Washington Merry-Go-Round

It’s in Kennedy’s hands

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 15 Feb. 2016                                                           10

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

It’s in Kennedy’s hands

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – When a case is heard in a local court, plaintiffs and defendants alike assume they are being heard by an impartial judge, but the likelihood of partiality increases with each court level right up to the Supreme Court, where impartiality is a rarity. This is so because so many of that court’s decisions are based upon the U.S. Constitution, a political document.

In such a politicized environment, the court’s liberal-conservative divide is transparent, which is why the passing of conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia is creating such a stir, even a constitutional crisis, coming as it has  in an election year when Republicans, who hold a 54-46 advantage over Democrats in the Senate, are openly hostile toward President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

This represents a continuation of national gridlock, with Republican Senate leaders informing the president, “You have a constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and we have a right to ignore the nomination.” But this stance is fraught with problems, starting with the reduction of the court from nine to eight members who are, in theory, evenly split. If they remain true partisans, votes on upcoming cases will come in at 4-4. And a tie vote means the case being appealed from a lower court will stand as decided by that lower court even though it would not be applicable nationwide.

There is a solution, and it is other than the following options being touted:

  1. The president nominates a partisan Democratic-leaning judge, who will not even receive a senatorial hearing let alone a confirmation.
  2. The president nominates a blank slate, someone whose history does not betray a bias, but once again, a Republican-controlled Senate will not take a chance on another Souter-like stealth justice. Retired Justice David Souter, who was appointed by Republican Pres. George H. W. Bush, proved to be other than an ally to conservative dogma.
  3. The president makes a recess appointment that will stand until the new Senate is sworn in next January. With the Senate in the midst of a President’s Day recess, this is doable, but the president said he will not do it, and with good reason. Such a justice will have almost a year to establish a track record. If it is conservative, Obama will regret it. If it is liberal, a Republican-controlled Senate will reject it come January, unless, of course, Democrats regain control in the November election. Too many “ifs.”

In the midst of the undemocratic din, one man holds the solution. The fact is there remain only three conservative justices on the court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. They are often joined by one unreliable conservative, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. Often called a “swing justice,” Kennedy has most often swung right, but the opposite direction just enough to justify his label. In other words, Justice Kennedy behaves more like an impartial lower-court judge.

Now Kennedy cannot stand up and announce a bias favoring a political philosophy. But he can announce his independence. Such an announcement would be code for his willingness to side with the court’s liberals, and, as such, force Republican senators to reevaluate their “dead-on-arrival” stance toward an Obama nominee. And what type of nominee would that be? It most likely would be another Kennedy, a person committed to the law, not a party or an orthodoxy because that is the only type of nominee who could pass senatorial muster.

So it lies within Kennedy’s hands to defuse the crisis and bring good judgment and decorum back into the process.

          Douglas Cohn’s new book, “The President’s First Year: None Were Prepared, Some Never Learned – Why the Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency,” is available in book stores.

          Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

 

The ghosts of presidents past

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 8 Feb. 2016                                                             10

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The ghosts of presidents past

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON –The current crop of presidential candidates may appear to be unique, particularly in their shortcomings, but we have seen iterations of them before – semblances, if not precise analogies. Like their predecessors, they are flawed and unprepared because the only school for presidents is the presidency.

Donald Trump, R-N.Y. –

President Andrew Jackson embodied almost everything opponents of democracy had feared. Unlike his distinguished predecessors, Jackson was a rough-hewn, bad-tempered, brutal authoritarian – the scourge of Native Americans. The new president asked Congress to authorize the removal of Indians from their ancestral lands (the Trail of Tears), regardless of their state of civilization or peaceful existence. It was an inauspicious start, and he seemed to care less. However, history has been kind to him because his egalitarianism changed the nature of the American body politic. He was hailed as a man of the people – adult white male people.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex. –

President John Adams could become overbearing, stubborn, argumentative and surly, but he was also canny, clever, perceptive, and knowledgeable. Thin-skinned, he signed the short-lived Sedition Act, instantly wronging a right when it became a federal crime to “write, print, utter or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States . . . the Congress . . . or the president . . . with intent to defame.” People were jailed for calling him “a repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and unprincipled oppressor,” and “a continual tempest of malignant passions.” Sensitive and prickly, he became isolated, facing hostility from every direction. Even his own Federalists were led by a disdainful Alexander Hamilton, not him.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. –

Franklin Pierce was among the youngest men to become president, the only person to run against his old commanding officer (think Jeb Bush), and the only president to recite a more than 3,000-word inaugural address from memory, including an unequivocal advocacy of states’ rights: “If the Federal Government will confine itself to the exercise of powers clearly granted by the Constitution, it can hardly happen that its action upon any question should endanger the institutions of the States or interfere with their right to manage matters strictly domestic according to the will of their own people. . . .”

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J. –

Hefty, outspoken President William Howard Taft displayed one example of his tenuous convictions when the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) invited him to speak at their April 14, 1910 convention: “If I could be sure that women as a class, including all the intelligent women . . . would exercise the franchise, I should be in favor of it. At present there is considerable doubt. . . . The theory that Hottentots or any other uneducated, altogether unintelligent class is fitted for self-government at once or to take part in government is a theory that I wholly dissent from.”

Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio and Dr. Benjamin Carson, R- Md. –

President Calvin Coolidge, a former governor, not fully comprehending the gulf of differences between state and federal finances or even personal finances, admitted, “I believe in budgets. . . . I have had a small one to run my own home; and besides that, I am the head of the organization that makes the greatest of all budgets, that of the United States government.” He did not distinguish between short-term debt to fund operations and long-term debt to fund infrastructure or military needs. Indeed, a balanced budget was his holy grail, even at the expense of national defense or humanitarian endeavors. He had voted for women’s suffrage, a state income tax, and other progressive programs, though none of that ideology seemed to carry over to his presidency. Instead of looking at what the Constitution prevented him from doing, he refused to act unless the Constitution specifically authorized him to do it.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla. –

President Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of President William Henry Harrison, paved the way from the machine politics of his predecessors to the reform agenda of Theodore Roosevelt, pressing for pre-Progressive legislation such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, though he was less vigorous in its enforcement. Instead, he continued to adhere to the dominant underpinning of the Republican Party: the protective tariff, never understanding how it was harming farmers of the South, Midwest, and West. He simultaneously advocated policies intended to aid those sections such as a bimetallist monetary policy with the 1890 Sherman Silver Purchase Act, making both silver and gold legal tender. Harrison’s private and political beliefs were in constant conflict.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. –

President Bill Clinton never said, “The chief business of the American people is business,” but he did seek to move Democrats to the center, which after he and his wife (he claimed the country was getting a “twofer”) failed to have universal healthcare enacted, often meant right of center, prompting Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution to compare him to the president who did say those words: “I’m not sure how different this presidency is going to look than Calvin Coolidge’s.” Clinton often found himself in opposition to his own party. He joined Republicans on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) which limited welfare benefits. He supported the Leach-Bliley Act that revoked portions of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act which had prevented banks from engaging in brokerage activities. The enigma that is Clinton runs the gamut from the Rhodes Scholar studiousness reminiscent of Madison to the accommodative and disingenuous façade of Van Buren. He was a president for all reasons.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt. and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y. (should he choose to run) –

President Theodore Roosevelt epitomized the Progressive movement, opposing the Robber Barons, whose monopolies he attacked with a zeal not seen before, giving conditional support for a constitutional amendment authorizing a federal income tax. He sympathized with labor and refused to use troops to break strikes, endorsed women’s suffrage, and obtained passage of The Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. It was all too much for mainstream Republicans, and he would eventually break with them to form a new Progressive Party and run for president under its banner in 1912. His progressive initiatives changed the face of America and paved the way for his cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to create the regulations and safety nets of the 1930s.

The current candidates may not be clones of their predecessors, but they do seem to channel them, these ghosts of presidents past.

Excerpts and paraphrase are from the author’s new book, “The President’s First Year”.

          Douglas Cohn’s new book, “The President’s First Year: None Were Prepared, Some Never Learned – Why the Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency,” is available in book stores.

          Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

 

They also serve who watch and wait

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 3 Feb. 2016                                                              10

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

They also serve who watch and wait

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The results of the Iowa caucuses raise more questions than they answered. Among them: What happens to Donald Trump? Can he sustain his lead in New Hampshire and other states? Is Ted Cruz’s victory a one-off or can he build on it? What happens to Marco Rubio? And can Hillary Clinton turn back a stronger than expected challenge from Bernie Sanders?

Two men are waiting in the wings with the rest of America to learn the answers to these questions. One is Michael Bloomberg, former three-term mayor of New York City, who says he would run as a third party candidate if Trump or Cruz is the Republican nominee, and Sanders is the Democratic nominee.

Hillary Clinton quickly countered that she would get the nomination so Bloomberg doesn’t have to run.

But what if Clinton falters? Well, there’s another suitor standing by, and that’s Vice President Joe Biden. He took himself out of the presidential race last October, but since then has expressed regrets that he’s not running.

Neither man’s candidacy is likely, but in a year where all the rules are out the window, they cannot be ruled out. A variety of scenarios could bring them from the sidelines, and Bloomberg has clearly stated the conditions that would prompt his candidacy.

Let’s imagine for the sake of argument a three-way race between Trump (or Cruz), Sanders and Bloomberg. It’s unlikely any one of them would carry enough states to reach the 270 electoral votes that are needed. The House of Representatives would then decide the winner. Tribal loyalties are strong, and the GOP-led House would almost certainly choose Trump.

Bloomberg has flirted with running before and backed off because he didn’t think he could win, and he didn’t want to be a spoiler. That’s probably still the case, but presidential dreams are powerful, and this could be Bloomberg’s last chance.

Biden is an even more convoluted case. As a sitting vice president, he should have had every expectation of running. But he was discounted early on because of his age (he is now 73), and the presumptive nominee became Clinton.

Biden would have had to plant his flag early and decisively, and even then he would have faced a strong challenge from Clinton. After the premature death of his son, Beau, Biden said he would not enter the race, but he and his supporters have made no secret of the fact that he would be available should Clinton falter.

Clinton’s narrow win in Iowa exposed her vulnerabilities, and she has been lagging far behind Sanders in New Hampshire. In the handful of days remaining before the primary on Tuesday, Clinton will be fighting hard to make up lost ground in the state she carried in the ’08 primary against Barack Obama.

If she loses New Hampshire, which is likely since Sanders has a home court advantage as the senator from neighboring Vermont, the chorus of worries about her candidacy will grow louder.

But that will not be nearly enough to bring in Biden. The next round of states is friendlier territory for Clinton, and she will likely do well.

The scenario that would open the door for Biden – and for Bloomberg as well – has to do with the email controversy that has dogged Clinton for months, although nothing has emerged to counter Clinton’s defense that she did not send or receive anything marked classified.

The FBI investigation into the State Department’s security system could report its findings while the primaries are still underway. What the impact will be depends of course on what those findings are, but whatever conclusions are reached, they could shape the race as much as any of the jockeying among the candidates.

          Douglas Cohn’s new book, “The President’s First Year: None Were Prepared, Some Never Learned – Why the Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency,” is available in book stores.

          Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

 

Millennials are Sanders and Trump constituents

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 28 Jan. 2016                                                             10

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Millennials are Sanders and Trump constituents

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – If Bernie Sanders pulls out a win in the Iowa caucuses, it will be because of the overwhelming support he enjoys from millennial voters. That may seem surprising since he’s the oldest candidate in the race at age 74, and in the 30 years he has served in Congress, first in the House, then in the Senate, nobody ever called him charismatic.

But here he is at this late stage in his life exciting voters a third his age. If they show up to vote on caucus night, Sanders could well beat Hillary Clinton, handing the frontrunner a defeat that is eerily reminiscent of the one she suffered in 2008.

That was at the hands of a young and charismatic Barack Obama, and it rocked her world. She and her campaign have done everything they can this time around to overcome the advantage Sanders has with young voters.

The election is in the hands of these voters, and they’re very different from their parents. The millennial generation doesn’t like big houses, or big cars, and they live on social media. They’ve only heard about the social upheaval that the Baby Boomers experienced, the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the women’s movement.

But the millennial generation has had their share of trauma, good and bad, and they don’t trust politicians. They like Sanders because he is railing against the Establishment, however it’s defined, and they find him exciting, even if he’s been around awhile.

Millennial voters are also part of Donald Trump’s base. He appeals to those with high-school diplomas that the new, high-tech economy tends to leave behind. College students prefer Sanders, but what these two unconventional politicians have in common is that they can excite and inspire young voters.

They won’t vote if they’re not inspired. They’ve come of age at a time when celebrities drive the news cycle. This is where Trump comes in with a level of celebrity that grabs the attention of everybody, not just the young.

Millennial voters are not ideological. They’re not tracking Trump’s flip-flops or holding against him something he said 20 years ago. They like his current affect, his swagger, his defiance, and his assurances that he can get the job done, whatever the job.

Just as they like Sanders for tackling Wall Street and promising revolution, these voters don’t spend a lot of time considering how Sanders can fulfill his campaign agenda in such an unforgiving Washington. Clinton is the realist who knows how hard it is to get anything progressive through a Congress controlled by the opposite party.

Sanders knows how hard it is too, but he entered the race as such a long shot that he has probably convinced himself if he wins the nomination, anything is possible.

If Sanders wins the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, he will face an uphill battle in the next round of primaries principally because of the support Clinton has from African-American voters. She leads Sanders by 50 points in South Carolina, which is her firewall.

On the Republican side, there is no firewall to stop Trump. If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he is in a position to sweep the Southern primaries and accumulate enough delegates to win the nomination.

He is still beatable, but it is not clear who can do it among the Republicans. None of them has demonstrated as much appeal among young voters as Trump, who at 69 is the oldest candidate on the Republican side. Millennial voters are looking for qualities that have nothing to do with age, and everything to do with attitude.

          Douglas Cohn’s new book, “The President’s First Year: None Were Prepared, Some Never Learned – Why the Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency,” is available in book stores.

          Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

 

Why we vote against self-interest

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 22 Jan. 2016                                                            10

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Why we vote against self-interest

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – What drives political affiliations? Philosophy? Pocketbooks? Danger? In fact, for the majority of Americans, it is none of these. The primary political driver is the same as the primary religious driver: family. The majority of people do not choose their religious affiliations; they are born into them, and the same applies to political affiliations.

This explains why so many people vote against their own interests.

True, there are converts and independent-minded voters, but they are the exceptions. Run your own survey. Begin by asking your friends if they are Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. Then ask where they stand on guns, national defense, military interventions, foreign alliances, abortion, welfare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, Civil Rights, affirmative action, taxes, tariffs, budget deficits, business regulations, too-big-to-fail banks, reintroduction of the Glass-Steagall Act to separate banking from brokerage activities, immigration, aid to education, the Core Curriculum, student debt, the Patriot Act, and so forth.

Finally, ask them to state where the Democratic and Republican Parties stand on these issues.

The results will surprise you.

This goes a long way toward explaining the apparent phenomena currently dominating the presidential nominating process. Donald Trump was raised a Republican, but was sufficiently pragmatic to embrace Democratic ideas until he decided to run for president. Hillary Clinton was raised a Republican, but eventually became a Democrat, though she not only maintained her ties to big business and Wall Street, she advanced them as fund raising became increasingly important for her career. For both of these candidates, the questions are: What do they actually believe? What are their core beliefs?

Is Trump a man who believes in Democratic principles, but runs as a Republican because he was raised a Republican? Does Clinton believe in a mix of Republican and Democratic principles because she is conflicted by her Republican upbringing and her Democratic registration?

For more than 100 years the Solid South remained a Democratic bastion because a Republican-controlled White House and Congress waged war against the Confederacy, this though many Southerners disagreed with Democratic tenets. Heritage and family mattered more.

The Vietnam era pitted Democrats demanding peace against Republicans demanding “peace with honor,” which was code for prolonging the war. As a result, to this day, the Republican Party has the edge among voters who favor a strong national defense establishment, even though Democrats more consistently vote for veterans’ benefits and increased military pay. Even so, most soldiers, sailors, and airmen tend to register as Republicans. Once again, history and family have proven to play a greater role in party affiliations than political self-interest.

Democrats are clearly the stronger advocates for teachers and education, yet ask a teacher who was raised in a Republican household how she or he votes, and as often as not, you will once again find people who are voting against self-interest.

The problem is that the subject of politics, like the subject of religion, is not always viewed as a polite subject of conversation, let alone education. Clearly, we do not want teachers indoctrinating students, but they should be required to present the issues of the day. Curriculums should include such issues to encourage students to objectively consider their own beliefs and positions, and, in so doing, replace traditional adherence to political parties with thoughtful adherence.

          Douglas Cohn’s new book, “The President’s First Year,” analyzing every president’s freshman year, is available at book stores everywhere.

          Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

You are being gerrymandered

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – It may have been the first time a president brought up gerrymandering in a State of the Union address. The subject is typically confined to civics classes and political science seminars, but the inequality and injustice it perpetuates are at the heart of what’s wrong with our politics, and that’s what President Obama wanted to highlight when he addressed the Congress Tuesday night.

He was talking to the wrong audience. Most lawmakers are in safe seats and guaranteed reelection because of gerrymandering. The Republican Party wouldn’t control the House of Representatives if it weren’t for gerrymandering.

In the last election, 1.4 million more Democratic votes were cast for House candidates yet Republicans continued their control carrying 234 seats to the Democrats’ 201.  There’s little likelihood that will change this year even if a Democrat is elected to the White House, and Democrats regain control of the Senate.

It is accepted wisdom that the GOP lock on the House will hold because of the artful drawing of districts based on political advantage for the party in power. And in a majority of states and legislative districts that is the Republican Party.

This is what Obama was referring to when he said, “We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around.”

The way it works is that every 10 years just after the census is taken, state legislatures are charged with re-drawing congressional districts based on population shifts. This task is widely seen as part of the patronage awarded the winning side, and politicians in both parties have exploited that advantage.

Gerrymandering got its unusual name more than 200 years ago from the salamander-shaped districts drawn in Massachusetts and signed into law by Governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812. The practice has gotten more pervasive and insidious in modern times, and by bringing it into the State of the Union, Obama is challenging both grassroots activists and the Supreme Court to see gerrymandering as fundamentally undermining our democratic processes and ideals, and to examine it in that light.

He is asking a lot because the powers that be are unlikely to overturn a tradition that they directly benefit from. During Obama’s presidency, Democrats lost 13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, 12 governorships, 30 state legislative chambers and more than 900 seats in those state chambers, where the bulk of gerrymandering originates.

Democrats are upset for valid good-government reasons, but if they’re honest, they’re mostly ticked because they weren’t the ones doing the gerrymandering because they didn’t have the majority.

Democrats gear up every four years for the presidency but have neglected the party building that is essential on the state level. Republicans have assiduously courted that power through a well-funded, Washington–based Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) that proved wildly successful in winning control of state legislatures in time for the 2010 Census.

A New York Times article in 2013 titled “The Great Gerrymander of 2012” reported on the RSLC’s “Redmap” project and how it redrew congressional districts to lock in partisan advantage. The article’s author, Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton, and the founder of the Princeton Election Consortium, tested the proposition that the party that wins more than half the votes should get at least half the seats.

In North Carolina, where Democrats cast 51 percent of the votes and Republicans 49 percent, a fair allocation of seats would be 7 Democratic and 6 Republican. The current delegation is 4 Democrats and 9 Republicans. Professor Wang includes many other examples of what he calls “shenanigans” before he concludes, “Both sides may do it, but one side does it more often.”

Obama was right to point fingers at gerrymandering, but if anything is going to change, it won’t come from Congress. “Our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen, to vote, to speak out,” Obama said, speaking past the Congress in the hope of summoning the American people.

          Douglas Cohn’s new book, “The President’s First Year,” analyzing every president’s freshman year, is available at book stores everywhere.

          Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

Whose boots on the ground will confront ISIS?

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 14 October 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Whose boots on the ground will confront ISIS?

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The three-day meeting convened by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, brought together top defense officials from 20 of the nations in the coalition to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, the Islamic terror group now controlling a swath of 350 miles from Syria into Iraq. Other than the United Nations or some other comparable regional gathering, this assemblage of military thinkers from the Middle East and beyond gathered at Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington has got to be a first of its kind outside of NATO.

President Obama stopped by on Tuesday to offer a pep talk, congratulating the coalition for successfully defending the Mosul dam in Iraq while cautioning this will be “a long-term campaign” involving “periods of progress and setbacks.” It’s not clear that Obama stuck around long enough to hear what the generals in the room had to say, but he didn’t have to because their position is well known.

They’re saying what just about every analyst is saying, that ISIS cannot be defeated without putting troops on the ground. Air power alone cannot do the job. Without endorsing any conspiracy theories, it’s worth pointing out that it was Dempsey who recently testified before Congress that if he thought ground troops were needed in the current conflict against ISIS he would recommend to the president.

But there is no evidence anyone is telling Obama he needs to reconsider his pledge not to commit boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria. Obama remains determined not to make this primarily America’s fight, and the countries in the Middle East have to step up to the task of defending their own interests with their own young men and women.

Everybody is pointing a finger at the Turks, who share a border with Syria, have a well-equipped fighting force, and as a member state in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, they are expected to do their share. So far, Turkish President Erdogan has turned a deaf ear to any direct involvement. He will permit some training of Syrian rebels on Turkish soil, but that’s it, and that’s not enough.

Erdogan is not simply being obstinate; he has real reasons to steer clear of helping the Kurds in Syria who are being overrun by ISIS. Turkey has been fighting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Eastern Turkey for some time, and they are aligned with the Kurds in Northern Syria. The U.S. State Department designates the PKK as a terrorist group. As Obama was meeting with the coalition generals, Turkey was launching air strikes against the PKK on Turkish soil, instead of joining the fight against ISIS in Syria.

President Obama is learning as President Bush did before him how strong the sectarian and ethnic rivalries are in this part of the world. Erdogan says he won’t do anything to help the Kurds in Syria, who are facing a humanitarian disaster, because they won’t take up arms against Syrian President Assad. Anything Turkey does to assist the Kurds by implication helps Assad stay in power. Assad has basically left the Kurds alone, and in retribution, Erdogan has been stopping Kurdish reinforcements from going through Turkey.

Everybody in that room with Obama on Tuesday is working his own angle, taking into account his country’s internal and external enemies, and turning the argument back on the U.S. If it weren’t for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which destabilized the region, ISIS would never have taken root first in Iraq, then in Syria. The new Iraqi Army (America disbanded the original Iraqi Army) either can’t fight or won’t fight, and unless the U.S. goes first in committing ground troops, these generals are staying on the sidelines. That’s the standoff, and so far neither side has blinked.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

 

Greece owes Germany; moves toward Russia

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 29 January 2015

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Greece owes Germany; moves toward Russia

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – A charismatic 40-year-old radical leftist is the new prime minister of Greece, embodying the rejection of the austerity policies that have deepened his country’s financial and societal problems. Older people have had their pensions reduced by 20 percent, and the widespread hardship and unemployment people are experiencing produced the political earthquake that brought the left-wing party, Syriza, to power, along with its leader, Alexis Tsipras.

The same dynamics are roiling Spain, which holds elections later this year. A new left wing party, Podemos, appears headed to victory with its 36-year-old leader, Pablo Iglesias, echoing the same themes as Tsipras. The two men, longtime friends and fellow activists, spoke at a rally in Athens shortly before the Greek election. “The wind of democratic change is blowing,” Iglesias told the pumped-up crowd. “It is called Syriza in Greece, and in Spain it is called Podemos.”

President Obama called Tsipras to congratulate him on his victory, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel  wished him “much strength and success,” words that convey little of the trepidation she must feel  at the looming showdown over austerity policies that she pressed on Greece and the other poorer cousins in the European Union.

Tsipras ran on promises to restore cuts made to his country’s social fabric, and to raise the minimum wage. He said he would re-negotiate the terms of the loans Greece received, loans underwritten mainly by Germany and made possible by Merkel. The winds of change in Greece and potentially in Spain threaten Merkel’s hold on Europe’s economy. These young leaders infused with passion will not bow easily, if at all, to Merkel’s demands. The question is whether a middle ground can be found that saves face for both the stern Merkel and the exuberant Tsipras.

Germany has won through the peace what it lost in the war, and is now the most powerful nation on the continent. Merkel sees herself as the grown-up tasked with keeping tabs on all the profligate spending by the countries that needed a bailout. But once a debtor gets in too deep with a creditor, there is shared responsibility, and Merkel will likely find herself forced into some kind of accommodation with Greece’s new leadership.

Tsipras appointed a well-known economist and blogger as his finance minister. Yanis Varoufakis has written tens of thousands of words decrying austerity, which he calls “fiscal waterboarding.” These new leaders have the people behind them, at least for now, and they seem prepared to force change even if it means threatening the stability of the European Union, and of the Euro itself.

Greece’s inability to get hold of its economy exposes a major flaw in the European Union, and in the Euro that most member countries have adopted. The United Kingdom is a major exception, sticking with the Pound as its currency. A country that cannot control its own monetary system can’t control interest rates or the amount of currency in circulation and expand or contract the money supply as needed, drastically limiting its choices when faced with recession.

It’s doubtful that Greece wants to return to the drachma, a near worthless currency, or that Merkel would want them to abandon the Euro. That would only undermine the Euro. The tough negotiations that lie ahead are made tougher by geopolitics. Tsipras is more sympathetic to Russia and less likely to side with Merkel and the Obama administration on imposing more sanctions on Russia. President Putin sent Tsipras a telegram of congratulations, and the New York Times noted that on the day Tsipras was sworn in, he met with the Russian ambassador in Athens.

A country that isn’t normally in the spotlight is now center stage, and everything Tsipras does is scrutinized for greater meaning. The job of defense minister went to the leader of the Independent Greeks, a right wing nationalist party that Syriza joined with to form a majority in the Parliament. The two parties don’t agree on anything other than a hatred of austerity, and for now, that’s enough.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Bypassing the White House

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 23 January 2015

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Bypassing the White House

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress on March 3. That he did so without informing or coordinating with the White House, and, further, that the date comes just two weeks before Israeli elections, has created a dustup.

Putting aside the diplomatic niceties regarding snubs and the like, the more significant question is constitutional. Article II, Section 2 specifies that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, and with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, given the power to make treaties and appoint ambassadors. Over time, these clauses have been interpreted as giving the president the executive authority to conduct foreign policy. Even the unilateral ability to engage in military actions has been granted the president both through precedent and the War Powers Act, although only Congress can actually declare war.

Otherwise, Congress is confined to its use of the power of the purse to affect foreign relations, as it did by cutting off funds to South Vietnam in violation of commitments made to that nation during the Vietnam War.

This brings us back to the Netanyahu situation. President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and President Jose Napoleon Duarte of El Salvador were invited to speak before joint sessions of Congress in 1987. In both instances the invitations were considered informal as opposed to state visits. However, President Ronald Reagan was in the loop in both visits. Since 1945, there have been dozens of official visits by foreign leaders who were invited to address a joint session of Congress, but until now there has never been either a formal or informal address in which the President of the United States was not involved.

The Netanyahu invitation is not just bad diplomacy or bad politics, it smacks of interference with the foreign policies of the nation. In this instance, it is an obvious attempt at an end run of the Obama administration’s attempts to halt Iranian nuclear weapons developments. In his State of the Union Address, the president said he would veto further sanctions against Iran while nuclear talks were ongoing and progress was being made. The Boehner invitation to Netanyahu appears to be a direct Republican response to that statement. Netanyahu has been adamant in his insistence that sanctions continue and be increased, and he may be right. He certainly is obligated to do all that is necessary to defend Israel, but bypassing the White House will not achieve such a goal.

Quite the contrary, if Netanyahu is seen as trying to undermine U.S. policy by dealing directly with a Republican-dominated Congress, there could well be a backlash. With the large Republican gains in the last election, Netanyahu may have come to the conclusion that Obama is a politically impotent lame duck. If so, he does not understand U.S. politics and he does not understand the tendency of Americans to close ranks at the water’s edge, and alienating Israel’s primary ally is not likely to prove beneficial for him in his upcoming election.

And Boehner? He is completely out of his element, and this interference and overstepping can only help to reveal him as such.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Obama’s middle class tax cut strategy

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 22 January 2015

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Obama’s middle class tax cut strategy

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The time honored way to appeal to the American public is through tax cuts. The Republicans have owned that turf for years, and they’re furious that President Obama in his State of the Union speech turned the tables, putting the Democratic Party squarely on the side of middle-class economics.  What Obama proposed will not make it through the GOP’s legislative grip on Capitol Hill, but he has laid the groundwork for the next election, drawing a bright line between the two parties and placing the GOP on the defensive over tax cuts.

It is a place Republicans never imagined they would be a few short months after winning strong majorities in the House and Senate, along with a record number of state houses and legislatures around the country. Obama was vanquished, wounded, a lame duck who would never regain his mojo. The president proved wrong those early reports of his political death, delivering an assertive, confident State of the Union speech that embraced progressive ideals and policies.

He zeroed in on what the middle-class cares about most, pocketbook issues that can make a real difference in the day to day life of American families. USA Today featured on its front page a box with a downward arrow featuring three of the tax cuts that Obama showcased: a tax credit of up to $500 for two-earner families; a child-care tax credit for families earning up to $100,000; and student-loan consolidation to provide up to $2,500 more in aid.

Another box with an upward arrow explains how the administration proposes to pay for these enhanced benefits. Closing the “trust fund” loophole, imposing a fee or tax on transactions by the biggest financial firms; and boosting the capital gains tax from the current 20 to 28 percent (on incomes in the 39.6 percent bracket), the rate it was when President Reagan was in the White House.

Republicans scream that it is class war, and Obama is a “redistributionist,” a label that is political poison. During the 2008 campaign, Obama made an offhand remark to a man on a rope line that he wanted to “spread the wealth.” That blew up into a major gaffe when the man, briefly famous as “Joe the Plumber,” campaigned for Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The politics have since shifted. The gap between the very rich and the middle class has grown to the point where even the staunchest Republicans cannot ignore it. The crop of emerging 2016 GOP candidates is as focused on income inequality as their Democratic counterparts.

Just as inequality and fairness have been considered Democrats’ turf, calling for tax cuts has been part of the GOP playbook since Reagan took office in January 1981. Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, deviated from the GOP script when he raised taxes across the board after pledging in his Convention speech “no new taxes.”

The lesson Bush learned when he was defeated for reelection in 1992 is you can’t raise taxes on the middle class. A little known governor of a small Southern state upended Bush with a campaign that called for a middle class tax cut. Bill Clinton’s colorful campaign manager, James Carville, coined the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” When Clinton entered the campaign in October of 1991, Bush’s approval rating reached 90 percent; he had just led American forces in a successful campaign in the Persian Gulf to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

War and peace is important, but if Americans feel their president is keeping the country safe from outside threats, their attention will return to their pocketbooks.  Raising taxes is never popular, but a president who calls for more revenue has to pick his or her targets carefully. Obama has done that, and while he might not get what middle-class voters want, woe to the Republican who has to defend his or her opposition to government lending a hand to hardworking families.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2015 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND