Tag Archives: president obama

Airport Security Protests Fizzle and Inspections Continue as They Must

By Marc Seltzer; originally published at care2.com on December 6, 2010. (The original posting received more than 100 comments, often strongly disapproving, which can be seen at the care2.com link.)

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Protests against airline security procedures did not materialize last week despite a media campaign in which a variety of hopeful instigators clamored that the public would not tolerate the invasion of privacy.  While the new procedures — x-ray technology that sees through clothes and pat downs that include private parts — are bound to make people uncomfortable, the vast majority of passengers accept that the threat of attack is serious and the security measures reasonable.

The sniping at the Obama administration and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and claims that TSA procedures are unconstitutional on the one hand and misguided on the other don’t hold up to scrutiny.  First of all, flying is optional.  We choose to do it by paying for a ticket and accepting the rules that go with the privilege of flying.  The government, rather than the private airline companies, conduct security operations, but no one is forcing passengers to get in line.  Second, flying is not something you do in the confines of your home, where you would expect the most 4th amendment protection from government search and seizure.  The question of whether it’s reasonable to conduct these admittedly invasive searches in an airport security line depends on the level of protection needed and the availability of other options.

While the U.S. has been lucky that the shoe bomber, underwear bomber and other attempts have failed to bring down a plane, there is a clear threat to aviation security.  The procedures are the best that experts can come up with at this moment.  No doubt less invasive, and more effective, machines are on the drawing board.

Another argument is that the scanners and pat downs can’t stop every conceivable threat.  True, but the new procedures increase the chances of a successful inspection for dangerous materials.  They take more time, they see more, and they make it more difficult to plan and carry out an attack.  That is enough to justify their use, even if something slips through.

The people in aviation security, from front line screeners to administration decision makers, deserve credit for doing a difficult job where a single mistake can cost many lives and the enemy actively tries to exploit errors and weaknesses.

Marc Seltzer is also a contributor to SupremePodcast.com, a weekly U.S. Supreme Court case review podcast.

President Obama’s Tea Party Credentials

By Marc Seltzer; originally published at care2.com on November 14, 2010

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I wonder if the story of the midterm elections is what it seems:  Tea Party Rejection of President Obama’s policies ushers in a Republican agenda.

In that story, President Obama is either the same old Washington problem, out to use tax-payer money and gov’t power for his own out-of-touch interests or an out-of-control Democrat-Socialist on a wild spending spree.  The deficit and debt represent the proof of the irresponsibility of the incumbents, and the new Republicans are the populist heroes who will reign in spending and balance the budget.

But I keep remembering candidate Obama saying “I am not doing this so I can pass the buck on the hard decisions.”  Difficult decisions are the ones where you take things from powerful people or make them pay what they cost, rather than offer give-aways.

Leave the financial crisis aside for a moment.

The current President inherited both short-term deficit spending (war, tax cuts, excess gov’t spending, etc. — unpaid for) and long term structural debt (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security going up unsustainably per existing law and future demographics).  There are sometimes reasons to borrow money, to spend now and pay off debts later, but the past decade was not WWII.  Congress simply spent more than it took in, and it gave gifts such as tax cuts and Medicare benefits by borrowing money.

Along comes Barack Obama, talking about “bending the cost curve.”  Significant in the health care reform was removing tax subsidies for generous employer-sponsored health plans. Most Americans get their insurance from employer-sponsored health plans, and this substantial reform, however unpopular, will reduce the costs and waste of excessive medical care.  Mr. Obama also approved taking funds out of Medicare.  That’s hurting doctors and potentially forcing more cost containment on publicly funded health care for seniors.

The President also talked about reducing earmarks (the first budget under Obama contained earmarks prepared before his inauguration).  That hurts corporate interests and the politicians so aligned.   Then, Mr. Obama sought to reduce defense spending, with his Secretary of Defense standing up to criticism by congressional and corporate defense interests.

This sure seems like the long-term path of fiscal discipline.

What I’m wondering is, could the Tea Party movement be going in the same direction as the President?  Could it be that in order to balance the budget a lot of sacrifices will have to be made?  The President started down that path. (The financial crisis brought some unexpected costs — Bush’s TARP and Obama’s Stimulus — but not a recurring give-away). Now, the Tea Party-rejuvenated Republicans are all about cutting spending.

Doesn’t that really put them in the President’s camp?  Everyone with an interest, special or otherwise, will argue for their piece of the pie.  Tea Party Republicans are proposing to reform earmarks, cut defense spending and balance the budget.  They come at the problem as if it was the government that was devouring all the money.  But if they stay in the game for long enough, they will see that it’s not that simple.

In that case, President Obama may again appear the reformer:  A leader with a clear understanding of what needs to change to create a more sustainable America, waiting for people with integrity and discipline, a willingness to sacrifice, and political courage to join the fight against a system of entrenched interests.

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Listen to Marc Seltzer’s weekly podcasts on the U.S. Supreme Court at SupremePodcast.com

No Tea Party in Canada

By Marc Seltzer; originally published at care2.com on October 13, 2010
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Democrats seem bewildered by the strength of the Tea Party movement.  Powerful incumbent Senators such as Boxer (CA) and Reid (NV), and numerous House Reps in leadership positions find themselves in difficult contests. Republicans are poised to gain significant numbers in the legislative branch in November’s mid-terms election.

Fighting back, Democrats and their supporters have gone after Tea Party-Republican candidates, focusing on their oddities, inconsistencies, and lack of coherent policies.  Rachel Maddow, among others, has exposed the remarkably poor caliber of some candidates propelled by the Tea Party to victory in the Republican primaries.

Be that as it may, the legitimate complaint of the Tea Party movement has not been effectively dealt with by Democrats.  The root groundswell of anti-government energy comes from fear and anger about deficit spending and debt.

Deficits matter.

In Canada, governments of the past decade worked hard to erase the substantial deficits of the 1990s.  When the 2008 financial crisis arrived, Canada was able to face the recession with sound economic fundamentals.   Increased public spending in 2009 and 2010 again created deficits, but helped Canada recover nearly all the jobs lost in 2008.  Embarking on a new deficit spending program did not faze the public, and Canadian leaders are now talking about returning to surplus budgets in the next 7 years.

There is no tea party movement in Canada.  National health care, yes.  Major tax protests, no.

For all the things wrong with aspects of the Tea Party movement, from blaming the Obama administration for current ills to dredging up misguided social views, the truth is that the U.S. would have braved the recession far more effectively if it had had a budget surplus.

In not addressing this aspect of the financial health of the nation directly from the start, with a coherent long-term plan, the Democrats have allowed the opposition to bundle legitimate disapproval of the government’s budget outlook with generalized anger at banks, unemployment, the Bush administration, Congress, taxes, and government spending.

It’s working for Republicans so far, and if this election looks bleak, imagine Sarah Palin filling a stadium near you in 2012.

(Marc Seltzer has been on paternity leave after the birth of his daughter in June.  Marc can also be heard reviewing U.S. Supreme Court cases at SupremePodcast.com)

President Obama Speaks to His House, King Harry to his Men

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on March 21, 2010, at care2.com

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The President gave a great speech to the Democratic Representatives (excerpts below) on the day before the health care vote in that body.  It reminded me of the glorious speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V made by King Harry to his men the day before battle.  I know it sounds like I am gushing Obama here, but I have taught Henry V to high school students for many years and I know this speech too well not to think of it.  It is one of the great speeches of all time.

Shakespeare’s language can be difficult, but what comes through is the greater pride in fighting a tough battle than an easy one.  Facing battle with France, Harry of England’s men have expressed their doubts and fears about their prospects against the French, who vastly outnumber them.  Would they be better off back home?  Would they be better led away from battle than into the slaughter? Or at least, could they not have more men on their side?

The beloved King responds:

“What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark’d to die, we are now
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.”

“By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.”

“No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.”

“This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'”

“Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d
;”

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” (Henry V, Act 4.3, spacing added)

President Obama has something entirely different to say.  He is recognizing that Democratic congresspersons are making a vote that appears politically challenging.   But he calls on them to understand the importance of this moment in their lives as leaders, in the historic context of votes on Social Security, Medicare and Civil Rights, as well as in the needs of the American people for help with health care reforms.

President Obama:

“. . . Now, I can’t guarantee that this is good politics.  Every one of you know your districts better than I do.  You talk to folks.  You’re under enormous pressure.  You’re getting robocalls.  You’re getting e-mails that are tying up the communications system.  I know the pressure you’re under.  I get a few comments made about me.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed.  (Laughter.)  I’ve been in your shoes.  I know what it’s like to take a tough vote.

But what did Lincoln say?  “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.”  Two generations ago, folks who were sitting in your position, they made a decision — we are going to make sure that seniors and the poor have health care coverage that they can count on.  And they did the right thing.

And I’m sure at the time they were making that vote, they weren’t sure how the politics were either, any more than the people who made the decision to make sure that Social Security was in place knew how the politics would play out, or folks who passed the civil rights acts knew how the politics were going to play out.  They were not bound to win, but they were bound to be true.

And now we’ve got middle class Americans, don’t have Medicare, don’t have Medicaid, watching the employer-based system fray along the edges or being caught in terrible situations.  And the question is, are we going to be true to them?

Sometimes I think about how I got involved in politics.  I didn’t think of myself as a potential politician when I get out of college.  I went to work in neighborhoods, working with Catholic churches in poor neighborhoods in Chicago, trying to figure out how people could get a little bit of help.  And I was skeptical about politics and politicians, just like a lot of Americans are skeptical about politics and politicians are right now.  Because my working assumption was when push comes to shove, all too often folks in elected office, they’re looking for themselves and not looking out for the folks who put them there; that there are too many compromises; that the special interests have too much power; they just got too much clout; there’s too much big money washing around.

And I decided finally to get involved because I realized if I wasn’t willing to step up and be true to the things I believe in, then the system wouldn’t change.  Every single one of you had that same kind of moment at the beginning of your careers.  Maybe it was just listening to stories in your neighborhood about what was happening to people who’d been laid off of work.  Maybe it was your own family experience, somebody got sick and didn’t have health care and you said something should change.

Something inspired you to get involved, and something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican.  Because somewhere deep in your heart you said to yourself, I believe in an America in which we don’t just look out for ourselves, that we don’t just tell people you’re on your own, that we are proud of our individualism, we are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of neighborliness and a sense of community — (applause) — and we are willing to look out for one another and help people who are vulnerable and help people who are down on their luck and give them a pathway to success and give them a ladder into the middle class.  That’s why you decided to run.

And now a lot of us have been here a while and everybody here has taken their lumps and their bruises.  And it turns out people have had to make compromises, and you’ve been away from families for a long time and you’ve missed special events for your kids sometimes.  And maybe there have been times where you asked yourself, why did I ever get involved in politics in the first place?  And maybe things can’t change after all.  And when you do something courageous, it turns out sometimes you may be attacked.  And sometimes the very people you thought you were trying to help may be angry at you and shout at you.  And you say to yourself, maybe that thing that I started with has been lost.

But you know what?  Every once in a while, every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made in all those town meetings and all those constituency breakfasts and all that traveling through the district, all those people who you looked in the eye and you said, you know what, you’re right, the system is not working for you and I’m going to make it a little bit better.

And this is one of those moments.  This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is exactly why I came here.  This is why I got into politics.  This is why I got into public service.  This is why I’ve made those sacrifices.  Because I believe so deeply in this country and I believe so deeply in this democracy and I’m willing to stand up even when it’s hard, even when it’s tough.

Every single one of you have made that promise not just to your constituents but to yourself.  And this is the time to make true on that promise.  We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true.  We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.  We have been debating health care for decades.  It has now been debated for a year.  It is in your hands.  It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow.”  (Source link below)

President Obama’s Speech to Democratic Representatives March 20, 2010 (video link).

Click here for the transcript of the speech.

Follow the vote live this afternoon on C-Span.  Coverage beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time and culminating with a vote at 6:00 p.m. (this could change).

Marc Seltzer’s writing and podcasts at https://marcivanseltzer.wordpress.com/

Obama Approval, Progressive Politics and Democratic Unity

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on November 25, 2009, at care2.com

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Pundits have focused recently on President Obama’s declining public opinion polls.  As the President drops to fifty percent approval ratings, the talk speculates on whether the poor economy will sink Democratic prospects in the 2010 midterm elections.  The economy is important and the administration’s policies will not cure recession blues before the election, but of greater concern is the question of Democratic political unity.

Republicans have criticized the President’s leadership and policies from the get go, but with Progressives attacking the administration and fracturing the President’s base, some of the moderates who elected him are beginning to wonder.  Have the progressives gone off in search of Ralph Nader?

Neither the left nor the right have a majority in national American politics.  The candidate that convinces the pragmatic middle to join the ideological left or right wins both in electing candidates and in charting policy.  President Bush succeeded in maintaining the right-middle coalition between 2000 and 2008.  He used the power he was given to lower taxes on the wealthy, promote hands-off financial oversight, conduct aggressive foreign and military policy and tilt the delicate balance between rights and security not so delicately in favor of security.

President Obama won back moderates in 2008, promising to shift economic policy towards the middle class, embracing government regulation in finance, the environment and health care, and seeking new strategic solutions in international relations.  His is not, in fact, a liberal vision, despite Republican characterizations, but it is a more moderate one than what came before, and one that aims to learn from the experiences of prior administrations.As long as his coalition continues, the President’s approach to taxes and budget, justice and rights, and foreign policy and war will prevail.

However, after nine months in office, it seems the President can no longer count on the Progressive wing for support.  In the guise of influencing the President to move to the left, Progressive critics attack the President and his administration.  Calls for Treasury Secretary Geithner to resign by Rep. Peter DeFazio D-Or are but the most recent example.  The left is also troubled by economic decision-making and the potential increase in troops headed for Afghanistan.  Of course, any coalition will contain different viewpoints.  A goal of our democratic process is for hearty debate to distinguish the best ideas from all others.  But Progressives fail to grasp that the President needs the full support of those that elected him in order to achieve his agenda and present a successful Democratic party to the electorate in 2010 and 2012.  If the party is not unified, the President will not succeed and the power will shift back to the Republicans.

It is only because President Obama joined, at least temporarily, the moderate center of the electorate with the traditional Democratic party that he succeeded in bringing his moderate voice to the fore.

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Obama Nobel Prize for Multilateralism

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on October 9, 2009, at care2.com

President Obama’s winning of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize recognizes his multilateral emphasis in resolving international conflicts.  Critics, who wonder what he has done, are overlooking the importance of this cooperative approach to the rest of the world.

During the first decade of the 21st Century, President Bush rattled Europe with his willingness to take unilateral action and use force to achieve America’s international goals. The U.S. is more willing to go this route in part becauses it has not been scarred by international wars on its home soil.  The attacks on Pearl Harbor, New York and Washington D.C. were painful, but Europe lost far more than fifty million lives, many of them civilians, during World War II.

President Obama struck a chord with the Nobel committee and people of all nations when he spoke of working in cooperation with the international community.  With the benefit of hindsight, President Obama recognizes that problems such as Middle-East conflicts and totalitarian regimes are not so easily fixable by the United States, despite great diplomatic and military power.

It is worth noting that many European nations were still monarchies in the 20th century.  Even as those monarchies were replaced by democracies, Europe plunged into two destructive wars and needed help from the United States to free itself, first of Nazi aggression, and then of Soviet oppression.

In many ways immitating the U.S. and Canadian models, European nations have now solidly pursued a democratic vision and free markets, trade and immigration among member states.  These policies have led to prosperity, stability and increased international leadership.

Since the Second World War, Europe gradually built a stable community of nations using organizations such as European Union and NATO and determined, constructive, diplomatic efforts.  European nations have used negotiation to form a union.

The current U.S. concerns over nuclear proliferation, totalitarian regimes, and violent extreamists may or may not resolve through diplomatic efforts.  But President Obama’s multilateral approach is the best option for peaceful resolution of conflicts.  Finding common ground with China, Russia and the European Community can bring tremendous power to our efforts to diffuse dangers abroad.  There is no magic wand that guarantees peaceful solutions, but the President is both realistic and savvy about how to ally the greatest force against enemies of democracy and peace.

In this light, the Nobel prize is a high honor for Barack Obama, a recogotion of a new attitude in U.S. foreign policy, and a confirmation that there is great desire in the world for 21st century international cooperation.

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Have the Military Responses to 9/11 Been Equal to their Costs?

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on September 11, 2009, at care2.com

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Reflecting on 9/11 includes thinking about eight years of foreign policy. What concerns me is the massive commitment we have made in two foreign wars and the uncertain accomplishments we have to show for it.

In Afghanistan and then Iraq we invested tremendous human and economic resources.  We may in the long run succeed in giving Iraq the opportunity to create a functioning democracy, but the cost was high.

In Afghanistan, it is still not clear that a positive outcome can be achieved, although the committment of sufficient resources may also bring results that were not possible previously.

During President Ronald Reagan’s eight years in office, he responded to various threats without engaging in a substantial ground war.  When he chose to react with force to Libyan terrorism, he bombed Moamar Gadaffi’s compound.  Gadaffi survived, although immediate family members were killed in the attack.  One military act, with small risk to our forces and cost to our economy, backed up by economic sanctions.  We did not attempt to replace a regime or transform a society.

Since then, Gadaffi has renounced terrorism and sought to comply with international norms. Gradually, sanctions have been removed and Libya has begun its return to the community of nations.

President Reagan did commit tremendous national resources to oppose the Soviet Union, the major Cold War threat.  But despite “Star Wars’” failings, the U.S. investment in missile-shield technology fostered American economic and technological superiority, which ultimately forced the Soviet Union to change.  Not all former soviet states are success stories today, but many are, and the 30-year threat of nuclear war subsided.

Since 9/11, the loudest complaints about our use of force have been over justification for our invasion of Iraq.  Those who believe that military action wasappropriate focus on security to be gained from defeating the enemy and establishing stable government.  What about the security to be lost, if we demonstrate that we are unable to accomplish our mission or unwilling to face new threats (Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs), because we have already given too much?

Our military proves itself every day in discipline, bravery, organization and tactics.  But do our political leaders have the strategic wisdom to use force so that we achieve the most for the least expenditure of precious resources?