Poor President Obama. He’s had a rough couple of weeks. First, his high-profile surrogates Bill Clinton and Cory Booker sounded dangerously critical of his policies; then, the Wisconsin recall blew up in the left’s face. Now, his own progressive base is so unhappy with him, they’re thinking they just might stay home this November.
Republicans attack the president as a big-government liberal. Many liberals meeting Thursday at Netroots Nation — it describes the annual convention as “a giant family reunion for the left” — argue instead that Obama hasn’t fought hard enough for progressive priorities on taxes, health care and the economy.
Even more problematic for the president: With the election just five months away, some are threatening not to donate money or time or even vote in November for the man who overwhelmingly ignited their passions and captured their imaginations four years ago.
“I want to be happy with him,” said Democrat Kristine Vaughan, a 45-year-old school psychologist from Canton, Ohio. “But I am finding that he has succumbed to the corporate influence as much as everyone else. I think he has so much potential to break out of that, but overall he has been a disappointment.”
The sentiment is not unique among the 2,700 people gathered on the first day of this three-day convention. More than a dozen liberals interviewed here indicated some level of frustration with the president, despite widespread praise for his recent decision to support gay marriage and ongoing push to scale back military action in the Middle East.
Lost fervor within the base is exactly what Obama doesn’t need right now. Small donors comprised about a quarter of his fundraising efforts in 2008, and with the advent of Super PACs, he’ll need as much help as he can get to raise as much money as he did last time. Not to mention the latest numbers, which had him trailing Romney and the RNC in fundraising totals.
Those who do still plan to vote for Obama, however, report that they’re less willing to put in the same sort of get-out-the-vote effort that they displayed last time. Indeed, part of Obama’s victory in 2008 stemmed from increasing voter mobilization, and while the die-hards will trudge to the polls in November, they’re less likely to work quite so hard to encourage others to do so, too.
Given recent swing state poll numbers, however, the lack of enthusiasm has to hurt even more. Purple Insights’ latest polls have Obama and Mitt Romney locked in a dead heat, with Romney coming up on top in states like Ohio and Florida. And in Michigan of all places -- you know, where Obama's auto bailout is the most popular policy evah -- Romney leads POTUS by a point. As MSNBC was wont to say this past Tuesday, it’s too close to call.
No, things are not looking too good for our president right now. He’d best be hoping for a change in his base’s enthusiasm level; otherwise, he’s looking at trouble come the fall.
A recent Internal Revenue Service decision has politically-affiliated nonprofit organizations worried that their donor rolls are about to shrink. Last month, the IRS revoked tax-exempt status for Emerge America, a nonprofit that trained Democratic women as candidates for office -- and now, major organizations on both sides of the aisle fear they're next.
The recent IRS decision sends a signal that it may turn its attention after November’s election to major nonprofits involved in this year’s election, said Marcus Owens, a lawyer and former IRS director who oversaw nonprofits.
“The message is groups like Crossroads [GPS] need to be prepared to explain to the IRS why they’re entitled to tax-exempt status,” said Owens.
The IRS decision released last month involved a so-called campaign school in which a partisan group trained candidates.
“You are not operated primarily to promote social welfare because your activities are conducted primarily for the benefit of a political party and a private group of individuals, rather than the community as a whole,” said the IRS letter telling the group it was losing its exempt status.
Now, tax-exempt status leads to a higher rate of donations, as organizations are not required to disclose the names of contributors. Losing this status would make public their donor rolls, thereby discouraging contributions from anyone who would prefer to remain anonymous, for whatever reason. And the less money a nonprofit has, the less it's able to do.
The reasoning behind the IRS' decision to revoke Emerge America's tax-exempt status is interesting, though: the IRS claims that it's not "helping the community as a whole," but rather it only exists to benefit a political party. And while this particular nonprofit is left-leaning, and many of us disagree with their mission inherently, they do what they do because they believe that the community as a whole will benefit from having Democratic leaders in office.
We on the right may think they're wrong about that, but don't we look at conservative nonprofits from the same angle? The fact is, these groups exist because they do think they're helping the community at large, by empowering leaders who will help create a better society for us all.
Besides that, it seems like a slippery slope -- what about organizations that don't fund specific political parties, but do support one party's agenda? Say, an environmental nonprofit? Or a Tea Party group? This seems like it's opening up a door to picking and choosing which groups may retain tax-exempt status based on an arbitrary and vague assignment of political proclivity. Certainly something to keep an eye on as it develops.
Explanations of Bill Clinton's very candid endorsement of the Bush tax cuts and Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital have run rampant. Some have even said he's hoping for a Romney win to pave the way for a Hillary candidacy in 2016. But the former president's aides have a simple, if cold, reason for their boss' remarks: he's too old to hold his tongue.
The genuine explanation, say people close to Clinton, is the same one that usually is the case: He was simply saying what he really thought, but in fuzzy, free-associating language almost guaranteed to produce controversy.
This was a habit that Clinton usually learned to control as president. But the circumstances now are much different.
Clinton, say associates, while mentally sharp, is older and a step off his political game, less attuned to the need for clarity and message-discipline during interviews.
“He’s 65 years old,” said one adviser, explaining how Clinton in a CNBC interview managed to say that the economy was in recession when it is not.
Harsh. Of course, it's a ridiculous argument to make: Romney himself is 65, and Hillary will be 65 just before the 2012 election. Indeed, just weeks ago, Clinton was seen as an elder statesman of the Democratic Party, a popular figure upon whom President Obama relied to help build support for his own initiatives. One off-message speech, and suddenly he's senile?
Likely not. Instead, Ed Morrissey at Hot Air speculates that Clinton's team is feeling significant pressure from Obama's camp. The current POTUS doesn't want to run on his record, as POTUS-emeritus suggested; thus, they're trying to write off Clinton's remarks as the innocuous ramblings of a man who's reached that certain age.
Team Obama must be exerting a whole lot of pressure to get a full recantation from Clinton and his camp, mainly for speaking the truth. Most people in the US do feel that we are in a recession, or at least a recessionary environment, and Mitt Romney did have a sterling business career at Bain Capital. The problem for Obama is that his campaign can’t handle those truths, literally, as they have to pretend that the economy is rosy and that Romney is an eeeeeeevil vampire capitalist in order to win, rather than defend their own record and agenda as Clinton suggested last week.
Like Ed, I believe Clinton's support for Obama is genuine; any perceived criticism on Clinton's part is recognition of what makes a good campaign. And a good campaign is one that doesn't always, always, always go negative, a move that leads the public to beleive you're desperate and plan-less. But if Team Obama is even will to throw Bill Clinton under the bus -- the most popular living former president -- then it's clear OFA has moved beyond desperate territory, and into reckless.
First, there was Chris Christie. Then, Scott Walker. And now...Rahmbo.
Yes, Mayor of Chicago and President Obama's former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is gearing up for a battle with the Chicago Teachers' Union, likely to come to a head this summer. And while he's Gov. Walker's political antithesis, Emanuel finds himself in the same sort of budgetary crisis as Walker's Wisconsin -- and staring at the very same solution: cutting costs in unionized areas of the public sector.
While he’s also working to implement cost cutting for firefighters and cops, Emanuel’s most prominent target is the CTU. Its already highly-compensated members take umbrage at his desire to extend the school calendar by 90 minutes a day, and ten days a year, while only offering them a 2% pay raise in 2012-2013. By contrast, the union feels entitled to a 30% raise over the next two years – especially since their workload is about to increase. However, as the Wall Street Journal points out, they’re already handsomely paid compared to the rest of the city:
The average Chicago teacher makes $76,450, nearly 30% more than the typical private sector worker in Cook County—and teachers work two months less a year. Their last five-year contract called for 4% annual raises. However, the district rescinded teachers' raises last year because its deficit ballooned to $700 million. Its deficit is projected to grow to more than $1 billion in the next two years due to soaring pension costs. Teachers can retire at age 60 with an annuity equal to 75% of their highest average salary, meaning that teachers earn more in retirement than most Chicagoans do on the job.
Teachers want a bevy of other perks guaranteed in their contracts, which would cost the district an additional $800 million. The union says the city could pay for the new contract by raising taxes on the rich and corporations, but schools' main source of local funding is property taxes—which would have to rise by 75% to meet all of the union's demands.
Emanuel and the CTU were engaged in a game of political chicken over the issue, but yesterday, the union began voting on whether to authorize a strike, a move that, apparently, Emanuel was not expecting. He’s waiting on a fact-finding report, due in July, which would ostensibly back his claims that the unions don’t need the money they’re trying to negotiate for themselves. Theoretically, this ought to foce him to capitulate, and in sunnier economic times, he probably would. However – despite the inherent popularity of teachers generally – the strike is not expected to garner any particular favor with the public, who are themselves struggling to make ends meet.
Many of those same citizens believe they’ve been shafted during the recession and that nobody bailed them out. While they may theoretically support organized labor’s well-intentioned defense of its members, they increasingly discern unions to be on the wrong side of issues dealing with economics and accountability.
As one top Emanuel ally put it Wednesday, “They ask, ‘Why are those people being protected and I’m not?’”
[T]here can be little doubt that even Democratic governors and mayors who might even painfully consider doing battle with unions, to gain both savings and efficiencies, can now use the Wisconsin legacy as a negotiating hammer.
Indeed, Emanuel himself has stated his willingness to go to war with the unions – traditionally allies of the Democratic Party – if their interests don’t jive with what’s best for the community generally. While speaking about the contract dispute between the firefighters’ union and the city, he said as much:
“My view is, I have a responsibility to all the people of the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said at a news conference to announce GE Transportation will move its headquarters here. “Not a few, not one part of the city, all the people of the city of Chicago. And I've got to make sure the taxpayers and the residents are represented. That's my role.”
“I respect what Tom (Ryan) has to do, I respect what the members of the firefighters operations as a city employee have to do,” the mayor added. “But I've got to make sure we're making the changes that are necessary for the future, and we're not just doing things like we used to do them because we used to do them.”
The mayor declined to discuss any specifics of the contract negotiations. “You describe them as cuts,” Emanuel said. “There are places that, while the negotiations are private, that I would say are reforms.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that Emanuel still describes himself as pro-union, and offered full-fledged support for Tom Barrett’s failed Wisconsin recall gubernatorial campaign. However, this conflict represents the uncertain future of public sector unions in politics. When everyone suffers in the poor economy, Democrats have a harder time kowtowing to the unions’ desires. Their rebuke in Wisconsin seems to be carrying over – and not just from state to state, but political party, too.
Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, has recently earned the ire of many for his hairbrained attempt at curbing obesity by banning sugary drinks. Today, he took to the Twitters to promote an op-ed he wrote for USA Today, defending his policy:
If I may interject, seems like the Mayor is ignoring some basic math here: 2 x 16 = 32, and 32 > 20. But a look at the op-ed itself reveals that this plan of his isn't really tethered in logic:
Together, these facts strongly suggest that if people are served smaller portion sizes of sugary drinks, they will consume less, gain less weight and be healthier — and we may just start to reverse the catastrophic epidemic of obesity.
Critics claim this policy restricts choice. But, currently, people almost never have the choice to purchase as small as an 8-ounce beverage, which was considered adequate for decades.
Under our proposal, people could still choose to drink as much soda as they want. If 16 ounces (promoted as enough for three people in the 1950s!) is not enough, people could purchase two portions. Is that too much an inconvenience to reverse a national health catastrophe?
First of all, his defense against the rightful charge that he's impeding on freedom of choice is...people don't have the choice of a smaller drink? By his logic, because restaurants don't serve 8 oz beverages, he has to ban any drinks over 16 oz. His "choice" argument seems to be a better defense of a mandate that restaurants include smaller portions, rather than a ban on larger ones. And, who's to say restaurants won't institute two-for-one deals on 16 oz beverages, as a means of manipulating public outrage for purposes of making more sales? After all, if those evil corporations are capable of foisting larger portion sizes on poor, unsuspecting Americans, who's to say they won't harness the backlash against this policy to wring a profit?
The Mayor also compares the policy to bans on cigarettes in bars and mandatory calorie posting in restaurants, but that's apples to oranges. The cigarette ban could pass muster because of the immediate neighborhood effect smoking has on others -- secondhand smoke, and all -- so even though it's a restriction of choice, the argument goes that fellow patrons aren't choosing to inhale smoke. As for calorie posting, that's a policy that helps people make more informed choices: it doesn't add to or take away from their options, just shows them what, exactly, they're picking. The soda (or, if you're Midwestern like me, pop) ban is much more intrusive, as it restricts actual options.
Now, you'd think the mayor's overbearing mom-ness would translate into drug policy, right?
Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had previously defended low-level marijuana arrests as a way to deter more serious crime, said in a statement that the governor’s proposal “strikes the right balance” in part because it would still allow the police to arrest people who were smoking marijuana in public.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, plans to hold a news conference at the Capitol on Monday to announce his plans to seek the change in state law. Administration officials said the governor would seek to downgrade the possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana in public view from a misdemeanor to a violation, with a maximum fine of $100 for first-time offenders.
Mr. Bloomberg said his police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, would attend the governor’s news conference “to show our support for his proposal.”
“We look forward to working with legislative leaders to help pass a bill before the end of session,” the mayor said, referring to this year’s legislative session in Albany, which is scheduled to conclude in three weeks.
So there you have it, residents of New York: if Mayor Bloomberg gets his way, you can have your pot, but if the munchies hit, good luck finding a 32 oz Mountain Dew to wash down your Taco Bell.
Times like these are exactly why the word awkward was invented.
President Obama welcomed back his predecessor, the ever-maligned George W. Bush and his lovely wife Laura to the White House for the unveiling of their official portraits. The whole event was very dignified, of course, but there's clearly some tension between the two presidents, especially since 44's favorite rhetorical strategy is to blame 43 for...well, everything.
Unfortunately, that verbal tic made its way into Obama's remarks this afternoon, when the current president kinda-sorta blamed the former for the dire economic straights in which we have lately found ourselves.
In all fairness, the remainder of his talk commended Bush for his tenure as Chief Executive, especially for how he handled 9/11. Obama was a gracious host, and he and Michelle had plenty of kind words for the Bushes (although, perhaps this is just me projecting, but the dynamic among the four of them seemed...stilted, especially when taking the group photo).
Honestly, it seems like Obama has relied for so long on Bush as a scapegoat that he doesn't really know how to talk about the economy without mentioning W. Even if he didn't intend to place blame -- as I'm sure was the case, at least for today's purposes -- he's simply so unwilling to accept any responsibility for our disastrous economy that he'll allude to the damage Bush did in office while introducing him to accept his presidential portrait. It's sad, really. And it calls for one of these:
Awkward turtle, indeed.
First, he went 0-for-2 on budgets, and now, this: Senate Democrats blatantly don't care about President Obama's "To Do List," and what's more, they don't even know what's on it!
For background, this "To Do List" was a demagogue-tastic rhetorical device Obama threw around in a few speeches, starting with this year's State of the Union. In early May, he introduced the list itself, five "tasks" he charged Congress with completing, that he argued could conveniently fit on a Post-It note.
Among the proposals are tax credits for businesses who hire workers or increase wages, credits for businesses that bring jobs from overseas back to the United States, and a plan for mortgage relief that would allow homeowners who are current on their loans to refinance at lower rates, according to a White House official. Obama also wants Congress to extend and expand tax credits for clean energy production and create a veterans job corps.
As usual, he entreated voters to bug their Representatives and Senators about it -- the old, "Call them, tweet them, write them letters" mantra -- but it seems the American people didn't follow directions. As partisan as the Senate is, it seems there's agreement between both the Democrats and the Republicans: no one cares about the president's list. Really, when you see what some of these Democratic lawmakers had to say about Obama's agenda, you almost feel bad for him.
"Didn’t we do some things he wanted us to do?” asked Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). “[Export-Import] Bank, that doesn’t count? That wasn’t on the to-do list?”
No. The president wanted that, too, but it’s not on the list.
“Do you have a copy of the to-do list?” Landrieu asked.
After a reporter told her what was on the list, she quipped, “We’re adding to that list by doing some great things.”
“I don’t have a copy of it; I’m sure my staff does,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), when asked when the Senate might get to it.
“We’ve got June, July. We’ve got some time. What time frame did he put on that to-do list?”
When told the president said the to-do list could be done “now,” Casey joked, “Now is a very expansive term. It’s not even the summer yet.“
“Didn’t we just try to move on student loans. Wasn’t that on his list?” asked Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
No, that’s a separate priority.
“You’d have to ask Harry Reid” why the list hasn’t moved, Levin said.
As funny as this is, it's pretty revealing: Obama has lost his clout with the Congressional higher-ups in his own party. His disgraceful, debt-laden attempts at producing a budget failed so miserably that it seems they just won't take him too seriously when he suggests legislation.
Of course, this little rift between Congressional Democrats and the White House is hardly hostile -- quite the contrary! The lawmakers quoted in this Roll Call story kept insisting they were doing Obama's bidding, with student loans, the Export-Import Bank, etc. They're happy to advance the party's agenda; they're just not listening to what Obama's proposing anymore. Even Harry Reid won't play along with the "To Do List:"
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) outlined his agenda for the June work period this week, only one item from Obama’s to-do list made the cut — a business tax cut package. That’s the item most likely to win GOP support, given that Democrats at this point plan to follow the lead of House Republicans and simply borrow the money to pay for it.
The president has become legislatively impotent; no one in his party will follow his directions, and of course, the Republicans are hardly going to take up his agenda. According to Sen. Cornyn, the Democrats, along with the Republicans, seem to think that the president is in all-out campaign mode, and no longer a participant in helping to set the agenda.
“The fact of life is none of us work for the president,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “What you see is the Senate’s legislative agenda being driven by the Senate, not by the White House. The president’s pretty much irrelevant, because he’s basically given up on governing and is campaigning.”
Obama's the Ugarte to the Senate's Rick: they might despise him, if they gave him any thought. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is bipartisanship.
Yep, you read that headline right. Chris Hayes, of MSNBC's Sunday morning show "Up with Chris Hayes," says he's uncomfortable ascribing valorous terms to fallen military because it's "rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war." Just...watch:
Sorry, Chris, but anyone willing to sacrifice his or her life for your right to say whatever you want on your Sunday morning talk show is a hero. There is no incorrect way to "marshal" that word when speaking about the men and women who value the principles of our nation above their own lives. Calling them what they are -- heroes -- is a small way to recognize their bravery. It's hardly justification for more war; it's just one way we can say thank you to our soliders.
The fact is, our soldiers are our greatest heroes, and they deserve our utmost respect for their willingness to sacrifice their time and their lives for us. Yes, Chris, you are wrong -- after all, the reason we celebrate this Memorial Day holiday is to honor our fallen heroes.
To no one's surprise, international talks had no effect on Iran's nuclear productions. In fact, the effort only confirmed that Iran has even more uranium that previously though, and could produce five atomic bombs with its supply.
During talks in Baghdad this week, six world powers failed to convince Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment program. They will meet again in Moscow next month to try to defuse a decade-old standoff that has raised fears of a new war in the Middle East that could disrupt oil supplies.
Friday's report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a Vienna-based U.N. body, showed Iran was pressing ahead with its uranium enrichment work in defiance of U.N. resolutions calling on it to suspend the activity.
It said Iran had produced almost 6.2 tons of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent since it began the work in 2007 - some of which has subsequently been further processed into higher-grade material.
This is nearly 750 kg more than in the previous IAEA report issued in February, and ISIS said Iran's monthly production had risen by roughly a third.
"This total amount of 3.5 percent low enriched uranium hexafluoride, if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make over five nuclear weapons," ISIS said in its analysis.
As diplomatic efforts have failed, however, Leon Panetta has been increasingly clear about the U.S.' intent to use military force to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Sunday indirectly confirmed recent remarks by the Ambassador to Israel that the U.S. is “ready from a military perspective’’ to stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon if international pressure fails.
“We have plans to be able to implement any contingency we have to in order to defend ourselves,’’ Panetta said on ABC’s This Week. Earlier, Panetta said, “The fundamental premise is that neither the United States or the international community is going to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.’’
Panetta's hint comes on the heels of rumblings from other officials; clearly, the U.S. is fearful of Iran's capabilities, and seems to be warming up to the idea of a strike. The question now seems to be one of when: time seems to be running short, as Iran gets closer and closer to building a nuclear weapon -- and presumeably, using it against Israel.
Some bad news for the vehement anti-war set: they've lost the spending argument. A new chart reveals that in the last decade, spending on national security, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined paled in comparison to entitlement spending -- 19% to 65%, respectively. Over to you, infographic:
"About 65 percent of federal expenditures over the last ten years have gone towards entitlements,"Paul Miller writes. "By comparison, about 15 percent has gone towards national defense, excluding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq has cost three percent, and only about one percent has gone towards the war in Afghanistan (including the cost of ongoing military operations and all reconstruction and stabilization assistance combined), according to my analysis of figures from OMB."
In other words, Miller says, "Afghanistan is the second-cheapest major war in U.S. history as a percentage of GDP, according to the Congressional Research Service."
And of course, it's worth noting that war spending is about to decline, as our efforts abroad wind down, but entitlement spending will only grow as more people retire. For all President Obama's talk of a cheaper, "leaner" military, that's clearly not the area in need of a trimming.