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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Noonan: The Nihilist in the White House - This administration doesn’t build, it divides and tears down. Vindication is assumed.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

There is an odd, magical-thinking element in the psychology of recent White Houses. It is now common for those within them to assume that history will declare their greatness down the road. They proceed as if this is automatic, guaranteed: They will leave someday, history will ponder their accomplishments and announce their genius.

The assumption of history’s inevitable vindication is sharper in the current White House, due to general conceit—they really do think they possess a higher wisdom and play a deeper game—and the expectation that liberal historians will write the history.

The illusion becomes a form of license. We don’t have to listen to critics, adversaries, worriers and warn-ers, we just have to force through our higher vision and let history say down the road we got it right.

They make this assumption because they don’t know much about history—they really are people who saw the movie but didn’t read the book—and because historical vindication is what happened so spectacularly in the case of Ronald Reagan. So it will happen to them, too.

Reagan had a hard, tough presidency during which his approval rating averaged around 53%. By the end of his presidency he was patronized—over, yesterday. His own people, I among them, made teasing fun of him; we all did imitations and laughed at his foibles. His was not a White House full of awed people. Even he wasn’t awed by him. How things change.

In the years after Reagan’s presidency his reputation experienced a reversal in public fortune. He came to be acknowledged as a truly great president. The fall of the Soviet Union was an epic moment in human history, the reigniting of the American economy brought a world of material and political implications, his ability to work with an often mean-minded Congress yielded something constructive, and even soothing, to the national psyche: Yes, things can still work.

And there was the liberating factor of his funeral in June 2004, which brought a great national outpouring. They thronged to Washington and slept on the street to say goodbye, in California they went to U.S. Highway 101 to stand and hold signs—“Thanks, Dutch”—and wave flags. Nancy Reagan told me she would never forget the Vietnam War vet who put on his old uniform and stood on the side of the road, saluting the motorcade as it passed.

The outpouring took the media aback, and changed the nature of their coverage. More important, seeing what was happening gave the American people a kind of permission to express what they’d long believed: This was a great man.

Now when Gallup lists its greatest and most admired presidents Ronald Reagan is up there with Lincoln.

A similar vindication happened with Harry Truman, though it took longer. The historian David McCullough rescued his reputation with a 1992 biography that indelibly captured Truman’s greatness—the Marshall Plan, the creation of an early, constructive strategy toward the Soviets, the bringing along, in all of this, of resistant congressional Republicans. Truman’s was not a perfect presidency, any more than Reagan’s—plenty of flaws and failures in both. But he was the last Democratic president Ronald Reagan campaigned for, in 1948, and the one he most loved to quote, devilishly but sincerely, as president.

Historical vindication happens. The Obama White House assumes it will happen to them. Thus they can do pretty much what they want.

What they forget is that facts largely decide what history thinks—outcomes, what happened, what it means. What they also forget, or perhaps never knew, is that the great ones are always constructive. They don’t divide and tear down. They build, gather in, create, bend, meld, and in so doing move things forward.

That’s not this crowd.

This White House seems driven—does it understand this?—by a kind of political nihilism. They agitate, aggravate, fray and separate.

Look at three great domestic issues just the past few weeks.

ObamaCare, whose very legitimacy was half killed by the lie that “If you like your plan, you can keep it,” and later by the incompetence of its implementation, has been done in now by the mindless, highhanded bragging of a technocrat who helped build it, and who amused himself the past few years explaining that the law’s passage was secured only by lies, and the lies were effective because the American people are stupid. Jonah Goldberg of National Review had a great point the other day: They build a thing so impenetrable, so deliberately impossible for any normal person to understand, and then they denigrate them behind their backs for not understanding.

I don’t know how ObamaCare will go, but it won’t last as it is. If the White House had wisdom, they’d declare that they’d won on the essential argument—health coverage is a right for all—and go back to the drawing board with Congress. The only part of the ObamaCare law that is popular is its intention, not its reality. The White House should declare victory and redraw the bill. But the White House is a wisdom-free zone.

The president’s executive action on immigration is an act of willful nihilism that he himself had argued against in the past. It is a sharp stick in the eye of the new congressional majority. It is at odds with—it defies—the meaning and message of the last election, and therefore is destructive to the reputation of democracy itself. It is huge in its impact but has only a sole cause, the president’s lone will. It damages the standing of our tottery political institutions rather than strengthening them, which is what they desperately need, and sets a template for future executive abuse. It will surely encourage increased illegal immigration and thus further erode the position of the American working class.

And there is the Keystone XL pipeline and the administration’s apparent intent to veto a bill that allows it. There the issue is not only the jobs the pipeline would create, and not only the infrastructure element. It is something more. If it is done right, the people who build the pipeline could be pressed to take on young men—skill-less, aimless—and get them learning, as part of a crew, how things are built and what it is to be a man who builds them.

On top of that, the building of the pipeline would show the world that America is capable of coming back, that we’re not only aware of our good fortune and engineering genius, we are pushing it hard into the future. America’s got her hard-hat on again. America is dynamic. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Not just this endless talk of limits, restrictions, fears and “Oh, we’re all going to melt in the warm global future!”

Which is sort of the spirit of this White House.

Great presidencies have a different one. They expand, move on, reach out.

The future acknowledgment of greatness only follows actual greatness. History takes the long view but in the end relies on facts.

“But history will be written by liberals.” Fair enough, and they will judge the president the more harshly because he failed to do anything that lasts. ObamaCare will be corrected and torn down piece by piece. The immigration order will be changed, slowed or undone by the courts, Congress or through executive actions down the road. Keystone will pass and a veto overridden.

And the president has failed liberals through unpopularity, which is another word for incompetence.

Almost half of the 114th Congress has been elected since 2010

From The Washington Post:

You can say a lot of things about the U.S. Congress. One thing you can't really say, though, is that they'v been in Washington way too long.

Come January, nearly half of Congress (48.8 percent) will have been in office for four years or less -- i.e. elected in 2010 or later. That includes 49.7 percent of the House and 45 percent of the Senate -- assuming GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy defeats Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Louisiana runoff Dec. 6.

Friday, November 21, 2014

This will not end pretty for Obama and future immigration reform: White House to focus enforcement resources on gang members, serious criminals and those who crossed the border after Jan. 1, 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama announced Thursday that millions of illegal immigrants will gain protections from deportation, bypassing Congress and unleashing unpredictable political and economic forces.

The plan will give more than four million illegal immigrants the chance to apply for work permits and a temporary reprieve from deportation. People who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and are parents of citizens or legal permanent residents would be eligible to apply. The White House said nearly a million more could benefit through other new or expanded programs. The president also is narrowing the group of people who would be subject to deportation, in what the White House said was an effort to focus enforcement resources on gang members, serious criminals and those who crossed the border after Jan. 1, 2014.

By giving work papers to millions of illegal workers, Mr. Obama’s plan could affect businesses in unexpected ways, enabling workers to seek new jobs and higher wages to the benefit of some business sectors more than others. Some in agriculture, for example, worried that affected workers would leave for other sectors.

A 1986 law, which offered legal status to nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants, had an almost immediate labor-market impact, with many low-wage workers moving to other jobs that pay better.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Immigration Has Republican Governors Seething and Facing Practical Challenges

From The New York Times:
 
BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Obama’s impending executive action on immigration is unleashing the fury of Republican governors who now control a clear majority of the nation’s statehouses — and not entirely for the reasons that partisans might expect.
 
The new legal protections that the president is poised to bestow on five million illegal immigrants Thursday will immediately thrust the issue back to the states, forcing dozens of governors who vigorously oppose the move to contemplate a raft of vexing new legal questions of their own, like whether to issue driver’s licenses or grant in-state college tuition to such people.
 
For Republican governors, the resentment is now as much operational as it is ideological.
 
The rapidly unfolding issue quickly overtook what was supposed to be a three-day victory lap here at a pink flamingo-colored resort where they have gathered for the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association.
 
Instead of crowing about their electoral romp in the midterms, in which they captured 31 statehouses — the most since 1998 — the governors on Wednesday were bombarded by inquiries about how they would grapple with the practical and political repercussions of Mr. Obama’s action.
 
Many of them seethed visibly over the issue. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas accused the president of “sticking his finger into the eye of the American people” after an election that gave Republicans control over both houses of Congress.
 
Several governors threatened legal action to block the measure. “I would go to the courts,” said Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. “This is illegal.”
 
Mr. Perry called a lawsuit against the Obama administration “a very real possibility.”
 
But amid the promises of retaliation and obstruction, many of the governors began to confront the sheer complexity of the new legal landscape for millions of their residents.
 
Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas said that his Republican-controlled State Legislature would never stomach the concept of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, even after Mr. Obama had given them worker permits and shielded them from deportation.
 
“That would be very difficult in our state,” he said.
 
For some of the governors, the issue took on a strikingly personal dimension. Gov. Paul R. LePage of Maine recalled the difficulty that he and his wife had encountered obtaining a green card for the Jamaican teenager they have taken into their home.
 
“It took us nearly 11 years,” he said. “Why should everybody just get one tomorrow?”
 
Asked if he would embrace greater legal standing for immigrants in Maine, such as worker permits, after Mr. Obama issues his measure, Mr. LePage swatted away the idea as “unacceptable.”
 
He then added, “I am fighting it, not helping it.”
 
For those weighing a presidential run in 2016, responding to Mr. Obama’s action requires some nimbleness: They must appeal to those conservatives who loathe Mr. Obama’s unilateral move without alienating Latino voters who crave a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.  
 
But here in Florida, before a crowd of devoted Republican donors and activists, the governors offered few of the compassionate overtures to Latino voters that have characterized their campaigns back at home or detailed alternatives to replace Mr. Obama’s action.
 
A number of those likely to run for president simply avoided offering direct or firm answers.
 
At one point, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana was asked if he supported deporting illegal immigrants. He demurred, saying that “we will deal with people here illegally compassionately and fairly” before calling for greater security at America’s borders, a message echoed by most of his colleagues.
 
As he has in the past, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey refused to specify a plan for dealing with illegal immigration, saying he would not articulate a plan until he had decided whether to run for president.
 
Going perhaps the furthest of any potential presidential candidate, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, when pressed on citizenship for undocumented people, said, “I’m open to it, I will tell you that.”
He added, “We have to think about what’s going to bring about healing.”
 
Both Mr. Jindal and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana suggested that Congress could use its budget authority to deprive the president of the money required to carry out his immigration action.
 
Mr. Pence, a former House member, encouraged Congress to “use the power of the purse to work the will of the American people.”
 
Normally restrained, Mr. Pence could barely contain his frustration.
 
“Every major change in the life of our nation has been done with the consent of our government,” he said. “I think it would be a profound mistake.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Push to Protect Immigrant Farm Workers - Backers See New Obama Policy as Last Chance to Change Immigration Rules for Some Time; The farm industry, however, is divided on the matter, with some worried that granting work permits would give workers the chance to move to other jobs rather than bolster the industry.

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—Farm workers and some agriculture industry officials are making a last-minute push for President Barack Obama to include protections for undocumented agricultural workers in his new immigration policy, worried that the pending executive action may be the last opportunity to change immigration rules for a while.

Their hope is that at least some farm workers can win the temporary legal status and work permits that are expected to be offered to several million people now in the country illegally, according to officials who are lobbying for the change.

The farm industry, however, is divided on the matter, with some worried that granting work permits would give workers the chance to move to other jobs rather than bolster the industry. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S.’s largest agricultural trade group, isn’t pushing for Mr. Obama to act without Congress, saying such a move would hurt the effort to pass more durable changes to the immigration system through laws.

Mr. Obama plans to announce his new policy this week, according to people close to the process. Republican lawmakers have promised to block his plans, saying Mr. Obama shouldn’t make policy changes unilaterally.

The push to include agriculture workers is being led by the United Farm Workers union and is backed by groups including the National Immigration Forum, which works with businesses that support liberalized immigration legislation. Officials say they haven’t been told whether the White House will include their requests in the final package.

“We want as many farm workers covered as possible,” said Giev Kashkooli, national political legislative director for the United Farm Workers. He said that could be accomplished both through general provisions that apply to a range of illegal immigrants and through special provisions for the industry.

Mr. Obama’s executive action is expected to help other industries, particularly high-tech companies, by making more visas available for high-skilled workers to enter the country legally.

A White House spokesman had no comment on details of the president’s plans. Mr. Obama has promised to put in place new immigration policies by year’s end, saying he has legal authority to do so and that Congress has declined to act.

The White House had considered waiting until Congress clears a spending bill that must be enacted by Dec. 11 to keep the government funded, an effort to avoid entangling immigration with the budget. But officials decided to move ahead this week, one person close to the process said.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans continued to sort through ways to unravel Mr. Obama’s plans. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said Tuesday that GOP leaders were considering a range of ideas.

Some conservatives have pressed to include a measure in the spending bill blocking funding for any executive action on immigration. But given that Mr. Obama would likely veto such a bill, that move raised the possibility that Republicans could be blamed for trying to provoke another partial shutdown of the government.

One option suggested by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) was to pass legislation funding the government through September, avoiding the possibility of a shutdown. Under this option, lawmakers later could bring up a separate measure rescinding funding for any programs Mr. Obama deploys if he acts on immigration on his own.

Rep. Tom Rooney (R., Fla.), a member of the appropriations panel, said that approach would avoid any threat of shutting down the government “over something that doesn’t have anything to do with our budget.”

Mr. Obama’s package, say people close to White House deliberations, is expected to grant temporary legal status to several million people, likely parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have been in the U.S. for many years, among others. The farm groups involved are hoping that the definition will be broad enough to encompass a large number of farm workers, or that Mr. Obama will include targeted provisions for them.

An estimated 70% or more of agriculture workers are in the U.S. illegally, experts say. About 540,000 of the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. either work in agriculture or have parents who do, according to data to be published online Wednesday by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

“We’ve been urging the administration to pay attention to the ag industry,” said Ali Noorani, who runs the National Immigration Forum, which has lobbied the White House to include provisions. “Growers are tired of their operations always being at risk of immigration enforcement.”

But others in the industry worry that giving farm workers the ability to work legally will prompt many to seek other jobs.

“Unless it includes incentives for people to continue to work in the ag force, it could hasten attrition,” said Craig Regelbrugge, national co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, which includes industry associations and farmers.

Kristi Boswell of the American Farm Bureau Federation said her group is also not pushing for executive action, partly because she fears it would hurt the legislative effort. “Any action taken by the president would be temporary by nature and not give us that long-term stability we truly need in the industry,” she said.

A missed opportunity to pick your battles: Democrats remain in denial & Obama in your face on a chance to help someone whose support for him contributed to her defeat. - Keystone goes down in Senate by narrow margin

From The Washington Post:

In a dramatic vote, the Senate rejected a controversial new energy pipeline Tuesday evening, dealing a serious blow to the re-election prospects of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and leaving Republicans itching for a fight next year on the issue.

On a 59 to 41 vote, Landrieu lost her bid to pass legislation meant to compel the Obama White House to approve the nearly 1,700-mile, $7.6 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which if built would deliver 830,000 barrels of oil a day from western Canada into the American heartland.

Already six years in the making, the Keystone fight has become the rallying cry for Landrieu, a three-term senator facing a run-off election Dec. 6. For the past week she has placed a political bet on her ability to pass the legislation as a demonstration of her clout in the Senate.

Supporters said the new pipeline would lead to a more efficient delivery of oil into the domestic markets, helping boost the national economy by creating tens of thousands of jobs along the construction of the pipeline. Opponents said that the project would be harvesting oil from the environmentally dirty tar sands in Canada, leading to too many health risks and coming at a time when other domestic oil production has already shrunk gas prices to less than $3 a gallon in many regions.

“This is for Americans, for an American middle class,” Landrieu pleaded Tuesday evening, moments before the roll was called, arguing that jobs would go to rural American communities struggling in the economic recovery. “The time to act is now.”

It became Landrieu’s last-gasp attempt to demonstrate her clout to voters back home, where oil and gas exploration is the biggest industry and where Democrats are increasingly on the defensive. She ran the general election campaign boasting of her chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a gavel that she predicted would lead to tangible results for Louisiana.

But she received just 42 percent of the initial vote, as remaining ballots were splintered among the Republicans, making her the underdog against Rep. Bill Cassidy (La.), the top Republican vote-getter, in the runoff election next month. Even worse: the Democratic collapse across the nation left the party in the minority next year and took away her main argument for votes by leaving her without a chairman’s gavel even if she were to win reelection.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), after years of tangling the chamber in knots when it came to the pipeline debate, relented to Landrieu last week and allowed for Tuesday’s debate and vote even though he remains opposed to the measure, and wants Obama to veto it.

This particular branch of oil pipeline does not actually make its way to the Louisiana ports. A different portion of that pipeline has been finished and runs from Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, on the border with Louisiana. This proposed pipeline would run from western Canada down through the northern portion of the nation to Nebraska.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Loneliest President Since Nixon - Facing adversity, Obama has no idea how to respond.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Seven years ago I was talking to a longtime Democratic operative on Capitol Hill about a politician who was in trouble. The pol was likely finished, he said. I was surprised. Can’t he change things and dig himself out? No. “People do what they know how to do.” Politicians don’t have a vast repertoire. When they get in a jam they just do what they’ve always done, even if it’s not working anymore.

This came to mind when contemplating President Obama. After a devastating election, he is presenting himself as if he won. The people were not saying no to his policies, he explained, they would in fact like it if Republicans do what he tells them.

You don’t begin a new relationship with a threat, but that is what he gave Congress: Get me an immigration bill I like or I’ll change U.S. immigration law on my own.

Mr. Obama is doing what he knows how to do—stare them down and face them off. But his circumstances have changed. He used to be a conquering hero, now he’s not. On the other hand he used to have to worry about public support. Now, with no more elections before him, he has the special power of the man who doesn’t care.

I have never seen a president in exactly the position Mr. Obama is, which is essentially alone. He’s got no one with him now. The Republicans don’t like him, for reasons both usual and particular: They have had no good experiences with him. The Democrats don’t like him, for their own reasons plus the election loss. Before his post-election lunch with congressional leaders, he told the press that he will judiciously consider any legislation, whoever sends it to him, Republicans or Democrats. His words implied that in this he was less partisan and more public-spirited than the hacks arrayed around him. It is for these grace notes that he is loved. No one at the table looked at him with colder, beadier eyes than outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , who clearly doesn’t like him at all.

The press doesn’t especially like the president; in conversation they evince no residual warmth. This week at the Beijing summit there was no sign the leaders of the world had any particular regard for him. They can read election returns. They respect power and see it leaking out of him. If Mr. Obama had won the election they would have faked respect and affection.

Vladimir Putin delivered the unkindest cut, patting Mr. Obama’s shoulder reassuringly. Normally that’s Mr. Obama’s move, putting his hand on your back or shoulder as if to bestow gracious encouragement, needy little shrimp that you are. It’s a dominance move. He’s been doing it six years. This time it was Mr. Putin doing it to him. The president didn’t like it.

From Reuters: “‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’ Putin was overheard saying in English in Obama’s general direction, referring to the ornate conference room. ‘Yes,’ Obama replied, coldly, according to journalists who witnessed the scene.”

The last time we saw a president so alone it was Richard Nixon, at the end of his presidency, when the Democrats had turned on him, the press hated him, and the Republicans were fleeing. It was Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP’s standard-bearer in 1964, and House Minority Leader John Rhodes, also of Arizona, who went to the White House to tell Nixon his support in Congress had collapsed, they would vote to impeach. Years later Goldwater called Nixon “The world’s biggest liar.”

But Nixon had one advantage Obama does not: the high regard of the world’s leaders, who found his downfall tragic (such ruin over such a trifling matter) and befuddling (he didn’t keep political prisoners chained up in dungeons, as they did. Why such a fuss?).

Nixon’s isolation didn’t end well.

Last Sunday Mr. Obama, in an interview with CBS ’s Bob Schieffer, spoke of his motivation, how he’s always for the little guy. “I love just being with the American people. . . . You know how passionate I am about trying to help them.” He said what is important is “a guy who’s lost his job or lost his home or . . . is trying to send a kid to college.” When he talks like that, as he does a lot, you get the impression his romantic vision of himself is Tom Joad in the movie version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” “I’ll be all around . . . wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.”

I mentioned last week that the president has taken to filibustering, to long, rambling answers in planned sit-down settings—no questions on the fly walking from here to there, as other presidents have always faced. The press generally allows him to ramble on, rarely fighting back as they did with Nixon. But I have noticed Mr. Obama uses a lot of words as padding. He always has, but now he does it more. There’s a sense of indirection and obfuscation. You can say, “I love you,” or you can say, “You know, feelings will develop, that happens among humans and it’s good it happens, and I have always said, and I said it again just last week, that you are a good friend, I care about you, and it’s fair to say in terms of emotional responses that mine has escalated or increased somewhat, and ‘love’ would not be a wholly inappropriate word to use to describe where I’m coming from.”

When politicians do this they’re trying to mush words up so nothing breaks through. They’re leaving you dazed and trying to make it harder for you to understand what’s truly being said.

It is possible the president is responding to changed circumstances with a certain rigidity because no one ever stood in his way before. Most of his adult life has been a smooth glide. He had family challenges and an unusual childhood, but as an adult and a professional he never faced fierce, concentrated resistance. He was always magic. Life never came in and gave it to him hard on the jaw. So he really doesn’t know how to get up from the mat. He doesn’t know how to struggle to his feet and regain his balance. He only knows how to throw punches. But you can’t punch from the mat.

He only knows how to do what he’s doing.

In the meantime he is killing his party. Gallup this week found that the Republicans for the first time in three years beat the Democrats on favorability, and also that respondents would rather have Congress lead the White House than the White House lead Congress.

A few weeks ago a conservative intellectual asked me: “How are we going to get through the next two years?” It was a rhetorical question; he was just sharing his anxiety. We have a president who actually can’t work with Congress, operating in a capital in which he is resented and disliked and a world increasingly unimpressed by him, and so increasingly predatory.

Anyway, for those who are young and not sure if what they are seeing is wholly unusual: Yes, it is wholly unusual.

The coming clash over immigration is reflective of past conflicts - In a presidency marked by a series of high-profile confrontations, Obama and the Republicans are now on the brink of another seismic clash. Neither side can afford a major miscalculation.

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post:

The scars from six years of political conflict between President Obama and Republican congressional leaders have quickly washed away all those gauzy comments about cooperation that were offered in the aftermath of the midterm elections. Today, Washington is bracing for a major collision over immigration, with each side calculating the risks and rewards of their actions.

Obama has insisted that he will take executive action by the end of the year to protect millions of illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation. Republicans are just as insistent that he will pay a big price if he goes ahead with what they regard as executive amnesty. GOP elected officials are now talking about shutting down the government or using other short-term budgetary measures to retaliate.

Obama’s determination to move ahead in the face of a substantial election defeat for his party is more than just a red flag to Republicans. Even some Democrats are nervous about how unilateral action on such a contentious issue will shape the opening stages of the relationship between the White House and a Congress that will be fully controlled by the Republicans and how badly the fallout from his moves could hurt the president and the party’s congressional wing.

Obama clearly sees it differently. He sees a clock ticking on his presidency, with little time left to burnish what he hopes will eventually be seen as a tenure that accomplished big things, from health care to climate change to immigration.

He and his advisers also see little prospect for legislative action on major issues, post-election comments notwithstanding, which suggests they believe there is more to be gained than lost by moving forward. White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri put it this way on Friday: “The principle for us is you can’t let that [GOP opposition] hold you back on solving other problems. You can’t tie up your whole agenda to how Congress is going to react.”

That conclusion is just the latest reminder that while elections may have consequences, they don’t necessarily change behavior. At the White House, the experience of the past six years — how elections have or have not changed working relationships with Republicans — has heavily influenced their assessment of this moment.

Previous disappointment

Neither victory for Obama nor victory by the GOP has materially changed the frosty relations between the White House and congressional Republicans. In every case, White House officials initially overestimated the prospects for cross-party cooperation.

It happened first after Obama’s 2008 victory, when Obama’s team assumed that goodwill toward the new president and widespread fears about the deepening recession would bring the two sides together to deal with the economy.

Ultimately, the GOP’s implacable opposition to the president’s stimulus package, followed by the huge partisan fight over health care, set the tone for Obama’s first two years in office — a period marked both by major achievements and deepening hostility.

Each side now has its talking points down about who should be blamed for the lack of cooperation.

After the huge Republican victory in the 2010 midterm elections, another opportunity for a change in the relationship came and went. Then, as now, Obama flew off to Asia days after his party’s shellacking for a long foreign trip. He returned for one of the most productive lame duck sessions of Congress in memory, one that included both compromise and confrontation with the Republicans.

That lame-duck session made Obama believe that he and the new Republican-controlled House might be able to do business on some big fiscal issues in the coming year. By the summer of 2011, after the debacle over the debt ceiling, all hope for cooperation had evaporated, and Obama’s presidency hit another low point.

At that point, the president gave up on working with Congress and vowed to take his fight to the country in 2012. He believed that by winning a second term he would put some momentum behind his agenda and force some accommodation by Republicans. Instead, there was, with some wrinkles, a repeat of the earlier patterns of confrontation and inaction.

Now, after another crushing midterm defeat for the Democrats, there are minimal expectations at the White House about getting things done through Congress and next-to-zero hopes on immigration. Past history and the urgency of not waiting have shaped those calculations about the consequences of defying the Republicans by going ahead on immigration.

In the days after Republicans won control of the Senate and scored major victories in gubernatorial and state legislative races, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John A. Boehner and the president all said they heard the same message — that voters were sick of dysfunction and lack of cooperation in Washington, that they wanted the two sides to work together and wanted to see results.

What’s crucial is how Obama’s team reads both parts of that message from the voters, and as Obama put it the day after the election, those who did not vote. Obama advisers believe what counts most with people are results, not arms linked with Republican leaders in photo ops. “Our view is the outcome is more important than the process,” Palmieri said.

Political consequences

There are raw political considerations for both sides as this showdown nears. Obama’s willingness to widen the already huge gulf between the White House and congressional Republicans underscores once again that he sees his coalition — the “rising America” of younger people, minorities, unmarried women and college-educated whites — as fully receptive to where he wants to take the country and politically beneficial to the Democrats in future national elections.

In the face of his midterm defeat, Obama has moved aggressively on several issues likely to win favor with that coalition, from the pact with China to reduce greenhouse gases that has drawn Republican opposition, to net neutrality, to the threat of a veto on legislation to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

However, much of his actions risk backlash from certain parts of the electorate. Obama shows no sign that he believes those voters will be coming back into the Democratic fold and that public opinion broadly is on his side on both immigration and climate change.

Republicans have their own political considerations. The day after the midterms, McConnell said that in the next Congress there would be no government shutdowns and no default on the debt. Anticipating Obama’s next move, Republicans are measuring how close to that cliff they can go as they brand him an imperial president who is disregarding the Constitution.

If Obama feels pressure from his coalition to move now on immigration, Republicans must weigh the longer-term political consequences of opposing what Obama is planning.

What signals will they send to Hispanic voters and others who support some kind of legal status for undocumented immigrants if they vow to undo what he may do? Will this confrontation shape the 2016 presidential nominating contest in the way that phrases like self-deportation shaped perceptions of the GOP in 2012?

In a presidency marked by a series of high-profile confrontations, Obama and the Republicans are now on the brink of another seismic clash. Neither side can afford a major miscalculation.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nancy Pelosi, partisan warrior in denial

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post:

“I do not believe what happened the other night is a wave,” the former speaker informed Politico’s Lauren French and John Bresnahan this week. She preferred to describe what happened in the House elections as “an ebb tide.”

The drubbing and the denial have naturally raised doubts about whether Pelosi should remain on the job. But her interpretation was the opposite. “Quite frankly, if we would have won, I would have thought about leaving,” Pelosi told Politico. But because of the, er, ebb, she needs to stay — a classic argument for rewarding failure.

What in the world!!! Religions unite at National Cathedral’s first Muslim service

From The Washington Post:

In a corner of Washington National Cathedral, several hundred Muslim worshipers and other invited guests gathered Friday afternoon for a first-ever recitation of weekly Muslim prayers at the iconic Christian sanctuary and to hear leaders of both faiths call for religious unity in the face of extremist violence and hate.

The Arabic call to prayer echoed among the vaulted stone arches and faded away, followed by an impassioned sermon from Ebrahim Rasool, a Muslim scholar who is South Africa’s ambassador to the United States. Rasool called on Muslims, Christians and others to come together and make “common cause” in the fight against extremists who appropriate Islam.

“We come to this cathedral with sensitivity and humility but keenly aware that it is not a time for platitudes, because mischief is threatening the world,” Rasool said. “The challenge for us today is to reconstitute a middle ground of good people . . . whose very existence threatens extremism.”

The event was closed to the public, and there was heavy security, with police checking every name and bag. Organizers from several area Muslim institutions said there had been concerns about security and threats after the event was publicized and that they and cathedral officials wanted to limit it to a small and selected group.

Nevertheless, the carefully scripted ceremony was marred once when one well-dressed, middle-age woman in the audience suddenly rose and began shouting that “America was founded on Christian principles. . . . Leave our church alone!” She was swiftly ushered out by security aides, and the service continued.

The intent was to make a statement about religious tolerance that would resound around the world.

It was not without critics, however.

Elizabeth Warren’s Populist Message Stirs Tensions Among Democrats - Not All Believe Turn to the Left Is What the Party Needs [You've got that right!]

From The Wall Street Journal:

Not many Democrats emerged from the midterm election rubble unscathed. One exception may be Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who is becoming a new center of gravity in a demoralized party.

In a nod to her growing influence, Senate Democrats rewarded the populist firebrand with a spot in the party’s leadership this week. A group called “Ready for Warren” said it would step up its efforts to draft her for a presidential bid and plans to hire staff in states with early nomination contests.

The number of small donors to the group rose eightfold compared with the week before the election, said Erica Sagrans, Ready for Warren campaign manager and a former Obama campaign aide.

But not all Democrats are sold on the idea that a turn to the left is the change the party needs, setting up a potentially tumultuous debate between the party’s liberal wing and its grandees.

“It’s clear that if we even have a shot at the White House we can’t get there if we have someone more left-leaning than Hillary Clinton , ” said Vince Insalaco, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party.

Immigration Plan Tests President’s Reach - Legal Experts Debate Whether Obama Can Shield Millions From Deportation - "[W]e’re also a nation of laws."

From an article in The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—The debate over President Barack Obama ’s plans to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation hinges on a simple question: How many is too many?

There is widespread agreement that presidents can decide who gets deported and who gets to stay, part of the concept known as “prosecutorial discretion.” There also is precedent for granting temporary legal status to individuals and smaller groups of people, such as victims of natural disasters.

People familiar with White House thinking say people most likely to qualify are parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents, and possibly parents of Dreamers. Spouses of citizens might also be included. Mr. Obama is also likely to expand the criteria for the 2012 program so that more Dreamers qualify.

Together, these groups could total some four million people, on top of more than a million Dreamers already eligible for what is called “deferred action,” according to one of the people familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Obama himself cast doubt on his authority last fall, when a protester said the president has the power to stop deportations.

“Actually I don’t,” the president replied. “If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tom Friedman: Freud and the Middle East

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — When trying to make sense of the Middle East, one of the most important rules to keep in mind is this: What politicians here tell you in private is usually irrelevant. What matters most, and what explains their behavior more times than not, is what they say in public in their own language to their own people. As President Obama dispatches more U.S. advisers to help Iraqis defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS, it is vital that we listen carefully to what the key players are saying in public in their own language about each other and their own aspirations.
 
For instance, the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri, recently posted an excerpt from an interview given by Mohammad Sadeq al-Hosseini, a former adviser to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, which aired on Mayadeen TV on Sept. 24, in which he pointed out that Shiite Iran, through its surrogates, has taken de facto control over four Arab capitals: Beirut, through the Shiite militia Hezbollah; Damascus, through the Shiite/Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad; Baghdad, through the Shiite-led government there; and — while few in the West were paying attention — Sana, where the pro-Iranian-Yemeni-Shiite offshoot sect, the Houthi, recently swept into the capital of Yemen and are now dominating the Sunnis.
 
As Hosseini said of Iran and its allies: “We in the axis of resistance are the new sultans of the Mediterranean and the Gulf. We in Tehran, Damascus, [Hezbollah’s] southern suburb of Beirut, Baghdad and Sana will shape the map of the region. We are the new sultans of the Red Sea as well.” And he also said, for good measure, that Saudi Arabia was “a tribe on the verge of extinction.”
 
We might not hear this stuff, but Sunni Arabs do, especially now when the United States and Iran might end their 35-year-old cold war and reach a deal that would allow Iran a “peaceful” nuclear energy program. It helps explain something else you might have missed: Sunni militants burst into a Saudi Shiite village, al-Dalwah, on Nov. 3 and gunned down five Saudi Shiites at a religious event.
 
Well, at least Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is in the modern world. No, wait, what is the name that Erdogan insists be put on the newest bridge he’s building across the Bosporus? Answer: the Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge. Selim I was the Sunni Turkish sultan who, in 1514, beat back the Persian Shiite empire of his day, called the Safavids. Turkey’s Alevi minority, a Shiite offshoot sect whose ancestors faced Selim’s wrath, have protested the name of the bridge.
 
They know it didn’t come out of a hat. According to Britannica, Selim I was the Ottoman sultan (1512-20) who extended the empire to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, “and raised the Ottomans to leadership of the Muslim world.” He then turned eastward and took on the Safavid Shiite dynasty in Iran, which posed a “political and ideological threat” to the hegemony of Ottoman Sunni Islam. Selim was the first Turkish leader to claim to be both sultan of the Ottoman Empire and caliph of all Muslims.
 
Vice President Joe Biden did not misspeak when he accused Turkey of facilitating the entry of ISIS fighters into Syria. Just as there is a little bit of West Bank “Jewish settler” in almost every Israeli, there is a little bit of the caliphate dream in almost every Sunni. Some Turkish analysts suspect Erdogan does not dream of building pluralistic democracy in Iraq and Syria, but rather a modern Sunni caliphate — not led by ISIS but by himself. Until then, he clearly prefers ISIS on his border than an independent Kurdistan.
 
As Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy, put it in an Atlantic article entitled “The Roots of the Islamic State’s Appeal”: “ISIS draws on, and draws strength from, ideas that have broad resonance among Muslim-majority populations. They may not agree with ISIS’s interpretation of the caliphate, but the notion of a caliphate — the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition — is a powerful one.”
 
In fact, though, notes the Middle East scholar Joseph Braude, most Arab Sunnis in Egypt, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula in the late 19th century “were quite opposed to the [Turkish-run] caliphate they had experienced, which they saw as a kind of occupying force.” It was the 20th century Sunni Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, that revived the idea, idealizing the caliphate as a response to their region’s weakness and decline “and inserting it into mainstream religious discourse.”
 
In sum, there are so many conflicting dreams and nightmares playing out among our Middle East allies in the war on ISIS that Freud would not have been able to keep them straight. If you listen closely, of those dreams, ours — “pluralistic democracy” — is not high on the list. We need to protect the islands of decency out here — Jordan, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman — from ISIS, in hopes that their best examples might one day spread. But I am skeptical that our fractious allies, with all their different dreams, can agree on new power

Obama Net-Neutrality Stance May Spur Fight With GOP - His Call Has Hardened Lines on Web-Traffic Regulation

From The Wall Street Journal:

At its heart, the battle is over the best way to ensure the Internet remains the vibrant heart of the U.S. economy. Conservatives and broadband providers believe the Internet has flourished in the U.S. because its hasn’t been heavily regulated. Supporters of net neutrality—the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally—believe the government must intervene to preserve online innovation.

Mr. Obama specifically called for the Federal Communications Commission to go beyond its previous proposals and explicitly ban broadband providers from blocking, slowing down or giving preferential treatment to some websites. To achieve that, he said, the FCC should classify broadband as a utility or common carrier, which would open up the industry to greater regulation.

But changing how broadband providers are classified is politically volatile, in large part because the law used to regulate the telecommunications industry hasn’t been updated significantly since 1996, when broadband Internet access was still in its infancy.

The political divide over the rules for broadband is long-standing. In 2010, after the FCC passed its last set of net-neutrality rules, which were thrown out by a court in January, the GOP-controlled House responded by writing FCC “process reform” legislation that would have gutted the agency’s ability to write new regulations. That bill went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Now the GOP will have more leverage in the Senate. As long as Mr. Obama is president, Republicans will have to contend with his veto pen. But they can voice their displeasure in other ways, such as squeezing the FCC’s budget.

In any case, many in Mr. Obama’s party don’t expect him to back down because net neutrality is one of the few technology issues he focused on during his 2008 campaign and he has never wavered in his support for the issue.

While Mr. Obama’s endorsement of reclassifying broadband as a utility shocked some in the broadband industry, his Silicon Valley supporters and Democrats in Washington saw it as a boost for their cause at a crucial time—a week after his party performed poorly in the midterm elections.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

While not new and expected, I sure hate this is being blocked. Lot of lost local revenes here: Internet Sales Tax Faces Republican Opposition - House Republicans Worry About Voter Perception of Bill to End Tax-Free Online Shopping

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—Brick-and-mortar retailers who had hoped Congress would pass a bill to effectively end tax-free online shopping are likely to be disappointed.

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) indicated this week that he would block the measure, which would give states the ability to compel many online retailers to collect sales tax for them.

The Senate passed the bill—known as the Marketplace Fairness Act—more than a year ago with broad bipartisan support. Supporters view the measure as a matter of fairness to storefront retailers that have to collect the tax. Retailers argue that online merchants gain a significant competitive advantage from tax-free Internet sales.

House Republicans, though, have never warmed to the bill, worrying that voters could view it as an indirect tax increase.

In response, Senate sponsors hoped to force the measure’s passage by combining it with another measure that is widely popular—an extension of the 15-year-old moratorium on state taxes on Internet access, known as the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which expires on Dec. 11.

But this week, Mr. Boehner let it be known that he opposes that maneuver, significantly weakening the bill’s chances.

“The speaker has made clear in the past he has significant concerns about the bill, and it won’t move forward this year,” Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said in a written statement. He added that while lawmakers continue to study the online sales tax problem, “the House and Senate should work together to extend the moratorium on Internet [access] taxation without further delay.”

The comment appeared to boost the odds that Congress eventually would adopt an extension of the access-tax ban only, without adding the online-sales-tax measure.

Supporters of the online sales tax measure were disappointed, but aren’t giving up hope.

“The comments were frustrating for those of us in the business community that have been working in good faith with House leadership,” said Jason Brewer, a vice president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a coalition of big-box stores. “Regardless, it doesn’t change the Senate dynamics, where a clear bipartisan majority wants [the two issues] solved together.”

Stephen Schatz, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, said the group is “pulling out all the stops in the form of advertising, grass roots engagement and communications” to push Congress to approve it.

Online retailers applauded Mr. Boehner’s approach.

“We’re pleased to see that Speaker Boehner understands the threat that the misnamed Marketplace Fairness Act poses to small e-retailers,” said Phil Bond, executive director of WE R HERE, a coalition of small online retailers, who added that the group is encouraging Congress to renew the access-tax moratorium.

The Senate is expected to begin debate as early as this week on the Internet tax issues as Congress cranks up a potentially volatile lame-duck session.

Supporters of the online tax measure are led by Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), who is keeping all options open, including combining the two measures, a spokeswoman said. He will keep working with other supporters “to find a path forward this year,” she added.

Two Republican supporters— Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee—are still hoping the online sales tax measure will pass this year.

“Sen. Alexander remains optimistic that Congress can pass the Marketplace Fairness Act this year,” said a spokesman. “Last year, 69 senators voted for what Sen. Alexander believes should be a simple matter of a state’s right to collect or not collect taxes already owed.”

No matter what happens on the Internet tax measures, the congressional process that unfolds this week on the issue likely will be messy, even by the standards of the dysfunctional 113th Congress.

The current Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D., Nev.), plans to let lawmakers try to reach an agreement on a limited number of amendment votes on the Internet tax measures, a Democratic aide said. Republicans have criticized Mr. Reid for not allowing enough amendment votes and effectively locking down the minority.

But opening up the process now could unleash a blizzard of pent-up requests.

That, in turn, could shift the burden to Republicans to show that they can contain their members’ appetite for politically charged amendment votes. The debate could provide an early test for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who is expected to become the new majority leader in January, and who hopes to show voters that Republicans can govern effectively while also running the Senate in a more open fashion.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Message Sent to a Grudging President - After a thumpin’, Obama doubles down on hostility, antagonism and distance.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

A sweep this size tends to resolve some things. The landscape shifts, political figures accommodate themselves to it.

Common sense says a chastened president would acknowledge the obvious—some things aren’t working, he has made some mistakes—and, in Mr. Obama’s case, hit the reset button with Congress. Reach out, be humble. Humility has power. It shows people that you have some give—you get the message, you are capable of self-correcting.

That is not what he’s doing. The president is instead doubling down on hostility, antagonism and distance.

What a mistake. What a huge, historic mistake, not only for him but also for his party.

In his news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Obama was grim and grudging, barely bothering to hide suppressed anger. “Republicans had a good night.” He was unwilling to explain or characterize what happened. “I’ll leave it to all of you and the professional pundits to pick through yesterday’s results.” He took no personal responsibility: The people sent a message and it is that Washington must work “as hard as they do.” He was unwilling to say what went wrong, why his party’s candidates didn’t want him near them on the trail. His answers were long, filibuster-y, meant to run out the clock. It was clear the White House wanted to say he met with reporters for more than an hour. He did. At one point he tried to smile but couldn’t quite pull it off; it came across as a Nixon-like flexing of the rictus muscles. (I tried to describe it in my notes. “Hatey” was the best I could do.)

There were airy generalities—“This town doesn’t work well”—and a few humblebrags: “I have a unique responsibility to try and make this town work”; “I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody.”

Most seriously and consequentially—the huge mistake—is that Mr. Obama said he will address immigration through executive action unless Congress sends a comprehensive bill to him that he finds attractive. He said this just after a news conference in which the presumed next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, in a post-election statement that was actually conciliatory and constructive, said any such move by the president would “poison the well” with Congress. It would be experienced by Republicans on the Hill as pure aggression.

The president’s use of broad executive action would kill any chance of compromise or progress with Congress. And the amazing thing is that this isn’t even in his interests.

What is in his interests is for him to go forward in a spirit of compromise and try to reach agreements on the Hill through negotiations. This would be a relief after six years of nonstop acrimony. Republicans need an end of acrimony too: They want to show that they’re not just shutdown artists, as their foes say, but that they are a governing party in whose hands the country is safe. After a few bills were passed, people would start to feel that they were seeing progress. This would help the president get a new sentence defining him. The current sentence is something like, “Wow, that didn’t work, he really had the wrong skill sets.” Two years of governing peace might get him, “He had a dynamic first two years, lost the thread, was re-elected, then there was a lot of mess but he stabilized and got serious.” That’s not a bad sentence.

It is confounding—not surprising but stunning, unhelpful and ill-judged—that the president is instead going for antagonism, combat and fruitless friction.

This is not just poor strategy, it seems to me to be mildly delusional. Chris Matthews erupted on MSNBC: “There’s something in this guy that just plays to his constituency and acts like there’s no other world out there!”

That’s true. And deeply strange in a politician. It’s as if he doesn’t think he has to work with others, he only has to be right. I think Mr. Obama sees himself as a centrist because he often resists the pressures of the leftward-most edge of his base. Therefore in his imagination he is in the middle, the center. If he is in the middle of a great centrist nation, how can they turn on him? The answer: They are confused. This is their flaw, not his. He’s not going to let their logical flaws change his game.

And so the future may well be nonstop combat between the Hill and the White House. If the president does a big executive action, the Republican Congress will no longer think negotiations and deals are possible. They will over the coming years send him legislation that they can pass with the support of their majorities and moderate Democrats. If he vetoes, they will try to override.

The Republicans will be set up as the party passing bills that go in certain directions on certain issues, and those bills will no doubt be generally popular, or popular with the Republican base. If the bills are vetoed and can’t be overridden, Republicans will say they are frustrated by that willful loner—that obstructionist—in the White House.

That will probably set up the GOP pretty well for 2016. It will keep the party’s activists in a constant state of agitated alert.

Once again the president is doing his party no favors.

This is no way to run a railroad. The president here is doing what he has been doing for a while, helping Republicans look good. That is an amazing strategy for a Democratic president to adopt.

The Dawn of Nuclear Weapons Goes Viral - Waves of declassified photographs and movies from the nation’s push to make Little Boy and Fat Man — the world’s first atom bombs — are exciting to a generation less familiar with the nation’s atomic past.

From The New York Times:

It was near midnight when John Coster-Mullen, the author of “Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man,” was scrutinizing one image among hundreds newly released by Los Alamos, the birthplace of the bomb.
 
First, he glanced at the scientists assembling what they called “the gadget,” a spherical test device five feet in diameter. Then, atop a wooden crate nearby, he noticed a small, blocky object, nondescript except for the role he suddenly realized it played: It was a uranium slug that held the bomb’s fuel. In July 1945, its detonation lit up the New Mexican desert and sent out shock waves that begot a new era.
 
“I let out a scream,” Mr. Coster-Mullen said. “My son thought I woke up the whole neighborhood. Before, they had never shown that slug. And here it was on top of the crate in all its glory. I just about had a coronary.”
 
It was 2009. He quickly assessed the slug as 5 inches wide and 8.75 inches long, and soon after incorporated the photograph into a revised edition of his book.
 
Waves of declassified photographs and movies from the nation’s push to make Little Boy and Fat Man — the world’s first atom bombs — are exciting not only to Mr. Coster-Mullen but a generation less familiar with the nation’s atomic past.
 
“They hit geek culture and go viral,” said Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.
 
Early this year, Dr. Wellerstein posted on his blog and on Reddit, a social news site, an annotated silent movie a little more than 11 minutes long that showed scientists and soldiers preparing Fat Man and loading the weapon onto a B-29 aircraft that would soon take off for Nagasaki, Japan; the bombing instantly killed an estimated 40,000 people there.
 
The movie was viewed more than 100,000 times in just one day on Reddit, and received 700 comments. Among the posted questions: Did the men know what they were doing? Probably so, Dr. Wellerstein replied on his blog, “because they knew what had happened at Hiroshima.”
 
A few years ago, the Los Alamos National Laboratory started posting historical pictures on Flickr, a photo-sharing site. The lab’s history section now has 515 images like early bombs and scientists and rapidly expanding fireballs and rising mushroom clouds. The set includes the gadget photograph from 1945 that left Mr. Coster-Mullen agog.
 
A recent wave of Internet photographs has featured Little Boy and Fat Man preparations; one shows a man signing the nose of the Nagasaki bomb, and another is a tail fin close-up of scrawled names and home states, including Wisconsin and New York.
 
Holly Reed, a photo expert at the National Archives, the source of those images, said they went public in 1997 but received much attention recently when they were widely described online as newly released.
 
“There’s a kind of barrier between what’s out there and what’s known,” Dr. Wellerstein said. With the rise of global networks, he added, “there’s a real opportunity for these to go viral.”

Sunday, November 09, 2014

With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — As most Republicans were taking a victory lap the morning after the elections, a group of conservatives huddled anxiously in a conference room not far from Capitol Hill and agreed that now is the time for confrontation, not compromise and conciliation.
 
Despite Republicans’ ascension to Senate control and an expanded House majority, many conservatives from the party’s activist wing fear that congressional leaders are already being too timid with President Obama.
 
They do not want to hear that government shutdowns are off the table or that repealing the Affordable Care Act is impossible — two things Republican leaders have said in recent days.
 
“If the new Republican leadership in the Senate is only talking about what they can’t do, that’s going to be very demoralizing,” said Thomas J. Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group that convenes a regular gathering called Groundswell. Any sense of triumph at its meeting last week was fleeting.
 
“I think the members of the leadership need to decide what they’re willing to shut down the government over,” Mr. Fitton said.
 
Establishment Republicans, who had vowed to thwart the Tea Party, succeeded in electing new lawmakers who are, for the most part, less rebellious. And when the new Congress convenes in January, the Republican leaders who will take the reins will be mainly in the mold of conservatives who have tried to keep the Tea Party in check.
 
But they have not crushed the movement’s spirit.
 
As Republicans on Capitol Hill transition from being the opposition party to being one that has to show it can govern, a powerful tension is emerging: how to move forward with an agenda that challenges the president without self-destructing.
 
Some conservatives believe that the threat of another shutdown is their strongest leverage to demand concessions on the health care law and to stop the president from carrying out immigration reform through executive order. Yet their leadership has dismissed the idea as a suicide mission that could squander the recent gains.
 
One thing that will prove popular among the base is a commitment by Senator Mitch McConnell, the presumptive new majority leader, to bring up a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which he is expected to do next year.
 
Whether the party can reconcile more demands of its base with the will of its leadership could determine how enduring the Republican Senate majority will be. The crop of senators up for re-election in 2016 includes those elected in the first Tea Party wave of 2010. And in a sign of what is at stake, even some of them are sounding notes of compromise and caution that would have been unthinkable at the height of the right’s resurgence.
 
“I understand the frustrations of the conservative base; I am one of them,” said Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of the original class of Tea Party-inspired senators. “I also recognize reality.”
 
“We’re not going to pass the entire conservative agenda tomorrow. We can certainly lay it out,” Mr. Johnson added. “Let’s start with the things we can pass. Doesn’t that make more sense?”
 
But in a stark reminder of the difficulties Republican leaders will face from within their own ranks, other lawmakers popular with the Tea Party base are saying the fight is on.
 
As votes were still being counted on election night Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said Republicans could still work through Congress to dismantle the Affordable Care Act — even though the president is guaranteed to veto anything Congress passes that undermines it. “After winning a historic majority, it is incumbent on us to honor promises and do everything humanly possible to stop Obamacare,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview.
 
Some Republican senators rejected that outright. “There are intelligent things to do, and there are some not-so-intelligent things to do,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. “And one of the first things we should do is find some areas of common ground with our Democrat friends.”
 
Tea Party conservatives, many of whom argue that the government shutdown last year was a sound strategy, said they were baffled by remarks after the election by Mr. McConnell that the Senate under his control would prioritize policies that Republicans knew Democrats would also support.
 
Many also fumed when Mr. McConnell stated the obvious: Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act because they cannot override a presidential veto on their own. (It takes 67 votes to do so; they have 52 seats now, with the possibility of picking up two more.) The next day, he and Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal insisting that, indeed, repeal remained a goal.
 
Any perception that Mr. McConnell is not sufficiently committed to repealing the health care law, despite his running hard against it in his own re-election campaign, would renew the same fissures among Republicans that preceded the government shutdown.
 
“That would cause a civil war inside the Republican Party,” said Richard Viguerie, a longtime conservative activist, referring to anything the party’s base saw as a halfhearted attempt at repeal. “There’s almost zero trust between the base and the Republican leaders.”
 
No one did more to demoralize Tea Party candidates and conservative agitators than Mr. McConnell, who vowed to “crush” every Republican primary challenger. (He did; none defeated an incumbent senator.) He also blacklisted Republicans who worked with groups supporting insurgents.
 
Privately, McConnell aides say they are less concerned these days about the impact of senators like Mr. Cruz, whom they describe as an “army of one.” Mr. McConnell believes his standing with conservative voters is solid. And he has the votes to prove it. He won his own primary over a Tea Party conservative, 60 percent to 35 percent. An NBC News/Marist College poll showed him beating his main primary opponent 53 percent to 33 percent among Tea Party voters.
 
He and his allies dismiss their Tea Party opponents as “for-profit conservatives” because of the fund-raising they do in the name of purifying the Republican brand.
 
“The for-profit wing of the Republican Party will always have a voice, but after this last election, they don’t have much credibility,” said Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior political strategist. “I’m not sure many folks will listen to it much longer. Governing still matters, and the good news is, everybody who was elected is into governing.”
 
Most of the Republicans just elected to the Senate appear to be team players. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Steve Daines of Montana are all low-key members of Congress. Thom Tillis of North Carolina is the speaker of the State House and a favorite of the party establishment.
 
Still, Tea Party conservatives are a formidable voting bloc. Mr. McConnell will have to negotiate an especially cautious balance between their demands and those of the senators in his conference who are contemplating running for president in 2016, and so need the support of the party’s base. With no one is this more fraught than Mr. McConnell’s fellow Kentuckian, Senator Rand Paul. Mr. Paul and his advisers say that they recognize Tea Party supporters helped deliver the Senate for the Republicans, and that the party ignores them at its peril.
 
“They showed up,” said Doug Stafford, a senior adviser to Mr. Paul. “You can’t look at the turnout models, the polling pre-election and the results, and not think that conservatives showed up for this. They did.”