U.S. government & governance

Written by  //  December 28, 2016  //  Government & Governance, U.S.  //  Comments Off on U.S. government & governance

Democracy Now! stories, posts and pages that relate to Koch Brothers

Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy
A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.
Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.
Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.
TPM Interview: Scholar Behind Viral ‘Oligarchy’ Study Tells You What It Means
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” (18 April 2014)

Donald Trump’s False Bragging About His Charitable Giving
Once again, the president-elect is trying to mislead the public about his philanthropy.
Trump’s record with regard to charity is not a credit to his character. It is not a model of propriety. It is a discrediting pattern of embarrassments. His statements to the contrary are brazen propaganda. Don’t fall for them.
24 December
Denying Conflict, Trump Family Tries to Resolve Potential Problems
(NYT) Realizing that his presidency could face potentially crippling questions over conflicts of interest, Donald J. Trump and his family are rushing to resolve potential controversies — like shuttering foundations and terminating development deals — even as the president-elect publicly maintains that no legal conflicts exist.
In recent days, the president-elect and his aides have said that he intends to distribute the assets of his personal charity and then shutter it. He has examined a plan to hire an outside monitor to oversee the Trump Organization and has terminated some international business projects.
“This is a process that my father and my family are taking incredibly seriously,” said Eric Trump, who will help oversee the Trump Organization, and who announced last week that he was terminating fund-raising for his own charity, the Eric Trump Foundation.
Even with the proposed steps, it is unclear how much the Trump family can or will unwind its ties to its business empire. No matter what, Mr. Trump will enter the White House with a maze of financial holdings unlike those of any other president in American history. Many ethics experts still say the only way Mr. Trump can eliminate his most serious conflicts is to liquidate his company, and then put the money into a blind trust — a move Mr. Trump has so far rejected as impractical and unreasonable.
The potential roles that his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, may play in the administration are particularly vexatious. Both have business operations that could benefit from their government roles — even if they are not involved in the businesses on a day-to-day basis. Ms. Trump’s business is so tied to her name that any position she might take in the White House or informal role she might play as an adviser to her father could benefit her company, which she will still own.
20 December
The Case for Donald Trump’s Impeachability
(NY Magazine) Last Friday, the Brookings Institute released a very helpful 23-page paper. The authors argue that a common-sense reading of the Constitution and the relevant legal theory and history all lead to the conclusion that Trump is, in fact, subject to the Emoluments Clause, and could therefore be walking into an unusual sort of constitutional danger zone.
… The Emoluments Clause is found in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution … In short, the Emoluments Clause covers just about any situation in which a public official profits in any way from a foreign state or such a state’s “agents and instrumentalities.” This broadness is by design: The authors argue that the entire point of the Emoluments Clause is for it to be read broadly. The framers didn’t want there to be situations where the public or Congress would have to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether a given instance in which the president or another powerful official profiting from a foreign entity was, in fact, bribery or favor-currying. That’s no way to run a government: As long as such questions exist, they corrode the system and sap public confidence in government.
… The authors write that the sorts of concerns the Emoluments Clause is designed to head off “may be exacerbated in Mr. Trump’s case” because of how closely he has linked Donald Trump, president, to Donald Trump, magnate, during the campaign and his period as president-elect. There have already been numerous examples of Trump openly leveraging his new title in an attempt to benefit his businesses, from his wind-farm chat with Nigel Farage and his pals to a conversation with President Erdogan of Turkey (Ivanka was on it, too) in which Trump reportedly said nice things about Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, a Trump business associate in Istanbul. And just about anywhere around the world Trump is involved in business, the Brookings authors write, there is a potential Emoluments Clause violation.
19 December
Electors Vote: All 538 Electoral College electors gathered in their respective state capitals to formally vote for the next U.S. president. Though some opponents of Donald Trump had urged electors not to cast their ballot for the president-elect, citing Hillary Clinton’s 2.8 million lead in the popular vote, there was no such revolt. The vote won’t be formally counted until a joint session of Congress in January, several weeks before Inauguration Day.
(LA Times) Trump’s comfortable lead of 306 votes to 232 for Clinton isn’t budging, she writes, and that margin means 37 electors would have to turn from him to Clinton or some other candidate to deny him the majority. Even if that were to happen and someone else emerged, it would serve only to send the election to the Republican-controlled House, which would presumably side with Trump.
But of course it won’t get that far, because the whole thing is controlled by a cabal of elites who are, for the most part, party loyalists. There was that time Congress actually tried to get rid of the electoral college, but it’s not going anywhere, at least for now.
15 December
Can Trump ‘build a wall’ between his presidency and his business?
(PBS NewsHour) Dec. 15 was supposed to be the day President-elect Donald Trump held a news conference to discuss how he would resolve the future of his business empire to prevent conflicts of interest. The announcement has been postponed until January. Judy Woodruff speaks with Marilyn Geewax of NPR and Richard Painter of the University of Minnesota about what the president-elect needs to do.
Trump’s businesses could trip insider-trading law
(Politico) The STOCK Act, adopted in 2012, was designed to restrict insider trading by members of Congress and their staff. But ethics lawyers say it also applies to the president and might extend to private holdings like Trump’s real estate ventures.
Democrats are looking into how a criminal statute applies to the Trump family’s blend of business and politics
The precise application and enforcement of the STOCK Act presents a potential conflict of interest for Trump: any violations of the law would be enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission, whose chairman Trump will appoint, or by prosecutors in the Department of Justice, ultimately answerable to Trump’s attorney general.
14 December
Bigger Than Watergate? Legitimate Concerns That Anti-Clinton Faction Within FBI May Have Conspired To Hand Election To Trump
An Outline of What Increasingly Exhibits the Hallmarks of a Criminal Conspiracy
(HuffPost) Unlike the effect of Russian interference on the 2016 presidential campaign, the effect—in votes—of the now-infamous “Comey Letter” is knowable.
While various media outlets downplayed the effect at the time, the hard data is unmistakable: according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken immediately after FBI Director Comey’s end-of-October announcement that the FBI would be reviewing additional evidence in the Clinton email-server case, one-third of likely voters reported that the revelation made them “much less likely” to vote for Clinton.
The Bait-and-Switch Presidency
Time and again, Donald Trump promises something—tax returns, a press conference, separation from his business—and then quietly reverses course.
(The Atlantic)
… the idea that Trump could somehow extract himself from the company was always implausible. You can’t divest from your own surname. The Trump Organization doesn’t really make things, and it hardly even develops properties anymore. It’s a marketing operation: It cuts deals to use Trump’s name and reputation to market everything from condo-hotels to neckties to television shows. The company’s management is lean and heavily focused on the Trump children, who are all executive vice presidents. Remove the Trump family and there’s no Trump organization. If the person running the company isn’t named “Trump,” what’s the point?
What levers are there to force Trump to speak to the press, divest from his company, or release his tax returns? The press is at a disadvantage, and has thus far failed. Congress is another story, but Democrats are a minority and Republicans are still trying to patch up relations with the president-elect after a rocky campaign. Voters, for their part, didn’t care during the election, and in a new Morning Consult/Politico poll, respondents said that they did not expect Trump to separate himself from his businesses, and most also thought Trump’s business decisions would influence his governance. As long as enough people are happy with the switch, Trump has little incentive to give away the bait.
13 December
(The Atlantic) Obama’s Legacy: In his cover story for The Atlantic’s January/February issue, Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the accomplishments of America’s first black president, who has been guided by a firm belief in American justice—and what Donald Trump’s election means for Obama’s legacy. Read the story here, and go here for a response by Tressie McMillan Cottom, who writes that Obama has been blinded by his optimism about race. And here’s an editor’s note from Jeffrey Goldberg on what a continued examination of America’s beliefs and divisions means for the future.
Elizabeth Drew: Will Trump Get Trumped?
(Project Syndicate) Trump seems to think that if he offers enough bread and circuses, he can distract his supporters from the real direction his administration is taking. He’s taken time off from managing his transition to hold a few rallies – which he apparently enjoys more than the chores of governing – and to pull off stunts, such as lauding his deal with Carrier, which manufactures furnaces and air conditioners, to keep jobs in the US. … Trump seems to think that if he offers enough bread and circuses, he can distract his supporters from the real direction his administration is taking. He’s taken time off from managing his transition to hold a few rallies – which he apparently enjoys more than the chores of governing – and to pull off stunts, such as lauding his deal with Carrier, which manufactures furnaces and air conditioners, to keep jobs in the US.
The Democrats, in the minority in the Senate, will give Trump’s Cabinet nominees a tough grilling, potentially defeating one or two. But the Republicans are the ones to watch. Leading Republicans have already dissented from Trump’s threats to start trade wars. If he pushes them too far, Trump may be a general with few troops.
Republicans’ disaffection could be enhanced if – as now appears likely – Trump’s private interests are not sufficiently disentangled from his public responsibilities, making him something of an embarrassment.
5 December
Trump advisors aim to privatize oil-rich Indian reservations
(Reuters) The plan dovetails with Trump’s larger aim of slashing regulation to boost energy production. It could deeply divide Native American leaders, who hold a range of opinions on the proper balance between development and conservation.
The proposed path to deregulated drilling – privatizing reservations – could prove even more divisive. Many Native Americans view such efforts as a violation of tribal self-determination and culture.
“Our spiritual leaders are opposed to the privatization of our lands, which means the commoditization of the nature, water, air we hold sacred,” said Tom Goldtooth, a member of both the Navajo and the Dakota tribes who runs the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Privatization has been the goal since colonization – to strip Native Nations of their sovereignty.”
Reservations governed by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs are intended in part to keep Native American lands off the private real estate market, preventing sales to non-Indians. An official at the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
The legal underpinnings for reservations date to treaties made between 1778 and 1871 to end wars between indigenous Indians and European settlers. Tribal governments decide how land and resources are allotted among tribe members.
30 November
George Monbiot: Frightened by Donald Trump? You don’t know the half of it
Many of his staffers are from an opaque corporate misinformation network. We must understand this if we are to have any hope of fighting back against them
(The Guardian) Yes, Donald Trump’s politics are incoherent. But those who surround him know just what they want, and his lack of clarity enhances their power. To understand what is coming, we need to understand who they are. I know all too well, because I have spent the past 15 years fighting them.
Over this time, I have watched as tobacco, coal, oil, chemicals and biotech companies have poured billions of dollars into an international misinformation machine composed of thinktanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Its purpose is to portray the interests of billionaires as the interests of the common people, to wage war against trade unions and beat down attempts to regulate business and tax the very rich. Now the people who helped run this machine are shaping the government.
27 November
A recipe for scandal’: Trump conflicts of interest point to constitutional crisis
Experts say president-elect does not understand the law and must sell businesses to avoid electoral college disaster. He seems loath to do so
(The Guardian) The US has certainly never had a commander-in-chief like Trump. When the constitution was written, the founding fathers wrote the rules so that people like themselves, whom they expected to fill the presidency, could do so without having to sell off plantations or slaves.
The president is thus exempt under the constitution from conflict-of-interest laws that constrain other office holders. The discovery of this loophole seems to have surprised and delighted Trump.
“As far as the potential conflict of interests,” Trump said, “the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
The remarks were reminiscent, for presidential historians at least, of an earlier president who claimed that “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal”.
It was an interpretation of executive power that did not work out well for the US, nor for the president in question, Richard Nixon.
Constitutional lawyers are now warning that Trump’s presidency is in danger of going the same way as Nixon’s before it even gets started. Some say that unless Trump takes urgent steps to fully divest himself from his business interests, he might not even enter the Oval Office as president.
25 November
Clinton’s Popular-Vote Lead Is Now Over 2 Million, But Don’t Expect Big Changes
(NPR) The discrepancy this year has led to a broader conversation about two things:
1. The possibility of the electors changing their votes to go with the popular vote on Dec. 19 when they officially gather to file their votes. The election is technically not decided until the electors vote and then their votes are counted by Congress days after the next session begins in the new year.
2. Eliminating the Electoral College altogether.
Both likely have zero chance of happening.
Here’s why:
1. The electors are mostly partisans, activists selected by state parties and assigned to the winning candidate. In other words, these aren’t independent folks moved by “conscience,” they are there to lock in the vote for the person who won. Yes, there have been so-called “faithless electors,” and there very well may be again. But there wouldn’t likely be close to enough to change the outcome in key states.
2. The Electoral College is enshrined in the Constitution. To get rid of it, two-thirds of Congress would have to pass an amendment to the Constitution and states would have to ratify it, as NPR’s Meg Anderson noted recently:
“Abolishing the Electoral College would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which would need a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate, and then it would have to be ratified by 38 states.”

22 November

Cleo Paskal: 2016 is year of the ‘Deplorables’
(The Guardian) The disconnect, and even mutual distrust, between some political parties/establishment media and large sections of the populace is becoming a complicating, and sometimes decisive, factor in modern democracies. It will have widespread implications far beyond the November elections. And far beyond politics. More and more people don’t trust the “old faithful” sources anymore. They are more willing to believe what their friend posts on Facebook than something in the Times of India. And they may be right. Or not. And that’s the problem. It’s getting harder to tell anymore. (6 October)

Trump era threatens pillars of US society
As many parts of the world struggle to come to terms with a Trump presidency, the social and political cohesion within the US is crumbling, says James K. Galbraith.
21 November
Bill de Blasio Vows to Stand Up to President-elect Donald Trump
New York City won’t help deport immigrants or provide information on them, mayor says
(WSJ) The mayor said his administration would sue to keep Muslims in New York from being required to register with the federal government if Mr. Trump, a Republican, decides to proceed with a Muslim registry, which he proposed on the campaign trail. He said the New York Police Department won’t comply with any mandate for more aggressive stop-and-frisk policing.
The city could lose federal funding for several programs if the mayor declines to follow the federal government’s orders. If need be, Mr. de Blasio said he would risk a loss in federal funding. The city depends on Washington for about 10% of its $83 billion budget.
For now, Mr. de Blasio appears to be trying to reap the political benefits of standing up against Mr. Trump in a city where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won four-to-one.
20 November
Trump transition provokes cries of nepotism – but can anything be done?
Despite concerns over Donald Trump’s decision to bring his family into his White House inner circle, experts says critics have few ways to stop him
(The Guardian) “The key is, he is smashing norms and making his own, but that does not mean he is violating the law in any way,” Robert Rizzi, a government compliance and ethics lawyer in Washington and a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, told the Guardian.
This may not even change much once Trump holds the Oval Office. His family, however, will have to tread cautiously. A federal nepotism law, enacted after President John F Kennedy made his brother, Robert, attorney general, prevents a public official from appointing a relative “to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control”.
But as long as Kushner and the Trump children are not federal employees, whether paid or unpaid, but are simply “hanging around the White House a lot”, one ethics expert said, they may dance around the law.
(The Atlantic) Democracy Now: There’s no question that Trump legitimately received enough electoral votes to secure the presidency. And yet, as mail-in and absentee ballots continue to be counted, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote is over 1.5 million and growing—a wider margin, as one reader notes, than that by which seven presidents have won office. That’s part of the reasoning behind calls for the electoral college to vote against Trump; another compelling reason is that stopping the rise of a reckless demagogue is just the purpose for which the electoral college was designed. It would be a grave step to break the norms of how American presidents are chosen, but to many of Trump’s critics, this is a grave situation—and at least two electors are trying to make it happen.
18 November
Obama Reckons With a Trump Presidency
Inside a stunned White House, the President considers his legacy and America’s future.
By David Remnick
(The New Yorker) In the speech at Arlington that morning, Obama managed to deliver a political message. And this time he went beyond the call for orderly transitions and praise for “excellent” meetings. He delivered a distinct paean to values that Trump so often dismissed . …
Here was the hopeful vision of diversity and dignity that Obama had made his own, and hearing these words I couldn’t help remembering how he began his victory speech eight years ago. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible,” he said, “tonight is your answer.” A very different answer arrived this Election Day. America is indeed a place where all things are possible: that is its greatest promise and, perhaps, its gravest peril. (The Magazine, November 28 issue)
This isn’t just a photo of Ivanka Trump. It’s a middle finger to democracy.
Shredding democratic traditions, one image at a time.
(Think Progress) In his first meeting with an head of state, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump invited his daughter Ivanka — who will likely serve as acting CEO of his companies — to participate.
Trump could have kept Ivanka’s participation private. Instead, his team handed out a photo featuring Ivanka. …
Let’s suppose one of Trump’s companies would like to open a hotel in Japan and is seeking permits. Would the Japanese government deny them and risk the ire of the President of the United States?
This doesn’t just apply to Japan. This is Trump’s first meeting with a head of state and Trump knows that this photo will be seen around the world. Any country doing business with the Trump organization will be very clear about Ivanka’s role.
17 November
(The Atlantic Daily) There may be a number of deep divisions between President-elect Trump and the Democrats, but Senator Bernie Sanders said in a speech on Wednesday night that there is still plenty of room for common ground if Trump sticks to the promises he made on the campaign trail. Investing in infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, and putting limits on Wall Street are just some of the areas Trump and Democrats might be able to agree on if they work together. With polarization at historic levels, such collaboration may be easier said than done. But according to one scholar of the U.S. presidency, Democrats would be politically smart to pursue it.
Donald Trump’s Children Won’t Have White House Roles
(WSJ) But ethics watchdogs say plan to have them run his businesses would still pose too many potential conflicts of interest
14 November
Are Ivanka and Jared Kushner Concocting a House of Cards-Style Game of Their Own?
The young couple wields more power than any first daughter and son-in-law in presidential history. So what’s the endgame?
(Vanity Fair) Certainly there are worse things a Trump administration could do than let the soft-spoken, glamorous kids try on mommy and daddy’s clothes from time to time. But delegating to Ivanka and Jared also means allowing them to use Trump as an instrument to build their own power. Whether he knows it or not, Trump may be incubating a spinoff show within the pilot. That raises the question of whether we are seeing the rise of a new wannabe dynasty. It wouldn’t be the first American political dynasty, not by a long shot. … Certainly there are worse things a Trump administration could do than let the soft-spoken, glamorous kids try on mommy and daddy’s clothes from time to time. But delegating to Ivanka and Jared also means allowing them to use Trump as an instrument to build their own power. Whether he knows it or not, Trump may be incubating a spinoff show within the pilot. That raises the question of whether we are seeing the rise of a new wannabe dynasty. It wouldn’t be the first American political dynasty, not by a long shot.
10 November
FACT CHECK: Donald Trump’s First 100 Days Action Plan
In late October, Donald Trump released an action plan for what he hopes to accomplish in his first 100 days in office. NPR reporters and editors from the politics team and other coverage areas have annotated Trump’s plan. We’ve added context on several of his proposals, including whether he can really repeal Obamacare and what a hiring freeze on the federal workforce would actually look like
31 October
Gwynne Dyer: United States: The wells are poisoned
One way or another, it is going to be an ugly and frightening time in the United States.
Donald Trump may not win the election next week — although he is at least going to come close — but even if he loses, the wells are poisoned. Either “Crooked Hillary” becomes president and spends the next four years fighting off legal challenges and fearing assassination by some of Trump’s more deranged admirers. Or Trump becomes the 45th U.S. president, and the United States becomes the world’s biggest and most dangerous loose cannon.
Trump was already claiming that the election was “rigged” against him and that he might not accept a Clinton victory. Comey has created an equal and opposite likelihood that Democrats will regard a Trump victory as illegitimate and refuse to accept him as president. Either way, it will be the “birther” conspiracy all over again but this time in seven-league boots.
Miscarriage of justice!

28 October

A man standing guard pushes a videographer aside after members of the "3% of Idaho" group along with several other organizations arrived at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. A small, armed group has been occupying the remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon for a week to protest federal land use policies. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

A man standing guard pushes a videographer aside after members of the “3% of Idaho” group along with several other organizations arrived at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. A small, armed group has been occupying the remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon for a week to protest federal land use policies. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Oregon militia standoff trial: shock and anger after Bundys found not guilty
The surprise verdict over the armed occupation has left many concerned that it will encourage other militias to take action against the government
(The Guardian) Jarvis Kennedy watched two stories unfold on the news on Thursday night: the surprise acquittal in Oregon of seven members of the armed militia that occupied the Malheur wildlife refuge and the mass arrest of Native American activists protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
“Those guys are unarmed,” said Kennedy of the Native American protesters in North Dakota, “but these cowboys who came in with guns – they got off.”
LATimes Opinion: In acquitting the Oregon militants, a white jury determines that the law doesn’t apply to white protesters
ABC News: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she’s “profoundly disappointed” by a jury’s decision to acquit several key figures in the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon last winter.
In a message Friday to all Interior Department employees, Jewell says she’s concerned about the verdict’s potential effect on workers and on the effective management of public lands.
She encourages employees to take care of themselves and their co-workers, stay vigilant and report any suspicious activity to supervisors and, if appropriate, law enforcement.
Jewell’s message notes that she visited the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge after the occupation and found it disheartening to survey the damage.
The occupiers contend they improved the refuge, and law enforcement caused damage during the investigation.
27 October
Oregon Standoff Leaders Acquitted For Malheur Wildlife Refuge Takeover
A scuffle broke out in court after the defendants were acquitted for the armed takeover of a U.S. wildlife refuge.
A federal court jury on Thursday acquitted anti-government militant leader Ammon Bundy and six followers of conspiracy charges stemming from their role in the armed takeover of a U.S. wildlife center in Oregon earlier this year.
Bundy and others, including his brother and co-defendant Ryan Bundy, cast the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a legitimate and patriotic act of civil disobedience. Prosecutors called it a lawless scheme to seize federal property by force
25 October
What Happens to Paul Ryan If Trump Loses?
(The Atlantic) The rise of Donald Trump has left the speaker of the House, and the Republican Party, in an almost impossible situation.
What happens to the Republican Party after November 8, particularly if Donald Trump loses? One clue comes from a recent Bloomberg Poll: When asked which leader better represents their view what the Republican Party should stand for, 51 percent of likely voters who lean Republican or identify as Republican picked Trump, while 33 percent picked House Speaker Paul Ryan (15 percent said they weren’t sure.)
The best case scenario for Ryan: he skillfully and persistently works his battered caucus to understand he is their only realistic alternative, deflects non-negotiable demands, limps through to a victory on the House floor, and returns to the same dilemma he faced in 2016, and that his predecessor faced from 2011 on: the only way to make policy that can actually be enacted into law is to lose a sizable core of Republicans and replace them with Democrats. There are only so many times he can do that without facing a broader internal revolt. But the failure or refusal to do so means he has failed in his fundamental duty as a constitutional officer, the Speaker not of his party but of the whole House.
What if that effort fails and he is opposed on the floor by 20-30 of his colleagues—falling far short on the first ballot of the majority necessary? One possibility is that the Ryan opponents turn around and support him on a second ballot, using the stinging embarrassment to “teach him a lesson.” That would leave Ryan as Speaker but with the same old dilemma—and a sustained mobilization of virulent anti-Ryan vitriol from the alt-right.
4 October
Barack Obama: Republican Obstruction Is Undermining The Supreme Court, Enough Is Enough
(HuffPost) Republican leaders in Congress have proven they won’t work with my Administration, but along the way, they’ve lost sight of their basic mission. They can’t even meet their own goals. Republicans say they care about good paying jobs, but they’re ignoring one of the best ways to create them by refusing to make long overdue investments rebuilding our roads, bridges, ports and airports. A major infrastructure push would put Americans back to work and make our businesses more competitive – but Congress can’t get it done. They can’t move the ball forward on tax reform, one of the GOP’s biggest priorities, and they continue to delay serious funding to combat an opioid epidemic that has devastated the lives of many of their constituents. They talk a great deal about poverty, but refuse to address it in a meaningful way.
On countless priorities – issues that matter to people across the country, regardless of their politics – Republicans in Washington have traded progress for partisanship.
3 October
PBS Showcases Willie Velásquez, Latino Voting Rights Hero
An acclaimed Mexican-American leader who foresaw the potential power of the Latino vote decades ago is the focus of a documentary airing Monday night on PBS as part of its Election 2016 programming.
“Willie Velásquez: Your Vote Is Your Voice tells the story of a grass-roots activist who mobilized Latinos into a movement that permanently altered the American political landscape. … much of the history of the Latino civil rights struggle of the 1960s and 1970s is not well documented. The African-American civil rights movement in the south, he explained, drew many members of the press and volunteers from the northeast, who then returned home to report what they had witnessed.
30 September
Reid Congratulates GOP For Eight Years Obstructing The First Black President (with video)
Their reward is a Frankenstein’s monster named Donald Trump.
(HuffPost) With Congress set to flee town until after the November elections, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the Senate floor Thursday to mark a milestone of sorts: eight years of obstructing and insulting the nation’s first black president.
“As this Republican Congress heads for yet another un-earned recess, I feel compelled to comment on how Republicans have treated the president of the United States,” Reid said.
“History will look back and note that Republicans in Congress treated President Obama with unprecedented disrespect,” Reid said, arguing that soon after Obama was elected, the GOP set out to make him a one-term president and obstruct anything he did.
Reid checked off a list that included Obama also being the first president to be denied a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee, the first to be denied a hearing on his budget, and the first to be asked to show his birth certificate. Obama faced more than 500 filibusters in the Senate, Reid added.
(The Atlantic) Reckoning With Race: Police in El Cajon, California, now say Alfred Okwera Olango, the black man who was fatally shot on Tuesday, was unarmed; the object that officers said he pointed at them turned out to be a vaping device. It’s the latest in a series of incidents with a worrying effect: Two studies released this week suggest that black Americans are losing faith in law enforcement, with 911 calls from black neighborhoods dropping precipitously after reports of an officer-involved shooting of a black man, and black citizens reporting much less confidence in police than other racial groups. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, a civil-rights movement is underway to combat racial inequality in the public parks system, while Georgetown University is attempting to deal with its history of profiting from slavery.
19 September
Is this ‘syndrome’ causing American political dysfunction?
(PBS Newshour) Has our political system gone crazy? Jonathan Rauch thinks so. In a recent piece for the Atlantic, Rauch explores what he calls “chaos syndrome” in Washington: government stagnation, he argues, is resulting from politicians’ inability to compromise, combined with constant calls for transparency. [See below How American Politics Went Insane]
16 September
Paul Krugman: Obama’s Trickle-Up Economics
You know how the argument goes: Any attempt to help working families directly, we’re told, will backfire by hurting the economy as a whole. So we must cut taxes on those “job creators” instead, counting on a rising tide to raise all boats.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the Obama administration has done the reverse, but there definitely was an element of trickle-up economics in its response to the Great Recession: Much of the stimulus involved expanding the social safety net, not just to protect the vulnerable, but to increase purchasing power and sustain demand. And in general Obama-era policies have tried to help families directly, rather than by showering benefits on the rich and hoping that the benefits trickle down.
Now the results of this policy experiment are in, and they’re not bad. They could have been better: The stimulus should have been bigger and more sustained, and Republican opposition hamstrung the administration’s economic policy after the first two years. Still, progressive policies have worked, and the critics of those policies have been proved wrong.
uncle-sam-weeps How American Politics Went Insane
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
By Jonathan Rauch
(The Atlantic Magazine) In their various ways, Trump, Cruz, and Sanders are demonstrating a new principle: The political parties no longer have either intelligible boundaries or enforceable norms, and, as a result, renegade political behavior pays.
Political disintegration plagues Congress, too. House Republicans barely managed to elect a speaker last year. Congress did agree in the fall on a budget framework intended to keep the government open through the election—a signal accomplishment, by today’s low standards—but by April, hard-line conservatives had revoked the deal, thereby humiliating the new speaker and potentially causing another shutdown crisis this fall. As of this writing, it’s not clear whether the hard-liners will push to the brink, but the bigger point is this: If they do, there is not much that party leaders can do about it.
And here is the still bigger point: The very term party leaders has become an anachronism. Although Capitol Hill and the campaign trail are miles apart, the breakdown in order in both places reflects the underlying reality that there no longer is any such thing as a party leader. There are only individual actors, pursuing their own political interests and ideological missions willy-nilly, like excited gas molecules in an overheated balloon. …
Trump, however, didn’t cause the chaos. The chaos caused Trump. What we are seeing is not a temporary spasm of chaos but a chaos syndrome.
Chaos syndrome is a chronic decline in the political system’s capacity for self-organization. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable. The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns and in the government itself.
Our intricate, informal system of political intermediation, which took many decades to build, did not commit suicide or die of old age; we reformed it to death. For decades, well-meaning political reformers have attacked intermediaries as corrupt, undemocratic, unnecessary, or (usually) all of the above. Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick.
3 June
There’s a clear leader in the 2016 race—and he already lives in the White House
(Quartz) In newspaper columns, magazine think-pieces and comments on viral social media videos, many Americans have decided they will miss Barack Obama when he leaves office—from his “cool rationality in foreign policy” to his mic-drop humor.According to the most recent Gallup data (May 23-29), Obama’s approval rating is 52%, the highest it’s been in several years, and more than most lame-duck presidents in the last several decades. Meanwhile, likely nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are among the least-liked candidates ever.
Approval of pres obama June 2016
15 April
Warren: Barack Obama is often portrayed as an ineffectual leader, but the facts say otherwise
Obama’s detractors are everywhere. The ultra-far-right portrays him as a Kenyan, Muslim Marxist. He gets heat from his own base for not being liberal enough. And the media talking heads who fawned over him in the beginning now lead a chorus of condemnation.
However, an objective review of his performance yields two clear conclusions:
First, despite being crippled by an intransigent Republican opposition, Obama has a strong record on many key issues, including the economy, crime, health care, energy, social change and the environment.
Second, one of Obama’s major failings is an unwillingness to promote his accomplishments. This reticence fuels his critic’s criticisms.
The U.S. economy has enjoyed 71 consecutive months of growth. Forbes magazine says Obama has out-performed Ronald Reagan on jobs, growth and investing. America is benefitting from its longest-ever period of private sector job creation.
Despite taking office during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, unemployment has been cut in half under Obama, from 10.1 per cent in 2009 to five per cent this year.
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
(The Atlantic Magazine April 2016) Over the course of our conversations, I came to see Obama as a president who has grown steadily more fatalistic about the constraints on America’s ability to direct global events, even as he has, late in his presidency, accumulated a set of potentially historic foreign-policy achievements—controversial, provisional achievements, to be sure, but achievements nonetheless: the opening to Cuba, the Paris climate-change accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and, of course, the Iran nuclear deal. These he accomplished despite his growing sense that larger forces—the riptide of tribal feeling in a world that should have already shed its atavism; the resilience of small men who rule large countries in ways contrary to their own best interests; the persistence of fear as a governing human emotion—frequently conspire against the best of America’s intentions. But he also has come to learn, he told me, that very little is accomplished in international affairs without U.S. leadership.
7 April
Trump’s right about one thing. The U.S. has to fix its corporate inversion problem
(Globe & Mail) … the U.S. corporate tax regime is a mess and companies need incentives to bring their profits back to the United States.
U.S. President Barack Obama, on the other hand, has it distinctly wrong. This week, he moved to outlaw so-called corporate inversions, in which a U.S. company merges with a foreign one for the sole purpose of assuming the target company’s lower tax rate. He called inversions an “insidious” tax loophole. …
But by targeting inversions, Mr. Obama is treating the symptom, rather than the disease. The real problem is not inversions, it’s the U.S. tax code. The U.S. federal corporate tax rate, at 35 per cent, is badly out of step with rates in most of the rest of the developed world (Canada’s rate is 15 per cent and the OECD average is 25 per cent). And unlike Canadian companies, U.S. corporations are essentially taxed twice – once when they earn foreign profits and a second time when they bring that income home. …
Republicans and Democrats agree that something has to be done with the tax system, which has become globally uncompetitive. They just can’t agree what to do, particularly when all sides are demonizing corporate behaviour. And while they dither, other developed countries have been lowering their tax rates, most recently in Britain, where the rate will be cut to 17 per cent in 2020 from 20 per cent now.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton says she would slap an exit tax on companies that want to renounce their corporate citizenship – just as wealthy individual Americans are required to pay.
… Mr. Trump offers a more reasonable solution – a one-time 10-per-cent tax on any money U.S. companies bring home.
Oddly enough, Mr. Trump’s proposal just might be the kind of quid pro quo that persuades Republicans and Democrats in Congress to slash the corporate tax rate and end double-taxation of global income.
Writing on the New York Times Opinion pages, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor and senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute agrees: The solution is not burdensome new rules, but lower taxes. Inversions are increasing because American taxes are out of line with foreign codes. Until that changes, inversions will continue. Rather than trying to block companies from leaving, President Obama would do better by making America more hospitable to global headquarters
25 February
Obama: The Last Year and the Legacy, Part II
From culling the National Security Council to getting rid of the military’s Cold War mentality, the president has some big work left to do in his last year.
(Foreign Policy) 1) Fix America’s flawed security discourse.
It’s not Obama’s fault that we’ve become the United States of Spinelessness, but he hasn’t always helped, either.
On the one hand, he has done a fine job reminding Americans of the folly of equating Islam with terrorism, and he has steadfastly resisted foolish calls to respond to the Islamic State with, say, a wholesale U.S. invasion of Syria. Occasionally, he even reminds Americans of a few important facts: “If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands.” But most of the time, he succumbs to political pressure and describes terrorism in semi-apocalyptic terms: It’s a “hateful vision” versus “all of humanity,” meriting an ongoing “war with terrorists.”
2) Fix the military. “We have the strongest military in the history of the world,” President Obama says. If military power is measured solely by the ability to blow up more stuff faster than anyone else, he’s surely right. But the point of blowing things up is to achieve political ends — and it’s less and less clear that the U.S. military has what it takes to translate destructive power into strategic success.
3) Fix the intelligence community. I’ve always found “the intelligence community” an odd phrase, implying, as it does, that employees of America’s 17 intelligence agencies are constantly getting together for block parties and summer barbecues. Much of the time, those 17 agencies still go in 17 different directions — and the post-9/11 creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence added a new layer of bureaucracy without substantially increasing coordination or information sharing. … — the intelligence community’s predictive track record is still distinctly underwhelming, particularly when compared to the track record of many NGOs and journalists. … the CIA’s shift toward tactical paramilitary counterterrorism operations draws energy and resources away from analysis and longer-term strategic concerns, and human intelligence is also hampered by a dearth of employees with vital language skills: As of 2013, for instance, the entire intelligence community reportedly had only 903 Chinese speakers and 1191 Arabic speakers. … by and large, the intelligence community remains overwhelmingly white and male. That’s not a recipe for success when it comes to understanding a world in which nearly three-fourths of the population is non-white and half is female.
4) Fix the White House National Security Council. If any issue has united national security experts on both sides of the political aisle, it’s shared frustration with the Obama administration’s national security staff. It’s too big, too full of political hacks and inexperienced campaign aides, too prone to micromanagement, and too focused on making policy itself rather than channeling policy ideas from the departments and agencies to the president.
15 January
The Post’s View: It’s time to remove the ‘natural born citizen’ requirement from the Constitution
The “natural born citizen” requirement, however, serves no purpose that could possibly justify its continued application. It creates two classes of citizens — those who are eligible to run for president and those who are not. It undermines the notion that allegiance to the Constitution, the democratic process and the rule of law defines what it means to be an American, rather than the provenance of one’s blood. It insults naturalized Americans, many of whom appreciate these principles more keenly than many of those who were lucky enough to be born with U.S. citizenship. It is, moreover, anti-democratic, denying voters the opportunity to choose from some of the country’s best, brightest and most patriotic citizens simply because they were naturalized after their births.
13 January
Obama: The Last Year and the Legacy, Part 1
(Foreign Policy) After seven years, it’s time for the president to bring American foreign policy out of the shadows.


29 December
Lawrence Martin: Obama, the rational heavyweight
He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous. – William Shakespeare
Or are they? Barack Obama, rational man, is putting the postulate to the test. With his prudence and thoughtfulness, the 44th President is getting on a lot of people’s nerves. In the P.T. Barnum extravaganza otherwise known as the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the contenders rail at him for his reticence, for running a White House they depict as weightless.
The impact of all the Obama-bashing, especially given the high-profile Republican debates, has served to overshadow his many policy successes. Serious historians will be hard-pressed to find a second presidential term as productive as his. Second terms are usually, to use a mild term, ill-fated.
George W. Bush’s brought the country to its knees. Bill Clinton faced the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Ronald Reagan had Iran-contra, Richard Nixon resigned over Watergate and Lyndon Johnson, who had only a brief first term, fell victim to the Vietnam War.
What has Mr. Obama’s so-called weightless White House done? In the past year alone, there has been the Iranian nuclear agreement, the Paris climate accord and the mammoth trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These deals are yet to be time-tested, but they are potentially potent.
In his second term he has also ended the isolation of Cuba, secured same-sex marriage and his health-care reforms and brought in the Clean Power Plan. It has taken a long time to restore the U.S. economy, but his policies are now bearing fruit.
6 December
Obama urges nation not to give in to fear
(PBS) Speaking from the Oval Office for just the third time during his presidency, but offering few new proposals, President Barack Obama on Sunday pledged to continue his current strategy against the Islamic State overseas, while also encouraging American Muslims to root out extremism in their own communities.
“Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaida promote,” Obama said, standing in front of a podium with photos of his wife and daughters behind him.
Obama sought to reassure the nation after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, last week that left 14 people dead and 21 injured. He also urged Americans to reject Islamophobia and not turn their backs on American Muslims.
In the speech, the president offered a message of resilience and strength, but he also repeated his request that Congress formally authorize military operations against the Islamic State, despite a growing chorus of critics in Congress and on the campaign trail who have argued that the White House is not doing enough to stop the group’s spread.
Current air strikes and other military operations are being carried out under congressional authorization passed in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Republican leaders in Congress have resisted the president’s request for a vote on an ISIS-specific authorization.
4 December
Paul Ryan’s 7 Terrible Ideas
by Robert Reich
(Common Dreams) Yesterday, the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, summed up his House Republican agenda – vowing to pursue legislation that would frame a stark choice for voters in 2016.
“Our No. 1 goal for the next year is to put together a complete alternative to the left’s agenda,” he said.
Despite the speech’s sweeping oratory and careful stagecraft, Ryan clings to seven dumb ideas that are also cropping up among Republican presidential candidates.
Here they are, and here’s why they’re dumb:
1. Reduce the top income-tax rate to 25% from the current 39%. A terrible idea. It’s a huge windfall to the rich at a time when the rich already take home a larger share of total income that at any time since the 1920s.
2. Cut corporate taxes to 25% from the current 35%. Another bad idea. A giant sop to corporations, the largest of which are already socking away $2.1 trillion in foreign tax shelters.
3. Slash spending on domestic programs like food stamps and education for poor districts. What?! Already 22% of the nation’s children are in poverty; these cuts would only make things worse.
4. Turn Medicaid and other federal programs for the poor into block grants for the states, and let the states decide how to allocate them. In other words, give Republican state legislatures and governors slush funds to do with as they wish.
5. Turn Medicare into vouchers that don’t keep up with increases in healthcare costs. In effect cutting Medicare for the elderly. Another awful idea.
6. Deal with rising Social Security costs by raising the retirement age for Social Security. Bad! This would make Social Security even more regressive, since the poor don’t live nearly as long as the rich.
7. Finally, let the minimum wage continue to decline as inflation eats it away. Wrong again. Low wage workers need a higher minimum wage.
These 7 ideas will harm most Americans. Ryan is wrong.
29 October
Paul RyanCan Paul Ryan Fix the ‘Broken’ U.S. House of Representatives?
(The Atlantic) If John Boehner, the often-weepy son of a bartender, was the humble speaker of the House, Paul Ryan looks to be the earnest one.
In a formal transfer of power that was equal parts celebratory and emotional, the 45-year-old Wisconsin Republican on Thursday won an election on the House floor to replace the departing Boehner, who resigned last month rather than try to head off a conservative revolt. Nine Republicans cast their votes for a long-shot challenger, Daniel Webster of Florida, denying Ryan the unanimity he sought but allowing him to claim a measure of unity from a divided Republican conference.
Ryan now has a job he said he never wanted, and he immediately set about to fix a legislative chamber that he bluntly declared to be broken. “We’re not solving problems. We’re adding to them,” Ryan said in his first speech.
Pledging a clean break that wasn’t about “settling scores,” Ryan pledged to restore “regular order”—Congress-speak for empowering committees at the expense of top-down, leadership-dictated policy. He didn’t delve into specifics in his short speech, but he said he wanted the House to overhaul the tax code, improve healthcare, boost support for the military, and bring down the debt.
11 October
House conservative group would ‘look favorably’ on Ryan for speakership
(Reuters) The approximately 40-member House Freedom Caucus is at the center of turmoil within the Republican Party over who will be the party’s effective leader in the House ahead of the 2016 presidential election. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out on Thursday after facing skepticism from Freedom Caucus lawmakers who viewed him as too willing to compromise with Democratic President Barack Obama.
25 September
US Speaker John Boehner to leave Congress
(BBC) Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, will resign from his leadership position and give up his seat at the end of October.
It is unclear why he is quitting but one of his aides warned of “prolonged leadership turmoil” if he had stayed. Mr Boehner has been under pressure from the conservative wing of his party ever since he took the job in 2011.
Analysis – Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter
Mr Boehner becomes the first casualty in this new anti-establishment wave in the Republican Party.
The challenge of managing the day-to-day operations of the House of Representatives while satisfying an increasingly unruly – and growing – faction of hardcore conservative backbenchers has finally brought him down. There once was a time when a speaker could bend the House of Representatives to his will by offering rewards and meting out punishment for transgressions. Those days are long gone, as members of Congress now answer to outside constituencies and interests.
What John Boehner told me the night before he said he was quitting
25 August
Jimmy CarterJimmy Carter’s Unheralded Legacy
By Stuart E. Eizenstat, chief White House domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter and served in the State, Commerce and Treasury Departments under President Bill Clinton
(NYT) AS Jimmy Carter moves into the twilight of his life, it is enormously frustrating for those of us who worked closely with him in the White House to witness his presidency caricatured as a failure, and to see how he has been marginalized, even by his fellow Democrats, since he left office in 1981.
His defining characteristic was confronting intractable problems regardless of their political cost. His closest aide and confidant, Hamilton Jordan, ruefully joked that the worst argument to make to President Carter to dissuade him from action was that it would hurt him politically.
A former one-term governor of Georgia, Mr. Carter won with a colorblind campaign, and in office he stayed faithful to his message of uplifting the poor of all races at the risk of losing his white Southern base.
Mr. Carter understood that, after Watergate, trust in government needed to be restored. He imposed gift limits and financial disclosure rules on his appointees; slowed the revolving door of officials departing to lobby their former departments; and appointed inspectors general to root out fraud and mismanagement.
Mr. Carter established the Department of Education and increased college tuition grants for needy students. He ended federal price regulation of trucking, interstate buses, railroads and airlines.
5 August
Charles G. Cogan:’Have You No Sense of Decency?’
Not contrite about the South’s having held a large proportion of the black population of the American Republic in slavery for two and a half centuries, the opponents of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are seeking to undo the act and thereby restrict the right to vote of black citizens guaranteed by the 15th Amendment of 1870, which also gave Congress the authority to enforce that right state by state. Though still on the books the amendment was in effect undone with the end of Reconstruction and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South in 1877, ushering in the Jim Crow era: the poll tax, the literacy test, and other measures were applied to block the black vote.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, contained unusually strong protections to ensure the black vote. Rutenberg singled out Section 5 of the act which named “specific states as bad actors that fell under special federal scrutiny.”
Since then most of the white South has sought to undo this act in practice. But no smokescreen around such bywords as “states’ rights” and “voter fraud” can obscure this disgraceful development.
26 June

Barack Obama is officially one of the most consequential presidents in American history

(Vox) After Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, there’s no longer any doubt: Barack Obama is one of the most consequential presidents in American history — and he will be a particularly towering figure in the history of American progressivism.
National health insurance has been the single defining goal of American progressivism for more than a century. There have been other struggles, of course: for equality for women, African-Americans, and LGBT people; for environmental protection; against militarism in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. But ever since its inclusion in Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose platform, a federally guaranteed right to health coverage has been the one economic and social policy demand that loomed over all others. It was the big gap between our welfare state and those of our peers in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
aislin KKK confed flag-jpg  Ten Days in June
By David Remnick
(New Yorker) What a series of days in American life, full of savage mayhem, uncommon forgiveness, resistance to forgiveness, furious debate, mourning, and, finally, justice and grace. As President Obama led thousands of mourners in Charleston, South Carolina, in “Amazing Grace,” I thought about late 2013 and early 2014. Obama’s Presidency was surely dwindling, if not finished. His mood was sombre, philosophical—which is good if you are a philosopher; if not, not. …
“I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every President, like every person,” Obama told me. “I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping my moral compass while recognizing that I am a product of original sin. And every morning and every night I’m taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there’s going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that, if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that, at the end of the day, things will be better rather than worse.”
25 April
Nobel Prize-Winning Economist: We’re Headed for Oligarchy
Robert Solow on powerful families’ threat to democratic institutions.
(The Atlantic) In a recent interview at the Economic Policy Institute, Nobel Prize-Winning economist and MIT professor Robert Solow riffed on the political effects of increasing inequality and concentration of wealth at the very top. “If that kind of concentration of wealth continues, then we get to be more and more an oligarchical country, a country that’s run from the top,” he said.
April 14
In setback, Obama concedes Congress role on Iran deal
(Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama conceded on Tuesday that Congress will have the power to review a nuclear deal with Iran, reluctantly giving in to pressure from Republicans and some in his own party after they crafted a rare compromise demanding a say.
The role for the Republican-controlled Congress injects a new element of uncertainty into the delicate final stages of negotiations between major powers and Iran aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. … The bill that passed cut to 30 days from 60 the time in which Congress can review any final nuclear agreement and eliminated the requirement that Obama certify that Iran is not supporting acts of terrorism against the United States. Instead, it requires the administration to send Congress regular, detailed reports on a range of issues including Iran’s support for terrorism, ballistic missiles and nuclear program.
27 March
Republicans Must Be Pretty Bummed That Harry Reid’s Retiring
(Slate) Reid was Public Enemy No. 1 for Republicans during the 2014 Midterms, and candidates around the country invoked his time as Senate majority leader to make the case for ousting vulnerable Senate Democrats. … . In the post-Reid era, Republicans will have to hope the universe gives them comparably energizing foes.
Harry Reid Endorses Charles Schumer to Succeed Him as Minority Leader — Schumer is a legislator who’s willing to compromise, seems to enjoy fundraising, and loves talking to the press, which are three traits the position demands. He also has a blue-state seat that seems unlikely to face a potentially embarrassing Republican challenge; Schumer won 66 percent of the vote in his 2010 re-election campaign.
Patty Murray Should Be the Next Senate Minority Leader — The Washington senator is a better choice than Elizabeth Warren or Chuck Schumer.
17 March
(NYT First Draft) Finally in Charge, Republicans Prepare Spending Plan
After years of ridiculing Democrats for not producing a congressional budget, Republicans get their chance on Tuesday as House Republicans disclose the details of their proposed spending plan for 2016 to be followed later in the week by Senate Republicans.
It is a major moment for the new congressional majority. Budgets require only a majority vote, are not subject to Senate filibuster and cannot be vetoed by the president, so Republicans will not be able to blame Democrats if they fail to reach agreement between the House and Senate.
And, they have acknowledged that enacting a balanced budget represents a measure of their ability to run Congress, making any failure over the next month of budget deliberations especially embarrassing. To no-one’s surprise, the Republican budget cuts social spending, boosts military
16 March
Obama on GOP signees of Iran letter: ‘I’m embarrassed for them’
“I’m embarrassed for them, for them to address a letter to the ayatollah, who they claim is our mortal enemy, and their basic argument to them is, ‘Don’t deal with our president because you can’t trust him to follow through on an agreement,’” Obama said, referring to the open letter that 47 Republican senators signed and sent last week to the leaders of Iran. “It’s close to unprecedented,” he added.
In the letter, the lawmakers warned that Republicans are prepared to undercut any nuclear agreement reached under Obama’s direction between Iran and the United States. For months, the two countries have been involved in tense negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
10 March
(NYT First Draft on Politics) The escalating fight over a potential Obama administration nuclear deal with Iran has sent relations between President Obama and congressional Republicans plummeting to a new low as the White House on Monday accused Senate Republicans of actively undermining administration foreign policy. In a remarkable statement, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was unsparing in his criticism of an open letter from 47 Senate Republicans to the Iranian government warning that any agreement could be overturned by the next administration. Mr. Biden, a senator for more than three decades, called the letter offensive and said that undercutting “a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.” Some Democrats went even further and suggested that the letter to Iran could even violate the Logan Act. The act, dating from the administration of John Adams, makes it a crime for an unauthorized American citizen to correspond with a foreign government “to defeat the measures of the United States.”
3 March
Boehner Throws in the DHS Towel, Will Allow Vote on Clean Homeland Funding Bill
(Slate) House Speaker John Boehner told his GOP caucus this morning that the lower chamber will vote as soon as today to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of the fiscal year. That bill—which lacks any of the immigration reform-blocking strings that House conservatives had demanded in exchange for DHS funding—has already passed the Senate.
The move won’t make Boehner any friends among the most conservative wing of his party, but the Ohio Republican doesn’t have any other viable options at this point.
1 March
Netanyahu’s Congress speech scuppers bipartisan unity on support for Israel
Israeli PM is accused of ‘conspiring’ with Republicans to condemn Obama’s policy on Iranian nuclear talks
A set piece of the annual gathering of one of the most powerful political lobbies in Washington is the “roll call” of support in Congress for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac).
But as Aipac’s convention opens, the carefully forged image of Democrats and Republicans at one on Israel has been battered by the furious reaction to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress on Tuesday …  Few think the bedrock US support for Israel’s security, particularly military assistance, will be eroded. But Jeremy Ben-Ami of the liberal Washington lobby group J Street  said …  that increasingly among politicians and the American Jewish community the interests of Israel and the policies of Netanyahu are no longer regarded as one and the same.
28 February
Can John Boehner survive as House Speaker after DHS debacle? (+video)
With just minutes to spare, Congress and President Obama passed a one-week spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. It was a big setback for Speaker John Boehner, who lost 52 fellow Republicans on the bill he had pushed. The stunning House defeat of a three-week spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security exposed Boehner’s weakness in the face of rebellious GOP conservatives – 52 of whom went against him. … congressional analyst Chris Krueger of Guggenheim Securities told the newspaper, “The GOP has its largest House majority in over 70 years but that fact is misleading: a 28-seat majority is actually more like a 3-seat majority given that at least 25 Republicans cannot be counted on for the most important votes.” Therein lies John Boehner’s dilemma. And the hinge on which the future of his speakership may hang.
Behind the funding fight to avert Homeland Security shutdown
(PBS Newshour) Congress passed a one-week spending bill late Friday night to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security — as leaders in both political parties quelled a revolt by House conservatives who were furious that the measure left President Barack Obama’s immigration policy intact.
8 February
“Fascism is rising in America”: The Koch brothers and democracy’s dispiriting demise
We’re still paying the price for Citizens United, and our oligarchs are poised to capture even more political power
(Alternet via Salon) Last week, at David and Charles Koch’s annual winter meeting near Palm Springs, California, it was announced that the Koch Brothers’ political organization would spend close to $900 million on the 2016 election. If this goal is met, the group of corporate leaders will spend far more than the Republican Party and its congressional campaign committees spent, combined, in the 2012 campaign.
Once upon a time, it would have been illegal for the Koch Brothers and their fellow oligarchs to buy an election. Of course, that time was before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
7 February
John Boehner’s Big Triumph Is Now Just a Big Shit Sandwich
(Mother Jones) This is all part of the mounting fury from Democrats in Congress and the White House over the speech, and it’s become increasingly clear that the whole thing is a major blunder for Netanyahu. But who to blame? The invitation came from Speaker of the House John Boehner, so why not blame him? Today Netanyahu did exactly that, throwing him under the proverbial bus with barely a passing glance:
Poor John Boehner. … His big spectacle is in tatters, with Democrats in open revolt and pundits of all stripes agreeing that he overreached by going around the White House on a foreign policy matter.
22 January
John Boehner invites Netanyahu to [speak to] Congress on Iran
(BBC) The move is seen as a rebuke to President Barack Obama’s threat to veto any additional sanctions on the country during his State of the Union address.
He confirmed on Wednesday he had invited Mr Netanyahu to speak to Congress “on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life”. Analysis: Jon Sopel, John Boehner’s Netanyahu move is a poke in the eye for Obama and not surprisingly Barack Obama will not meet Benjamin Netanyahu in March
20 January
SOTU 2015 “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.” State of the Union Address 2015
Highlights of Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address
(Mashable) President Obama focused on economic issues, taxes and the middle class in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. He also discussed foreign policy and called for Congress to authorize the use of force against Islamic State militants. Recap ; Transcript
A Split in the State of the Union
This year, Obama’s domestic-policy narrative reached its crescendo, while his foreign-policy narrative quietly collapsed.
(The Atlantic) Only this year did Obama truly claim victory, declaring that 2014 was “a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999,” and that “the shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.” It was, as a thousand pundits noted, a victory lap. …
This year, however, just as Obama’s economic narrative reached its climax, his terrorism narrative quietly fell apart. As in past years, Obama boasted about having withdrawn troops from Afghanistan and about no longer “sending large ground forces overseas.” But in a marked shift from previous years, he stopped claiming that all this had made America safer from terrorism. … For seven years, his State of the Union speeches have portrayed a nation moving from danger to safety, war to peace. And now, in his final year in office, he’s not only stopped telling Americans they are safer. He’s declaring war.

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