Archive for October, 2014
President Obama touted a burst of U.S. economic growth on Thursday to try to avoid another Democratic shellacking in next week’s elections, in a speech at one of the few voter rallies he is attending.
Obama seized on government figures that said the U.S. economy grew at a rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter to suggest his policies are working and that electing Democrats will help the middle class.
But with polls showing Republicans poised to gain seats and possibly seize control of the U.S. Senate on Election Day on Tuesday, Obama’s argument may not be enough to sway voters who have been expressing doubts about his leadership.
“We’ve created more jobs here in the United States over the last six years than Japan, Europe and all of the advanced nations combined,” Obama said at a campaign rally. “We’ve made real progress. But what’s also true is the gains of a growing economy have not been fully felt by everybody.”
Obama traveled to Maine to campaign on behalf of Democratic Representative Mike Michaud, who is seeking to unseat the state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, in a closely fought race.
Obama’s job approval rating of about 40 percent has made him unwelcome in a handful of contested states where the Senate will be decided.
He has spent months raising money for Democratic candidates and just in recent days began appearing at rallies in relatively friendly areas. He’ll be in Rhode Island on Friday for an economic speech and appear at campaign events in Michigan, Connecticut and Pennsylvania over the weekend.
“I’m not on the ballot this time and this is the last election cycle in which I’m involved as president,” he told about 3,000 people at the Portland Expo. “It makes you a little wistful, because I do like campaigning. It’s fun.”Obama laced his comments with criticism of Republicans, who control the U.S. House of Representatives and need six seats to take command of the Senate.
“Look, Republicans are patriots. They love this country. They love their families. There are all kinds of good people in the Republican Party. But they’ve got some bad ideas.”
“Which is okay. I mean, there are a lot of folks in my family who’ve got bad ideas. I love ’em. But I don’t want them in charge of stuff,” he said.
Obama is at his best in campaign mode. With a well-defined enemy a Republican Congress, he will gladly leverage a defeat this election to help regain his mojo in these waning years of his time in office. While going around the Republicans to advance his agenda, he will aggressively blame them for everything he can like he has done for the last six years.
The GOP’s communications strategy has long been ill-equipped to stave off the relentless attacks of the much better organized Left, including their outside political groups and unions. In the run-up to 2016, expect the different facets of the Democrat attack machine to join forces in a way conservative groups never do to fire on all cylinders.
Republicans may end up celebrating some big wins on Tuesday night. But President Obama will not be so wounded as to prevent him from continuing his drive of a statist agenda unilaterally. Tuesday, Republicans may very well win the battle, but that doesn’t mean Obama, ever the Alinsky soldier, can’t still march on to win the war.
It seems the president’s sense of self-importance won’t allow him to stop saying things unhelpful to Democrats trying to free themselves from the heavy weight of his unpopularity by wearing camouflage jackets, rediscovering their drawl, and ostentatiously standing up for local industries on the wrong side of environmental history.
First President Obama claimed that “every single one” of his policies is “on the ballot” this fall. Then he reminded voters that the endangered red state Democrats are “all folks who vote with me” and who “have supported my agenda in Congress.” Most recently, his spokesman contradicted Alaska Senator Mark Begich’s claim that Mr. Obama, with just two years left on the job, was “irrelevant,” despite the support Mr. Begich received, with several layers of irony, from once and future (?) co-president Bill Clinton (who had to defend his own relevance after the Republican electoral tsunami of 1994). Wonder who Mr. Clinton thinks should be leading the party?
Three rounds in, vanity appears to be ahead of cynicism on points, as President Obama simply won’t let others be the changed candidates they want to be. Fearing a November 3rd knockout, most Democratic operatives, it seems, would like nothing more than for Mr. Obama to find a new hobby.
He might even try being president.
We’ve written about the dangers of a hegemonic presidency, inspired by President Obama’s unprecedented use of executive orders, among other violations of the separation of powers. But what is equally striking–and equally dangerous in its own way–is his tendency to neglect the core duties of his executive office as he acts aggressively in areas properly assigned to others.
- The president instructs the Justice Department not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court, but tells the Court to its face that it misread the First Amendment in striking down campaign finance restrictions and then opines that his own evolving views on gay marriage now require the Court to nationalize it as soon as politically expedient.
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement saves money by releasing 2,200 detainees, including 629 with what it (and the Administration) falsely claimed were only low level criminal records, while the president prepares an executive order that will essentially rewrite American immigration policy–not just without Congressional consent, but in terms that could probably not win the votes of 10% of the members of Congress (whatever their private views might be).
More could be said about his Administration’s failure to enforce laws like Obamacare or passivity in the face of growing health and military threats (from) abroad. But what a former aide to Harry Reid said about the president’s approach to the fall campaign might be said about his approach to the presidency in general: “President Obama doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. He seemingly floats above it all.”
Unfortunately, the presidency, as designed, requires a very different sort of person: one who will take up his constitutional responsibilities (but only those responsibilities) with vigor. As Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist 70, far from being inconsistent with republican and constitutional government, “[e]nergy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government.”
After showing that the Electoral College would likely produce the election of a republican president (Federalist 68) and suggesting that American presidents would be constrained to remain republicans in office, if not by their own design, then by the Constitution, the people, and the other branches of government (Federalist 69), Hamilton posits that only the energetic execution of the office will serve its republican purpose.
Why? Because an “energetic” president would be best able to secure:
- the protection of the community against foreign attacks;
- the steady administration of the laws;
- the protection of property, and
- the people’s liberty “against the enterprises of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy.”
Obviously, there are many ways that energy, oriented in the wrong direction, could be harmful to the American republic. But, as Hamilton argues:
A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.
Thus Hamilton’s argument in Federalist 70 follows the earlier argument he had made in Federalist 23 regarding the energy requisite to carry out the essential tasks of the federal government:
This is one of those truths which, to a correct and unprejudiced mind, carries its own evidence along with it; and may be obscured, but cannot be made plainer by argument or reasoning. It rests upon axioms as simple as they are universal; the means ought to be proportioned to the end; the persons, from whose agency the attainment of any end is expected, ought to possess the means by which it is to be attained.
Debate all you wish whether the federal government in general or the president in particular ought to be responsible for accomplishing x, y, or z. But once you’ve said ‘yes,’ it will be no boon to the people’s liberty or security if you withhold the power necessary to actually accomplish the given task.
For the president to be the servant-leader he was expected to be, Hamilton argued, he must be able to employ with confidence the powers that he had been granted. There ought to be no doubt that his energetic employment of his constitutional means for the sake of constitutional ends would be beyond reproof.
Hamilton never doubted that trouble would always be around the corner for Americans as it had been for the Romans and for other once-republican regimes. Any hope that an executive’s republican character and obedience to his parchment powers alone could secure the United States against enemies both foreign and domestic was the stuff of stargazing. He must be of the right stuff to execute his office when danger approached. Here, once again, we can with little doubt think of Hamilton writing Federalist 70 with George Washington in mind.
Choosing an energetic president means choosing someone willing to embrace the often unglamorous tasks enumerated above–and leaving the Court to be the court and the Congress to be the Congress, and pundits, celebrities, and other self-centered egoists to do their business as well. There will, in the end, be plenty of room for admiration from a grateful people more secure in their person, their property, and their liberty because the president knew what his business was, and energetically pursued his business well.
David Corbin is a Professor of Politics and Matthew Parks an Assistant Professor of Politics at The King’s College, New York City. They are co-authors of “Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation” (2011). You can follow their work on Twitter or Facebook.
With exactly one week until Election Day, Air Force One touched down in Milwaukee on Tuesday, and President Barack Obama took part in a private fundraiser downtown, before campaigning for Democratic challenger for governor, Mary Burke. This, as Governor Scott Walker and his supporters continued to campaign, with Governor Walker again saying with the exception of Chris Christie, he doesn’t need help from outside the state.
“One week, Milwaukee. One week until we elect a new governor,” President Obama told the crowd at North Division High School.
President Obama made a stop at Umami Moto in Milwaukee for a private fundraiser with 30 guests, each paying $16,000 for a plate. Then he made his way to North Division High School, where he rallied with and for Mary Burke.
The point of President Obama’s visit was to boost voter turnout in the city of Milwaukee, something Democrats view as critical to a successful strategy. He also pushed early voting.
“You can vote all week,” President Obama said.
Though President Obama, with slipping job approval ratings, has been viewed as a liability by some Democrats across the country, it was thought his enormous popularity among African-Americans in Wisconsin could help drive up turnout. He spoke Tuesday in a Milwaukee ward where 99 percent voted for him in 2012.
President Obama told the crowd of more than 3,500 at North Division High School that Wisconsin is coming up short in the national economic recovery.
“Wisconsin lags the rest of the country in job creation,” President Obama said.
“Governor Walker? He just doesn’t get it,” Mary Burke said.
The rally went off script for a moment Tuesday when a Burke supporter confronted President Obama over immigration.
Mike Lowe: “You obviously got the President’s attention. What did you think of his response?”
“Garbage,” the woman said.
After the exchange, the President continued his argument that Wisconsin would be better off with Mary Burke as governor.
“I think it will help me, or else I wouldn’t have done it. I welcome the President coming here. He is still popular, particularly in certain areas. What this is going to come down to is the people of Wisconsin, and how they’re going to vote and whether they think I’m better able to lead this state than Governor Walker,” Burke said.
Gov. Scott Walker continued his statewide bus tour Tuesday and said with the exception of a visit from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, he’ll only campaign with people from Wisconsin.
“I don’t need people from outside of the state. This is about me and the people of the state of Wisconsin. It’s not about bringing in surrogates like my opponent is doing. The reason she’s doing it is because that’s where her power base is,” Governor Walker said,
In a close race, both candidates say turnout will make the difference.
“They want someone who’s going to fight every single day for the hard-working taxpayers of the state,” Governor Walker said.
Iraqi Peshmerga fighters headed for the Syrian town of Kobane on Tuesday to help fellow Kurds repel an Islamic State advance that has defied U.S.-led air strikes and become an important test of the coalition’s ability to combat the Sunni insurgents.
Kobane, nestled on the border with Turkey, has been besieged by Islamic State for more than a month. Weeks of air strikes on the insurgents’ positions and the deaths of hundreds of their fighters have failed to break the siege.
Islamic State has caused international alarm by capturing large expanses of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” erasing borders between the two and slaughtering or driving away Shi’ite Muslims, Christians and other communities who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam.
The Islamic State (IS) has threatened to massacre Kobane’s defenders in an assault which has sent almost 200,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing to Turkey, and triggered a call to arms from Kurds across the region.
Hemin Hawrami, a senior official in the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraq, wrote on his Twitter feed that Peshmerga combatants were flying from Arbil airport in northern Iraq to Turkey, from where they would travel overland to Kobane.
Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said later that around 150 Peshmerga had entered Turkey from Iraq and were expected to reach the area of Kobane later on Tuesday night.
A Kurdish television channel showed footage of what it said was a convoy of Peshmerga vehicles in northern Iraq loaded with weapons and on their way to the besieged town.
“We welcome the deployment of Peshmerga fighters and weapons from the Kurdistan Region to Kobane, which began this evening,” Brett McGurk, a deputy envoy tasked by U.S. President Barack Obama with building a coalition against IS, said on Twitter.
The Iraqi Kurdish region’s parliament voted last week to deploy some Peshmerga to Syria although a Kurdish government spokesman later said they would not engage in direct combat in Kobani but rather provide artillery support.
Kurdistan’s Minister of Peshmerga, Mustafa Sayyid Qader, told local media on Tuesday that no limits had been set to how long the forces would remain in Kobane.
The fighting around Kobane has exacerbated the flow of refugees from Syria’s 3 1/2-year civil war, with more than three million people already sheltering in neighboring countries including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Jordan’s foreign minister warned on Tuesday the huge demand for housing, schools, jobs and health care generated by the refugees meant Syria’s neighbors were reaching the limits of their ability to cope.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier that air strikes alone would not be enough to push back the insurgents and that only the Peshmerga and moderate Syrian rebel forces could oust Islamic State from Kobane.
“Saving Kobane, retaking Kobane and some area around Kobane from ISIS, there’s a need for a military operation,” he said in an interview with the BBC broadcast on Tuesday. But he made clear neither Turkey nor Western allies would commit troops.
“If they (international coalition) don’t want to send their ground troops, how can they expect Turkey to send Turkish ground troops with the same risks on our border?” Davutoglu said.
Turkish officials have rebuffed international criticism over their reluctance to do more to help Kobane’s beleaguered Kurdish defenders, whom they accuse of being linked to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
That stance has enraged Turkey’s own Kurdish minority, about a fifth of the population and half of all Kurds across the region. Kurds suspect Ankara would rather see Islamic State jihadists extend their territorial gains than allow Kurdish insurgents to consolidate local power.
Turkey has repeatedly called for a long-term strategic plan for Syria involving the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power, fearing that Assad’s forces or Kurdish militants will fill the void if Islamic State is neutralized.
Iran accused Turkey on Tuesday of prolonging the three-year armed conflict in Syria by insisting on Assad’s overthrow and supporting “terrorist groups” in Syria.
After pressure from Western allies, Turkey last week agreed to let Peshmerga forces from Iraq traverse its territory to reach Kobane as its preferred alternative to U.S. planes air-dropping weapons to Kurdish fighters in the town.
“The only way to help Kobane, since other countries don’t want to use ground troops, is sending some peace-oriented or moderate troops to Kobane. What are they? Peshmerga … and Free Syrian Army (Syrian opposition forces),” Davutoglu said.
Davutoglu renewed calls for the United States to train and arm fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose, disorganized coalition of groups who have been battling Assad and who have long been supported by Turkey.
Washington has committed to arming the Syrian opposition to fight Islamic State, but U.S. officials remain concerned about identifying effective, moderate groups in the increasingly sectarian Syrian conflagration.
Iraqi Kurdish forces will not engage in ground fighting in the Syrian town of Kobane but provide artillery support for fellow Kurds fending off Islamic State militants there, a Kurdish spokesman said on Sunday.
Islamic State fighters have been trying to capture Kobane for over a month, pressing on despite U.S.-led air strikes on their positions and the deaths of hundreds of their fighters.
The Kurds prepared to help their comrades in Syria as Iraqi government forces and Shi’ite militias advanced against the al Qaeda offshoot that wants to redraw the map of the Middle East.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria’s three-and-a-half-year-old conflict, said on Sunday it had confirmed that 815 people had been killed in the fighting for Kobane over the last 40 days – more than half of them Islamic State fighters.
The Kurdish region’s parliament voted last week to deploy some of its Peshmerga forces, which have been fighting their own battle against Islamic State in northern Iraq, to Syria.
“Primarily, it will be a back-up support with artillery and other weapons,” Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) spokesman Safeen Dizayee said. “It will not be combat troops as such, at this point anyway.”
Islamic State militants shelled Kobane’s border post with Turkey overnight but were repulsed by Kurdish fighters, Kurdish officials and a monitoring group said on Sunday.
Iraqi security forces backed by Shi’ite militias gained some momentum at the weekend in their bid to loosen the grip of Islamic State, which controls large swathes of territory in the north and west of the major OPEC oil producer.
Iraqi government forces backed by Shi’ite militias retook four villages on Sunday near the Himreen mountains overlooking Islamic State supply lines some 100 km (60 miles) south of the oil city of Kirkuk, security officials said.
They also drove Islamic State militants out of Jurf al-Sakhar, just south of Baghdad, while Kurdish fighters regained control over the town of Zumar in the north.
Sunni insurgents have been moving fighters, weapons and supplies from western Iraq through secret desert tunnels to Jurf al-Sakhar, Iraqi officials have said. Now it appears government forces may be able to disrupt that network.
Roadside bombs and booby-trapped houses hampered their progress near the Himreen mountains, security officials. “We have decided to make slow advances. We hold the ground, set up watch towers, clear the explosives and build sand barriers to prevent the armed men from returning,” army major Ahmed Nu’aman said.
Last week, Ankara said it would allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters passage through Turkish territory to reach besieged Kobane.
Syrian Kurdish forces defending Kobane say heavier weaponry is vital to fighting the better armed Islamic State fighters.
They have asked for armour-piercing missiles able to destroy the tanks and other armoured vehicles used by Islamic State.
The Syrian Kurds said weapons airdropped to them by the U.S. air force last week were not enough to defeat Islamic State. U.S. officials had described those weapons, which were supplied by the Iraqi Kurdish authorities, as “small arms”.
In a separate interview on Sunday, the chief of staff to the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, said the Peshmerga were ready to depart as soon as a timetable had been finalised with Ankara and Kurds in Syria.
Fuad Hussein said he expected the 155 Peshmerga fighters to move “one of these days”.
Asked about the weapons the Peshmerga would take, Hussein described them as “semi-heavy” and said they would enable the lightly armed Kurdish fighters in Kobane to counter Islamic State’s tanks and armoured vehicles.
The battle for Kobane has taken on major political significance for Turkey, whose own Kurds have been infuriated by Ankara’s reluctance to intervene, threatening to derail a peace process between the government and separatist guerrillas.
Iraqi forces are slowly trying to undermine Islamic State in operations like the one near the Himreen mountains.
It is designed to isolate Islamic State fighters controlling the towns of Jalawla and Saadiya and cut off the areas they seized northeast of the city of Baquba, which is held by Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militias.
Government forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been trying for months to take over Jalawla and Saadiya, located northeast of Baghdad.
Islamic State swept through northern Iraq in the summer, facing little resistance from U.S.-trained government troops.
The group made up of Iraqis, other Arabs and foreign fighters then threatened to march on Baghdad, rattling the Shi’ite-led government.
Much may depend on whether the performance of Iraq’s army and security forces improves.
Their advances over the weekend and other operations indicate they rely heavily on support from Shi’ite militias whose alleged human rights abuses against minority Sunnis have fueled sectarian bloodshed and helped destabilize Iraq.
The next major security operation is expected to target the town of Amriyat al-Falluja, located in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province, just 40 km (25 miles) from Baghdad.
The Sunni insurgents have been surrounding it for weeks. Security officials said government forces are preparing to try and break the siege. Islamic State also appears to be gearing up for another battle.
Militants in the nearby town of Falluja, an Islamic State bastion, used loudspeakers attached to captured police vehicles to tell supporters to expect good news from Amriyat al-Falluja.
Two attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula killed 33 security personnel on Friday, security sources said, in some of the worst anti-state violence since Islamist President Mohamed Mursi was overthrown last year.
The violence prompted Egypt to declare a three-month state of emergency in parts of North Sinai, where the violence took place, the state news agency reported.
The attacks are a setback for the government, which had managed over the past few months to make some progress in the struggle against an Islamist militant insurgency in the Sinai as it focuses on trying to repair the economy.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has also expressed serious concerns over militants who are thriving in the chaos of post-Gaddafi Libya and are opposed to the Cairo government.
Egypt has offered to train anti-militant, pro-government Libyan forces while it tries to contain the Sinai insurgency. Security officials say Egyptian warplanes flown by Libyan pilots recently bombed militant targets in Libya.
Thirty people were killed in the first attack in the al-Kharouba area northwest of al-Arish, near the Gaza Strip, the sources said. Military helicopters transferred the dead and wounded to Cairo. Among them were several senior officers from the Second Field Army based in Ismailia, security sources said.
The car bomb attack targeted two armored vehicles at a checkpoint near an army installation, the sources said. They said the big explosion and high death toll were likely due to the vehicles being loaded with ammunition and heavy weapons.
Security officials gave conflicting accounts of the first attack, with one Sinai-based official saying a rocket-propelled grenade was used. More than 25 people were wounded.
Hours later, gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint in al-Arish, killing three members of the security forces, officials said.
The casualties were transported to Cairo by military helicopters, state news agency MENA reported.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack. Similar previous operations have been claimed by Egypt’s most active militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.
Though the vast peninsula has long been a security headache for Egypt and its neighbors, the removal of President Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood brought the region new violence that has morphed into an Islamist insurgency
Security forces have been squaring off against militants who have killed hundreds of soldiers and police since the army toppled Mursi in July 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
Most attacks have been in Sinai, although militant groups have claimed responsibility over the past year for deadly bomb attacks on state installations in the Nile Delta and in Cairo.
The Brotherhood says it is peaceful and denies government claims it has links to the Sinai-based Islamist militants.
Sisi convened the National Defence Council on Friday evening for an emergency meeting in response to what his office called “a terrorist attack”.
Shortly after the second attack, Sinai residents reported that phone lines and Internet services had been cut.
Security sources said the communications shutdown coincided with the beginning of a military operation east of al-Arish in response to the attacks. Apache helicopters bombed areas south of the towns of Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah, near the Gaza Strip, which sources said were believed to be “militant hideouts.”
MENA said armed forces were “conducting a large-scale combing operation” involving military helicopters and special forces troops, but gave no further details.
This is not the first time in the 16 months since Mursi’s overthrow when news of a deadly attack against security forces in the Sinai has been swiftly followed by official announcements about a fresh assault on militants.
Washington provides Cairo with military aid of around $1.3 billion annually. A partial suspension of aid following Mursi’s ouster was relaxed in April, when the U.S. said it would deliver 10 Apache helicopters, which have not yet arrived in Egypt.
The Pentagon said at the time that aid would help Egypt’s counter-terrorism operations in the Sinai.
Six soldiers were killed on Sunday by a roadside bomb southwest of al-Arish.
Security officials have expressed concern that Islamic State militants who control parts of Iraq and Syria have forged ties with radical Islamist groups in Egypt.