Barack Obama’s Charlie Rose interview was kind of amazing. A president who rarely says anything interesting in an interview said a number of pretty fascinating things, speaking for the first time in an in-depth way on the NSA program and a host of other issues.
Here are some of the key quotes, which The Washington Post and others rounded up.
On NSA: “Some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.’ Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know? He took [the Bush-Cheney approach] all lock, stock, and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather: Are we setting up a system of checks and balances?”
Yesterday in the OJ comment thread (by the way, sorry for mangling those dates), Onsafari wondered why I hadn't weighed in on the Snowden business. Then, pumpkinface huffed that Onsafari shouldn't hold her/his breath because Tomasky must surely be flummoxed by the fact that Obama has approved something like this, so silence had to be the only option.
Actually, I wrote about it the day after the story broke. I called the post "Big Brother Is Watching, and People Don't Care," and I took the view that even putting terrorism aside, there's bound to be a trade-off between privacy and the astonishing amount of information we have at our fingertips, and that while I wasn't thrilled that this was the case, I could live with it provided--provided--the things the government is now saying are true.
Now, I'll go a step further. For everyone running around saying that this proves that Obama is Bush and there's no difference, I point out what is obviously a rather crucial difference. At some point after 9-11, the Bush administration just started doing domestic surveillance in--what's the word here?--circumvention or violation of existing law. News of the program broke, in The New York Times and elsewhere, and eventually the Bushies had to seek changes in the law.
But those didn't happen until 2008. So, for a good six or seven years, the Bush adminstration was just doing what it wanted, under the unitary executive theory, cavalierly ignoring the law (indeed, in 2010, a federal judge found that Bush had been acting illegaly). So a law was passed, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act amendment. It passed 293-129 in the House and 69-28 in the Senate. In both houses, Republicans supported it overwhelmingly while Democrats were split about evenly. The changes were reauthorized in 2012 by similarly large majorities with similar intra-party splits.
Today, someone reminds me, is the anniversary of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase, which happened in 1995. That was really the first modern media event as we understand them today, and it's hard to describe to a young person who's grown up saturated in social media just what that night was like.
I lived in New York at the time, but I was down here in Washington, visiting my sister and her family (little Victoria at that point still in diapers--off to Kenyon College this fall, and I'm sure you all join me in wishing her the best!). We were doing what much of America was doing that night, watching the NBA Finals, Knicks versus Rockets. I don't remember what was happening in that game at that point, but it was a very good series, I believe on NBC at the time. It had to be something awfully big to make NBC cut away.
But it did. And lo and behold, the incredulous broadcaster, whoever it was, could hardly believe what he was telling America: the great O.J. Simpson, one of the finest and most belaureled athletes of the time who had become a lovably buffoonish (and pretty good actor), was on the run from the cops and may have killed his wife and this poor Goldman fellow.
It was absolutely surreal. The slow-motion-ness of it, mainly--this Bronco was going 35, 40 mph, down closed off freeways, with a dozen or two police cars in what I suppose we must call lukewarm pursuit. And it went on for what, an hour, more. Watching a bunch of cars following another car at 35 mph may not sound riveting, but under the circumstances, it was one of the most literally unbelievable things you'd ever seen.
The RNC chairman’s weekend speech to a “teavangelical” convention demonstrated why Republican efforts to moderate are going nowhere. By Michael Tomasky.
Occasionally, I lose my bearings and permit myself an ounce of sympathy for Republican chairman Reince Priebus. I mean, that’s quite an asylum he’s trying to run. Then I remember (usually in about four seconds) that no one is making him, and I resume the normal contempt posture. I went through this ritual again over the weekend as I watched Priebus’s speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition. The speech made headlines for the chairman’s promise to shorten the primary calendar and move the convention forward, but it was actually noteworthy because it was painfully clear that Priebus is scared to death of Ralph Reed’s “teavangelicals,” a fact that does not bode well for his much-publicized movement to build a less intolerant GOP.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club, March 18, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty)
Priebus took the stage to the kind of applause one might associate with a Broadway understudy filling in for the star—a vague curiosity, a few dollops of encouragement from the kinder souls, but mostly suspicion. This is because, to the rabble-rousers Reed can manage to convene these days, Priebus is Da Man. Mr. Establishment. A sellout, a puller of strings, a molly-coddler of the Roves and other consultants who would have the party sell its soul in exchange for a softer image. He twice had to reassure the audience as he made his case and listed his points that “this is not an establishment takeover,” it’s just common sense or some such.
I loved the way he started: “I just wanna let you know. I’m a Christian. I’m a believer. God lives in my heart. And I’m for changing minds, not changing values. Are you with me?” That was intended as an applause line. To call the response indifferent would be so kind as to be irresponsible.
Kudos to the Democratic congressman for standing up to Darrell Issa on the IRS investigation—and showing once again how conservatives refuse to sort fact from fiction. By Michael Tomasky.
This is becoming quite a throwdown between Darrell Issa, the wild-swinging GOP chairman of the House oversight committee, and Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat. Cummings is showing himself to be a pretty tough customer, and if this IRS “matter” (the media should either stop referring to it as a scandal or, as I suggested in my previous column, make it clear that the only scandal here is Issa’s reckless behavior) fizzles as quickly and lamely as it looks as if it might, it’ll be Cummings who’ll deserve a lot of the credit for breaking some of the silly protocols of Capitol Hill and calling nonsense nonsense. What’s happening now at Issa’s committee threatens to turn him into a walking punchline, and conservatives with any capacity at all for self-reflection ought to take stock of what this whole thing says about their movement’s ability—actually, its desire—to distinguish between fact and fiction.
Cummings and Issa are longtime adversaries. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
When last I wrote, I described how Issa, who’s been having closed-door interviews with various IRS employees, has kept those transcripts under wraps. He was asked in May if he ever intended to make them public, and he said yes, he did. Well, he sort of has—that is, he’s been selectively leaking some. Naturally, the parts he’s letting journalists see are the bits that seem ambiguous.
Cummings responded to this by doing some leaking of his own. So he let the world know about the self-described conservative Republican who’d worked in the Cincinnati office for 21 years and said he had no reason whatsoever to think the White House had any role in the IRS decision to apply a little added scrutiny to some Tea Party applications for nonprofit status. Issa responded to that three days ago with a letter, with a fairly high snark quotient by congressional standards, explaining that despite what he said last month, this would be a terrible time to release full transcripts because they “would serve as a roadmap of the Committee’s investigation.”
The immigration bill might die in the Senate, as we know, because Marco Rubio, a member of the Gang of Eight, signed off on the Gang of Eight's bill and then (after various tea party eruptions) decided that the Gang of Eight's bill was ridiculously soft on border security.
So now Republicans, following Texas Senator Jon Cornyn, are insisting on strict border security measures. But they're not so much strict as they are basically impossible. I understand that there is an extent to which Cornyn is merely representing the views of his constituents, provided you take his constituents to be not all Texans (the vast majority of the Latino ones) but the white conservative ones that are his base. But their demands and expectations aren't reasonable.
I just got wind of this op-ed that ran a while back in the Journal (the Journal?!?) by Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations about the impossibility of total security. He writes:
Does a secure border mean one in which no one is able to cross between the legal entry ports? The most secure border in modern history was probably the Cold War border between East and West Germany. To keep their people from leaving—logistically much easier than keeping others from entering—the East Germans built more than 700 watchtowers, sprinkled more than a million antipersonnel mines, created a deep no-man's zone of barbed wire and electric fencing, and deployed nearly 50 guards per square mile with shoot-to-kill orders. Even so about 1,000 people each year somehow managed to find a way across.
(Warning: offensive words contained herein.) NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has written a letter to the 10 members of Congress pushing the Redskins matter that the name is just fine by him. He writes that it "has always been used in a respectful manner" and that the NFL of course is deeply sensitive to the diversity that has made this country great.
The main part is this though: "As you know may know, the team began as the Boston Braves in 1932, a name that honored the courage and heritage of Native Americans. The following year, the name was changed to Redskins--in part to avoid confusion with the Boston baseball team of the same name, but also to honor the team's then-coach, William 'Lone Star' Dietz."
That's all true as far as it goes, but it leaves a lot out--you can tell by the switch to the fishy passive voice ("the name was changed"). The name was the brainchild of an open and avowed racist, George Preston Marshall. Also the team moved to Washington in short order, at which point any confusion with Boston's baseball Braves would have been purely theoretical. Also Marshall fired Dietz after just two years and hired a white coach. Why didn't he change the name to Paleskins? The next coach was Eddie Casey. Sounds maybe Irish. Why didn't Marshall change the name to the Micks?
I suspect two reasons. First, because Marshall didn't hate white people, even Irish ones. Second, because Micks would have been considered beyond the (as it were) pale. Because Irish-Americans had political power. Native Americans had none. And that's how Redskins became "okay." It's that simple. I feel certain Goodell understands this, he's just too cowardly to say it. Appalling. I like the idea of one of my recent tweeters, who suggests referring to the team as the Washington Hebes until owner Dan Snyder comes to his senses.
In the column that went up this morning, which sits just below this post, I made reference to an analysis of the IRS tax-exempt status decisions from the period in question. I just mentioned it in passing because I didn't have the space to go into it, but I wanted to go into it in more detail, because I think it really shows what a nothing this "scandal" is.
This study is by Martin Sullvan of Tax Analysts, a nonprofit web site that does thorough news and analysis of everything tax-related from around the world. I confess I've never heard of the place until last week, but it doesn't sound very Kenyan or socialist to me. Anyway, Sullivan finds that "a substantial minority" of applications held up to heightened scrutiny were from non-conservative groups. It's a little confusingly written, but the last sentence is the one that matters:
The IRS has helped somewhat by releasing a list of all the "centralized" groups (that is, organizations whose applications were referred to specialists for closer review) that were granted tax-exempt status as of May 9, 2013. Though the overlap between the subset and the full set of centralized groups isn't perfect, the list suggests that the majority of groups selected for extra scrutiny probably matched the political criteria the IRS used and backed conservative causes, the Tea Party, or limited government generally. But a substantial minority—almost one-third of the subset—did not fit that description.
So you have to ask yourself, what sort of political conspiracy to silence the other side is one-third directed at its own side? I know, I know, there's always an answer. They did that one-third for cover, Tomasky, you stooge! Right.
Why won’t the right-wing congressman release the full transcript of his IRS investigation? Michael Tomasky has a theory.
All right, let’s get back to the IRS. While everyone was focused on the Edward Snowden revelations, we had an interesting development in the IRS matter that throws another several gallons of ice-cold water on Darrell Issa’s alleged case against the Obama administration—and that raises some interesting questions about how Issa and his staff are using the information they have obtained. Republicans have been hoping to ride this horse into 2014 and beyond, but it may be ready for the glue factory already.
Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel (left) talks with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (right), accompanied by the committee's ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, on June 6 after he testified before the committee’s hearing regarding IRS conference spending. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Late last week, a few news stories appeared quoting some employees of the IRS Cincinnati office saying quasi-ominous things about being directed from Washington to do this or that. This CBS News article provides a good example. One beleaguered IRS employee, Elizabeth Hofacre, said she was instructed to clear all letters she sent to tea party groups through an IRS lawyer in Washington—which to said groups naturally brings to mind the image of this lawyer hand-delivering the letters to Obama himself as the two of them laugh the laughter of slippery cosmopolitans who’ve hoodwinked the booboisie yet again.
These remarks by Hofacre and others were made in secret session to Issa’s oversight committee, which has transcripts of these conversations. CBS, according to the article, reviewed the transcripts from “some” of the interviews. It seems obvious that reporters were shown mainly the bits that sounded scintillating and kept the story alive.
The new Pew poll puts the matter plainly. Americans assume Big Brother is watching, and they aren't particularly upset about it:
A majority of Americans – 56% – say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, though a substantial minority – 41% – say it is unacceptable. And while the public is more evenly divided over the government’s monitoring of email and other online activities to prevent possible terrorism, these views are largely unchanged since 2002, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Now it's true, 41 percent is a substantial minority, but there is evidence that a good chunk of that is driven by politics. The guy from Pew was on NPR this morning, and he said that more Republicans are expressing opposition now (because Obama is the president) just as more Democrats used to express opposition (because Bush was). The solid, doesn't-matter-which-party level of opposition would seem to be closer to 30 percent or 25, or maybe even a little less.
The polls always ask people about the trade off between civil liberties and fighting terrorism, but I have a hunch there's something else at work here, too, which has nothing to do with terrorism. Let's call it the Karmic Information Trade-Off, or, alternatively, the Best Thai Restaurant in Bozeman Trade-Off.
Conservatives may lionize Edward Snowden now, says Michael Tomasky, but ultimately his actions are going to tear apart the GOP.
Here’s something I’ll certainly be keeping one eye fixed on as the Edward Snowden story advances: the degree to which the American right takes him up as a cause célèbre. They’re up a tree either way. If they do, then they’re obviously guilty of the rankest hypocrisy imaginable, because we all know that if Snowden had come forward during George W. Bush’s presidency, the right-wing media would by now have sniffed out every unsavory fact about his life (and a hefty mountain of fiction) in an effort to tar him. If they don’t, then they’ve lost an opportunity to sully Barack Obama. Since they like smearing Obama a lot more than they care about hypocrisy, my guess is that they will lionize him, as some already are. But in the long run, doing that will only expose how deep the rifts are between the national-security right and the libertarian right, and this issue will only extend and intensify those disagreements.
Glenn Beck and Rand Paul. (Getty)
First out of the gate Sunday was Glenn Beck, who tweeted in the late afternoon, not too long after The Guardian posted the interview with Snowden: “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.” Shortly thereafter, another: “Courage finally. Real. Steady. Thoughtful. Transparent. Willing to accept the consequences. Inspire w/Malice toward none.” And two hours after that: “The NSA patriot leaker is just yet another chance for America to regain her moral compass and set things right. No red or blue JUST TRUTH.”
Beck, I will concede, has a degree of credibility on the red/blue issue. He criticizes Republicans sometimes. Even so, it amounts to a speck of dust when set against his near-daily sermons (for years now) about liberal and Democratic fascism. So I wonder about the degree to which Beck would have hopped up to throw rose petals at young Snowden’s feet if he’d come forward in this way under the Bush administration.
Nothing will stop Republicans from trying to turn the IRS scandal into Watergate, says Michael Tomasky. They simply despise Obama too much to settle for anything less.
So now we know a little more officially than we did before that the Republican Party higher-ups know or at least suspect that there’s likely no actual political scandal in the IRS matter, and that they’re letting Darrell Issa have his fun and make a fool of himself just for the sake of doing whatever random damage to Barack Obama they can in his remaining time in office. An article by Shane Goldmacher in National Journal yesterday, when read properly between the lines, says as much. And if they can’t get him while he’s in office, by ginning up some flimsy reason to open impeachment hearings, they’ll hound him on his way out the door and afterward, trying to add words like “corrupt” and “tarnished” to the first paragraphs of historical summations of his tenure. That’s all this is really about—their base’s rage at the continued existence of Barack Obama, and their own twisted craving to acknowledge and stoke it.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) leads a hearing on Benghazi on Capitol Hill, May 8, 2013. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The Goldmacher piece makes the commonsensical and nonideological observation that you might think that Issa, who has been out there throwing unproven allegations against the wall like Oscar Madison did Felix Unger’s linguine, would be reined in a bit by his party. This is especially so after calling Jay Carney a “paid liar” and backing it up with nothing specific. In fairness, a couple of Republicans—interestingly, Lindsey Graham and John McCain chief among them—did urge a holding of the horses after that one.
But by and large, Republicans are perfectly happy for Issa to keep stirring the pot. Eric Cantor—this happened after the “paid liar” remark—singled Issa out for praise at a closed-door meeting of the House GOP on Tuesday. At a press conference the same day, Cantor twice refused to criticize Issa even mildly.
Blistering editorial today from the Newark Star-Ledger:
Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to hold the U.S. Senate election three weeks before the general election in November is a shameless move that will waste at least $12 million and risk the integrity of the vote. For him to present it as a high-minded attempt to empower voters shows what nerve the guy has.
There is no legitimate reason to hold two separate elections, and the reason he’s doing it is purely self-serving. He calculates that more Democratic voters will show up and cast ballots against him if a popular Democratic candidate like Newark Mayor Cory Booker is on the ballot as well. Given the big lead the governor has already, the greed here is striking: He apparently wants to run up his margin of victory as a credential for his 2016 presidential campaign.
The editorial goes on to raise an interesting question that hadn't occurred to me. If somehow the October special is close and the results are contested, (some) voting machines will have to be impounded as the fight plays out, which the writer says typically takes "a month or two." The editorial notes that Democrats may have grounds to sue because of this.
So this is all pretty obvious, innit? Chris Christie calls a special election for the Lautenberg Senate seat for October, even though there is already an election scheduled for November. He's running for reelection in that one.
So why October? He says he is planning on appointing an interim person here soon, so what's the diff in that person serving until October or November? It's just a month. In having an extra election, he's costing his state an extra $12 million.
What could the reason be? Gee, do you think it could have anything to do with the fact that the Democratic Senate candidate is going to be Cory Booker, who is black, and who will draw African American voters to the polls in large numbers? So let all those black voters get their electoral ya-ya's out in October, see, and they'll stay home in November and not vote against him. And he'll run up a huge margin and keep alive his 2016 prospects, dimmed though they might have been by the stuffed animal affair. Sidenote: Keeping the Booker election off the November card can't hurt state and local GOP candidates, either.
It's smart, but it's sooooo obvious. The questions will be: 1, will the newspaper editorialists and other civic guardians complain about that $12 million such that it becomes an issue? 2, will African American voters care enough about being played like this to come out in large numbers in November?
It’s increasingly clear that the president has steered the country back from the brink—and, in the process, exposed (yet again) the central lie of conservative economics.
This Friday morning will bring the new jobs numbers. If recent months and indicators are any sign, the news will be at least pretty good, and maybe really good—
remember, the last several months have all been revised upward by significant amounts after the initial estimates. Yes, there is still a ways to go. But everything is moving in the right direction. The president and his people jumped the gun pretty badly in 2010 with their talk of “Recovery Summer.” But 2013 might finally be Recovery Summer. And by next summer, most experts say, the unemployment rate really will be back down to the normal range. In other words, the Republicans are about out of chances to do what they’ve been trying to do since Barack Obama took office—i.e., wreck the economy. Now more than ever, Obama has to ignore these people and get through the next three-plus years just trying to make sure they can’t screw up the economy any worse than they already have.
New homes are under construction at a housing development on March 6, 2013, in Gilbert, Arizona. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Let’s first review some recent economic news. Consumer confidence is at a five-year high. Personal debt is back to normal levels, which is a big deal. Housing investment is up, real-estate prices are rebounding everywhere, the stock market is breaking records. The political-economic news has been no less comforting to the right. Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart’s arguments against higher deficit-spending have been debunked. And as winter melted into spring, with oddly little commentary, Obama soared past George W. Bush in the net job-creation sweepstakes: Obama has now created a net positive of more than 1.6 million jobs in four-and-a-half years, which is better than Bush’s mark of 1.08 million in all eight of his years.
Many economists believe that things would be going even better right now without the austerity imposed on us by the Republicans who run the House of Representatives. It is true—and this is one point on which liberals, me included, haven’t been entirely consistent—that “austerity” also includes the higher taxes on the rich achieved through the fiscal-cliff deal, and the end of the 2 percent payroll tax holiday. So Obama does bear some responsibility for those particular forms of austerity, although the budget cuts the GOP insisted on have had considerably more negative impact on the economy than the tax increases.
When it comes to the topic of abortion in politics, there is no shortage of controversy. In reference to the major abortion bill being discussed by the House, watch these conservative politicians share their much-disputed viewpoints.
There’s no word yet if the Russians will follow suit after President Obama.