Streetwise Professor

December 29, 2016

Thank God for the 20th Amendment

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:36 pm

The 20th Amendment to the US Constitution, adopted in 1933, moved inauguration day from March 4 to January 20. And thank God for that, for imagine what Obama could do in those extra six weeks.

He’s already done enough, believe me. The most egregious was the failure to veto a UN resolution targeting Israeli settlements. Indeed, it has been plausibly pled that the administration was instrumental in pushing forward the resolution, though it has implausibly denied this.

There is a colorable case against the settlements. Be that as it may, Obama’s actions were low and destructive, rather than constructive. This is in part because Obama failed to make the case when there was political risk of doing so, waiting until he could no longer be held accountable. This is a serious matter that represented a sea change in American policy, and as such it deserved public debate. If Obama is so persuasive, he should have been able to make the case right? (More on his persuasiveness below.) Thus, the process was terribly flawed.

Moreover, it is clear that Obama was driven more by personal peevishness and dislike for Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than higher motives.

Insofar as the substance is concerned, the move will not increase the likelihood of a peaceful resolution between the Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, it will likely make such an outcome less likely, because it will encourage Palestinian intransigence by encouraging their belief that they can achieve through the UN what they cannot achieve at the bargaining table. Trump will no doubt attempt to disabuse them of these notions, but much of the damage has already been done. This is a mess that Trump will have to clean up, at the cost of diverting attention from other pressing matters. It is, in other words, an unnecessary complication driven mainly by malice.

Another 11th hour Obama move was putting millions of acres of offshore areas off-limits for oil and gas drilling. In the short run, this is unlikely to be a major impediment to US energy production, especially in the expensive-to-drill Arctic, because exploration and development in these regions is currently uneconomic at prevailing prices. But Obama specifically intended to make his action difficult to reverse, so it may bind in the future. Again, the process here was high-handed and autocratic, resembling a ukase more than a considered executive action subject to legislative or legal check.

Which brings us to today’s action, the sanctioning of senior members of Russian intelligence agencies (notably the GRU), the expulsion of 32 diplomats for spying, and the restriction of their use of some consular properties, in retaliation for alleged hacking of the election. To justify the action, the FBI and Homeland Security released a lame report, befitting of a lame duck administration. The report discloses that–I hope you are sitting down–government agencies and employees are routinely subject to hacking attempts, most notably phishing attacks.

This is news? Um, no. FFS, who isn’t routinely subject to phishing attempts? Nobody. The main difference is that most people (unlike Podesta) have the good sense not to be a real big phish.

What is rather shocking is the administration’s going to Code Red on this, after its rather blasé response to far more serious hacks, notably the OPM disaster, and hacks of the White House and State Department and various defense contractors. Back then, they were all Alfred E. Neuman “what, me worry?” Suddenly it’s a grave threat, because there is a desperate need to explain away a stunning defeat of the candidate that Obama expected to protect his legacy, rather than dismantle it. Even if the allegations regarding Russian interference are correct, the damage is far less than these other cyberattacks, but the public response is inversely proportional to the harm inflicted.

Notably missing from the document is any specific mention of the DNC or Podesta emails, or of Wikileaks: it is a generic description of a virtually continuous stream of activity carried out by numerous state and non-state actors. Most bizarrely, as for attributing the attacks to Russia, we are merely given this ipse dixit, with no supporting evidence: “However, public attribution of these activities to RIS [Russian Intelligence Services] is supported by technical indicators from the U.S. Intelligence Community, DHS, FBI, the private sector, and other entities.” Maybe they figure if they told us more, they’d have to kill us all. So they’re doing us a favor by keeping us in the dark.

This “trust me” attribution is undermined by a header on the document:


In other words, this is classified “Don’t Quote Me on This! But it’s totally legit!”


Although ostensibly aimed at Russia, this move is more targeted at Trump. It leaves him with the unpalatable choice of sustaining a decision unsupported by any real publicly disclosed evidence, or reversing it and thereby triggering the “Trump is Putin’s Boy/Manchurian Candidate” shrieks. Russian (and Chinese, and Iranian, and Nork and . . . ) cyberattacks are an issue which the incoming administration will have to consider and address, and a less peevish president would have let it done so without interference.

I told a friend that this was aimed at Trump as soon as I heard of it. Then later I found out that I wasn’t alone in advancing this hypothesis:

“We think that such steps by a U.S. administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, to deal a blow to the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect,” Peskov said.

Obama puts me on the same side as Dmitry Fricking Peskov. This is what we’ve come to.

Russia reacted with some amusing snark. The best of which was this tweet. Hapless, indeed. Hapless, narcissistic and peevish.

One last amusing note. The administration also announced that it would engage in covert retaliation. (Limited time offer! Only good for three weeks!) What’s next in the oxymoron follies? The administration’s highly classified transparency initiative?

(The juxtaposition of Obama’s high dudgeon at alleged Russian interference with the 2016 elections–which, if it occurred, involved the disclosure of embarrassing facts–with his smack at Israel is particularly choice, given that Obama clearly attempted to influence Israel’s 2015 Knesset elections.)

I could go on, but I’ll leave it at these three Greatest Hits.

In between leaving behind manure piles for Trump to clean up, Obama has been giving interviews. These can best be summarized as: “I am wonderful. My only failing was I did a horrible job of telling everyone how wonderful I am, thereby allowing Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the NRA to shape public perceptions of me”:

OBAMA: The — the problem is, is that we’re not there on the ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this, but that we care about these communities, that we’re bleeding for these communities…
OBAMA: … that we understand why they’re frustrated. There’s a — there’s a…
AXELROD: And the values behind these things.
OBAMA: And the values. And there’s an emotional connection, and part of what we have to do to rebuild is to be there and — and that means organizing, that means caring about state parties, it means caring about local races, state boards or school boards and city councils and state legislative races and not thinking that somehow, just a great set of progressive policies that we present to the New York Times editorial board will win the day. And — and part of…
AXELROD: But some of that would fall on us. I mean, I — take you and me because maybe we didn’t spend as much time on that project while you were here. I mean, we’re trying to save the economy and doing these other things.
OBAMA: Well, yeah. No, you know, I mean…
AXELROD: Our campaigns did it, but…
OBAMA: It’s interesting. You and I both, I think, would acknowledge that when we were campaigning, we could connect. Once you got to the White House and you were busy governing, then…
OBAMA: … partly, you’re just constrained by time, right? You are then more subject to the filter. And this is — you know, I brought up Fox News, but it was Rush Limbaugh and the NRA and there are all these mediators who are interpreting what we do, and if we’re not actually out there like we are during campaigns, then folks in — in a lot of these communities, what they’re hearing is Obama wants to take away my guns…
OBAMA: Obamacare’s about transgender bathrooms and not my job, Obama is disrespecting my culture and is primarily concerned with coastal elites and minorities. And so — so part of what I’ve struggled with during my presidency and part of what I think I’ll be thinking a lot about after my presidency is how do we work around all these filters?
And it becomes more complicated now that you’ve got social media, where people are getting news that reinforces their biases and — and separates people out instead of bringing them together. It is going to be a challenge, but look, you look at what we did in rural communities, for example…

Apparently not realizing that the 2016 election (not just for president, but for the House, the Senate, and state offices) was largely a repudiation of him and his presidency, Obama stated presumptuously that he would have been able to defeat Trump and win a third term.

Obama says he will take some time to “be quiet for a while” to “still myself” and “find my center.” Take your time! As much time as you like!

Looking at the bright side, Obama says he is going to dedicate himself to rebuilding the Democratic Party. Given that he’s the one that singlehandedly led it to the brink of catastrophe, this is great news. Sort of like having someone you don’t really like hire the Three Stooges to fix his plumbing.

The 20th Amendment was adopted because a lame duck Hoover administration was unable to respond decisively to the economic crisis that gripped the country in early-1933. The amendment was intended to prevent the government being hamstrung for months in a future crisis occurring during a transition to a new administration. But in retrospect, the real virtue of the 20th is not that it accelerates the ability of an incoming president to deal with crisis: it is that it limits the time that a departing president has to wreak havoc. This is especially important when the departing president is preternaturally vain and narcissistic (even by comparison with other politicians, who are only naturally vain and narcissistic), when he is unconstrained by accepted norms and traditions, and when there is no political cost to be paid for indulging his peeves and pursuing his vendettas. One shudders to think what Obama would have done with an extra six weeks to act with no means of holding him to account.

Cromwell’s parting words to the Rump Parliament are apposite here: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.” Fortunately, the 20th Amendment ensures that Obama will go sooner than he would have without it. And thank God for that.

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  1. The Israel resolution was a gratuitous fuck you to American Jews. Jews heavily supported, with votes and money, Clinton and the repayment is…that? And Kerry through gasoline on those flames. Democrats will be doing damage control for years. I haven’t seen any emails from my synagogue but have to believe there will be kvetching.

    As for the Russia: it’s about solidifying the narrative that Clinton only lost because of outside interference.

    Comment by FTR — December 29, 2016 @ 9:41 pm

  2. @FTR
    I can’t understand the ongoing Jewish support for Obama unless I accept that a significant number of Jews have adopted the whiny self hate of Progressives. It seems as though many of the Jewish financial elite support Globalization to the extent they are routinely opposed to Israel. I am surprised that Mossad hasn’t paid a night time visit to Soros as an example.

    Comment by pahoben — December 30, 2016 @ 4:59 am

  3. […] Professor once again writes the post that I was going to, describing the farce that is becoming the last weeks of Barack Obama’s Presidency.  SWP cites the following three […]

    Pingback by Obama’s Legacy-Chasing | White Sun of the Desert — December 30, 2016 @ 5:11 am

  4. @Professor
    The capacity of the political establishment in DC to dismiss reality is astounding. The Republican establishment is just as desperate as the Dems to scapegoat the election results in any way imaginable no matter how unlikely. Occam’s razor in DC is dulled to the point that it cannot cut jello.

    Comment by pahoben — December 30, 2016 @ 5:26 am

  5. @pahoben:

    Judaism is fairly liberal at anything less than an orthodox interpretation: “you were a stranger in a strange land”, “people of the book”, etc. The perception of the Republican party as anti-immigrant, anti-education doesn’t engender natural support.

    The deal though is that American Jewry might be liberal but it does care about Israel and the Democratic party never tested which was more important, liberalism or support for Israel. Hence why President Obama’s decision is so problematic.

    Comment by FTR — December 30, 2016 @ 10:34 am

  6. Really? Who didn’t know that this guy was a fraud and traitor in 2008? Are so many piglets fooled by the wolf at the door? His skin color was his only resume item in 2008, yet people got leg tingles and even his critics apologized for him. I feel like the kid who said the king has no clothes…what is wrong with you people?
    In May of 2008,obama sent Robert Malleytomeet with terrorist organizations in the ME.When AIPAC got wind of this,they pitched a bitch,and bho ‘withdrew’the trip;AIPAC kissed and made up. And Jews voted 9-1 for bho.
    Now, he has screwed them about as much as he can get away with – for now, at least.
    Early November 2008,just after the election, Malley’s trip was back on. BTW,Malley later became Sr. Director/Czar in charge of ‘countering’ ISIS. Now, really, who believed his role was to ‘counter’ ISIS?
    In October 2012,shortly after the first Charlie Hedbo atrocity, bho spoke at the UN, and said that history does not belong to those who slander Muhammed. Now, ‘not history does not belong to…’ is the vocabulary of Don Corleone, had he been a capo with a women’studies degree. Nevertheless, people were ‘surprised’ when bho didn’t march in Paris after the second Charlie Hedbo atrocity. What????
    Now, people are surprised at this anti-Israel action? This is almost 2017. Who is so naive, and unread?
    This threat to this country still sits in the White House, and can still wreak havoc beyond repair.
    He has the pardons to inflict on us. Some of the folks I fear he will pardon include the Blind Sheik, traitor Bergdahl, cop-killer Mumia, all the Gitmo detainees, Terry Bean, hundreds of reprehensible drug lords and killers, and other domestic terrorists and social weasels. I know I didn’t think of them all, perhaps you can think of a few more.

    [Israel may get one more insult from Hussein the Manchurian, I don’t know what it is but Bill Ayers may whisper it into his big ear soon. That will be his latest FU until he gets that U.N. post and causes more damage from there.]
    The above quote in [] is from a post I made elsewhere some time ago, in apoplectic reaction to the naive analysis of bho actions. And now,look what happened.
    These aren’t mistakes he is making,or fits of pique he might regret. This is part of his plan,and has been his MO since the beginning
    Traitor commit treason. It is what traitors do.

    Comment by Richard Whitney — December 30, 2016 @ 9:51 pm

  7. It will be very interesting how the UN turns out considering his US birth certificate. He wasn’t sufficiently successful with Globalization to become some sort of Global president so may need to adjust his carrer plans.

    Funny the only career objectives left in much of the country for high school students is-Proprietor of a Meth Lab while the US president’s career objective is to be President of the World. There is a connection.

    Comment by pahoben — January 2, 2017 @ 5:40 am

  8. Has the US intelligence community effectively become Department of Agitprop for Progressives.

    Progressives/White House needs some BS, intelligence provides the requested BS.

    Comment by pahoben — January 4, 2017 @ 2:30 am

  9. The part that rankles me the most is that all of these claims trivialize the vote against Hillary. The poor fools were conned by the FBI, the poor fools were conned by Putin, the poor fools were conned by fake news. It doesn’t bode well for the future.

    Comment by pahoben — January 4, 2017 @ 9:35 am

  10. @pahoben-The intelligence community in the US–esp. the CIA–has deep roots in the Ivy League, with all of the progressive baggage that comes along with that. As an epitome of big government, moreover, it is predisposed to favor the party and ideology of big government.

    There are two problems. The first is when–as we are seeing now–the intelligence community is the handmaiden of progressives in power. The second is when it intervenes in the political process (mainly through leaks) to advance its own agendas.

    There is actually a third problem, in addition to its involvement in things that are not its job. That is that it is often very bad at the things that are its job.

    It really needs a thorough shaking, but that’s far easier said than done. I have no doubt that the Trump administration will be at constant war with the CIA in particular (because it is the most politicized part of the IC).

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 4, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

  11. @pahoben-If it wasn’t the Russians and the FBI and “fake news”, they would have come up with something. It is imperative for them to have an excuse for their shocking loss, and to de-legimitmize Trump.

    This is why I compared it to the Ludendorff “stab in the back” myth. And as you say, like that myth, it poisons politics and bodes very ill for the future.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 4, 2017 @ 1:52 pm

  12. Looks like Obama isn’t done yet. There is supposed to be another 50 page report that will be released by the CIA on Friday. The 20th amendment should be amended to move to date to Jan 3rd!

    Comment by Surya — January 4, 2017 @ 8:15 pm

  13. “@pahoben-If it wasn’t the Russians and the FBI and “fake news”, they would have come up with something. It is imperative for them to have an excuse for their shocking loss, and to de-legimitmize Trump.

    This is why I compared it to the Ludendorff “stab in the back” myth. And as you say, like that myth, it poisons politics and bodes very ill for the future.”

    That’s a powerful insight. It would be interesting to know the psychology behind this sort of behaviour.

    Comment by Ex-Regulator on Lunch Break — January 5, 2017 @ 3:20 pm

  14. @Thanks, @Ex-Regulator. I think the psychology is pretty straight forward. People generally, and people in power in particular, hate to be held responsible for colossal errors or failures. They will seize on any explanation that casts the blame elsewhere. That motive is strengthened here because these people want to undermine Trump, just like Ludendorff wanted to undermine the parties that ended the war and blamed him.

    One interesting angle here. Note that earlier Hillary and the Democrats had been blaming the FBI, and Comey in particular. They have dropped that, and now focus on the Russians. That is oh so convenient for the FBI, and makes it highly desirable for the FBI to advance the “Putin did it” narrative.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 6, 2017 @ 5:29 pm

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