President Obama responded to Republican fit over the Iran nuclear deal from Ethiopia, namechecking GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee – who said the Iran deal was tantamount walking Israel to “the door of the oven”, a reference to mass cremation chambers in Nazi internment camps – and Donald Trump, who remains atop the Republican field despite his insult of POWs.
The president’s comment is entirely true, of course, and perfectly reasonable as he defends this historic agreement to put a nuclear weapon out of Iran’s hands for good. But that isn’t the reason President Obama decided to voluntarily drag The Donald into this before beating up on him for his disrespect of POWs.
Again, nothing out of the ordinary considering the president’s role as commander in chief and his steadfast defense of service to our country. But that’s not all he’s doing there.
By namechecking Trump and Huckabee, President Obama ensures that those two candidates will generate even more media attention, and more importantly, even more support among the GOP’s far right Tea-party base. The more animated the Teabaggers get, the more it will skew the entire Republican presidential field to the far right, a position the eventual Republican nominee will find tough to recover for when the primary is over and it’s time to run to the middle.
The Republican base of right wing nutjobs who show up at political rallies with teabags hanging from hats that went out of style sometime in the 1800s are a bad liability in presidential years, and nothing makes them lose it more that Barack Obama making a sensible comment. And when Barack Obama name-checks a Republican in those comments, that Republican – or those Republicans – become instant celebrities among this hardcore group of right wingers who have outsized influence as Republican primary voters.
The Republican presidential field is already chaotic without President Obama’s help. With some 17 candidates running and Trump’s outrageous comments that endear him to the Republican base setting panic among Republicans who understand the GOP is finished as a national party if Trump wins the nomination, the clown car is already coming apart.
All President Obama did was to make sure that the chaos gets worse, and that Trump and Huckabee get more support from the fringe base that thinks the president is the devil. Something tells me President Obama thinks that Huckabee’s backwards social positions will blend perfectly well with Trump’s general insanity, making every other candidate jump through those hoops just to get some attention. And when they do, the Democratic nominee has raw footage for the general election regardless of who the GOP nominee is.
These firecrackers are going to burn.
Arpaio, along with Republican presidential candidate and real estate mogul Donald Trump, is a vocal member of the “birther” movement that claims Obama was born in Kenya. The notorious sheriff even dispatched certain members of his posse to spend months during the 2012 election cycle investigating whether a birth certificate showing that Obama was born in Hawaii was legitimate.
Tapper asked Arpaio why he would “risk his credibility” on the hot-button topic of illegal immigration by perpetuating the baseless rumor that the President was not born in the United States.
“I’m the chief law enforcement officer elected by the people. I have a right to investigate and speak out,” Arpaio countered. “I’m not talking about where he came from. I don’t care where he came from. We’re working on a fraudulent, forged, government document.”
Tapper pressed him on that point.
“Is there anyone — any credible law enforcement person outside of you, your organization and your contractors — who has any agreement with you on this?” he asked.
Arpaio responded that he was the only official brave enough to look into the issue. But when Tapper pressed the sheriff again as to the evidence he had to back up the theory that the President was not born in the United States, Arpaio demurred.
“I’m not going to get into all the technical details,” he said. “I have a Smith Corona typewriter. I don’t have a computer but I have people that look into it. I’ve been around a long time. I’m not stupid enough to even talk to you about it if I didn’t think there was a lot of smoke and fire there.”
Right now, it’s beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he so prematurely received in 2009.
Perhaps you recall how, during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama’s opponents treated his expressed willingness to speak with the leaders of unfriendly countriessuch as Cuba and Iran as a sign of immaturity.
“Irresponsible and frankly naïve,” was how Hillary Clinton put it.
Joe Biden said it was important for an inexperienced president not to get played by crafty foreigners.
Obama was unrepentant. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration,” he said, “is ridiculous.”
And so it was. Only ridiculous people talk that way now. With hindsight, it’s become clear that Obama wasn’t simply repudiating the GOP’s melodramatic “Axis of Evil” worldview, but expressing his own considerable self-regard.
Also his confidence in America as he sees it through his unique personal history as a kind of inside-outsider, capable of being more than ordinarily objective about our place in the world. When you’re the most powerful economic and military power on Earth, he keeps saying with regard to the Iran deal, it’s important to act like it: strong, calm, and confident. Able to take risks for peace because your strength is so overwhelming.
President Obama told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedmanthat if Ronald Reagan could reach verifiable arms agreements with the Soviet Union, a country that posed “a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be,” then dealing with the Iranians is “a risk we have to take. It is a practical, common-sense position.”
As we saw in 2003, any damn fool can start a Middle Eastern war. And while hardly anybody in the United States wants one, even Iranian hardliners should have no doubt who would win such a conflict.
“Why should the Iranians be afraid of us?” Friedman asked.
“Because we could knock out their military in speed and dispatch if we chose to,” Obama said.
That’s the same reason Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and his allies in the U.S. Congress) need to cool it with the Chicken Little rhetoric. Obama thinks it’s “highly unlikely that you are going to see Iran launch a direct attack, state to state, against any of our allies in the region. They know that that would give us the rationale to go in full-bore, and as I said, we could knock out most of their military capacity pretty quickly.”
Of course Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But here’s the kind of thinking that he and his allies on the evangelical right really object to:
“Even with your adversaries,” Obama said, “I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so…they have their own…narrative.”
Demonizing Iran serves Netanyahu’s short-term political purposes. Ditto Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has a wider audience and a longer view in mind. Much of what he said was directed over the heads of his domestic audience. Besides, GOP war talk makes it easier for Democrats to support Obama.
“Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he told Friedman. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region. They don’t need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity. Now that’s what I would say to the Iranian people.”
He also focused upon the common enemy:
“Nobody has an interest in seeing [the Islamic State] control huge swaths of territory between Damascus and Baghdad,” Obama said. “That’s not good for Iran.”
Indeed not. More than the Turks, more than Saudi Arabia, more than anybody but the Kurds, Iranian forces are fighting ISIS on several fronts.
The president’s words were grudgingly noted in Tehran. In his own carefully crafted speech expressing guarded blessings for the arms control agreement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei assured hardliners that he hadn’t gone soft on America.
However, he also alluded to Obama’s conciliatory remarks.
“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Khamenei complained.
Which is how conversations begin.
This deal isn’t the end. But it’s an excellent beginning—of what, remains to be seen. Iran has essentially purchased anti-invasion insurance, while the U.S. and its allies have bought relative stability in the Persian Gulf.
Could things go wrong? Things can always go wrong.
But there’s always time to start a war.
President Obama argues for diplomacy with Iran by reminding everyone of his detractors’ biggest failure
President Obama has not exactly been patient with Congress when it comes to the multilateral diplomatic framework with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. After the agreement was announced last week, Obama called a press conference and used the event to methodically rip apart each argument critics have deployed against the deal. Time and again he challenged Republicans, conservatives and hand-wringing Democrats to put up or shut up: to lay out their alternative plans for keeping Iran from going nuclear. He promised to veto any measures the Republican-controlled Congress might send to him blocking the easing of sanctions on Iran. He wasn’t making a sales pitch; he was defying Congress to get in the way of potentially one of the most important diplomatic breakthroughs since the end of the Cold War.
Of course, by using pointy words and a confrontational tone of voice, Obama upset some members of the press who seem to think that bipartisan consensus may still be achieved when it comes to Iran and nuclear weapons:
Not sure Obama admin doing “defiant” style of selling Iran deal to Cong is wisest tactic. Accepting skepticism cd get them fairer hearing
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) July 21, 2015
Ah yes, if there’s one thing Republicans in Congress have made their hallmark during the Obama years, it’s the “fair hearing.” We’ve already seen 47 members of the Senate Republican caucus attempt to preemptively sabotage the deal with a provocative letter to the government of Iran. Many of those senators are also running for president, and they’re trying to out-hawk one another by accusing the administration of engaging in Neville Chamberlain-like appeasement. Most Senate Republicans have been taking their Iran cues from Tom Cotton, who is already planning bombing runs against Iranian nuclear facilities. Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, said “this agreement condemns the next generation to cleaning up a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf.” He does not represent a minority viewpoint. Who exactly is going to give the “fair hearing” in this situation?
The reason Obama’s not banging his head against the wall and trying to get Congress to approve the deal is that he’s fairly confident Congress can’t actually do anything to stop it. The 60-day period for congressional review has already begun, and as the New York Times noted, “the numbers suggest Mr. Obama will prevail; if Congress rejects the Iran accord, he promised on Tuesday to veto the legislation, and he has enough Democrats to win that contest.” Instead of getting Congress on his side, Obama’s working to convince the public that the Iran deal is the right course of action, and that his critics are wrong.
To make that case, he’s deploying a simple and effective argument. “The same politicians and pundits that are so quick to reject the possibility of a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program are the same folks who were so quick to go to war in Iraq and said it would only take a few months,” Obama said yesterday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.
He’s absolutely correct. Conservatives who backed the Iraq War and also complain that the nuclear deal does nothing to curb Iranian meddling in the Middle East don’t really have too much credibility on this score. Nothing has done more to bolster Iran’s influence across the region than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Before the war, the hawks theorized that a swift and decisive war against Saddam Hussein would either scare the Iranians into better behavior or spark an internal uprising that would topple the regime. Instead, we eliminated one of Iran’s regional counterweights and in its place we set up a chaotic power vacuum that Iran filled with money, political influence, and weapons. Put simply, if you backed the neocon adventure in the Middle East, you don’t get to claim expertise when it comes to reining Iranian influence.
And when you look at some of the more prominent critics of the Iran deal – particularly those running for the Republican presidential nomination – you see a lot of people who still argue that the Iraq war and justified and a terrific idea overall. For most of them, the preferred alternative to diplomacy with Iran is “crippling” sanctions, bellicose posturing, and the “credible threat” of military action – a policy smorgasbord that hasn’t succeeded in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and will almost certainly lead to war. A good number of hawks, represented John Bolton, want to start bombing Iran yesterday.
The lesson of the Iraq War is, as Conor Friedersdorf wrote earlier this year, that “Americans vastly overestimate their ability to develop grand strategies and to predict how foreign interventions of choice will play out over time.” Obama is completely justified in pointing out that his most prominent critics have stubbornly refused to learn this lesson. And the president’s cause is better served by reminding the public of their failure than by trying to convince some incorrigible warmongers that diplomacy should be given a chance.
Tuesday made The Daily Show history. It was the last time that President Obama would appear on the show across from Jon Stewart. Tuesday was also Obama’s seventh appearance on The Daily Show, although he was only president for three of appearances.
The president was on for the entire duration of the show and showing his sense of humor we’ve seen so many times, he began, “I can’t believe that you’re leaving before me. In fact, I’m issuing a new executive order: Jon Stewart cannot leave the show.” Stewart joked that it’s a state’s rights issue.
After the initial banter, Stewart began running off Obama’s list of “lame duck” accomplishments, including Iran, Fast Track, etc. “Are you feeling like seven years in…”
“I finally know what I’m doing?” Obama joked.
Obama replied that many of the things that are happening now are results of years of negotiations and work. Obviously, Obama appeared on the show at least in part to discuss the Iran nuclear deal. Stewart noted that after the years and decades of bombing first, “diplomacy sounds interesting.”
“We might as well try it, see what happens,” Obama joked.
Obama admitted that this peace agreement is not the last step and that Iran will continue to cause us problems. He also sent out a nod to Israel, who is against the agreement and said we will continue to need them.
Stewart then asked Obama if the media was focusing on the wrong things and demanding too much of him and of government in general. Obama answered, “some (medias) get on my nerves more than others.” (Guess who that might be.) He said that journalism and media is supposed to be tough on government. The problem, though is that “it gets distracted by shiny objects and doesn’t always focus on the big tough choices and decisions that have to be made.”
Here’s the video:
On Friday, Oregon’s Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill into law that provide access to free community college for all state residents after high school.
“Oregonians can now afford to dream big,” Brown said in a press release. “Today, we fling wide open the doors of opportunity by expanding access to post-secondary education, the precursor to a better life.”
When implemented, the plan expects to serve between 4,000 and 6,000 students in its first year. To fund the initiative, the legislature has set aside the comparatively small sum of $10 million, raising some concerns that funds will not be sufficient to truly offer students free education, the Oregonian reported.
The move makes Oregon the second state in the nation to implement a universal community college plan, afterTennessee’s pioneering program. Perhaps no one was happier about the law than President Barack Obama, who tweeted his approval Friday.
Congrats to Oregon on passing two years of free community college! Every hardworking student deserves access to higher education.
— President Obama (@POTUS) July 17, 2015
The president made headlines in January when he called for universal access to community college ahead of his State of the Union address.
“Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible,” the president said in the speech. “I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.”
Under the president’s more ambitious federal plan — which has gone nowhere since he announced it earlier this year — 9 million students would be covered at a cost of roughly $60 billion over the next decade. The program would only be open to students with a GPA of 2.5 or better who could complete their programs in a timely manner.
Despite near-total opposition from Republican lawmakers, who ostensibly represent big business, a number of analysts in the for-profit higher education sector believe they too could benefit from the president’s plan. A Wells Fargo report shared with Mic predicted that institutional investors in for-profit colleges would see attendance spike as more community college entrants would grow the overall pie for everyone. According to the report:
To the extent that the new policy encourages junior college attendance, four-year [for-profit schools] … are likely to benefit as institutionally they are the most consistent and generous in their acceptance of CC transfer credits; and students transferring with two years of credits are the most persistent and thus attractive. Two-year FP vocational schools already compete with lower-priced CCs on quality and substance (better equipment, smaller classes, higher customer service, better job placement effort,) but to the extent the initiative encourages broader enrollment, capacity constraints at CCs will likely push students to more-convenient and flexible FP programs.
With federal action unlikely, it will be increasingly up to states like Oregon and Tennessee to show the way forward.
President Obama is making history, again: On Thursday, he became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.
Obama’s visit to El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma on July 16 is part of his administration’s focus on criminal justice reform. On Monday, Obama announced that he would be commuting the sentences of 46 people convicted for nonviolent drug offenses. And on Wednesday, the White House released a fact sheet detailing the various efforts that have been developed to make the United States’ criminal justice system fairer and more effective.
It’s clear that Obama is taking a different approach to criminal justice reform than his predecessors, as the New York Times‘ Peter Baker observes, and his commendable efforts should be acknowledged in their own right. But his recent focus on criminal justice also provides an invaluable window into the dire conditions of a system that continues to disenfranchise so many U.S. citizens and undocumented people — of which too many remain unaware.
As criminal justice reform begins to take center stage, and as presidential contenders begin crafting their platforms for 2016, here are eight such issues the U.S. public needs to know.
1. The U.S. is home to the largest population of incarcerated people.
The U.S. boasts an incarcerated population of roughly 2.3 million — the largest in the world (followed by China with 1.7 million), according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. That accounts for 707 adults per every 100,000 residents in the U.S., the Washington Post reports.
2. There are more correctional institutions than degree-granting institutions in the U.S.
There are 1,821 state and federal correctional facilities in the U.S., according to a 2005 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as well as 3,283 local jail facilities, according to a 2006 BOJ census. That brings the total number of correctional facilities to 5,104 — compared with just 4,706 degree-granting institutions (a number that accounts for 1,738 four-year colleges and 2,968 two-year colleges).
3. Prison demographics highlight racial inequity.
4. The civil liberties of incarcerated individuals are threatened.
Incarcerated felons are not able to vote in any U.S. state apart from Maine and Vermont. And nearly 6 million people are denied the right to vote even upon completion of their sentences if they have felony offenses, according to Demos, a leading progressive public policy organization in the U.S. The fact that black and Latino people make up the majority of the prison population, combined with the fact that, as Demos reports, “one out of every 13 eligible African-Americans of voting age has lost their right to vote,” makes this disenfranchisement a civil rights problem.
What’s more, “although people in prison can’t vote, and remain legal residents of their home communities under the laws of most states, the Census Bureau currently tabulates people in prison as residents of their prison cells, not their homes,” Demos reports. In other words, though prisoners can’t vote, their bodies remain useful to politicians because prison populations are used to shift the boundaries of electoral districts.
5. Taxpayers invest an inordinate amount of money in prisons.
According to a Vera Institute of Justice survey, the average cost per inmate for prisons was $31,286 in 2012. The report also notes the total cost of prisons to taxpayers was $39 billion in that year.
The per inmate cost was more than double the $12,401 in government expenditures per student enrolled in K-12 public schools during the 2011-12 academic year, as reported by the Institute of Educational Services.
6. Crime pays — literally.
Private prisons are moneymakers. Two of the biggest private prison companies in the country, Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group, made $3.3 billion in annual revenue in 2012, according to Truthout. Some view their prison stock as viable investment options with “long-term returns” for monetary gain.
The two companies also spent a combined $45 million on donations to campaigns and lobbyists to influence key issues like immigration at the state and federal levels in the last decade, the Associated Press found.
In the 1990s, scholar and activist Angela Davis deemed this convergence of interests as part of the “prison industrial complex.” The term is often used to describe the ways criminal justice practices — like policing and imprisonment — are developed by the government in tandem with corporate interests. In other words, building prisons and imprisonment tends to result in profits.
7. Some private companies benefit from cheap prison labor.
“There is large-scale exploitation in American prisons benefiting American corporations,” Alternet‘s Terrell Jermaine Starr writes. Whole Foods, for example, which boasts a $13 billion annual revenue, has reportedly paid incarcerated people in the Colorado prison system $1.50 per hour to farm tilapia. Suniva Inc., a solar panel manufacturer in Georgia, reportedly contracts some of its work to federal inmates.
This labor is nothing new. “As prisons proliferate in U.S. society, private capital has become enmeshed in the punishment industry,” Angela Davis noted in a 1998 Colorlines article. “And precisely because of their profit potential, prisons are becoming increasingly important to the U.S. economy.”
8. Abuse of undocumented people is a critical problem in U.S. federal detention centers.
Undocumented persons held in so-called “criminal alien requirement prisons” face myriad issues.
“Because the prisons are privately run,” TakePart‘s Matt Fleischer notes, “they are only contractually obligated to follow 40 of the more than 200 regulations that govern typical Bureau of Prison operations. Perhaps most disturbing is their dependence on solitary confinement. Criminal alien requirement prisons must construct 10% of their bed space into extreme isolation units — that’s nearly double the rate of other federal Bureau of Prison facilities.”
Given these concerns, Obama’s visit Thursday signals a hopeful step in the right direction. At stake are the lives of millions of Americans. What also must become clearer to the public is how much our criminal justice system remains shaped by the almighty dollar. As long as prisons are seen as viable capital investment, incarcerated people in the U.S. will be treated as commodities rather than human beings with rights.
As Confederate flag defenders spread beyond the old Confederacy, the banner becomes a national symbol of racism
The notion that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of Southern “heritage,” detached from slavery and Jim Crow, has always been a pernicious lie. It shouldn’t have taken the murder of the Emanuel Nine, by flag-waving white supremacist Dylann Roof, to make that the new national consensus. But it did.
Now the flag’s racist meaning is crystal clear, which is why it’s becoming an ever more beloved symbol for racist morons, even outside the old Confederacy. The ugly Confederate flag tableau that greeted President Obama in Oklahoma City Wednesday night illuminated this new reality. It follows a similar protest earlier this month, when the president visited Nashville, Tenn. Over in Durant, Okla., where the president was scheduled to speak, there was also a Confederate flag protest earlier in the day.
When I first saw reports that some jerks were planning to wave the flag along the president’s motorcade route on social media Wednesday, I admit I shrugged: Another day, another angry right-wing tantrum. It’s OK, they’re losing; let them scream and rant and wave their hate banner. But the sight of the bright flags illuminated against the dark sky, just outside of Obama’s hotel, was unexpectedly vivid and disturbing. Especially since Oklahoma was never part of the Confederacy.
It reminded me of the October 2013 rally attended by Sen. Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, to protest the closing of national monuments during the Cruz-triggered government shutdown. That protest culminated in an angry rump group heading over to the White House and waving a Confederate flag, outside the home of the black First Family. But hey, it’s “heritage, not hate.”
I’m not sure what to do with the fact that the Oklahoma City flag protest was reportedly led by a black wingnut, Andrew Duncomb, whose Facebook page features lots of smiling, flag-loving white people. (The rest of the folks insulting Obama with the flag were white, according to local news reports.) Duncomb, who calls himself “the black rebel,” is making a career out of claiming the flag really was about “heritage, not hate.” He led a pro-flag protest through the Oklahoma City metro area on Monday, joined by 30 trucks waving the flag.
According to local news reports, Duncomb was arrested last year, with four white friends, on charges of shooting at a sheriff’s deputy. Using his Facebook identity to post in a comment thread, Duncomb suggested the news reports “stretched” the truth, but didn’t deny it. I found no reporting on what became of the case. “Look at these people, they all followed the black guy out here,” Duncomb told local media Wednesday night. “Do you think that any of them are racists?” It’s hard not to think of Dave Chappelle’s famous character Clayton Bigsby, the blind KKK member who doesn’t know that he’s black. They sure do love him over at Red Nation Rising.
The African Americans who showed up to support the president weren’t buying Duncomb’s claim that the flag is about “heritage, not hate,” or that it wasn’t meant as a racist insult to our first black president. A black woman wearing on Obama T-shirt broke into tears telling Politico: “He should’ve had a better welcome than he had.”
That flag is and always has been a symbol of white supremacy, a symbol of treason, and a repudiation of the multiracial democracy the Civil War helped establish. But I have to admit: the people who say the flag is about “heritage” are actually half right. It’s about heritage, all right – a heritage of hate. Increasingly it’s a symbol of our national racist heritage, which we must admit is shared by the north and the south.
But I confess I’m rattled as the flag becomes a common sight where Obama visits. What’s next: waving nooses?