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“A Party In Search Of A Message On ISIS”: Republican Presidential Candidates And Their Magical Unicorns

Likely Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump appeared on Fox News last night and  boasted he knows exactly what to do to “defeat ISIS very quickly.” He quickly added, however, “I’m not going to tell what you it is.”

When host Greta Van Susteren suggested he should share his secret plan, Trump replied, “If I run, and if I win, I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing.” He added, however, that there really is “a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory.”

He just doesn’t want to tell anyone what this method is.

It’s obviously easy to laugh at buffoonery, but there’s a larger significance to exchanges like these: Republican presidential candidates are eager to talk about ISIS and U.S. foreign policy in the region. They’re just not sure what to say.

On msnbc yesterday morning, for example,Joe Scarborough asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about the ISIS threat. The Republican senator has apparently come up with a plan:

“You know, I think the ultimate answer is getting Arab coalitions and boots on the ground that will stop them. You need Turks fighting. The Turks need to have their army up on the board and they need to fight. […]

“I would recognize the Kurds, I would give them weapons, I would take all the weapons in Iran and Afghanistan and give them to the Kurds. But I would do simultaneously is, I would get a peace treaty between the Kurds and the Turks and I would say, ‘Look,’ the Kurds, ‘you’ve got to give up any pretensions to any territory in Turkey. Turkey, let’s go ahead and get along and together wipe out ISIS.”

He neglected to mention his intention to rely on magical unicorns to help establish peace throughout the land.

I mean, really. Paul is going to defeat ISIS, right after establishing peace between the Kurds and the Turks? Does he realize they don’t quite see eye to eye? There’s some history there? As a rule, telling a country like Turkey, “Let’s go ahead and get along” – because Rand Paul says so – isn’t a sure-fire plan for a diplomatic solution.

But this goes beyond Paul and Trump.

One of my favorite examples of the problem came up in February, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) insisted the United States must “aggressively … take the fight to ISIS” and demonstrate that “we’re willing to take appropriate action” against terrorist targets. When ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked Walker, “You don’t think 2,000 air strikes is taking it to ISIS in Syria and Iraq?” the governor had no idea how to respond.

The New York Times added last week on the familiar dynamic:

Based on recent interviews with several declared and likely candidates, as well as their foreign policy speeches and off-the-cuff remarks, a picture emerges of a Republican field that sounds both hawkish and hesitant about fighting the Islamic State – especially before its warriors find ways to bring the fight to American soil, a threat that Mr. Bush, Mr. Walker and Mr. Graham foresee. […]

Yet most of the Republicans are also reluctant and even evasive when it comes to laying out detailed plans, preferring instead to criticize Mr. Obama’s war strategy.

Yes, that’s where they excel. President Obama has launched thousands of airstrikes against ISIS target, and he’s helped assemble an international coalition, but Republicans are absolutely certain that the White House’s approach is wholly inadequate.

If elected, they would instead pursue a totally different policy, consisting of … well, that’s where things get a little hazy. The Guardian’s Trevor Timm added this week:

The vague, bulls****-y statements made by Republican candidates would be hilarious if it wasn’t possible that they’ll lead to more American soldiers dying in the coming years. “Restrain them, tighten the noose, and then taking them out is the strategy” is Jeb Bush’s hot take on Isis. Thanks, Jeb – I can’t believe the Obama administration hasn’t thought of that!

Marco Rubio’s “solution” is even more embarrassing: according to The Times, he responded to a question about what he would do differently – and this is real – by quoting from the movie Taken: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

Yep, that was dumb, though I suppose it’s marginally better than last night’s Trump special: “I’m not going to tell what you it is.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 28, 2015

May 29, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, ISIS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mike Huckabee’s Confused Morality”: White Privilege And The Limits Of Public Forgiveness

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks in Iowa in April. The GOP presidential candidate was quick to voice his support for Josh Duggar, who this past week admitted to having molested children while a teenager.

In America, public forgiveness is largely dependent on race. In the weeks after Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, pundits and media outlets were quick to jump on a robbery Brown allegedly committed minutes before being fatally shot. Among them was 2016 hopeful Mike Huckabee, who told NewsMax TV, “It’s a horrible thing that he was killed, but he could have avoided that if he’d have behaved like something other than a thug.” For Huckabee, (alleged) theft was grounds for death.

That is, if you look a certain way. Contrast these statements with Huckabee’s recent defense of reality TV regular Josh Duggar, who admitted last week to having molested young girls as a teenager in 2002 and 2003. The 27-year-old son of Jim Bob and Michelle, Josh Duggar is a star of the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting, and was executive director of the Family Research Council—a right-wing organization that prides itself on family values—until last week after news of his crimes went public. TLC quickly pulled episodes from their line-up.

After the story broke, Huckabee wasted no time. “Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family,” he posted to Facebook less than a day after Duggar went public. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things.”

Huckabee’s sentiment was echoed by Duggar’s parents and wife, who together released a statement on Facebook on May 21. The word “teen” was used four times and “mistake” was used three. Not long after, fans of 19 Kids and Counting went to the Duggar family Facebook page to voice their support for the admitted sexual abuser. But the statement of support from Huckabee, who has been close with the Duggars since they endorsed and campaigned for his 2008 presidential bid, was the strongest. Sexual abuse may be a crime, yet for a straight, white, Christian man, it seems sympathy has no bounds.

And if you fall outside of these categories, forgiveness only goes so far. From Ferguson to Baltimore to Sanford, Florida, when victims of police violence make headlines, major media scurry to dig up the often petty mistakes of their past. How many times was Trayvon Martin called a “thug”? Before his family could even bury his body, The New York Times declared that Michael Brown was “no angel.” Even 12-year-old Tamir Rice was smeared for having an abusive father. For daring to be black and exist, their names were tarnished by white America, even in death. 

But if as a teenager you molested children, even presidential candidates will give you a pass—at least, if you’re white and male.

And, it seems, even if your crimes include a cover-up. According to the police report, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar knew their son had committed these crimes. They met with church members and sent Duggar off to help a friend remodel homes—their version of counseling. They believed that this was the help their family needed. Who knows what kind of help the victims were offered—stories like these are tragic and my heart aches for the victims, who will hopefully receive any help that they want or need. For Duggar’s part, aside from his career, he’s pretty much off the hook: Arkansas law mandates child sexual abuse charges be filed within three years (Duggar’s crimes were committed in his home state of Arkansas). With charges never filed, Duggar will face no prosecution.

Of course the same is not true for millions of black Americans, who routinely face prosecution, violence, and even death at the hands of police for often minor or nonexistent crimes. Adding to this confused morality, in January, Huckabee criticized Barack and Michelle Obama for letting their teenage daughters listen to pop juggernaut Beyoncé, calling her music mental poison. If you are keeping score, listening to Beyoncé: bad parenting. Sexual abuse: forgivable.

When you’re straight, white, Christian, and male, even horrific crimes can be forgiven. When you’re a black teenager who has been accused of shoplifting, you’re a thug—your life has no value. White privilege is being a sexual abuser and finding more support than a 12-year-old shot by police while playing in a park.

 

By: Nathalie Baptiste, The American Prospect, May 28, 2015

May 29, 2015 Posted by | Josh Duggar, Mike Huckabee, Sexual Asault | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Calling Them Out”: Rand Paul Is Pushing The GOP To Confront Its Terrorism Problem. Too Bad The Other 2016 Candidates Won’t Listen

Any time there’s a genuine difference of opinion concerning a policy issue within a presidential primary it’s worthy of note, even if there’s only one candidate standing apart from the others. Rand Paul may be the one you’d expect would dissent from his peers when it comes to foreign policy, but he nevertheless surprised many when he said on Wednesday that it was his own party that bore responsibility for the rise of ISIS.

When asked on Morning Joe how he’d respond to attacks from foreign policy hawks like Lindsey Graham, Paul responded, “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of these arms were snatched up by ISIS.” He even tied his Republican colleagues to the despised Hillary Clinton: “ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya, they just wanted more of it.”

Whatever you think of the particulars of Paul’s analysis, his charges probably aren’t going to go over too well in a party where the consensus is that everything in Iraq was going swimmingly until Barack Obama came in and mucked it all up. Jeb Bush spoke for the other candidates when he recently said, “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.” As it happens, neither of those assertions is even remotely true. But the fact that Paul is making the claims he is means Republicans might have to grapple with the substance of an alternative perspective on ISIS in particular and terrorism in general.

The prevailing view among Republicans is that the most important thing when confronting terrorism is, as with all foreign policy questions, strength. If you are strong, any problem can be solved. Likewise, all failures come from weakness. Barack Obama fails because he is weak (and also because he hates America, but that’s another story).

Rand Paul, even in his unsophisticated way, is saying something fundamentally different: Strength not only isn’t enough, sometimes it can make things worse. Seemingly alone among the Republican candidates, he realizes that there’s such a thing as unintended consequences. You can have all the strength in the world — as, for all intents and purposes, the U.S. military does — and still find events not working out the way you want.

One might think that the experience of the last decade and a half would have taught us all that. In justifying their support for the Iraq War, Republicans will often say that “the world is better off without Saddam Hussein,” as though it were self-evident that conditions improve once you remove a brutal dictator. But it’s not at all clear that that’s true — Saddam is gone, but a couple hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed, a corrupt sectarian government in Baghdad allowed ISIS to take hold, Iran’s strength in the region was enhanced — all things that the architects of the Iraq War either didn’t consider or thought wouldn’t happen.

ISIS itself offers a demonstration of a common unintended consequence terrorism analysts have been talking about for a while, which is that a strategy aimed at decapitating terrorist groups can actually produce more violence. When one leader is killed, his successor feels the need to prove his mettle by expanding the group’s ambitions and increasing its level of brutality. ISIS started out as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; after Zarqawi was killed by an American airstrike, an action hailed at the time as a great victory, the group not only didn’t disappear, it evolved into the ISIS we see today.

Yet to hear most of the Republicans tell it, all we need to solve the problem is strength. They quote action heroes as though there might be some genuine insight from Hollywood B-movies on how to combat terrorism. “Have you seen the movie Taken?” says Marco Rubio. “Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: ‘We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.'” Or Rick Santorum: “They want to bring back a 7th-century version of jihad. So here’s my suggestion: We load up our bombers, and we bomb them back to the 7th century.” So strong.

Yet when it comes time to say what specifically they would do about ISIS or Syria if they were to become president, the candidates grow suddenly vague. It’s almost as though, the tough talk notwithstanding, they know that getting into too much detail about the policy challenge will inevitably force them to confront the possibility that saying they’ll be strong doesn’t quite answer the question.

Perhaps on a debate stage a few months from now, Rand Paul will manage to get his opponents to address that possibility. Or maybe they’ll be able to just give a look of steely resolve, quote a movie they saw, get an ovation from the crowd, and move on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Week, May 28, 2015

May 29, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shocking Sloppiness Won’t Doom The Health Reforms”: Republican Politicians Will Have A Lot Of Angry People On Their Hands

How many politicians, aides, lobbyists, lawyers, insurance moguls, professional groups, and interns — both the political and medical kind — agonized over the details in the Affordable Care Act? The number is big.

But despite thousands of hands in the kitchen, the final product included four words that cast doubt on a cornerstone of the reforms — subsidies for those buying coverage on federal health insurance exchanges. Unbelievable.

Diehard foes of the reforms have weaponized those words as a means to kill the law. They argue in the Supreme Court case King v. Burwell that specifically offering subsidies for plans bought on exchanges “established by the state” means no help for those going to federal exchanges.

Since the program started, low- and middle-income Americans have been receiving tax credits for coverage on both types of exchanges. Almost everyone assumes that’s how it’s supposed to be.Take away subsidies for federal exchanges and only the sickly will join it. The economic structure underpinning guaranteed coverage will collapse as premiums charged for plans on federal exchanges soar and the healthy stay away in droves.

The plaintiffs, though they come from the right, are doing their Republican colleagues no favors. You see, when the Affordable Care Act created federal exchanges in states that had not set up their own, leaders in Republican-controlled states could noisily defy President Obama while taking few political risks. They could refuse to set up state exchanges knowing that their constituents would enjoy subsidized coverage on the federal exchanges.

Lose those subsidies and Republican politicians are going to have a lot of angry people on their hands. Some 7.5 million Americans receive subsidies on federal exchanges.

Hypocrisy now crashes over the Republicans’ wall of opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Politicians are currently rewriting the story of their obstruction of a law that they dread could come apart.

An exasperating example is Olympia Snowe, a former senator from Maine who fancies herself a moderate Republican. During the battle for the bill’s passage, she strung Obama along for months, pretending that she might provide him at least one Republican vote. (Why Obama indulged these stalling tactics… perhaps his memoirs will tell.)

Anyway, Snowe recently commented that the little words at the heart of the Supreme Court case were unintended. “Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies?” she said. “It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange.”

So why did she vote against the bill? She also railed against “Obamacare” as a “government-run health care system,” not that this was the case. Until Snowe left the Senate in 2013, she worked with her party to undercut the reforms.

But get this: At the time of the bill’s writing, Snowe proposed letting Americans buy cheaper drugs from Canada. It was OK, apparently, for a foreign government to help struggling Mainers obtain health care, but not OK for their own to do so.

One expects the health reforms to survive this latest assault. The best outcome would be the Supreme Court’s confirming that the words were a mistake and that yes, subsidies for the federal health exchange are legal.

If the court says no, politicians in states relying on federal exchanges could swing into action and set up some form of state exchange. And the Obama administration would probably make it easy for them.

The bipartisan takeaway here is the appalling state of American governance. We now hear from all sides that omission of subsidies for the federal exchanges was “sloppy,” “careless,” “inadvertent,” “a drafting error.” Actually, it was inexcusable.

But let’s move on.

 

By: Froma Harrop, Featured Post, The National Memo, May 28, 2015

 

 

 

May 29, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Exchanges, King v Burwell | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Tax Rates That Don’t Cause Bernie Sanders To ‘Flinch'”: About As Radical As Republican Plans To Slash Taxes On The Wealthy

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is many things, but subtle isn’t one of them. Take a look at these comments the Democratic presidential candidate made to CNBC about higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

“These people are so greedy, they’re so out of touch with reality,” he said. “They think they own the world…. I’m sorry to have to tell them, they live in the United States, they benefit from the United States, we have kids who are hungry in this country. We have people who are working two, three, four jobs, who can’t send their kids to college.

“Sorry, you’re all going to have to pay your fair share of taxes,” he asserted. “If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent.”

That last part is true, by the way. In the 1950s, when Republicans were far more interested in deficit reduction than tax breaks, Eisenhower was committed to helping pay off World War II-era debts. He kept Roosevelt’s 90% top marginal rate in place, and the post-war economy boomed anyway. (It wasn’t until JFK in 1961 that Washington approved a “peace dividend,” and even then, some Republicans of the era balked, still preferring to focus on the debt, not tax breaks.)

But Sanders’ support for similar rates is so far from mainstream norms that his comments strike much of the political world as somehow bizarre. The New York Times noted with incredulity that the Vermont senator “doesn’t flinch over returning to the 90 percent personal income tax rates of the 1950s for top earners.”

Over at Salon, it led Simon Maloy to raise a good point: “We’ve become so accustomed to historically low rates of taxation for the wealthy that when someone like Sanders comes along and says the rich can and should pay a far higher rate, people assume he’s out to lunch.”

The flip side to the dynamic is that while reporters and pundits raise their eyebrows at the notion of dramatically increasing the tax burden on the wealthy, absurd and irresponsible tax cuts for top earners are now just assumed to be a given when it comes to Republican policymaking. Several current Republican candidates for the presidency have laid out plans that would eliminate capital gains taxes and the estate tax while cutting the top income tax rate. […]

The thrust of GOP policymaking is to redirect an even greater share of the nation’s wealth to the already engorged few sitting at the top of the income ladder. Sanders is proposing instead that we funnel some of that wealth away from the rich and toward the middle class. And while we’re supposed to “flinch” at a high rate of taxation for income, a zero percent rate on investments is taken in stride.

I think that’s right. Sanders’ position is clearly far from the traditional menu of tax-policy options, so far that he practically sounds like a visitor from another country (if not another planet). We’re accustomed to hearing national figures talk about raising taxes on the rich a little; we’re not accustomed to hearing them talk about raising taxes on the rich a lot.

But what Sanders is proposing is about as radical as Republican plans to slash taxes on the wealthy by hundreds of billions of dollars. It just seems more extreme because our expectations have begun to adapt to a ridiculous GOP wish list that we’re confronted with all the time.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 28, 2015

May 29, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Marginal Tax Rates, Tax Rates | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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