Monday, June 28, 2010

How Obama Could Lose Me

Cross-posted from MyDD.com.

President Obama has had a jam-packed two years and done some great things: Saving the economy from collapse. Health care reform. Now financial reform. Two qualified Supreme Court nominees. A tobacco law we tried for over a decade to pass. Credit card reform. The Lily Ledbetter Pay Act. Support for high-speed rail, clean energy research, and other green initiatives. On the foreign side, we're getting out of Iraq, albeit slowly. And unlike many progressives, I supported the Afghanistan surge.

But I supported it because Obama included the beginning of a timetable. Yet yesterday, at the G-20 summit in the wake of Petraeus appointment, he seemed to be back away from that promise - and that's where he could lose me.

Progressives have been uncertain about Obama in the areas of foreign policy and executive power for quite some time. He has done very little to roll back George W. Bush's unconstitutional and dangerous expansion of executive power, and now he's implying that he'll pull another Bush and lead us down the same road of endless war. From yesterday's G-20 press conference (emphasis my own):

We intend to be a partner with Afghanistan over the long term. But that is different from us having troops on the ground...

What I expect is that by the end of this year, we will have seen progress on the strategy that was laid out. We will conduct a full review. Those things that are not working, we will fix. Those things that are working we will build on -- both on the civilian side, and on the military side, as well as on the diplomatic side...

I think that right now the debate surrounding Afghanistan is presented as either we get up and leave immediately because there’s no chance at a positive outcome, or we stay basically indefinitely and do “whatever it takes” for as long as it takes. And what I said last year I will repeat, which is we have a vital national interest in making sure that Afghanistan is not used as a base to launch terrorist attacks...

So, A, we’ve got a vital interest in the region. B, we do not expect because of our involvement in Afghanistan that the country is going to completely transform itself in a year or two years or five years. President Karzai does not expect that. The Afghan people don’t expect that. Afghanistan has its own culture. It is a very proud culture. It has a lot of work to do with respect to development and it’s going to have to find its own path....

Now, there has been a lot of obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave. My focus right now is how do we make sure that what we’re doing there is successful, given the incredible sacrifices that our young men and women are putting in. And we have set up a mechanism whereby we are going to do a review -- and I’ve signaled very clearly that we’re not going to just keep on doing things if they're not working -- and that by next year we will begin a process of transition.

That doesn’t mean we suddenly turn off the lights and let the door close behind us.

I don't want to turn off the lights and close the door behind us next summer. I do, however, want to rapidly flick the light switch on and off for a minute as a heads up to the Afghani people, signaling last call. Ten years is one thing; ten years and counting is another.

It's tough to tell what, if anything, the President was signaling with these answers. He says we'll help Afghanistan for the long term, but not necessarily with troops. That sounds good. But then he says we'll build on our military success even after next summer, and the only instance where he talks time he says "five years," and that's troubling. Mr. President, you promised the beginning of a withdrawal next summer, not a build-up. But what's most troubling is the mocking tone he uses when talking about the war's opponents. I am not an opponent of this war - yet - but taking a different position than the or demanding answers from the White House does not qualify as "obsessing."

The President said his focus is not on how to withdraw, but on how to win. I want to win in Afghanistan too, but at some point it becomes a Pyrrhic victory, a victory that just isn't worth what it once was. If by next summer the end isn’t in sight, we’ll have to get out. Even if the end is in sight but would require years more of troops-on-the-ground, we’ll have to get out. As I said, a decade is one thing, but a decade and counting is another - especially since a responsible withdrawal would take another full year anyway.

I'm with the President now, especially but on the domestic side, and I'll answer OFA's calls to help with the energy bill and the midterm election. But next summer’s review will include the withdrawal of at least two brigades and the implementation of a timetable, or Obama will likely lose me.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Obama Doing All He Can For The Gulf, Despite Repub Criticisms

Cross-posted from MyDD.com.

Conservatives continue to hound the President for his handling of the BP oil spill, but there continues to be no “there” there. The basic question one has to ask these critics is, what more would you have him do? What is he not doing that you think he should?

True, communication and transparency were lacking for weeks. But the only other substantive, policy-based answer critics tend to give is that the President should have waived the Jones Act and accepted the assistance of European ships, but didn’t because of his ties to labor unions. The truth, however, is that the federal government HAS accepted some foreign aid and it HAS given legitimate reasons why other aide was refused. The same cannot be said of the Gulf State governors who, despite their criticisms of the President, are not using all of the resources at their own disposal.

Prospective 2012 (though I’d wager 2016) presidential candidate Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) said,  “It's clear the resources needed to protect our coast are still not here,” and Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) Tweeted, “State Department reports today 17 countries have offered 21 times to send aid, including skimmers. Why has the White House refused help?” I’ll get to the hypocrisy of Jindal’s criticisms, as well as those from other Gulf State governors, in a moment. First, however, here’s why Politifact rated LeMieux’s quote “barely true,” which seems to be a rather generous rating:

The State Department on June 14 released a list of [17 countries] that offered to help… The State Department also detailed what offers had been accepted.

From Mexico -- Two skimmers and 13,780 feet of boom (accepted in early May).

From Norway -- Eight skimming systems (accepted in early May).

From Netherlands -- Three sets of Koseq Rigid Sweeping Arms, which attach to the sides of ships and gather oil (accepted on May 23).

From Canada -- 9,843 feet of boom (accepted on June 4).

On June 15, Qatar, the 18th country, offered chains of containment boom and Sweden followed up on an earlier offer to provide skimmers. State Department officials also started making a distinction about the aid -- it wasn't coming for free…<

The Washington Post reported about the decision to accept or decline foreign aid in its June 15 edition, noting that the decision to accept foreign aid came after weeks of delay, and that foreign governments were unsure if they should contact the government or BP. In some cases, the Post reported, the administration rejected offers because they failed to meet U.S. specifications: For example, the private consortium that serves as Norway's spill-response team uses a chemical dispersant that the Environmental Protection Agency has not approved.

In other words, Jindal, LeMieux, and right-wing bloggers are claiming that Obama refused aide and won’t tell us why despite the facts that a) he was unable to accept many of those offers because they were made to BP, not to him; b) the Coast Guard and State Department have indeed accepted some aide and c) legitimate explanations were provided for the aide that was refused.

On a similar note, if right-wing blogs and Senators are going to criticize the President because the federal government hasn’t blindly accepted all that was offered to it, they should do the same for the four affected governors, all Republicans. With the feds it’s skimmers and booms to stop the leak; with the governors it’s National Guardsmen to clean up the spill. From CBS News on Thursday:

All along the Gulf coast, local officials have been demanding more help from the federal government to fight the spill, yet the Gulf states have deployed just a fraction of the National Guard troops the Pentagon has made available, CBS News Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.

That's a particular problem for the state of Louisiana, where the Republican governor has been the most vocal about using all resources.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's message has been loud and clear, using language such as "We will only be winning this war when we're actually deploying every resource," "They (the federal government) can provide more resources" and "It's clear the resources needed to protect our coast are still not here."…

But CBS News has learned that in addition to Louisiana's 1,053 troops of 6,000, Alabama has deployed 432 troops of 3,000 available. Even fewer have been deployed in Florida - 97 troops out of 2,500 - and Mississippi - 58 troops out of 6,000…

The Coast Guard says every request to use the National Guard has been approved, usually within a day. Now Jindal's office acknowledged to CBS News the governor has not specifically asked for more Guard troops to be deployed.

At the end of the day, it would seem that policy-wise Obama is doing just about all he can to stop the leak, and that he’s certainly no more behind the curve than are the local Republican officials. Yes, he could have demanded more transparency from BP earlier; yes, he could have better communicated what his Cabinet was doing earlier than he did; and yes, perhaps he could have subjected himself to more deficit criticisms by renting or purchasing more foreign aid. But none of that would have actually stopped the leak or even slowed its rate. Maybe his leadership style needs some tweaking, but from a policy perspective, he’s doing just about all he can.

Thankfully, voters seem to get it. Only one new poll – NBC/WSJ – shows the spill affecting his approval rating, while most others show him holding steady right around 48.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Craig's List Apartment Scam

Wow, I kind of let this blog die. That was an accident. I've been doing lots of political blogging at MyDD and personal rants at Facebook. But this blog has mattered to me for years so I'm sure I'll bring it back.

Anyway, I wanted to get this into Google search results: beware the West Africa rental scam while searching for apartments on Craig's List. This 2008 post from "Aspiring to Ordinary" has more info. This post on Craig's List, "$1100 / 3br - 1307 Emerald St Ne (Washington, DC)," is an example of the scam. He uses the e-mail warrenpope43@yahoo.com.

So, beware.