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Are We Writing Off Obama Too Soon?

Are We Writing Off Obama Too Soon?

With two years to go, Barack Obama is widely seen as a failed president, responsible for his party’s losses in the mid-term Congressional elections. He still faces strong headwinds on both domestic policy and foreign affairs. The notion that the president can make a comeback with the American public may seem very unlikely. Yet a close look at attitudes about him and recent presidential history suggests such a rebound is not out of the question. In fact, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Barack Obama’s political death may have been greatly exaggerated.

Indeed views of Obama are not any worse than were attitudes toward Ronald Reagan at about this time in his second term.

Understanding the arc of a presidential popularity rating, especially one as varied as Obama’s, requires a longer perspective than a single midterm snapshot.

President Obama may have been assigned too much blame for the Democratic Party’s losses—and he’s actually more popular than we think he is. Fewer voters in 2014 than in 2010 said he was a factor in their Congressional vote (45 percent vs. 38 percent) and specifically fewer said they were casting a ballot against him (33 percent vs. 37 percent) than was the case four years ago. And despite the Republicans’ sweeping victory, as many voters (59 percent) held negative views of GOP leaders of Congress, as they did of Obama. But 33 percent of those with negative views of GOP leaders voted for a Republican Congressional candidate, while just 18 percent of those with negative views of the president voted Democratic. Clearly, Democrats were less able than Republicans to exploit anti-Washington leadership sentiment.

To listen to cable news, it seems like Barack Obama is at some historic lows of unpopularity—but in reality voter opinions of the president were no worse in ’14 than they were in ’10. He had a 44 percent approval rating in the exit polls in both elections. As we know, two years later Obama was popular enough to win re-election handily. It is also worth noting that his ratings are better than Bush’s at this stage of his second term (44 percent vs. 32 percent) and not too different than Ronald Reagan’s.

In that regard, Reagan is the only modern precedent for a second term president redeeming his image in the final years of his second term. Bill Clinton’s approval ratings were above the 50 percent mark over the course of his entire second term, thanks to a booming economy and public sympathy regarding his Monica Lewinsky problems. George W. Bush’s approval percentage fell into the thirties and stayed there throughout his second term in response to public disillusionment with his handling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war.

Reagan, though, did go through the comeback that Obama hopes he’ll manage. The Republican president—now remembered as a popular and seminal political figure—took one of the biggest approval ratings tumbles in presidential history just as he was about to begin his final two years in office. His approval rating plummeted from 63 percent in late October 1986 to just 47 percent in December thanks to the revelations of the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s approval score remained under 50 percent in the Gallup Poll for almost all of 1987—and didn’t increase clearly above the 50 percent mark until nearly the final six months of his term.
 
Obama and the GOP Don't Get Along. Enter Joe Biden.

Obama and the GOP Don't Get Along. Enter Joe Biden.

By James Oliphant

The vice president can take advantage of strong relationships with the Senate GOP, but only "if they let him loose."

Democrats' dramatic loss of the Senate in November may have made one of their own an unlikely winner—Joe Biden. But it remains to be seen whether the White House will let him off the bench and into the game.

The vice president sits in a unique position to serve as a broker between President Obama and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and help locate that so-far elusive "common ground" that Obama has talked about since the midterm election.

"I think the vice president's been somebody who at least we can talk to. It's hard to find anybody to answer your phone calls over at the White House or to be a negotiating partner," says Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, soon to be the majority whip. "I think that offers a lot of promise if they let him loose, let him out of the closet."

The White House has identified issues such as global trade, tax reform, and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure as potential opportunities for compromise with the new Senate. Biden, who spent 35 years on the Hill and as vice president has already struck two 11th-hour budget deals with McConnell, could be a difference-maker on all of them. To Republicans, Biden retains a level of credibility that the president has lost, and he and McConnell have a relationship that dates back decades.

"The only person on the face of the Earth who has the trust of [John] Boehner, McConnell, and the president is the vice president," says Ted Kaufman, the former senator from Delaware who was Biden's longtime chief of staff on Capitol Hill. "Trust is what makes legislation happen."

 
CIA torture report sparks renewed calls to prosecute senior US officials

Ben Emmerson

CIA torture report sparks renewed calls to prosecute senior US officials

Mark Tran

UN special rapporteur on human rights Ben Emmerson says US attorney general has international obligation to reopen inquiries

A UN expert on human rights has repeated his call for the US to live up to its international legal obligations and prosecute senior officials who authorised the use of torture.

Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said Eric Holder, the US attorney general, is under an international obligation to reopen inquiries into senior officials alleged to have breached human rights.

Asked whether George W Bush should be prosecuted, Emmerson told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that as a head of state he enjoyed special immunity, but other senior officials should face charges.

“Certainly those at higher levels involved in the commitment of an international crime, a crime of universal jurisdiction, are liable to be charged,” he said.

In a previous statement, following the damning Senate report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) such as waterboarding, Emmerson pointed out that the UN convention against torture required states to prosecute acts of torture where there was sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. He pointed out that Barack Obama had already admitted five years ago that the US regarded the use of waterboarding as torture.

“There is therefore no excuse for shielding the perpetrators from justice any longer,” said Emmerson, a British international lawyer serving in the independent post since 2010. He made the comments immediately after the report was released by the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday.

 
Charles Krauthammer: A travesty of a report

 A travesty of a report

The report by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding CIA interrogation essentially accuses the agency under George W. Bush of war criminality. Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein appears to offer some extenuation when she reminds us in the report’s preamble of the shock and “pervasive fear” felt after 9/11.

It’s a common theme (often echoed by President Obama): Amid panic and disorientation, we lost our moral compass and made awful judgments. The results are documented in the committee report. They must never happen again.

It’s a kind of temporary-insanity defense for the Bush administration. And it is not just unctuous condescension but hypocritical nonsense. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was nothing irrational about believing that a second attack was a serious possibility and therefore everything should be done to prevent it. Indeed, this was the considered opinion of the CIA, the administration, the congressional leadership and the American people.

Al-Qaeda had successfully mounted four major attacks on American targets in the previous three years. The pace was accelerating and the scale vastly increasing. The country then suffered a deadly anthrax attack of unknown origin. Al-Qaeda was known to be seeking weapons of mass destruction.

We were so blindsided that we established a 9/11 commission to find out why. And we knew next to nothing about the enemy: its methods, structure, intentions, plans. There was nothing morally deranged about deciding as a nation to do everything necessary to find out what we needed to prevent a repetition, or worse. As Feinstein said at the time, “We have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

Nancy Pelosi, then ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed about the interrogation program, including the so-called torture techniques. As were the other intelligence committee leaders. “We understood what the CIA was doing,” wrote Porter Goss, Pelosi’s chairman on the House committee. “We gave the CIA our bipartisan support; we gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities.”

Democrat Jay Rockefeller, while the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked in 2003 about turning over Khalid Sheik Mohammed to countries known to torture. He replied: “I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned.”

 
Dems Have a Clever New Plan to Turn Florida's Governor's Mansion Blue

Dems Have a Clever New Plan to Turn Florida's Governor's Mansion Blue

By Patrick Caldwell

They want to move gubernatorial elections to the years when people actually vote.

Over the past few years, Republicans across the country have adopted a novel strategy for winning elections: Change the rules to make it harder to vote against them. In seven states, Republicans passed new laws requiring voters to show photo ID before getting a ballot. They pared down early voting. In some states, they even contemplated changing how Electoral College votes are awarded in order to give the GOP candidate an advantage.

Now some Florida Democrats want to change election rules to benefit their own side—by holding big elections in the years that people actually vote. Over the past few election cycles, Democrats have thrived in presidential years, when more voters—especially young and minority voters, who tend to be Democratic—turn out to vote. But the party has floundered in off-year elections, which feature higher percentages of older, more conservative voters. Florida, like 35 other states, elects its governors in midterm years, when there is no presidential race on the ballot. Now a small group of political consultants is mulling a campaign to change that.

The Dems' problem with midterm turnout has been particularly troublesome in Florida. Despite its purple tinge in presidential elections, Florida hasn't elected a Democratic governor in more than 20 years. In an op-ed last month, Kevin Cate, an adviser for Charlie Crist's failed attempt to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott, proposed a simple solution: Dems could change the state constitution so that Florida voters pick their governors the same years they vote for president.

 
What messy budget vote says about Boehner's ability to control his caucus

What messy budget vote says about Boehner's ability to control his caucus

By Francine Kiefer

The $1.1 trillion spending bill narrowly passed 219 to 206 Thursday night, after rebellious hard-liners on the right and angry liberals on the left fought all the way to a nail-biting, if successful, conclusion.

It should get easier for Mr. Boehner next year though.

That’s when he has a larger Republican majority to work with – including several members from blue districts in states such as Illinois, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, and Iowa.

“Boehner’s hand will be stronger,” says John Pitney, a congressional expert at Claremont McKenna College in California.

“Not only will Republican ranks be larger, but a number of the new members will not be tea party folks. They will be ‘Boehner Republicans’ not ‘Cruz Republicans,’” says Mr. Pitney, referring to Sen. Ted Cruz, the tea party darling from Texas who led the way to last year’s partial government shutdown.

 
Chuck Todd on CIA report: 'You've got to remember the way things felt in the moment'

Chuck Todd on CIA report: 'You've got to remember the way things felt in the moment'

Chuck Todd on CIA report: 'You've got to remember the way things felt in the moment'

By Eddie Scarry

NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd said Friday Americans are likely to be "very forgiving" about a new congressional report that says the CIA has in the past used extreme interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists.

The report also alleges that CIA officials misled the public on the gruesome nature of the techniques.

"In the moment, it's one thing," Todd said, referring to initial public support for aggressive anti-terror methods. "Ten years later you look back and, 'Hmm, should we have thought about that better? Should we have thought about that differently?' And I think that's the fairest, sort of defense in all of this is ... you've got to remember the way things felt in the moment."

Todd added that, "Americans are very forgiving on this front. The thing that this report is damaging is relationships overseas."

 
White House Window

White House Window

The Stranger offers a deeper understanding of the actions and motivations of an enigmatic president.

By Charlie Cook

The Stranger neither worships nor damns. Those who love Obama will not care for it much; it is not a work of hagiography, which true believers tend to want. This book definitely chronicles the president's warts, miscues, and fundamental mistakes. At the same time, those who hate Obama—and, in this day and age, that does not seem too strong a word—will also care little for Todd's story. It does not portray the man as evil or corroborate his opponents' worst suspicions, let alone their conspiracy theories. In many cases, the motives of the president and his people may have been pure, even if they were mistaken in their views or if their actions mangled their intent.

The Stranger is not a salacious read. It's not about who slept with whom, or who, metaphorically speaking, stabbed whom in the back. It isn't snarky, as are so many other books by Washington journalists. Any presidency creates thousands of impressions that together create a mosaic, and each of us sees that president and administration through our own lens. While newspaper and magazine articles—and sometimes television—give us a running narrative with some useful nuggets, what really happened behind those doors and why is often not apparent for some time.

The Stranger reads like a collection of observations that made it into Todd's notebook but weren't reportable at the time. They are the observations of a very smart guy who was watching it all very closely and who had hundreds of sources in the White House, in the Obama campaign, on Capitol Hill, and strategically located throughout American politics. One can only speculate how Todd found out what the key players were thinking at any given time—whether the principals involved or those very close to them spilled the beans in the moment, or months or years later. The passage of time often loosens lips—particularly for those who have left the bubble of a campaign or the White House—and sometimes that results in a little less "us against them" and a bit more perspective. But Todd's reporting all rings very true.

 
Obama alums: We're Ready for Warren

Obama alums: We're Ready for Warren

Peter Sullivan

Over 300 former Obama campaign staffers are urging Warren to run.

The letter, posted Friday on Ready for Warren's website, cites President Obama's come-from-behind victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary, as some Democrats look for a challenger to Clinton once again. 

"We believed in an unlikely candidate who no one thought had a chance," the letter states. "We worked for him — and against all odds, we won in Iowa. We organized like no campaign had organized before — and won the Democratic primary."

"We know that the improbable is far from impossible," it adds. 

The signers include Rajeev Chopra, Obama's chief information officer in both campaigns; Stephen Geer, director of online fundraising in 2008; and Catherine Bracy, director of the tech field office in San Francisco in 2012. 

However, many of the more prominent Obama campaign names have lined up with the Clinton campaign-in-waiting. Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager, signed on this year as co-chairman of the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA. John Podesta, currently an advisor to Obama, is expected to leave the White House soon ahead of possibly chairing a Clinton campaign.

 
The Complicity of Psychologists in CIA Torture

The Complicity of Psychologists in CIA Torture

By Roy Eidelson, Ph.D.

This week’s long-awaited Senate report provides gruesome details of the torture and abuse that took place at black site prisons as part of the CIA’s brutal post-9/11 detention and interrogation program. The key involvement of two psychologists in designing and implementing the program raises broad issues and unanswered questions for the profession of psychology.

Two names appear dozens of times in the committee’s summary: Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar. These are the pseudonyms that were given to James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. It has been known for several years that these two contract psychologists played central roles in designing and implementing the CIA’s torture program. Now we also know how lucrative that work was for Mitchell and Jessen: their company was paid over $80 million by the CIA.

Prior to their CIA contract work, Mitchell and Jessen were psychologists in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program. Even though they had no experience as interrogators, spoke no Arabic, and had no expert knowledge of al-Qaeda, they were hired by the CIA in late 2001 to reverse-engineer SERE principles and transform them into a set of new and more aggressive interrogation techniques. Mitchell and Jessen arrived at the CIA black site in Thailand in April 2002 and applied those harsh techniques for the first time in their interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian national thought to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda. They kept Zubaydah naked for almost two months, with his clothes provided or removed depending on how cooperative he was judged to be. They deprived him of sleep for weeks at a time by painful shackling of his wrists and feet. And in August 2002 they waterboarded him at least 83 times.

 
Did torture stop UK terror attack?

The CIA said enhanced interrogations helped capture Dhiren Barot in 2004

Did torture stop UK terror attack?

By Tom McTague, Deputy Political Editor for MailOnline

Al-Qaeda terrorist captured in London after CIA spies interrogated Guantanamo Bay detainee.

Al Qaeda's top British terrorist was captured after CIA spies tortured former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, it was claimed today.

Crucial information provided by Mr Begg while he was being held helped identify 'dirty bomber' Dhiren Barot who was plotting terror attacks on London, according to the long-awaited publication of a report into CIA torture programmes in the wake of 9/11.

The report claims that drawings by Mr Begg – who claims to have been beaten and deprived of sleep in Guantanamo Bay – helped lead British security services to Barot, who had gone to ground in London.

Barot – also known as 'Issa al-Britani' or 'al-Hindi' – was tracked down in 2004 before being found guilty two years later of planning to detonate a dirty bomb and launch an attack on the Tube.

The revelation will prove highly controversial as it appears to contradict the findings of the Senate's intelligence committee report which found that the CIA's 'enhanced interrogation techniques' did not yield information crucial in stopping terror attacks.

 
Court rejects attempt to allow Edward Snowden into Germany

Edward Snowden

Court rejects attempt to allow Edward Snowden into Germany

Kate Connolly in Berlin

Opposition parties wanted Snowden to give evidence in person to a parliamentary committee investigating NSA espionage.

Attempts by opposition parties in Germany to bring Edward Snowden to Berlin to give evidence about the NSA’s operations have been thwarted by the country’s highest court.

The Green and Left parties wanted the whistleblower to give evidence in person to a parliamentary committee investigating espionage by the US agency, but Germany’s constitutional court ruled against them on Friday.

The government has argued that Snowden’s presence in Germany could impair relations with the US and put it under pressure to extradite him.

It has suggested sending the committee – which consists of eight MPs – to interview him in Moscow, where Snowden is living in exile. Snowden has said through a lawyer that he is prepared to speak to the panel only if permitted to do so in Germany.

Opposition MPs have been vocal about their wish for Snowden to be granted asylum in Germany, where anger towards the NSA and sympathy for the whistleblower has been particularly high.

If Snowden were to be allowed to enter Germany, the clamour for him to be able to stay would be strong and resistance from the government would be likely to be met with civil unrest.

Support for Snowden in Germany reached a peak after allegations came to light that Angela Merkel’s phone was bugged. But Germany’s top public prosecutor announced this week that an investigation had so far failed to find any firm evidence for the claim.

 
Did "24"prime Americans to accept torture as a necessary evil?

Did "24" Prime the Pump for Torture?

By Christopher Ryan

Did "24"prime Americans to accept torture as a necessary evil?

I’ve never made it through an entire episode of “24.” Just a couple of minutes of Jack Bauer’s sneering snarl is enough to break my resolve. Everyone breaks eventually, you know. The unabashed celebration of torturing foreign “terrorists” feels too much like brain-washing to me.

One of the show’s co-creators, Cyrus Nowrasteh, whose father was an advisor to the torture-happy Shah of Iran,[1] explained the show’s Cheney-esque rationale to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker: “Every American wishes we had someone out there quietly taking care of business,” he said. “It’s a deep, dark ugly world out there. . . .  It would be nice to have a secret government that can get the answers and take care of business—even kill people. Jack Bauer fulfills that fantasy.”

 
Backers: Romney more open to 2016 run

Supporters of republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hold signs during a campaign rally. | Getty

Backers: Romney more open to 2016 run

He has sounded unimpressed with the emerging GOP field, associates say.

For most of the past year, Mitt Romney supporters have publicly said he should consider running again. And for most of the past year, Romney has seemed uninterested.

Until recently.

While some people close to Romney insist he hasn’t moved from saying he has no plans to run, the 2012 Republican nominee has sounded at least open to the idea in recent conversations, according to more than a dozen people who’ve spoken with him in the past month.

In his private musings, Romney has sounded less than upbeat about most of the potential candidates in the 2016 Republican field, according to the people who’ve spoken with him, all of whom asked for anonymity in order to speak freely.

He has assessed various people’s strengths and weaknesses dispassionately, wearing what one ally called his “consultant cap” to measure the field. He has said, among other things, that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, would run into problems because of his business dealings, his work with the investment banks Lehman Brothers and Barclays, and his private equity investments.

“You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital],” he has said, referring to the devastating attacks that his Republican rivals and President Barack Obama’s team launched against him for his time in private equity, according to three sources familiar with the line. “What do you think they’ll do to [Bush] over Barclays?”

 
Liberals: Obama abandoned us

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren speaks during a campaign rally at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Liberals: Obama abandoned us

 By Edward-Isaac Dovere and Burgess Everett

The left revolts, saying Obama gave up too easily on spending bill.

The White House’s aggressive push to salvage a spending bill on Capitol Hill left liberal lawmakers feeling burned by President Barack Obama — and raised significant doubts about their desire to cooperate heading into next year’s Republican takeover of Congress.

Democrats will need every vote they can muster next year as the GOP plans to attack liberal priorities on health care, energy and financial regulation in 2015. But Thursday’s deadline drama offered no signal of party unity, only fresh reminders of the post-election divisions between a president who’s looking to govern during his last two years in office and a newly invigorated populist wing of the party, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed the House late Thursday, with 57 Democrats voting for the bill while 139 voted against it — with many liberals seething over a provision that rolled back a key financial regulation that is part of the Dodd-Frank law.

“A vote for this bill is a vote for future taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street,” Warren said Thursday. “It is time for all of us to stand up and fight.”

Obama and Biden dialed for votes all day, and dispatched Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to meet with House Democrats, hoping to sooth Democrats’ concerns over policy riders that showed up in the trillion-dollar spending bill and were blasted by liberal stalwarts Warren and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

While the eleventh-hour intervention may have pushed the bill across the finish line, it also sparked a fresh round of finger-pointing among Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House. For the increasingly liberal factions of Democrats on Capitol Hill, the White House’s work was too little, too late.

“I do not share the White House’s view,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, a member of Democratic leadership after meeting with McDonough.

Obama’s base said he tried to sell them out—and didn’t even wait to do it until Republicans officially expand their majority in the House and take over the Senate come January. And some on the left worried the wide range of policy riders in a spending bill were a worrisome sign as Republicans take over the Senate next year – and are already urging Obama to steel himself and ready his veto pen for what’s to come.

 
‘Do No Harm’: When Doctors Torture

‘Do No Harm’: When Doctors Torture

Julie Beck

Medical officers used their knowledge to aid and abet the CIA's interrogation tactics.

The Senate released its report on the CIA’s interrogation program on Tuesday, revealing horrendous details of the torture tactics used on prisoners, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and “rectal feeding.” Complicit in this treatment were several “medical officers” (it’s not explicitly stated whether they hold M.D.s), who enabled, oversaw, and designed many of the techniques.

Two psychologists, Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen, were paid $81 million to design the program, and medical officers and physicians’ assistants are cited throughout the report as consultants who advised on things like forcing detainees to stand on broken limbs and “rehydrating” via a rectal tube rather than a standard IV infusion. While in many medical schools around the United States, students swear the Hippocratic Oath, saying out loud the words “may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help,” CIA medical officers used their intimate knowledge of the human body as a weapon, to harm people the U.S. government deemed enemies.

Dr. Steven Miles is a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, a board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, and author of Oath Betrayed: America's Torture Doctors. He has been studying doctors’ involvement in torture programs since photos of the human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to light in 2003. He maintains the website Doctorswhotorture.com, which tracks physician standards of conduct and punishments for doctors who aid torture around the world. We spoke by phone about the CIA report, the role doctors play in interrogation, and how they could be held accountable.

 
Joe Biden: ‘I’ll Kill Your Son’

Joe Biden: ‘I’ll Kill Your Son’

In a speech Wednesday, the vice president recalled a moment from childhood when he ‘smashed [the] head’ of local bully—and then threatened to kill him.

Vice President Joe Biden said he once chased down a bully on his bicycle, physically assaulted him, and threatened to “kill” him—all in the name of protecting the honor of his sister Valerie.

Biden is, of course, famous for being a bit loose in his public remarks. But these comments, made Wednesday night in New York City, were particularly unbound.

The vice president was being honored by Vital Voices, a women’s rights charity, at their event “celebrat[ing] men who combat violence against women.” Biden spoke about standing up for women—both in his personal and professional lives. In doing so, the vice president delighted the audience with a personal anecdote from his childhood as Joey Biden.

“I remember coming back from Mass on Sunday,” Biden began. “Always the big treat was, we’d stop at the donut shop…We’d get donuts, and my dad would wait in the car. As I was coming out, my sister [Valerie] tugged on me and said, ‘That’s the boy who kicked me off my bicycle.’”

“So I went home—we only lived about a quarter mile away—and I got on my bicycle and rode back, and he was in the donut shop.”

Biden remembered the boy was in a physically vulnerable position: “leaning down on one of those slanted counters.”

Sensing his opportunity, Joey Biden pounced: “I walked up behind him and smashed his head next to the counter.”

“I’m not recommending it,” he added.

“His father grabbed me, and I looked at his son and said, ‘If you ever touch my sister again, I’ll come back here again and I’ll kill your son.’ Now, that was a euphemism. I thought I was really, really in trouble… My father never once raised his hand to any one of his children—never once—and I thought I was in trouble. He pulled me aside and said, ‘Joey, you shouldn’t do that, but I’m proud of you, son.’”

The point of the story, Biden informed his audience as he accepted his “Voice of Solidarity” award, was that he was raised to know that it was necessary to “speak up and speak out” to correct wrongdoings. (Full disclosure: The event was held at the headquarters of IAC, the corporate parent of The Daily Beast. Vital Voices also funds the Women in the World Foundation, which was started by Daily Beast founder Tina Brown.)

In telling the tale of testosterone and a truly American desire for justice joining to propel him on his bicycle to defeat the Bad Guy in the donut shop, the vice president appeared to merge with The Onion’s caricature of him—achieving a moment of Peak Biden, or the bro-like state of being visibly pleased with the degree to which you do not give a damn.

 
Michael Gerson: The arrogance of liberals

The arrogance of liberals

Michael Gerson

Jonathan Gruber reveals the belief that Americans are stupid and need to be managed.

Jonathan Gruber — the source of more smoking guns than the battle of Gettysburg — recently appeared before a hostile House committee. The good professor, you might recall, is an MIT economist who played a significant (and paid) role in producing and defending the Affordable Care Act. He also later admitted, in an astonishing variety of settings, that the law was written in a “tortured way” to hide tax increases and other flaws. “Lack of transparency,” he cheerfully conceded, “is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

At the hearing, some Republicans seemed oddly focused on Gruber’s profit motive, as though a real scandal must involve venality. Democrats attempted to salvage the credibility of Obamacare by throwing the witness to the wolves. Rep. Elijah Cummings declared Gruber’s past statements “disrespectful,” “insulting, “stupid” and “absolutely stupid.”

But the problem for Democrats is that Gruber is not stupid. By all accounts, he is knowledgeable, candid and willing, on occasion, to criticize the Obama administration — an advocate for Obamacare without being a shill. But he is perfectly representative of a certain approach to politics that is common in academic circles, influential in modern liberalism and destructive to the Democratic Party.

“My own inexcusable arrogance,” Gruber told the committee, “is not a flaw in the Affordable Care Act.” Oh, yes it is.

Many academic liberals have fully internalized the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” theory, given vivid expression by Thomas Frank. In its simplified version (and there is seldom any other kind), this is the argument that people who are suffering from economic inequality should naturally vote Democratic. But they often get distracted by the shiny objects of the culture war and tricked into resentment against liberal elites.

It’s a very short step from this belief to its more muscular corollary: Liberal elites (through liberal politicians) should constructively mislead Americans. The task of persuasion is pretty nigh hopeless, given the unfortunate “stupidity of the American voter or whatever.” So the people must be given what they need, even if they don’t want it.

This involves a very high regard for policy experts and a very low opinion of the political profession. Gruber clearly views his own world of policy as a place of idealism and integrity.
 
In CIA report, an unprecedented narrative of black sites’ rise and fall

Rise and fall of CIA’s overseas prisons traced in Senate report on interrogations

n

Three days after the planes had plunged into New York’s tallest towers, a secret message went out to CIA stations overseas. Start making a list of potential detention sites, it said, a request that was relayed as an “urgent requirement” from the chief of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center.

It would be three more days before the CIA would even be given authority to capture and hold terrorism suspects as part of a highly classified memorandum signed by President George W. Bush. But with that frantic plea from headquarters, the CIA had taken an initial, fateful step toward setting up its secret prisons.

In time, the agency would establish a clandestine archipelago of “black sites” in countries including Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania and Lithuania. The brutal means the CIA employed in those compounds to get terrorism suspects to talk would have far-reaching consequences for the agency and the United States’ fight against terrorism, as well as the country’s standing in the world.

A long-awaited report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released this week describes those interrogation measures in unprecedented detail, a document that is designed mainly to make the case that such harsh tactics failed to produce any decisive intelligence.

But the 528-page report also serves as the most comprehensive history of the interrogation program so far revealed to the public. It includes details on how the CIA selected the prison sites, the multimillion-dollar inducement payments it made to countries that hosted them, as well as the extent to which their locations were kept secret from U.S. ambassadors, members of Congress and even the president.

 
Racists and Partisans in the Age of Obama

Racists and Partisans in the Age of Obama

Since 2008, the Republican Party has increasingly drawn its support from whites.

By Norm Ornstei

One of my fondest memories was spending four days in February 1977 as a staffer sitting on the Senate floor, mostly wedged between Gaylord Nelson and Russell Long as the Senate debated a resolution to reform its committee system. They were good friends, lovely people, and great storytellers, and I mostly sat there taking their conversation in, occasionally earning my pay by letting them know what a particular provision of the resolution did or what an amendment would do.

At my request, Long opened up his Senate desk so I could see the signatures of all the senators who had used the same desk over many previous decades. The signature of Theodore Bilbo just jumped out at me. Bilbo was a legend—and not in a good way. In his two Senate terms representing Mississippi, from 1935 to 1947, he stood out as a mean and vicious racist, not shy about spouting ugly bile on the floor or elsewhere.

He wanted pure segregation and ultimately to send black Americans to Africa. He said, "The experiences and history of thousands of years prove that whenever and wherever the white and black man have tried to live side by side, the result has been mongrelization, which has destroyed both races and left a brown mongrel people." When he filibustered an antilynching bill in 1938, he called its supporters "mulattoes, octoroons, and quadroons." He use the "N" word incessantly, in and out of the Senate. Among a large collection of segregationists, he stood out for his ugly rhetoric and incitement of white Southerners to violence. As I sat on the Senate floor 37 years ago, I thought, "Well, we have at least come a long way."

And we have. After Bilbo, and despite a set of Southern Democratic senators who were more civil than he was but still tenaciously segregationist, Congress passed civil-rights bills in 1957 and 1964, and the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1965—thanks in large part to the efforts of Republican heroes like Bill McCulloch and Everett Dirksen. We have seen a sharp decline in racist attitudes, a widespread acceptance of interracial marriage, and many other salutary changes. But we are seeing vividly now that race remains a defining gulf in our society, despite remarkable progress over the past five decades.

Christopher Ingraham in The Washington Post recently showed a series of poll results reflecting major change. For example, in 1972, about two-thirds of whites said homeowners should be able to discriminate against blacks when selling their homes, but that was down to 28 percent in 2008. In 1988, two-thirds of whites said they would not be happy if a family member married a black person; that was down to 25 percent in 2008. Great progress, but the fact that over a quarter of whites still recently held racially prejudicial views is unsettling.

Americans of all stripes were justifiably proud when the country elected its first black president in 2008, and again when he was reelected in 2012. The fact is that no other comparable democracy, in Europe or elsewhere, was then or would now be prepared to elect a leader from a minority group.
But even as I watched the celebrations on election night in November 2008, I felt an undercurrent of unease. Heartening as it was, this was not a sign that we had broken the back of racism or of racially driven divisions in the country. The election of an African-American president could be seen by racists in America as a sign that they could be more blunt in expressing their views. After all, who could now say America is racist? And the same mindset could lead others to enable statements or actions that would otherwise be seen as over the line. And, of course, the inevitable harsh criticism of a president by partisans on the other side, something that comes with the territory, could easily take on a racial dimension for Barack Obama.

It didn't take long for the latter phenomenon to emerge, with the birther movement, which on its face was ludicrous. To believe that Obama was not born in the United States meant that you had to believe that there had been a vast conspiracy 47 years earlier that included two Hawaiian newspapers that reported contemporaneously on his birth. A conspiracy, apparently, to enable a Kenyan-born Muslim plant smuggled in via Indonesia to be cultivated for decades as a Manchurian candidate to become president and destroy America as we know it. To be sure, delegitimizing a president has become a reality in the age of the permanent campaign—Bill Clinton, remember, was accused of being an accessory to murder—but to suggest that a president is a foreigner born in Africa takes it to a different level.

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Amid Rancor, House Passes Spending Bill

Amid Rancor, House Passes Spending Bill

The House on Thursday narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion spending package that would fund most government operations for the fiscal year after a rancorous debate that reflected the new power held by Republicans and disarray among Democrats in the aftermath of the midterm elections.

The accord was reached amid last-minute brinkmanship and bickering that has come to mark one of the capital’s most polarized eras.

The split in the Democratic Party dramatically came into view when Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader and one of Mr. Obama’s most loyal supporters, broke with the administration over a provision in the bill that would roll back regulation of the Dodd-Frank Act, which Ms. Pelosi said was a giveaway to big banks whose practices helped trigger the Great Recession. She spoke on the House floor in the early afternoon, asking Democrats not to vote for the bill.

Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were pressed to make a furious round of phone calls to try to persuade wavering Democrats, while House Speaker John A. Boehner worked to get more Republican votes.

The public support of the bill by the White House — which came just as Ms. Pelosi was making her speech on the House floor opposing it — was a rare public rebuke of the minority leader and infuriated many of her loyalists.

With an opportunity to return to a more conventional legislative process — funding the government for an entire fiscal year rather than for months at a time — Republican leaders had thought they had sufficient bipartisan support to pass the bill.

An early sign of the headwinds facing legislation came around noon, when the deal barely cleared a procedural hurdle to allow a vote. In several tense minutes on the House floor, support to move forward on the package seesawed, with Democrats shouting “Call the vote” and Republicans holding it open until they were able to persuade two lawmakers to switch their votes.

With no Democrats supporting the move to bring the legislation to a vote, Republican Representatives Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana gave their leadership the final votes to clear that obstacle.

House Democrats — who were already trying to strike a delicate balance — found their calculation complicated by the White House, which released a pre-emptive signal that Mr. Obama would sign the bipartisan legislation if it made it out of Congress.

 
Departing Members of Congress Find Their Perks Already Gone

Departing Members of Congress Find Their Perks Already Gone

By Alex Brown

Served for four decades? Doesn't matter, they're disconnecting your phone anyway.

In their final days in office, lawmakers must pack up their belongings, sell their residences, and help their staffers find new posts—all while handling the requisite trials of lame-duck negotiating. Many of them are doing all this from a cubicle. In a basement.

"It's more than a full-time job," said Sen. Carl Levin, who has the added burden of trying to shepherd a must-pass defense authorization bill through the Senate as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. "It's OK," Levin said. "It's exhilarating, challenging."

"You've got to multitask in this place," said Rep. George Miller, who in recent days has helped negotiate a deal on multiemployer pension plans and contested a water bill. Coble said those legislative and logistical challenges have outgoing members "very frantic," adding that he's "packing up 30 years worth of time."

All that time in the House does Coble and other veterans little good when it comes to their end-of-Congress work space. As newcomers move in and up-and-comers claim new offices, the outgoing members have been consigned to a single room in the basement of the Rayburn House Office building. (Senators are a bit more fortunate and get to keep their offices to the end.)

Dozens of legislative titans are spending their last days in office in tiny gray portable cubicles, each with a single swivel chair and a folding chair for a staffer. The row of cubicles stretches on and on down the narrow room, which is only a bit larger than the office House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will inhabit by herself next term. "It's very limited and very cramped," Coble said, "but I understand they have new folks coming in." Rep. Jim Moran called the new digs "a rude awakening."

Moran had his own tale of office woe. "I was over in Buck McKeon's office when they were pulling out the wires to his computer and his phone," he said. "I was objecting—'Gosh, this is a guy who's served for 38 years. He's chairman of the Armed Service Committee. Can't you give him a little slack?' And the guy says, 'Don't worry, Congressman, we just did the same thing in your office.' "

 
Nancy Pelosi: This is ‘blackmail’

Nancy Pelosi: This is ‘blackmail’

By Lauren French

Nancy Pelosi is “disappointed” in Barack Obama for backing a bill she described as a form of “blackmail” on the part of Republicans.

The California Democrat objects to two provisions in the trillion dollar spending deal, including one that would roll back Dodd-Frank financial services reforms. She called the looming backdrop of a potential shutdown a form of blackmail.

Pelosi, an often loud supporter of the president, pushed back when the White House announced support for the package.

“I’m enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a bill is to go along with this. That would be the only reason I think they would say they would sign such a bill,” she said.

 
Michael Kinsley: Why Ronald Reagan Should Be Seen as a Complete Failure

The Irony and the Ecstasy

By Michael Kinsley

Every serious G.O.P. presidential aspirant invokes the glorious era of Ronald Reagan, to which the country must return. Ignore the fact that, for the likes of Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, Reagan’s actual record—from increased bureaucracy to higher deficits—should be seen as a complete failure.

Paul Ryan doesn’t care for “politics or politicians.” He says so in his recent book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea. He prefers the ordinary folks of his childhood in small-town Wisconsin. It must have been sheer selflessness that propelled him into Congress at age 28. As chairman of the House Budget Committee (and the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012, who is eyeing 2016), Ryan has to deal with politicians all day long. Yuck!

But there is one politician who escapes Ryan’s censure: “The one exception was Ronald Reagan. I knew about him mostly because my dad thought his story was so inspiring.… An Irish guy who … had overcome a childhood of modest means and adversity and become president of the United States.” Ryan Sr. “would often see Reagan on the news and nod quietly, approvingly.”

Things were pretty dire when Reagan took office back in 1981, as Ryan remembers it. But Reagan “was not defeated or deterred. Instead, he proposed a plan to get America back on track.”

Well, yes, in his speech to a joint session of Congress shortly after becoming president, Reagan presented his “plan”—a reasonably detailed discussion of proposed tax cuts and spending cuts, pursuant to his vision of smaller government. The thing is, almost none of these changes ever happened. The tax cuts went through in 1981 but were partially repealed in 1982. In his “plan,” Reagan promised to cut two Cabinet departments (Energy and Education). Instead he added one (Veterans Affairs, now the government’s second-largest). Ryan chooses to remember the Reagan of 1981, when anything was possible. This allows him to take Reagan’s promises as some kind of reality. Thirty-four years down the road, it’s too late for that.

If you’re thinking of running for president, you need to have a book. I don’t mean own one—I mean write one. Or at least pretend to do so. You don’t actually have to write the book, as long as your name is on the cover as if you did. The contents don’t matter much. They can be your “vision”—lifted in whole or in part from think-tank research on the Web. They can be your life story. If you love your wife or husband, mention that here. Ditto if you’ve ever overcome adversity of any kind. Do you like hunting? Great! Got any photos of you and an animal carcass?

But the indispensable ingredient of a campaign book, if you are a Republican, is Ronald Reagan. Somewhere in the book, you must invoke the memory of our 40th president and say that we should return to his values of small government, low taxes, self-reliance, and so on. I’m sorry, it’s a rule. (Even Arianna has to obey. “But I am not a Republican, darling,” she protested. “This is outrageous—I haven’t been a Republican for over a decade and am not scheduled to become one again, at least for the moment.”)

You can usually get a Republican to admit, if you beat him or her with a stick, that Reagan’s actual performance in office was a bit of a disappointment. But that, you see, is because the Democrats were so vicious in opposing Reagan’s policies. What you cannot get many Republicans to admit is that the entire Reaganite golden age is a fantasy—even if they really think so. Why burst the bubble?

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Brennan: CIA Was Unprepared to Interrogate Prisoners

Brennan: CIA Was Unprepared to Interrogate Prisoners

CIA Director John Brennan admitted the CIA was unprepared to detain and interrogate prisoners in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, but added that agents did what they were asked to do.

 
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