Obama Needs to Inspire, Now More Than Ever

Obama Needs to Inspire, Now More Than Ever

It’s time for the president to pull America out of the doldrums.

President Barack Obama speaks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014.

America needs you.

By Aug. 27, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. EDT+ More

More than 200,000 jobs created each month over the last six months; 9.9 million jobs created since the recession; the gross domestic product increased by 4 percent over the last quarter; consumer spending is up; auto sales are the highest since 2007; the stock market has more than doubled since the crash of 2008.

America has every reason to be optimistic, yet we are truly down in the dumps.

An August NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 71 percent believe we are on the wrong track, and only 21 percent think we are headed in the right direction. A full 64 percent are dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, and 33 percent very dissatisfied. Even 62 percent are dissatisfied with America’s role in the world, and 79 percent are dissatisfied with our political system; 49 percent are very dissatisfied.

[GALLERY: Cartoons on the Economy]

It ain’t pretty out there.

If we are computing a “Depression Index,” we should add two more numbers. When asked whether America is in a state of decline or not in decline, the poll shows 60 percent say we’re in decline while 38 say we are not. Americans who have traditionally been optimistic about the future now feel, by 76 percent to 21 percent, that their children’s lives will not be better than theirs.

When things are getting better, people are feeling worse. So where does this leave us as we approach the November elections?

[GALLERY: Cartoons on the 2014 Congressional Elections]

President Barack Obama can talk about the recovery, as he has in numerous speeches. But many don’t feel it, and many more don’t believe it. The jolt that was the 2008 crash and ensuing recession permeates us just as the 1929 crash lasted for over a decade.
So maybe it is time for the president to inspire the confidence, resilience and optimism that have always been part of who we are as Americans. Maybe it is time for Obama to put forth not only the facts of where we are economically but where this is going to take us, how we are coming out of the 2008 near-depression and where we will end up.

[SEE: Cartoons on President Obama]

Maybe it is time for the president to talk about our progress towards a New America, one where we are making the transition to a highly-educated economy, where we are sharing burdens overseas, where we are battling discrimination on all fronts and where we declare a commitment to the middle class that our fight is their fight.

Maybe it is time for some new initiatives like universal service where our young people are called to serve their country at some time between the ages of 18 to 27. Maybe we should truly revamp our schools so that they go year-round and provide the kinds of programs that inspire students as well as educate them. Maybe we should revamp our polarizing political system, work to end how we finance our elections and stop the gerrymandering of our congressional districts. Maybe we should reform the way Congress does business, by changing the filibuster, redoing the budget process and tossing out arcane rules that have paralyzed our political system.

If Obama can raise people’s optimism, call them to higher standards and give them a sense that there is so much to fight for and change, he will find followers and raise the level of discourse. This is a president that can inspire, and America needs that now more than ever.

GOP Voter Suppression is Bad for Democracy and Bad for Republicans–USNews Column Aug. 12, 2014

We Need More Voting, Not Less

Republicans are gaming the electoral system by suppressing the vote.

Voting booths are set up for early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on Sept. 27, 2012, in Waterloo, Iowa.

Voter suppression will come back to bite the GOP.

By Aug. 12, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. EDT+ More

For decades, we in America have lamented our voter turnout. There has been widespread concern about not only the 60 percent participation in presidential elections, but the drop-off to about 40 percent in off years and the miserable turnout for local elections and primaries that often doesn’t reach 20 percent. So why do Republicans in key states seem intent on preventing certain citizens from voting?

The critics of our system cite European countries that continuously have turnout numbers between 70 percent and 80 percent. (Austria, Sweden and Italy usually hit the 80 percent mark.) They point to how hard we make it for citizens to register, the problem with requiring additional documents at polling places and the recent passage of laws to combat so-called “voter fraud.”

[SEE: Cartoons about the Republican Party]

We can go one of two directions in this country: We can make voting easier or we can make it harder. It is difficult to understand why some Republicans desire to make it harder. It is even more difficult to understand their desire to stop African-Americans, Hispanics and young people from voting, unless, of course, you take the view that Republicans have cynically decided to suppress the vote of these more Democratic-leaning groups.

The New York Times editorial board today pointed to those who are trying to make voting easier and those who are trying to make it harder. It cited six states that have recently created online registration systems and four that have either allowed voters under 18 to pre-register or put in place election day registration or expanded early voting.

Sadly, the Times also pointed to the 15 states that have passed new restrictions on voting that are mostly controlled by Republicans. 11 states have put in place restrictive voter ID laws, reduced time for early voting was passed in eight states, and some students are being prevented from voting where they reside for college.

According to he Times, 10 states have made it more difficult to even register to vote. A total of 34 states now have restrictive voter ID laws.

[MORE: Cartoons about Congress]

One of the most outrageous aspects of this movement by Republican operatives is that it is combating a problem that doesn’t exist. Voter fraud is not a serious problem in our elections, but preventing key groups of minorities, poor people and the young from exercising their constitutional rights certainly is becoming one.

We need to open up our electoral system, not close it. We need to have universal voter registration at 18. We need to have more early voting, not less, more vote by mail, not less, more consolidation of voting days, not less, and more use of technology to provide online registration. We need to explore weekend voting and also new ways to clean up voter lists and keep them current.

At the end of the day, it is time for Republicans to stop trying to game the system and win elections by denying citizens the right to vote. It will only come back to bite them – and bite them hard.

Time to Clean House at the CIA — USNews Column Aug 1, 2014

Time to Clean House at the CIA

U.S. intelligence agencies are out of control, and Director John Brennan has got to go.

CIA Director John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 12, 2013, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

By Aug. 1, 2014 | 11:10 a.m. EDT+ More

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Co., got it right yesterday. And he has been getting it right now for several years: Our intelligence community has violated the law, lied to Congress and the American people, and needs a serious makeover.

The CIA admission that it systematically spied on U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee staffers is a very big deal. As Udall put it, “The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers. This grave misconduct not only is illegal but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers.”

Udall, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and others have been on a lonely crusade, quietly and responsibly, long before the NSA leaks of former contractor Edward Snowden, to rein in our intelligence community from spying on Americans, violating the Fourth Amendment and overstepping its bounds in the use of torture. They have consistently brought these issues up in closed committee hearings, lobbied the Obama administration to crack down on the activity and stood up for our constitutional rights.

[READ: Should CIA Director John Brennan Resign?]

We went through a similar period when I served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence headed by my old boss, Sen. Frank Church, D-Id. He was another westerner with integrity and courage who took on the powerful intelligence community for spying on Americans and engaging in assassination plots against foreign leaders. In the 1960s and 1970s, these agencies were also out of control and it was Congress that investigated them and came up with recommendations for serious oversight.

Sadly, the permanent congressional intelligence committees have been steamrolled, and especially during the Bush-Cheney era after 9/11, we were back to anything goes. Some would say, as Church did during the 1975-76 investigations, that the CIA (or the National Security Agency) was acting like a “rogue elephant,” but the message was sent from the top that the ends justify the means – do what you need to do and keep it secret.

From all appearances, this was former Vice President Dick Cheney’s war. The fact that former Secretary of State Colin Powell was initially kept in the dark about the torture in the secret prisons overseas is appalling. The fact that ambassadors to the countries where the “black sites” were set up were told not to inform their superiors at State is equally appalling. Saddest of all is that the Senate report which the CIA tried to undermine shows clearly that very little was gained by the use of torture and that this whole effort leaves a black mark on our country.

[MORE: Cartoons on the NSA]

President Barack Obama made the decision early on to stop the program, but he also decided not to hold anyone accountable. Move on. Start fresh.

But now we are faced with a far different situation. It is time for presidential leadership to hold those in the CIA accountable. It is time to have a full house-cleaning of these agencies. It is time to recognize that we have a serious problem and that CIA Director John Brennan should go, as Udall was the first to suggest.

America needs a new director of the CIA, much in the Bill Colby mold, who did his best to reform the agency during the Church years. We need to initiate serious reform at the NSA as well.

It is also time for Obama to appoint an independent commission, much like Simpson-Bowles or the 9/11 Commission, to conduct a year-long review of our intelligence agencies. It needs a full staff, subpoena power, and members of Congress and distinguished Americans as members.

[READ: All the President's Bureaucrats]

But most of all, those who violate the law, those CIA employees who hacked computers, should, at the very least, be fired. If superiors approved, they should be fired. And, most of all, their cases should be turned over to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

It is long past time, as Udall indicated, for these actions to be dealt with, not swept under the rug. Americans’ freedoms and our reputation around the world demand it.

Three Cheers for Thad Cochran’s Win!

Three Cheers for Thad Cochran

It’s a good thing the old school senator won, and a bad thing that it was so difficult.

Cochran believes in limited government, not no government.

By Peter FennJune 25, 2014 | 5:05 p.m. EDT+ More  USNEWS & WORLD REPORT THOMAS JEFFERSON STREET BLOG

I was rooting for Republican Sen. Thad Cochran yesterday. I know, I know, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat and many told me that the “best” thing that could happen would be for tea party candidate Chris McDaniel to win the runoff. Then we might have won in November.

I doubt it.

But regardless of the politics of the general election, it seemed to me that there were larger issues at stake. I could eat my words in November, I suppose, if Republicans take over the Senate by one vote and Mississippi could have made the difference.

[SEE: Cartoons about the Republican Party]

You see, I fundamentally don’t think it’s good for the country or the political parties to degenerate into a collection of candidates who are so extreme they make Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan look like flaming liberals. Whether the issue is immigration reform, paying our debts, providing a federal budget, or a whole host of concerns such as education, transportation, agriculture, health and safety, these new extremists don’t believe in a federal role. In short, they do not believe much in government at all.

They claim the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and “remaking America,” but nearly every move they make is intent on destroying what has worked. This is the least pragmatic or problem-solving crowd I have ever experienced.

So I look with some affection at a man like Thad Cochran whose desire is to see government, limited as it might be, work for people.

The good news for the Republic is that he won; the sad state of affairs is that it was so narrow, as were so many other victories by plain, hard core conservatives yesterday.

[GALLERY: Cartoons on the tea party]

I do have fond memories of a diverse and vibrant Republican Party with the likes of Jacob Javits, Clifford Case, Ed Brooke, Tom Kuchel, Everett Dirksen, Mac Mathias, John Sherman Cooper, Margaret Chase Smith and Mark Hatfield, just to name a few. There were Senators who worked across the aisle, who accomplished great things, whose beliefs were different, but who knew that compromise was not a four letter word.

That is not what we have today, particularly with the crowd of angry, negative, inexperienced candidates that the tea party has spawned.

So I am pleased that Cochran won, and sad that it was so difficult.


The Cheneys are Trying Desperately to Justify Their Failed Iraq Ideas

The Cheneys’ Continuing Iraq Disaster

Dick and Liz Cheney have no business blaming Obama for the mess in Iraq.

Liz Cheney, board member, Keep America Safe, walks off the stage with her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, after they addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010.

The Cheneys are trying desperately to justify their failed Iraq ideas.

USNews & World Report–Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

By June 18, 2014 | 5:15 p.m. EDT+ More

On the heels of Father’s Day, we get a Wall Street Journal missive from none other than Dick and Liz Cheney, the father-daughter duo. Really?

For those who thought they had seen the last of Liz and her ill-fated and absurd challenge to Republican Sen. Mike Enzi from Wyoming, the state she hardly lived in and didn’t know, she’s back! And Dick, who can’t resist a diatribe to justify his ill-fated and disastrous policy in Iraq, has never learned to zip it.

The worst part is the supposed substance of their piece: Iraq is all Obama’s fault. He is “willfully blind,” “he goes golfing,” “he abandoned Iraq,” he is guilty of “simple -minded appeasement.” The Cheney team’s conclusion: “President Obama is on track to securing his legacy as the man who betrayed our past and squandered our freedom.”

What drivel.

[SEE: Cartoons about the Republican Party]

There is absolutely no discussion of the dynamics of the Middle East in their article. There is no mention of the deeply religious conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. There is no mention of the Kurds. There is no substantive exploration of the involvement of other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, in this conflict. There is not one reference to policy options that should be considered in response to the attack by terrorist groups associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or ISIS.

In short, this is an article devoid of substance, let alone a reasonable discussion of public policy.

So, aside from being a vitriolic attack against President Obama, why did they write it? The answer is pretty straightforward, I think. The Cheneys are trying desperately to justify the unjustifiable.

[SEE: Cartoons on the Middle East]

Dick Cheney lied to get us into Iraq: weapons of mass destruction; Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11; the people want us there; we’ll be greeted as liberators; chemical weapons are ready to be unleashed. On and on. Dick Cheney was one of the architects of one of the most extraordinary disasters ever in the history of American foreign policy: more than $1 trillion spent, thousands killed, a country destroyed. Al-Qaida was not present in Iraq before the invasion, but what about now? Because of the Bush-Cheney policy, we created more terrorists than we could ever have dreamed of killing.

The line from Dick and Liz that is truly astounding, and they seem most proud of, is: “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” It is truly sad that they don’t recognize that such a line applies so much more completely to them and what they did. Their preferred policy was a complete disaster, and most people know it.

[SEE: Cartoons on Iraq]

President George Herbert Walker Bush surely understood, when he wrote these words in his book about the policy decisions he made on Iraq back in the early 1990s: “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. … There was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

Yes, Mr. and Ms. Cheney, and that is precisely what you did and what you recommend now. A disaster then, a disaster now.

Cantor’s Loss is the Democrats’ Gain




Cantor’s loss is the Democrats’ gain

John Avlon, in The Daily Beast, quotes Winston Churchill’s famous line: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile — hoping it will eat him last.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) helped make the Tea Party — and it just ate him alive.

A lot has been written about how and why this upset occurred — immigration, out-of-touch, botched campaign, anti-Semitism, etc. — but the bottom line is that the confluence of factors weakens national Republicans.First, it ensures a brutal battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. The Tea Party discord and anger that was thought to be on the decline will now be on the rise. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has a very big smile on his face today.

Second, the issues that drove this insurgency and appeal to the Tea Party — anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-government, anti-choice, anti-tax — are now going to be more hardline than ever in the House Republican caucus.

Third, there is no sense of responsibility among this crowd; they don’t feel they owe anybody anything. They come to Congress not to do the hard work but to rail against the “establishment.” Thus, their approach is to shut down the government, refuse to raise the debt ceiling, behave in as outrageous a way as humanly possible.

Fourth, they are loyal to no one, least of all the congressional leadership or even the Republican Party. They got here on their own and they are the Lone Rangers of American politics.

Fifth, they are way outside America’s mainstream. They are not in sync with the American people — on gay rights, on women’s rights, on civil rights, on climate change, on issue after issue.

The Democrats will benefit from the marginalization of a divided Republican Party that further antagonizes African-Americans, Hispanics, young people, independents and moderates.

This further puts the Republicans out as extreme, too willing to prevent the government from functioning, too ready to prevent Washington from getting on with the business of the day. They become more and more the anti-party — the against party — the party that is mired in the past and has no plans for the future.

The more radical and angry the Tea Party Republicans become, the less likely they are to win elections, especially presidential elections. They may pick off some like Cantor and Sen. Thad Cochran (R) in Mississippi, but this will cost them dearly and the Democrats will be the beneficiaries.

The alligators that the right-wing Republicans have filled the swamp with will proceed to devour them at an alarming rate. Lesson: Don’t feed the animals!


Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/campaign/209155-cantors-loss-is-the-democrats-gain#ixzz34Y8c4iMx
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Cantor’s Defeat: It Wasn’t Pretty

The Ugliness Underneath Cantor’s Loss

The majority leader’s ouster shows the GOP’s reactionary faction can’t be ignored.

The Associated Press

This election will reverberate for years to come. And not in a good way.

By June 11, 2014 | 1:45 p.m. EDT+ More

Eric Cantor was a hard core conservative who challenged Speaker John Boehner over a budget deal, caucused with the tea party crowd and was viewed by many as next in line for the speakership. He was no moderate, no big compromiser, no friend of the Obama administration. If anything, Cantor was the choice of many of the most conservative Republicans in Congress to lead them into the future. He stoked the tea party fires in 2009 and 2010.

So what happened?

Those of us who have been around campaigns for a while are constantly frustrated by the armchair quarterbacks who espouse the “silver bullet” theory – one simple reason for a victory or defeat. The press loves to come up with an easy to understand explanation and so do many politicos.

The current “silver bullet” is that Cantor lost because of the immigration issue. Even though he was pretty hard line, and tried to be more hard line at the end of the campaign, he had backed a version of the DREAM Act that allowed kids of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition rates.

[READ: The Fight to Define Cantor's Defeat]

There is no question that this was a driving issue and hurt Cantor. There is no question that many Republicans will view immigration reform as the third rail – touch it and you die – and that his loss makes the likelihood of comprehensive reform much more difficult.

I would certainly put it up near the top of the list of problems Cantor had this cycle. But he was the target of the overall anger towards Washington. He was viewed as out of touch and more concerned with being part of the Washington establishment than being a Virginian. After all, he spent nearly $170,000 on steak houses, close to the total of $200,000 spent by David Brat in his entire campaign.

He also made tactical errors in his campaign: attacking David Brat for being a “liberal college professor” when everyone knew that was untrue; elevating Brat’s campaign when he should have been elevating his own; ignoring the importance of a grassroots, volunteer-based organization. I’m sure those closer to the campaign have other critiques.

His opponent, and the right-wing talk show hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin, mobilized the Rush Limbaugh set and built a strong grassroots operation. Christian rhetoric and evangelical fervor from Brat lifted his campaign. He gave credit to God for his win on Fox News.

[SEE: Cartoons about the Republican Party]

We have done many campaigns in Virginia over the years. The area represented by Cantor is extremely conservative and one can’t forget the racist history, the closing of public schools after Brown v Board of Education and the opening of “segregation academies,” and the prohibition of interracial marriage. Yes, Virginia is a purple state and has changed since those dark days, but many hold on to beliefs that are racist and anti-Semitic. It is hard to say it, but the fact that Cantor is Jewish and perceived as soft on immigration probably did not do much for him with this subset of conservative Republican voters. To ignore race and religion and not to recognize the anger as part of the mix would probably be disingenuous.

When the polls are so wrong, when the 25-1 cash advantage doesn’t make much difference, when someone like Cantor who is so powerful for the district ends up losing by such a wide margin, you better look below the surface.

The scary thing about this nuclear explosion in Virginia is that it portends a battle royal for the soul of the Republican Party and pits a radical, righteous, reactionary faction against a more traditional, conservative, pragmatic faction. Will we now fail to enact immigration reform? Will we go back to nihilistic refusals to raise the debt? Will we have budget battles that paralyze government and deep-six economic growth?

The paralysis that Brat seems to condemn is precisely what the tea party, Ted Cruz faction so fanatically favors. Not good for Republicans, not good for America.

Make no mistake, this election will reverberate for years to come. And not in a good way.


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