Monday, August 5, 2013

Explosives implanted inside bodies may be behind current terror alerts

Explosives implanted inside bodies may be behind current terror alerts

Posted by    Monday, August 5, 2013 at 1:16pm
Why the sudden and hysterical terror alerts causing shutdown of U.S. Embassies in the Middle East and worldwide concern?
This may be the reason, via ABC News:
The senior U.S. official said there is concern about devices that could be implanted inside the body of a terrorist.
“We are concerned about surgically implanted devices,” they said. “These are guys who have developed the techniques to defeat our detection methods.”
The official also said authorities were stunned that the group broke “operational security” — meaning they talked likely knowing it would be picked up by intercepts.
This would be consistent with prior reports of this method of attack:
The one aspect of the intelligence that officials appear to agree on is that Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen is behind the plotting.
The group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has tried to carry out several high-profile attacks in recent years. One was a man’s attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, using explosives sewn into his underwear. Months earlier, the group tried to kill the Saudi intelligence chief with a bomb surgically implanted in the attacker’s body.
American officials believe that both bombs were built by Ibrahim al-Asiri, one of the group’s leaders whom the Obama administration has been trying to kill as part of a campaign in Yemen using armed drones.
How serious are they? This serious:
The [2008] plan was engineered by AQAP’s ingenious chief bomb-maker Ibrahim al Asiri, who planted a bomb inside the rectum of his own brother. The operative gained an audience with the Saudi prince by pretending to defect and duly set off the bomb. But Nayef survived the attack.
A recent attack in Afghanistan used this method:
Afghanistan’s spy chief, Asadullah Khalid, was taking no chances.
A man had crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan with important information he said he would only deliver personally to Mr. Khalid, who had just taken over as the head of the National Directorate of Security.
Mr. Khalid’s aides took the visitor to an armored room in the basement of a safe house in Taimani, an upscale neighborhood in the capital city, for a security screening. They were no doubt mindful of what happened in September 2011 when a Taliban peace emissary was allowed to meet with a prominent Afghan peace envoy and then killed him with a bomb hidden in his turban.
Watching the man over closed-circuit television, they ordered him to strip naked, which he did. Satisfied, they let him get dressed and took him to see their boss upstairs.
Then he blew up. The suicide bomber killed only himself, but Mr. Khalid sustained severe abdominal wounds as well as injuries to his hands and arms.
Now, months after that attack, on Dec. 6, a spokesman for the National Directorate of Security, Shafiqullah Tahiri, confirmed that the attacker had hidden the bomb inside his rectum.
There’s a long history of warnings about implanted bombs:
It’s now clear why the alert was issued just now, but I’m not subscribing to the view that this is just hype to justify NSA snooping.



The Sun's Magnetic Field is about to Flip

The Sun's Magnetic Field is about to Flip

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August 5, 2013:  Something big is about to happen on the sun.  According to measurements from NASA-supported observatories, the sun's vast magnetic field is about to flip.
"It looks like we're no more than 3 to 4 months away from a complete field reversal," says solar physicist Todd Hoeksema of Stanford University. "This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system."
Field Flip (splash)
A new ScienceCast video anticipates the reversal of the sun's global magnetic field. Play it
The sun's magnetic field changes polarity approximately every 11 years.  It happens at the peak of each solar cycle as the sun's inner magnetic dynamo re-organizes itself.  The coming reversal will mark the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24. Half of 'Solar Max' will be behind us, with half yet to come.
Hoeksema is the director of Stanford's Wilcox Solar Observatory, one of the few observatories in the world that monitor the sun's polar magnetic fields.  The poles are a herald of change. Just as Earth scientists watch our planet's polar regions for signs of climate change, solar physicists do the same thing for the sun. Magnetograms at Wilcox have been tracking the sun's polar magnetism since 1976, and they have recorded three grand reversals—with a fourth in the offing.
Field Flip (WSO, 200px)
Astronomers at the Wilcox Solar Observatory (WSO) monitor the sun's global magnetic field on a daily basis. WSO home page
Solar physicist Phil Scherrer, also at Stanford, describes what happens: "The sun's polar magnetic fields weaken, go to zero, and then emerge again with the opposite polarity. This is a regular part of the solar cycle."
A reversal of the sun's magnetic field is, literally, a big event. The domain of the sun's magnetic influence (also known as the "heliosphere") extends billions of kilometers beyond Pluto. Changes to the field's polarity ripple all the way out to the Voyager probes, on the doorstep of interstellar space.
When solar physicists talk about solar field reversals, their conversation often centers on the "current sheet."  The current sheet is a sprawling surface jutting outward from the sun's equator where the sun's slowly-rotating magnetic field induces an electrical current.  The current itself is small, only one ten-billionth of an amp per square meter (0.0000000001 amps/m2), but there’s a lot of it: the amperage flows through a region 10,000 km thick and billions of kilometers wide.  Electrically speaking, the entire heliosphere is organized around this enormous sheet.
During field reversals, the current sheet becomes very wavy. Scherrer likens the undulations to the seams on a baseball.  As Earth orbits the sun, we dip in and out of the current sheet. Transitions from one side to another can stir up stormy space weather around our planet.
Field Flip (current sheet, 200px)
An artist's concept of the heliospheric current sheet, which becomes more wavy when the sun's magnetic field flips. More
Cosmic rays are also affected. These are high-energy particles accelerated to nearly light speed by supernova explosions and other violent events in the galaxy.  Cosmic rays are a danger to astronauts and space probes, and some researchers say they might affect the cloudiness and climate of Earth. The current sheet acts as a barrier to cosmic rays, deflecting them as they attempt to penetrate the inner solar system. A wavy, crinkly sheet acts as a better shield against these energetic particles from deep space.
As the field reversal approaches, data from Wilcox show that the sun's two hemispheres are out of synch. 
"The sun's north pole has already changed sign, while the south pole is racing to catch up," says Scherrer. "Soon, however, both poles will be reversed, and the second half of Solar Max will be underway."
When that happens, Hoeksema and Scherrer will share the news with their colleagues and the public.
Stay tuned to Science@NASA for updates.
Author:Dr. Tony PhillipsProduction editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
More information:
Is Solar Max Double-Peaked?  -- ScienceCast video
  • Living Under Drones

    In addition to killing and maiming, the presence of drones exacts a high toll on civilian life in northwest Pakistan Read More
  • Legal Analysis

    Evidence gathered in the report casts doubt on the legality of drone strikes in northwest Pakistan Read More
  • Strategic Considerations

    Drone strikes foster anti-American sentiment and undermine the rule of law Read More

Executive Summary and Recommendations

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.[1]
This narrative is false.
Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.
Real threats to US security and to Pakistani civilians exist in the Pakistani border areas now targeted by drones. It is crucial that the US be able to protect itself from terrorist threats, and that the great harm caused by terrorists to Pakistani civilians be addressed. However, in light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to US interests, current policies to address terrorism through targeted killings and drone strikes must be carefully re-evaluated.
It is essential that public debate about US policies take the negative effects of current policies into account. 
First, while civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been “no” or “single digit” civilian casualties.”[2] It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.[3] TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals. Where media accounts do report civilian casualties, rarely is any information provided about the victims or the communities they leave behind. This report includes the harrowing narratives of many survivors, witnesses, and family members who provided evidence of civilian injuries and deaths in drone strikes to our research team. It also presents detailed accounts of three separate strikes, for which there is evidence of civilian deaths and injuries, including a March 2011 strike on a meeting of tribal elders that killed some 40 individuals. 
Second, US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.
Third, publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised. The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%.[4] Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks. As the New York Times has reported, “drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.”[5] Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani rel­ations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.[6]
Fourth, current US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents. This report casts doubt on the legality of strikes on individuals or groups not linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US. The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments. As drone manufacturers and officials successfully reduce export control barriers, and as more countries develop lethal drone technologies, these risks increase.
In light of these concerns, this report recommends that the US conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and the short and long-term costs and benefits. A significant rethinking of current US targeted killing and drone strike policies is long overdue. US policy-makers, and the American public, cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counter-productive impacts of US targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan.
This report also supports and reiterates the calls consistently made by rights groups and others for legality, accountability, and transparency in US drone strike policies:
  • The US should fulfill its international obligations with respect to accountability and transparency, and ensure proper democratic debate about key policies. The US should:
    • Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan;
    • Make public critical information concerning US drone strike policies, including as previously and repeatedly reques­ted by various groups and officials:[7] the tar­geting criteria for so-called “signature” strikes; the mechanisms in place to ensure that targeting complies with international law; which laws are being applied; the nature of investigations into civilian death and injury; and mechanisms in place to track, analyze and publicly recognize civilian casualties;[8]
    • Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, consistent with the call made by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism in August 2012;[9]
    • In conjunction with robust investigations and, where appropriate, prosecutions, establish compensation programs for civilians harmed by US strikes in Pakistan.
  • The US should fulfill its international humanitarian and human rights law obligations with respect to the use of force, including by not using lethal force against individuals who are not members of armed groups with whom the US is in an armed conflict, or otherwise against individuals not posing an imminent threat to life. This includes not double-striking targets as first responders arrive.
    • Journalists and media outlets should cease the common practice of referring simply to “militant” deaths, without further explanation. All reporting of government accounts of “militant” deaths should include acknowledgment that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single-source information and of the past record of false government reports.

[1] The US publicly describes its drone program in terms of its unprecedented ability to “distinguish … effectively between an al Qaeda terrorist and innocent civilians,” and touts its missile-armed drones as capable of conducting strikes with “astonishing” and “surgical” precision. See, e.g., John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, The Efficacy and Ethics of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy, Remarks at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Apr. 30, 2012), available at
[2] See Obama Administration Counterterrorism Strategy (C-Span television broadcast June 29, 2011),; see also Strategic Considerations, infra Chapter 5: Strategic Considerations; Contradictions Chart, infra Appendix C.
[3] Covert War on Terror, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, (last visited Sept. 12, 2012).
[4] Peter Bergen & Megan Braun, Drone is Obama’s Weapon of Choice, CNN (Sept. 6, 2012),
[5] Jo Becker & Scott Shane, Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, N.Y. Times (May 29, 2012),
[6] Pew Research Center, Pakistani Public Opinion Ever More Critical of U.S.: 74% Call America an Enemy (2012), available at
[7] See, e.g., Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Study on Targeted Killings, Human Rights Council, UN Doc. A/HRC/14/24/Add.6 (May 28, 2010) (by Philip Alston), available at; US: Transfer CIA Drone Strikes to Military, Human Rights Watch (Apr. 20, 2012),; Letter from Amnesty International et al. to Barack Obama, President of the United States (May 31, 2012), available at
[8] Letter from Amnesty International et al., supra note 7.
[9] Terri Judd, UN ‘Should Hand Over Footage of Drone Strikes or Face UN Inquiry’, Independent (Aug. 20, 2012),


Brief Summary_

  1. The MLA has submitted a complaint to the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (“the NDPP”), the Head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation of the South African Police Service (“the DIPCI”), the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service (“the SAPS”), the Honourable Minister of Safety and Security and the Director General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, being the Central Authority in terms of inter alia, The Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 27 of 2002 (“the ICC Act”), requesting the institution of a  criminal investigation, and the arrest  and prosecution of Barack Hussein Obama (“Obama”) for war crimes, genocide as well as crimes against humanity committed by him via the implementaion of the US administration’s drone strike policies.

  1. With the supporting annexures, the complaint comprises 658 pages and because the complaint requests a criminal investigation the complaint can not currently be made available to the public in its entirety.

  1. This document seeks to provide a general overview of the complaint.

  1. The complaint requests the authorities:

4.1. to initiate an investigation into the conduct of the president of the United States of America, BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA (“the accused”),
4.2. to effect the arrest of the accused or secure his presence for trial by other lawful means, and
4.3. to prosecute the accused in respect of the offences outlined below, or
4.4. to refer the case against the accused to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with Article 13 and 14 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted by the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court on 17th July 1998 and ratified by the Republic on 10th November 2000. (A copy of the Statute is attached as an Annexure to the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act 2002)
  1. The docket clearly sets out a strong prima facie case of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by the US administration’s drone policy.

  1. The MLA submits that inaction by the authorities would  be an open invitation to the accused to extend his nefarious extra-judicial killing spree to include the killing of South Africans within South Africa and to assassinate any persons merely suspected of being terrorists by the USA who happen to be on South African soil.
  2. The most basic of all human rights is the right to life. The right to life is guaranteed by article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are 167 signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; giving the rules embodied therein universal status under International Law.
  3. The MLA submits that South Africa, through its ratification of the Rome Statute and subsequent domestication thereof through the ICC Act, assumed a number of binding obligations. Parliament’s intention in this respect was unambiguous; namely that South Africa committed itself to the investigation of international crimes and the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators thereof.
  4.  It is apparent from the ICC Act  that a Head of State or member of Government such as the accused may be prosecuted and that Diplomatic immunity is not a defence.
10. During his presidency the accused ordered and/or sanctioned the widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles (uav’s or drones) for the extra-territorial, extra-judicial killing of persons considered by the US government to be a threat to the safety of the USA. Such killings continue unabated and the accused continues to implement the policy.
11. Such murders have been committed in sovereign territories and has extended to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and on African soil in Somalia. They are ongoing occurances.
12. Such persons as are identified to be assassinated are not arrested or tried in a Court of law. They are assassinated on the basis of mere accusations levelled against them. The alleged evidence is kept secret. There is no judicial oversight to determine if listed persons are indeed guilty of any alleged crime.  They are deprived of a hearing (let alone a fair one) as well as an opportunity to present mitigating factors even if found to be guilty.  There are no due process rights and such persons are not afforded their most basic human rights.
13. The process of identifying listed persons, if such a process even exists, is a closely gaurded secret. Accountability is not part of the equation and these acts of annihilation can only be called murder.
  1. 14.  At all material times the accused knew or foresaw the possibility that the use of drones to carry out the assassinations of the listed persons would cause civilian casualties.
  2. 15.  This notwithstanding, the accused implemented the policy, indifferent to the consequences thereof on innocent lives, including those of children.
16. The result is that the world at large is not immune to the acts of the accused. No person who is considered by the American government to be a threat to the USA is safe in any country anywhere in the world, nor is the territory where such a person is domiciled or resident immune from USA drone strikes.
17. The USA armed forces, headed by the accused, have demonstrated an utter disregard for the territorial sovereignty of nation states and have repeatedly, with alarming regularity, invaded the air space of sovereign states to carry out attacks and assassinations. The territorial sovereignty of every country is thus threatened by the USA policy that the accused has implemented in the past and continues to implement.
18. During his term in office, the accused has intentionally sanctioned the use of drones in a manner which offends the fundamental principles of due process, distinction, proportionality, humanity, military necessity and has violated the international laws of war and international humanitarian law.
19. He has also assassinated his own citizens: Anwar Al Awlaqi, Abdul Rahman Al Awlaqi and Sameer Khan who were all adherents of the Islamic faith. Anwar Al Awlaqi and his 16 year old son Abdul Rahman Al Awlaqi as well as Sameer Khan were all US citizens at the time of their deaths.
20. On the direct instructions of the accused, they were each assassinated in two separate drone attacks, two weeks apart from each other by the USA armed forces in Yemen.
21. Many innocent civilians including woman and children have been murdered by unlawful drone attacks.
  1. 22.  There is no valid reason as to why the USA cannot capture persons that it suspects as being terrorists and provide such persons with due process and the full protection that the law affords to arrested persons. In fact the USA has captured many such persons and is illegally detaining them at Guantanamo Bay and various other secret prisons internationally.
  2. 23.  Instead the USA has murdered persons without providing supporting evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
24. Pakistani High Court Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan issued a ruling on 9 May 2013, declaring the ongoing USA drone strikes in the tribal areas in Pakistan illegal under international law, adding that they amount to a “war crime” when they kill innocent people. The ruling follows a case filed by an Islamabad legal aid charity on behalf of victims of March 2011 drone strikes. The accused sanctioned the aforementioned drone attack on government officials and tribal elders in North Waziristan. Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, who presided over the case, cited a comprehensive list of international laws and agreements, which the accused’s conduct breached. These agreements ranged from the UN Charter to the UN Millennium Declaration and the Geneva Conventions. He also called for the USA government to redress Pakistani civilian victims of USA drone strikes, and for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to establish a war crimes tribunal to investigate further injustices. The learned judge states in the judgment  that “the US decision making Troika, the president, the Pentagon and the CIA have joined hands to carry out drone strikes in north and south Waziristan on spy information to hit and kill foreign elements labelled to be enemies (paragraph 5).”
  1. 25.  The learned judge held that the policy violates the Geneva Convention and Article 7 of the Additional Protocol 1, because the killings were not necessary and the use of force was disproportionate. The learned judge held further that the  forming of an opinion by the CIA that the strikes target groups of men who are alleged militants who have links with alleged terrorist groups is based on ‘figments of imagination’.
26. The accused’s criminal conduct is not restricted to assassinations, murder and drone attacks.
27. The accused has also utilised a systematic policy of enforced disappearance of persons known colloquially as “extra-judicial renditions”.
  1. 28.  He continues to keep Guantanamo Bay open and continues the unlawful detention and torture of its inmates despite the fact that commitments to close the facility have been continuing for years.
29. American Secret prisons or black sites have also been uncovered on African soil in Somalia.
30. The provisions of South Africa’s  International Criminal Court Act 27 of 2002 make it very clear that a head of state cannot be immunized from an alleged arrest or investigations for crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide.
31. The MLA aims to use the freedoms enshrined in the South African Constitution and the provisions of the ICC Act to seek justice for those victims of drone attacks who have not been afforded their most basic right, the right to life.
For some supporting material refer to –


5 comments to “Brief Summary”

‘Arrest Obama When He Visits’: Muslim Lawyers in South Africa Submit 600-Page Complaint Calling for War Crimes Prosecution | Tea Party Town | Conservative New | Tea Party, June 12, 2013 at 11:12 pm
[...] Read a summary of the MLA’s so-called “Obama Docket” here. [...]

‘Arrest Obama When He Visits’: Read the So-Called ‘Obama Docket’ That Calls for Prosecution of the President

‘Arrest Obama When He Visits’: Read the So-Called ‘Obama Docket’ That Calls for Prosecution of the President

The Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA) in Johannesburg has submitted a 600-plus page document to the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecution calling for the arrest and prosecution of President Barack Obama when he visits South Africa later this month.
The submitted document calls for authorities to “arrest Obama when he visits.” The group says Obama has ordered drone strikes that killed innocent civilians, warranting a formal investigation.
“The complaint, dubbed the ‘Obama Docket’ encourages South Africa to take seriously its domestic and international obligations and to act against International War Criminals lest they consider South Africa a safe haven and travel here freely with impunity,” the Muslim group announced in a press release.
Muslim Lawyers in South Africa Wants Obama Prosecuted for War Crimes
President Barack Obama waves as he arrives at Miami International Airport in Miami, Wednesday, June 12, 2013. The president is attending a fundraiser in Miami Beach Wednesday night. Credit: AP
Obama, who is scheduled to visit South Africa on June 29, can technically be prosecuted under the Rome Statute, which gives the country authority to prosecute a war criminal on its territory. Though even the Muslim Lawyers Association has to know the odds of the president of the United States being arrested and prosecuted overseas are infinitely small.
The MLA describes itself as “a professional, apolitical and a non-profit making body which is committed towards creating a community free of injustices as expounded by the Holy Quraan and the practice (Sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).”
Jack Hillmeyer, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa said the embassy had “no comment.”
Meanwhile, “National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Bulelwa Makeke said the office had received the docket and was studying it,” according to Times LIVE in Johannesburg.
The Obama administration has been routinely criticized by opponents over its secretive drone program. A report from New York University and Stanford entitled, “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan,” claims Obama has ordered five times more drone attacks that former President George W. Bush.
The report also estimates that drones have killed 474 and 881 civilians, including 176 children. However, the data has not been verified.
Read a summary of the MLA’s so-called “Obama Docket” here.

Featured image via AP

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House could arrest Holder with inherent contempt power

Despite voting to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, there’s little House Republicans can do in the short term to compel him to turn over documents — unless it wanted to revisit a long-dormant power and arrest him.
The thought is shocking, and conjures up a Hollywood-ready standoff scene between House police and the FBI agents who protect the attorney general. It’s a dramatic and unlikely possibility not least because Congress doesn’t even have a jail any longer. But in theory it could happen.
Republicans say it’s not even under consideration, with House Speaker John A. Boehner’s spokesman flatly ruling it out.
But the process, known as inherent contempt, is well-established by precedent, has been confirmed by multiple Supreme Court rulings, and is available to any Congress willing to force such a confrontation.
“The House is scared to death to use the inherent contempt power,” said Mort Rosenberg, a fellow at the Constitution Project and author of “When Congress Comes Calling.” “They’re scared to death because the courts have said … the way the contempt power is used is unseemly. It’s not that it’s unconstitutional, because it’s been upheld by four Supreme Court decisions, but unseemly to have somebody go arrest the attorney general.”
That’s why it’s been more than 75 years since either chamber has used the option though it used to be somewhat common.
The House on Thursday voted 255-67 to hold Mr. Holder in criminal contempt, and 258-95 to pursue a case against him in the courts.
But those votes do little to break the impasse over his refusal to turn over documents the House is seeking in an investigation into Fast and Furious, a botched gun-walking operation. The House issued subpoenas for the documents last year but President Obama last week asserted executive privilege in withholding them.
A court case will take time, meaning there’s little immediate effect of the two contempt votes.
Indeed, the lack of any penalty for Mr. Holder’s failure to cooperate was cited by one Democrat as his reason for voting against Thursday’s contempt motion.
“While I strongly believe that the Department of Justice should fully cooperate with Congress to ensure transparency in the Fast and Furious operation, this motion lacks an enforcement mechanism to make it anything more than politically motivated,” said Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat.
That’s why Mr. Rosenberg, a former analyst for the Congressional Research Service, said Congress should consider using its own police powers and should try to impose a fine rather than physically arrest someone.

Short of that, there are few options left to Republicans, said Louis Fisher, another former CRS analyst who specialized in separation of powers issues.
“They had hoped that by acting today they would get Holder to make some concessions. That didn’t happen. Now I think it’s pretty awkward,” he said.
He said the best chances for an end to the stalemate now rely on the political process which is one reason why Republicans said they were seeking answers for the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, who was killed in a shootout where two of the guns from Fast and Furious were found.
Mr. Fisher, a scholar in residence at the Constitution Project who has written a forthcoming article in the National Law Journal criticizing Mr. Obama’s legal reasoning for asserting executive privilege, said a key break could come if more Democrats joined Republicans in pushing for disclosure.
Inherent contempt is not unknown to members of Congress.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raised the issue last week, noting that when she was House speaker and Congress was fighting with the Bush administration over testimony related to the firing of U.S. attorneys she could have had Karl Rove arrested.
“I could have arrested Karl Rove on any given day,” Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said as part of a sit-down interview with the Huffington Post.
“I’m not kidding. There’s a prison here in the Capitol. If we had spotted him in the Capitol, we could have arrested him,” she said.
Back in 2007 and 2008, there was substantial interest in Congress‘ arrest powers, with CNN even doing a segment in 2008 trying to figure out where Mr. Rove could have been jailed if the House chose to go th

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Benghazi Attacks and ‘Rogue’ CIA Employees

Benghazi Attacks and ‘Rogue’ CIA Employees

When the details of Operation Fast and Furious were revealed, the Obama administration wanted you to believe it was an operation hatched and run out of an ATF office in Phoenix; that was a provable lie. When the IRS scandal broke, the Obama administration blamed it on ‘rogue’ employees in Cincinnati; this was a proven lie as well. Now, not long after CNN’s Drew Griffin reported that the CIA is intimidating operatives who witnessed the Benghazi attacks, a letter from CIA Director John Brennan is apparently supposed to convince you that his hands are clean.
Benghazi Attacks: Brennan's letter conflicts with CNN report
Benghazi Attacks: Brennan’s letter conflicts with CNN report
Via Stephen Hayes at the Weekly Standard:
John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sent a letter to each of the CIA employees who were on the ground during the Benghazi attack on September 11, 2012, inviting them to share information with Congress, according to three sources familiar with the missive. Brennan sent the letter in late May at the behest congressional intelligence committees, whose members remain interested in hearing from the survivors of those attacks.
The letter from Brennan, which remains classified, conveyed a message the CIA leadership was willing to support and facilitate communications between the CIA employees involved in the Benghazi attacks and congressional oversight committees. The letter did not generate additional responses from CIA employees in Benghazi
So, on August 1st, the untrustworthy Drew Griffin reported that CIA operatives who were witnesses to the Benghazi attacks are being intimidated. During the same week, we’re expected to believe that Brennan – Muslim Brotherhood apologist – will have none of it
Hayes continues…
The disclosure of the existence of Brennan’s letter comes amidst renewed interest in the Benghazi attacks and their aftermath triggered in part by a CNN report last week that “dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night” and “the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing remains a secret.” According to that report, “some CIA operatives involved in the agency’s missions in Libya have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations,” part of “an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency’s Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.”
That report would indicate that the CIA is intimately involved in intimidating Benghazi witnesses. Yet, we’re expected to believe that Brennan has control of the agency while also believing Griffin’s report?
Which is it?
If Brennan’s authority is being undermined, shouldn’t he be moving heaven and earth to weed out the bullies? Conversely, if this is just a sophisticated game of good cop / bad cop, expect Brennan to do nothing to keep his dogs on a leash.
Unless Mr. Brennan starts showing that he will not tolerate the intimidation that Griffin reported on, perhaps it is the CIA Director himself who is ‘rogue’.

Obama Administration Meets With Trayvon

Obama Administration Meets With Trayvon

A civil rights complaint may be coming.
Trayvon Martin's mother believes Stand Your Ground allowed Zimmerman to "get away with it". So she's appealing the government to changes these laws. The Obama administration has met with her.

From Miami Herald:
The parents of Trayvon Martin and their lawyer met with Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents at the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami Wednesday to discuss the status of a criminal civil-rights investigation into the fatal shooting of their teen-age son last year.
Prosecutors with the Justice Department’s criminal civil-rights section and FBI agents from Central Florida met with the late teen’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and their attorney, Benjamin Crump, to bring the family up to speed, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
The meeting was held in Miami to accommodate the parents.
A spokeswoman for the Miami U.S. attorney’s office confirmed the meeting took place there Wednesday, but she could not say who was present. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa referred a reporter’s call to the Justice Department, which declined to comment because of the “ongoing” investigation.
If the Justice Department were to pursue criminal civil-rights charges against Zimmerman, the case would be filed in the Middle District of Florida, which includes Sanford, north of Orlando.
The Justice Department has a handful of criminal civil-rights laws at its disposal, and has filed charges in the past after state juries have returned acquittals.
In Zimmerman’s case, it’s possible the Justice Department might consider using the federal hate-crime statute, though legal experts say that type of prosecution would be a long shot.
The Justice Department has said that authorities “will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction” and “whether federal prosecution is appropriate.”

Hail Satan' sprayed in Latin on Virginia church...

Hail Satan' sprayed in Latin on Virginia church...

DANVILLE, Va. -- Danville police are investigating the vandalism of a century-old church.
Media outlets report that someone spray-painted an upside- down cross, several other symbols and Latin words that translate to "Hail Satan" in red on the rear outside wall of the Schoolfield Church of the Brethren.
A church member discovered the graffiti Saturday.
The church was founded in 1911 by Marion Prather. The current pastor is his great-great grandson, the Rev. Richard Berkley. Read more via WTOP...

Jay-Z Photographed Wearing A Shirt Showing Satan Having Sex With Jesus REALLY JAY Z YOU HAVE A PICTURE OF SATAN CORN HOLEING JESUS YOUR SICK

Jay-Z Photographed Wearing A Shirt Showing Satan Having Sex With Jesus 






Usher and Jay-Z

Illuminati/Kabbalah rapper, Jay-Z, is so very desperate for attention and money. So much so the unscrupulous rapper made an appearance in public wearing a blasphemous t-shirt said to feature Satan having sex with Jesus. People need to stop supporting this man. All he's doing is exposing you and your kids to toxic trash.

Rapper Young Jeezy wearing the same sacrilegious Satanic shirt

Jay-Z, who has released songs such as "Lucifer" which is another name for Satan, featuring lyrics that praise the devil, in addition to other songs denouncing Jesus, is clearly depraved and disrespectful of other people's religion. This man will do anything for money and attention and it is going to be his downfall.
Jay Z Spreading Sacrilegious Sentiments?

2013-07-30-at-1.14.41-AM - "He was the Anti Christ to a certain kind of Hip-Hop fan." ~Questlove. HSK Exclusive - Jay Z’s most recent sporting of a t-shirt — bearing the image of Satan having sex with Jesus Christ — may not be blatant, but sources say, in person, the rapper’s message is clear. Don’t believe me.. Just ask Young Jeezy, who could be reppin’ the same suspected sacrilegious values. "Polo T all black, welcome to the afterlife Money is the root of all evil meet the anti Christ." Is Jay Z responsible for turning out a Jeezy back in 2010, when the 35-year-old rapper was lending his hand in promoting Jigga’s "Blueprint 3? tour? Of course. Don’t believe me.. Ask Trey Songz.


Obama promises to push beyond ‘executive authority’

Does this president understand limits?
During a largely empty speech on the economy Wednesday (not even bootlicking USA Today thought it was front-page material in the print edition), President Obama vowed to use pretty much every power the Constitution gives him – and some it doesn’t – to have his way outside the democratic process.
obamaspeech“In this effort, I will look to work with Republicans as well as Democrats wherever I can. … But I will not allow gridlock, inaction, or willful indifference to get in our way,” Obama said at Knox College in Illinois, according to the Daily Caller.
“Whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.”
(By the way, does anyone remember way back in 2009 when the then-new president appointed Vice President Joe Biden was appointed chairman of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families? There was a press release about it and everything. You can read it here. It even released its first annual report, back in 2010. There hasn’t been a second.)
The Daily Caller said it’s “unclear how Obama will push his economic plan through executive actions.”
But Obama made it pretty clear how he intends to try.
“Where I can’t act on my own, and Congress isn’t cooperating, I’ll pick up the phone and call CEOs, and philanthropists, and college presidents — anybody who can help — and enlist them in our efforts,” Obama said.
“Where I can’t act on my own” means when the constitutional limits on executive power have been pushed to the breaking point. “Congress isn’t cooperating” means pesky voters have elected representatives who don’t like the direction the president wants to take the country and are doing their duty to oppose it.
Obama is undeterred. He’ll call “CEOs, and philanthropists and college presidents” to get his way (though where the college presidents fit in is questionable).
That’s not democracy as practiced in the world’s oldest constitutional republic – and a former constitutional law professor should know that. That’s banana-republic thuggery.
But the end is in sight, as Obama himself noted when he said he wanted to spend “every minute of the 1,276 days remaining in my term” working to help the middle class.
That’s not so long now, is it?
Thank God – and the Republican Congress of 1947 – for the 22nd Amendment.

The Obama Memos The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency.

The Obama Memos

The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency.

by January 30, 2012

Hundreds of pages of internal White House memos show Obama grappling with the unpleasant choices of government.
Hundreds of pages of internal White House memos show Obama grappling with the unpleasant choices of government.

On a frigid January evening in 2009, a week before his Inauguration, Barack Obama had dinner at the home of George Will, the Washington Post columnist, who had assembled a number of right-leaning journalists to meet the President-elect. Accepting such an invitation was a gesture on Obama’s part that signalled his desire to project an image of himself as a post-ideological politician, a Chicago Democrat eager to forge alliances with conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill. That week, Obama was still working on an Inaugural Address that would call for “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”
Obama sprang coatless from his limousine and headed up the steps of Will’s yellow clapboard house. He was greeted by Will, Michael Barone, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Lawrence Kudlow, Rich Lowry, and Peggy Noonan. They were Reaganites all, yet some had paid tribute to Obama during the campaign. Lowry, who is the editor of the National Review, called Obama “the only presidential candidate from either party about whom there is a palpable excitement.” Krauthammer, an intellectual and ornery voice on Fox News and in the pages of the Washington Post, had written that Obama would be “a president with the political intelligence of a Bill Clinton harnessed to the steely self-discipline of a Vladimir Putin,” who would “bestride the political stage as largely as did Reagan.” And Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and a former aide to Dan Quayle, wrote, “I look forward to Obama’s inauguration with a surprising degree of hope and good cheer.”
Over dinner, Obama searched for points of common ground. He noted that he and Kudlow agreed on a business-investment tax cut. “He loves to deal with both sides of the issue,” Kudlow later wrote. “He revels in the back and forth. And he wants to keep the dialogue going with conservatives.” Obama’s view, shared with many people at the time, was that professional pundits were wrong about American politics. It was a myth, he said, that the two political parties were impossibly divided on the big issues confronting America. The gap was surmountable. Compared with some other Western countries, where Communists and far-right parties sit in the same parliament, the gulf between Democrats and Republicans was narrow.
Obama’s homily about conciliation reflected an essential component of his temperament and his view of politics. In his mid-twenties, he won the presidency of the Harvard Law Review because he was the only candidate who was trusted by both the conservative and the liberal blocs on the editorial staff. As a state senator in Springfield, when Obama represented Hyde Park-Kenwood, one of the most liberal districts in Illinois, he kept his distance from the most left-wing senators from Chicago and socialized over games of poker and golf with moderate downstate Democrats and Republicans. In 1998, after helping to pass a campaign-finance bill in the Illinois Senate, he boasted in his community paper, the Hyde Park Herald, that “the process was truly bipartisan from the start.”
A few years later, Obama ran for the U.S. Senate and criticized “the pundits and the prognosticators” who like to divide the country into red states and blue states. He made a speech against the invasion of Iraq but alarmed some in the distinctly left-wing audience by pointing out that he was not a pacifist, and that he opposed only “dumb wars.” At the 2004 Democratic Convention, in Boston, Obama delivered a retooled version of the stump speech about ideological comity—“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America!”—and became a national political star.
In 2006, Obama published a mild polemic, “The Audacity of Hope,” which became a blueprint for his 2008 Presidential campaign. He described politics as a system seized by two extremes. “Depending on your tastes, our condition is the natural result of radical conservatism or perverse liberalism,” he wrote. “Tom DeLay or Nancy Pelosi, big oil or greedy trial lawyers, religious zealots or gay activists, Fox News or the New York Times.” He repeated the theme later, while describing the fights between Bill Clinton and the Newt Gingrich-led House, in the nineteen-nineties: “In the back-and-forth between Clinton and Gingrich, and in the elections of 2000 and 2004, I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation—a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago—played out on the national stage.” Washington, as he saw it, was self-defeatingly partisan. He believed that “any attempt by Democrats to pursue a more sharply partisan and ideological strategy misapprehends the moment we’re in.”
If there was a single unifying argument that defined Obamaism from his earliest days in politics to his Presidential campaign, it was the idea of post-partisanship. He was proposing himself as a transformative figure, the man who would spring the lock. In an essay published in The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan, a self-proclaimed conservative, reflected on Obama’s heady appeal: “Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.”
Obama was not exaggerating the toxic battle that has poisoned the culture of Washington. In the past four decades, the two political parties have become more internally homogeneous and ideologically distant. In “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama wrote longingly about American politics in the mid-twentieth century, when both parties had liberal and conservative wings that allowed centrist coalitions to form. Today, almost all liberals are Democrats and almost all conservatives are Republicans. In Washington, the center has virtually vanished. According to the political scientists Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have devised a widely used system to measure the ideology of members of Congress, when Obama took office there was no ideological overlap between the two parties. In the House, the most conservative Democrat, Bobby Bright, of Alabama, was farther to the left than the most liberal Republican, Joseph Cao, of Louisiana. The same was true in the Senate, where the most conservative Democrat, Ben Nelson, of Nebraska, was farther to the left than the most liberal Republican, Olympia Snowe, of Maine. According to Poole and Rosenthal’s data, both the House and the Senate are more polarized today than at any time since the eighteen-nineties.

It would be hard for any President to reverse this decades-long political trend, which began when segregationist Democrats in the South—Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond—left the Party and became Republicans. Congress is polarized largely because Americans live in communities of like-minded people who elect more ideological representatives. Obama’s rhetoric about a nation of common purpose and values no longer fits this country: there really is a red America and a blue America.
Polarization also has affected the two parties differently. The Republican Party has drifted much farther to the right than the Democratic Party has drifted to the left. Jacob Hacker, a professor at Yale, whose 2006 book, “Off Center,” documented this trend, told me, citing Poole and Rosenthal’s data on congressional voting records, that, since 1975, “Senate Republicans moved roughly twice as far to the right as Senate Democrats moved to the left” and “House Republicans moved roughly six times as far to the right as House Democrats moved to the left.” In other words, the story of the past few decades is asymmetric polarization.
Two well-known Washington political analysts, Thomas Mann, of the bipartisan Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agree. In a forthcoming book about Washington dysfunction, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” they write, “One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
Three years ago, when Obama explained to George Will and his guests his theory of a centrist Washington, he had some reason to believe it. After all, the pillars of his agenda seemed to enjoy bipartisan support. To some extent, his health-care plan had been designed and employed by a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, of Massachusetts. His policy for addressing climate change, known as “cap and trade,” had its roots in the first Bush White House. The Troubled Asset Relief Program, a bipartisan policy to rescue failing banks, was designed by the second Bush Administration. As for the economy, conservative and liberal economists agreed that fiscal stimulus was the necessary response to a recession; the only question was how much stimulus. Politics in America, Obama confidently told people in Washington just before taking office, is played “between the forty-yard lines.”
As a new President, Obama did not anticipate how effectively his political opponents would cast him as a polarizing figure. Despite the bonhomie at Will’s house, most Republicans viewed him as a wily Chicago politician cosseted by a sympathetic liberal media. The over-all description was a caricature, but there is enough in Obama’s political biography for Republicans to make a case. In fact, his ascent from law professor to President in a decade was marked by a series of political decisions that undercut some of his claims on the subject of partisanship and political reform.
In 1996, during his first run for office, in the Illinois State Senate, Obama defeated his former political mentor Alice Palmer by successfully challenging her nominating petitions and forcing her off the ballot, effectively ending her career. A few years later, Illinois Democrats, after toiling in the minority in the Senate, gerrymandered the state to produce a Democratic majority. While drafting the new political map, Obama helped redraw his own district northward to include some of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens, making the district a powerful financial and political base that he used to win his U.S. Senate seat, a few years later.
Another hard-edged decision helped make him the Democratic Presidential nominee. In early October, 2007, David Axelrod and Obama’s other political consultants wrote the candidate a memo explaining how he could repair his floundering campaign against Hillary Clinton. They advised him to attack her personally, presenting a difficult choice for Obama. He had spent years building a reputation as a reformer who deplored the nasty side of politics, and now, he was told, he had to put that aside. Obama’s strategists wrote that all campaign communications, even the slogan—“Change We Can Believe In”—had to emphasize distinctions with Clinton on character rather than on policy. The slogan “was intended to frame the argument along the character fault line, and this is where we can and must win this fight,” the memo said. “Clinton can’t be trusted or believed when it comes to change,” because “she’s driven by political calculation not conviction, regularly backing away and shifting positions. . . . She embodies trench warfare vs. Republicans, and is consumed with beating them rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done. She prides herself on working the system, not changing it.” The “current goal,” the memo continued, was to define Obama as “the only authentic ‘remedy’ to what ails Washington and stands in the way of progress.”
Obama’s message promised voters, in what his aides called “the inspiration,” that “Barack Obama will end the divisive trench warfare that treats politics as a game and will lead Americans to come together to restore our common purpose.” Clinton was too polarizing to get anything done: “It may not be her fault, but Americans have deeply divided feelings about Hillary Clinton, threatening a Democratic victory in 2008 and insuring another four years of the bitter political battles that have plagued Washington for the last two decades and stymied progress.”
Neera Tanden was the policy director for Clinton’s campaign. When Clinton lost the Democratic race, Tanden became the director of domestic policy for Obama’s general-election campaign, and then a senior official working on health care in his Administration. She is now the president of the liberal Center for American Progress, perhaps the most important institution in Democratic politics. “It was a character attack,” Tanden said recently, speaking about the Obama campaign against Clinton. “I went over to Obama, I’m a big supporter of the President, but their campaign was entirely a character attack on Hillary as a liar and untrustworthy. It wasn’t an ‘issue contrast,’ it was entirely personal.” And, of course, it worked.

The fourth momentous decision of Obama’s political career provided the financial boost that made him President. On June 19, 2008, he announced that he would be the first Presidential candidate since 1976 to forgo public funds, which allow candidates to run in the general election while limiting the corrupting influence of fund-raising. This was an awkward and hypocritical decision, given that in 2007 Obama had explicitly promised that he would stay in the system. David Plouffe, his campaign manager, wrote in his memoir, “The Audacity to Win,” that the promise had been a mistake: “We were overly concerned with making sure the reform community and elites like the New York Times editorial board, which care deeply about these issues, would look favorably on our approach.” Obama, Plouffe noted, was “genuinely torn,” but was eventually convinced that victory trumped idealism. Obama’s choice allowed him to raise unlimited amounts of money while John McCain, who remained in the system, was limited to a check from the government for eighty-four million dollars. From September 1st to Election Day, Obama outspent McCain by almost three to one, and, as many Republicans are quick to note, ran more negative ads than any Presidential candidate in modern history.
There are obvious justifications for these four decisions. Alice Palmer had used phony signatures to get on the ballot, and Obama’s challenge was perfectly legal. The Democrats’ gerrymandering of Illinois was routine and no more outrageous than what happens in most other states. Compared with other Presidential primaries, Obama’s attacks against Hillary Clinton were relatively mild. Finally, if McCain could have raised more money outside the public-financing system, he surely would have. Still, Obama’s actual political biography is more partisan and ruthless than the version he has told over the years in countless “post-partisan” speeches and in “The Audacity of Hope.”
At George Will’s house, Obama impressed his companions. He got a big laugh when he teased David Brooks, a Times columnist who is a less orthodox conservative than the others, by asking him, “What are you doing here?” Kudlow said that the tone of the dinner was essentially “We’re going to disagree, but we wish you well.” As the President-elect departed, Rich Lowry grabbed Obama’s hand and said softly, “Sir, I’ll be praying for you.”
The premise of the Obama campaign was unusual. “Change We Can Believe In” wasn’t just about a set of policies; it was more grandiose. Obama promised to transcend forty years of demographic and ideological trends and reshape Washington politics. In the past three years, though, he has learned that the Presidency is an office uniquely ill-suited for enacting sweeping change. Presidents are buffeted and constrained by the currents of political change. They don’t control them.
George C. Edwards III, a political scientist at Texas A. & M., who has sparked a quiet revolution in the ways that academics look at Presidential leadership, argues in “The Strategic President” that there are two ways to think about great leaders. The common view is of a leader whom Edwards calls “the director of change,” someone who reshapes public opinion and the political landscape with his charisma and his powers of persuasion. Obama’s many admirers expected him to be just this.
Instead, Obama has turned out to be what Edwards calls “a facilitator of change.” The facilitator is acutely aware of the constraints of public opinion and Congress. He is not foolish enough to believe that one man, even one invested with the powers of the Presidency, can alter the fundamentals of politics. Instead, “facilitators understand the opportunities for change in their environments and fashion strategies and tactics to exploit them.” Directors are more like revolutionaries. Facilitators are more like tacticians. Directors change the system. Facilitators work the system. Obama’s first three years as President are the story of his realization of the limits of his office, his frustration with those constraints, and, ultimately, his education in how to successfully operate within them. A close look at the choices Obama made on domestic policy, based on a review of hundreds of pages of internal White House documents, reveals someone who is canny and tough—but who is not the President his most idealistic supporters thought they had elected.
Mario Cuomo said that Presidents campaign in poetry and govern in prose, and Obama’s shift from Keats to Keynes was abrupt. Before he even entered office, he had to deal with an economic cataclysm. The initial debate was framed by a fifty-seven-page memo to the President-elect, dated December 15, 2008, written by Larry Summers, his incoming director of the National Economic Council. Marked “Sensitive and Confidential,” the document, which has never been made public, presents Obama with the scale of the crisis. “The economic outlook is grim and deteriorating rapidly,” it said. The U.S. economy had lost two million jobs that year; without a government response, it would lose four million more in the next year. Unemployment would rise above nine per cent unless a significant stimulus plan was passed. The estimates were getting worse by the day.
Summers informed Obama that the government was already spending well beyond its means. Yet in the coming months Obama would have to sign, in addition to a stimulus bill, several pieces of legislation left over from the Bush Administration: a hundred-billion-dollar funding bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; perhaps three hundred and fifty billion dollars more in funds from Bush’s TARP program, to prop up banks; and a four-hundred-and-ten-billion-dollar spending bill that was stuck in Congress. Obama would need resources to save G.M. and Chrysler, which were close to bankruptcy, and to address the collapsing housing market, which he was told would be hit with five million foreclosures during his first two years in office. Summers cautioned Obama, who had run as a fiscal conservative and attacked his Republican opponent for wanting to raise taxes, that he was about to preside over an explosion of government spending: “This could come as a considerable sticker shock to the American public and the American political system, potentially reducing your ability to pass your agenda and undermining economic confidence at a critical time.”

Obama was told that, regardless of his policies, the deficits would likely be blamed on him in the long run. The forecasts were frightening, and jeopardized his ambitious domestic agenda, which had been based on unrealistic assumptions made during the campaign. “Since January 2007 the medium-term budget deficit has deteriorated by about $250 billion annually,” the memo said. “If your campaign promises were enacted then, based on accurate scoring, the deficit would rise by another $100 billion annually. The consequence would be the largest run-up in the debt since World War II.”
There was an obvious tension between the warning about the extent of the financial crisis, which would require large-scale spending, and the warning about the looming federal budget deficits, which would require fiscal restraint. The tension reflected the competing concerns of two of Obama’s advisers. Christina Romer, the incoming chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, drafted the stimulus material. A Berkeley economist, she was new to government. She believed that she had persuaded Summers to raise the stimulus recommendation above the initial estimate, six hundred billion dollars, to something closer to eight hundred billion dollars, but she was frustrated that she wasn’t allowed to present an even larger option. When she had done so in earlier meetings, the incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, asked her, “What are you smoking?” She was warned that her credibility as an adviser would be damaged if she pushed beyond the consensus recommendation.
Peter Orszag, the incoming budget director, was a relentless advocate of fiscal restraint. He was well known in Washington policy circles as a deficit hawk. Orszag insisted that there were mechanical limits to how much money the government could spend effectively in two years. In the Summers memo, he contributed sections about historic deficits and the need to scale back campaign promises. The Romer-Orszag divide was the start of a rift inside the Administration that continued for the next two years.
Since 2009, some economists have insisted that the stimulus was too small. White House defenders have responded that a larger stimulus would not have moved through Congress. But the Summers memo barely mentioned Congress, noting only that his recommendation of a stimulus above six hundred billion dollars was “an economic judgment that would need to be combined with political judgments about what is feasible.”
He offered the President four illustrative stimulus plans: $550 billion, $665 billion, $810 billion, and $890 billion. Obama was never offered the option of a stimulus package commensurate with the size of the hole in the economy––known by economists as the “output gap”––which was estimated at two trillion dollars during 2009 and 2010. Summers advised the President that a larger stimulus could actually make things worse. “An excessive recovery package could spook markets or the public and be counterproductive,” he wrote, and added that none of his recommendations “returns the unemployment rate to its normal, pre-recession level. To accomplish a more significant reduction in the output gap would require stimulus of well over $1 trillion based on purely mechanical assumptions—which would likely not accomplish the goal because of the impact it would have on markets.”
Paul Krugman, a Times columnist and a Nobel Prize-winning economist who persistently supported a larger stimulus, told me that Summers’s assertion about market fears was a “bang my head on the table” argument. “He’s invoking the invisible bond vigilantes, basically saying that investors would be scared and drive up interest rates. That’s a major economic misjudgment.” Since the beginning of the crisis, the U.S. has borrowed more than five trillion dollars, and the interest rate on the ten-year Treasury bills is under two per cent. The markets that Summers warned Obama about have been calm.
Summers also presumed that the Administration could go back to Congress for more. “It is easier to add down the road to insufficient fiscal stimulus than to subtract from excessive fiscal stimulus,” he wrote. Obama accepted the advice. This view—that Congress would serve as a partner to a popular new President trying to repair the economy—proved to be wrong.
At a meeting in Chicago on December 16th to discuss the memo, Obama did not push for a stimulus larger than what Summers recommended. Instead, he pressed his advisers to include an inspiring “moon shot” initiative, such as building a national “smart grid”—a high-voltage transmission system sometimes known as the “electricity superhighway,” which would make America’s power supply much more efficient and reliable. Obama, still thinking that he could be a director of change, was looking for something bold and iconic—his version of the Hoover Dam—but Romer and others finally had a “frank” conversation with him, explaining that big initiatives for the stimulus were not feasible. They would cost too much, and not do enough good in the short term. The most effective ideas were less sexy, such as sending hundreds of millions of dollars to the dozens of states that were struggling with budget crises of their own.
The stimulus was the first test of Obama’s theory that politics is played in the center of the field—and of the G.O.P.’s ability to define him as a liberal wastrel. By late January, 2009, the bill had cleared the House without a single Republican vote, and was stuck in the Senate, where the reception from the right was also antagonistic. Senator Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, an emerging leader of the grassroots opposition to the President, declared that the stimulus was “the worst piece of economic legislation Congress has considered in a hundred years.” Not since the creation of the income tax, he said, “has the United States seriously entertained a policy so comprehensively hostile to economic freedom, or so arrogantly indifferent to economic reality.” Obama had loaded his bill with tax cuts in order to lure Republicans, but DeMint dismissed them. “Think of it this way,” he said. “If nearly every Democrat in Congress supports a tax cut, it’s not really a tax cut.” DeMint called his alternative to the President’s plan “the American Option.”

On February 1st, a day before Obama was scheduled to meet with congressional leaders from both parties to make his case for the stimulus, his advisers wrote him a memo recommending that he keep the stimulus package from growing: “We believe that it is critical to draw a sharp line not to exceed $900 billion, so that the size of the package does not spiral out of control.” Senators would likely amend the bill to add about forty billion dollars in personal projects—some worthy, some wasteful. At the same time, Obama hadn’t abandoned his dream of a moon-shot project. He had replaced the smart grid with a request for twenty billion dollars in funding for high-speed trains. But including that request was risky. “Critics may argue that such a proposal is not appropriate for a recovery bill because the funding we are proposing is likely to be spent over 10+ years,” the advisers wrote.
To find the extra money—forty billion to satisfy the senators and twenty billion for Obama—the President needed to cut sixty billion dollars from the bill. He was given two options: he could demand that Congress remove a seventy-billion-dollar tax provision that was worthless as a stimulus but was important to the House leadership, or he could cut sixty billion dollars of highly stimulative spending. He decided on the latter.
Obama was then presented with a chart of six stimulus policies—Making Work Pay, a tax credit for jobholders that was a centerpiece of his campaign; education spending; state fiscal relief; funding for the National Institutes of Health; tax-credit bonds; and Social Security and veterans’-benefits payments—with recommendations for cuts in the programs that would save sixty-one billion dollars. Obama’s advisers told him, “A key part of the strategy involved in these savings is that you are putting your priorities—for example, Making Work Pay and education—on the table in order to get this deal done.” His aides had hoped that the Senate would pass the legislation with eighty votes, including more than twenty Republicans. At the bottom of the chart, the President wrote “OK.”
Even as the severity of the economic crisis became clear, Obama and Congress worked together to make the stimulus smaller. The bill, known as the Recovery Act, passed at $787 billion, with three Republican votes in the Senate, including that of Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, who later became a Democrat. It was the Administration’s first recognition that congressional Republicans had little interest in the President’s offer to meet them halfway. It turned out that the ideological divide he had set out to bridge was not just a psychodrama.
Each night, an Obama aide hands the President a binder of documents to review. After his wife goes to bed, at around ten, Obama works in his study, the Treaty Room, on the second floor of the White House residence. President Bush preferred oral briefings; Obama likes his advice in writing. He marks up the decision memos and briefing materials with notes and questions in his neat cursive handwriting. In the morning, each document is returned to his staff secretary. She dates and stamps it—“Back from the OVAL”—and often e-mails an index of the President’s handwritten notes to the relevant senior staff and their assistants. A single Presidential comment might change a legislative strategy, kill the proposal of a well-meaning adviser, or initiate a bureaucratic process to answer a Presidential question.
If the document is a decision memo, its author usually includes options for Obama to check at the end. The formatting is simple, but the decisions are not. As Obama told the Times, early in his first term, Presidents are rarely called on to make the easy choices. “Somebody noted to me that by the time something reaches my desk, that means it’s really hard,” he said. “Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision and somebody else would have solved it.”
On February 5, 2009, just as Obama was negotiating the final details of the stimulus package, Summers and Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, drafted a memo to the President outlining a plan to save the collapsing banks. TARP, they believed, wouldn’t be enough. Seventy per cent of Americans’ assets were in four banks, three of which were in serious trouble. If the situation worsened, Obama might need to nationalize one or more institutions that were “at the doorstep of failure.” Indeed, “there is a significant chance that Citigroup, Bank of America, and possibly others could ultimately end up in this category.” Nationalization would expose the government to enormous financial risk and political peril. Obama would be forced to take “actions to get the government a dominant ownership position,” and the banks would then “be subject to substantial restructuring and government control including the replacement of long-standing top management and long-standing directors.” It was unclear whether such a takeover was legal. Moreover, there was a “real risk” that seizing control of banks could, in fact, destroy them.
Obama would need congressional support if he pursued nationalization. Geithner and Summers recommended that, if necessary, the F.D.I.C., which provides deposit insurance to millions of Americans, be used to take over the troubled banks. The F.D.I.C. was partly funded by small community banks, which garnered more sympathy than Wall Street firms.
They warned Obama, “We may, by being proactive, be blamed for causing the problems we are seeking to preempt. Further, there is the risk that by attempting a program of this kind, we will pull the ‘band-aid’ off a wound that we lack the capacity to sterilize and thus exacerbate problems.”

The plan was dropped in mid-March after a scandal erupted over lucrative bonuses paid to executives at A.I.G. At a pivotal meeting, according to the notes of someone who participated, Emanuel warned the President of “sticker shock” in Congress, and, he said, “There’s just no appetite for more money.” Obama, whose approval rating was still above sixty per cent, was more confident than his aides in his abilities to change public opinion and persuade Congress he needed the resources. “Well, what if we really explain this very well?” he asked. But the judgment of the political advisers prevailed. In hindsight, the case for nationalization was weak, but even if Obama had wanted to pursue it he couldn’t have. For the second time in as many months, a more aggressive course of action on the economy was thwarted by fears of congressional disapproval.
Obama began to subtly adjust his domestic strategy. Even as he fought the recession, he had decided to pursue health-care reform as well, and during the spring he had to make a series of decisions about the legislation. Its fate in the Senate was largely in the hands of Max Baucus, of Montana, the chairman of the Finance Committee, which had jurisdiction over much of the bill. White House aides noted in a March memo that Baucus was in many ways an Obama Democrat, someone who “prefers to work out legislation on a bipartisan basis.”
There were two ways for the Senate to approach Obama’s health-care plan: the normal process, which required sixty votes to pass the bill, or a shortcut known as “reconciliation,” which required only a simple majority and would bypass a possible filibuster. Baucus and several other key Senate Democrats opposed reconciliation, and Republicans decried its use on such major legislation as a partisan power grab. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, complained that using reconciliation would “make it absolutely clear” that Obama and the Democrats in Congress “intend to carry out all of their plans on a purely partisan basis.” On April 10th, Obama’s aides sent him a memo asking him to decide the issue. The White House could still fashion a bipartisan bill, but it was important to have the fifty-one-vote option as a backup plan, in case they weren’t able to win any Republican support and faced a filibuster. They recommended that he “insist on reconciliation instructions for health care.” Below this language, Obama was offered three options: “Agree,” “Disagree,” “Let’s Discuss.” The President placed a check mark on the line next to “Agree.”
By the spring, Republicans had settled on a simple and effective plan of attack against Obama. His policies, they repeated over and over, “spend too much, tax too much, and borrow too much.” Obama, who made it all the way through his U.S. Senate campaign without ever having a single negative television advertisement aired about him, began to feel the effects of an energized opposition. As his approval rating declined through 2009, he looked for ways to restore his credibility as a moderate. He became intent on responding to critics of government spending and, as White House memos show, he settled into the role of a more transactional and less transformational leader.
In February, he authorized his staff to plan a bipartisan “fiscal summit” that would include politicians, like the conservative Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, and think-tank policymakers, like the liberal Robert Greenstein. “What are the follow-ups, takeaways afterwards?” Obama wrote. They responded that he could publicly ask the attendees for a continued dialogue on the best way to address the fiscal crisis or he could create a fiscal task force that would tackle the issue comprehensively. They warned him that among Democrats who then ran the House and the Senate there was resistance to the task force. Rather than pick a fight with his friends over spending, he decided to start a conversation. The summit came and went, with nothing to show for it.
The President’s notes reflected a tension between his determination to pass his agenda and his hope of maintaining his reformist reputation. At the end of another memo about fiscal discipline after the summit, he asked his staff to seek out ideas from one of the most conservative members in the House. “Have we looked at any of the other GOP recommendations (e.g. Paul Ryan’s) to see if any make sense?” he wrote.
Obama could be unsentimental toward liberal piety. In May, 2009, his advisers informed him that his budget for global health assistance, much of which goes to combat H.I.V., would increase by a hundred and sixty-five million dollars yet would still face “opposition from the very vocal HIV/AIDS activist community.” He wrote back, “How can they complain when we are increasing funding?” At the end, he added, “In announcing this, we should be very complimentary of the Bush Administration.”
He also could be ruthless toward members of his party in Congress. When he was informed in a memo that Representative Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, wanted to write a highway bill that included a hundred and fifteen billion dollars more in spending than Obama had proposed, and which would be funded by a gas-tax increase, Obama wrote “No,” and underlined it. When he was informed that the Census Bureau had spent six hundred million dollars over two years in a failed attempt to use handheld computers for the census, “and is reverting to paper-based data collection,” he wrote, “This is appalling.” Obama was eager to get credit as a penny-pincher. When his aides submitted a detailed plan to improve government performance and reduce waste, he wrote back, “This is good stuff—we need to constantly publicize our successful efforts here.”

In June, 2009, he was told that Congress had whittled down by more than two thirds his ten-billion-dollar proposal to fund childhood nutrition, and he was asked if he would like to fund the initiative out of a thirty-five-billion-dollar pot that had appeared fortuitously during the budget process. The White House planned to use the money for community colleges and early education, and Obama was told that, if he didn’t allocate some of the funds, he couldn’t finance his child-nutrition agenda. His advisers suggested that he could make a point about political reform and offered him a plan to “ask Congress to fund as much of your original request as possible through reductions in agriculture subsidies.” They expected the ploy to fail but argued, “You would be able to say that you had offered a serious plan to fund the full bill, and Congress had fallen short.” Next to this more cynical option, Obama wrote, “Yes.”
The President’s caution, and his concern about business, can be seen in the way he dealt with major interest groups. His policy to limit global warming, cap and trade, threatened the oil companies. Health-care reform threatened insurers. Financial regulatory reform threatened the banks. With great specificity, the concerns of these and other interest groups were brought inside the Oval Office by Obama’s aides. His health-insurance bill was crafted by building support from a delicate alliance of interest groups, and Obama personally guided the effort. On July 1, 2009, his top health-care adviser, Nancy-Ann DeParle, submitted a detailed nine-page policy memo asking whether the White House should consider including medical-malpractice reform in the legislation. Most Democrats opposed the idea, but the American Medical Association was pushing for it. “Obviously, we shouldn’t do anything that weighs down the overall effort,” Obama wrote back, in his characteristically cautious and reasonable style, “but if this helps the AMA stay on board, we should explore it.”
Later in the year, Geithner and Summers outlined the objections of the business lobby to Obama’s plan to close corporate tax loopholes that benefitted multinational companies and to encourage American companies to create more jobs in the U.S. “As you know,” they wrote, “our FY 2010 international tax proposal received a strong negative reaction from the business community—and in particular from large U.S. multinational firms.” They offered him a modified plan that would raise sixteen billion dollars less, and that would “address the business community’s arguably most reasonable concerns.” They noted that “some critics may argue that we are caving to the multinationals,” but pointed out that the plan would still raise revenues from such conglomerates. They leaned on the opinion of Obama’s most trusted political adviser. “David Axelrod thinks it is important that we continue to voice our support for this proposal which was a key commitment you made before coming into office,” they wrote. Next to this, Obama wrote, “Agree.”
But Geithner and Summers warned that if Obama was not willing to personally “defend” the plan he should not send it to Congress. In that case, they offered him an even more defanged alternative, one that would be “more responsive to the business community’s concerns” but would certainly “be criticized by some as caving.” Campaign promises were easy, but, as President, Obama could fight only so many legislative battles. Next to the dramatically scaled-back option, Obama wrote, “Worth discussing.” But in the end it was only worth discussing. Obama didn’t completely capitulate to the multinationals, and he adopted his aides’ modestly clipped package.
Obama’s moderation didn’t sway Republicans, nor did his attention to interest groups or his cuts to beloved liberal programs. Through the rest of 2009, as the anti-government Tea Party movement gathered strength, and conservative voters began to speak of creeping American socialism, Obama’s aides quarrelled over how the President should respond. Romer wanted him to press the Keynesian case for his policies—to defend the proposition of increased government spending to fight the recession. Orszag argued that he needed more support from Washington’s deficit hawks, and urged him to create a deficit commission, partly because “it can provide fiscal credibility during a period in which it is unlikely we would succeed in enacting legislation.”
It presented Obama with a common Presidential dilemma: Should he use the White House bully pulpit to change minds or should he accept popular opinion? He chose the latter. In his speeches, he began saying, “Americans are making hard choices in their budgets. We’ve got to tighten our belts in Washington, as well.” Romer fought to get such lines removed from his speeches, arguing that it was “exactly the wrong policy.” She thought the President should emphasize that the government would seek to use taxpayer money wisely, and leave it at that. Instead, he seemed to be accepting the Republican case against stimulus and for austerity. She thought he was losing faith in Keynesianism itself.
Obama was learning the same lesson of many previous occupants of the Oval Office: he didn’t have the power that one might think he had. Harry Truman, one in a long line of Commanders-in-Chief frustrated by the limits of the office, once complained that the President “has to take all sorts of abuse from liars and demagogues. . . . The people can never understand why the President does not use his supposedly great power to make ’em behave. Well, all the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.”

When it came time for Obama to write his fiscal 2011 budget, which was his next big opportunity to help the economy, he began to chip away at some dramatic campaign commitments. For instance, in 2008 he had promised a bold space program. “As President,” he had said, “I will establish a robust and balanced civilian space program” that “not only will inspire the world with both human and robotic space exploration but also will again lead in confronting the challenges we face here on Earth, including global climate change, energy independence, and aeronautics research.” In November, 2009, his advisers, in a memo, delivered some bad news: “The 10-year deficit has deteriorated by roughly $6 trillion.” The next sentence was in boldface type and underlined: “Especially in light of our new fiscal context, it is not possible to achieve the inspiring space program goals discussed during the campaign.”
Obama was told that he should cancel NASA’s Bush-era Constellation program, along with its support projects, like the Ares launch vehicles, which were designed to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. The program was behind schedule, over budget, and “unachievable.” He agreed to end it. During the stimulus debate, Obama’s metaphorical moon-shot idea—the smart grid—was struck down as unworkable. Now the Administration’s actual moon-shot program was dead, too.
As he worked on his budget, Obama scoured his briefing materials for ways to cut spending. Next to a discussion of continuing “spending levels associated with the Recovery Act,” he wrote, “Not possible.” He even questioned funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is generally considered politically untouchable. It was going to receive a 7.2-per-cent increase, the largest two-year percentage increase in the department’s budget in more than thirty years. Obama was informed that it would “underscore the Administration’s commitment to our veterans. Specifically, it will do so by continuing to improve care for our wounded warriors, expand programs to reduce and prevent the incidence of homelessness among veterans.” Obama wrote, “Given what we did last year, does the increase need to be this high?”
Obama knew that his most ardent supporters would attack the budget. He planned to increase Pentagon funding while decreasing some popular domestic programs. He was told that the proposal presented him with “a broad vulnerability.” For example, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps many poor people, especially in the Northeast, was to be cut in half. “Not good,” Obama wrote. The Small Business Administration “should do more with what it has,” he wrote. Poorly performing job-training centers “have to be replaced w/ something that does work.” He underlined “does.”
His aides also recommended that he give back to the government two hundred and four million dollars left over from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, the campaign-financing program that, in 2008, Obama had decided not to use. Obama’s controversial decision now had a chance to save the government money, but there was a hitch. The program is financed by taxpayers who ask the I.R.S. to send three dollars from their annual taxes to the program. “Rescinding the dollars in the fund may be seen as overriding taxpayer choice,” he was told, “and also as an attack on public financing that would decrease the funds available for the 2012 election.” He wrote, “Need to be careful here.”
One Cabinet official made it clear that she did not share the President’s growing commitment to coupon-clipping: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She rejected the White House’s budget for her department, and wrote the President a six-page letter detailing her complaints. Some in the White House saw the long letter as a weapon, something that could be leaked if Clinton didn’t get her way. “At the proposed funding levels,” Clinton wrote, “we will not have the capacity to deliver either the full level of civilian staffing or the foreign assistance programs that underlie the civilian-military strategy you outlined for Afghanistan; nor the transition from U.S. Military to civilian programming in Iraq; nor the expanded assistance that is central to our Pakistan strategy.” She went on, “I want to emphasize that I fully understand the economic realities within which this budget is being constructed, and I share your commitment to fiscal responsibility. But I am deeply concerned about these funding levels.”
The letter contained indications of a real relationship between the former rivals. “You and I often speak about the need to restore the capacity of civilian agencies,” Clinton noted. But the general tone was stern and businesslike. It ended with an urgent plea for Obama to intervene on her behalf. “There is little room for progress unless you provide guidance that you are open to an increase in overall funding levels,” she wrote. Obama did indeed fight for some additional money for Clinton.
A year into Obama’s Presidency, a Gallup poll showed how starkly he had failed at reducing partisanship. Obama was the most polarizing first-year President in history—that is, the difference between Democratic approval of him and Republican disapproval was the highest ever recorded. The previous record-holder was Bill Clinton. Obama also faced an electorate with a historically low level of trust in government. Since the Vietnam War, faith in Washington has plummeted, and it always declines when the economy falters. On the eve of Obama’s election, trust was at a record low. The public had turned sharply away from government at a moment when he was asking it to do more.
Toward the end of 2009, the President continued to struggle with the hard compromises he would have to make in writing his budget and planning initiatives for the new year. David Axelrod, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, and Mona Sutphen, Obama’s deputy chief of staff, sent him a memo about how he could find his way out of his slump. They wrote:

 The initial glow of the Obama Administration has yielded to the realization that the nation’s problems are stubborn and won’t be solved painlessly or overnight. Even as a majority of Americans retain a high regard for you, there has been a resurgence of jaundice about Washington’s ability to deal with these problems responsibly, and a renewed anger over the continued dominance of hyper-partisanship and special interests.
At the same time, Americans still yearn for a “new era of responsibility.” But an expensive stimulus plan, bank and auto bailouts, juxtaposed with their own daily struggles, have eroded their confidence that such an era is at hand. Despite this skepticism, the American people are receptive to a message that emphasizes that you have taken the tough steps that needed to be taken to pull the nation back from the brink.

The State of the Union message would remind voters of the inspirational Obama of the 2008 campaign, and also make clear that he was listening to the public’s concerns about the government. After a year of intense policymaking and legislating, Obama’s political advisers were attempting to reassert authority over the economic team. The recommendations were heavy on public relations and attempted to reposition Obama to appear less hostile to the concerns of the anti-government right. “Democratic Presidents rarely address small businesses in their message,” they advised Obama, “but you could use the opportunity to discuss what small businesses mean for the freedom to be your own boss, to pursue your own ideas and for our spirit of innovation.”
Axelrod and other Obama political advisers saw anti-Keynesian rhetoric as a political necessity. They believed it was better to channel the anti-government winds than to fight them. As much as it enraged Romer and outside economists, the White House was on to something. A President’s ability to change public opinion through rhetoric is extremely limited. George Edwards, after studying the successes of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan, concluded that their communications skills contributed almost nothing to their legislative victories. According to his study, “Presidents cannot reliably persuade the public to support their policies” and “are unlikely to change public opinion.”
Obama’s State of the Union speech, his aides said, “was an opportune moment to pivot to themes of restraining government spending.” They advised him to consider “freezing or cutting the discretionary budget,” instituting a senior-level government pay freeze, and cancelling some federal programs. They even noted that his government-reform efforts were “the most dramatic since Reagan’s conservative downsizing.”
Finally, they warned that the process of securing the President’s legislative agenda had damaged his distinctive brand. “Perhaps more than in any other area,” they wrote, “it is essential that we use the SOTU to reclaim the high ground on challenging the status quo in Washington.” They feared that Obama was being damaged by his association with the deal-making in Congress. “The speech presents a moment when you can begin to distance the Administration from Congress on issues of special interest capture and transparency.”
In the end, Obama’s entire economic team went along with the new push for austerity, at least symbolically. They recommended that Obama endorse the idea of a bipartisan fiscal commission, accepting a proposal that the President had rejected months earlier—and he agreed. Ten days after the Axelrod memo, on December 20th, Summers, Orszag, Geithner, and even Romer advised the President on how to tackle the deficit in 2010. They told him that he needed to cut eighty-five billion dollars in spending in order to submit a fiscally credible budget to Congress.
They ticked off a list of ideas. Instead of a one-year non-defense-spending freeze, as they had previously suggested, they recommended a three-year freeze. The freeze was controversial: liberals would call it mad to restrain federal spending during a recession; Republicans would call it trivial. But it would save twenty billion dollars. “Your economic team believes that it is worth doing this,” his aides wrote in another memo, “both to reduce the deficit and indicate that the Administration is serious about fiscal discipline.” Obama drew a check mark next to the recommendation.
In the December 20th memo, they resorted to gimmickry. In his first budget, Obama had prided himself on “honest budgeting,” declining to employ the fanciful assumptions that the previous Administration had used to hide the costs of government. On disaster relief, for example, he had estimated that the government would need twenty billion dollars a year, a figure based on the statistical likelihood of major disasters requiring federal aid. Now Obama’s aides reminded him that Congress had ignored his “ ‘honest budgeting’ approach,” and perhaps they should, too. They proposed “$5 billion per year for disaster costs.” Obama drew another check mark. The White House could also save billions by fiddling with the way it presented savings from Obama’s health-care-reform bill. Check.
Finally, Obama’s economic team recommended a new five-per-cent tax—what it called a “bubble rate”—on people making more than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year. It would bring in eleven billion dollars in 2015. Here, Obama made another check mark, but he wrote, “Best discuss.” When his aides returned with a deeper analysis, it was clear that their tax idea would violate Obama’s campaign pledge against raising taxes for the middle class. Obama rejected the tax hike.
At about the same time, in January, 2010, just as the Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown was rising in the polls in the race to replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy, Orszag and Ezekiel Emanuel, the chief of staff’s brother and a health-care adviser, recommended that the government pay federal employees to participate in a pilot program to study the most effective treatments for patients.

Obama had been bold on health care. But, as Summers had noted in a previous memo, there wasn’t enough “bandwidth” to pass many other priorities. Eighteen months into his Presidency, his economic advisers offered him essentially three paths: an ambitious new jobs package that he could personally advocate as an “emergency expenditure”; “a fiscally significant (several hundred billion dollars over ten years) deficit reduction package”; and an array of “new policies that have greater symbolic than deficit-reducing impact.” The ambitious options were seen as impractical. Congress was unwilling to pass “nearly as much fiscal stimulus” as Obama wanted. A deficit-reduction package would be “a very difficult undertaking that would entail resurrecting ideas you rejected in the budget process” and could “engender substantial political opposition, set up members of Congress for hard votes, and, possibly, produce a legislative defeat for the Administration.” Obama decided against both of the more ambitious ideas. He was left with “smaller, more symbolic efforts” that “are less politically risky,” like reforming federal travel and cutting military spending on congressional junkets. “The challenge here is to break through message-wise and convince the media, financial markets, and the public at large that these measures signify real efforts to restrain spending,” Obama’s economic team wrote.
They gave him one other crucial piece of advice. The tax cuts passed by George Bush would soon expire. Obama favored extending Bush’s middle-class cuts and ending the upper-income cuts. Tackling the deficit would be impossible otherwise. But his economic team warned that, given the political climate, the extension of all the Bush tax cuts “could gain serious traction.” Not to worry, his political team insisted. Pelosi would never allow that to occur. We’re “confident that the Speaker would not agree to this becoming law,” Obama was assured.
But the President had no way to get much more out of Congress in 2010—gas, brakes, or tax cuts. That summer, he won a modest small-business bill and some legislation to save the jobs of teachers, but the “big bang” phase of his Presidency turned into a whimper as the midterm elections began to dominate the Administration’s attention that summer and fall. When Republicans took over the House and expanded their ranks in the Senate, Obama lost much of his ability to legislate. In 2011, he proposed a stimulus measure called the American Jobs Act and gave a speech to Congress in which he demanded twenty times that legislators pass his jobs bill. But the plan didn’t go anywhere. His successes came through foreign-policy choices that largely circumvented Congress: the successful intervention in Libya; the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan; the killing of Osama bin Laden. When Congress changed hands in 2010, the curtain had come down on Obama’s domestic agenda.
Crisis has often been the wellspring of political transformation in America. Obama’s situation in 2009—a discredited opposition party and an economic meltdown—seemed remarkably similar to the circumstances that Franklin Roosevelt faced after he defeated Herbert Hoover, in 1932, and fashioned the modern welfare state; or when Lyndon Johnson took power after the trauma of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, in 1963, and pushed through the Great Society. But neither 9/11 nor the great recession transformed American politics in a way that overcame structural polarization.
Despite the Republican takeover of the House, Obama’s third year in office started with a flicker of bipartisanship. Obama, notwithstanding the dire warning of his team, accepted a deal to temporarily extend all the Bush tax cuts in exchange for some fiscal stimulus for the economy. But the Congress sworn into power in 2011 proved to be the most conservative in modern history. Obama was repeatedly rebuffed as he attempted to achieve a “grand bargain” on taxes and spending. In July, John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, came close to an agreement with Obama on a four-trillion-dollar plan to resolve the long-term deficit, but conservative colleagues rebelled, and Boehner withdrew.
Predictions that Obama would usher in a new era of post-partisan consensus politics now seem not just naïve but delusional. At this political juncture, there appears to be only one real model of effective governance in Washington: partisan dominance, in which a President with large majorities in Congress can push through an ambitious agenda. Despite Obama’s hesitance and his appeals to Republicans, this is the model that the President ended up relying upon during his first two years in office. He had hoped to use a model of consensus politics in which factions in the middle form an alliance against the two extremes. But he found few players in the center of the field: most Republicans and Democrats were on their own ten-yard lines. (The Tea Party, meanwhile, was tearing down the goal posts and carrying them away.) This situation is not unprecedented. During much less polarized periods, when it was easier to build centrist coalitions, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson suffered similar fates. “When Johnson lost 48 Democratic House seats in the 1966 election, he found himself, despite his alleged wizardry, in the same condition of stalemate that had thwarted Kennedy and, indeed, every Democratic President since 1938,” Arthur Schlesinger noted in his 1978 biography of Robert Kennedy. “In the end, arithmetic is decisive.”
Most of Obama’s conservative dinner companions from his evening at George Will’s home now describe him and his Administration in the most caricatured terms. Will declared Obama a “floundering naïf” and someone advancing “lemon socialism.” * Charles Krauthammer called Obama “sanctimonious, demagogic, self-righteous, and arrogant.” Lawrence Kudlow described him as presiding over a government of “crony capitalism at its worst.” Michael Barone called it “Gangster Government.” Rich Lowry said that Obama is “the whiniest president ever.” Peggy Noonan, correcting some interpretations of the President by her fellow-conservatives, wrote, “He is not a devil, an alien, a socialist. He is a loser.”

Many of Obama’s liberal allies have been disillusioned, too. When Steve Jobs last met the President, in February, 2011, he was most annoyed by Obama’s pessimism—he seemed to dismiss every idea Jobs proffered. “The president is very smart,” Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “But he kept explaining to us reasons why things can’t get done. It infuriates me.”
Yet our political system was designed to be infuriating. As George Edwards notes in his study of Presidents as facilitators, the American system “is too complicated, power too decentralized, and interests too diverse for one person, no matter how extraordinary, to dominate.” Obama, like many Presidents, came to office talking like a director. But he ended up governing like a facilitator, which is what the most successful Presidents have always done. Even Lincoln famously admitted, “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events controlled me.”
The White House staff memos show Obama scaling back his proposals in the face of the business lobby, designing a health-care bill to attract support from doctors, rejecting schemes from his aides that could be caricatured by the right, and in dozens of other ways making the unpleasant choices of governing in a system defined by its constraints.
Obama made important mistakes in the first half of his term. He underestimated the severity of the recession and therefore the scale of the response it required, and he clung too long to his vision of post-partisanship, even in the face of a radicalized opposition whose stated goal was his defeat. The memos show a cautious President, someone concerned with his image. When, in 2009, he was presented with the windfall pot of thirty-five billion dollars that he could spend on one of his campaign priorities or use for deficit reduction, Obama wrote, “I would opt for deficit reduction, but it doesn’t sound like we would get any credit for it.” At other moments, the memos show a President intensely focussed on trying to restrain the government Leviathan he inherited, despite an opposition that doesn’t trust his intentions. When his aides submit a plan to save money on administrative efficiencies, Obama writes back, with some resignation, “This is good—but we should be careful not to overhype this given D.C. cynicism.” He is frustrated with the irrational side of Washington, but he also leans on the wisdom of his political advisers when they make a strong case that a good policy is bad politics. The private Obama is close to what many people suspect: a President trying to pass his agenda while remaining popular enough to win reëlection.
Obama didn’t remake Washington. But his first two years stand as one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. Among other achievements, he has saved the economy from depression, passed universal health care, and reformed Wall Street. Along the way, Obama may have changed his mind about his 2008 critique of Hillary Clinton. “Working the system, not changing it” and being “consumed with beating” Republicans “rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done” do not seem like such bad strategies for success after all.

*Correction, February 9, 2012: George Will said that Obama was someone advancing “lemon socialism,” not “Lenin-Socialism,” as originally stated.