Archive for category Barack Obama

Robert Reich: TPP is Part of the Global Race to the Bottom

Republicans in Congress want to work with the Obama administration to fast-track the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is the largest—and worst—trade deal you’ve never heard of, having been devised in secret by representatives of some of the world’s largest corporations.

It’s so big and has the potential to do so much damage, it’s been likened to “NAFTA on steroids.”

Once you’ve watched the video, please join the growing chorus of Americans who are saying no to fast track and the TPP by adding your name to this petition from Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America.

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Senator Joni Ernst Wants To Cut Wasteful Spending – Let’s Start With Farm Subsidies!

Via Media Matters:

Senator Ernst’s response to the President Obama’s State of the Union address focused on the Tea-GOP position that Congress should refuse to “pay for more government spending” and ought to “cut wasteful spending.”

Ernst’s Family Farm Benefited From Substantial Farm Subsidies. Ernst’s family farm in Red Oak, Iowa received over $460,000 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2006. Family members received conservation payments, commodity subsidies, and agricultural aid. [The District Sentinel, 1/12/15]

Federal farm subsidies amount to some $30 billion annually. The U.S. Department of Agriculture spends about $14 billion a year on crop insurance alone. Unlike direct farm aid payments, which are capped at $40,000 per farm, there is no limit on crop insurance subsidies. The names of those receiving payouts from the program are kept secret – but it’s a safe bet that nearly all of them are millionaires or corporations. Some recipients of farm subsidies are members of Congress and their families, including Tea-GOPers who voted to cut food stamps.

In 2011, the median income of commercial farm households — those deriving more than half their income from farming — was $84,649, almost 70 percent higher than that of the typical American household. Farm equity ended 2012 at $2.5 trillion, up 37 percent since the start of the recession in December 2007 — compared with a less than 1 percent gain in net worth for all U.S. households over the same period.

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Keystone XL Zombie Lie

Via Media Matters.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill approving the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Virtually all the Republicans and 28 Democrats voted for this foreign-owned project, which is likely to impose significant environmental costs, cause an increase in American gasoline prices, and contribute to global warming. The proposed 1,200 mile dirty oil pipeline would carry bitumen — a tar-like substance mined from the Alberta tar sands, chemically diluted, and heated to improve flow — at high pressure across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to Gulf Coast refineries. Existing pipelines of this type spring dozens of leaks every year, and the mess is much more difficult to clean up than a crude oil spill.

Why allow this? Right-wing propagandists insist that Keystone XL will create “42,000 jobs.” This is false.

The State Department concluded that the Keystone XL project will result in just 50 jobs, including “35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.” Further, their report stated that spending on the project would support only 3,900 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted one year and just 1,950 temporary construction jobs if construction lasted two years.

President Obama has threatened to veto the congressional attempt to force the issue, however he seems to be keeping the option open to ultimately approve this disastrous project.

UPDATE:
Senate Advances Bill To Approve Keystone Pipeline Despite Obama’s Veto Threat

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Christmas Eve Document Dump Reveals US Spy Agencies Broke The Law And Violated Privacy

NSA surveillance

So far, nothing about this on cable TV news. Not even from MSNBC. Via Think Progress:

Around 1:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the National Security Agency released hundreds of pages of heavily-redacted reports detailing numerous instances over the past decade in which agents intentionally or unintentionally violated the law and improperly collected private data. The revelations, triggered by a Freedom of Information Act request from the American Civil Liberties Union, still fail to disclose how many violations occurred and how many were unlawful.

…Jesselyn Radack with the Government Accountability Project, who has been working on Edward Snowden’s legal team, emphasized that these revelations would never have been possible without her fugitive client. “The ACLU only knew what to ask for because of the Snowden leaks,” she said. “There’s been semantics games with the NSA not using regular definitions for words like ‘collection’ and ‘analysis,’ which makes it very difficult to find the documents we’re looking for. Now, at least we have a road map and we know names of specific programs to ask about.”

Radack also told ThinkProgress that she suspects the release of the documents intentionally came at a time few would be paying attention. “It was an extremely conspicuous and shameless move to release this on Christmas Eve, but it’s entirely in keeping with the fact that the Director of National Intelligence has done similar kinds of document dumps on Friday afternoons in order to avoid the media cycle,” she said.

Of course, ALL the programs of widespread warrantless surveillance of Americans in their entirety violate the law because they are prohibited by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

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Jihadists Still Have The Initiative in Syria and Iraq

Ahrar al Sham T-72 tank
Ahrar al Sham T-72 tank at the recent battle of Wadi al Daif in Idlib province, Syria

It’s time once again to check in with The Long War Journal and see how things are going in Syria and Iraq. Oh, not good. The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, and elements of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army have reportedly taken Syrian Army positions in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The Al Nusrah Front, supported by jihadist groups Ahrar al Sham and Jund al Aqsa, and units from the Free Syrian Army, today claimed to have overrun Wadi Al Daif, a Syrian Army base located just east of the city of Maa’rat al Nu’man. In addition, Ahrar al Sham, Al Nusrah, and the Free Syrian Army also advanced on Al Hamadiya, which sits just south of the city; the groups claimed to have taken partial control of Al Hamadiya.

Control of the two bases is critical for the Syrian military as they straddle the M5 highway, the main road from Aleppo to Damascus.

Meanwhile in Iraq, ISIS has renewed its attack on Samarra and nearby towns.

The Islamic State seeks to control Samarra and towns and cites to its south in order to secure the northern Baghdad belt. Jihadist control of this area would make it difficult for Iraqi forces to resupply and reinforce military units north of the city. Additionally, the Islamic State would use this area to disrupt security in Baghdad.

The Iraqi government has allowed Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigade, Hezbollah Brigade, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), and Muqtada al Sadr’s Promised Day Brigade, all of which are supported by Iran’s Qods Force, to reinforce beleaguered and demoralized Iraqi forces in Samarra. These militias have remained on the front line and have secured cities and towns, many of which are predominantly Sunni communities, along the road from Samarra to Baghdad.

ISIS is also trying to consolidate its hold on Anbar Province.

Islamic State fighters launched an assault on al Wafa, which is west of the provincial capital of Ramadi, on Dec. 12 and defeated Iraqi security forces and local tribal fighters.

…The Islamic State maintains the initiative in Anbar province, most of which is under its control. The provincial capital of Ramadi and the town of Haditha remain contested terrain. The Iraqi military, the Awakening, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been unable to wrest control of the province from the Islamic state since Fallujah and other cities and towns fell in January 2013.

What is the USA doing?

Since Dec. 10, the US has conducted 16 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, and the US and partners have carried out 29 airstrikes against the group in Iraq. President Obama told US troops: “The time of deploying large ground forces with big military footprints to engage in nation building overseas, that’s coming to an end.”

More info:
Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham advance in northwestern Syria
Islamic State releases pictures from recent fighting near Samarra (Note: some gruesome photos here)
Islamic State overruns town in Anbar, executes Awakening fighters
Al Nusrah Front uses American-made anti-tank missile in Idlib (Video)

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Nick Hanauer: Another Thing Obama Can Do Without Congress

Nick Hanauer

Seattle-based venture capitalist Nick Hanauer offers a smart policy proposal that President Obama could implement with a stroke of the pen. The President could raise wages and create jobs by directing the Department of Labor to expand the number of workers who can receive overtime pay. Sign the petition.

More from Democracy for America:

President Obama: Expand overtime pay!

We urge you to instruct the Department of Labor to significantly expand the number of workers eligible for federal overtime pay. By raising the salary threshold to $69,000, we would finally achieve the same eligibility for overtime pay that we had in 1975.

We also urge you to revise the rules in order to reduce the number of exemptions from overtime pay. Teachers, federal employees, doctors, computer professionals (anyone who uses a computer), and many more professional workers have been working overtime and increasing their productivity but aren’t seeing the benefits of their labor. They should also be eligible for overtime pay.

Revise the rules to expand overtime pay without delay.

More info:
Whatever Happened to Overtime?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Immigration: ‘We’re going as far as we possibly can without Congress acting’

Don't deport my mom

Obama Moves To Protect Millions From Deportation

WASHINGTON — In the boldest move on immigration policy of his presidency, President Barack Obama announced plans Thursday evening to dramatically increase deportation relief for an estimated 4.4 million undocumented immigrants. The executive action will protect parents, as well as those who came to the U.S. as children and others with long-standing ties to the country, from being forced out of their homes.

Oh, the quote at the top of this post? President George W. Bush’s press secretary Dana Perino, describing the Bush administration’s executive action on immigration in 2007.

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Erick Erickson to Tea-GOP: ‘Shut. It. Down.’

Via Media Matters.

Faux News Channel political analyst Erick Erickson, an influential voice among Tea Party Republicans, is calling on the new GOP Congress to push for a government shutdown. In a November 18 post to his RedState.com website headlined “Shut. It. Down.”, Erickson says that the 2013 shutdown provides an excellent model for Republicans to follow now that they control both houses of Congress.

He thinks that President Obama will get the blame for another Tea-GOP government shutdown.

Block Obama. Let him show himself again to be the petulant man-child Americans have started recognizing. And this time, when he shuts down the government, keep it shut till you have your way and then hold public hearings to show how Obama selectively shut things down to hurt the voters intentionally.

Bring. It. On.

UPDATE:
Erickson To GOP: Shut Government Down — There Are No Consequences!

“[T]he voters did not elect the GOP to do any part of their own agenda,” he wrote. “The GOP did absolutely nothing but run on ‘we are not Obama.’ If that is the image they rebuilt, then they need to not be Obama and need to not fund Obama’s agenda.”

UPDATE:
Heritage vetoes Republican ‘rescission’ plan

Republican leaders on the Hill may be looking for a way out of the hole they dug for themselves, but finding a solution that the right considers acceptable will probably be even more difficult than it was the last time the GOP shut down the federal government.

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Are Our Public Lands Up For Grabs Now?

High in the Morning - Maynard Dixon

Tea-GOP Congresswoman-elect Mia Love regarding our public lands: “I support returning ownership back to the state of Utah.” The premise of this statement (not to mention the grammar) is completely wrong, because the public lands in Utah have always been in federal ownership since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The State of Utah did not exist until 1896, nearly a half-century later.

State-level land grab attempts such as the Transfer of Public Lands Act (the 2012 Utah law that demands the federal government hand over public lands to the state by December 31, 2014) violate both the U.S. Constitution and the Utah Constitution. However, the U.S. Congress has the ultimate power over all federal lands. The Property Clause in Article 4 of the Constitution says: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States…”

Now that the Tea-GOP controls both houses of Congress, will Mia Love get her wish?

Claire Moser on Think Progress:

For the Republican Party, the growing internal debate over whether America’s public lands should be seized and sold represents a choice between the conservation values of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt and the power of a special interest-driven agenda. Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar observed in August that the RNC’s endorsement of land grabs would “cause Teddy Roosevelt to turn over in his grave.”

With the debate escalating over whether public lands should be seized or sold, candidates who dodged the issue but won on Tuesday will likely soon have to say whether they are with the party of Teddy Roosevelt or Cliven Bundy.

President Obama has the power (delegated by Congress to the chief executive in the Antiquities Act of 1906) to proclaim national monuments on public lands. He has already done so 13 times to protect more than 260 million acres of land and water, which is more than any other President. And he says he is “not finished” with national monuments.

There is a proposal for a Greater Canyonlands National Monument in Utah. The Tea-GOP has it coming. Will President Obama bring it?

More info:
The Sagebrush Gang Rides Again? (February 2012)

UPDATE:
Is possible San Rafael Swell state park another Utah land grab?

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Insane Right-Wing Ebola Conspiracy Theories

Media Matters offers a four and a half minute compilation of how right-wing media have been trying to spread unfounded hysteria and conspiracy theories about Ebola. Apparently it’s just part of the GOTV operation to make sure all the wingers show up at the polls on November 4. It’s hyper-partisan politics as usual, and the good of our nation and the world is not even a consideration.

Mario Machado on HuffPo:

Sure, FOX news gets away with blatant racism and nobody bats an eye because it’s just part of their act, but they are not alone in their uncompassionate reporting on the thousands of people currently suffering from Ebola.

…We speculate endlessly over the fictionalized and sensationalized prospects of an epidemic that will never become a legitimate threat within the US, but no one finds the time to even mention the horror that must face the individuals, the families, the health care workers and the citizens of an impoverished country who are slowly watching this unspeakably devastating disease spread within their midst. For the moment, we are too busy asking ourselves, “What does this Ebola outbreak mean for me and my life?” instead of the questions we should be asking, such as “How can we as a global community best act to stop this terrible disease everywhere?”

So whether anchors are talking about travel bans for everyone and anyone coming from West Africa, or discussing the domestic “Ebola epidemic” in regards to the few cases we’ve had in the U.S., it is important to realize that it is all just well-disguised racism and Western exceptionalism being paraded around under the banner of “national security.”…

More info:
The Ebola Truthers Have Arrived and Their Conspiracy Theories Are Completely Insane
POLITICO poll: Democrats in danger over Ebola
Poll: Majority Of Americans Worried About U.S. Ebola Outbreak
Gallup: One-Fifth of Americans Worry About Getting Ebola (Those would be the regular Faux News Channel viewers)

UPDATE:
Politicians Who Say ‘I’m Not A Scientist’ On Climate Offer Their Advice On Ebola There is a method to the madness: Tea-GOPers always reject science when it runs counter to their political interests of the moment.

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Tea-GOP Ready to Seize the Senate

Mitch McConnell

FiveThirtyEight’s Senate Forecast gives the Tea-GOP a 60.8 percent chance of winning a majority of Senate seats. HuffPo’s poll-tracking model says there is a 68 percent chance. Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium is the outlier, predicting the Dems have a 65 percent chance to save their Senate majority.

The Economist explained the situation last month:

More vulnerable Democrats are up for re-election this year than vulnerable Republicans. The GOP needs to take away six seats from the Democrats, and is already nearly assured of winning three; of the six or seven competitive races (depending on who’s counting), Republicans must win just three to gain a majority. Add in Barack Obama’s low approval ratings and the fact that the out-of-power party generally does better in midterm elections, and you have a nice bloodless political-science description of the Republican advantage.

Yet the technical factors don’t quite explain why Democrats feel so listless this autumn…

…In the face of the far right’s effective veto over the congressional GOP, Democrats have given up on passing any significant legislation either until they regain control of the House, an impossibly remote prospect, or until the Tea Party somehow withers away, which shows no signs of happening. The Democrats’ acceptance of their inability to accomplish anything significant has left them unable to campaign on big themes. The party feels exhausted, still convinced of the need for immigration reform, climate change legislation and expanded benefits for the middle class, but unable to imagine a political pathway to get there. If the Democrats lose the Senate this fall, it may be technically due to an unlucky roster of elections and the traditional midterm setback for the party in power. But it will also be a verdict on the party’s inability to conjure a sense of élan or vision in the face of the political paralysis tea-party Republicans have induced.

When the party that’s nominally in power looks so powerless, that’s a problem. The Dems ought to have thought about that in 2009, when they had a brief window of opportunity to reverse the Bush administration’s malfeasance. Now they can’t promise anything much, and seemingly can’t even deliver on small commitments (e.g. President Obama’s vow to make unspecified immigration reforms via executive order by “the end of summer.”)

Meanwhile, the Tea-GOP never misses an opportunity to blame Obama for all bad news – whether it’s ISIS, Ebola, or leaving the front door of the White House unlocked. Right-wingers can’t offer viable policy proposals anymore, so they resort to fear mongering and unrealistic demands to seal the U.S. borders. You can be sure the Tea-GOP voters will take their fears to the polls on November 4.

Stephanie Cutter has suggested that the Dems might actually gain in the long run if the Tea-GOP takes over the Senate and goes ahead with Mitch McConnell’s program of serial government shutdowns.

Sadly, the lesson I want the Washington Dems to learn probably won’t get learned. They are always promising to do something for average Americans after the next election. Bill Clinton says now is not the time for a protest vote, but I would say a protest vote is needed now and in every election until they get the message.

UPDATES:
Democratic Fundraising Gets Shriller And Shriller As Party Abandons Candidates
The GOP’s Dangerous Demagoguery on Ebola

The reality, as National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins recently stated, is that an Ebola vaccine would likely have already been developed if not for the past decade’s worth of largely GOP-imposed budget cuts.

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The Unknown Knowns Redux

ISIS

Former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld famously ruminated on the difference between “known knowns,” “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” in the intel business. It seems to me that our intelligence services (all 17 of them) have the most difficulty with sorting out the unknown knowns (i.e. things widely reported, whose significance is apparently unknown to the government). The news media told us about the the capture of Fallujah by ISIS 9 months ago. (At that time, ISIS was best known as the employer of fictional spy Sterling Archer). Ought to have been a wake-up call, don’t you think?

President Obama, unlike the last one, is at least able to acknowledge and take responsibility for a mistake:

America failed to recognize the threat posed by Islamic State terrorists and mistakenly relied on the hapless Iraqi army to combat them, President Obama admitted in an interview broadcast Sunday night.

In an about-face from earlier remarks that likened ISIS to a terrorist “JV team,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he agreed with National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s recent assessment that “we underestimated the Islamic State.”

“Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated . . . what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.

The president also called it “absolutely true” that the United States put too much faith in the Iraqi army, whose soldiers turned tail rather than wage war against ISIS fighters invading from Syria.

Obama’s comments marked his bluntest acknowledgment that the United States bungled the initial response to ISIS, which American-led planes began bombing inside Syria this month.

More info: ISIS Fast Facts

UPDATE: Tom Engelhardt: The Massive Failure of American Intelligence

[F]rom the Egyptian spring and the Syrian disaster to the crisis in Ukraine, American intelligence has, as far as we can tell, regularly been one step late and one assessment short, when not simply blindsided by events. As a result, the Obama administration often seems in a state of eternal surprise at developments across the globe.

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