Watch this euphemism, as it just became the most important in the Obama administration’s vocabulary now that the US has resumed air strikes in Iraq: force protection.
The F/A-18 strikes that the US launched Friday morning came with a rationale as plain as it was misleading – or, viewing it through the lens of Iraq’s complicated diplomacy, usefully ambiguous for America’s aims.
“To stop the advance on Irbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city. We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Irbil and our embassy in Baghdad,” Barack Obama said in a statement from the White House late Thursday.
A more precise rationale becomes visible when you consider both where the strikes took place and where, months after Isis upended Iraq’s fragile post-Saddam status quo, they haven’t.
The two fighter jets hit a target outside of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region notable both for its consistent embrace of the United States and for its stability throughout 11 years of war. The target was mobile Isis artillery that had been shelling Kurdish Peshmerga who have fallen back to defend the city where, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby noted, “US personnel are located.”
Those US personnel are among the special-operations advisers and diplomats Obama deployed for a “joint operations center” in Irbil. There, they assess and plan, with the Kurds – usually just referred to as Iraqis, another useful ambiguity – options for stopping Isis’ advance. Until this week, few thought Kurdistan was at risk of falling to Isis. Now that’s a real possibility. Out come the laser-guided bombs for the first air strikes Obama has ordered in Iraq since the 2011 withdrawal. A second round of strikes began Friday evening local time, including the first US drone strike in Iraq since 2011.
Yet the Obama administration faces a significant constraint in declaring a threat to Iraqi Kurdistan a threat to US interests. American diplomats are attempting to stitch together a new and ostensibly more inclusive government in Baghdad. For months, Obama has resisted Baghdad’s entreaties to launch airstrikes against Isis. Arab Iraqi politicians can be forgiven for wondering why the US is unwilling to fly Super Hornets from the deck of the USS George HW Bush to defend their interests.
Citing a need to protect US forces in Irbil, then, is a convenient elision. Isis finds that the US is willing to attack its forces as they assault Iraqi Kurdish positions. The US gets to avoid, or at least defer, explicit preferential treatment for the Kurds, since protecting US forces is unambiguously a US necessity. Conspicuously, the US has yet to attack the Isis positions threatening Iraqi Yazidis at Mount Sinjar, whose dire conditions ostensibly prompted Obama’s first step toward making the Iraq crisis an American one.
On the ground by Irbil, these distinctions are less meaningful. The F/A-18s might not have explicitly provided close air support for the Peshmerga – that would require coordination between the Peshmerga and the US Navy pilots – but the strikes nevertheless provide the Peshmerga with a measure of air cover, an advantage over the better-armored Isis fighters. It rhymes with close air support, at least: the Kurds get a chance to fortify the defense of Irbil.
Whatever their fears about the Yazidis’ humanitarian emergency, Obama administration officials this week have been deeply worried by the vulnerability of Kurdistan. If Kurdistan falls, the war is transformed. The last unambiguously pro-US bastion of Iraq will be gone. Nato ally Turkey will face increased vulnerability to Isis. Baghdad’s fractious politics will lose a moderating force, and the US will lose an extraction point of last resort should Baghdad fall. Isis will be at Iran’s mountainous doorstep. The much-persecuted Kurds would be at risk of a new bloodbath. Quietly, there are calls for the US to funnel weapons to the Peshmerga; expect them to intensify.
Ever since Obama and Nato launched an air- and sea-based assault on Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya in 2011, observers worldwide have wondered Why There And Not Elsewhere. Obama administration officials, including the many “strategic communications” specialists in the government, have struggled for three years to answer that question. They want to avoid entangling the US in yet another bloody Middle Eastern war that does not lend itself to American solutions. That extremely understandable reluctance has been consistently put to the test by adversaries – from Bashar al-Assad to Isis – who want to explore Obama’s threshold of pain.
In the days and weeks ahead in Iraq, Obama will have to decide where his threshold is. If Isis cannot cross into Kurdistan, will Obama use air power to help the Peshmerga take back territory from Isis, a challenge Isis has never faced since it took Mosul in June? Will he bomb Isis positions crossing into Baghdad? The downside of war-by-euphemism is that it leaves actual US goals ambiguous to both allies and adversaries, and encourages strategic improvisation – the first step in mission creep.
After all, there are hundreds of US special operations “advisers” in Baghdad as well, all of whom may increasingly need aerial protection. — Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Thursday she is “seriously thinking” about mounting a formal challenge to Rahm Emanuel.
“I’m a little sick of the mayor and I don’t see anyone stepping up,” Lewis told the Chicago Sun-Times by telephone Thursday evening. “I am seriously thinking about it.”
She denied a WMAQ-Channel 5 report that she has met with election lawyers about her own campaign possibilities, saying she has spoken with attorneys about CTU members who are running for office.
Lewis has made no bones about wanting to oust Emanuel, with whom she’s sparred since he took office in 2011 and who supposedly shouted, “F - - - you, Lewis” in an early meeting with her.
Lewis has been Emanuel’s chief adversary throughout his administration. And she has not only stared him down, she has defeated him. He raised the strike threshhold, and she and her members blew past it. She took her members out on strike for first time in 25 years — and got the better of the deal that ended the walkout.
She blamed him again Thursday for the layoff of an additional 1,150 Chicago Public Schools staffers, saying, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his Board continue their war on our educators by doing nothing to salvage school budgets other than forcing principals to terminate valued teachers and staff… . This decision further demonstrates the disdain for public education and the lack of leadership and vision for the city from our mayor and his handpicked board. Do we want ‘Star Wars’ museums or public, neighborhood schools? Do we want presidential libraries or librarians for every child?”
The mayoral election takes place in February. Former alderman Robert Shaw has declared his candidacy, along with housing consultant and former Mayor Richard M. Daley staffer Amara Enyia.
Emanuel, meanwhile, has raised well over $7.4 million, even before the tally from last week’s fundraiser headlined by former President Bill Clinton. And that doesn’t count the super PAC formed last week by a mayoral ally to push Emanuel’s agenda and attack his opponents.
“There’s plenty of time for politics,” said Peter Giangreco, Emanuel’s campaign spokesman. “The mayor is focused on moving every Chicago neighborhood forward.”
Lewis has praised the leadership style of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as “less confrontational” than Emanuel’s and said a few weeks ago that Preckwinkle would defeat him in a head-to-head race.
A Sun-Times poll in May put Lewis in third place behind Emanuel and Preckwinkle, who is running unopposed for election in November. She has refused as recently as Thursday afternoon to rule out a race for mayor. That poll also showed that only 29 percent of those surveyed and 8 percent of African-Americans would support Emanuel.
“I’m not looking to make anybody’s election year easy at all, especially someone who doesn’t want to make our lives easy,” Lewis said in May after a speech at the City Club of Chicago. “So if there’s a way we can have some reasonable conversation, then sure, but if not, it’s going to be contentious, absolutely, as it should.”
Congress does not need to update the Voting Rights Act by restoring special federal oversight of elections in a handful of states, Sen. Jeff Sessions said today.
The Alabama Republican, who voted for the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act, said he can no longer support legislation that singles out certain states for supervision based on their history of discriminating against minority voters.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that the formula Congress used to decide which states needed to have their election procedures pre-approved by the federal government was unconstitutional because it was outdated and didn’t account for improved conditions for minority voters since the 1960s.
Congress is now debating legislation that would write a new formula, based on more recent findings of discrimination. But Sessions said that is unnecessary.
“The Supreme Court only struck down a small part and there remains very powerful provisions … to stop any form of discriminatory voting actions,” Sessions said in an interview after a hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee. “To pass a law in the U.S. Congress that provides penalties only to some states and not to others can only be justified for the most extraordinary circumstances. And the justification no longer exists.”
The old formula, created in 1965, covered Alabama and all or part of 14 other states, meaning that every change in a polling place or district map had to first be certified by the Department of Justice as not having an adverse impact on minority voters. The new proposal now pending in Congress would initially cover only four states: Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Sessions said it didn’t matter that Alabama was not on the list to immediately return to federal oversight.
“I think maybe it speaks well for the state,” Sessions said. “But Congress cannot pass laws for penalties for some states and not others.”
Civil rights and civil liberties groups are supporting the legislation to restore the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, saying it is critical to detecting and preventing discrimination before it affects anyone’s ability to vote.
This time four years ago Rick Scott was a stranger to Floridians. Then he spent $73 million on his first political campaign and rode an angry voter wave to the Governor’s Mansion. For Florida, this has been a hostile takeover by the former CEO of the nation’s largest hospital chain. In three years Scott has done more harm than any modern governor, from voting rights to privacy rights, public schools to higher education, environmental protection to health care. One more legislative session and a $100 million re-election campaign will not undo the damage.
This is the tin man as governor, a chief executive who shows no heartfelt connection to the state, appreciation for its values or compassion for its residents. Duke Energy is charging its electric customers billions for nuclear plants that were botched or never built. Homeowners are being pushed out of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and into private insurers with higher premiums and no track records. Federal flood insurance rates are soaring so high that many property owners cannot afford the premiums but also cannot sell their homes. The governor sides with the electric utilities and property insurers. He criticizes the president rather than fellow Republicans in Congress for failing to fix the flood insurance fiasco they helped create.
In Scott’s Florida, it is harder for citizens to vote and for the jobless to collect unemployment. It is easier for renters to be evicted and for borrowers to be charged high interest rates on short-term loans. It is harder for patients to win claims against doctors who hurt them and for consumers to get fair treatment from car dealers who deceive them. It is easier for businesses to avoid paying taxes, building roads and repairing environmental damage.
Florida’s modern political era began in 1954 with the election of Gov. LeRoy Collins, who skillfully steered the state through the early years of desegregation and is widely regarded as the state’s greatest governor. Other governors from both political parties had an instinctive feel for Florida and a passion to help its people. In the 1970s, there was Reubin Askew. In the 1980s, Bob Graham. In the 1990s, Lawton Chiles. In the 2000s, Jeb Bush. There were some mediocre and average governors along the way, but even the least of them demonstrated a deep affection for this state and its residents.
Scott, who moved to Naples just seven years before running for governor, treats Florida like another faceless corporate acquisition to be dismantled and repackaged. Collins created the community college system; Scott ordered the colleges to create a gimmick, a handful of bachelor’s degrees that can be purchased for $10,000. Askew established the water management districts and reformed the appointment process for judges; Scott gutted the former and injected more politics into the latter. Gov. Bob Martinez pushed ambitious efforts to manage growth and preserve environmentally sensitive land; Scott decimated both.
The state’s refusal to accept billions in federal money illustrates how this governor ignores the needs of everyday residents. He fought the federal Affordable Care Act all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. He stood by as the Legislature turned down $51 billion in federal money to help cover 1 million uninsured residents, and now he refuses to reaffirm even his tepid support for taking the money. Tens of thousands of Floridians are signing up for health coverage in the federal marketplace in spite of a governor who refuses to help them.
Scott’s decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal money for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando was just as callous. At a time when the region was desperate for more jobs, Scott dismissed federal guarantees and let the money go to other states. He called high-speed rail financially risky but then approved far riskier projects to please powerful state legislators. He embraced the expensive SunRail project in Central Florida and the creation of Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, a boondoggle that diminished the University of South Florida and will cost taxpayers dearly for generations.
This governor shows little respect for individual rights. He advocated drug testing for state employees and welfare recipients; the courts ruled against him. He pursued a purge of voter rolls that threatened to disenfranchise minority voters; the county elections supervisors revolted. He signed into law restrictions on early voting; the public outcry forced changes.
Scott sides with developers seeking an easier time building their projects, utilities winning routine approval of higher electric rates and health insurers that now need no state approval to raise rates. For homeowners, there is less protection from leaking septic tanks. For motorists stuck in traffic, the governor’s solution is more toll roads.
The state spends less per public school student than when Scott took office. Parents and teachers have lost faith in a school accountability system in chaos. College students hear the governor’s disdain for a liberal arts education as he demands results on the cheap. Meanwhile, Scott eagerly promises hundreds of millions in tax breaks to businesses pledging to create jobs in future years. His administration approved nearly 350 job creation deals in his first three years in office, but only four jobs have been created for every 100 promised.
The son of a truck driver and a store clerk, Scott grew up poor, lived in public housing for a time and worked his way through law school. He moved to Florida as the former head of a hospital company that paid a record fine for Medicare fraud, and he got himself elected to the state’s highest office. Yet the governor who overcame so much adversity himself shows remarkably little empathy for Floridians and their everyday challenges as they seek a brighter future for themselves and their children. Scott’s soulless approach to governing is turning the Sunshine State into a cold-hearted place, where the warm promise of a fresh start and a fair shake are fading fast. — The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board
“Most Republicans (61%) expect the law will have a mostly negative personal impact; by contrast, 55% of Democrats think the law’s impact will be mostly positive. Independents have mixed expectations about the law’s effects – 34% say it will be mostly negative, 28% say mostly positive and 31% think it won’t have much of an effect.
Majorities of Republicans say in coming years the law will have a mostly negative effect on them and their families (61%) and the country (73%). Democrats express the opposite viewpoints – 55% see the law’s future personal impact positively and 70% say it will have a positive effect on the country.
While independents are divided over the law’s potential personal impact, more say it will have a mostly negative (46%) than a mostly positive (34%) effect on the country.” — Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
“The new national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted April 3-6 among 1,010 adults, finds more continue to disapprove (50%) than approve (37%) of the 2010 health care law. Last month, the balance of opinion was similar – 53% disapproved of the law, while 41% approved.
Six-in-ten (60%) voters who oppose the health care law say that a candidate’s stance on the health care law will be very important to their vote, compared with about half (48%) of voters who support the law.
Opinion about the 2010 health care law, as well as its views of its current and future impact, remains deeply divided along partisan lines. By roughly eight-to-one (83% to 10%), Republicans disapprove of the law while Democrats, by a less lopsided margin (73% to 16%) approve of it. Only about a third of independents (34%) approve of the law while 54% disapprove. Opinions across partisan groups are little changed from last month.
A majority of Americans (57%) say the health care law has not had much of an effect on themselves and their families, though somewhat fewer say that today than did so last September (63%). About a quarter (24%) say the law’s impact has been mostly negative while 17% say it has been mostly positive.
On balance, more also say the law has had a negative than positive impact on the country (43% vs. 30%). But negative views of the law’s impact on the country have declined (from 49%) – and positive views have risen (from 23%) – since December.
The public’s assessments of the law’s future impact also remain more negative than positive. Currently, 35% say in coming years the law will have a mostly negative effect on them and their families, 29% expect the effect will be mostly positive, while 30% say the law will not have much of an effect.
Slightly more expect the impact on the country will be negative than positive (44% vs. 38%); relatively few Americans (12%) say the law will not have much of an impact on the country.
Comparable percentages of Democrats (58%) independents (58%) and Republicans (52%) say the law has not yet had much of an effect on them or their families.” — Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
“In looking ahead to this fall’s elections, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to view a candidate’s position on the Affordable Care Act as very important to their vote. A new national survey finds that 64% of Republican registered voters say a candidate’s stance on the health care law will be very important in their voting decision, compared with 52% of Democrats and 45% of independents.
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted April 3-6 among 1,010 adults, finds more continue to disapprove (50%) than approve (37%) of the 2010 health care law. Last month, the balance of opinion was similar – 53% disapproved of the law, while 41% approved.” — Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sam Clovis, a firebrand northwest Iowa conservative, says he believes many congressional Republicans want to impeach President Obama. The only thing standing in their way, Clovis said in an interview, is the color of the president’s skin.
"I would say there are people in the House of Representatives right now that would very much like to take the opportunity to start the process," Clovis said of impeaching the nation’s first African-American president. "And I think the reason that they’re not is because they’re concerned about the media."
In an interview with the Daily Times Herald, Clovis, who did not provide reasons for why the president would be vulnerable to impeachment, said the media would cover the issues surrounding such proceedings differently with a black president than a white one with the same record.
"It’s not that what he has done would not rise to the level where it might be impeachable," Clovis said. "I don’t think it’s a practical, pragmatic issue. And simply because I don’t think the nation is ready for it."
He said the impeachment of President Bill Clinton didn’t end well.
"Now we have a situation where race is thrown into the cards as well," Clovis said. "Whether we like it or not, race is an issue."
In a wide-ranging, 45-minute interview Monday in Carroll, Clovis, a retired Air Force colonel and a former conservative talk-radio host in Sioux City, had strong criticism for Obama on foreign policy.
Clovis said the Obama administration is guilty of placating Iran, Syria and Egypt. Obama has also “agitated and aggravated” Israel and South Korea, the GOP candidate said.
"Those are all things that I think show that you really don’t care about the friendships, the alliances and the long-standing relationships that we’ve had with a lot of these nations around the world," Clovis said.
Back on the home front, Clovis is a staunch advocate of term limits and said he would serve only two, six-year terms in the Senate. House members should be limited to 12 years as well, he said.
Breaking up the seniority system is central to cutting government spending and limiting federal power, Clovis said.
"I think that system is a system that’s fraught with the potential for corruption, and I really do think the special interests, and the seniority system that are applied inside each conference in the Senate, is really something I don’t think is appropriate," Clovis said,
Bottom line: It’s not right for members of Congress to focus on bringing projects and funding programs in their states, Clovis said.
"If you’re no longer concerned about incumbency and re-election, you have the opportunity then to really focus on what’s best for the nation and then what’s best for the state if you’re a U.S. senator," Clovis said.
Sooner or later, he said, members of Congress need to see some of their own pet programs cut or killed for the betterment of the nation.
"There is broad consensus about the values that should guide the government’s economic policy, with approximately 8-in-10 Americans in agreement that promoting freedom and liberty (86%), encouraging people to live more responsible lives (86%), and promoting equality and fairness (79%) are extremely important and or very important values. More than 6-in-10 (64%) Americans cite providing a public safety net for people facing hardships as extremely or very important guides, while fewer Americans say the same of supporting private charity for the poor.
Republicans (93%) and Tea Party members (93%) are most likely to say promoting freedom and liberty is an extremely or very important moral guide to economic policy, though strong majorities of independents (86%) and Democrats (81%) say the same. There are few differences between racial, religious, and ethnic groups on this value.
Strong majorities of all political groups, including 89% of Tea Party members, 87% of Republicans, 86% of Democrats, and 85% of independents, see encouraging people to live more responsible lives as an extremely important or very important moral guide to economic policy.
Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents say promoting equality and fairness is an extremely or very important economic guide, but there is a 22-point gap in intensity between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly 9-in-10 (88%) Democrats say promoting and fairness is extremely or very important, followed by independents (81%) and Republicans (66%). Although more than 6-in-10 (61%) Tea Party members regard the promotion of equality and fairness as an extremely or very important guide, they are substantially more likely than other political groups to say the value is not that important (17% of Tea Party members, compared to 7% of Republicans, 5% of independents, and 1% of Democrats). Similarly, there are significant racial differences in intensity. More than 9-in-10 (93%) black Americans say promoting equality and fairness is extremely or very important, compared to 85% of Hispanics and 74% of white Americans.
There are significant differences by political affiliation, race, religion and income level on the question of whether providing a public safety net for people facing hardships should guide the government’s economic policy. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats say providing a public safety net is extremely or very important, compared to 63% of independents and 47% of Republicans. Black Americans are most likely to say providing a public safety net is an extremely or very important value (82%), compared to 7-in-10 (70%) Hispanic Americans, and roughly 6-in-10 (59%) white Americans. Majorities of all religious groups say providing a public safety net is an extremely or very important value for guiding economic policy, but there are variations in intensity. Black Protestants are most supportive (80%), followed by Catholics (64%), religiously unaffiliated (60%), white evangelical Protestants (58%), and white mainline Protestants (56%). The importance of this value drops as income rises: nearly three-quarters (73%) of low-income Americans (those with annual household incomes of $30,000 or less) say providing a public safety net for people facing hardships is an extremely or very important value, compared to 56% of high-income Americans (those with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more).
Majorities of all political groups, including 63% of Democrats, 58% of independents, 54% of Tea Party members, and 53% of Republicans agree that supporting private charity for the poor is an extremely or very important moral guide for government policy about the economy. There are substantial differences among racial and ethnic groups. Approximately three-quarters of black (75%) and Hispanic (72%) say support for private charity is an extremely or very important guide, compared to a slimmer majority (54%) of white Americans. Strong divisions also exist among religious groups. Black Protestants are most inclined to say supporting private charity for the poor is extremely or very important for guiding economic policy (74%), followed by white evangelical Protestants (65%), Catholics (63%), white mainline Protestants (52%), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (45%). Support for the value varies significantly by income level: 70% of low-income Americans (those with annual household incomes of $30,000 or less) say supporting private charity is extremely or very important, compared to less than half (49%) of high-income Americans (those with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more).” — 2013 Economic Values Survey, Public Religion Research Institute and The Brookings Institution
"In order to measure theological orientation, we created a composite theological orientation scale based on three measures: holding a personal vs. impersonal view of God, holding a literal vs. non-literal view of the Bible or sacred texts, and holding a preservationist vs. adaptive view of religious tradition. These three measures were highly correlated and produced a reliable scale that worked well across religious traditions. Those who scored low on this scale were defined as theological liberals, those who scored high were defined as theological conservatives, and those in the middle were defined as theological moderates.
Using this scale, approximately 4-in-10 Americans (38%) are theological conservatives, 28% are theological moderates, and 19% are theological liberals. An additional 15% of Americans are nonreligious, defined as those who identify as atheist or agnostic, or who say religion is not important to their lives.
One of the most striking findings revealed by the scale is the dramatic variation in theological orientation by race and ethnicity. Overall, black Americans are significantly more likely to be theological conservatives than white or Hispanic Americans. Among white Americans, 40% are theological conservatives, 25% are theological moderates, and 18% are theological liberals. Among black Americans, nearly half (49%) are theological conservatives, 30% are theological moderates, and 14% are theological liberals. Notably, Hispanic Americans are more likely than white or black Americans to identify as theological liberals. About 3-in-10 (28%) Hispanic Americans are theological conservatives, 38% are theological moderates, and 23% are theological liberals. White Americans (17%) are more likely than black Americans (7%) or Hispanic Americans (11%) to be categorized as nonreligious.” — 2013 Economic Values Survey, Public Religion Research Institute and The Brookings Institution