Congress can’t pass a budget or control guns or confirm judges on time, but this week members of both parties found something they could agree on, and in a big hurry: avoiding blame for inconveniencing air travelers. The Senate and House rushed through a bill that would avert furloughs to air traffic controllers, which were mandated by Congress’s own sequester but proved embarrassing when flights began to back up around the country.
Then lawmakers scurried out of town, taking a week’s vacation while ignoring the low-income victims of the mandatory budget cuts, who have few representatives in Washington to protest their lost aid for housing, nutrition and education. Though they are suffering actual pain, not just inconvenience, no one rushed to give them a break from the sequester, and it is clear that no one will.
Catering to the needs of people with money, such as business travelers, is the kind of thing the country has come to expect in recent years from Congressional Republicans. But Democrats share full responsibility for this moment of cowardice. The Senate version of the bill passed by unanimous consent. That means not a single Democrat opposed bailing out travelers while poor kids are getting kicked out of Head Start or nutrition programs.
Which of these ads do you think is the most effective as a closing argument, given that early voting is starting next week in some states:
My self, I think the Obama ad is better. I am particularly surprised that Romney refers to those in trouble as “them,” rather than part of all of us. To me, I think the “them” remark harks back to the 47% speech, which certainly was bad news for Romney.
Watch this. Especially the part “featuring” Mike Barnicle.
Update: Check out this shorter video (via Dangerous Minds).
Everything has gotten worse since 9/11, as reported by the best news source in the country. Excerpt:
As media coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 ramps up this week, citizens across the United States collectively realized they would rather think about the terrorist attacks of 2001 than about anything else that has transpired in the subsequent decade.
From the LA Times:
Two years after the last recession ended, Wall Street is showing rising fear that the U.S. economy could be headed for a new downturn….Despite some relief that Washington could forge an eleventh-hour compromise on the debt ceiling, analysts said the prospect of even modest federal budget cuts in an anemic economy was spooking markets.
“Investors are looking past the budget situation and realizing this is an austerity plan,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. “We have an economy that’s struggling to stay afloat and we don’t have the ammunition to keep prodding it forward.”
For extra credit, answer the following questions:
- Are some (meaning those who have the most to lose financially) now waking up to the fact that cutting governmental expenditures while the economy continues its swoon might somehow further damage the economy?
- Are there many economists available to provide expert advice cautioning against the adoption of such damaging policies?
- Is America now officially certifiable?
The correct answers are yes, yes, and, by far the most damaging of all, yes.
Writing in The New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew has penned the most insightful summary of the politics related to debt limit/deficit talks I have read so far. Worth a full read.
The question arises, aside from Obama’s chronically allowing the Republicans to define the agenda and even the terminology (the pejorative word “Obamacare” is now even used by news broadcasters), why did he so definitively place himself on the side of the deficit reducers at a time when growth and job creation were by far the country’s most urgent needs?
It all goes back to the “shellacking” Obama took in the 2010 elections. The President’s political advisers studied the numbers and concluded that the voters wanted the government to spend less. This was an arguable interpretation. Nevertheless, the political advisers believed that elections are decided by middle-of-the-road independent voters, and this group became the target for determining the policies of the next two years.
That explains a lot about the course the President has been taking this year. The political team’s reading of these voters was that to them, a dollar spent by government to create a job is a dollar wasted. The only thing that carries weight with such swing voters, they decided—in another arguable proposition—is cutting spending. Moreover, like Democrats—and very unlike Republicans—these voters do not consider “compromise” a dirty word.
- Elizabeth Drew Tries to Make Sense of Barack Obama (delong.typepad.com)
- President Pushover (krugman.blogs.nytimes.com)
Read this. It provides a nice summary of the six times that Americans gutted their Constitution wrongfully. The first five largely have been corrected. The sixth time remains an open question.
The Patriot Act, amending those privacy statutes, passed overwhelmingly with little debate six weeks after the attacks. It broadened FISA, which regulates domestic intelligence gathering through a secret court that issues clandestine warrants that don’t require probable cause and particularity, as the Fourth Amendment demands. The law originally authorized this shadow system exclusively to collect intelligence, but the Patriot Act frees investigators to use it for criminal cases as well.
Even that permissive FISA system wasn’t permissive enough for President Bush, who secretly ordered the NSA to intercept Americans’ communications by phone and Internet. The suspicionless sweeps, effectively legalized by Congress in 2008, continue.
Further, by expanding administrative subpoenas known as national security letters (NSLs), the Patriot Act shot holes through three laws that had guarded the privacy of Americans’ credit, banking and communications records. Without suspicion of a crime and with no judicial oversight, NSLs can now be issued by the head of any FBI field office to librarians, Internet providers and financial institutions, among others. Each of the 50,000 NSLs being served annually comes with a lifetime gag order.
One measure that could change the country if fully implemented is the executive branch’s power to subject civilians to military trial. Under the Military Commissions Act, passed in 2006 and revised in 2009, the president may unilaterally designate anyone an enemy combatant—even inside the United States—and try non-citizens before military officers, with no judicial involvement except on appeal. Applied only to Guantanamo detainees so far, this mechanism has no geographical restrictions. Nothing in the law prevents its employment in Alabama as well as Afghanistan.
These six deviations show that rights cannot rely on officials’ benevolence. They rely on an ingenious constitutional system that has pulled us back from our periodic wanderings. Let’s hope it does this time, and soon, before counterterrorism’s shortcuts through our rights become the new normal.
- New Patriot Act Controversy: Is Washington Collecting Your Cell-Phone Data? (time.com)
- David Bromwich: Obama, Bush, and the Patriot Act (huffingtonpost.com)
- Deafening Liberal Silence as the Senate Moves to Extend the Patriot Act (my.firedoglake.com)
For civil libertarians, the legacy of bin Laden is most troubling because it shows how the greatest injuries from terror are often self-inflicted. Bin Laden’s twisted notion of success was not the bringing down of two buildings in New York or the partial destruction of the Pentagon. It was how the response to those attacks by the United States resulted in our abandonment of core principles and values in the “war on terror.” Many of the most lasting impacts of this ill-defined war were felt domestically, not internationally.
Starting with George W. Bush, the 9/11 attacks were used to justify the creation of a massive counterterrorism system with growing personnel and budgets designed to find terrorists in the heartland. Laws were rewritten to prevent citizens from challenging searches and expanding surveillance of citizens. Leaders from both parties acquiesced as the Bush administration launched programs of warrantless surveillance, sweeping arrests of Muslim citizens and the creation of a torture program.
What has been most chilling is that the elimination of Saddam and now bin Laden has little impact on this system, which seems to continue like a perpetual motion machine of surveillance and searches. While President Dwight D. Eisenhower once warned Americans of the power of the military-industrial complex, we now have a counterterrorism system that employs tens of thousands, spends tens of billions of dollars each year and is increasingly unchecked in its operations.
Osama bin Laden is now dead. Good.
But is it possible that he lost the battle but won the war? I think so. The changes that this country has put itself through since 9/11 are awesome and negative.
Radley Belko has a list of the self-imposed damage the US has done in reaction to bin Laden. An excerpt:
We have also fundamentally altered who we are. A partial, off-the-top-of-my-head list of how we’ve changed since September 11 . . .
- We’ve sent terrorist suspects to “black sites” to be detained without trial and tortured.
- We’ve turned terrorist suspects over to other regimes, knowing that they’d be tortured.
- In those cases when our government later learned it got the wrong guy, federal officials not only refused to apologize or compensate him, they went to court to argue he should be barred from using our courts to seek justice, and that the details of his abduction, torture, and detainment should be kept secret.
- We’ve abducted and imprisoned dozens, perhaps hundreds of men in Guantanamo who turned out to have been innocent. Again, the government felt no obligation to do right by them.
- The government launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign implying that people who smoke marijuana are complicit in the murder of nearly 3,000 of their fellow citizens.
- The government illegally spied and eavesdropped on thousands of American citizens.
- Presidents from both of the two major political parties have claimed the power to detain suspected terrorists and hold them indefinitely without trial, based solely on the president’s designation of them as an “enemy combatant,” essentially making the president prosecutor, judge, and jury. (I’d also argue that the treatment of someone like Bradley Manning wouldn’t have been tolerated before September 11.)
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.
Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
– Bob Herbert, today, in his last op-ed column for the New York Times
There is not a word in this essay by Charles Simic with which I disagree. This country is being destroyed by corruption funded by the (very) monied class and across political party lines.
It must be difficult for any hostess nowadays to stop her dinner guests from reciting to each other over the course of an evening the endless examples of lies and stupidities they’ve come across in the press and on TV. As they get more and more wound up, they try to outdo each other, losing all interest in the food on their plates. I know that when I get together with friends, we make a conscious effort to change the subject and talk about grandchildren, reminisce about the past and the movies we’ve seen, though we can’t manage it for very long. We end up disheartening and demoralizing each other and saying goodnight, embarrassed and annoyed with ourselves, as if being upset about what is being done to us is not a subject fit for polite society.
In an atmosphere of growing anxiety and hysteria, in which the true causes and the scale of our dire national predicament are deliberately concealed and obfuscated by our political establishment and by the corporate media, no wonder there’s confusion and anger everywhere. As anyone who has traveled around this country and talked to people knows, Americans are not just badly informed, but downright ignorant about most things that affect their lives. How nice it would be if our President leveled with us and told us that our deficit is caused in significant part by the wars we are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the hundreds of military bases we are maintaining around the world, the huge tax breaks for the rich, and the bailout of Wall Street. As we know, we are not about to hear anything of the kind.
By the president’s calculation, telling the truth to the American people would doom his reelection campaign, since he would not be able to raise the billion dollars he needs this time around. The kind of people who have that kind of money and will agree to contribute to his campaign know very well what informed voters in a working democracy would to do to them once they understood just who has depleted the national treasury to line their own pockets. No doubt, he and his political party will do anything to avoid the truth and will propose outwardly attractive solutions—like the health care bill that not only expands coverage but greatly benefits insurance companies and does little to reduce healthcare costs. They hope that these kinds of measures will lure the majority of voters who won’t bother to learn the details, but they will also send a clear signal to the moneyed classes that they won’t be inconvenienced in the least.
Our friends at the Department of Homeland Security have somewhat quietly introduced yet another assault on the civil liberties of American citizens. This time in involves not an assault on the person, but rather an assault on the person’s data. Glenn Greenwald provides some startling information over at Salon.
For those who regularly write and read about civil liberties abuses, it’s sometimes easy to lose perspective of just how extreme and outrageous certain erosions are. One becomes inured to them, and even severe incursions start to seem ordinary. Such was the case, at least for me, with Homeland Security’s practice of detaining American citizens upon their re-entry into the country, and as part of that detention, literally seizing their electronic products — laptops, cellphones, Blackberries and the like — copying and storing the data, and keeping that property for months on end, sometimes never returning it. Worse, all of this is done not only without a warrant, probable cause or any oversight, but even without reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in any crime. It’s completely standard-less, arbitrary, and unconstrained. There’s no law authorizing this power nor any judicial or Congressional body overseeing or regulating what DHS is doing. And the citizens to whom this is done have no recourse — not even to have their property returned to them.
When you really think about it, it’s simply inconceivable that the U.S. Government gets away with doing this. Seizing someone’s laptop, digging through it, recording it all, storing the data somewhere, and then distributing it to various agencies is about the most invasive, privacy-destroying measure imaginable. A laptop and its equivalents reveal whom you talk to, what you say, what you read, what you write, what you view, what you think, and virtually everything else about your life. It can — and often does — contain not only the most private and intimate information about you, but also information which the government is legally barred from accessing (attorney/client or clergy/penitent communications, private medical and psychiatric information and the like). But these border seizures result in all of that being limitlessly invaded. This is infinitely more invasive than the TSA patdowns that caused so much controversy just two months ago. What kind of society allows government agents — without any cause — to seize all of that whenever they want, without limits on whom they can do this to, what they access, how they can use it: even without anyone knowing what they’re doing?
With only one or two exceptions, neither the Democrats or the Republicans in Congress seem to be particularly interested in addressing this issue. It is one more significant erosion to the Fourth Amendment. If reading the Constitution at the beginning of the House’s first business day this year was more than a grandstanding effort, why is no real effort at protecting liberty underway?
- More On U.S. Border Searches of Laptops (nomadlaw.com)
- Editorial: Searching Your Laptop (nytimes.com)
- Liberty’s Fair-Weather Friends (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
Which do you prefer and which do you think is more fair in terms of deficit reduction? Click here.
Find out here.