Sixteen years ago, president Bill Clinton’s secretary of labor, Robert Reich, summed up the frustrations of adjusting to life in the Cabinet, where even a close personal relationship with the president, dating to their Oxford days, didn’t spare him from being bossed around by arrogant West Wing nobodies. “From the view of the White House staff, cabinet officials are provincial governors presiding over alien, primitive territories,” Reich wrote in a classic of the pissed-off-secretary genre, Locked in the Cabinet. “Anything of any importance occurs in the national palace.”
Two presidents later, the Cabinet is a swarm of 23 people that includes 15 secretaries and eight other Cabinet-rank officers. And yet never has the job of Cabinet secretary seemed smaller. The staffers who rule Obama’s West Wing often treat his Cabinet as a nuisance: At the top of the pecking order are the celebrity power players, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to be warily managed; at the bottom, what they see as a bunch of well-intentioned political naifs only a lip-slip away from derailing the president’s agenda. Chu might have been the first Obama Cabinet secretary to earn the disdain of White House aides, but he was hardly the last.
“We are completely marginalized … until the shit hits the fan,” says one former Cabinet deputy secretary, summing up the view of many officials I interviewed. “If your question is: Did the president rely a lot on his Cabinet as a group of advisers? No, he didn’t,” says former Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Little wonder, then, that Obama has called the group together only rarely, for what by most accounts are not much more than ritualistic team-building exercises: According to CBS News White House reporter Mark Knoller, the Cabinet met 19 times in Obama’s first term and four times in the first 10 months of his second term. That’s once every three months or so—about as long as you can drive around before you’re supposed to change your oil.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama formally proposing “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector,” if that is what’s needed to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline through America’s heartland, CBC News has learned.
Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.
The letter, sent in late August, is a clear signal Canada is prepared to make concessions to get the presidential permit for TransCanada Corp.’s controversial $7-billion pipeline, which will connect the Alberta oilsands to refineries in Texas.
Why? Why, if the U.S. counterterrorism approach is working in Yemen, as Barack Obama’s administration claims, is AQAP still growing? Why, after nearly four years of bombing raids, is the group capable of putting together the type of plot that leads to the United States shuttering embassies and missions from North Africa to the Persian Gulf?
The answer is simple, if rather disheartening: Faulty assumptions and a mistaken focus paired with a resilient, adaptive enemy have created a serious problem for the United States.
Part of the U.S. approach to fighting AQAP is based on what worked for the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where drone strikes have decimated what is often called al Qaeda’s core (though as al Qaeda’s strength moves back toward the Arab world, analysts will need to start rethinking old categories). Unfortunately, not all lessons are transportable. This means that the United States is fighting the al Qaeda that was, instead of the al Qaeda that is.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Qaeda was largely a group of Arabs in non-Arab countries. In Yemen, al Qaeda is made up mostly of Yemenis living in Yemen.
This has two key implications for the United States. First, new recruits no longer need to travel abroad to receive specialized training. For years, men like Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of AQAP and the man believed by U.S. officials to be recently promoted to al Qaeda’s global deputy, had to spend time in training camps in Afghanistan to acquire the requisite experience. But since AQAP has developed its own network in Yemen, that is no longer the case. Now young Yemenis who want to join al Qaeda can study with Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s top bomb-maker, without ever leaving home.
The United States has had some recent experience fighting a similar foe: al Qaeda in Iraq. But that was with the full weight of the U.S. armed forces. One of the many reasons that the Obama administration has settled on a drone-heavy approach to Yemen is the realization that sending large numbers of U.S. troops into Yemen would be a mistake of catastrophic proportions. For the past few years, AQAP has been making an argument that just like Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen is also under Western attack, which requires a defensive jihad from every Yemeni. AQAP has not been particularly successful making that argument, but if the United States were to send ground troops to Yemen, that would change. And AQAP would move from a few thousand fighters to many times that number.
The second drawback to assuming that what worked in one place would automatically work in another is what Yemenis call thar, or revenge — a concept the United States appears to have overlooked in Yemen. The men that the United States is killing in Yemen are tied to the local society in a way that many of the fighters in Afghanistan never were. They may be al Qaeda members, but they are also fathers and sons, brothers and cousins, tribesmen and clansmen with friends and relatives.
The United States can target and kill someone as a terrorist, only to have Yemenis take up arms to defend him as a tribesman. In time, many of these men are drawn to al Qaeda not out of any shared sense of ideology, but rather out of a desire to get revenge on the country that killed their fellow tribesman.
How soon the U.S. forgets the lesson of General Petraeus.
The Obama administration’s counterterrorism approach in Yemen is primarily concerned with preventing an immediate attack directed at America or its interests in the Middle East. This is a short-term goal that eclipses everything else, from long-term strategy to the stability of Yemen itself. The United States has yet to realize that this is not a war it can win on its own. Only the tribesmen and clerics in Yemen are in a position to decisively disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.
The United States can do a lot of good in Yemen, but it can also do a lot of harm. And right now it is playing a dangerous game, firing missiles at targets in the hopes that it can kill enough men to keep AQAP from plotting, planning, and launching an attack from Yemen. After this terrorism alert that has sent America’s entire diplomatic and intelligence operatives in nearly two dozen countries scrambling, it may be time to rethink that approach in favor of a strategy that’s more sustainable — and more sensible too.
Start with the last presidential election. Most of the nearly half billion dollars — $374 million out of a total of $486 million — doled out by “super PACs” and other independent expenditure committees during the general election was by Republican groups, more than triple the $112 million spent independently in support of President Obama.
Clearly, this cash advantage did not tip the scales. Stuart Stevens, chief strategist of Mitt Romney’s campaign, argues that the huge expenditures by Republican groups were essentially wasted.
“What we discovered on our side, to our surprise and disappointment, was that there were some superb pro-Romney ads, but there was little impact on voters, not what we would have expected them to have,” Stevens told a postelection colloquium on Feb. 5 at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
Stevens argued that the “most important answer” in explaining the ineffectiveness of the super PAC ads “was that they were not coordinated with the campaign. They produced ads that were good as they stood alone, but they weren’t directing one message.”
Obama, according to Stevens, did not have this problem because he was less dependent on super PAC support and his campaign directly controlled a much higher percentage of the money spent on his behalf. Obama’s control of cash empowered his campaign to deliver messages and themes that his strategists wanted to stress with little competition from independent groups pushing for him.
Stevens cited Federal Election Commission reports to show that Obama was able to raise more “effective” dollars than Romney, even though the overall balance favored Romney by $140 million, $1.25 billion to $1.11 billion.
When Uranium Energy Corp. sought permission to launch a large-scale mining project in Goliad County, Texas, it seemed as if the Environmental Protection Agency would stand in its way.
To get the ore out of the ground, the company needed a permit to pollute a pristine supply of underground drinking water in an area already parched by drought.
Further, EPA scientists feared that radioactive contaminants would flow from the mining site into water wells used by nearby homes. Uranium Energy said the pollution would remain contained, but resisted doing the advanced scientific testing and modeling the government asked for to prove it.
The plan appeared to be dead on arrival until late 2011, when Uranium Energy hired Heather Podesta, a lobbyist and prolific Democratic fundraiser whose pull with the Obama administration prompted The Washington Post to name her the Capitol’s latest “It girl.”
Podesta — the sister-in-law of John Podesta, who co-chaired President Obama’s transition team — appealed directly to the EPA’s second in command, Bob Perciasepe, pressing the agency’s highest-level administrators to get directly involved and bring the agency’s local staff in Texas back to the table to reconsider their position, according to emails obtained by ProPublica through the Freedom of Information Act.
By the end of 2012, the EPA reversed its position in Goliad, approving an exemption allowing Uranium Energy to pollute the aquifer, though in a somewhat smaller area than was originally proposed.
An EPA spokesperson said companies routinely lobby the agency on regulatory issues and that Podesta’s entreaties to Perciasepe, now the agency’s acting administrator while Obama’s nominee to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy, awaits confirmation, played no part in the agency’s final decision.
“Bob’s involvement was literally a part of what he does on a weekly or daily basis,” the spokesperson said. “Lobbyists, etcetera, get in touch, he meets with them, he points them in the right direction.”
Factors other than Podesta’s efforts clearly weighed on the EPA as the Goliad case played out, including the agency’s fraught relationship with Texas officials and the Obama administration’s desire to demonstrate support for energy development.
Still, documents leave little doubt that Podesta, described by Corporate Board Member magazine as the number one person “you need to know in Obama’s Washington,” kept the Goliad County issue alive when the EPA’s scientific analysis seemed to doom it to failure.
- Remember when you all foolishly thought Obama was a liberal?
- Why do governments even hire scientists when lobbyists can have then overruled?
It’s always weird to hear conservatives doubt the idea of peak oil and then you have the U.S. Navy doing this
The Great Green Fleet is debuting at the 2012 RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercise, the largest ever international maritime war games, engaging 40 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel from 22 nations. For the first time Russian ships are playing alongside US ships, and naval personnel from India are attending. Many fleets here are sharpening their focus on alternative fuels and working to assure the formulations are codeveloped with their allies. “We’ve had dialogue with the Australians, the French, the British, other European nations, and many others in the Pacific,” and they all want to take “the petroleum off-ramp,” Cullom tells me. “We don’t want to run out of fuel.”
You can’t live off the land at sea, which is why the Navy has always looked far into the future to fuel its supply lines; the job description of admirals requires them to assess risk and solve intractable problems that stymie the rest of us. Peak oil, foreign oil, greenhouse emissions, climate change? Just another bunch of enemies. So when the Department of Defense set a goal to meet 25 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2025, the Navy found itself fighting on familiar ground. Four times in history it has overhauled old transportation paradigms—from sail to coal to gasoline to diesel to nuclear—carrying commercial shipping with it in the process. “We are a better Navy and a better Marine Corps for innovation,” Mabus says. “We have led the world in the adoption of new energy strategies in the past. This is our legacy.”
It goes beyond supply lines. Rising sea levels lapping at naval bases? A melting and increasingly militarized Arctic? The Navy is tackling problems that freeze Congress solid. What it learns, what it implements, and how it adapts and innovates will drive market changes that could alter the course of the world.
But not without a fight. Six weeks before RIMPAC 2012, Republicans and some coal- and gas-state Democrats tried to scuttle Mabus’ Green Fleet by barring the Pentagon from buying alternative fuels that cost more per gallon than petroleum-based fuels—the biofuel blend cost more than $15 a gallon—unless the more expensive alternative fuels come from other fossil fuels, like liquefied coal. This tricky logic made sense to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)—”[The Pentagon] should not be wasting time perpetrating President Obama’s global warming fantasies or his ongoing war on affordable energy”—even though seven years earlier Inhofe helped secure a $10 million taxpayer fund to test renewable military fuels, more than half of which went to a company in his home state. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) agreed, calling the purchase of biofuels “a terrible misplacement of priorities” and adding, “I don’t believe it’s the job of the Navy to be involved in building…new technologies.” Mabus, who’d already bought the biofuels for the RIMPAC demo, fired back: “If we didn’t pay a little bit more for new technologies, the Navy would never have bought a nuclear submarine, which still costs four to five times more than a conventional submarine.”
A good look at the politics behind change in any institution, even one that needs to be as cutting edge as the U.S. Navy.
Indeed, if there is one overriding factor in America’s secret wars—especially in its drone campaign—it’s that the U.S. is operating in an information black hole. Our ignorance is not total, but our information is nowhere near adequate. When an employee of the C.I.A. fires a missile from a unmanned drone into a compound along the Afghan-Pakistani border, he almost certainly doesn’t know for sure whom he’s shooting at. Most drone strikes in Pakistan, as an American official explained to me during my visit there in 2011, are what are known as “signature strikes.” That is, the C.I.A. is shooting at a target that matches a pattern of behavior that they’ve deemed suspicious. Often, they get it right and they kill the bad guys. Sometimes, they get it wrong. When Brennan claimed, as he did in 2011—clearly referring to the drone campaign—that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death,” he was most certainly wrong.
NBC has the 16 page memo that makes the argument that it is okay to kill Americans which seems to go against their entire legal system.
As in Holder’s speech, the confidential memo lays out a three-part test that would make targeted killings of American lawful: In addition to the suspect being an imminent threat, capture of the target must be “infeasible, and the strike must be conducted according to “law of war principles.” But the memo elaborates on some of these factors in ways that go beyond what the attorney general said publicly. For example, it states that U.S. officials may consider whether an attempted capture of a suspect would pose an “undue risk” to U.S. personnel involved in such an operation. If so, U.S. officials could determine that the capture operation of the targeted American would not be feasible, making it lawful for the U.S. government to order a killing instead, the memo concludes.
Drone killing is growing at such a boom that colleges are offering degrees in it. What is interesting about the article is that the FAA does not licence police forces to fly drones over high crime areas yet the Saskatoon City Police has a drone (really an amazing remote controlled helicopter) although from what I have read, it is more about taking photos of crime scenes than anything else.
The operator of the X6 guides the helicopter by using a remote control and wearing video-goggles that show what the chopper sees through the camera. While Draganfly staff will pilot the helicopter at first, police officers will decide what to photograph. Engele said he expects trained police officers will pilot the choppers themselves after they take a course this spring and receive proper clearances.
It won’t fly higher than a light post and will only be used in fair weather conditions, he said.
The American military has grown to rely on similar unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to do aerial surveys and provide video to commanders on the ground.
The key in expanding the service’s use of the technology is going to be proving the images hold up in court, Engele said. The X6 was used previously by the Ontario Provincial Police to photograph a homicide scene in rural Ontario and could be used in tactical or surveillance operations, he said.
“You could use it for anything your brain can think of,” Engele said. “You can fly it inside an office and take a picture of the whole room to capture blood splatter.”
City residents can expect to see the mini-helicopter hovering above collision scenes around late-spring or summer, Engele said.
In late spring, the backroom number crunchers who powered Barack Obama’s campaign to victory noticed that George Clooney had an almost gravitational tug on West Coast females ages 40 to 49. The women were far and away the single demographic group most likely to hand over cash, for a chance to dine in Hollywood with Clooney — and Obama.
So as they did with all the other data collected, stored and analyzed in the two-year drive for re-election, Obama’s top campaign aides decided to put this insight to use. They sought out an East Coast celebrity who had similar appeal among the same demographic, aiming to replicate the millions of dollars produced by the Clooney contest. “We were blessed with an overflowing menu of options, but we chose Sarah Jessica Parker,” explains a senior campaign adviser. And so the next Dinner with Barack contest was born: a chance to eat at Parker’s West Village brownstone.
For the general public, there was no way to know that the idea for the Parker contest had come from a data-mining discovery about some supporters: affection for contests, small dinners and celebrity. But from the beginning, campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he said after taking the job. He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official “chief scientist” for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions.
Exactly what that team of dozens of data crunchers was doing, however, was a closely held secret. “They are our nuclear codes,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt would say when asked about the efforts. Around the office, data-mining experiments were given mysterious code names such as Narwhal and Dreamcatcher. The team even worked at a remove from the rest of the campaign staff, setting up shop in a windowless room at the north end of the vast headquarters office. The “scientists” created regular briefings on their work for the President and top aides in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, but public details were in short supply as the campaign guarded what it believed to be its biggest institutional advantage over Mitt Romney’s campaign: its data.
Last night Wendy and I had Sean Shaw, Jeff Jackson, Pat Lorje, and DeeAnn Mercier over to watch the results come in. The wifi was reinforced, I bugged DeeAnn about her new job, the NDP jokes were sharpened, and I prepared a story about Joe Clark in case Jeff and I needed to reminisce.
Wendy made a bunch of food, Sean brought over a bunch of food, and others brought over stuff as well. We ate well. Other than Obama’s personal victory, the win of the night was that Sean was able to get a box of candy for next to nothing. It’s rumoured that when Karl Rove had his meltdown it wasn’t over Ohio but rather over what Sean paid for his candy.
All I know is that between Wendy and Sean there was more food here than at either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama’s parties.
It was a weird night of television. We alternated between arguing U.S. politics and then would go argue a couple of city reports. It got confusing. In the end I think we all agreed that Barack Obama has not been strong as he should be on our north commuter bridge and I think Sean Shaw is thinking of running for a U.S. Senate seat. It was all a blur.
Some things broke out on Twitter. I was assailed for not inviting more of you. Next time we have an election night, I will invite more people. While we were all really happy with the election results, I was haunted all night by a comment by Coun. Lorje who reminded me that Mark is closer to growing up than I like to admit. I worked on my first election when I was age and he already has a couple under his belt. He reads the Economist. Girls are starting to call for him. Pat’s comment made me realize that I was soon to be a parent of a teenager. I don’t think I am prepared well for it. Mitt Romney lost the election, I entered into a mid-life crisis. Maybe I can ask Mitt Romney for advice. He has time on his hands.
Update: Take a look at President Elect Romney’s transition website. Awkward.
Speaking of awkward, here is Ezra Levant giving his prediction that Mitt Romney will win big last night. Awesome.
Ms. Jarrett was similarly “livid,” one former White House official said, with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who accused the president of paying insufficient attention to the particular economic woes of blacks. When the writer and academic Cornel West joined in, calling Mr. Obama the “black mascot of Wall Street,” Ms. Jarrett’s response was “ruthless,” Dr. West said.
He recalled a phone call in which she dismissed his criticism as sour grapes for not receiving a ticket to the inauguration, and said he later heard from friends that she was putting out the word that “one, I was crazy, and two, I was un-American.”
“It was a matter of letting me know that I was, in her view, way out of line and that I needed to get in line,” he said in an interview. “I conveyed to her: ‘I’m not that kind of Negro. I’m a Jesus-loving black man who tells the truth, in the White House, in the crack house or in any other house.’ She got real quiet. It was clear that she was not used to being spoken to that way.”
Actually West said Barack Obama is a, “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.” While I don’t agree with what he said, I do appreciate someone who can tell off someone in power and then stand by it.
As The New York Times reported this week, Paul Ryan made the trip on Tuesday to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who has pledged to spend as much as $100 million to defeat President Obama. No reporters were allowed in, of course.
As The Times’s editorial page pointed out on Friday:
“Last year, his company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, announced that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — specifically, that it bribed Chinese officials for help in expanding its casino empire in Macau. Later, the F.B.I. became involved, and even Chinese regulators looked askance at the company’s conduct, fining it $1.6 million for violating foreign exchange rules, The Times reported on Monday.”
There was a saying I heard growing up in Louisiana: “Bad money doesn’t spend right.”
On Wednesday, a judge in Pennsylvania who is a Republican refused to block a ridiculously restrictive, Republican-backed voter identification law from going into effect in the state, which is a critical swing state. Surprise, surprise.
And to add insult to injury, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday: “On the same day a judge cleared the way for the state’s new voter identification law to take effect, the Corbett administration abandoned plans to allow voters to apply online for absentee ballots for the November election and to register online to vote.”
Corbett is Tom Corbett, the Republican governor of the state.
Check out his video from Mitt Romney’s campaign.
Here is the context of the quote by Barack Obama.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”
And that’s the state of the 2012 Presidential Campaign.
Americans paid the lowest tax rates in 30 years to the federal government in 2009, in part because of tax cuts President Obama sought to combat the Great Recession, congressional budget analysts said Tuesday. [...]
During Obama’s first year in office, the average tax rate paid by all households fell to 17.4 percent, down from 19.9 percent in 2007, according to the CBO. The 2009 rate was significantly lower than the previous low of 19.4 percent in 2003 and well below the 30-year average of 21 percent.
As Paul Krugman sees it.
Now, this is only for the specifics Romney has announced; he claims that he will make up for the large revenue losses under his plan (Obama gains revenue) by closing loopholes. But he refuses to say which, and the clear reality is that he’s talking through his hat. Meanwhile, Romney also proposes severe cuts in Medicaid, and his party wants big cuts in other safety-net programs.
So like it or not, we have an election in which one candidate is proposing a redistribution from the top — which is currently paying lower taxes than it has in 80 years — downward, mainly to lower-income workers, while the other is proposing a large redistribution from the poor and the middle class to the top.
So the next time someone tut-tuts about “class warfare”, remember that the class war is already happening, in real policy — with the top .01 percent on offense.