His Own Standard: Why We on the Left Must Hold Obama Accountable


Since September, the Obama administration has been under fire from a Republican weapon that seems to reload with aggravating perpetuity. Weathering attacks on the specific responses to the tragedy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice, President Obama sought to mute a chorus of commentators in the presidential debate at Hofstra University last October. Speaking about the American diplomatic corps, Obama absolved others of ultimate wrongdoing:

“They’re my representatives. I send them there – oftentimes into harm’s way…Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me. I’m the president. And I’m always responsible.”

The Obama of national security is accountable, responsible, and when necessary, culpable.

That approach is historically sound. When the Deepwater Horizon turned the Gulf of Mexico black in 2010, BP CEO Tony Hayward couldn’t shrug, hold up his palms, and point the rig’s mechanics. (We know this because that’s exactly what he tried to do.) In the wake of Benghazi, Obama expressed without reservation that – even in the minutia of these national security issues – he had been responsible for prevention and must be liable upon disaster.

But when last week told a tale of two scandals – both underscored by the Libya barrage that will not cease – that air of accountability emptied out of the Obama administration. It became evident that Obama’s feelings of direct responsibility were isolated to the realm of national security.

What happened in Libya was deplorable because that which could have been prevented wasn’t prevented. Where security personnel should have been proactive, they were shoved into a corner and forced to be rushed and reactive. It all happened more than five thousand miles from the White House, but Obama took the fall. He held himself to a higher standard.

But last week’s IRS case laid bare an imbalance in Obama’s priorities. Though his appointees – or bureaucrats hired by people who fit that bill – engaged in something steeped in moral and legal turpitude, their transgressions were minor in the scheme of things; the scandal concerned quotidian domestic financial issues. No death, no carnage – just taxes. The agency’s office is just five blocks from the White House. And what’s been the White House response?

Obama is “concerned by every report he sees on this,” Jay Carney told reporters last Tuesday, “and that is why he looks forward to finding out what the IG report says.” In short: the president will take no responsibility before someone of consequence pins it on him.

Not proactive, reactive. Not accountable, evasive. Obama shrugs, hold up his palms, and point to the rig’s mechanics. Suddenly, he’s Tony Hayward at the Resolute Desk. An incongruence in governing.

The virtually simultaneous revelation that the Department of Justice seized hundreds of phone records prompted a similarly aloof response from team Obama. AP White House reporter Jim Kuhnhenn asked the first question at the May 14 press conference, immediately following the disclosure. His query can be boiled down to its premise. “In every instance,” Kuhnhenn scolded Carney, “either the president or you have placed the burden of responsibility someplace else.” A far cry from the buck-stops-here Obama of October fame.

The first chunk of Carney’s response amounted to a surface defense of the president’s record on First Amendment issues. Then he shifted the scope of his answer to White House jurisdiction over Justice cases. “We are not involved…with any decisions made in connection with ongoing criminal investigations,” he said, adding that “those matters are handled, appropriately, by the Justice Department independently.”

Again, Obama is innocent until proven guilty. His head bobs above the waters of responsibility until he’s drowning in them. The question arises: who’s in charge during the perennial White House side-step?

Perhaps the answer is the president’s surrogates – the people who run the departments being investigated. But when Attorney General Eric Holder was initially asked about the seizure of AP phone records, he told a media pool at the DOJ that it was “getting into matters that are beyond my knowledge.” His recusal from the matter left him uninformed as to “what the circumstances were here…and I frankly don’t have knowledge of those facts.”

I’m a self-declared political liberal and voted for Barack Obama last November. That seemed a clear indication that I wanted him running the country, fully informed and profoundly engaged. The more than 51% of eligible voters that opted for him reflects a similar sentiment. The de facto administration policy can’t be precautionary ignorance and retrospective hand-wringing.

The political left mustn’t echo the absent-minded rhetorical gunfire of the right; but it should make President Obama the subject of real targeted criticism until his “buck-stops-here” mentality takes the form of a coherent, comprehensive policy that encompasses his administration’s involvement in tax and law questions as much as it does issues of national security.

We don’t yet know if the IRS and DOJ allegations will grow into convictions, but regardless of circumstance, Obama’s policy should be one of continuity in accountability, not of strategic ignorance that leaves him blindsided and irreproachable. “I’m always responsible,” he said in October. I voted for that Barack Obama.

Guns and Glaciers: Why the NRA is Wrong About Newtown


Remember what Kurt Vonnegut wrote about Sandy Hook Elementary School? It was tucked within the first few pages of Slaughterhouse-Five:

Over the years, people I’ve met have often asked me what I’m working on, and I’ve usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden. I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows as inquired, “Is it an anti-war book?”

“You know what I say about people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?”

“No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?”

“I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?'”

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers.

Harrison Starr seems to be speaking frankly and directly to a fractured American public, spawned by a fractured Newtown. He is insisting that a race whose end is out of sight isn’t worth running; that an epidemic that can’t be cured overnight is nothing short of a lost cause; that gun violence is better left to hollow prayer and band-aid solutions than to sensible long-term remedies. But Harrison Starr is wrong.

Last Friday, Wayne LaPierre, CEO and Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association stood behind a mahogany podium and delivered the his organization’s official response to the Newtown massacre. In a sing-song timbre, LaPierre began. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Before he could deliver his next sentence, that statement sank into sea of punditry and antagonism.

On Sunday, LaPierre appeared on MSNBC’s Meet the Press. During the program, host David Gregory offered him – albeit forcefully – an opportunity to clarify his Friday remarks. No clarification was necessary. LaPierre proved unrelenting in his conviction that the principal problem is the person, not the weapon. The mentally ill, he said – or “lunatics,” as he tastefully called them – are the dominant players in the debate over guns in the United States.

Mental illness is surely a factor in the debate. Liza Long’s now-famous Blue Review piece “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” gave voice to a desire to shift the debate from gun control to aid for families of kids who are mentally ill. Long’s son, Michael, is violent, erratic, and – disturbingly, more problematic – undiagnosed. He needs help. And so does his mother. She describes a bleak conversation with her son’s social worker, who advised that the family’s best bet in finding treatment and therapy for her young son was “to get Michael charged with a crime.”

Few deny that the American penal establishment – entangled with the nation’s mental health establishment – is afflicted by deep-seated systemic failures. No one – neither President Obama, nor the vocal families of Newtown’s victims, nor the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (which has more than a million mental health records on file) – professes that the mental health issue should not play a significant role in our national conversation.

Yes, Jared Lee Loughner, who carried out the January 2011 rampage in Tucson, suffered from mental illness. As did James Holmes, who killed 12 people in July at a movie theater in Aurora. As did Ian Stawicki, who made headlines last May when he murdered five in a Seattle coffee house. And it is presumed – though not confirmed – that Adam Lanza did, too. But as Sen. Chuck Schumer said on Sunday, “trying to prevent shootings in schools without talking about guns is like trying to prevent lung cancer without talking about cigarettes.” Yes, many mass shooters are mentally ill. But in want of proper treatment, they kill people – and they do it with guns. So let’s talk about guns.

During the course of their exchange, David Gregory uncovered (and his guest confirmed) that the NRA’s criteria for supporting congressional legislation was straightforward: if an idea may reduce loss of life, it’s worth trying. Gregory followed up by asking LaPierre if the NRA would support any form of reduction of high capacity magazines. LaPierre sang a tune of evasion for a few minutes before conceding that it wouldn’t. Then Gregory asked if there was any gun regulation that LaPierre would support. There wasn’t. Not even one.

It seems to me alarming that the nation’s chief gun advocates can’t – nay, won’t – acknowledge inherent dangers in weaponry, even as a mechanism of mitigating those dangers. Hazard, they say, lurks only in its operators. A December 16 piece in The Atlantic noted that the Second Amendment, while safeguarding Americans’ rights to guns, “doesn’t say a single thing about the right to own bullets.” The same notion was central to an old Chris Rock comedy routine. “I think all bullets should cost five thousand dollars,” Rock would say. “Five thousand dollars per bullet…and people would think before they killed somebody.” You remember the old adage about truth in humor.

Taxing or regulating bullets could prove effective in reducing loss of life, thus the proposal fits snugly in LaPierre’s criteria. James Holmes bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet. Had anyone been watching, one might assume that such a purchase would have been a red flag of sorts. High capacity magazines in assault weapons allow a gunman to shoot off thirty or more rounds without having to reload his weapon. But LaPierre and the NRA are adamant: “A gun is a tool; the problem is the criminal.”

They are fatally mistaken. If last year we had borne witness to 8,583 murders caused by rocks, I would likely be an advocate of rock control. And had those deaths been caused by umbrellas, I would be in favor of umbrella control. But nearly 70 percent of murders last year were caused by guns. Firearms act as subservient accomplices in homicide. Yes, people kill people. But they kill people with guns.

Gun violence in this country will not end in full until there emerges a new lethal instrument that usurps the gun in efficacy and vogue. With anticipation, we dread that day. Harrison Starr couldn’t have predicted the melting of the glaciers.

The solution doesn’t eliminate the problem, but renders its victims fewer. Wayne LaPierre’s soapbox is wearing thin, and while it would be naïve to think or to claim that we can wholly eliminate gun violence, it would be a deadly crime not to try.

When the Numbers Don’t Add Up – Why Man Shouldn’t Decide Woman’s Fate


Yesterday afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 240-185 to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, “The time has come to respect the wishes of the majority of Americans who adamantly oppose using taxpayer dollars for abortions.”

Men have unwaveringly set history’s political agenda. In too many places, for too many years, on too many separate occasions, man’s superiority complex has superseded woman’s unshakable humility. Of course, there are exceptions. But in the grand scheme of things, men have suppressed or out-shouted the female voice.

In Biblical times, men set the rules. In literature, male authors set the scene. In the workforce, men set (and collected) the salaries. But a woman’s job in America shouldn’t be – and isn’t – to stand by and set the table; it’s to set the agenda.

Since Cantor brought up the topic, let’s discuss majorities. At the risk of detracting from the essence of the argument, I won’t even take into account outside social, religious, or political arguments. Simply consider the following.

Women make up the majority of this country, and men make up eighty-two percent of congressional representation. The majority of women who opt to abort their pregnancies are black and Hispanic, and eighty five percent of congress is white. The majority of women who choose abortions are are in their twenties and thirties, and the average age of a senator is sixty, and that of a congressman is fifty. The majority of women who choose abortions make low incomes and cannot afford the economic burden of another child, and the current salary of an average member of congress is $174,000 a year – out of the pockets of Mr. Cantor’s oh-so-coveted taxpayers. (Cantor himself nets a whopping $193,400 annually.)

Sound like a crowd who should be markedly narrowing women’s options,  deciding women’s fates, or determining the extent of women’s rights?

For a gang whose principle goal is to take issue with government involvement in the personal lives of ordinary citizens, these people are wading into dangerous waters. ‘Pro-Life’ politicians like Eric Cantor and Mike Pence drip with the kind of sanctimonious hypocrisy that is otherwise reserved for quixotic Disney villains.

Every woman in the world – and certainly in the freest nation on earth – has the God-given right to decide the fate of her own body, look out for the welfare of her own family, and make decisions that are influenced and exercised by her own free will. The decision simply does not belong to the Republican leadership – or any political party, for that matter. In actions like the one taken on the House floor yesterday, these men verge on territory that simply doesn’t belong to them – territory that belongs to the individual woman. And no one else.

An Electorate on Edge – The Role of Patience in the Healthcare Debate


I drove to a coffee shop earlier today in an attempt to seclude myself from the minute-to-minute shuffle that accompanies the process of moving houses (that my family is currently wrapped up in). I had pages and pages of history notes to sift through — so I just needed a place where I could clear my head and forge forward.

A few minutes after I’d sat down at a table and started looking though my notes, I realized that I’d forgotten to retrieve one last bit of information on the North’s Civil War strategy. So I opened up my laptop, dragged my cursor down to the blue ‘Safari’ icon, and waited as the tiny clock-like pinwheel on the URL bar twirled and twirled.

But I quickly became impatient and within seconds found myself wearing out my index finger by tapping incessantly on my keyboard’s ‘enter’ key. I couldn’t stand the seven-second wait for my browser to load. I needed immediate gratification at the risk of my own sanity.

And then I had one of those ‘a-ha’ moments (the ones that used to be depicted in old Tom and Jerry reruns when a giant lightbulb would appear above a character’s head): I realized that my agitation wasn’t an isolated incident. I’m a junior in high school, so it’s no secret that patience isn’t my forte; but neither is it that of the American populace. We’re an electorate on edge, a country whose thirst for instantaneous indulgence usurps any bit of willingness to roll with the punches when the going gets tough.

Last week, the House — sporting its fresh coat of red — voted to repeal the landmark healthcare bill that promised to to insure over thirty-two million additional people, end health insurance companies’ implementation of lifetime coverage limits, forbid discrimination against patients with pre-existing conditions, and — in essence — overhaul the broken healthcare system and its tired regulations.

Healthcare was (as most issues in this presidency are) a highly partisan battle. It further polarized Washington. It created enemies out of friends. But, of course, one side won, and the bill’s policies began to take effect in the weeks and months after its passage. The White House website says that all of the aforementioned policies among “other changes including new benefits, protections and cost savings will be implemented between now and 2014.”

Hold on a second. So does that mean we have to wait?

And now America’s fuse is lit and Congress’ spiral of reverse gratitude is already spinning. Republicans have long been tapping their feet and anxiously looking at their watches; and as soon as they got into power, they pounced.

Michele Bachmann wants to “repeal [the] president and put a president in the position of the White House who will repeal this bill.” Despite the gravity of that demand and — in my opinion — its breach of both civil and human rights, Bachmann represents a growing mass who expect something from nothing. It’s the same portion of the population who expected the economy to be “fixed” within months of Obama’s election and are “shocked” to find out that he’s done “nothing” to repair the economy.

Things take time. Long-run investments are what sustain economies. If the United States (or even my family, for that matter) only made short-term economic choices and divested from every stock or venture that didn’t immediately yield a massive positive result, it would be in a much downgraded position. When healthcare hasn’t finished coming into effect and Republicans already decide that it hasn’t quite done the trick, that’s an irresponsible decision.

Patience.

The Blame Game – Why Finger-pointing is Inappropriate in Tucson’s Immediate Aftermath


An opaque fog still shrouds the entire affair, but in the aftermath of Tucson, the fingers are already pointing.

A valuable quality during times like this these — days and weeks that follow events that we wish we could do away with entirely — is the conscious decision to be understated. In a loquacious world, silences are often more effective and meaningful than any amount of words could be. Silence and understatement are steeped in wisdom and patience. They testify to the notions that impulsive fury and knee-jerk conclusions are dangerous waters to wade into — even in times of extremity.

But we live in a society whose mouth never shuts, whose attention span is minimal, and whose decisions are rash. The lights that emanate from our laptops and BlackBerrys keep us awake even when we’re asleep. The news cycle is stuck on repeat and the talking heads never stop talking. We use our voices far more often than we use our ears. There is very little about American life that is understated. It seems as though each of us feels a little bit more passionately about issue x than the next guy; each of us is just a little more correct, a little more informed than the next guy. When it rains, it pours.

This is a time to be understated.

What transpired in the Tucson Safeway on Saturday morning was a calamity. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to lift a lethal weapon to the face of another human being. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to look life square in the eyes with the sole intention of ending it. It takes a vitriol beyond evil to be able to bring oneself to pull the trigger and spray a barrage of bullets at an open, innocent, youthful, human crowd. And for that, in these fleeting moments that come on Saturday’s tail, we can’t blame a website. We can’t blame an ad. We can’t blame a politician and we can’t blame a party. We can’t blame a movement and we can’t blame an ideology.

Civil discourse is depleting and the level of hostility in the political arena is high. Elements of each of these entities could have been factors in the shooting’s equation. But none of them is to be blamed for the assassination attempt of a member of our legislature or the murder of Dory Stoddard, Dorothy Murray, Gabe Zimmerman, Phyllis Scheck, John Roll, and Christina Taylor Greene. The blame game isn’t constructive. America needs to take a deep breath, unclench its fists, and put its pointer fingers down; for there is not fairer judge than time. And time will exert its wrath upon the perpetrator of this egregious act. In this noisy world, it isn’t quick conclusions that bring about justice. It is silence — to listen — and scrutiny — to find — that guide us along the right path.

A Puzzled Republic – What this Tax Deal is Really About


Puzzles are arduous to assemble. It’s challenging to pinpoint each individual component to construct the perfect fusion. Each piece gives rise to its own struggle, its own weight. Setbacks ensue, distractions pop up. Different people exhibit different levels of devotion to the puzzle. Building puzzles takes forever. But destroying them only takes a moment.

The puzzle of our fundamental framework — the multifaceted ideological (and more than pragmatic) enigma of the structure of our representative republic — is ever-rapidly sliding off of the table. Our government’s foundational principle is in peril. Forget about “taxation without representation.” What’s happening right now is under-taxation as a result of over-representation.

Let’s break this down so it is clear how I’ve arrived at my seemingly austere conclusion. Assume, for the time being, that the two central issues on Washington’s agenda are 1) the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the upper class and 2) the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class. In very simplistic terms, the “upper class” is comprised of the top two percent of income-earners in this country; that is, the people in the ninety-ninth and hundredth percentile of income earned. The “middle class,” in a matter of words, is almost everyone else.

In the consummate representative government — isn’t that America? — the populations that carry the most weight (the groups that make up larger slices of the American pie) yield more representation in Congress. That, of course, is not to say that minorities and underdogs should go unaccounted for on the national stage. But when ninety eight percent of the country’s wage earners can be classified under one category, the remaining two percent’s voice in Congress should not transcend the overwhelming majority’s.

The culmination of Washington’s latest deliberations seems to entail a “compromise” to extend a tax credit for the two percent of the country who can afford to forgo precisely that credit. That two percent is entitled to the same representation that the rest of the country is; it is not, however, entitled to disproportionate influence on the Hill.

The puzzle is sliding off of the table. The pieces are falling out of place. The slope is a slippery one. And in the wake of the impending critical Congressional term, the question that Americans need to start asking vehemently is: whom do our representatives really represent? We need to ask because puzzles take centuries to build, but they only take one pivotal moment to destroy. Without that question, that moment is now.

A Supplement to My Last Post


Obviously, I don’t believe that all Republicans want to destroy nature and I don’t believe that all Republicans are xenophobes. I don’t believe that all Republicans are the downfall of our country, nor do I believe that all Republicans are roadblocks to the fulfillment of the American Dream. All that I wrote in my last post is black and white and really only represents a fundamental framework of my opinion.

It would be naïve (and certainly an affirmation of Jon Stewart’s recent critique of the media) to make all these very broad statements without explaining them. So this is a simple and contemplative explanation and supplement to my last post:

People are people and politics is politics. But from the time I was learning my beginners’ addition problems in the first grade until the moment I watched firsthand as Barack Obama took office on a chilly, yet sunny day during my freshman year of high school, I saw and experienced the failed policies of the last administration. The poor economic decisions, the insensitive social treatment, and the governmental nightmare that ensued.

The last administration is not, thankfully, running for office tomorrow. But people who represent its policies, upheld them, and support the foundational ideologies of George W. Bush and his cronies are running. I am not going to allow them to win without expressing and publicizing–perhaps through a desperate medium–the extremities to which they may be willing to travel.

To assume that all Republicans represent and believe all the things I wrote is unfair. But to understand what the party is capable of is important. Do a mental cost-benefit analysis. If the costs of voting for Christine O’Donnell, Meg Whitman, Sharon Angle–people who believe in and practice the aforementioned policies–out weighs the benefits of voting for Barbara Boxer, John Kitzhaber, Harry Reid–people who believe in and practice dissimilar policies to the Republicans’, who pushed for comprehensive healthcare reform and will continue to push for policies that will aid and abed the process of becoming a citizen, repeal counterintuitive military social regulations, and further hold banks and corporations financially accountable for the mess that they have helped to create on Wall Street, which has, by all means, trickled down onto Main Street.

Regardless of whom is is for, please vote. But, in perhaps a less emphatic tone than in my previous post, I recommend spending your valuable vote on someone who will appeal to your interest and the interests of those less fortunate than you.

The ball’s in your court.