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“Thank You And Goodnight”: My Fellow Americans, Barack Obama Is The President, Not An Action-Movie Hero

Sometimes it appears that everybody in Washington yearns for an action-hero president to make them feel important. That’s never more apparent than during a crisis like the Syrian civil war President Obama stands accused of “dithering” about.

Of course, his chief journalistic accusers are columnists Maureen Dowd and Charles Krauthammer, of the New York Times and Washington Post respectively. Dowd turns everything into a movie scenario. She wrote a column about George W. Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” aircraft carrier stunt that’s almost too embarrassing to quote.

“Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone,” Dowd wrote. “He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around.”

Sure, there was mockery in Dowd’s Top Gun take on Bush’s “joystick politics,” but hero worship too. Here’s how her imaginary flyboy summed up America’s adventure in Iraq: “Aggression breeds patriotism, and patriotism curbs dissent. Aggression has made Democrats cower, the press purr and the world quake. Aggression—you mark my words—will not only save humanity, but it will soon color all the states Republican red.”

So how did that work out?

Ten years later, Krauthammer thinks things would have worked out better if the U.S. still had troops occupying Iraq—the better to menace Iran and Syria too, formerly Saddam Hussein’s job. Obama, he opines, “simply does not understand that if America withdraws from the scene, it creates a vacuum that invites hostile outside intervention. A superpower’s role in a regional conflict is deterrence.”

Also known as perpetual war in the Middle East.

Even Bill Clinton famously piled on, which is what set Dowd off. At a public forum in New York, he explained that Obama risked looking “like a total wuss” if he blamed opinion polls showing that 80 percent of Americans oppose U.S. intervention in Syria for his own indecisiveness. Clinton said that presidents sometimes have to act, “and hope to God you can sell it.”

It’s not clear that Clinton spelled out exactly what a take-charge guy like himself would be doing in Syria—which may be a good thing, given his wife’s key role in the Obama administration’s wait-and-see policy.

Indeed the former Secretary of State’s pronouncement at a 2012 conference in Istanbul that dictator Bashar al Assad needed to leave Syria contributed mightily to the White House’s predicament. Taking sides in a sectarian civil war while refusing to get involved wasn’t terribly clever. That Clinton reportedly urged Obama to arm anti-Assad Sunni rebels makes the diplomatic blunder no less egregious.

Now that the Syrian dictator, with Russian and Iranian assistance, seems on the verge of defeating his enemies, President Obama has agreed to provide small arms to rebel groups—something unlikely to prove decisive.

Asked how he imagined Syria after Assad, a rebel commander told the New York TimesBill Keller “maybe Somalia plus Afghanistan.” In short, chaos and slaughter, a horrifying prospect to the crusading editor, who nevertheless thinks Obama needs to get the U.S. more deeply involved in deciding which mob of Syrian religious fanatics gets to massacre its enemies.

Perhaps sensitive to criticism, President Obama gave an extraordinarily frank interview to CBS’s Charlie Rose. “This argument that somehow had we gone in earlier or heavier in some fashion,” he said, “that the tragedy and chaos taking place in Syria wouldn’t be taking place, I think is wrong.”

In essence, the president argues that there are no good options in Syria and never were. Would establishing a no-fly zone, for example, mean bombing Damascus? What about civilian casualties? And what happens if chemical weapons stored there get hit?

“Unless you’ve been involved in those conversations,” he said, “then it’s kind of hard for you to understand the complexity of the situation and how we have to not rush into one more war in the Middle East.”

In other words, no Barack Obama doll to match the official “TOP GUN George W. Bush 12-Inch Action Figure in Flight Suit” available from Also, however, no 10-year occupation of Syria, no thousands of American dead and hundreds of billions of dollars lost in the desert.

Instead, Daniel W. Drezner argues in Foreign Policy, Obama’s stalling constitutes a kind of cynical realpolitik American presidents can’t openly admit: “[t]his is simply the United States engaging in its own form of asymmetric warfare.  For the low, low price of aiding and arming the rebels, the U.S. preoccupies all of its adversaries in the Middle East.

Here’s what Obama ought to say, a friend wrote recently: “My fellow Americans. I don’t give a rat’s [posterior] who wins the civil war in Syria. And neither should you. Thank you and good night.”

In effect, he has.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 26, 2013

June 27, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Conservative Dream Comes True”: The Supreme Court Dismisses History And The Lessons Of “Bloody Sunday”

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has thrown out Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the historic law first passed in the days after 1965′s Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.

The ruling voids the formula to determine which jurisdictions require “pre-clearance” from the federal government before they make any changes to their voting laws, effectively freeing officials to alter voting procedures at will until Congress authorizes a new formula.

The Voting Rights Act has been renewed by Congress several times. The last was in 2006, when a Republican House voted 390-33 and a Republican Senate voted 98-0 to send a renewal that authorized the law for 25 years to President George W. Bush for his signature. Despite Congress deciding that the Section 4 formula was still relevant seven years ago, conservatives on the Court disagreed.

“In assessing the ‘current need’ for a pre-clearance system treating States differently from one another today, history since 1965 cannot be ignored,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority decision for Shelby County v. Holder. After suggesting that the current formula is based on “40-year-old data,” he included a chart that demonstrated the success of the law when it comes to increasing registration among African-Americans.

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However, just last year, courts based several decisions to block laws designed to suppress the minority vote in the 2012 general election on Section 5, which now holds no significance without Section 4. Despite the court’s intervention, voters in Florida had to wait as many as nine hours in line to vote.

Roberts wrote that Congress “may draft another formula based on current conditions,” which is highly unlikely given current partisan gridlock.

The Nation’s Ari Berman explains that the existing formula is extremely effective in determining jurisdictions that should require “pre-clearance”:

Six of the nine states fully covered by Section 5, all in the South, passed new voting restrictions after the 2010 election. “Section 5,” write law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer, “is remarkably well tailored to the geography of anti-black prejudice.” Of the ten states where anti-black stereotypes are most common, based on data from the National Annenberg Election Survey, six in the South are subject to Section 5. Racially polarized voting and “explicit anti-black attitudes,” according to an AP survey, have increased since 2008. Arkansas and Virginia have passed strict new voter-ID laws this year, while North Carolina is considering a slew of draconian restrictions.

The states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia are all covered under the current formula. It also covers some counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, and local jurisdictions in Michigan, all areas that have demonstrated historic discrimination against African-Americans, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaska Natives or Latinos.

The case brought by Shelby County was backed by “leading operatives and funders in the conservative movement along with Republican attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas.”

“Overturning Section 5 is in many respects the most important battle in the GOP’s war on voting,” according to Berman.

Think Progress‘ Josh Israel and Aviva Shen predict that the immediate impact of the demise of Section 4 will lead to stricter voter ID laws, racially gerrymandered legislative maps and blocking of grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts.

“All told, between 1982 and 2006, DOJ objections blocked over 700 voting changes based on a determination that the changes were discriminatory,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her passionate dissent that explicated several instances where “pre-clearance” had prevented discriminatory laws from taking effect.

“That determination of the body empowered to enforce the Civil War Amendments ‘by appropriate legislation’ merits this Court’s utmost respect,” Ginsburg summarized. “In my judgment, the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.”

“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today,” President Obama said in a statement. “For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.”

After calling the Voting Rights Act “the cornerstone of the American civil rights movement,” Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday,”“We’re going to work with Congress in this effort and the administration is going to do everything in our power to make sure that fair and equal voting processes are maintained.”


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, June 24, 2013

June 27, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Antonin Scalia Is Angry, Again”: The Only Principle That Guides Him Is What He Can Get Away With

Ten years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled that laws outlawing sodomy between consenting adults were unconstitutional in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a blistering dissent. “What a massive disruption of the current social order,” he practically wailed from the page. He said that the Court had “largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda,” and contrasted the Court with the good people of America, who “do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.” And perhaps most notably, Scalia lamented that under the rationale the Court’s majority was using, the government wouldn’t be able to prohibit gay people from getting married. To each other!

He was right about that, anyway. But his dissent in today’s case invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act is a somewhat different beast. Scalia spends the first 18 pages of his 26-page dissent far from the moral questions that had so animated him before; instead, he confines himself to arguing that the Court shouldn’t have decided the case at all. Scalia is apparently deeply concerned that the Court is butting its nose in where the legislature should have the final say (more on that in a moment).

But when he finally gets to discussing the merits of the case, Scalia does not disappoint. While the rousing moral condemnations of homosexuality may be absent, Scalia deploys the cries of victimhood now so popular on the right with gusto. By forbidding us from discriminating against gays, you’re discriminating against us. By calling our prejudice against gays what it is, you’re injuring us.

Scalia is outraged at the majority’s contention that the core purpose of DOMA was to discriminate against gay people, and this, he asserts, means that they’re calling everyone who supports it a monster. “To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution,” he writes.

And more: “It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.” Woah, there, buddy! Did anyone actually call you an enemy of the human race? Touchy, touchy.

But then Scalia updates his prediction from ten years ago, and he probably has a point: “It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will ‘confine’ the Court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with.”

On this point, Scalia probably knows what he’s talking about. After all, this is a guy who, in a decision delivered just yesterday, helped gut the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress and one that was reauthorized in 2006 by votes of 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate, yet spends two-thirds of this very dissent arguing that the Supreme Court is a bunch of black-robed tyrants when they invalidate a law passed by Congress. In other words, despite his carefully cultivated reputation as a principled “originalist,” the only principle that guides Antonin Scalia is “what he can get away with.” For him, it’s the outcome that matters. The justification comes after. Is that true of the Court’s liberals as well? Maybe. But it’s a little rich to make that charge when your own hypocrisy is on such obvious display.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 26, 2013

June 27, 2013 Posted by | SCOTUS | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congress As It Actually Is”: When The Voting-Rights Challenge Lands On Capitol Hill, A Strong GOP Incentive Not To Act At All

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act was almost clever, in an ugly and deceptive sort of way. The five-member conservative majority conceded what a great law the VRA has been, and hailed its efficacy over the years. (In a curious twist, the justices believe the law such a great success it magically became unconstitutional when we weren’t looking.)

Today’s ruling even left Section 5 of the law more or less intact, endorsing at least the concept of pre-clearance before states and municipalities can change their voting laws. So what’s the problem?

Actually, everything. While the high court’s ruling may seem fairly narrow — the majority said they simply want Congress to replace an old formula with a new one — it also probably marks the end of the Voting Rights Act. Today’s ruling calls for a fix, but as a practical matter, it guts the landmark civil-rights law.

The ruling, a 5-4 decision by Chief Justice John Roberts, leaves the future of the law deeply uncertain because it will be up to a sharply divided Congress to redraw the map, if it can agree on one at all.

“In practice, in reality, it’s probably the death knell of this provision,” said Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSblog and a Supreme Court analyst for NBC News.

If we wore some kind of Rawlsian veil of ignorance, and forgot everything we know about the contemporary U.S. Congress, this wouldn’t necessarily have to be considered a complete disaster. Given widespread voting problems, a competent and capable legislative branch of government might even see the ruling as an opportunity to pursue meaningful election reforms.

But if we drop the veil, we see Congress as it actually is — an institution where procedural abuses are the norm, an extremist caucus holds control of the lower chamber, the politics of extortion and hostage strategies is routine, and lawmakers struggle badly to complete even rudimentary tasks.

And it’s not just about Congress’ dysfunction. As recently as 2006, the Voting Rights Act was easily reauthorized by large bipartisan majorities, and signed into law by a Republican president. But by any fair measure, the radicalization of Republican politics has intensified greatly over the last seven years.

Indeed, I imagine GOP lawmakers will see a strong incentive not to act at all on this issue — with the 2014 midterms coming up, and Republicans in the majority in so many state legislatures (especially in the South), the party will likely be content to reject all pre-clearance measures and encourage red-state lawmakers to enact sweeping new voting restrictions without fear of Justice Department oversight. In the process, Democratic hopes for electoral gains next November will be further undermined by institutional, not political, barriers.

The war on voting, in other words, is just getting started, and is poised to claim more casualties.

There is one more angle to keep in mind, though. You’ll recall that the Republican National Committee has said it’s sincere about outreach to minority communities and expanding its base beyond the GOP’s overwhelmingly white, older supporters.

If Republican lawmakers refuse to work constructively on the Voting Rights Act, and perhaps even kill immigration reform, the setback for the party’s alleged outreach efforts will be immeasurable.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 25, 2013

June 27, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Texas Rebellion”: Wendy Davis Gives New Hope To The Future For American Women

A rowdy crowd of women making demands as loudly as they can—and winning? That sort of thing doesn’t happen in Texas. Except that now, apparently, it does.

Beginning on Tuesday morning and stretching into the wee hours of Wednesday, Democrat Wendy Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, became a national pro-choice hero as thousands of Texans flooded the state capitol to cheer her effort to stop a draconian anti-abortion bill. Governor Rick Perry had added abortion restrictions to the agenda halfway through a special session of the legislature originally intended to pass new redistricting maps. Before the session ended at midnight on Tuesday, Republican lawmakers hoped to rush through what would have been one of the nation’s most extreme anti-abortion laws. For 11 hours, Davis filibustered a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and shut down all but five of the state’s abortion clinics.

It was high drama: If Davis could hold out till midnight, she’d block the bill. It wouldn’t be easy. Under Texas’s strict filibuster rules, the senator could not eat, drink, use the bathroom, or even lean on the lectern. She couldn’t simply read from the phone book, either; she had to talk about the abortion bill or, after three warnings, the majority Republicans could force her to sit down. As the hours went by, Davis’s following grew. Nearly 180,000 followed the livestream from the Senate floor. The news spread on Twitter, where the state senator went from around 1,200 followers to over 67,000. Celebrities like Lena Dunham and Julianne Moore tweeted out support. So did President Obama, who wrote: “Something special is happening in Austin tonight,” with the hashtag “StandWithWendy.” The hashtag trended worldwide for hours.

But in the end it was the hundreds of pro-choice activists in the gallery who killed the bill in one of the most dramatic moments in Texas political memory. While Davis became the face of the effort, she was also just one part of a movement that organized swiftly and effectively. It was a feat of organization, and a show of progressive energy, that will provide a shot of energy for Democrats’ to turn the state blue.

The showdown began on Thursday with an unexpected turnout from pro-choice activists. When the House State Affairs Committee considered the anti-abortion measure, 600 activists flooded the hearing, conducting what they called a “citizen’s filibuster.” According to one lawmaker, 92 percent of those who came to testify opposed the bill. One after another, pro-choice Texans told their stories as hours ticked by. Around 4 a.m. on Friday, the Republican committee chair finally cut off testimony, calling the statements “repetitive.” The committee passed the bill quietly the next day and the House recessed until Sunday, when House Republicans planned to use technical maneuvers to fast-track the measure.

On Sunday, pro-choice activists again packed the gallery, far outnumbering the opposition. Progressives from across the country began sending food and coffee to show support. House  Democrats managed to use amendments and points of order to delay the bill for more than a day, buying enough time to make a Senate filibuster possible. By the time the House finally passed the measure, it couldn’t be heard in the Senate until Tuesday. The filibuster was on.

Davis was the obvious choice to lead the filibuster. Since first being elected in 2008, when she unseated a powerful Republican lawmaker, Davis has stood out as a progressive firebrand unafraid of antagonizing her Republican colleagues. Her biography alone is impressive; a former teen mom living in a trailer, Davis put herself through both college and law school, where she graduated valedictorian. She’s unabashed in talking about her experiences with poverty and her reliance on Planned Parenthood for health care; during the filibuster, she called it “her medical home.” Davis had ended the regular legislative session in 2011 with a filibuster of $5.4 billion in cuts to public schools. That one only took an hour and a half, however, and was largely for show; the legislature came back in a special session and cut the money. But it earned Davis, who’s seen as a future statewide candidate, icon status among Texas’s long-put-upon progressives.

By the time Davis’s filibuster began on Tuesday morning, it wasn’t just the Senate gallery that was packed. Throughout the capitol and spilling outside, people wore burnt orange T-shirts, the color associated with the Texas cause (and not coincidentally, with the University of Texas). Many read, “Stand with Texas Women.” Davis read testimony from women who weren’t allowed to testify at Thursday’s committee hearing. She took questions defending her position. She spoke deliberately, was careful to avoid leaning on the podium, and occasionally paced slowly around her desk as she spoke.

As the hours ticked by, Republican senators watched like hawks for Davis to slip up. At the six-hour mark, Davis got her first warning for talking about funding for Planned Parenthood and women’s health programs—which, according to the chair, were not germane to a bill on abortion restrictions. She got another when a colleague helped her put on a back brace. The gallery was beginning to get restless when all hell broke loose around 10 p.m. With just two hours to go, Davis received her third warning—this time for mentioning a pre-abortion sonogram requirement the chamber passed last session. Her Democratic colleagues began trying to stall, raising parliamentary inquiries and appeals. Republicans scrambled to end the filibuster and take a vote before the clock hit midnight and the special session was over.

With 15 minutes to go, it looked like the Senate Democrats couldn’t hold out. Republicans were trying to vote as Democrats attempted to concoct more procedural delays. The spectators were subdued and anxious. Then things went crazy. First, the chair refused to recognize a motion to adjourn from Senator Leticia van de Putte, a Democrat who had just arrived from her father’s funeral. Van de Putte tried to make another motion, but the chair once again did not recognize her. Finally, exasperated, she called out: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?

That did it. The spectators began to cheer, overwhelming the attempts of the chair to quiet them down. For a full quarter of an hour, they shouted and screamed with unceasing volume, as Republicans tried to get a vote on the bill. After midnight came and went, the Senate Republicans argued that they did take a vote and had prevailed. But the record showed otherwise; screenshots captured the Texas Legislative website showing the vote had been taken on June 26, after midnight.

Senators convened a closed-door caucus meeting to try and sort out what had actually happened. The gallery was cleared in the Senate chamber, but nobody left. People in burnt-orange T-shirts were everywhere—in the capitol rotunda, outside the building, in the hallways. It wasn’t until after 2 a.m. that word broke: The session was over, the bill was dead, and pro-choice Texans had won.

It was the kind of landmark victory that Texas progressives haven’t seen in years—a couple of decades, really. Not surprisingly, conservatives didn’t mince words about the proceedings. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who’s been blamed by Republicans for the madness in his chamber, complained that the activists were “an unruly mob.” State Representative Bill Zedler tweeted, “We had terrorist [sic] in the Texas State Senate opposing [the bill].”

But these activists weren’t terrorists. They were the Texans that national observers rarely see—and they are helping to plant the seeds of a progressive revival in the state. As I watched people happily file out of the capitol in the early morning hours, it was striking to see the vast array of ages and races. Young hipsters and older soccer moms all seemed united. Most of those who have talked about a potential sea change in Texas politics have focused on Latino mobilization. (I just wrote a feature on the subject.) But Texas women have also been under-organized (and less Democratic than in other states), and they are another key to any potential progressive movement in the state. And while Davis was the face of the effort, it was pro-choice women’s spontaneous burst of engagement that shook up Texas politics this week.


By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, June 26, 2013

June 27, 2013 Posted by | Abortion, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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