Opinion

The Great Debate

Prying open drone secrets

A federal appeals court rebuffed the Obama administration’s drone policy on Friday, ruling that the CIA stretched its considerable secrecy powers “too far.”  The stinging decision may be the biggest news in the war on terror that you’ve never heard about.

The ruling lays down a key marker for a significant shift in counterterrorism policy. Under President Barack Obama, the United States has moved from detaining suspected terrorists to killing many of them in targeted attacks. There were 10 times as many drone deaths in 2010 as 2004, according to the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.  This is why there are now fewer pressing questions about detention or Guantanamo, a vestige of post-September 11 battles. The United States hardly ever captures any new terror suspects.

The politicians and the chattering class, however, have been slow to recognize  this shift.

Congress still keeps reauthorizing bans against transferring Guantanamo detainees into the United States, a backward-looking restriction that hampers prosecutions. Meanwhile, it has failed to pass any laws to meaningfully oversee drone killings. The media has also overlooked the president’s expanding authority to order killings without any oversight by the other branches of government.

That left a vacuum.

Most Republicans gave Obama a pass on executive power. A few Democrats objected, primarily through careful letters. The White House simply ignored many of them, as Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) documented.  So the loudest stand on the issue was left to Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in his instantly infamous filibuster this month.

Obama’s political options

Fiscal crisis? What fiscal crisis? The stock market is up, unemployment is down and the deficit is shrinking.

The fiscal crisis is in Washington, and it’s a crisis of Washington’s own devising. All those deadlines! January 1: the fiscal cliff. March 1: sequesters. March 27: a possible government shutdown. Sometime in August:  the debt ceiling, again.

The unending fiscal crisis could take up the entire year. President Barack Obama desperately wants to end it. For one thing, more spending cuts could bring on a recession. For another, an unending fiscal crisis would monopolize the agenda. No time for Congress to take up immigration reform or gun control or the minimum wage or preschool education.

On Keystone pipeline, consider Canada

The Oscar for Best Picture last month went to Argo, the Ben Affleck movie about the Canadian government’s help in spiriting U.S. diplomats out of Iran during the hostage crisis  – which  underscores the United States’ historic relationship with its closest ally, Canada. Back in the real world, however, the Obama administration is on the verge of severely damaging this strategic partnership with its poor handling of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The State Department’s favorable draft environmental analysis, released on Friday, should pave the way for final administration approval of the pipeline. Of course, the State Department has already gone through this process once before. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deemed Keystone XL to be in the national interest – only to have President Barack Obama shelve the project in January 2012, during the run-up to his re-election campaign.

If Secretary of State John Kerry reaches the same conclusion as Clinton, as expected in coming weeks, the ball will be back in Obama’s court and the ultimate decision on this important project will be in his hands.

A sequestration solution for the Pentagon

The sequestration drama in Washington is less severe and intractable than you have heard. A partial solution: Block the across-the-board cut of $42.5 billion in military funds this year — the Pentagon’s portion of $85 billion due March 1 — and spread the savings over several years by tweaking military spending caps already on the books.

Because this option preserves deficit reduction without raising taxes and lets the military drawdown intelligently, a congressional majority might support it.

Pentagon leaders are sounding the alarm — warning about the impending sequester and the additional $500 billion reduction in spending over a decade. Furloughed civilian employees, extended deployments, reduced naval patrols and procurement delays, they say, will leave the military unable to perform its job and deter U.S. enemies.

Obama’s Two Choices: Good and Better

President Barack Obama must like the view from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now. Politically speaking, the sky is clear, and the few clouds on the horizon have silver linings.

Because where things now stand with Congress, if he wins – he wins. And if he loses – he wins.

Getting Republicans to bend to his will on any of the banner issues this year – whether immigration reform, gun control or deficit reduction – will help enshrine him as a president of real achievement. If he fails, however, these same issues can be used as bludgeons to pound Republicans as heartless, even racist, knuckle-draggers who only want to service their rich masters.

Banks thrive, while homeowners still suffer

A year ago the federal government and 49 states completed a $25 billion agreement with the nation’s largest mortgage servicers to settle claims of “robo-signing” and unlawful foreclosure practices. President Barack Obama announced the creation of the federal-state mortgage securities working group in his 2012 State of the Union address. The nation seemed on the verge of transforming the way banks treat struggling homeowners ‑ particularly those with “underwater” mortgages, in which a homeowner owes more than the house is worth.

These promises, however, have yet to be fulfilled. The latest interim report on the national mortgage settlement is due out this week, and banks will likely again declare that it offers proof that they are fulfilling their obligations. But the communities hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis have yet to see any meaningful relief.

Time is running out to ensure that these communities receive their fair share under the settlement. But it is not too late to provide meaningful assistance. The settlement monitors need to demand greater transparency from banks, and they need to see that banks comply with the fair-lending requirements set out in the agreement. They also need to aggressively police the servicing reforms to ensure that all homeowners get a fair opportunity to save their homes.

Can GOP blame Obama for the sequester?

More than 25 years ago, Representative Jack Kemp told me, “In the past, the left had a thesis: spending, redistribution of wealth and deficits. Republicans were the antithesis: spending is bad.”

He went on to explain, “Ronald Reagan represented a breakthrough for our party. We could talk about lower taxes and more growth. We didn’t have to spend all our time preaching austerity and spending cuts. The question now is: Do we take our thesis and move it further, or do we revert to an anti-spending party?”

We now have the answer. Republicans have reverted to an anti-spending party. Their latest cause? Austerity. Their argument? A shrinking economy is better than big government.

Why Siemens is expanding U.S. manufacturing

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama talked about the importance of upgrading America’s aging infrastructure. He told the story of how our company, Siemens, recently created hundreds of manufacturing jobs in North Carolina. He quoted our U.S. CEO as saying that if America upgrades its infrastructure, we’ll bring even more jobs.

But there’s another important reason we chose North Carolina, along with more than 100 other manufacturing sites in this country. By manufacturing in the U.S., we get proximity to our largest market; highly skilled workers and crucial software engineers in the Research Triangle, educated at some of the world’s best universities; ready access to ports for export, and cutting-edge innovation that we can link directly to our manufacturing sites. All in a business-friendly atmosphere.

America is poised to lead the next manufacturing renaissance. Sophisticated software is the critical component — and that’s what America produces better than anyone. But smart public policy is also needed. So is a sharp focus on what will make U.S. factories more productive, efficient and sustainable.

from The Edgy Optimist:

Obama sees the limits of government

President Barack Obama made the middle class the focus of his State of the Union address on Tuesday. He was lauded by some as fighting for jobs and opportunity, and even for launching a “war on inequality” equivalent to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1960s War on Poverty. He was assailed by others for showing his true colors as a man of big government and wealth redistribution.

Yet the initiatives Obama proposed are striking not for their sweep but for their limited scope. That reflects both pragmatism and realism: Not only is the age of big government really over, so is the age of government as the transformative force in American society. And that is all for the best.

Wait a minute, you might reasonably object: What about healthcare? What about the proposals for minimum -wage increases, for expanded preschool, for innovation centers, for $50 billion in spending on roads and infrastructure? Surely those are big government and aim, effectively or not, for transformation?

Obama’s aims to reduce nuclear threat

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama will reportedly reiterate his interest in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, though unlikely to announce specifics. The administration is interested in seeking an agreement with Russia, building on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) of 2010 and cutting U.S. strategic nuclear forces by another third in the expectation that Moscow will do the same with its nuclear arsenal.

This would leave each country with roughly 1,000 deployed long-range warheads, plus several thousand more in reserve and in tactical arsenals.

It would be an appropriately modest step toward serious pursuit of Obama’s (and President Ronald Reagan’s) goal of a nuclear-free world. With 1,000 warheads, the U.S. nuclear arsenal would remain more than capable of targeting any reasonable set of military sites abroad. Washington and Moscow would also avoid tempting any medium-size nuclear powers, most notably China, with its 250 or so warheads, to pursue nuclear superpower ranks.

  •