intended to run for the seat in 2014.
Republicans Are Furious at Chris Christie, Yet Again
(The Atlantic) Holding a special election for Senate in October 2013 helps Christie’s reelection chances, but could also aid Democrats in holding the seat.
3 June
Innocent Until Proved Dead — George Monbiot addresses the troubling issues of extrajudicial execution of suspects by US authorities raised by the death of Ibragim Todashev while being ‘interviewed’ by the FBI at his home.
31 May
Luigi Zingales: We, the Corporations?
(Project Syndicate) Whether you like the political consequences of the Citizens United decision or not, it has its own logic. And that logic applies outside of the United States as well, and can lead to similar consequences everywhere: an enormous increase in the largest corporations’ political power. Will parliamentarians become mere spokesmen of corporate interests? Is there any mechanism within the US Constitution, or other constitutions, to prevent this?
A logical implication of the view that corporations are “people” is that shareholders should learn about the political spending carried out by the companies in which they invest. Disclosure may help democratize political donations, preventing them from having an undue influence in elections. If I appoint an agent to manage my money, shouldn’t I want to know how much he spends on political donations in my (alleged) interest? And wouldn’t it be preposterous for any rule or regulation to prevent me from finding out? …
The current political game in the US is one in which both Republicans and Democrats compete for corporate money, which they then deploy in expensive campaigns to preserve or increase their power.
The winners are not the Republicans or the Democrats, or even the companies that fund them. The winner is a corrupt form of capitalism that is undermining the US economy, making it less productive and undermining people’s sense of fairness.
29 May
Michele Bachmann Retiring From Congress In 2014
Bachmann has served in the House since 2007, and is the first Republican woman to represent the state of Minnesota in Congress. She sits on both the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Financial Services, and is the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus.
28 May
PolitiFact Rates Higher Percentage Of Republican Claims As False, Study Finds
Since January, PolitiFact has rated 52 percent of Republicans’ statements as mostly or entirely false, compared to just 24 percent of Democrats’ statements, the study found. In the first three weeks of May, amid controversies over the attacks in Benghazi, Libya and investigations at the Internal Revenue Service and the Department Of Justice, 60 percent of Republicans’ statements were rated as false, compared to 29 percent of those made by Democrats.
9 May
10 Things You Need To Know About Right Puppet Masters, The Koch Brothers
If you don’t really know who the Koch brothers are it’s understandable. They go to a great deal of trouble to stay behind the scenes. But since the election of Barack Obama, their names and faces have had a lot more public scrutiny. The Kochs have their oily fingers in just about every corner of the U.S. economy and politics.
17 April
Why Newtown Wasn’t Enough

Gun control advocates won’t win until senators fear them as much as they fear the NRA.
(Slate) In the final days before gun control legislation collapsed in the Senate, supporters of the effort were making a grim argument: It’s going to happen again. There’s going to be another Newtown shooting and those who blocked the bill will face an even greater public outcry. On a call arranged by the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday, pollster Geoff Garin offered a corollary to this point. “If Republicans are betting that people don’t care, they’re betting that we have a placid situation in perpetuity and that sadly is not the case.”
Newtown was not enough. On Wednesday, Democrats could not round up enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster of a proposed compromise on background checks, which was the centerpiece of their legislation.
28 February
Blame game gets louder with budget cuts looking inevitable
(Reuters) – A day before sweeping budget cuts begin, the White House and Republicans blamed each other on Thursday for failure to prevent a fiscal crisis which the International Monetary Fund warned could slow the U.S. and world economies.
Absent a highly unlikely last-ditch deal, the $85 billion in cuts across federal government agencies start on Friday.
While Democrats and Republicans disagree about how severe the damage will be to public services like air traffic control and law enforcement, the IMF said the economic recovery would likely be harmed by the automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration.”
27 February
It’s Time for You To Lead, John Boehner
Stop blaming the president: The House speaker is the only one who can fix the budget mess.
the conventions of deficit scoldery mandate that the mere existence of disagreement shows that both sides must be to blame. Thus the Washington Post editorial board concludes that “Republicans are wrong to resist further revenue hikes” but still wonders “why is Mr. Obama not leading the way to a solution?” David Brooks complains that Obama “has become a participant” in “stale debates” and should instead unilaterally “fundamentally shift the terms” of politics. Ron Fournier at National Journal says Obama is “ultimately responsible for the success or failure” of negotiations, no matter what his opponents say.
14 February
Republicans Mounting Filibuster Against Chuck Hagel: Harry Reid
It is customary for a president to be granted the leeway to choose his own advisers. But Hagel was a controversial choice among his fellow Republicans, owing to his public criticisms of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy, his advocacy for confronting Iran’s nuclear program via diplomatic means and his past criticisms of the Israeli lobby’s influence within the halls of Congress.
Speaking on the floor, however, Reid said that Republicans were holding up the nomination because of the administration’s refusal to release additional information about the September attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
18 January
Following the twists and turns of this logic is at the very least entertaining.
Ezra Klein: Is the Republican Party Obama’s fault?
(WaPost) … it’s very difficult to be a Republican in a time of GOP dissolution. And so recent weeks have birthed the strangest strain of commentary I can remember: The Republican Party’s crazy opinions are President Obama’s fault.
The logic here is weirdly impeccable. The Republican Party’s dilemma is that House Republicans keeps taking all kinds of unreasonable and unpopular positions. If Obama weren’t president, the House Republicans wouldn’t be taking so many unreasonable and unpopular positions.
17 January
Opposition to U.S. Corporate Political Spending Gains Momentum
(IPS) …  During this weekend’s demonstrations, protestors will try to maintain momentum to roll back Citizens United at the state and federal levels, including through the long-term goal of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which three-quarters of states would need to support.
About 300 cities and 11 states have passed resolutions to support such an amendment. Several attempts were made in Congress last year to introduce amendment-related legislation, while a similar bill was re-introduced on Wednesday in the House of Representatives.
In what many transparency proponents saw as a major move, in late December the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also indicated that it would take up discussion to require all publicly traded companies in the United States to disclose any political spending.
According to a new report released Thursday by two liberal non-profits, the Centre for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, hundreds of millions of dollars in financing from the last election cannot be traced. The report states that around 17 percent of business contributions to the “super PAC” groups that are allowed to engage in political campaigning came from “shell corporations”, which appear to have been set up solely to funnel corporate money.
13 January
Dr. Charles Cogan — Mainstream Support of Hagel: Is This a Crack in the Wall of Intimidation?
(HuffPost) On Jan. 8, a phalanx of leading figures of the past in the American national security establishment sent a letter to The Washington Post in support of Hagel. The signatories included Tom Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Frank Carlucci, etc.
The liberal think-tank J Street, which sets itself as a counterpoise to AIPAC (the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) issued a statement on Jan. 7 in support of Hagel, under the lighthearted rubric of “smear a bagel but not Chuck Hagel.”
Does all this represent a crack in the wall of intimidation, to use the word of Mr. Hagel to Mr. Miller? Will the message get through to Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, et al to stop interfering in the American political process? Doubtful. But it may be the beginning of something. See also for a corrective note by the author
January 13: Meet the Press with Colin Powell, Cory Booker, Haley Barbour, Mike Murphy, Andrea Mitchell on Chuck Hagel, gun control, Obama cabinet choices and much more. The one-on-one exchange with Colin Powell on the future of the Republican Party is particularly good.
5 January
Chuck Hagel and liberals: what are the priorities?
As Obama prepares to nominate the controversial former senator, the key question is whether Democrats will help neocons oppose him
(The Guardian)  There’s a reason Hagel’s nomination has become so intensely controversial and such a vicious target for war-cheering neocons such as Bill Kristol and the Washington Post Editorial Board. It’s because Hagel is one of the very, very few prominent national politicians from either party who has been brave enough to question and dissent from the destructive bipartisan orthodoxies on foreign policy. What plausible Democratic candidate for this job has been willing publicly to point out that the US and Israel are separate countries and American interests should trump Israeli interests when they conflict, or to advocate for direct negotiations with Hamas, or to candidly point out that America’s Middle East wars are fought for oil, or to condemn the power of the pro-Israel lobby within both parties, or to harshly point out the stupidity of attacking Iran rather than cowardly mouth the “all-options-on-the-table” platitude?
4 January
Congress Passes a $9.7 Billion Storm Relief Measure
(NYT) Under intense pressure from New York and New Jersey, Congress adopted legislation on Friday that would provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
The measure is the first, and least controversial, portion of a much larger aid package sought by the affected states to help homeowners and local governments recover costs associated with the storm. The House has pledged to take up the balance of the aid package on Jan. 15.
The House passed the insurance measure 354 to 67; it then cleared the Senate by unanimous consent. The measure now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.
Senatus Decadens
(New Yorker) The Senate is in a prolonged, self-induced coma. It does not produce creative legislation. It does not inspire important debate. It is not responsive to key national problems. Its pretense of institutional dignity is so battered that junior senators openly mock it.
3 January
Chris Christie: Did primal scream help or hurt his presidential prospects?
Gov. Chris Christie tore into Speaker Boehner and the House GOP over the delay in a vote on Sandy relief. That could help him get reelected but hurt him in a Republican primary campaign.
(CSM) Did New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie help or hurt himself on Wednesday by blasting his own political party? In case you haven’t heard, after House Speaker John Boehner delayed a vote on a $60 billion superstorm Sandy recovery bill, Governor Christie lit up Mr. Boehner and Republican House members like they were sparklers. The Sandy legislation “could not overcome the toxic internal politics of the House majority,” Christie said at a brutal Trenton news conference.
Adding that “palace intrigue” had helped scuttle a bill important to New Jersey, New York, and other areas hard hit by the Oct. 29 storm, Christie heaped disdain on you-know-who for something he (Christie) considered a debacle.
House chooses Boehner as speaker again despite dissent
(Reuters) – Despite a rocky few weeks during the “fiscal cliff” fight, John Boehner won re-election as speaker of the House of Representatives on Thursday and will again lead Republicans as they take on the White House over federal spending.
The G.O.P.’s Sandy Problem
(New Yorker) there are, as Eric Klinenberg documents in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, things that cities like New York can do to at least partially “climate-proof” themselves and mitigate the damage caused by natural disasters. The problem is that those things are expensive, and they require vision. And as House Republicans proved this week, there’s a dangerous lack of that in American politics today. … the right’s lack of foresight isn’t restricted to this one issue. Funding projects that might help Americans who haven’t even been born yet might be good policy, but it’s not going to get anyone elected. So instead of considering those projects rationally, leading Republicans now strip them of context and mock them for political gain; indeed, they’ve made doing so into a habit. They do so safely, knowing that there’s little risk that they’ll pay any price when it turns out that one of those projects might have saved lives. By contrast, John Boehner’s incompetence looks positively benign.

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