September 24, 2014
The Amazing World Of Politics

Apparently, when the President salutes marines with a beverage in his hand, it is literally worse than Hitler. 

The Daily Dot gathered some of the gems on twitter.  One guy remarked:

Yes, you are reading that right.  A man used his twitter account to make a call for the military to support a revolution “when the time comes” because the President of the United States saluted a marine while holding a cup in his sixth year in office.

This one is amazing too:

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen.  The hatred harbored by the President of the United States for the U.S. military is made manifest by the fact that he has hatched a nefarious plan to kill off all of America’s armed forces by sending them all to their Ebola death.  

How can democracy fail with a discourse like this?

3:12am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnx1RYl6rC
  
Filed under: politics obama democracy 
August 8, 2014
"Today, America is coming to help."

President Obama, as he announced tonight that he’s authorized targeted airstrikes in Iraq, along with a humanitarian effort to aid stranded Iraqi civilians who fled advancing Sunni militant fighters. He said the U.S. would not be drawn into war. (via latimes)

LTMC: "He said the U.S. would not be drawn into war."

(via latimes)

August 5, 2014
Obama Signs Law Providing $225 Million for Israel's Iron Dome

kohenari:

I’ve seen a bunch of negative comments about continued U.S. funding for Israel’s Iron Dome system and I find this curious. They mostly take the form of “Israel is terrible” and thus don’t provide a lot by way of specific arguments against the bill that President Obama signed. 

What exactly is the complaint against the U.S. providing funding to Israel for a system that is designed to defend against rocket attacks on civilians?

Also, relatedly, is there any chance that this will finally put an end to the ongoing nonsense about how much Obama hates Israel?

LTMC: I wouldn’t hold my breath on Obama.  Ironically, Netanyahu is probably the only world leader whom right-leaning Israel supporters wouldn’t have a problem with Obama bowing in front of.  Even then, they would presumably argue that he didn’t bow low enough.

With respect to U.S. appropriations for the Iron Dome project, I think Jakke's response is on point here:

jakke said: Dollars spent on Iron Dome are perfectly substitutable for dollars spent on the Israeli military, so subsidizing Iron Dome lets the Israeli government keep financing huge military operations without its finances going in a Greece type direction.

Precisely this.  What the Israeli government receives from outside sources it need not spend from its own budget.  U.S. funding for the Iron Dome defense system allows Israel to take funds it would have spent on Iron Dome and spend them elsewhere in its defense budget (e.g. financing military incursions into Gaza).  Wars cost money, and what the Israeli government doesn’t spend on Iron Dome, it can spend on the tank shells, missiles, bombs, and bullets it brings with it into Gaza.  

In addition to this, I think outside financing of Israel’s defense systems has the indirect effect of making Israeli citizens more enthusiastic about supporting the Occupation—and periodic military incursions into the Occupied Territories—than it otherwise would be.  When the U.S. sponsors a piece of Israel’s defense budget, Israeli citizens aren’t actually bearing the full cost of Israel’s foreign policy.  I think the Israeli electorate might be less hawkish if they had to pay the full cost of their defense budget themselves, since scarce public resources come out of taxpayer’s pockets.

Lastly, since U.S. financing of Israel’s defense systems indirectly helps Israel to spend its remaining resources on military missions which I believe are unnecessary, counter-productive, and in many cases inhumane, I feel that as a U.S. citizen, I have a duty to oppose any U.S. appropriation that makes it easier for the Israeli government to engage in those activities.  

For the record, I think the Iron Dome system is a fantastic idea, and its implementation has saved countless Israeli lives.  I just don’t think that the U.S. should be funding it for the reasons stated above.  Bearing the full cost of their defense budget might have the laudable effect of encouraging the Israeli electorate to be less enthusiastic about expending limited public resources on military incursions into the Occupied Territories.

July 20, 2014
Top Obama official blasts Israel for denying Palestinians sovereignty, security, dignity

It seems the Obama administration now has at least two diplomats who are frustrated with the Israeli government over the peace process.  In May, an American diplomat walked out of a Palestinian-Israeli peace conference frustrated by the lack of progress, stating, It seems we’re in need of another intifada to create the circumstances that will allow for progress.”   

Nonetheless, it appears that the U.S. Senate is still reliably in Netanyahu’s pocket.  Via TruthDig:

On Thursday, all 100 U.S. senators—including progressives Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken and Sherrod Brown—voted to pass an AIPAC-drafted resolution supporting the Netanyahu government’s military invasion of the Gaza Strip.

AIPAC stands for American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It lobbies Congress and the White House in the interests of Israel and is a source of campaign funds for both Democrats and Republicans.

M.J. Rosen, a former senior foreign policy fellow at Media Matters Action Network, wrote of the agreement in a mass email: “There is not one word of compassion for Palestinians killed or injured, not a word calling for peace, not a word indicating that the Senate would perhaps prefer to see the invasion end. On the other hand, it calls for dissolution of the Palestinian unity government which has been Netanyahu’s goal since it was established.”

July 7, 2014
"[A]fter an extremely slow start using his clemency powers, the president has issued criteria for jailed nonviolent drug offenders to be eligible. More than 18,000 prisoners have applied, but the Republican-led House of Representatives passed an amendment in May preventing the use of federal funds for screening applications."

Matt Welch (via letterstomycountry)

A response to the quote above from laliberty:

The blue #politics tag caught my eye here before I read the actual quote. I thought “what could reason’s Matt Welch have said to make it through the partisan censors at the #politics tag?”. Then I read it and realized it was all about showing Obama as some good guy and Republicans as obstructionists… and it all made perfect sense. 

Let’s not forget that, as noted in the Welch piece linked to above (in fact, earlier in the very paragraph this quote was strategically extracted from), (1) “Obama’s Justice Department raided more medical marijuana dispensaries than Bush’s ever dreamed of, while the president himself literally laughed out loud at the prospect of legalization for recreational use,” (2) the president has the power to pardon criminals and, as one presidential candidate once promised, pardoning non-violent drug offenders is something that can be done from the oval office, and (3) even if he didn’t have such power, Obama has repeatedly shown his willingness to circumvent Congress whenever it suits him and has flaunted such willingness repeatedly (he’s “got a pen,” remember?). That republicans have blocked funds is ultimately a tiny road block, since (as I understand it) there is nothing stopping the administration from redirecting DOJ resources and directives away from those many aforementioned drug raids, away from further federally prosecuting drug offenders, and toward screening applications - or, instead, doing their own due process. Indeed, that Holder and the ACLU have asked for applications is an extra step that only serves to push accountability away from the president - after all, what is the DOJ for? Furthermore, as president, that makes him de facto head of his party. For years, his party had control of both houses while he was in office. Indeed, it was under these circumstances that Obamacare was able to be crammed through the Senate without a single Republican vote. Since presidential clemency ultimately does nothing to change unjust drug laws or set president, that would have been the opportune time to make real changes to laws that punish the peaceful consumption of plants by consenting adults. Then again, they wouldn’t have been able to blame Republicans if it didn’t pass.

Forgive me if I’m not so eager to declare Obama as some righteous drug war liberator.

LTMC: I think your suspicions about the intention behind this “strategically extracted” quote are a bit misplaced.

First, some of your skepticism appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the clemency process.  The process for securing a pardon begins with a Petition for Clemency, Commutation, or Pardon, which is submitted to the DOJ.  It’s not an “extra step” to push accountability away from the President.  It’s a step that has always been a part of the process.

Second, it’s true that the White House can unilaterally redirect funding from different Agencies to give affect to its enforcement priorities.  However, this power is subordinate to Congress’s power to place express restrictions of funding to Executive Agencies.  Congress’s ability to limit the use of federal funds by other branches is the main historic tool by which Congress can limit executive power.”  Congress can tell the President how an Executive Agency must spend its money, or whether it can spend money at all.  So the amendment that was passed in the House is not merely a small roadblock.  The amendment banned the use of federal funds to expand the number of staff attorneys at the Office of the Pardon Attorney so they could process more clemency applications in a shorter amount of time.  This has the direct effect of causing  prisoners who are eligible under the new clemency guidelines to rot in jail for longer periods of time than they would otherwise have to.  So yes, the Republicans deserve to be criticized for this. If Obama looks better by comparison on this particular issue, it’s because he made a good drug policy decision for a change.

Third, regarding editing of this quote: I pulled this quote from Matt Welch’s piece because it was a point of information that I thought was relevant for anyone concerned with drug policy.  I edited the quote because the other information in that paragraph wasn’t relevant to the issue of Executive Clemency.  To be honest, I also don’t know how anyone could look at this quote and think it was clipped to make Obama look good.  The quote begins with: "after an extremely slow start using his clemency powers[.]"  That’s not a flattering lead.  If I was trying to make Obama look like a "righteous drug war liberator," I would have clipped that opening sentence, so there wasn’t even a suggestion of failure on Obama’s part. 

I have no interest in making Obama look good.  I’ve criticized his administration countless times—including for the previous conspicuous absence of Drug War pardons, and his position on Drug Prohibition generally.  I’ve taken heat from the liberal side of Tumblr on numerous occasions for stuff I’ve written about the guy—including when I suggested that Ron Paul was a better Presidential candidate on numerous issues that most self-identifying liberals claim to care about.  Perhaps the editor who selected this quote promoted it because they thought it made Obama look good in comparison to the GOP-led House.  But that’s certainly not the primary reason I pulled the quote from Welch’s article.

(via laliberty)

June 27, 2014
Liberal Interventionism & Iraq Redux

Peter Beinart has taken a big swing at Obama’s Iraq policy, labeling it a “disaster.”  

Among Beinart’s criticisms are Obama’s failure to “push” Maliki’s government to be more inclusive of Sunnis:

Yes, the Iraq War was a disaster of historic proportions. Yes, seeing its architects return to prime time to smugly slam President Obama while taking no responsibility for their own, far greater, failures is infuriating.

But sooner or later, honest liberals will have to admit that Obama’s Iraq policy has been a disaster. Since the president took office, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has grown ever more tyrannical and ever more sectarian, driving his country’s Sunnis toward revolt. Since Obama took office, Iraq watchers—including those within his own administration—have warned that unless the United States pushed hard for inclusive government, the country would slide back into civil war. Yet the White House has been so eager to put Iraq in America’s rearview mirror that, publicly at least, it has given Maliki an almost-free pass. Until now, when it may be too late.

Beinart also criticizes Obama for his failure to “push” the Maliki government to allow American troops to stay in Iraq past 2011:

Under an agreement signed by George W. Bush, the U.S. was to withdraw forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. American military officials, fearful that Iraq might unravel without U.S. supervision, wanted to keep 20,000 to 25,000 troops in the country after that. Obama now claims that maintaining any residual force was impossible because Iraq’s parliament would not give U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution. Given how unpopular America’s military presence was among ordinary Iraqis, that may well be true. But we can’t fully know because Obama—eager to tout a full withdrawal from Iraq in his reelection campaign—didn’t push hard to keep troops in the country. As a former senior White House official told Peter Baker of The New York Times, “We really didn’t want to be there and [Maliki] really didn’t want us there.… [Y]ou had a president who was going to be running for re-election, and getting out of Iraq was going to be a big statement.”

In recent days, Republicans have slammed Obama for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. But the real problem with America’s military withdrawal was that it exacerbated a diplomatic withdrawal that had been underway since Obama took office. 

I encourage you to click through and read the whole article.  For now, I’d like to address the problems with Beinart’s argument.

First, there is a reason why Beinart uses a vague, ill-defined term like “push” to describe efforts which the Obama administration could have used to prevent the current violence in Iraq: Beinart is afraid to come out and say what he actually wants the Obama Administration to do. 

Beinart’s preferred course of action would require the Obama administration to break a legally binding treaty signed by Obama’s predecessor, on the grounds that leaving troops in Iraq after 2011 would have been better policy.  Why?  Because the diplomatic pressure that Beinart thinks the Obama administration should have applied to Iraq only matters if the Maliki government thinks there will be consequences should they decide not to cooperate.  What consequences does Beinart propose?  In the realm of international affairs, “consequences” generally require a threat of force.  Nations generally only have two forms of force at their disposal: (1) military intervention, or (2) economic sanctions.  

This means that getting Maliki’s government to cooperate would likely require either the threat of a second military intervention in Iraq (potentially to oust Maliki), or the threat of economic sanctions against Maliki’s government.  The latter course would essentially guarantee that Iraq plunges into chaos by causing economic disruption and humanitarian disasters—an environment that violent fundamentalism thrives in.  So in any sane world, we’re pretty much just looking at the threat of another military intervention.  Something I doubt would win the U.S. many friends in the Middle East.

Second, even if we assume that leaving troops in Iraq after 2011 would have been good policy, in order to do so legally, Obama would need to renegotiate the treaty signed by George W. Bush.  That would require the cooperation of the Maliki government—something Beinart admits has been non-existent from day one.  The only other alternative is to break the treaty signed by George W. Bush.  

Breaking that treaty would be unconstitutional under Art. VI, cl. 2 of the Constitution, which states that treaties lawfully entered into by the U.S. Government are the “supreme law of the land.”  Treaties signed and ratified by the U.S. government have the same legal status as federal law.  So if Obama can’t convince Maliki to renegotiate the terms of the treaty, Beinart’s plan would require Obama to violate Art. VI of the U.S. Constitution.  As stated above, Beinart admits that the cooperation from the Maliki government has not been forthcoming.  So all we’re left with, practically speaking, is breaking treaties and violating Art. VI of the Constitution.

If Obama did what Beinart is asking him to do, many of the same people who claim Obama didn’t do enough to intervene in Iraq’s affairs would in turn claim that Obama was engaging in (yet more) executive overreach and disregarding the limitations of his office.  And in this case, they would be correct.  Unilaterally breaking a legally binding treaty would be a clearly impeachable offense.

With all this in mind, I don’t view Beinart’s take on the situation in Iraq as all that pragmatic.  More to the point, his insistence that the renewed violence in Iraq requires American intervention to solve is another example of the same brand of American Exceptionalism that Beinart himself has written about the decline of.  This idea that the violence in Iraq can only be cured by a “better U.S. policy” is a conceit of star-spangled origin.  Iraqis are capable of solving this problem themselves.  We should let them do so before the U.S. becomes embroiled in yet another sustained military intervention that requires years to extract ourselves from.

March 1, 2014
Palin Mocked in 2008 for Warning Putin May Invade Ukraine if Obama Elected

So this is pretty dumb.  Breitbart.com is pretty clearly trying to suggest here that Sarah Palin was saying some sort of foreign policy sooth when she suggested that Russia would invade the Ukraine if Obama was elected.  A few questions for the editorial staff:

  1. The U.S. Government has already denounced Russia’s invasion of Crimea.  What would a McCain-Palin administration have done differently?  Impose economic sanctions?  Go the U.N. Security Council?  U.S. trade with Russia only accounts for about $26 billion dollars in imports, with a trade deficit in Russia’s favor of about $15.8 billion.  That’s less than 1% of Russia’s GDP.  And neither the U.N. Security Council nor the General Assembly are ever going to approve sanctions against Russia.  So what’s the alternative?  Bomb Moscow?
  2. Russia is taking advantage of political instability in the Ukraine that occurred after the current President abused his authority. What policies could an American President realistically have enacted to prevent this situation from occurring?  Should we station American troops on the Ukrainian border and start another Cold War?  What if the Ukrainian public refused to allow U.S. troops in their borders?
  3. If the McCain-Palin ticket was elected, what would the administration have done differently to prevent this situation from occurring?  Threaten to invade Russia?

In reality, Palin’s comments are just an example of the old saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day.  Which is, of course, not due to any particular virtue of the clock, or the insight of the clockmaker.  Palin was rightfully mocked for saying this because the implied causes and effects of her statement don’t bear any relation to reality.  It would be like me predicting in 2000 that the financial markets would suffer a catastrophic crash if George W. Bush was elected—despite the fact that there’s no evidence that the markets wouldn’t have crashed under Al Gore or John Kerry.  It’s not genuine insight.  It’s coincidence parading as wisdom.

January 29, 2014
Fact-Checking The State Of The Union Address

From the article:

“I”: By positing the existence of a fixed, independent self that is distinct from the group, Obama succumbs to a classic existential misconception: reifying the ego, that illusory, shifting entity that is not apart from, but of, the whole.

Amazing.

(Source: theonion)

December 18, 2013
FOIA And The Presidential Privilege

In a recent federal case, Judge Ellen Huvelle from the D.C. District Court has some excellent legal analysis regarding when the Presidential Communications Privilege applies, and when it does not.

In 2010, the Obama administration issued a policy document called Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (the “PPD-6”).  This was a diplomatic document that “purports to communicate policy relevant to national security and foreign relations topics.”  It was distributed to a number of federal agencies, including the Dep’t of State, USAID, It was widely distributed throughout the Executive Branch beyond the White House.

An organization called the Center for Effective Government made a FOIA request seeking the PPD-6, and was denied.  They later sued to get the document.  However, the Government claims the PPD-6 is protected under something called “Exemption 5,” which is the exemption in FOIA related to presidential communications.

While the PPD-6 appears to have been distributed on a need-to-know basis, the fact remains that the Presidential Communications Privilege does not protect every document that comes from the President’s desk.  The court summed up the relevant law:

The presidential communications privilege is a “presumptive privilege for [p]residential communications,” United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 708 (1974), that “preserves the President’s ability to obtain candid and informed opinions from his advisors and to make decisions confidentially.” Loving, 550 F.3d at 37; see also In re Sealed Case, 121 F.3d 729, 750 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (“[T]he privilege itself is rooted in the need for confidentiality to ensure that presidential decisionmaking is of the highest caliber, informed by honest advice and full knowledge.” (emphasis added)). The privilege protects those “documents or other materials that reflect presidential decisionmaking and deliberations and that the President believes should remain confidential,” and, once the privilege is invoked, the documents become presumptively  privileged. In re Sealed Case, 121 F.3d at 744. Further, unlike the deliberative process privilege, which is also encompassed under Exemption 5, the presidential communications privilege “applies to documents in their entirety, and covers final and post-decisional materials as well as pre-deliberative ones.” Id. at 745.

The privilege also protects:

communications authored or solicited and received by those members of an immediate White House adviser’s staff who have broad and significant responsibility for investigating and formulating the advice to be given the President on the particular matter to which the communications relate.

The emphasized text is important.  Because the PPD-6 was distributed beyond the immediate White House Advisors’ staff, it can’t reasonably be construed to be covered by the Presidential Communications Privilege—particularly since FOIA exemptions are supposed to be interpreted narrowly:

The scope of the privilege is to be “construed as narrowly as is consistent with ensuring that the confidentiality of the President’s decision-making process is adequately protected.”Judicial Watch, 365 F.3d at 1116 (quoting In re Sealed Case, 121 F.3d at 752); see also Abramson, 456 U.S. at 630 (“FOIA exemptions are to be narrowly construed.”). As such, it “only applies to communications that … advisers and their staff author or solicit and receive in the course of performing their function of advising the President on official government matters” and does not generally “extend to staff outside the White House in executive branch agencies.”In re Sealed Case, 121 F.3d at 752; see also Judicial Watch, 365 F.3d at 1116. “[T]here is, in effect, a hierarchy of presidential advisers such that the demands of the privilege become more attenuated the further away the advisers are from the President operationally.” Judicial Watch, 365 F.3d at 1115

Accordingly, Judge Huvelle found that the PPD-6 was not protected by the Presidential Communications Privilege, and ordered the Government to make it available for inspection.

While this decision is a win for government transparency, one wonders what the Executive Branch’s reaction to this will be.  Will they start defensively classifying everything that comes from the President’s desk?  Such an approach would be inconsistent with FOIA, of course.  But not everybody has the time or effort to litigate each time the Government classifies a document.  

On the other hand, nothing is really being lost here.  Had the court gone the other way, we would still not have access to the PPD-6, and the scope of the privilege would have been increased as a matter of law—a decidedly undesirable result.

Nonetheless,the court’s decision does a good job of explaining when something is supposed to be privileged under FOIA and when it isn’t.  Useful information for anyone trying to figure out what the Executive Branch is up to.

November 27, 2013
"20% Of Obama’s Pardons Have Gone To Turkeys"

It’s like dark comedy, only it’s real life.  Here are some statistics for Presidential Pardons relative to number of applications for clemency:

Ronald Reagan: 1 in 8

George H.W. Bush: 1 in 19

Bill Clinton: 1 in 16

George W. Bush: 1 in 55

Barack Obama: 1 in 290

Political liability is not an excuse.  This is unprecedented restraint.  It seems like a good time to recall the words of Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 74:

The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel. As the sense of responsibility is always strongest, in proportion as it is undivided, it may be inferred that a single man would be most ready to attend to the force of those motives which might plead for a mitigation of the rigor of the law, and least apt to yield to considerations which were calculated to shelter a fit object of its vengeance. The reflection that the fate of a fellow-creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution; the dread of being accused of weakness or connivance, would beget equal circumspection, though of a different kind. On the other hand, as men generally derive confidence from their numbers, they might often encourage each other in an act of obduracy, and might be less sensible to the apprehension of suspicion or censure for an injudicious or affected clemency. On these accounts, one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of government, than a body of men.

Some of these are not hard cases.  In the case of Weldon Angelos, a first-time offender sentenced to 55 years in prison, a  Republican-appointed Judge who wrote Angelos’ sentencing order actually requested that the President pardon Angelos, because the 55-year sentence mandated by law was manifestly unjust:

[This] court believes that to sentence Mr. Angelos to prison for the rest of his life is unjust, cruel, and even irrational … To correct what appears to be an unjust sentence, the court also calls on the President—in whom our Constitution reposes the power to correct unduly harsh sentences—to commute Mr. Angelos’ sentence to something that is more in accord with just and rational punishment. 

Why has the Obama administration not acted on this case?  Why are turkeys representing a greater proportion of Obama’s presidential pardons than any of his republican or democratic colleagues in the past 4 decades?  This is shameful.  And it needs to change.

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