Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Photo of the Day: Supreme Court Justice

The minute I saw this headline, I knew who the story was about:

An immigrant student invited a Supreme Court Justice to dinner. She took him up on it.

Chef Ferrufino, left, and Meridian Pint owner John Andrade flank their special guest. (Jill Collins PR)
Sotomayor, the Bronx, N.Y.-raised daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, visited the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School last year, a school in Northeast Washington serving the city’s adult immigrant community. There, she had lunch with several top students, including Francisco Ferrufino, a native of El Salvador who was doing culinary training at the school. Over lunch, Ferrufino offered a bold invitation to the visiting justice: He would love to cook for her someday...

Sotomayor accepted, and on Friday night, she brought along three friends, including Mexican opera star Carla Dirlikov, to sample his wares.
Love you Justice Sotomayor!!!

Boehner's Deja Vu All Over Again

Yesterday Steve Benen did us all a favor by documenting every instance where the Republicans have created a crisis by taking a hostage. You might want to bookmark that one for future reference. Here's how he describes the overall process:
GOP officials told Democrats to accept Republican priorities or Republicans would impose a hardship on the nation. GOP leaders and lawmakers assumed Dems would care too much about the real-world consequences of the Republican tactics, so Republicans could get what they want through radical and unprecedented brinkmanship – legislating is hard; threatening is easy; so why invest energy in the former when the latter is largely effortless?

A new staple of GOP governance was born: hostage crises, all of a sudden, were a credible substitute for the traditional legislative process.
But what someone failed to tell Republicans is...hostage crises are not working. Especially now that the GOP controls the legislative branch, those "real-world consequences" could come back to hurt them rather than the President. As everyone should be noticing by now, they're bluffing. That's always going to be a losing hand, in poker as well as politics.

And so, possibly as early as today, Speaker Boehner will once again cave.
After months of indecision and strife, House GOP leaders plan to allow a vote as early as Tuesday on a clean bill to fund the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the fiscal year, according to Republican sources, dashing the hopes of conservatives who want to tie the money to language clocking President Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Leaders detailed their plan at a closed-door GOP conference meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday. According to a source in the room, Speaker John Boehner told members the House would vote on the Senate's DHS funding bill once it receives papers confirming that the other chamber would not go to conference on the bill.
If that feels familiar to you, it's because this is how every one of these crises have ended when Democrats stood together to call their bluff.

I know there are some members of the lunatic caucus who would be content to impose a hardship on Americans if it meant damaging President Obama's agenda. They might continue to force the Republican leadership to use this hostage-taking strategy in the future. But we should keep our heads about us when/if that happens. The pearl-clutching about whether or not they'll blow up the hostage is a waste of time and only feeds the crisis the lunatics are attempting to create.

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's Getting Better

Today our Attorney General Eric Holder wrote an op-ed titled: Taking the Side of Equality.
Over the next several months, the Supreme Court will decide whether state restrictions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. As the court considers that momentous question, the Department of Justice will make clear that our answer is an unequivocal "yes."

This week, the Justice Department will file a brief setting forth our position that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the fundamental constitutional guarantee of "equal protection of the laws." It is clear that the time has come to recognize that gay and lesbian people deserve robust protection from discrimination.

Nothing justifies excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. Denying them the right to marry serves only to demean them and their children, to degrade the dignity of their families and to deny them the full, free and equal participation in American life to which every citizen is entitled...

Our nation's founders set this country on a course of continual improvement toward a more perfect union — a spirit that echoes in our present-day promise to struggling gay and lesbian youth that "it gets better." America, by design, gets better, and we have been fortunate over the last few years to witness once-unimaginable progress with respect to gay rights. But we're not done yet. And in the coming months, this administration — and this Department of Justice — will continue to stand with all LGBT Americans, to hold fast to our principles, and to bring about the change our citizens deserve.
Best.Attorney.General.Ever!!!

The Last Time a Bush Was "His Own Man"

After George W. Bush's presidency, of course Jeb Bush wants to distance his own policies from his brother's. He assumes he can do that by simply declaring that he "is his own man."

Lots of pundits have commented on the fact that Jeb has hired a conference room full of campaign advisers from both his father's and brother's administrations. That is certainly a "tell." But it is the policies he supports that would really let us know if he is taking a different path.

That's why one of Jeb's statements at CPAC really stood out to me. He actually said:
You can lower taxes, generate economic opportunity, and increase revenues.
With that short statement, Jeb thoroughly embraced the trickle-down economics that George H.W. Bush called voodoo economics in 1980 when he was running against Ronald Reagan to be president. Of course Poppy Bush eventually became Reagan's running mate and had to buckle under - claiming he'd never said that. He also had to watch as Reagan's implementation of voodoo economics crippled social programs and caused our federal deficit to surge...to the point that when he became president himself, he sealed his own fate as a one-termer when he was forced to raise taxes.

In case that wasn't enough, son George W. fully embraced voodoo economics and left office as the country was careening towards a second Great Depression.

All of that tells you that somewhere deep inside George H.W. Bush's brain is probably a recognition that he's been right all along. But he learned the hard way that being your own man on this one get's you sent straight to the presidential retirement home.

And so now, along comes Jeb Bush touting the very same voodoo economics that not only wrecked havoc on both his father's and brother's presidencies, but are currently showing themselves to be such a failure in states like Wisconsin and Kansas. And yet no one in the Republican Party dares to "be their own man" in calling that out since Poppy Bush tried it 35 years ago.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A 50th Anniversary in Song

In the coming week we will learn what PM Netanyahu has to say to Congress, hear the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on King v Burwell, reach another deadline for funding of the Department of Homeland Security and celebrate one of the most historic moments of the Civil Rights Era in Selma, Alabama. An awful lot of the news today is actually preparation for those events.

So I'd like to end this weekend's blogging by joining Leonard Pitts on a lighter note in celebrating another 50th anniversary.
There are sounds it feels like you’ve known forever, sounds that have been in your ear so long, it’s hard to believe they were ever new. One of those sounds is this:

James Jamerson thumps a heartbeat on the bass. Robert White’s guitar corkscrews out in reply. And the immortal David Ruffin sings, in a voice of sweetness shadowed by sorrow, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.”

Hard to believe that sound was ever new, but it was. Released four days before Christmas in 1964, My Girl by the Temptations reached the top of the pop charts in the first week of March — 50 years ago this week. Maybe you remember hearing it during that portentous late winter when Malcolm X had just been killed, and Martin Luther King’s forces were gathering on a bridge in a town called Selma.

If so, you are probably humming it right now, recalling the airtight harmonies and the way the horns and strings danced elegant pirouettes of sound.

Or maybe you were born years later, during the energy crisis, or around the time of the Challenger disaster or even in that more-recent era when Bryant Gumbel found it necessary to ask Katie Couric, “What is Internet, anyway?” Doesn’t matter. You’re humming it, too.

My Girl is one of those songs everybody knows. It is the most perfect thing ever recorded.

As an old-timer, I happen to agree with Pitts. You young whipper-snappers (see how old I am?) are free to disagree. But you'll have to make the case that your alternative will mark your generation as gracefully and enduringly as My Girl.

The Party of Personal Responsibility Has Become the Party of Perpetual Victims

Ed Kilgore has an interesting article in the latest edition of the Washington Monthly about what we might call the "Palinization of the Republican Party."
St. Joan of the Tundra’s distinctive contribution to the conservative cause was not simply to serve as a lightning rod for resentment of the “liberal elites” that supposedly run the country, but to invite ridicule that she then turned into a sense of victimization and self-pity and a hankering for vengeance.
Does anyone else notice the circularity of that process? First of all, you invite ridicule. A prime example would be the invention of the notorious "War on Christmas." When your opponent reacts as expected, you claim victimhood and put out the call for vengeance - thus ensuring another round.

Back in 1968 Stephen Karpman, M.D. came up with a name for this pattern. He called it the Drama Triangle.


Unlike theories about personality preferences, this one has always made more sense to me as a world view rather than a description of different styles. In other words, either one sees the world as made up of victims, persecutors and rescuers - or not. Once someone adopts this world view, they join the triangle and define both their own actions and those of others via these three options.

The one thing these three roles are designed to avoid is any sense of personal responsibility. The victim is the helpless target of both the persecutor and rescuer. The persecutor blames everyone else for their circumstances. And the rescuer is there to protect the victim from the persecutor. The reason Karpman called it a Drama Triangle is because this way of interacting produces a lot of heat, but no light.

It is within this frame that conservatives couch their attacks (the persecutor) against women's rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, the social safety net, etc. from a position of victimization. The conversation for them is never about marriage equality for LGBT. It's about how gay marriage makes them victims. Those who promote gay rights are therefore cast in the role of persecutors. And that enables conservatives to become the persecutors of gay rights activists. Do you see the endless drama?

In some iterations of the Drama Triangle, the rescuer is called the "savior" - which might give you some clue as to how that role is often filled by the religious right. But in the end, defining oneself (or others) as victims immediately triggers the need for rescue since victims are powerless to do anything for themselves. Attempting to rescue others then becomes a way to avoid taking responsibility for oneself.

The mistake liberals make too often is to join the drama triangle rather than avoid this dance altogether. The kryptonite to drama is personal power/responsibility. We have choices about when/how to react or to not react at all. Similarly, we can reject a knee-jerk attempt to blame others (being the persecutor) and refuse to see ourselves as the helpless victims of Republican antics. Finally, we can empower those who are affected, rather than assume they need to be rescued by us.

Remember in 2008 when the President and his campaign were dubbed "No Drama Obama?" That's precisely because they refused to play this game. While they were willing to take issues head-on, they avoided playing the role of perpetrator and never allowed themselves to be the victims of other's attacks. Here's Barack Obama basically giving what amounts to a master class in how to avoid the drama triangle in under a minute.

Too Big to Fail Banks Are Shrinking

One of the issues populists on the left like Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown are raising is that we need to break up the big banks that were primarily responsible for the financial crisis because Americans don't want to be on the hook for further bailouts of "too big to fail" financial institutions.

Their contention is that the Wall Street reforms contained in Dodd/Frank didn't go far enough. But it looks like perhaps they should have been more patient.
Global regulators have issued dozens of rules aimed at making the biggest banks safer. That’s leading to another result some wanted: making them shrink...

Increasingly strict capital rules over the past three years may be forcing the breakup of the financial supermarkets built in the decade before the financial crisis. Lenders, unable to use borrowed money to fund as much of their business as they once did, have cut profitability targets and are weighing more drastic actions to meet them.

“We’re beginning to see discussions that these capital charges are sufficiently large it’s causing those firms to think seriously about whether or not they should spin off some of their enterprises to reduce their systemic footprint,” Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. “And frankly, that’s exactly what we want to see happen.”...

“They are saying we’ve got to go back to a much safer system and that means everyone needs to shrink,” said David Ellison, a Boston-based money manager at Hennessy Advisors Inc., which oversaw $5.9 billion at year-end. “They are using Basel, the CCAR stress test, to say this is what we want you to do. They have effectively nationalized the banking system.”...

There’s nothing in Dodd-Frank or the global capital rules that tells banks to break up, according to Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The law says they should be capable of being wound down in a crisis, which is pushing some firms to shrink, he said.

“We’re not going to break you up, but we want you to structure yourself so that your failure doesn’t bring the economy down next time,” Hoenig said. “If you can’t get to that point with your current organization structure, then you should sell assets to get to that state.”

That message is finally getting through.
Rather than take over the banks and/or force them to break up, the reforms included in Dodd/Frank have incentivized these financial institutions to downsize themselves. As I've written about before, that's the kind of big organizational change that actually works.

The farther out we get from the panic of the original crisis and the passage of these reforms, the better former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner looks. His goals were to create a "soft landing," protect American taxpayers, and do what was necessary to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again. It may be taking a while to play out, but that's exactly what is happening.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Odds & Ends

I'm going to do something a little different today. That's because if you watched any of the speakers at CPAC, you might be tempted to think that ISIS is marching across the Middle East and is about to reach our shores. Of course that's not true. So I'm going to highlight some things that have been written recently and suggest that you read them to get a more accurate view of what's going on.

Zack Beauchamp writes: ISIS is Losing
If you want to understand what's happening in the Middle East today, you need to appreciate one fundamental fact: ISIS is losing its war for the Middle East.

This may seem hard to believe: in Iraq and Syria, the group still holds a stretch of territory larger than the United Kingdom, manned by a steady stream of foreign fighters. Fighters pledging themselves to ISIS recently executed 21 Christians in Libya.

It's certainly true that ISIS remains a terrible and urgent threat to the Middle East. The group is not on the verge of defeat, nor is its total destruction guaranteed. But, after months of ISIS expansion and victories, the group is now being beaten back. It is losing territory in the places that matter. Coalition airstrikes have hamstrung its ability to wage offensive war, and it has no friends to turn to for help. Its governance model is unsustainable and risks collapse in the long run.

Unless ISIS starts adapting, there's a very good chance its so-called caliphate is going to fall apart.
From The Australian, we learn that the Islamic State is being hit by desertions and disgust at their brutality.
Islamic State is facing increasing public disobedience and a ­rising numbers of defections, ­according to sources in two cities in Iraq and Syria.

They offered similar claims of morale falling and of defections among Islamic State fighters in Mosul and Raqqa, and told of ­displays of disaffection and resistance, and of rising incidences of corruption among officials.
Miriam Karolyn writes: Islamic State Under Pressure as Kurds Seize Syrian Town.
Kurdish forces dealt a blow to Islamic State by capturing an important town on Friday in the latest stage of a powerful offensive in northeast Syria, a Kurdish militia spokesman said.

Islamic State has been forced into retreat across parts of the strategic region, a land bridge between territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, even as its fighters have mounted new raids this week on Assyrian Christian villages, abducting more than 200 people.

The capture of Tel Hamis was announced by the Kurdish YPG militia and confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country's civil war.
John Simpson also reports that - at least in Baghdad - ISIS is Losing.
After 12 years in which the worst of any range of possibilities usually came about, it does feel as though Iraq could at long last be starting to turn the corner. That is certainly what people here in Baghdad, probably the most pessimistic city on earth, are now allowing themselves to hope. If it turns out to be true, they will deserve it more than just about any other group of people on earth.
Both the Pentagon and the Iraqi government have been saying that the coalition will mount an assault to re-take the city of Mosul from ISIS this spring. But Nancy Youssef reports that those plans have changed.
The U.S. military’s goal to retake Iraq’s second largest city from the self-proclaimed Islamic State has been pushed back several months at least, defense officials told The Daily Beast. That’s a major shift for the Pentagon, which recently announced that the first major ground offensive in the war against ISIS could come in the next few weeks.

Defense officials once hoped that Iraqi troops could move into Mosul by the Spring and reclaim the city from ISIS. Now, those officials say, Fall is more realistic. And even that date was tenuous.

“It is an Iraqi decision but we don’t want to do anything until they are ready and can win decisively,” a military official explained to the Daily Beast. “They cannot now.”
And now, to end the day's blogging, let's switch gears. A week ago today the world of jazz lost one of it's great performers - Clark Terry. In addition to being a jazz trumpet master, Terry devoted much of his life to mentoring other musicians. One of his earliest mentees, Quincy Jones, made a documentary film about Terry's relationship with his last mentee, Justin Kauflin, titled Keep On Keepin' On. As the extra-terrestrial mentor Yoda would say: Watch this film you should.

Department of Education Fires Repo Man Contractors for College Loans

Back in 2012, Stephen Burd broke a story in the Washington Monthly about the predatory "repo man" tactics used by some of the contractors working for the Department of Education to collect payments on college loans.
Gregory McNeil, 49, is living out his days at a veterans home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His room is so cramped he can barely fit his twin bed, dresser, and the computer desk he had to sneak in because it was against regulations. His only income comes from the Social Security disability payments he began receiving last year after undergoing quadruple-bypass heart surgery. These payments go directly to the veterans home, which then gives him $100 a month for his expenses. McNeil fears that if he leaves the home, the government will seize a portion of his Social Security to pay off the federal student loan he defaulted on two decades ago. “This veterans home may become my financial prison,” he says. “And this is no way to live.”

McNeil’s fears are well grounded. For years, private collection companies acting under contract with the U.S. Department of Education have hounded him. The government garnisheed his wages for a time, and threatened to sue him. He says he always wanted to repay, but has never had the income he would need. Meanwhile, interest continues to accrue on his debt, and has already tripled the amount he owes.
Yeah, the idea of going after a veteran's Social Security payments after he just underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery is NOT a good look for the Department of Education. But that's what their contractors were doing.

Burd specifically singled out one company.
One of the most aggressive loan-collection firms is Pioneer Credit Recovery, a subsidiary of student loan giant Sallie Mae. Consumer Web sites are full of complaints about the company’s practices. Meanwhile, former Pioneer collectors recently told Bloomberg Businessweek that the company has a “boiler room” culture, where low-paid workers are richly rewarded for squeezing the most money they possibly can out of defaulted borrowers. Those who miss their targets are under constant threat of losing their jobs. “When you’re making eight bucks an hour, it’s all about the bonuses,” said a former Pioneer employee who worked at the collection agency from 2004 to 2007.
Yesterday, the Department of Education finally cut ties with these contractors.
The U.S. Department of Education, under fire for its lackluster oversight of student loan contractors, said Friday it will terminate its relationship with five debt collectors after accusing them of misleading distressed borrowers at "unacceptably high rates."

The surprise announcement follows years of complaints about allegedly illegal debt-collection practices by Education Department contractors, the department's seeming lack of interest in ensuring that borrowers are treated fairly, and the relative opacity of the entire operation.

The most prominent of the debt collectors, Pioneer Credit Recovery, is owned by Navient Corp., the student loan giant formerly known as Sallie Mae. Pioneer, under investigation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, generated $127 million from the contract over the past two years, according to its annual report to investors on Friday. It has worked for the Education Department since 1997.
That's a great first step. But you'll want to read Stephen Burd's whole article to hear about a more comprehensive approach that would solve this problem for the 7 million Americans who are currently affected.

One final note, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created specifically to tackle these kinds of issues. Note their involvement in taking complaints, filing reports and investigating abusers.   This is exactly why it is such an important component of the Dodd/Frank reforms.

The Scott Walker Antidote: Minnesota


With the Iowa caucus still 11 months away, the media has become obsessed with the candidacy of Scott Walker. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but in the midst of all that, a few good reporters are taking a look at flyover country and finding out that Wisconsin's next door neighbor provides a great antidote to his policy claims.

Up here in the tundra, that comparison started a while ago. In 2013, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article reminding us that when it comes to population, commerce and politics, Minnesota and Wisconsin have an awful lot in common. But something drastically changed after the 2010 election.
Wisconsin has been cutting taxes, curbing unions, expanding private school vouchers and rejecting hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Minnesota has been raising taxes, empowering unions, legalizing same-sex marriage and embracing Obamacare.

Wisconsin is getting its most conservative governance in decades. Minnesota is getting its most liberal governance in decades.

In their underlying political makeup, they may be as similar as any two states in America.

But one is being governed like South Carolina, the other like Vermont.
In a true testament to the idea that "every vote matters," here is a summary of what spurred the different path each state would take:
In Wisconsin, Republicans captured the governor's office (Scott Walker) and both chambers of the Legislature in the GOP wave of 2010. Thanks to that unified control, Republicans were able to pass a hugely favorable redistricting plan that helped ensure the party's legislative majorities in 2012 in an otherwise poor election for the GOP.

In Minnesota, Republicans also took over both chambers of the Legislature in the 2010 conservative wave. But the party fell four-tenths of a percentage point short of winning a three-way race for governor. Democrat Mark Dayton's razor-thin victory with less than 44% of the vote resulted in divided government, which resulted in a fairly neutral, court-approved redistricting plan. And that helped make it possible for Minnesota Democrats to retake the Legislature in the more favorable election climate of 2012.
I mentioned a while ago that Larry Jacobs had suggested in 2013 that this divergence of such similar states could provide a laboratory for measuring the outcomes of liberal and conservative policies. Recently Patrick Caldwell and Carl Gibson seemed to have noticed as well.

Caldwell focused on the fact that - unlike Scott Walker - Gov. Mark Dayton is an "unnatural" politician.
For a man who has won a competitive US Senate race and secured his second term as governor in November, Mark Dayton is a terrible retail politician. "He's very shy and he's an introvert," Ken Martin, the chair of the state party and a friend of Dayton's, told me unprompted earlier this month. "He's not a typical, backslapping politician," Martin continued. "He's not very articulate; he's kind of jerky," Tom Bakk, the Democratic Senate majority leader, says of his ally's style. When Dayton first ran for his current job, in 2010, The New Republic dubbed him "Eeyore for Governor."
Nevertheless, Dayton managed to get the job done.
Think of Dayton as Scott Walker's mirror image. With the help of GOP-controlled legislatures, Walker and other Republican governors, such as Kansas' Sam Brownback, have passed wish lists of conservative policies and touted their states as laboratories that demonstrate the benefits of conservative governance. Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, has parlayed that hype into a potential 2016 presidential run. And across the border in Minnesota, Dayton seized a brief moment of unified Democratic control to create the liberal alternative to Walker's Wisconsin—a blue-state laboratory for demonstrating the potential of liberal policies. Dayton didn't "set out" with the objective of one-upping Walker in mind, he told me after the Eagan event. But "the contrast," he notes, is obvious.

Over the past several years, Minnesota has become a testing ground for a litany of policies Democrats hope to enact nationally: legalizing same-sex marriage, making it easier to vote, boosting primary education spending, instituting all-day kindergarten, expanding unionization, freezing college tuition, increasing the minimum wage, and passing new laws requiring equal pay for women. To pay for it all, Dayton pushed a sharp increase on taxes for the top 2 percent—one of the largest hikes in state history. Republicans went berserk, warning that businesses would flee the state and take jobs with them.

The disaster Dayton's GOP rivals predicted never happened. Two years after the tax hike, Minnesota's economy is booming. The state added 172,000 jobs during Dayton's first four years in office. Its 3.6 percent unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country (Wisconsin's is 5.2 percent), and the Twin Cities have the lowest unemployment rate of any major metropolitan area. Under Dayton, Minnesota has consistently been in the top tier of states for GDP growth. Median incomes are $8,000 higher than the national average. In 2014, Minnesota led the nation in economic confidence, according to Gallup.
I would simply add that recently Gov. Walker announced that Wisconsin will have to skip a $108 million debt payment due to his budget shortfall, while yesterday Minnesota's state budget office announced a projected $1.8 billion surplus (up $832 million since their last projection in November).

Gibson provides some of the same data and then tells us how this happened in Minnesota.
Gov. Dayton didn't accomplish all of these reforms by shrewdly manipulating people -- this article describes Dayton's astonishing lack of charisma and articulateness. He isn't a class warrior driven by a desire to get back at the 1 percent -- Dayton is a billionaire heir to the Target fortune. It wasn't just a majority in the legislature that forced him to do it -- Dayton had to work with a Republican-controlled legislature for his first two years in office. And unlike his Republican neighbor to the east, Gov. Dayton didn't assert his will over an unwilling populace by creating obstacles between the people and the vote -- Dayton actually created an online voter registration system, making it easier than ever for people to register to vote.

The reason Gov. Dayton was able to radically transform Minnesota's economy into one of the best in the nation is simple arithmetic. Raising taxes on those who can afford to pay more will turn a deficit into a surplus. Raising the minimum wage will increase the median income. And in a state where education is a budget priority and economic growth is one of the highest in the nation, it only makes sense that more businesses would stay.

It's official -- trickle-down economics is bunk. Minnesota has proven it once and for all. If you believe otherwise, you are wrong.
So my question for all the media and Republicans who are fawning over Scott Walker is...if he's all that, why is Mark Dayton's Minnesota beating him on every conceivable measure?

Of course the answer is that Dayton has clearly proved that - when all the hype is over - Democratic policies work.

A House Divided

The plan was to force President Obama to either sign a bill repealing his executive actions on immigration or veto it and shut down the Department of Homeland Security. But things didn't work out that way.

Senator McConnell couldn't get the 6/7 Democratic votes he needed to pass a bill that paired funding for DHS to repealing the President's immigration actions and Speaker Boehner was unwilling to pass a stand-alone funding bill with primarily Democratic votes. So we got a one week reprieve before we do this all over again.

The good news is that we found out that neither Republican leader is willing to follow through with their threats to blow up hostages in order to force Democrats to give them what they want. So at some point, they'll pass a bill that funds DHS.

Here's the bad news:
After the Republicans gained control of the Senate and increased their margins in the House in the November elections, both Mr. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, promised to reverse Congress’s pattern of hurtling from crisis to crisis, even over matters like appropriations that were once relatively routine.

But in their first big test, the Republican leaders often seemed to be working from different playbooks, at times verging on hostility, with each saying it was time for the other chamber to act.

The funding stalemate bodes poorly for any larger policy accomplishments this year, leaving lawmakers pessimistic that the 114th Congress will be able to work in a bipartisan fashion on more complicated issues.

The Office of Management and Budget has said that a vote to increase the nation’s debt limit will be necessary by mid- to late summer, and lawmakers were also hoping to take up trade policy, as well as at least a modest overhaul of the nation’s tax code — undertakings that now look increasingly imperiled.
When you've spent the last six years convincing your base that your opponent is a tyrant who is out to destroy the country and that his party's agenda is the tool by which he will do that, its pretty hard to actually govern in a system that is designed to require compromise.

I wouldn't say that any of that is a big surprise to those of us who have been paying attention. But what is surprising - and will be worth paying attention to over the next few months - is the apparent hostility between McConnell and Boehner. I don't think anyone saw that coming. But it does suggest that there is more than one fault line in this divided house.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Be Prepared for Bibi

In a couple of days, our news media is going to be consumed with what Prime Minister Netanyahu said to Congress about a possible deal with Iran to stop them from developing nuclear weapons. As a reminder, Netanyahu has said that he "will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement."

Your assignment - should you chose to accept it - is to inform yourself about what some experts have said in support of the current negotiations and potential agreement. My purpose is to provide you with that information. So here you go:

Paul Pillar: Get Over It: There's No Better Deal on Iran's Nuclear Program

Robert Einhorn: Deterring an Iranian Nuclear Breakout

David Ignatius: A Compelling Argument on Iran

William Perry, Sean O'Keefe, Adm. James Stavridis and Joe Reeder: Let's Make the Deal With Iran

Jeffrey Simpson: An Iran Opportunity Not to Be Missed

And finally, I'll close with what Jeffrey Goldberg wrote this week.
But let's look at what would happen if Netanyahu "wins" this battle. [Martin] Indyk lays out a depressing scenario:

"What happens if the president succeeds in doing a deal despite the speech of the prime minister?" he asks. "Instead of the United States and Israel talking about ways to provide strategic reassurance to Israel, there’s going to be an ongoing fight over this deal. And what if the prime minister then succeeds in killing the deal? How will the president relate to the destruction of one of his signature policy initiatives? And if the sanctions then collapse, as seems likely, and Iran continues moving towards a nuclear weapon, how does the prime minister propose to stop Iran? He will certainly manage in the process to create the impression that he wants the United States to go to war with Iran."
The common theme in all the articles above is that - while the deal that emerges is not likely to be perfect - it will be far superior to any alternative that is actually possible. The bar Netanyahu wants to set is impossible and would leave war as the only option - which is 100% unacceptable. That's why Ignatius says that these are "the most important diplomatic negotiations of the last several decades."

Quick Take

I have a hard time with the idea of conservatives having anything to say about what we teach our children about history when they can't even remember what was going on 6 years ago.

Exhibit A: Here's Sarah Palin yesterday at CPAC:
Now, in ’09 when Obama took over the war on terror, Islamists were in retreat and al Qaeda was a broken force.
I'd venture a guess that Ms. Palin has totally forgotten what happened on May 2, 2011. I also suspect she has no idea who these guys are, what they had planned, or how/when they met their fateful end.


Breakdown Dead Ahead

Don't ask me how, but I've been privy to private communication from Majority Leader McConnell to Speaker Boehner today about DHS funding.


;-)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

One Young Man's Story of Being an ISIS Recruit

The right wingers have decided to make State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf their punching bag for saying that we can't kill our way out of the threat of terrorism.


As she attempted to clarify in that interview, what she was addressing was how we reach the young (mostly) men who are attracted to the cause of ISIS.

To put a face on what she's talking about, John Simpson wrote about his experience of watching the interrogation of a 17 year old ISIS recruit who was captured before he completed a suicide bomb mission at a Shia mosque in Baghdad.
His name was Zakariya al-Rawi, and his story was sad and squalid. He had run away from home after rowing with his parents and gone to a nearby town that was occupied by Islamic State. An IS loudspeaker van drove up and down the streets constantly, calling on people to volunteer to serve Islam. That filled Zakariya with a new sense of purpose. He joined up, together with friends.

The recruiters gave him some basic military training but it is clear what they wanted: suicide fodder. They must have detected his weakness of character, his uncertainties, his innocence, and they started to work on him, telling him that Shia Muslims were heretics who had to be extirpated, the enemies of Sunni Muslims like Zakariya and his friends. He believed them.

“They promised me I’d go straight to heaven, without being judged.”

You didn’t ask them why, if being a suicide bomber was so wonderful, they didn’t want to do it themselves?

“No.”

Were you scared?

“Yes, very.”

How old were the others who decided to volunteer?

“Most of them were like me, or younger.”

How young?

“Fourteen, 15, 16.”

I asked him what his father and mother would have thought about what he had become. Tears came to his eyes: he suddenly stopped being a terrorist. Now, he was just a kid who had upset his parents and didn’t know how to get home.

His IS minders took him to Baghdad, put him up at a safe house, and taught him how to use an explosive vest. He had to keep his thumb on the trigger of the bomb. Directly he raised it, the bomb would go off. And at that instant, they said, without needing to go through the process of having his life and actions judged, he would find himself in paradise. It might not have been particularly good theology, but it worked.

They gave him a pistol, in case the guards at the Shia mosque tried to stop him. He was to shoot them, then run over to where the crowd of worshippers was thickest and detonate the bomb.

You were fully prepared to kill women and children, as well as men? I asked.

“Yes, sir.”

His voice was scarcely audible now and the tears were running unchecked down his face. His eyes were fixed on his manacled hands and he spoke in whispers.

Why are you crying?

“Because I’m so sorry for all this.”

You’re ashamed of what you were going to do?

“Yes, sir.”
That's just one young man's story. We know from the videos ISIS has made that he is not representative of some (most?) members of that group.

But when we talk about young 14, 15, 16, 17 year olds being recruited to be fodder in these death games, its important to keep this kind of story in mind because "in the Arab countries’ populations, young people are the fastest growing segment, some 60% of the population is under 25 years old, making this one of the most youthful regions in the world." There is the potential for a steady stream of young recruits just like Zakariya al-Rawi. That's exactly who Ms. Harf was talking about.