Wednesday, July 24, 2013



Monday, June 24, 2013

juliomoraees test post content

juliomoraees test post content

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Former CIA bin Laden chief, Michael Scheuer writes that Obama could distract from scandals with unnecessary war in Syria

In an all out, pull no punches article on the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity (RPI) website Tuesday, former CIA bin Laden chief and author of several books including Imperial Hubris, Dr. Michael Scheuer looks into the current mess of the Obama administration and the potential to cause a distraction that would be an effort to save his skin.

The investigations into the trio of scandals, in time, could reveal either gross incompetence in the White House or possible criminal actions. Because of this, Scheuer writes that sending American troops into Syria could “distract Americans from his administration’s rampant felonies”.

Scheuer writes, “what better way to quiet the hounds of just retribution than by consigning U.S. soldiers and Marines to death in a useless intervention in Syria, a place where no genuine U.S. national interest is at stake.”

In his prediction he goes on to say, “Odds are that we are going to see the same old story: Obama will intervene militarily in Syria, get Americans worried about the safety of their soldier-children, stoke their patriotism and fierce support for the troops, and – voila – the Obama-butt-kissing media will refocus the victims of the Obama-ites’ domestic felonies on an unnecessary war in the Levant.”

And it’s just not just “ the Obama-butt-kissing media”, but also the Democrats and Republicans, Scheuer notes.

“With Democrats ever ready to leave Americans to fend for themselves, Obama’s diversionary campaign – obscure impeachable offenses by launching an unnecessary war – will be abetted by Senators McCain, Graham, Lieberman, and dozens of other U.S. Senators and Congressman intent on war with Syria.”

Scheuer also calls out the radio talking heads that would line up in support of US military in Syria like every other military intervention–Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin et al. and take up arms if they believe in the cause that much.

I remember writing something similar about 3.5 years ago on the blog, Desk of Brian. When a guy named Tim Graney challenged Dr. Paul for the House seat in the primaries and called Paul’s constitutional view of foreign policy, “His Weak, Stick-Your-Head-In-The-Sand Foreign Policy”.

I called out Graney, Hannity and the rest for not donning a uniform and fighting in these wars they love to promote so much.

Let’s hope and pray that Mr. Scheurer’s predictions don’t come to fruition and Mr. Obama doesn’t get us involved in any shenanigans in Syria.

Scheuer’s article was published on RPI the same day that the Menendez-Corker bill passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a wide margin.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tories force David Cameron to enshrine EU vote in law

DAVID Cameron has bowed to pressure from Tory rebels by guaranteeing in law his promise to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

In an effort to draw a line under the party's turmoil, the Conservatives will today publish a Bill ensuring an in-out vote before the end of 2017.

The Prime Minister's change of heart came 48 hours before more than 100 Conservative MPs and ministerial aides were due to vote against the Queen's Speech because it lacked such a measure. Mr Cameron's surprise move, announced while he was in the US, took senior Lib Dems by surprise and will lead to a stand-off at the top of the coalition.

Nick Clegg's office said that the Deputy Prime Minister would refuse to allow government time for the Bill, which makes it almost impossible for the measure to pass into law even if it could command a Commons majority.

But the move is as much about setting up electoral dividing lines with Labour and the Lib Dems and trying to restore order to restive Conservative ranks.

US President Barack Obama came to Mr Cameron's aid yesterday, warning mutinous Tories against a hasty exit from the EU. As the Prime Minister struggled with another day of internal rows over Europe, Mr Obama gave an unequivocal endorsement of Mr Cameron's "negotiate now, vote later" European strategy.

He warned that the special relationship would suffer if Britain cut its ties with Brussels. Britain's EU membership was "an expression of its influence", he said. But, in a change of emphasis from the White House, he acknowledged that Mr Cameron was within his rights to try to fix Britain's relationship with the EU.

"David's basic point, that you probably want to see if you can fix what's broken in a very important relationship before you break it off, makes some sense to me," Mr Obama said.

The President's endorsement, delivered alongside the Prime Minister at a White House press conference, put a spring in the step of Mr Cameron's entourage but is unlikely to cut much ice with Eurosceptic Tories.

In Westminster, cabinet ministers remained quiet after Mr Cameron chided Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, for saying they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum were held today. He also accused the likes of Lord Lawson of Blaby, who began the latest debate last week with his call in The Times for Britain to quit the EU, and Michael Portillo, who argued that any negotiation would get nowhere, of "throwing in the towel".

But Tories from either end of the party's spectrum on Europe were at loggerheads. Lord Forsyth of Drumlean became the latest former cabinet minister to write off Mr Cameron's EU strategy, saying that the task the Prime Minister had set himself was impossible and that he had no hope of persuading Brussels to reform.

"To use an analogy, I think David Cameron is thinking he can persuade the golf club to play tennis," the peer told the BBC.

The amendment, and the Tory Bill, would write into law Mr Cameron's commitment to an in-out EU referendum in 2017, on new terms that he plans to negotiate.

Mr Obama's carefully delivered riposte represented a major and rare intervention by a US President into British domestic politics.

He urged voters to wait and see the new relationship Mr Cameron could deliver. "I, at least, would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment," he said.

The White House had previously been opposed to any move towards a British exit, a move that it believes would make its dealings with Europe more difficult.

Another Tory row was brewing as some MPs expressed interest in standing as "Tory-UKIP" candidates in the 2015 general election.

Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone backed the idea of local arrangements, which allowed Conservative candidates to seek the endorsement of Nigel Farage.

Conservative high command is resisting the idea but Mr Bone said that harnessing the Tory and UKIP vote to one candidate would deliver Mr Cameron an overall majority.

"There's clearly a holy grail there if we can get the Prime Minister to give a bit," he said.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Israel Sees U.S. Response to Syria as Gauge on Iran

As President Obama wrestles with how to respond to new assessments that Syria appears to have used chemical weapons, leaders in Israel say they will be watching for clues about how he might handle the Iranian nuclear issue in the future.

 In Syria’s case, Mr. Obama has said that the use of chemical weapons would “change my calculus,” but he has not said how. Even while Israel appeared to be egging on Mr. Obama toward taking action, with officials here saying Tuesday that it appeared sarin gas had been used by the Syrian government, those officials also conceded that none of the military options were good.

“If you bomb the sites, you could cause exactly the catastrophe you are trying to prevent,” said an Israeli military officer who has spent considerable time studying the options. “If you just go in to secure the weapons, you can get stuck” in the middle of a civil war, he added, with American troops and their allies suddenly targets, and no easy way out.

But to the Israelis, how Mr. Obama navigates the next few weeks will be viewed as a gauge for what he might do later regarding the potentially bigger confrontation in the region.

“There is a question here: when a red line is set, can we stick by it?” Zeev Elkin, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said Friday in a radio interview. “If the Iranians will see that the red lines laid by the international community are flexible, then will they continue to progress?”

Mr. Obama, during his visit to Israel and Jordan last month, repeated that Iran would not obtain a nuclear weapon on his watch. Yet judging when it would be too late to stop Iran is an even greater intelligence challenge than determining whether chemical weapons were used in Syria near Aleppo and Damascus.

“In the case of chemical weapons, you have forensic evidence,” one former aide to Mr. Obama noted recently. “Ground samples. Tissue samples. In the Iranian nuclear program, unless they conduct a test, you are never likely to have that kind of certainty. It’s more art than science.”

Mr. Obama’s polices in the Arab uprisings have been specific to each country, making it hard to draw lessons of how action in one would predict action in the next. He pressed former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to step down, and led an international bombing campaign to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s attacks on rebels in Libya. But he effectively supported the king of Bahrain through the uprising in that tiny nation, which is host to the largest American Navy base in the region.

White House officials clearly understand the stakes in Mr. Obama’s decision on Syria. On the one hand, they say, he is deeply mindful of the mistakes made exactly a decade ago in Iraq; for that reason, they say, he is insisting on what the White House called on Thursday “credible and corroborated facts.”

On the other hand, if the president waits for courtroom levels of proof, what has been a few dozen deaths from chemical weapons — in a war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives — could multiply. Israeli officials, in interviews, made clear that they see the limited use of sarin so far as a test by President Bashar al-Assad — and fear that a lack of international reaction would tempt him to deploy chemicals more broadly.

“If you ask me why they used it, I would say it was just to test the world,” an Israeli military official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of army rules. “If somebody would take any reaction, maybe it would deter them from using it again.”

Amos Harel, the defense correspondent for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, said in a column Friday that this week’s wrestling over chemical weapons might have been as much about Iran as it was Syria. He noted that a speech Tuesday by Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, Israel’s top military intelligence analyst, asserting that sarin had been used was followed by one in which Amos Yadlin, the former chief of military intelligence in Israel, declared that Iran was at or about to cross the red line set by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It’s possible that mention of chemical weapons was also intended as a wake-up call to the U.S.,” Mr. Harel wrote. “Israel may have expected that the Americans would stick to their guns in the Syrian case, as well, as a way of sending a regional signal that would also be understood in Tehran.”

Iran, too, may well be watching Mr. Obama’s decision-making on Syria closely. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has huge stakes in the survival of Mr. Assad, his only real ally in the region. And United States intelligence analysts believe that Iran’s leaders have interpreted two decades of American drift on the North — during which Mr. Obama’s three immediate predecessors all said they would never tolerate the country’s obtaining nuclear arms — as a sign that Washington will not wage war to stop even a rogue nation from obtaining nuclear arms, or the ability to build them.

If the United States intervened in Syria to secure its chemical stockpiles — perhaps organizing the Arab League, the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council or NATO to share the job — Israeli officials say it would be a signal that Mr. Obama would most likely back up his warnings to Iran the same way. But the prospect of such a move also worries many in Jerusalem: one senior official said he feared that an intervention in Syria could also obfuscate “the problem of greater concern” for Israel, stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

All this is a reminder that red lines are never quite as clear as they sound at first. But failing to set limits has its own risks, as one of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party allies in Israel’s Parliament, Tzahi Hanegbi, said in an interview Friday with Israel Radio.

“There is also a problem in not setting red lines,” Mr. Hanegbi said. “Because then you admit from the outset that there is no line whose crossing is considered grounds for taking action.”

Still, Mr. Hanegbi said, Israel was not trying to force Mr. Obama’s hand. “I think that we have no interest in the world getting sucked into the fighting in Syria.” 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

President Obama to return $20,000 of salary to Treasury

Sharing a bit of budget pain, President Barack Obama will return 5% of his salary to the Treasury in a show of solidarity with federal workers smarting from government-wide spending cuts.

Obama's decision grew out of a desire to share in the sacrifice that government employees are making, a White House official said Wednesday. Hundreds of thousands of workers could be forced to take unpaid leave — known as furloughs — if Congress does not reach an agreement soon to undo the cuts.

The president is demonstrating that he will be paying a price, too, as the White House warns of dire economic consequences from the $85 billion in cuts — called a sequester — that started to hit federal programs last month after Congress failed to stop them. In the weeks since, the administration has faced repeated questions about how the White House itself will be affected. The cancellation of White House tours in particular has drawn mixed reactions.

A 5% cut from the president's salary of $400,000 per year amounts to $20,000.

Obama will return a full $20,000 to the Treasury even though only a few months remain in the fiscal year, which ends in September. He will cut his first check this month, said the White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the decision publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama reported almost $790,000 in adjusted gross income in 2011, the most recent year for which their tax returns have been made public. That figure was down from the $1.7 million they brought in the year before and the $5.5 million they reported in 2009. About half of the family's income in 2011 came from Obama's salary, with the rest coming from book sales. The Obamas reported more than $172,000 in charitable donations.

“The salary for the president, as with members of Congress, is set by law and cannot be changed,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney said late Wednesday. “However, the president has decided that to share in the sacrifice being made by public servants across the federal government that are affected by the sequester, he will contribute a portion of his salary back to the Treasury.”

Wednesday's notice followed a similar move a day earlier by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who committed to taking a salary cut equal to 14 days' pay — the same level of cut that other Defense Department civilians are being forced to take. As many as 700,000 civilians will have to take one unpaid day off each week for up to 14 weeks in the coming months.

Obama isn't the first president to give up part of his paycheck. Herbert Hoover put his salary in a separate account, then divvied it up, giving part to charity and part to employees he felt were underpaid, according to an interview he gave in 1937. John F. Kennedy donated his presidential salary to various charities, according to Stacey Chandler, an archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

George Washington refused pay during the latter part of his military career, according to researchers at Mount Vernon. He tried to refuse a presidential salary, but Congress required that the position pay $25,000.

Among lawmakers, Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat, said Wednesday that he, too, would return part of his income to the Treasury, although he did not specify how much of his $174,000 salary he would give up. Begich said his office started furloughing staffers in mid-March and more than half of his staff will have their pay cut this year.

“This won't solve our spending problem on its own, but I hope it is a reminder to Alaskans that I am willing to make the tough cuts, wherever they may be, to get our spending under control,” Begich said.

A number of lawmakers have from time to time taken steps to show they're not immune as the federal government looks to tighten its belt. An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said McConnell returns a substantial part of his salary to the Treasury every year. The Senate this month adopted by voice vote a symbolic amendment permitting — but not requiring — senators to give 20% of their salaries to the Treasury as part of the Democrats' budget resolution. Also in March, as the spending cuts started bearing down, the GOP-controlled House imposed an 8.2% reduction on lawmakers' personal office budgets.

The White House, after declining for weeks to provide specifics for how the president's own staff had been affected, said Monday that 480 workers on the budget staff had been notified they may have to take days off without pay.

Carney wouldn't say whether notices have gone out to Obama aides outside the Office of Management and Budget, including senior staff in the West Wing. But he said pay cuts remained a possibility for additional White House employees if a budget deal to undo the cuts isn't reached.

“Everybody at the White House and the broader (executive office) is dealing with the consequences — both, in many cases, in their own personal lives, but in how we work here at the White House,” Carney said. He added that the White House also has been trying to cut costs by slowing down hiring, scaling back supply purchases, curtailing staff travel, reducing the use of air cards for mobile Internet access and reviewing contracts to look for savings.

Like lawmakers' pay, Obama's salary is set by law, so he must accept the funds and then write a check to the Treasury each month for the portion he plans to relinquish. Obama's decision, first reported by The New York Times, won't affect the other perquisites afforded the president, from a mansion staffed with servants to the limousines, helicopters and Boeing 747 jumbo jet at every U.S. president's beck and call. The White House did not say whether Vice President Joe Biden would make a similar gesture.

The 5 percent that Obama will hand back mirrors the 5% cut that domestic agencies took when the reductions went into effect. The Pentagon's budget took an 8% hit. Every federal agency is grappling with spending cuts, which the White House has warned could affect everything from commercial airline flights to classrooms and meat inspections.

The cuts were written into a 2011 deficit-reduction measure as a trigger to force future action. The idea was that lawmakers, eager to avert the consequences of bluntly slashing $1 trillion over a decade, would have no choice but to come together to find smarter ways to reduce federal spending.

But the two parties were at odds over whether more tax revenues were needed as part of the solution, and an intense campaign by Obama and his Cabinet to illustrate how the cuts could affect critical programs failed to spur an agreement by the March 1 deadline. As the cuts started taking effect, lawmakers turned to other issues, including an increase in the national debt ceiling, and there are no signs that a deal to undo the cuts retroactively will come anytime soon. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama to Nominate Justice Aide for Labor Post

President Obama plans to announce Monday that he will nominate Thomas E. Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, to be the next secretary of labor, a choice that promises to provoke a debate with Republicans about voting rights and discrimination.

 Mr. Perez would replace Hilda L. Solis, who stepped down in January after four years running the Labor Department. Word of his possible selection has been circulating in Washington for days, and a White House official informed reporters that the president would make it official on Monday.

The announcement comes just days after a Justice Department inspector general’s report found that the voting rights section has been torn by “deep ideological polarization” with liberal and conservative factions in sharp conflict. The divisions date back to the George W. Bush administration, and most occurred before Mr. Perez was confirmed in October 2009. He portrayed the report as largely clearing the section on his watch.

But the report also raised questions about testimony he gave, and Republicans made clear that they would take issue with his handling of some cases over the last three and a half years. His critics question, for example, whether he acted inappropriately in persuading the City of St. Paul to drop a lawsuit seeking to limit fair housing claims when there is no intentional bias.

Liberals and labor leaders have hailed Mr. Perez, calling him a strong champion for workers and those who have faced discrimination. While at the Justice Department, he has pursued a record number of discrimination or brutality claims against local police and sheriff’s departments, including that of Joe Arpaio, the outspoken sheriff in Maricopa County, Ariz., who was accused of “a pattern of unlawful discrimination” against Latinos.

Mr. Perez also challenged voter identification requirements imposed by South Carolina and Texas, and his division reached the three largest residential fair lending settlements in the history of the Fair Housing Act. Under him, the voting section participated in the most new litigation in the last fiscal year than in any previous year.

Mr. Perez, 51, who would be the only Hispanic in the cabinet if confirmed, is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. His father died when he was 12, but his family pressed the value of education so much that all four of his siblings became doctors. Mr. Perez graduated from Brown University and Harvard Law School.

He has spent a career fighting discrimination cases as a federal prosecutor, then, under President Bill Clinton, as deputy chief of the civil rights division that he now heads, and finally as head of civil rights enforcement at the Health and Human Services Department. He also served as an elected council member in Montgomery County, Md., and as the state’s secretary of labor, licensing and regulation.

The timing of the inspector general’s report on the voting section seems to ensure that it will come up during Mr. Perez’s confirmation hearings. The report found a toxic environment in which conservatives and liberals fought and maligned one another through the Bush administration and into the Obama administration.

The examples it cited generally preceded Mr. Perez, and he wrote the inspector general that he had made a point of correcting the situation. “Since 2009, the Civil Rights Division and the Voting Section have undertaken a number of steps to improve the professionalism of our workplace and to ensure that we enforce the civil rights laws in an independent, evenhanded fashion,” Mr. Perez wrote.

The inspector general, however, raised questions regarding Mr. Perez’s testimony about a case that preceded his time. Mr. Perez told the Civil Rights Commission in 2010 that no senior department officials were involved in a 2009 decision not to pursue further a case of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panthers. But the report noted that in fact senior officials did participate in discussions about the case, although the final decision was made by career lawyers as Mr. Perez had testified.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the report showed that Mr. Perez was “woefully unprepared to answer questions” about a matter that he expected to be asked about. “This is troubling as it suggests a failure to also prepare for hearings before Congress, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, when questioned on this same topic,” he said in a statement.

Moreover, Mr. Grassley said the report made clear that Mr. Perez had not done as much as he had said to end harassment of conservatives in the voting rights section. “The reports shows that despite claims that it’s a new era in the Civil Rights Division, they are sadly mistaken, and it’s business as usual,” Mr. Grassley said.

While conservatives have called him a radical, Mr. Perez has not backed off his aggressive approach, even as his name was up for consideration for the Labor Department job. Just last Thursday, he announced an investigation into excessive force complaints against the Cleveland Police Department. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tasks From Obama’s Big Speech: Cutting Nukes, Bringing Home Troops

President Obama will focus on two major national-security tasks in his State of the Union speech tonight. He’ll be able to pull off one of them without opposition.

The easy one will be cutting the size of the U.S. troop commitment in Afghanistan by half. Much, much harder will be reducing the U.S. nuclear stockpile, especially if Obama wants to do so unilaterally.

Start with the hard one. Obama is expected to reiterate his first-term call for a nuclear-free world — a goal that looks farther away than ever with North Korea’s newest nuclear detonation. Last week, the Center for Public Integrity reported that the administration had reached consensus that the U.S. nuclear stockpile could be reduced by as much as a third, including short-range nukes, which are outside the scope of the most recent U.S.-Russia arms-control accord.

If Obama really intends to commit to this, he’ll have to spend a lot of political capital. His 2010 arms control deal with the Russians, which represented a more modest cut than this new reported plan, barely squeaked through the Senate in late 2010. Obama had to push ratification for the accord through a lame-duck Senate to avoid larger Republican opposition. At his acrimonious confirmation hearings to be defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, an advocate for cutting the nuclear stockpile, was made to swear up and down that he opposed unilateral nuclear reductions. Republicans are not going to let Hagel forget that at the Pentagon, and they’re in an excellent position to deny the White House a follow-up nuclear treaty with the Russians.

Obama is in a much stronger position to announce, as he reportedly will, that he’ll reduce U.S. troop strength in America’s longest war by 34,000 over the course of 2013. Even if Congress wanted to stop the drawdown, it has no viable mechanism for doing so. As it happens, it doesn’t: sometime last year, the last bulwark of Republican support for sustaining the war beyond 2014 collapsed. Americans want out of Afghanistan by margins of between 71 and 79 percent, according to a new Washington Post poll. The new general running Afghanistan, Joseph Dunford, knows his task is to pull most troops out by 2014 without chaos reigning.

Halving the troop presence in Afghanistan this year, when Afghan forces are supposed to begin taking control of the war, indicates a more cautious approach than a restless public might favor. But what Obama probably won’t say is that there’s an emerging plan, as reported by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Post, to keep 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as a residual force. Apparently post-2014 Afghanistan won’t look like Korea: rather than keeping that force there indefinitely, the administration is considering cutting it to below 1,000 troops by 2017.

That’s the closest thing Obama has come to actually following through on his rhetoric of ending the Afghanistan war — although whether he’ll actually do it before his second term ends is a massively open question. Still, Obama has leverage to do it that he can only dream of having for his anti-nuclear agenda. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Obama's day: Selling the gun-control plan

It's a day of selling for President Obama, selling his plan to battle gun violence.

The president travels to Minneapolis to visit the city's Police Department Special Operations Center and discuss "his comprehensive set of common-sense ideas to reduce gun violence," the White House schedule says.

Obama's plan includes universal background checks for all gun buyers, a renewal of the assault weapons ban and restrictions on the capacity of ammunition magazines, along with new school safety and mental health programs.

Why Minneapolis?

"Minneapolis is a city that has taken important steps to reduce gun violence and foster a conversation in the community about what further action is needed," the White House says.

That includes a youth violence initiative that has seen some success. In addition, sheriffs in Minnesota have worked to improve the state's background check system on gun purchases.

"President Obama will visit with members of the community about their experiences and discuss additional steps that can be taken at the federal level to reduce gun violence," the schedule says.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Obama Focuses on Status Quo, Not Left, in Battle With G.O.P.

For all the talk that President Obama has shifted leftward, much of his early second-term energy seeks simply to preserve the status quo.

 Mr. Obama’s Inaugural Address last week celebrated the role of “collective action” in creating conditions for a modern economy, expanding individual opportunity and assisting the poor. He rejected Republican arguments that government benefits create “a nation of takers.”

That partisan gibe was telling. He defended two programs, Medicare and Medicaid, begun nearly a half-century ago, and a third, Social Security, that dates from the Great Depression. The federal welfare commitments that Mr. Obama praised in observing that “a great nation must care for the vulnerable” also date back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time.

Yet all those benefits are in the cross-fire of the president’s continuing fiscal battle with Republicans in Congress. That is not because of a shift in philosophy by Mr. Obama or his party, but rather because of the looming cost of the retirements of baby boomers and of the persistent ideological boldness of partisan foes.

Mr. Obama expanded the scope of federal obligations during his first term through short-term stimulus programs and the new health care law. Encouraged by his second popular-vote majority in November and hardened by his confrontations with Republicans over the past two years, he has taken a feistier stance toward his adversaries.

None of the president’s economic initiatives, however, represent a departure for Mr. Obama himself, or for his party. If President Bill Clinton set out to build a “bridge to the 21st century,” said Simon Rosenberg, the president and founder of the New Democrat Network, Mr. Obama is walking across it.

John D. Podesta, an Obama adviser who served as chief of staff in the Clinton White House, called the president’s second-term economic agenda “consistent with where he’s been, consistent with where Clinton was.”

Indeed, since World War II both parties have accepted a substantial measure of federal activism “as American as apple pie,” said Kenneth Baer, a former Obama budget aide.

Mr. Obama’s problem is that postwar America could afford more pie than a post-baby-boomer America will be able to. And in the era of the Tea Party, Republicans have proved increasingly willing to challenge once-settled assumptions about Washington’s role.

In another political moment, Mr. Obama’s attempt to preserve old governing assumptions might be labeled conservative. But Republicans, even after shifting tactics in the wake of a bracing November defeat, say he will have to fight nonstop to advance his agenda.

“His entire second term on fiscal issues is going to be essentially defensive,” said Representative Tom Cole, a veteran Republican from Oklahoma. “He’s trying to defend not just the New Deal legacy, but also Obamacare.”

Mr. Cole added, “The problem he has is, those programs can’t be defended in their current forms.”

But Republicans also have not made their case for the “structural reforms” that they say have been made urgent by trillion-dollar deficits. In fact, they have failed to do so repeatedly.

In the 1990s, Speaker Newt Gingrich’s attempt to rein in Medicare and Medicaid spending helped Mr. Clinton win a second term. President George W. Bush, after adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare in 2003, could not persuade a Republican Congress to pass his plan for a partial privatization of Social Security.

In last year’s campaign, the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, backed a plan to overhaul Medicare through spending limits on each beneficiary. But their plan pushed such savings 10 years into the future, while they attacked Mr. Obama for having cut Medicare spending to help finance the health care law.

When it comes to Republicans pushing for structural changes in benefit programs, “the record there is not good,” said Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House aide. And the Republican argument will not soon get easier to make.

Mr. Obama acknowledges the need for some cuts in entitlement spending, but he campaigned successfully on higher taxes for affluent Americans as an alternative to the deep cuts that Republicans want. By refusing to negotiate this month over raising the nation’s borrowing limit, Mr. Obama forced Republican leaders to set that cudgel aside without accepting the spending cuts they previously insisted on.

To swing rank-and-file Republicans behind that capitulation, House leaders promised that Mr. Ryan’s new budget plan this spring would eliminate the budget deficit within 10 years. Doing so, however, will almost certainly require limiting Medicare spending much sooner than 10 years from now — a step that Mr. Wehner said “I’m not sure I’d recommend,” because it could bring more political pain.

Yet fiscal pressure on the White House will not let up even if Mr. Obama marshals public opinion against that budget. Absent a negotiated deal to reduce spending, Mr. Cole said, Republicans say they will let $1 trillion in 10-year across-the-board budget cuts take effect under the “sequestration” provision both parties agreed to in 2011. That would squeeze defense and domestic government functions alike.

A deal remains possible. In earlier, unsuccessful talks with Republicans, Mr. Obama embraced what Mr. Podesta calls “sensible reforms” to major entitlement programs, including reduced spending for affluent beneficiaries and more modest inflation adjustments.

Not even liberal advocates hold out much hope for new expansions in the government’s economic role, or crackdowns on the United States’ trading partners, or stimulus spending to reduce unemployment — notwithstanding Mr. Obama’s second-inaugural swagger.

Upon hearing Mr. Obama’s address, “I was troubled by the assumption that the economy’s in recovery, when for most Americans the recovery hasn’t started,” said Robert L. Borosage, a co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future.

“He spoke to the progressive coalition,” Mr. Borosage added. But in some ways, he said, the speech “sounded like it came from the Clinton years.” 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Obama expected to nominate chief of staff Lew for Treasury secretary

White House chief of staff Jack Lew is expected to be nominated to replace Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, likely by the end of this week, two sources close to the process told Fox News.

"It is all but a done deal," one of the sources said, adding that it would take something "extraordinary" to pop up in the next couple of days to derail that decision.

Geithner has said for well over a year that he would like to leave the administration and spend more time with his family after a grueling time playing key roles throughout the economic and fiscal unease of recent years. His tenure at the Treasury followed previous service as head of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve.

Lew has become an Obama favorite through several top posts because of his sharp knowledge of the federal budget and no-drama style.

Picking Lew is a sign the president knows his next Treasury secretary will be smack in the middle of a series of budget battles, starting with the debt ceiling fight that will be brewing during the expected confirmation process.

A red flag is that during the last debt ceiling fight, in the summer of 2011, Lew served as White House budget director and clashed repeatedly with Republicans, who may want to get a pound of flesh in confirmation hearings.

In fact, advisers to the president say Lew deliberately kept a low profile during the recent fiscal cliff talks so as not to enflame those tensions on the eve of the expected announcement of his nomination for Treasury.

Read more:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Obama's Bad Deal and Worse Negotiating

I hate to burst the balloon of a New Year's celebration for an apparently bipartisan deal to avoid the badly misnamed "fiscal cliff," but far from affirming a progressive victory in the 2012 elections, which should have protected the legacy of the New Deal for future generations, the deal permanently bakes in Republican "starve the beast" tax levels that enshrine massive economic inequality and will quickly force President Obama and Congressional Democrats to agree to cuts in benefits for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, veterans benefits and other social programs that protect the middle class. 

Flush with his election victory, President Obama started the negotiations asking for $1.6 trillion in tax increases over the next decade and promising he would never negotiate over threats to hold the global economy hostage to increasing the debt ceiling. He quickly caved and agreed to $600 billion in tax increases while enshrining a large part of George W. Bush's tax and estate tax cuts permanently into law. 

At the same time, he agreed that the sequester of $1 trillion in spending cuts would be postponed to coincide with the deadline for raising the debt ceiling, transferring his negotiating leverage to Republicans who, despite Obama's protestations to the contrary, will use it to force significant cuts to "entitlements" and social programs for the poor and middle class while protecting the wealth of the top 0.5 percent. 

Obama either proved that he the world's worst poker player, or just as likely, that his campaign promises to protect the poor and middle class were not very serious and he really wants his legacy to be a not very grand bargain that exchanges small increases in taxes on the richest Americans for large cuts to social programs for the poor and middle class. 

This deal to make George W. Bush's "temporary" tax cuts permanent for everyone making less than $450,000 and protecting low taxes on inherited wealth just wasn't necessary. Obama had all the negotiating leverage and he gave it away. If there were no deal now and all the Bush Tax cut automatically expired on all Americans, financial markets would have tanked, and within a week or two, Obama would have forced Congress to fulfill his campaign pledge to raise taxes to Clinton-era levels on everyone making over $250,000 a year. 

By agreeing to move the tax increases only to those making over $250,000 Obama gave away about $200 billion in revenues that could have helped to pay for social programs. In a political vacuum, an argument can be made that's a viable political compromise, particularly since he got temporary extensions to unemployment benefits and tax breaks for the poor in exchange for permanent tax breaks for the rich. 

But by easily compromising on his central campaign promise that he claimed was a line in the sand, Obama signaled to Republicans that there's nothing he won't compromise on. He may say now that he won't negotiate cuts in entitlements and social programs for an increase in the debt ceiling, but there's not a single Republican who will believe him. This January 1 fiscal cliff never posed a long-term danger. But when Republicans took it hostage, Obama caved in on taxes with barely a fight. 

Failing to raise the debt ceiling does pose a long-term danger to the global economy. 

Republicans learned again that when dealing with President Obama, hostage taking works. It will only embolden them to take the debt ceiling hostage again, knowing full well that Obama will cave on his promises to defend Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs that protect the middle class and the poor.