Obama Shifts Cash To Fight Zika; Vacationing Republicans Take Credit

Brendan Smialowski via Getty Images

THE HUFFINGTON POST

WASHINGTON ― President Barack Obama’s administration announced Thursday the transfer of some $80 million in additional funds to combat the growing Zika threat after Congress refused to pass a $1.9 billion package before going on a seven-week break.

Nevertheless, congressional Republicans took credit for convincing the White House to act when Congress would not.

“For over six months we have been calling on the administration to use every existing resource at their disposal to address this crisis,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “Our calls have been met with little action, while the White House continues to cast aspersions and blame at others for lack of funding.”

The White House asked for $1.9 billion in February, and Rogers and other Republicans responded by questioning the administration’s plans to use the money. The administration then transferred $589 million from other programs ― primarily the effort to combat Ebola ― to begin dealing with Zika.

The Senate passed a compromise Zika package worth $1.1 billion on a bipartisan vote. But when that broadly supported bill came back from negotiations with the House, Republicans added riders to it restricting contraception services, protecting the Confederate flag, cutting Obamacare and weakening the Clean Water Act.

Democrats promptly labeled the riders poison pills and refused to pass the altered bill. Republicans then blamed Democrats for the impasse, as Rogers did again Thursday.

“The House has twice passed responsible, immediate funding legislation for vaccine development, mosquito control, and public health efforts,” Rogers said, referring to the rider-laden measure and an earlier bill that would have provided just one-third of the requested money. “These much-needed funds have been blocked at every turn by Democrats in the Senate, with the backing of the Obama White House.”

Even one of the few Republicans who supported Obama’s initial request, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), blamed Democrats and crowed over the funding transfer.

“Last month I urged President Obama to use all the funds that were already available to fight Zika,” Rubio said in a statement. “Today’s action is long overdue, and the Obama administration should do even more to find unspent funds that can be redirected toward fighting Zika in Florida.”

In a letter to lawmakers Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell explained that the transfer comes at a cost. It means that $34 million being shifted at the National Institutes of Health will be used to continue development of one promising vaccine, but that three other vaccine candidates will have to be shelved. It also means that NIH’s work on Zika diagnostics will stall, Burwell said.

Similarly, $47 million being transferred to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will allow the agency to sign contracts with private companies that work on vaccines, but it does not provide enough money to come close to finishing that work.

“With the actions described above, we have exhausted our ability to even provide short-term financing to help fight Zika,” Burwell wrote. She said that if Congress fails to act by the end of the fiscal year next month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NIH will have to start cutting back Zika efforts.

Burwell opened her letter by noting that, as of Thursday, there were more than 7,300 cases of Zika infection in the United States, including 972 pregnant women with evidence of infection and 15 babies born with Zika-linked birth defects.

And in Florida, where the first local outbreak of Zika has been recorded, there are at least 22 related cases.

Democrats blamed their GOP colleagues for the current state of affairs, and said Congress should come back to work before its scheduled Sept. 6 return to pass the bipartisan Zika bill.

“Without having successfully enacted any funding to fight Zika, Republicans shut down Congress for the longest summer recess in at least 60 years,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “What better use of time do Republicans have right now than to come back here and get the job done for the American people?”

“In its continued failure to enact emergency Zika appropriations, the Republican majority is playing Russian roulette with the health of the American people,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Rogers’ counterpart on the Appropriations Committee. “This failure has forced the administration to divert funding from other critical priorities, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, mental health, viral hepatitis, and home energy assistance for low-income Americans. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is damaging and immoral, and it must stop.”

Michael McAuliff

Obama Explains Why A Changing America Terrifies Donald Trump

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK J. TERRILL

THINK PROGRESS

President Barack Obama closed out Wednesday night of the Democratic National Convention with a rousing speech that hearkened back to his breakout moment at the 2004 convention. Obama detailed a very different vision of a changing America than the xenophobia that characterizes Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign.

Obama noted that Trump and other Republicans have argued the U.S. has lost a vital quality, which they suggest has been stolen by Mexican “criminal” immigrants, liberal elitists, and Muslim terrorists.

“They tell voters there’s a real America out there that must be restored,” he said. “This isn’t an idea that started with Donald Trump. It’s been peddled by politicians for a long time – probably from the start of our Republic.”

The first black president rejected that idea, instead painting a picture of a tolerant nation that recognizes it’s richer for its growing diversity. He illustrated this with his now familiar “origin story,” debuted in his 2004 speech, about being raised by his white grandparents from the heartland.

“I don’t know if they had their birth certificates,” Obama joked, a dig at Trump’s dogged promotion of a conspiracy theory that the president was born in Kenya.

“My grandparents explained that they didn’t like show-offs. They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies. They didn’t respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, they valued traits like honesty and hard work,” he said. “Kindness and courtesy. Humility; responsibility; helping each other out.”

“And what my grandparents understood was that these values weren’t limited to Kansas. They weren’t limited to small towns,” he continued. “They knew these values weren’t reserved for one race; they could be passed down to a half-Kenyan grandson, or a half-Asian granddaughter.

“In fact, they were the same values Michelle’s parents, the descendants of slaves, taught their own kids living in a bungalow on the South Side of Chicago. They knew these values were exactly what drew immigrants here, and they believed that the children of those immigrants were just as American as their own, whether they wore a cowboy hat or a yarmulke; a baseball cap or a hijab.

“America has changed over the years. But these values my grandparents taught me – they haven’t gone anywhere. They’re as strong as ever; still cherished by people of every party, every race, and every faith. They live on in each of us. What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what’s in here. That’s what matters.”

This lofty depiction of a changing U.S. isn’t just meant to give Americans a feel-good antidote to the racism and fearmongering spread by the Trump campaign. It’s also smart politics.

The face of America has changed dramatically, even over the eight years of Obama’s tenure. This year’s election is on track to be the most diverse in U.S. history. Since 2012, more than two-thirds of the new eligible voters in the U.S. identify as racial and ethnic minorities. At the same time, the white share of the electorate is dropping.

Trump’s rhetoric may be accelerating the rate of demographic change. His racist comments about Latinos and immigrants are reportedly spurring naturalization drives for Americans who are more determined than ever to gain their citizenship in order to vote against Trump.

If the current rate of citizenship applications is sustained, nearly a million new voters could hit the polls for the first time in November.

Obama’s candidacy turned out record numbers of African Americans in 2008, an election where one in four voters was non-white. Many wondered if Democrats could sustain that political energy from voters of color, or if they were simply buoyed by enthusiasm for the first black president.

Black voters backed Hillary Clinton in this year’s primary in even wider margins than they supported Obama against Clinton in 2008. But it remains to be seen if minority turnout will rise to the same levels Obama enjoyed in his last two elections.

Obama knows this turnout will be crucial in a tightening contest. On Wednesday night, Obama exhorted listeners, again, “don’t boo, vote!”

BY AVIVA SHEN

This Black Science Fiction Writer Predicted Trump’s Campaign Slogan 16 Years Ago

This Black Science Fiction Writer Predicted Trump's Campaign Slogan 16 Years Ago

(Image Credit: Getty Images)

IDENTITIES.MIC

These four little words combined make a soundbite that has taken up a lot of airtime this election cycle: “Make America Great Again.” The slogan has much different connotations than Hillary Clinton‘s “I’m With Her” or Barack Obama‘s “Yes We Can!” but it’s still the rallying cry that has brought him millions of primary votes and propelled him to become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Was it actually concocted by a black science fiction writer as the slogan for an evil Christian demagogue running for President?

In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, published in 1998, Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarret uses the phrase as a way to shore up support among Evangelical voters. One Twitter user pointed out that Butler wrote the exact same phrase in her book on Thursday on Twitter.

Talents explores what happens when a demagogue is allowed to rise to quell the fears and anxieties that come along with living in a dystopian word where the government is powerless and people must fend for themselves.

The author, Octavia Butler, was a black woman and the first science fiction writer to ever win the MacArthur “Genius Grant.” Butler died in 2006, two years before Trump would become host of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice.

This Black Science Fiction Writer Predicted Trump's Campaign Slogan 16 Years Ago

(Source: Evan Agostini/AP)

As the excerpt from the book shows, Jarret riles up his supporters so much that they begin to harm anyone they think to be against them, including Muslims and Jews. Though Jarret condemns the hate violence, he “does so in such mild language that his people are free to hear what they want to hear.”

Shawn Taylor, a Butler scholar, told Fusion the book shows “what happens when people are emboldened by a demagogue” and that Trump, like Jarret, gives people “permission to act on their worst impulses.”

Trump’s rallies have garnered a reputation for wanton violence. A hashtag, #SaferThanaTrumpRally even sprang up in response. And through it all, Trump has not condoned the violence and instead has parceled out blamemostly to protesters. While Trump doesn’t exactly say he condones the violence, considering paying the legal bills of violent rallygoers is the exact opposite of condemning violence.

This Black Science Fiction Writer Predicted Trump's Campaign Slogan 16 Years Ago

(Source: Brennan Linsley/AP)

According to The Hill, Trump claims he invented the phrase a year ago.

By Mathew Rodriguez

Innuendo, conspiracy and outright delusion: The bizarro “truth” according to Donald Trump

Innuendo, conspiracy and outright delusion: The bizarro "truth" according to Donald Trump

(Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder)

SALON

This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

After the carnage in Orlando, Donald Trump didn’t wait long before launching yet another guided missile full of insinuation. He didn’t exactly say that the massacre was the doing of an unreconstructed Mau-Mau descendant born in Kenya. Trump is craftier than that. Monday morning, he told Fox News:

Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind — you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words “radical Islamic terrorism.” There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on… [Obama] doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands — it’s one or the other and either one is unacceptable. [My italics]

Later he told NBC’s Today’s Savannah Guthrie:

… There are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it. A lot of people think maybe he doesn’t want to know about it. I happen to think that he just doesn’t know what he’s doing, but there are many people that think maybe he doesn’t want to get it. He doesn’t want to see what’s really happening. And that could be. [My italics]

Something else in mind… Can’t believe it… There’s something going on… Maybe he doesn’t want to get it… People cannot believe… A lot of people think… These are Trump’s characteristic high-frequency whistles, repeated and restated and re-repeated to make sure he gets through to the feebler dogs out on the periphery of his adoring crowd.

There are two intertwined strands to the Trump brand of insinuation. One is that traitors have crept into our midst. They are Muslims, Mexicans and other alien inhabitants of Trojan horses, aided and abetted by those who cover up for them, who reassure you that these sinister forces are harmless.

The second strand is that Trump speaks for a movement of folks who get it. He’s not just the leader who glimpses the buried truth. The leader, after all, has the wisdom to channel the “people,” the stouthearted ones, the deprogrammed, those brave souls who can handle the awful truth, who all together will rise to strip the masquerade bare, to evict the aliens — along with corrupting serpents — so as to restore Edenic greatness. The truth that matters, in all fascist and para-fascist movements, is the truth that the savior-masters have unearthed.

In the minds of circle of the adepts, there’s always “something going on” — the inside story that compactly explains the apparent mysteries of the world. What’s “going on” is always deep and dark. A special craft of intelligence is required to discern it. They, the conspirators, either are invisible to the official channels of information, who are at best naïve — at worst, complicit — because they ignore the common sense of the common folks who do get it.

In this view, official opinion is made up by know-it-alls who really know nothing, because they have an interest in concealment. They’re cover-up artists, the liberal-mainstream-lamestream media and their elite pals. They suppress the knowledge that, against all odds, the circle of deep knowers have patiently scraped together. It takes a special brand of astuteness to join the ranks of the adepts, to get down with the connoisseurs of the International Communist Conspiracy and the grassy knoll and the “false flag” and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Jews who stayed home from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Here are words out of Trump’s mouth, to Bill O’Reilly, in 2011:

I’m a very smart guy. I went to the best college. I had good marks. I was a very smart guy, good student and all that stuff. Because what they do to the birthers, which is a term I hate because a lot of these birthers are just really quality people that just want the truth.”

We get it. They don’t. They refuse to. Because — well — you know about them…

Conspiracy nuts despise official knowledge. What they relish is their own knowingness. Just when you think you’ve refuted their canards, they dance away. One mark of this sort of conspiracy theory is that it never says die. Blocked at the end of one cul-de-sac, it reverses field and rushes off to find another one. So, during his effort in 2011 to force Obama to present his birth certificate to prove his citizenship, Trump implied to Fox News that the reason for the president not showing it was “because maybe it says he is a Muslim.”

Having lifted that rock, Trump couldn’t let it go undisturbed. Just this Februaryhe tweeted:  “I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of Justice Scalia if it were held in a Mosque?” Well, he didn’t say Obama was a Muslim, did he? He only implied that Obama has a special feeling for Muslims. Which takes us straight to his insinuations about Orlando.

Fortunately for the Trumps of the world, they have their own efficient, instantaneous, echo chambers at their disposal. They delude themselves that what other people think doesn’t matter, because they are deafened by the applause that reverberates through their own arenas.

This doesn’t mean that what mainstream media say and don’t say, expose and fail to expose, are irrelevant. Writing in The Washington PostPaul Waldman goes too far when he laments that mainstream media exposés are now helpless because there is no single media figure who has the audience or the stature that Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite had. But the multiplication of sources hasled to a Balkanization of information — there’s no common text among voters that functions the way the evening news functioned a half-century ago. Further, the profusion of opinion available to everyone means that there’s no perspective or analysis, no matter how extreme, to which the public doesn’t have access.

As I noted last week, a good many journalists are at long, long last finding their ways through the conundrum of how to cover a serial liar without covering up. Untruths that passed unchallenged as run-of-the-mill Republican rhetoric during the primaries have now slipped into what the media scholar Daniel Hallin has called “the sphere of legitimate controversy.” Reporters are not so fearful of highlighting and challenging Trump’s steady assaults on truth. Investigative reports are catching up with his past of deception, greed and fraud. One reads this, for example, by Jenna Johnson in The Washington Post:

For months, Trump has slyly suggested that the president is not Christian and has questioned his compassion toward Muslims. Years ago, Trump was a major force in calls for the president to release his birth certificate and prove that he was born in the United States. On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly stated as fact conspiracy theories about the president, his rivals and Muslims, often refusing to back down from his assertions even when they are proven to be false.

No wonder Trump just took the step of revoking the Post’s credentials for upcoming events. He made this decision before the Post did him the favor of this weasely headline: “Donald Trump spreads unproven theories.” Not “unproven” — false and crackpot!

What took journalists so long to rise to the occasion? Aside from normal, everyday deference, false equivalencies and the fear of being seen as knowing too much (aka “partisanship”), mainstream journalists suffered from lack of material from campaign rivals. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler usefully explains that one reason journalists failed to puncture so many of Trump’s hot-air balloons is that they weren’t getting any help from other candidates’ opposition — or “oppo” — research:

Political reporters have done a pretty good job unearthing the unflattering details of Trump’s past, but they can only do so much on their own. If the media could document everything untoward every candidate had ever done, campaigns and advocacy groups wouldn’t employ opposition researchers. But there’s a reason they do: In general, campaigns outgun and outpace the press at investigating rival candidates (particularly with respect to archival information that can’t be found online, and that requires expertise to obtain and decipher). They have more resources, no daily print deadlines and no need to worry about impartiality.

…[R]epublican campaigns and anti-Trump activists did an absolutely abysmal job sifting through his dirty laundry between June 2015 and today… [F]or too long, most Republicans mistakenly assumed Trump would collapse on his own… They were also inhibited from attacking his wealth (or lack thereof), his tax avoidance and his barking-mad tax reform plan, because that would contradict fundamental conservative dogma: that taxes are terrible, that they can’t be cut enough and that the wealthy are wise to pay as little as possible.

Most Republicans were loath to attack Trump in any meaningful way at all, until it was too late, because they didn’t want to alienate the front-runner and his millions of supporters.

Can millions of supporters be wrong? As Lindsey Graham said in December: “[T]here’s about 40 percent of the Republican primary voter[s] who believes [sic] that Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim.”

The freak show is not over. Fatuous commentaries and foolish questions still resound through cable TV land. On FoxHoward Kurtz opined that “it probably would have been better if Trump had let one of his aides or surrogates” make the points the candidate made that he was “right on radical Islamic terrorism” and, “I said this was going to happen—and it is only going to get worse.” Not better in the sense of more revealing of the actual sentiments of the putative Republican nominee — better in the sense of less damaging to Trump’s reputation, such as it is. No doubt more advice to Trump about how to airbrush his dirty pictures will be forthcoming in days to come.

, BILLMOYERS.COM

 

Obama: ‘Politics’ Makes It Easy For Terrorists To Buy Weapons

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(AP Photo)

TPM LIVEWIRE

Obama, speaking at a makeshift memorial at the Phillips Center with Vice President Joe Biden at his side, said the city was “shaken by an evil and hateful act.” He implored lawmakers who defend easy access to assault weapons to meet the families of the shooting victims for themselves.

The President vowed that “we will destroy” terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, but that it would take “more than just our military” and intelligence team to prevent lone-wolf attacks like the one in Orlando from occurring.

“I truly hope that senators rise to the moment and do the right thing,” Obama said.

“We can’t wipe away hatred and evil from every heart in this world. But we can stop some tragedies,” he continued. “We can save some lives.”

Obama said politics had made it as “easy as possible” for a terrorist and “disturbed” individuals to legally buy powerful weapons. He said that the families of the victims “don’t care about the politics.”

“Neither do I,” Obama said. “Neither does Joe and neither should any parent out here whose thinking about their kids being not in the wrong place but being where kids are supposed to be. This debate needs to change. It’s outgrown the old political stalemates.”

Obama noted that while the motives of the shooter in Orlando were different than those of the gunmen in Aurora or Newtown, the “instruments of death were so similar.”

“We’re all going to have to work together, at every level of government, across political lines, to do more to stop killers who want to terrorize us,” Obama said.

Obama Endorses Hillary Clinton

HUFFPOST POLITICS

President Barack Obama has endorsed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, signaling he will fight to ensure that she succeeds him in the White House.

Obama made his endorsement via a video released Thursday:

President Barack Obama has endorsed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, signaling he will fight to ensure that she succeeds him in the White House.

“I want to congratulate Hillary Clinton on making history as the presumptive Democratic nominee for the president of the United States,” Obama said in the video.

“I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office,” he said, adding, “I want those of you who’ve been with me from the beginning of this incredible journey to be the first to know that I’m with her.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) met with Obama at the White House earlier in the day, and said afterward during a press conference that he would work to ensure presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump does not make it to the White House. Sanders did not endorse Clinton or say that he would withdraw from the race.

Obama mentioned Sanders in his endorsement of Clinton, thanking the senator for “shining a spotlight on issues like economic inequality and the outsized influence of money in our politics, and bringing young people into the process.”

Obama emphasized that Clinton and Sanders have a shared vision of “the values that make America great.”

“Those are the values that are going to be tested in this election,” he said.

Clinton thanked Obama for his endorsement in a tweet:

Trump reacted to Obama’s endorsement in a tweet Thursday:

Clinton quickly responded to his criticism with a tweet of her own:

Clinton became the presumptive nominee on Monday, exceeding the 2,383 delegates required to be the party’s choice on the November ballot, according to The Associated Press. She declared victory Tuesday evening, after winning primary contests in four states and earning a majority of pledged delegates in the race.

Obama has hinted for months that he would endorse Clinton, but said it would be inappropriate to wade into the campaign until she clinched the nomination.

He is set to campaign with Clinton in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on June 15.

MORE>>>

Republicans Move to Hide the Gender Pay Gap

POIKE VIA GETTY IMAGES

 THE HUFFINGTON POST

Popular mythology has it that women don’t really understand numbers as well as men. That shopworn notion from the 19th century is still harming girls from elementary school on up — female students drop out of the science, math and tech pipeline around the time they hit junior high.

But there’s one number women understand very well — the gender pay gap. At 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, the needle hasn’t moved in over a decade.

Pay Equity Day — the day every year when women catch up with what men earned by the previous December 31 — is April 12. Never mind that paying women less than men for substantially the same work has been illegal since the 1960s.

One big reason the pay gap is so stubborn is that women can’t find out what they’re making compared to the guys alongside them. Many employers prohibit talking about pay with co-workers, and god forbid a company should publish its statistics on pay, gender and job category.

In 2014, President Obama took a small step for womankind when he issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Labor to “develop a compensation data collection proposal” for federal contractors. That proposed mechanism was announced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in February of this year.

In plain English, it will require contractors add employee wages to the long-existing reporting requirements on race, gender, and job categories. (The info still won’t be public, but at least those charged with enforcing the law will have it.) After all, federal contractors are benefiting from our tax dollars, and we deserve to know they’re being fair to employees. It’s a simple matter of transparency on the part of those doing business with the government, not to mention government accountability to taxpayers.

While they may not be too hot on the transparency part, Republicans have been wailing and gnashing their teeth about government accountability since government was invented. Now that they have a chance to get a small measure of it with this new rule, they don’t want it after all.

The ink wasn’t dry on the proposal before Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) fired off a bill to derail it. His “EEOC Reform Act“ demands that the entire backlog of pay discrimination cases be cleared before any more data can be collected from offending companies. Ironically, the bill also contains an outright admission that the agency is understaffed and underfunded.

If Republicans really cared about the EEOC’s “mission not accomplished” record due to budget starvation, it would increase funding for investigation and prosecution of giant corporations getting fat off our tax dollars — while women working for them still slave away for 79 cents on the dollar.

Martha Burk

‘The Russians are going to have a cow’: The US’ latest message to Putin ‘is a really big deal’

Carolyn Kaster/AP

BUSINESS INSIDER

The US will devote a substantial portion of its defence spending to building up its military presence in Eastern Europe in an effort to deter Russian aggression in the region, Obama administration officials told The New York Times.

Countries belonging to the NATO alliance in central and Eastern Europe will apparently receive heavy weaponry, tanks, and other equipment from the US, which quadrupled its budget from $789 million to more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe through 2017.

“This is a really big deal, and the Russians are going to have a cow,” Evelyn N. Farkas, the Pentagon’s top policy official on Russia and Ukraine until October, told The Times on Tuesday. “It’s a huge sign of commitment to deterring Russia, and to strengthening our alliance and our partnership with countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.”

The move comes four months after Russia launched an air campaign in Syria to prop up embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a move widely seen as an attempt by Russian president Vladimir Putin to secure and expand Russia’s influence in the Middle East.

Russia’s presence in Syria, however, has “undermined” virtually everything the West is trying to accomplish in Syria and beyond, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in an interview with Reuters from a refugee camp in Jordan on Monday.

That includes the US’ attempts to bolster “moderate” Syrian rebel groups — who have been targeted by Russian airstrikes — and the US-led anti-ISIS coalition’s attempts to wipe out the Islamic State in Syria (who have largely been spared the brunt of Russia’s punishing air campaign.)

As such, the new funding being allocated to fortify Eastern Europe against Russian aggression “is not a response to something that happened last Tuesday,” a senior administration official told the New York Times.

“This is a longer-term response to a changed security environment in Europe. This reflects a new situation, where Russia has become a more difficult actor,” the official added.

Russia is unlikely to react kindly to an expanded NATO military presence along its western flank. In an interview with the German daily newspaper BILD in January, Putin asserted that Russia’s tensions with the West largely resulted from NATO’s eastward expansion after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Of course every state has the right to organise its security the way it deems appropriate. But the states that were already in NATO, the member states, could also have followed their own interests — and abstained from an expansion to the east.”

He added: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone.”

Incidentally, Russia is now trying to dethrone NATO and position itself as an alternative to US influence in the Middle East, as evidenced by its alliance with Iran, Syria, and Iraq — under the guise of fighting ISIS.

“Russia is of course trying to leverage the entire intervention [in Syria]as a way to lap up as much real estate in the Middle East as possible,”Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, told Business Insider in September.”It’s classic Putin.”

In pushing himself to the forefront of an “anti-ISIS coalition” and creating a distraction from Ukraine, Putin has tried to coerce the US into accepting — and potentially embracing — Russia’s role in the conflict.

But Obama’s new funding plan to bolster NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe shows that his administration is trying to put a damper on Putin’s plans to dislodge the West from the Middle East entirely by re-asserting the US’ role in the region.

From The Times:

Administration officials said the new investments were not just about deterring Russia. The weapons and equipment could also be deployed along NATO’s southern flank, where they could help in the fight against the Islamic State or in dealing with the influx of migrants from Syria.

Another anonymous administration official speaking to The Times put it bluntly: “This is a message that we see what they’re capable of, and what their political leadership is willing to do.”

NATASHA BERTRAND

 

Ted Cruz Welcomes Endorsement Of Pastor Who Believes Oprah Is Antichrist Forerunner

JOSHUA LOTT VIA GETTY IMAGES

HUFFPOST POLITICS

Americans, angry at the inability of politicians and political institutions to address their concerns, seem in search of a savior. They yearn for someone to take charge. On the right, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are leading the anti-establishment crusade. On the left, Bernie Sanders has taken up the torch. Their message is one of strength, power and the promise to shake up the system. Yet this poses two problems — or should — for frustrated voters.

First, since the left harbors frightful memories of the excesses of the George W. Bush presidency and the right rails at the usurpation of power by Barack Obama, why do voters think the solution is a powerful president? Admittedly, voters may like power in the presidency when the incumbent is of their own party, but that means the half of America that voted for someone else does not. It’s also worth noting that the “imperial presidency” has not actually been welcome when it has shown itself, even among members of the president’s own party. Lyndon Johnson, who tried to rule from the oval office like he did in the Senate, decided against trying for a second term because his use of power in Vietnam failed so miserably and alienated even his democratic base. Richard Nixon found himself isolated on the road to impeachment, including by his own party, after deciding that power gave him the right to act illegally.

Second, the demand for a powerful leader raises unreasonably high expectations. Whoever becomes president will not be able, in our current political climate, to deliver on most of the boldest promises made as a candidate. This inability is also, of course, built into our constitutional system. The Framers were afraid of executive authority and expected Congress to be the dominant branch. To ensure they could limit presidential over-reach, they built in multiple ways to frustrate presidents, especially strong ones. While Congress seems to lack the power or ability to produce positive change, it does not lack the power to stop change. The result, especially when Congress is polarized and paralyzed, is almost certain to be a “failed presidency” in the minds of voters, sparking the next round of cynicism about government and, predictably, the next round of calls for power in the presidency.

If voters want a reformation of government, they must look for more fundamental change than electing a “strong” leader. Power navigates to the presidency when the legislative branch is too divided or too weak to get things done. If we can’t fix Congress, we’ll continue the conditions that lead presidents to strike out on their own, only to be reined in by Congress, which if it can agree on nothing else will at least protect its Constitutional prerogatives.

Surprisingly absent from current candidate debates are questions and conversation about what it will take to make Congress more effective. Presidential candidates show little understanding about why recent Congresses have proved ineffective and the changes in everything from redistricting, campaign finance, cross-party relationships and Congressional operations needed to turn the legislative body into a better functioning part of the governmental system — one that can balance and lessen the need for a too-powerful president.

Also missing is discussion about what behavior a president will need to demonstrate to decrease the animus that has characterized presidential-congressional relationships for so long. Pabulum about “reaching across the aisle” is devoid of specifics and almost laughable given the way candidates criticize the very body that they will depend on once elected. Indeed, when disdain for the political establishment is part of the sales pitch to angry voters, it creates for the president-elect the expectation that reaching out to Congress is tantamount to weakness.

Presidential contenders act as if the force of their will is enough to get America back on the “right track.” Absent a more sophisticated understanding and a more robust approach to the problems of national governance, the next president is consigned to disappoint us again.

Terry Newell

They want to deny his humanity: Obama’s tears, white rage and the right’s phony new line

 

They want to deny his humanity: Obama's tears, white rage and the right's phony new line

(Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria)

SALON

America remains uncomfortable with complex, fully human and nuanced depictions of black masculinity

Barack Obama cried during a press conference about his new initiative to confront America’s plague of gun violence. The thought of the horrific murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School–children whose bodies were blown apart, so defiled that some were left unrecognizable by their parents–moved him deeply.

Barack Obama is a fan of “Star Trek.” While President Obama is more like Mr. Spock than Captain Kirk, he will likely appreciate the following allusion.

“Elaan of Troyius” is one of the most entertaining episodes of the original “Star Trek” TV series. Its plot revolves around how Captain Kirk and his crew were tasked with bringing a beautiful—and insolent, rude and uncouth—princess to meet her future husband. Of course, there is a complication in the plan as she stabs the aide who is tasked with teaching her proper manners. Captain Kirk is thrown into the mix, and in a retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” he tries to show Elaan the error in her ways. But Elaan does not easily succumb to Kirk’s charms. She, like the other women of her race, has a special power. Elaan’s tears make men into her slaves; smitten, they are unable to resist her commands.

Barack Obama’s tears do not have this power. They do not engender a sense of love. Nor do his tears create feelings of admiration or goodwill among all Americans. Republicans have suggested that Obama’s tears are fake, a calculated ruse designed to turn public opinion against “gun rights” and to vilify the National Rifle Association.

And as shared online and in other spaces, some African-Americans are concerned with how President Obama is apparently quite selective with his tears: He publicly cries for the children at Sandy Hook, but did not do so for Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black child who was de facto executed by the Cleveland police.

On questions of emotion and politics, Barack Obama exists in a tension-filled, contradictory space.

The chattering classes have often demanded that Obama show more “passion,” “fire” and “anger”—especially in response to the Republican Party’s blatant obstructionism and disingenuous behavior. Yet, many of the same commentators have also praised Obama for being “cool” and “cerebral.”

When Barack Obama has a moment when he demonstrates a sense of linked fate and empathy with the black community he is pilloried by the right-wing media. A president who happens to be black cannot say that “if he had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin,” but a white president could express all manner of concern if a white child was killed under very suspicious circumstances by a reckless, now proven to be racist, emotionally unstable, street vigilante.

In all, the faux controversy about Barack Obama’s tears (and his emotions more generally) is a reminder of how America remains unprepared for a mature discussion of what it means to be black and male in this society. While America (and the world) loves commodified, caricatured, distorted and unreal depictions of black men as offered in popular films, sports, pornography and commercial hip-hop, it is very uncomfortable with complex, fully human and nuanced depictions of black masculinity.

Barack Obama is a doting and responsible father and husband. He is also the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States, commander in chief of the most deadly military on Earth, athletic, a fan of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” a reader of comic books, a law professor and an extremely literate and well-traveled man.

Obama is also comfortable enough with his own sense of self to cry in public.

This is a threat to a regressive and insecure masculinity that views public displays of sadness and loss as weakness. Obama’s tears are also a challenge to a type of black masculinity that emphasizes the physical over the intellectual and emotional. Obama’s tears are also powerful because they are a moment when he dropped “the mask” that black men (and women) wear as a life survival skill. For Obama to let his tears slip out from under the mask is an act of courage and uncommon vulnerability.

Black people have learned to wear the mask because the White Gaze is not easily capable of seeing their true and full humanity. For example, in the global race-making projects of slavery, colonialism and imperialism, race was constructed with a hierarchy, one where “whites” were at the top because they were deemed to be “naturally” less “emotional” and consequently more “intelligent.” Blacks were at the bottom of this “Great Chain of Being” because white race scientists and others concluded that people from Africa were “animal-like,” “emotional,” “libidinous” and “unintelligent.”

Those old stereotypes continue in the present. When African-Americans show common human emotions such as upsetness or frustration they are often described as “angry black people” whose opinions are subsequently to be discounted and rejected. A black person who demonstrated pride or “too much” self-respect and dignity during the American Apartheid of Jim and Jane Crow could be a target of white violence because he or she was “uppity” or did not “know their place.” During that era, black men were often lynched or imprisoned for “reckless eyeballing,” i.e., making eye contact with a white person (especially a white woman).

These racist cultural practices still exist in post civil rights era America. Police channel them when they kill defenseless black people and then claim to somehow be “in reasonable fear for their lives.”

[At present, America’s police continue to enforce the “reckless eyeballing” rules of Jim and Jane Crow when they arrest and otherwise harass black people for the “crime” of “aggressive staring.”]

Employers and supervisors engage in these racist cultural practices when they give harsher evaluations to black workers for the same job performance that would be rewarded if they were white. Black boys and girls are more harshly disciplined in America’s schools than white children. As research on these disparities details, black and brown schoolchildren are labeled as “disruptive” while white kids are “precocious” or “high energy”—for doing the same things.

Like other black Americans, Barack Obama is a victim of pernicious, racist double standards. Obama may be the most powerful man in the world, but he is still black and male in a society that systematically discriminates against and devalues people who possess those traits.

Barack Obama is not the only American politician or opinion leader to have cried in public. Yet somehow, his tears are a special problem for conservatives.

This is rank hypocrisy. Conservatives in the Age of Obama have been extremely emotional, with much of their opposition to Barack Obama taking the form of a temper tantrum on a national stage.

Right-wing charlatan and media personality Glenn Beck drew massive ratings on Fox News. Tears about the decline of America and the threat posed by Barack Obama and “liberals” were a central part of his shtick. Right-wing talk radio is populated by callers (and hosts) who rant, scream and cry about how “their country” is being destroyed by Obama, the Democrats, liberals, immigrants, black people, minorities, or whatever enemy Other of the day is the focus of their depraved attention. The excellent 2009 documentary “Right America: Feeling Wronged” showed white McCain and Palin supporters reduced to blubbering tears by the thought of either a black man (Obama) or a woman (Hillary Clinton) winning the presidency.

The emotional outbursts of conservatives in response to Barack Obama’s presidency are not “race neutral.” Nor are they “just” about disagreements in public policy. Social scientists have exposed the deep relationship between racism, hostility to Barack Obama, and support for the Republican Party. As such, the tears, the emotion, the anger, and the rage directed by conservatives towards Obama are infused with white racial animus.

Obama’s eight years in office have provided many examples of that behavior in practice.

In an unbelievable breach of protocol, a Republican congressman yelled “You lie!” at Barack Obama while the latter gave a speech to Congress in 2009. Conservatives have complained that Obama is “arrogant” and “aloof.” Sarah Palin accused then candidate Barack Obama of being “disrespectful” toward her. Republicans such as Chris Christie and others have regularly said that Obama acts like a “petulant child”or a spoiled brat.

These examples are akin to calling a black man a “boy,” denying him the respect due him as president of the United States, and saying that he is “uppity.” Even as compared to those examples of racism, the McCain-Palin campaign was exceptional in how it channeled the ugliest parts of America’s lynch law past. A black man who “disrespected” a white woman in America was punished with the rope, the tree and fire. Such ugly rhetoric by Palin and McCain was not an accident. It was part of a broader strategy of manipulating white fears and anxieties—one that includeddarkening the images of Barack Obama and lightening those of McCain–to win an election.

Obama’s cool pose has given him the strength to weather the storm of racism that has been directed at him by his opponents on the right. The mask partially conceals his emotions and frustrations at a Republican Party that behaves as though they hate him more than they love the United States. The mask of stoicism and self-control that black folks wear is strong, but it is not impregnable.

Republicans are responding with petty indignation and political opportunism to Obama’s tears because contemporary American conservatism is a redoubt and gathering place for authoritarians, racists, warmongers and bullies.

Movement conservatives want to destroy the social safety net. They view the weak and vulnerable as “useless eaters” and “human surplus” to be culled by neoliberalism. Today’s Republican Party considers the poor, the working class, people of color, women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and Muslims to be its enemies.

Barack Obama’s tears at the thought of 20 dead schoolchildren are a reflection of his humanity. Movement conservatives are less likely to cry for dead children killed by gun violence, than they are at the thought of some fictive boogeyman coming to take away their precious guns.

This, among many other reasons, is why contemporary conservatism is sociopathy in the guise of a political ideology.