Monday, June 24, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Michelle Nunn attends DSCC fundraiser with President Obama

Michelle Nunn gave the latest indication today that she will be entering the U.S. Senate race by showing up to a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser with President Barack Obama.

The fundraiser came after Obama spoke at Morehouse College's rain-soaked commencement. Neither Obama nor U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, the chairman of the DSCC, mentioned Nunn in their remarks, though Bennet said: “We believe Georgia presents us with the greatest opportunity for a pickup.”

U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Augusta – who often tries to avoid Obama – turned down the chance to run for Senate, turning national Democrats' complete focus to Nunn, the CEO of the nonprofit Points of Light and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. No doubt she got a hard sell from some combination of Obama, Bennet and DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil, who was spotted in the audience.

There were about 100 guests at the Arthur M. Blank family office, with an entry fee of $10,000 per couple, or $32,400 for a couple to be a “sponsor.” According to an invitation we’ve seen, the sponsors included: Arthur M. Blank, Governor Roy  E. Barnes, Mayor Kasim Reed, Pinney Allen & Buddy Miller, Ken Canfield, Larry and Carol Cooper, Buddy Darden, Kirk and Barbara Dornbush, Daniel & Sonya Halpern, Samuel and Louisa Jackson, Tharon Johnson, Kristin Oblander, Justin Tanner, Michèle Taylor and Mack Wilbourn.

Reed must have gotten in Obama’s ear about the Port of Savannah; the president mentioned the need to deepen East Coast ports to prepare for bigger ships coming through the Panama Canal.

Obama also had this to say about the mood in D.C. Maybe those dinners are working?

    “You’re starting to see in Washington some sense even among the most partisan folks there that we’ve got to — the balance has tipped too far away from getting stuff done. And that’s why, for example, I’m optimistic about our capacity to get immigration reform done.”

There were no specific mentions all day of the Benghazi/IRS/AP scandal troika currently dominating the Washington scene. The closest was this, after talking about the need to get beyond short-term politics.

    "Which doesn’t mean that there aren't going to be politics involved; it doesn’t mean that there are not going to be some rough and tumble. And one thing that I think folks like myself and Michael and Kasim and others learn is that if you get in this business folks are going to take their shots at you -- and I've got the gray hair to prove it."

And no, there was no mention of the Georgia Dome.

Who else got to mingle with POTUS? As the local pool reporter today, I spotted Andy Young at the fundraiser. Also U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson, D-DeKalb; and Cedric Richmond, D-La. and Morehouse grad; hitched a ride down from D.C. on Air Force One this morning. Reed, Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves and Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeffrey E. Turner greeted Obama when he arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Space Oddity poignant, says David Bowie

DAVID Bowie has given Commander Chris Hadfield the thumbs up for the astronaut's zero gravity version of Space Oddity.

The five-minute video posted by NASA drew a salute from Bowie's official Facebook page: "It's possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created."

In a high-flying, perfectly pitched first, the Canadian astronaut on the International Space Station is bowing out of orbit with a musical video of his own custom version of David Bowie's 1969 classic.

It's believed to be the first music video made in space, according to NASA.

Commander Hadfield's personalised rendition of Space Oddity was posted on YouTube yesterday, one day before his departure from the orbiting lab. He's wrapping up a five-month mission that began last December.

Commander Hadfield has returned to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, along with American Thomas Marshburn and Russian Roman Romanenko, landing safely on the steppes in Kazakhstan.

Commander Hadfield, 53, a longtime guitarist who played in an astronaut rock 'n' roll band, recorded the video throughout the space station. He had some down-to-Earth help from a Canadian music team.

"With deference to the genius of David Bowie, here's Space Oddity, recorded on Station. A last glimpse of the World," Commander Hadfield said via Twitter.

The spaceman altered some of the lyrics of Bowie's original version, singing "Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing left to do." The Bowie version goes "... and there's nothing I can do." And instead of "Take your protein pills and put your helmet on," it became, "Lock your Soyuz hatch and put your helmet on".

Planet Earth provided a stunning backdrop for many of the scenes.

"It's just been an extremely fulfilling and amazing experience end to end," Commander Hadfield told Mission Control on Monday. "We're, of course, focusing very much on flying the Soyuz home now and looking forward to seeing everybody face to face. But from this Canadian to all the rest of them, I offer an enormous debt of thanks." He was referring to all those in the Canadian Space Agency who helped make his flight possible.

Commander Hadfield, an engineer and former test pilot from Milton, Ontario, was Canada's first professional astronaut to live aboard the space station and became the first Canadian in charge of a spacecraft. He relinquished command of the space station on Sunday.

He sang often in orbit, using a guitar already aboard the complex, and even took part in a live, Canadian coast-to-coast concert in February that included the Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson and a youth choir, and featured the song ISS, "Is Somebody Singing?"

ISS is NASA's acronym for the International Space Station.

Also last February, Commander Hadfield joined the Irish band The Chieftains and two ground-bound astronauts in a Houston concert, singing the lead on Moondance.

NASA broadcast the video on its daily space station update late on Monday morning.

One of the video collaborators was piano arranger Emm Gryner, part of the Bowie band in 1999 and 2000.

"Planet Earth IS blue," she said in her online blog, "and there's nothing left for Chris Hadfield to do. Right. Safe travels home Commander!"

Monday, April 29, 2013

Time to Confront Obama on Radical Islam

The time has come for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to confront US President Barack Obama.

A short summary of events from the past three days: On Tuesday morning, the head of the IDF's Military Intelligence Analysis Division Brig. Gen. Itay Brun revealed that the Syrian government has already used "lethal chemical weapons," against Syrian civilians and opposition forces. Brun described footage of people visibly suffering the impact of chemical agents, apparently sarin gas.

Hours later, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Netanyahu had told him on the telephone that "he was not in a position to confirm" Brun's statement.

It is hard to imagine the US was taken by surprise by Brun's statement. Just the day before, Brun briefed visiting US Defense secretary Chuck Hagel on Syria. It is not possible he failed to mention the same information.

And of course it isn't just the IDF saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad is using chemical weapons. The British and the French are also saying this.

But as a European source told Ma'ariv, the Americans don't want to know the facts. The facts will make them do something about Syria's chemical weapons. And they don't want to do anything about Syria's chemical weapons.

So they force Netanyahu to disown his own intelligence.

Thursday afternoon, in a speech in Abu Dhabi, Hagel confirmed, "with some degree of varying confidence," that Syria used chemical weapons, at least on a "small scale."

What the administration means by "some degree of varying confidence," is of course, unknowable with any degree of varying confidence.

Then there is Iran.

Also on Tuesday, the former head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, said that Iran has already crossed the red line Israel set last year. It has already stockpiled 170 kg. of medium-enriched uranium, and can quickly produce the other 80 kg. necessary to reach the 250 kg. threshold Netanyahu said will mark Iran's achievement of breakout capability where it can build a nuclear arsenal whenever it wants.

Yadlin made a half-hearted effort Wednesday to walk back his pronouncements. But his basic message remained the same: The die has been cast.

Due to American pressure on Israel not to act, and due to the White House's rejection of clearcut reports about Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium, Iran has crossed the threshold. Iran will be a nuclear power unless its uranium enrichment installations and other nuclear sites are destroyed or crippled. Now.

True, the Americans set a different red line for Iran than Israel. They say they will not allow Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb. But to believe that the US has the capacity and the will to prevent Iran from climbing the top rung on the nuclear ladder is to believe in the tooth fairy - (see, for instance, North Korea).

Iran has threatened to use it nuclear arsenal to destroy Israel. Have we now placed our survival in the hands of Tinkerbell? And yet, rather than acknowledge what Iran has done, Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon carry on with the tired act of talking about the need for a credible military option but saying that there is still time for sanctions and other non-military means to block Iran's quest for the bomb.

Perhaps our leaders are repeating these lies because they want to present a unified US-Israel front to the world. But the effect is just the opposite.

What their statements really demonstrate is that Israel has been brought to its knees by its superpower patron that has implemented a policy that has enabled Iran to become a nuclear power.

Indeed, the US has allowed Iran to cross the nuclear threshold while requiring Israel to pretend the course the US has followed is a responsible one.

The announcement that the US has agreed to sell Israel advanced weapons specifically geared towards attacking Iran should also be seen in this light. Israel reportedly spent a year negotiating this deal. But immediately after its details were published, the US started backing away from its supposed commitment to supply them. The US will not provide Israel with bunker-buster bombs.

It will not provide Israel with the bombers necessary to use the bombs Israel isn't getting. And anyway, by the time Israel gets the items the US is selling - like mid-air refuelers - it will be too late.

When, after overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, the US failed to find chemical weapons in the country, then-president George W. Bush's Democratic opponents accused Bush of having politicized intelligence to justify his decision to topple Saddam. In truth, there is no evidence that Bush purposely distorted intelligence reports. Israel's intelligence agencies, and perhaps French ones, were the only allied intelligence arms that had concluded Saddam's chemical weapons - to the extent he had them - did not represent a threat.

The fact that Bush preferred US and British intelligence estimates over Israeli ones doesn't mean that he politicized intelligence.

In contrast, what Obama and his advisers are doing represents the worst case of politicizing intelligence since Stalin arrested his senior security brass rather than heed their warnings of the coming German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Never in US history has there been a greater misuse and abuse of US intelligence agencies than there is today, under the Obama administration.

Take the Boston Marathon bombings. Each day more and more reports come out about the information US agencies had - for years - regarding the threat posed by the Boston Marathon bombers.

But how could the FBI have possibly acted on those threats? Obama has outlawed all discussion or study of jihad, Islamism, radical Islam and the Koran by US federal government agencies. The only law enforcement agency that monitors Islamic websites is the New York Police Department.

And its chief Ray Kelly has bravely maintained his policy despite massive pressure from the media and the political class to end his surveillance operations.

Everywhere else, from the Boston Police Department to the FBI and CIA, US officials are barred from discussing the threat posed by jihadists or even acknowledging they exist. People were impressed that Obama referred to the terrorist attack in Boston as a terrorist attack, because according to the administration-dictated federal lexicon, use of the word terrorism is forbidden, particularly when the act in question was perpetrated by Muslims.

For the past five years, perhaps Netanyahu's greatest achievement in office has been his adroit avoidance of confrontations with Obama. With no one other than the US willing to stand with Israel in public, it is an important national interest for Jerusalem not to have any confrontations with Washington if they can possibly be avoided.

But by now, after five years, with Iran having passed Israel's red line, and with chemical weapons already in play in Syria, the jig is up.

Obama does not have Israel's back.

Contrary to the constant, grinding rhetorical prattle of American and Israeli politicos, Obama will not lift a finger to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He will not lift a finger to prevent chemical weapons from being transferred to the likes of al-Qaida and Hezbollah, and their colleagues in Syria, or used by the Syrian regime.

From Benghazi to Boston, from Tehran to Damascus, Obama's policy is to not fight forces of jihad, whether they are individuals, organizations or states. And his obsession with Palestinian statehood shows that he would rather coerce Israel to make concessions to Palestinian Jew-haters and terrorists than devote his time and energy into preventing Iran from becoming the jihadist North Korea or from keeping sarin, VX and mustard gas out of the hands of Iran's terrorist underlings and their Sunni competitors.

No, Israel doesn't want a confrontation with Washington. But we don't have any choice anymore.

The time has come to take matters into our own hands on Syria and Iran. In Syria, either Israel takes care of the chemical weapons, or if we can't, Netanyahu must go before the cameras and tell the world everything we know about Syria's chemical weapons and pointedly demand world - that is US - action to secure them.

As for Iran, either Israel must launch an attack without delay, or if we can't, then Netanyahu has to publicly state that the time for diplomacy is over. Either Iran is attacked or it gets the bomb.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Obama in Denver in bid to regain gun-control momentum

President Obama stopped here Wednesday afternoon to try to regain public support for his stalled gun-control agenda, using a tour of a police academy to put new pressure on Congress amid waning political urgency for more restrictive laws.

Obama’s choice to appear in a state that has experienced two of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history — the 1999 killings at Columbine High School and last summer’s attack at a movie theater in Aurora — added symbolic weight to the event.

Noting that the state’s legislators have passed stronger gun legislation regarding background checks, Obama made the case that such regulations do not infringe on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

“Opponents of common-sense gun laws have ginned up fears among responsible gun owners that have nothing to do with what’s being proposed, not a thing to do with facts,” he said. “It feeds into suspicions of government, that you need a gun to protect yourself from government: ‘We can’t do background checks because the government will come take my guns away.’ The government is us. These officials were elected by you.”

The president pleaded with the public that “if you hear that kind of talk, say, ‘Hold on a second.’ If any folks out there are gun owners and you’re hearing someone talking about the government taking your guns away, get the facts.”

But Obama’s proposals, which include banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, have faced stiff resistance from the National Rifle Association, whose public relations campaign and lobbying are jeopardizing his agenda.

The president’s motorcade passed a group of protesters holding signs reading, “Stop Taking Our Rights” and “Support Our Second Amendment.” One person held a blue Obama 2012 campaign sign with the word “TREASON” written across it.

More than 100 days after 20 children and six adults were killed at a school in Newtown, Conn., public opinion polls show a drop-off in support for the initiatives, and some gun-control advocates have said they fear that time is running out for the administration.

Obama said that he has received stacks of letters from gun owners who value their Second Amendment rights and that he has read them. He said both sides can learn from each other, and he shared an anecdote about first lady Michelle Obama campaigning in rural Iowa and telling him that she can understand why people there would want a gun for protection in remote places.

Before speaking at the police academy, Obama met with a group of Colorado state and local leaders, including Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D), to discuss new gun-control measures the state has adopted.

The administration has focused in recent days on a proposal to require background checks on all private gun sales, an idea that more than 90 percent of Americans support in opinion polls.

But even that proposal appears to have a difficult route to passage as Republicans, and some moderate Democrats, have raised fears that such a law would create intrusive national registries. Several Republicans have threatened to filibuster the bill, which will require a 60-vote majority to pass.

“It is imperative that the elected officials of the American people allow all of these measures to come to a vote,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said aboard Air Force One, “because if you disagree with 90 percent of the American people, you ought to vote no.”

After speaking in Denver, Obama was scheduled to travel to San Francisco for two days of fundraising for the Democratic Party. He will continue his push on gun control Monday, when he is scheduled to appear in Connecticut.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Obama must codify the drone war

In choice of both topic and foil, Rand Paul's now legendary Senate filibuster was a stroke of political genius. The topic was, ostensibly, very narrow: Does the president have the constitutional authority to put a drone-launched Hellfire missile through your kitchen — you, a good citizen of Topeka, Kan., to whom POTUS might have taken a dislike — while you're cooking up a pot roast?

The constituency of those who could not give this question a straight answer is exceedingly small. Unfortunately, among them is Attorney General Eric Holder. Enter the foil. He told a Senate hearing that such an execution would not be "appropriate."

Appropriate being a bureaucratic word meaning nothing, Holder's answer was a PR disaster. The correct response, of course, is: Absent an active civil war on U.S. soil (of the kind not seen in 150 years) or a jihadist invasion from Saskatchewan led by the Topeka pot roaster, the answer is no.

The hypothetical being inconceivable, Paul's performance was theatrically brilliant and substantively irrelevant. As for the principle at stake, Holder's opinion carries no weight in any case. He is hardly a great attorney general whose words will ring through history. Nor would anything any attorney general says be binding on the next president, or for that matter on any Congress or court.

The vexing and pressing issue is the use of drones abroad. The filibuster pretended not to be about that. Which is testimony to Paul's political adroitness. It was not until two days later that he showed his hand, writing in The Washington Post, "No American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime." Note the absence of the restrictive clause: "on American soil."

Now we're talking about a larger, more controversial issue: the killing by drone in Yemen of al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki. Outside American soil, the Constitution does not rule, no matter how much Paul would like it to. Yet Paul's unease applies to non-American drone targets as well. His quarrel is with the very notion of the war on terror, though he is normally too smart to say that openly and unequivocally. Unlike his father, who implied that 9/11 was payback for our sins, Paul the Younger more gingerly expresses general skepticism about not just the efficacy but the legality of the entire war.

That skepticism is finding an audience as the war grinds into its 12th year, as our hapless attorney general vainly tries to define its terms and as the administration conducts a major drone war with defiant secrecy. Nor is this some minor adjunct to battle — an estimated 4,700 have been killed by drone.

President George W. Bush was excoriated for waterboarding exactly three terrorists, all of whom are now enjoying an extensive retirement on a sunny Caribbean island (though strolls beyond Gitmo's gates are prohibited). Whereas President Barack Obama, with thousands of kills to his name, evokes little protest from yesterday's touch-not-a-hair-on-their-head zealots. Of whom, of course, Sen. Obama was a leading propagandist.

Such hypocrisy is the homage Democrats pay to Republicans when the former take office, confront national security reality, feel the weight of their duty to protect the nation — and end up doing almost everything they had denounced their predecessors for doing. The beauty of such hypocrisy, however, is that the rotation of power creates a natural bipartisan consensus on the proper conduct of this war.

Which creates a unique opportunity to finally codify the rules. The war's constitutional charter, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force has proved quite serviceable. But the commander in chief's authority is so broad — it leaves the limits of his power to be determined, often in secret memos, by the administration's own in-house lawyers — that it has spawned suspicion, fear and now filibuster.

It is time to rethink. That means not repealing the original authorization but, using the lessons of the last 12 years, rewriting it with particular attention to a new code governing drone warfare and the question of where, when and against whom it should be permitted.

Necessity having led the Bush and Obama administrations to the use of near-identical weapons and tactics, a national consensus has been forged. Let's make it open. All we need now is a president willing to lead and a Congress willing to take responsibility for the conduct of a war that, however much Paul and his acolytes may wish it away, will long be with us.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fort Hood Hero Says President Obama 'Betrayed' Her, Other Victims

House Speaker John Boehner, in advance of President Obama's State of the Union address, said Tuesday that he doesn't think the president "has the guts" to seriously address the country's debt and deficit.

The speaker aired his concerns during a breakfast outside his office on Capitol Hill with anchors and reporters covering Obama's address Tuesday night.

He said he's pessimistic about the odds the president will tackle the country's long-term spending problem, which he sees as the biggest threat to America's future.

"I don't think he has the guts to do it. He doesn't have the courage to take on the liberal side of his own party -- never has," Boehner said. 

The speaker said, judging by the tone and tenor of the inaugural address, "I would expect tonight to be more partisan."

Throughout the breakfast, Boehner referenced the across-the-board spending cuts originally designed to be so unappealing that both sides would agree to a deal to avoid them. So far, lawmakers have not figured out a way to avert them, with the latest deadline set for March 1.

The cuts are known in Washington as the "sequester." Boehner, though, called it "the president's sequester."

Pressed on the negative impacts to the economy if these cuts happen, Boehner said, "I don't like the sequester. I don't want the sequester. But, this spending issue is the biggest issue that threatens our future. "

"When are we going to get serious about our long-term spending problem?" he asked. "When is the president going to propose something instead of the sequester? How about Senate Democrats?" 

He conceded the economy may take a hit initially but added, "If the private sector were to see that we were serious about dealing with our spending problem in Washington, that might instill some confidence."

Obama has urged Congress to craft a short-term bridge bill to avert the cuts if lawmakers cannot come up with a long-term plan in the next few weeks. But asked Tuesday about Congress voting again to delay the date the sequester kicks in, Boehner said, "We're not moving it."

Boehner insisted that whatever package comes forward, it must not have new taxes in it.

"The president's gotten his revenue. Period," Boehner said, referring to tax rate hikes on top earners enacted in the fiscal crisis deal. Pressed again, Boehner repeated, "The president's gotten his revenue."

He said a solution will only happen if the president and Senate Democrats act.

This comes as Senate Democrats are signaling that they will move forward with something to address the looming cuts in coming days. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office released remarks he is scheduled to make on the Senate floor on Tuesday saying, "Senate Democrats will offer our own solution to the sequester later this week."  

Asked about what is expected to be Obama's calls for new "investment" Tuesday night, Boehner said, "More government spending is what that is."

"If government spending were the tonic for all our ills, this would have been solved a long time ago," he said. Boehner said the president added "$5 trillion in new debt over the last four years. How much further is he going to run us into the sewer?"

Boehner said he talked to the president at the inauguration but, "This White House does not engage much with Congress."

And on the politics for Democrats, Boehner said, "It almost appears the president wants to put moderate Democrats on the line -- to shine a light on the fact they are not as liberal as some others. The Obama-Pelosi agenda is not going to help those members."

When the topic turned to immigration reform, one correspondent started a question with a litany of specifics about a path to citizenship and Boehner responded with, "Slow down. How about a little foreplay. Lots of issues need to be resolved before we get to that."

But Boehner insisted the House and Senate have "to come to some agreement on immigration.  It's an issue we have to deal with and deal with now."

He added that a group of Republicans and Democrats have been working on a bipartisan solution for more than four years and said he is optimistic

He said his biggest fear in the context of that debate is Obama. "Sometimes I think he'd rather have an issue rather than a solution," Boehner said.

Boehner touted Republicans "fact-checking" the president's speech Tuesday night and sending that out on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.

He also touted the planned Spanish translation of Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican response. Before the breakfast was finished, Rubio made a cameo appearance to "get a cup of coffee" -- which he ended up getting in the room next door.

Asked if he was nervous, Rubio said, "Not yet."

Monday, February 4, 2013

Obama says assault weapons ban deserves a vote in Congress

Obama's comments suggested a realization in the White House that it will be difficult to get such a ban passed by lawmakers, despite consistent public support for the measure.

Opposition is high in Congress, including among some Democrats, and by calling simply for a vote, Obama seemed to acknowledge that even getting that far - let alone having an assault weapons ban approved - would be a struggle.

"We should restore the ban on military style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines. And that deserves a vote in Congress, because weapons of war have no place on our streets," Obama said as uniformed law enforcement officers stood behind him at the Minneapolis Police Department's Special Operation Center.

It was Obama's first trip outside Washington to promote gun control since he announced a package that includes calls for universal background checks and 10-round limits on ammunition magazines.

"No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe. But if there's even one thing we can do, if there's just one life we can save, we've got an obligation to try," Obama said.

With a busy agenda that includes immigration reform and climate change, Obama hopes to move quickly on gun control before memories fade of December's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults.

A vote in Congress on the assault weapons ban might be held separately from other gun control measures.

Senator Dianne Feinstein has said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid promised that even if the ban is left out of a broader package to curb gun violence, she will have the opportunity to offer it as an amendment on the Senate floor.

Gun control efforts face an uphill battle against a powerful pro-gun lobby and a strong U.S. tradition of hunting and gun ownership. The right to bear arms is guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution.

Obama noted that support was widespread for universal background checks before guns are sold and indicated that he would press especially hard for that part of his proposals.

"The vast majority of Americans - including a majority of gun owners - support requiring criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun," he said.

"So right now, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working on a bill that would ban anyone from selling a gun to somebody legally prohibited from owning one. That's common sense. There's no reason we can't get that done."

Obama urged legislators to name a permanent director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a post that has been vacant for years.


Minnesota is emblematic of the challenges Obama will face in advancing gun control in Congress.

While the state's two Democratic U.S. senators have said they are sympathetic to measures to curb gun violence, the National Rifle Association, the largest U.S. gun-rights group, is influential in the state.

It has backed all four Republicans and two of the Democrats who represent Minnesota in the House of Representatives, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

But Minneapolis has a tradition of gun control. The city took steps in the mid-2000s to reduce incidents involving guns and juveniles after an outbreak of violent crimes.

On the way to Monday's event, Obama's motorcade passed a man holding a sign that read, "Ban private ownership of military weapons."

The Newtown massacre mobilized support for measures to contain access to certain guns and ammunition.

The Obama administration has included access to mental health and an examination of the effects of violent video games as part of its efforts to stem gun violence.

Gun-control efforts have foundered in the past despite strong public support, in part because many gun owners believe advocates of gun control oppose owning and using firearms in general.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On immigration, Obama seeks to cement Latino vote for Democrats

There is an art to political stagecraft, a sort of medium-is-the-message thing, which explains why President Obama will be in Las Vegas on Tuesday to begin his effort to overhaul the nation's confounding immigration system.

For generations, the West was a Republican stronghold, the land of Goldwater and Reagan and sagebrush rebels. But a change began under President Clinton and was hastened under President Obama, who twice added Nevada and Colorado to the Democrats' stable of support in the West.

The reason, in short, is Latino voters.

The rise of Latino power, which began in California as a backlash to the heated rhetoric surrounding Proposition 187, the 1994 anti-illegal-immigration initiative, has steadily spread eastward, giving once-red states a distinctly more blue tinge.

There may be no better illustration than California's next-door neighbor.

Obama won Nevada in 2008 by a whopping 12 percentage points. By all rights, however, Republican Mitt Romney should have been strongly competitive there in 2012. He had an organizational base among the state's large Mormon population, and Nevada has been an economic basket case for years, with jobless, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates that set a national standard for awfulness.

Obama carried the state, however, winning in November by more than 6 percentage points.

Strong Latino support is one reason. What happened in Nevada reflected the results nationwide: The percentage of Latino voters grew to 18% of the electorate, from 15% in 2008, and Obama won their support by a crushingly large margin.

Immigration has become the Democrats' wedge issue, drawing small-business-owning and culturally conservative Latinos away from the GOP in the way Republicans long used abortion and other contentious social issues to pry working-class Democrats away from their party moorings.

As an added political benefit to Democrats, the issue of illegal immigration splits the GOP between enforcement-only hard-liners and advocates of a more balanced approach that would mix fortified borders with some path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants in the United States illegally. To hard-liners, that amounts to amnesty for lawbreakers and an unacceptable capitulation to Obama and his fellow Democrats.

The president used last week's inaugural address to signal that immigration reform, one of the unfulfilled promises of his first term, would no longer be overlooked.

America's journey "is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity," he said to strong applause from the hundreds of thousands gathered on the National Mall.

Latinos in Congress who met with Obama on Friday said the president described the issue as his top legislative priority.

Obama's remarks in Las Vegas are likely to cover proposals he has called for in the past: tougher border security, a crackdown on employers who hire illegal workers and a way for undocumented immigrants to responsibly "earn" their way to U.S. citizenship. More details are expected in the president's State of the Union address on Feb. 12.

The political message on Tuesday, however, may be more significant than the substance.

The goal for Democrats is to lock in their strong Latino support and the votes of succeeding generations, the way the party has in California, so candidates can devote more time and resources to red states like Arizona and Texas that should, the demographics suggest, grow more competitive in 2016 and beyond.

Obama may have run his last election campaign. But one thing he would like to bequeath to fellow Democrats is a solid electoral college base rooted in the West to offset the advantage Republicans enjoy across the South.

His Las Vegas appearance is a step toward that second-term goal.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Obama Said Close to Choosing Lew for Treasury Secretary

President Barack Obama may choose White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner as soon as this week, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The selection of Lew would trigger a White House shuffle for Obama’s second term as he replaces his chief of staff and moves senior aides into new roles, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters.

While Obama hasn’t made a final decision to pick Lew, the president’s staff has been instructed to prepare for his nomination, said one of the people.

Obama has several other cabinet and cabinet-rank jobs to fill, including commerce secretary, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The next Treasury secretary will play a leading role in working with Congress to raise the government’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling. The U.S. reached the statutory limit on Dec. 31, and the Treasury Department began using extraordinary measures to finance the government. It will exhaust that avenue as early as mid-February, the Congressional Budget Office says.

Geithner plans to leave the administration by the end of January even if the debt ceiling issue hasn’t been settled.

White House press secretary Jay Carney did not directly answer yesterday when he was asked whether Obama would seek to have a new Treasury secretary confirmed before Geithner leaves.

“I have no other announcements to make or updates to give with regards to personnel,” Carney said. “I am sure that when the president nominates a successor to Secretary Geithner, he will look forward to speedy consideration by the Senate.”

“But I don’t have a timetable for that,” he said.
Budget Talks

The debt limit will be the first in a series of fiscal negotiations in the new year between the Obama administration and Republicans, who have a majority in the House of Representatives, over the budget and spending.

While Obama has vowed he won’t bargain with the debt ceiling, Republicans such as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell have said they want to link it to spending cuts.

Markets rallied last week after negotiations between the White House and congressional Republicans led to passage of a law raising income-tax rates to 39.6 percent for couples with annual income above $450,000 while extending tax cuts for lower incomes. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) dropped 0.3 percent to 1,461.89 at 4 p.m. yesterday in New York before the start of earnings season.
Spending Cuts

The deal on taxes delayed until March 1 automatic budget cuts, setting up another hurdle to be negotiated.

While Lew did not directly negotiate with Congress on the eleventh-hour budget deal, which averted more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts, he helped supervise the White House strategy and briefed Wall Street executives on the talks.

As a former aide to the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat, and a two-time director of the Office of Management and Budget, Lew, 57, has experience on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s spent most of his career in government, with a brief detour to Wall Street, where he worked as a managing director for Citigroup from July 2006 until the end of 2008.
Cabinet Selections

After selecting former Senator Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan as CIA director yesterday, Obama will turn his attention to filling out the rest of his second-term cabinet. On Dec. 21, Obama announced his choice of Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, as secretary of state, replacing Hillary Clinton.

The nominations for those positions as well as Treasury secretary are subject to Senate confirmation.

Among the leading candidates to replace Lew as Obama’s chief of staff are Denis McDonough, currently a deputy national security adviser, and Ron Klain, who had served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff.

McDonough, who worked as an aide to former Senator Tom Daschle as well as in Obama’s Senate office, joined the National Security Council as deputy director of strategic communications at the start of Obama’s term. When Tom Donilon became the NSC director after General Jim Jones departed, McDonough became an assistant to the president and the deputy national security adviser.

Klain served as chief of staff to both Biden and former Vice President Al Gore. In January of 2011, he left the White House and returned to Case Holdings, the holding company of AOL co-founder Steve Case and served as an outside adviser to Obama. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fiscal deal leaves central question of Obama presidency unresolved

One way to understand the fiscal cliff compromise which passed the Senate this morning is through the prism of the larger question at the heart of this whole fight: What should the safety net of the 21st century look like, and who should pay for it?

Presuming the Senate deal passes the House, what happened yesterday is that Democrats scored a victory on part two of that question — albeit only a partial one — while successfully deferring the epic, looming battle over the first part of it. Meanwhile, Republicans retained their leverage heading into round two, and thanks to the way things unfolded, they will likely walk into it more confident of winning major future concessions.

The good news is that for now, the basic social contract underlying the progressive reforms of the last century remains intact. Neither the rise in the Medicare eligibility age nor the Chained CPI for Social Security happened; Democrats have temporarily held off the GOP drive to cut the safety net. Meanwhile, Democrats finally broke the GOP’s opposition to the rich paying more in taxes — the party’s organizing principle for years now — successfully making the tax code somewhat more progressive. The short term big picture is that Dems won on two major fronts — no entitlements cuts, and tax hikes for the rich — which helps explain conservative rage over the deal.

So why are liberals also angry? Partly because this was only a partial Dem victory, since Dems agreed to a higher income threshold ($400,000 for individuals and $450,000) and made concessions on the estate tax. That didn’t have to happen, since doing nothing — and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire — would have meant even more in revenues from the rich.

As Paul Krugman’s calculations show, this may not really have cost Dems all that much in new revenues. The more serious problem for liberals is what the outcome says about what comes next. Obama had repeatedly insisted he would not budge off his demand that taxes go up on all income over $250,000. That obviously didn’t happen. The risk is that this will set a bad precedent for the next round in this fight, in which Republicans will hold the debt ceiling hostage to extract the deep cuts to entitlements they want. It’s reasonable to worry that today’s outcome, by signaling Obama’s over-emphasis on getting a deal for its own sake, will set the stage for a cave later.

It’s on Obama to prove those worries unfounded.  Obama has pledged to win more in new revenues from the rich via tax reform, has vowed not to agree to any deficit reduction that relies only on spending cuts, and continues to insist on a “balanced” approach. Only Obama, however, can ultimately define what he means by “balanced.” Liberals must continue to insist that this mean that the sacrifice necessary to reducing the deficit will not borne by the poor or seniors who can’t afford it.

All of which is to say that the major fight at the heart of this whole mess — over the proper scope and role of the safety net of the 21st century, and who will pay for it — remains unresolved. Only the outcome of that battle can settle the question of whether today’s compromise was a good one for liberals. Obama’s legacy on the future of the welfare state — which will help define his presidency and settle fundamental questions about our approach to governing that will define American life for years to come — remains yet to be determined.