Cartel Buster

Obama empowers law-enforcement agencies to go after Mexican drug syndicates and their stateside enablers.

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President Obama empowers those fighting the Mexican drug cartels but takes the hit for a National Security Agency that got a little too empowered. Obama scores a 26 on the Change-o-Meter.

On the same day he begins his Latin American tour, Obama is stepping up American efforts against Mexican drug cartels in an effort to curb the increasingly violent drug war south of the border. By adding the cartels to a federal bad-guy list, Obama expands the government’s power to seize cartels’ assets and to prosecute U.S. companies that traffic in drugs and weapons or that launder money. It may not be the highly coordinated police effort Slate’s Jorge Castaneda insists is vital to any serious effort to temper cartel violence, but Obama gets 30 points for beginning to treat border violence with the urgency it requires.

Back home, Obama fleshed out his vision for high-speed rail projects, for which the stimulus package budgeted more than $8 billion. His speech blended the specifics of his ambitions with pure, childlike wonder at the prospect of really fast trains: “Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination,” he said this morning. The ‘Meter awards 10 points for the president’s kid-with-a-new-Brio-set enthusiasm.

But Obama takes a hit for the New York Times’ discovery that the National Security Agency has spent the last few months collecting e-mail and telephone calls from private citizens far beyond its already-broad legal scope. Obama’s Justice Department said the issue had been resolved, but the fact that the Obama team worked on the issue under the radar is highly unsettling. (The Senate agrees, promising an inquiry.) Subtract 15 for the Bush déjà vu, with more to come if this turns out to be less accidental than the administration claims.

Finally, Obama gets a point for his continued popularity, which is looking particularly high in contrast with the nation’s tea parties. The president owes a certain MSNBC commentator for rendering impotent and hilarious the tea-baggers’ efforts at protesting.

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