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The Obama Presidency

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Catching Up: Books.

As the clown said, if you’re halfway decent at something, don’t do it for free. So, while it’s been quiet around here, and with the ginormous dissertation finally behind me, I’ve been focused on a few other published writing projects in recent years, either coming to or already on an Amazon website near you.

Prime Minister for Peace tells the story of Milan Panic, a California businessman who’s lived a Zelig-like life of sorts. As a child, he fought with the partisans against the Nazis in his native Yugoslavia. As a young man, he became an Olympic cyclist, and used that opportunity to escape Tito’s Communism and defect to the West. He then started a pharmaceutical business that made him a millionaire several times over.

This book focuses on his experiences in the 1990s, when he went back to the then-fragmenting Yugoslavia to serve as Prime Minister, and, in trying to bring peace to the Balkans, went toe-to-toe with Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, not to mention cynical Western diplomats and sundry other ethnic nationalists.

Buyer’s Remorse, my sixth collaboration with Bill Press since 2001 — he writes; I research, outline, edit, and fine-tune — covers, in a nutshell, all the many ways Barack Obama’s presidency let progressives down. If you’ve swung by here at any point in the past, you’ve already heard me go on about this at some length, so no need to belabor it here. (This book came pre-researched, in that regard.)

Interesting sidenote: This has been the biggest-selling book I’ve been involved with since the Carville/Ken Starr one in ’99, in part because the Clinton campaign tried to bash Bernie Sanders with it in the early primaries. (Clinton is apparently Obama’s biggest fan, except when she isn’t.)

And The Past and Future City, coming out this October, is what I’ve been working on this past spring, with NTHP president and CEO Stephanie Meeks. It makes the case for historic preservation in the 21st century and argues, in effect, this isn’t your grandparents’ preservation movement anymore.

All over America, historic buildings are helping make cities more desirable, and urban residents happier and healthier. They are spurring economic growth, nurturing start-up businesses, and creating jobs. They are reducing energy costs and environmental impact, and encouraging healthy living practices like walking and cycling. They are helping to provide solutions to challenges like affordability, displacement, and climate change. And they are turning diverse neighborhoods into communities, and helping us come to terms with the difficult chapters in our history. And the best part is, they’re already there — they just need smart, forward-looking policies to unlock their power and potential. On sale soon!

The Harsh Light of Cromnibus.

“One of the frustrating things about covering American politics from a vaguely left-liberal perspective is that many of the left-left theories turn out to be true, or true enough. You try to point out to the street protesters and tenured Marxists that things are more complicated than Noam Chomsky and the late Paul Sweezy would have you believe, and, all too often, it turns out they aren’t much more complicated. The richest 0.1 per cent really is getting richer and richer while most Americans see their living standards stagnate. The C.I.A. really did torture people in secret prisons overseas, and the N.S.A. has just received authorization to carry on gathering all of your phone records. The big banks and corporations really do run Washington—or, at least, that’s how it seems on this chilly December day.”

As the terrible-idea-filled, regulation-gutting “CRomnibus” became law earlier this month — thanks to a tag-team lobbying operation by Barack Obama and Jamie DimonThe New Yorker‘s John Cassidy laments what it means for American democracy: Namely, the banks clearly write the laws. “‘It’s morally reprehensible,’ Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat, told reporters. ‘They’re saying government bailouts are back.'”

By the way, if the bad news is too much to handle these days, there was one silver lining to the godawful CRomnibus: Crom may laugh at the four winds, but it does alright by space. Otherwise, well…

America’s Moral Collapse.

There are many reasons why I post less frequently at GitM these days, and a lot of them are the usual prosaic stuff — life is good, the days are very busy, my garrison isn’t going to build itself. But among them also is, quite frankly, it’s sometimes hard to see a purpose to it anymore, at least in GitM’s current incarnation. Case in point: this month’s CIA torture revelations.

Like countless others, I have been railing about the Bush-era CIA torture regime here for over a decade now. So this isn’t a breaking story. Still, the recent Senate Report — which the “most transparent administration in history” fought tooth and nail to buryably covers all we’ve known to date, and includes a number of horrifying new revelations.

For example, so it turns out that we — you and I — paid foreign governments $300 million to construct and maintain our dungeons.

We — again, you and I — also paid two psychiatrists $80 million to come up with more devastating torture techniques. (And their contract was originally for $180 million!)

These two assholes got on the payroll after Al Qaeda higher-up Abu Zubaydah was captured. Zubaydah was then waterboarded over eighty times, mainly so he and others would corroborate the false positive, demanded by Iraq War architects, that Iraq was involved with Al Qaeda.

We also tortured people for not calling CIA officers “sir,” or having a stomachache.

We even tortured our own informants.

We anally raped detainees with pureed hummus, causing anal fissures and a rectal prolapse due to “excessive force.”

We also may have raped detainees with dogs. And it sounds like a child was raped in our custody as well.

Another detainee froze to death during his Room 101 session.

Naturally, the CIA tried to cover all this up. First, they blatantly lied about the efficacy of their torture regime. (And, since it cannot be said enough, particularly in the wake of the CIA’s Zero Dark Thirty propaganda: Torture does not work.)

Then, they — with the full and active complicity of both the Bush and Obama administrations — blocked the American people from seeing the evidence of their depravities, including destroying torture tapes, repeatedly lying to Congress, and hacking into Senate computers.

And, still, over a decade later: Even though the Constitution bans torture, even though it is a crime to lie to Congress, even though it is explicitly a crime NOT to prosecute torturers, Nobody Has Gone To Jail — well, except the whistleblower.

And on top of everything else, Americans approve of all of this by 2-1.

So, what is there to say? The illegality here is black and white, the crimes abhorrent, the moral corruption pervasive…and yet we all just collectively shrug. The sad and hilarious thing about The Onion‘s recent minotaur video — “That hungry half-man, half-bull kept us safe from the terrorists!” — is this is basically the world we live in now.

Makes me sick, m*therf*cker, how far we done fell.

Now as Ever, GOP-Lite Won’t Work.

“On Tuesday night, a lot of Republican-ish candidates got crushed by the official Republican candidates, confirming yet again that a gutless, wincing version of one kind of politics always loses to the robust one. Nobody first starts drinking Diet Coke because they think it tastes better, and the only people who keep drinking it are the ones who’ve drunk nothing else for so long that actual flavor seems weird. Why vote for someone hesitantly and semi-apologetically tacking toward the right when you can just vote for someone who goes balls-to-the-wall rightward and is damn proud of it? At least that person gives off the sense of actually enjoying his own beliefs.”

THIS. Part of the upside of being newly off-the-Hill is I can escape a bit further from the dreariness of much of current politics, so no absurdly-belated, long midterm post this year. Besides, The Guardian‘s Jeb Lund has already well-articulated where I am on all this: Give people a choice between a Republican and a Republican and the Republican will win every time:

“[W]hether the Democratic Party stands for anything is a perfectly valid question at this point. On a macro level, a party that is already thoroughly militarized and corporatized — and largely indifferent to Main Street whenever it poses a conflict with Wall Street — offers little alternative to the other party that already celebrates that.”

Sure, the ground in 2014 always heavily favored the GOP: This was a six-year midterm, Class 2 year, and the seats up for reelection swung heavily Democratic six years ago, in that faraway, hopey-changey time of 2008. Still, when you have a party that hardly, if ever, has the courage of its convictions anymore, coupled with a President who seemed at times to be actively trying to discourage the base, little wonder that the lowest turnout since 1942 brought forth another shellacking. As Richard said, a withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.

So, yeah, bad times for the Democratic brand, and no mistake. The good news is the long-term story hasn’t changed: Republicans are still drawing dead, demographically speaking, even though they’ll probably hold the House until at least 2020 due to gerrymandering (and now, thanks to these 2014 results, will likely be able to hold the Senate for the first two years of the next presidency.) And, even better, Americans strongly supported progressive positions two weeks ago, be it on the minimum wage, marijuana, or misdemeanors.

But Dems can’t just assume the government will eventually devolve to them by fiat. We’re going to have to quit thinking the endless “but the other team is crazy-pants” blather will carry us over the top, and actually put up candidates that will stand for something other than GOP-lite camouflage. Of course, our 2016 standard-bearer is, at least at the moment, undoubtedly Hillary Clinton, sooo…I’m sure everything’s going to work out great.

Goodbye to all that.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,’ said Prof. Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. ‘But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.'”

A sobering analysis by WWF and the Zoological Society of London finds that Earth has lost half(!) its wildlife over the past four decades (Those g*dd*mned parrotfish notwithstanding, of course.) “Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats…Today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it. But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption, or 2.5 Earths to match UK consumption levels.”

In related news, PriceWaterhouse runs the accelerating numbers on climate change and predicts a catastrophe within only twenty years, including “food security threats, coastal inundation, extreme weather events, ecosystem shifts, and widespread species extinction…at current rates, we’re headed towards 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by the end of the century—twice the agreed upon rate…G20 nations, for example, will need to cut their annual energy-related emissions by one-third by 2030, and by just over half by 2050.”

And here, the National Snow and Ice Data Center graphs the melting of the Arctic over the past 35 years. “The frigid dissolution, which the NSIDC calls ‘one of the most visible indicators of our changing climate,’ is worrying news as the ice plays a big role in reflecting solar radiation away from the planet. With less of it covering the ocean, the Northern Hemisphere will likely heat up quicker, hastening our arrival to the days of dangerously high sea levels.” And if — at this exceedingly late date — you don’t want to believe the science, ask the walruses.

It’s not like this all is a secret. We just saw the largest climate change march in history take place in New York. But you wouldn’t know about the threat we face from watching the news, who’ve (erroneously) decided that the real existential danger to life on this planet are ISIS (wrong) and Ebola (closer, still wrong.) Wolf Blitzer et al, you’re digging in the wrong place.

We Thought It Was So Reckless.

“Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won’t restore the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won’t dissuade Saudi Arabia from funding jihadists. It won’t pull Libya back from the brink of anarchy. It won’t end the Syrian civil war. It won’t bring peace and harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won’t persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms in Afghanistan. It won’t end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan. It certainly won’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

ISIS, oh ISIS – What drives us to you is what drives us insane: In Reuters, Middle East expert Andrew Bacevich has some serious doubts about a military solution to the newest Big Bad (who, let’s remember, are a threat at all precisely because of all the weapons we’ve already dumped in the area — Gee, it’s almost like our always getting involved makes everything worse.) “Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.”

He’s not alone. While they’ve been highly complicit in the collective freak-out over the past few weeks, the media — as welcome returning blogger Dan Froomkin notes — are starting to get skeptical too. “Allam notes that Yemen and Somalia are hardly examples of success; that the new Iraqi government is hardly ‘inclusive’; that training of Iraqi soldiers hasn’t worked in the past; that in Syria it’s unclear which ‘opposition’ Obama intends to support; and that it may be too late to cut off the flow of fighters and funds.”

Keeping in mind that Obama himself seems to think this is all a terrible idea, let’s recall what we’re really dealing with here, via the very worthwhile “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher: “ISIS, compared to any of the groups on that list, is about as scary as your neighbor’s yappy Shih Tzu: all noise and no teeth. Let’s just sober up, for Christ’s sake, and remember we’re talking about a half-assed Sunni militia that couldn’t face up to Assad’s mediocre Syrian Arab Army and still hasn’t found a way to occupy Sunni Iraqi towns that were outright abandoned by the Army, left totally undefended.”

Along the same lines, see Brecher on ISIS’s initial advance back in June:

“Actually, topography has everything to do with what’s gone well or badly for ISIS. in this latest push. If you know the ethnic makeup of the turf they’ve taken, their ‘shocking gains’ don’t seem so shocking, or impressive. After all, we’re talking about a mobile force — mounted on the beloved Toyota Hilux pickup truck, favorite vehicle of every male in the Middle East — advancing over totally flat, dry ground in pursuit of a totally demoralized opponent. In that situation, any force could take a lot of country very quickly…So this isn’t the second coming of Erwin Rommel by any means. Everything has conspired to push the Sunni advance, from the lousy opponent they’re up against to the terrain, which is a light mechanized commander’s dream.

Flat and dry is how a mechanized force commander wants his ground — and believe me, you haven’t seen flat and dry until you get to Iraq. Once you’re south of the Kurdish mountains, you’re on a dried mudflat…This is, after all, Mesopotamia, a land literally built by the sediment of the Euphrates and Tigris. It’s river mud, but nice and dry because very little rain falls,..On ground like that, any force with good morale and enough fuel could advance as quickly as the Sunni have. It’s the Bonneville Salt Flats of insurgency, the place you go to set new speed records.”

The point being, we have to stop losing our minds and letting a hysterical media and the same gaggle of Neocon pricks who’ve been wrong about everything for two decades get us involved in every opportunity to make war in the Middle East. Are ISIS a bunch of Bad Men? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t make them an existential threat to the republic. So how about we all take a deep breath before, yet again, expending ever more blood and treasure in the region?

Getting Away With It.

“I have been following the absence of legal prosecutions since 2008, and have posted on that subject more than 500 times. But this isn’t the obsession of one lone crank (i.e., me). Many others in banking, law enforcement and government who aren’t on the payroll of banks have reviewed the events of the financial crisis and have reached the same conclusion — that the law was broken repeatedly by bankers.”

In the wake of a ridiculous apologetic in the NYT — and news that the government now wants to waive sanctions for Credit Suisse — Bloomberg’s Barry Ritholtz re-asks one of the central questions of the financial crisis, and Obama’s response to it: Why have no Banksters gone to jail?

“Political access and lobbying go part way toward explaining the absence of prosecutions and, therefore, the lack of convictions…As we have repeatedly shown, Treasury Department officials, including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, had convinced prosecutors in the Justice Department of the dangers of prosecuting banks and bankers for the economy.” (Cartoon above via here.)

The Sun Has Come to Earth.

“The new figures for carbon dioxide were particularly surprising, showing the biggest year-over-year increase since detailed records were first compiled in the 1980s, Tarasova said in an interview. The jump of nearly three parts per million over 2012 levels was twice as large as the average increase in carbon levels in recent decades.”

We’re getting warmer: While the world focuses on deleting spam from U2, a new report finds carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere accelerating ever faster. “‘The changes we’re seeing are really drastic,’ Tarasova said. ‘We are seeing the growth rate rising exponentially’…’It means we’re probably getting to the point where we’re looking at the ‘safe zone’ in the rearview mirror, even as we’re stepping on the gas.'”

The Middle, Sinking.

“Nostalgia is just about the only thing the middle class can still afford. That’s because median wealth is about 20 percent lower today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was in 1984. Yes, that’s three lost decades.”

Wonkblog’s Matt O’Brien briefly surveys the downward pressure on our sinking middle class. “[I]t’s still a heckuva lot better than households in the bottom 25 percent, whose wealth never grew during the good times, and then plunged 60 percent during the bad ones. That’s because, for both the middle and working classes, real wages have been stagnant the past 30 years, and housing equity has taken a nosedive.”

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