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“The GOP Candidates Are Pledging To Undo The Iran Nuclear Deal; Don’t Buy It”: Get’s Us Nothing, And Potentially Costs Us A Great Deal

Republicans have spent much of the last six years shaking their fists in impotent protest against the things that Barack Obama has done. That’s the way it is when you’re out of power: There are only so many tools at your disposal to undo what the president does, even if you control Congress. This dynamic also explains some of the restiveness in the Republican electorate, since their leaders have been telling them of all the ways they’ll fight Obama (like repealing the Affordable Care Act), only to be stifled at every turn.

And now it looks like they’re going to fail to stop the deal the United States and five other world powers negotiated with Iran to restrain its nuclear program. Since the agreement isn’t a treaty, it doesn’t require ratification; instead, Congress can try to pass a resolution to stop it, which President Obama would veto. A veto override would require two-thirds of the members of both chambers of Congress, and the deal’s opponents aren’t going to get that.

While there are still a few Democratic senators who have not made their positions known, the last few days have seen one after another come out in favor of the deal (with the exception of New Jersey’s Bob Menendez, to no one’s surprise). Republicans need 13 senators to join them in opposition to the deal, and so far they have only two. As of this writing, there are 13 Democrats who have yet to announce their position; unless 11 of them come out in opposition — which seems all but impossible — the deal will have enough supporters to stop a veto override. Furthermore, such an override would probably fail in the House anyway.

So what will happen then? When all the votes are cast and the deal’s critics come up short, the Republicans running for president will rush to the microphones to repeat what they’ve already said: that this is the worst deal in diplomatic history, that Barack Obama is Neville Chamberlain, that Israel is all but already consumed in a fiery nuclear blast, etc.

If there’s been any disagreement between the candidates, it’s only in how fast they want to tear up the deal. For instance, Scott Walker says he’d do it on “day one” of his presidency, and even suggested he might launch a military strike on Iran to boot. Marco Rubio has said something similar, that he would “quickly reimpose sanctions,” which means tossing out the deal. Jeb Bush suggested that he’d at least hire his cabinet and check in with allies before figuring out what to do next, which is what passes for thoughtfulness in GOP circles these days.

What none of them have grappled with is what happens afterward. It’s possible that the other signatories to the agreement, including Germany, China, and Russia, will say that whatever President Trump thinks, they’ll hold up their end. If Iran agrees, then it might be subject to renewed U.S. sanctions, but the reason the current sanctions regime has been so effective is that the U.N. and so many other nations have participated in cutting Iran out of the world economy; sanctions by the U.S. alone would not have nearly the same impact.

On the other hand, if the agreement falls apart when we pull out — which is what Republicans would obviously prefer — then we return to the status quo, with Iran free to pursue nuclear weapons if it wishes without any inspections at all.

If the past is any indication, I don’t expect Republicans to find the time to discuss what would actually happen if they got their wish, since they’ll be too busy throwing Munich analogies around. But let’s assume that the deal doesn’t get shot down in Congress, and it begins to take effect. A year from now, what will the GOP nominee say about the deal? What if it seems to be working — the sanctions have begun to be unwound, inspections are proceeding, and there’s no indication yet that Iran is secretly trying to create nuclear weapons. What then? Will that nominee say, “I don’t care if it looks like it’s working, Bibi Netanyahu once showed me a picture of a cartoon bomb, so I’m still going to walk away from this agreement”?

Maybe. But the truth is that the next president abandoning this agreement has about as much likelihood of happening as Donald Trump’s plan to convince Mexico to pay for a 2000-mile wall between our two countries. It’s the kind of thing a candidate says when he wants to sound tough, but it’s not the kind of thing a president — even if it’s one of these guys — actually does. It would get us virtually nothing, and potentially cost us a great deal.

Think about that when you see the candidates shouting at the cameras after Congress fails to stop the agreement, pledging to do their utmost to destroy it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 21, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Harrowing Lives Of Christians In The Middle East”: When All Is Said And Done, They Have Only Their Faith

Witnessing sectarian turmoil in the Middle East, and observing the back and forth over which threat is most existential to countries in that religiously sensitive region, a soft voice asks: “Don’t Christian lives matter, too?” Depends upon how it’s expressed.

This weekend, the Episcopal Church and other Christian denominations will celebrate the Feast of Saint Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ, and the Catholic Church will recognize Mary’s assumption into heaven.

Words

● An Aug. 11 article by The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth, featured Aviya Morris, a 20-year-old West Bank settler, described as “the fresh new face of Jewish extremism.”

According to the article, “in 2013 [Morris] was arrested on suspicion of involvement in vandalizing Jerusalem’s Monastery of the Cross, where assailants left behind the spray-painted message ‘Jesus — son of a whore’ on a wall.”

Morris, The Post reported, was released without being charged.

● An Aug. 10 Anti-Defamation League news release expressed outrage at remarks made by Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein, director of Lehava, which the ADL called “a far-right extremist organization in Israel.” According to the release, Gopstein reportedly said he favored the burning of churches and compared Christianity to idol worship.

The remarks were made, the ADL said, during a symposium on Jewish religious law on Aug. 4 in Jerusalem, when Gopstein was asked: “Are you in favor of burning [churches] or not?” He replied: “Of course I am! It’s Maimonides. It’s a simple yes. What’s the question?”

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, said in the release, “Rabbi Gopstein’s views have no place within the Jewish tradition or in a democratic society,” and Greenblatt called for an apology.

● A June 18 ADL news release condemned a suspected religiously motivated hate crime against the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

The ADL said the 1,500-year-old church was set on fire early in the morning, damaging the prayer room and outer areas of the church: “Graffiti reading ‘False idols will be smashed’ — a line from Jewish prayer — was spray-painted on one of the walls.”

“We deplore this despicable hate crime against one of the holiest Christian sites in Israel,” said then-ADL leader Abraham H. Foxman in the release. Foxman also noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had condemned the attack and promised to prosecute the perpetrators.

Until those words describing anti-Christian hostility appeared in The Post and the ADL releases, I had never heard of Morris or Gopstein. They were made prominent by the publications. There is no indication that more than a small minority of Israelis shares such hatred. But it does exist, at least among a few, in the region where Christianity was born, and it finds expression in venom-filled words and desecrated churches.

Deeds

Christians beyond Israel are far worse off.

You wouldn’t know that is the case, however, from the attention that Middle Eastern Christians receive.

Followers of Christ in Iraq, quiet as it has been kept, have borne a large brunt of the pain resulting from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Before 2003, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. Today, because of killings and panicked flights from terror, that number is below 500,000.

The Islamic State’s calling card to Christians in Syria and Iraq: Convert to Islam or pay with your life. Recall the scenes on the Libyan beaches where Ethiopian and Egyptian Christians were beheaded.

“We’re certainly looking at the potential end of Christianity in the Middle East if no one does anything to protect these ancient communities that are dwindling now,” said Eliza Griswold, author of a recent New York Times Magazine article about the dire straits of Christians in Iraq and Syria.

But the international dueling over the Iran nuclear deal, sectarian turmoil and Israel’s response to foreign threats overshadow the plight of Christians.

Middle Eastern Christians have no army of their own, no government that represents them in world capitals, no voice in international parleys that have a bearing on their fate. They are vulnerable; their plight is slighted by Western powers fearful, as Griswold wrote, of “appearing to play into the crusader and ‘clash of civilizations’ narratives the West is accused of embracing.”

When all’s said and done, Christians in the Middle East have only their faith.

But they know, as do the Christians who will pay tribute to Jesus’s mother — a saint, not a whore — this weekend, that earthly powers don’t have the last word, that a cup of strength lies within their grasp, and that though they suffer, they, as Christians, actually matter to the one who matters to them most of all.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 14, 2015

August 17, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Middle East, Religious Extremists | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Unbearable Nuttiness Of Mike Huckabee”: A Hard-Shell Baptist Ordained Minister Dog-In-The-Manger-At-Bethlehem Christian

“Playing the Hitler card” is an infallible sign that a politician has run out of intelligent, substantive and plausible ways to criticize an opponent. This would be amusing (Mel Brooks made Hitler amusing), except “playing the Hitler card” is also an infallible sign that a politician has run out of amusing ways to criticize an opponent.

So goodbye to you, Mike Huckabee.

Claiming that the President of the United States “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven” is not a cogent critique of the Iran nuclear deal, however bad the deal is. Nor is it an insightful thing to say about the administration that made the bad deal.

And, Mike, it is not a Christian thing to say about Barack Obama.

I’m a Christian too. Maybe I’m not a hard-shell Baptist ordained minister dog-in-the-manger-at-Bethlehem Christian like you are. But I think you could use a refresher course in Christianity.

“Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council,” said our Lord. “Raca” and “council” are Aramaic for “playing the Hitler card” and “New Hampshire primary.”

And it’s not just your “march them to the oven” comment that makes me think you need a come-to-Jesus moment.

I believe the Bible is the word of God. And you believe in creationism. “God created man in his own image,” says Genesis.

Mike, look in the mirror. This is obviously God’s way of telling you to lay off the biblical literalism.

You’re a smart man. You graduated magna cum laude from Ouachia Baptist University. which has a “Department of Worship Arts.” So, Mike, you know about God. Do you think God is smarter than we are?

I’m a god to my dog. When I say to my dog, “It shall be an abomination unto you to run into the street chasing a squirrel,” what does my dog hear? “Squirrel!

Maybe you should consult I Samuel, verses 1 through 4. “…the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David… Then Jonathan and David made a covenant… And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him…” And here you are trying to get in between them.

Mike, you’re against gay marriage and gay adoption. Once people get married and have kids they don’t have the energy for any kind of sex. And then, pollsters tell us, they become Republicans.

Having you trying to convince people to vote for the GOP is like having Mahatma Gandhi on U. S. Marine Corps recruiting posters.

You call for “civil disobedience” to halt gay marriage. And you compare this to the actions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Mahatma and MLK would walk down the street in assless chaps at the Gay Pride parade before they’d join you in a sit-in.

And you don’t like immigrants coming to America and making money. When people come to America and make money, what do they become? Again, Republicans.

You want 10 million illegal immigrants to return to their countries of origin within 120 days. Otherwise they’ll be banned from coming to America, where they already are.

Lights on in your head, Mike.

You say displaying the Confederate battle flag is “not an issue” for a presidential candidate. Not an issue, if you don’t want any black person to ever vote Republican in this dimension of the universe. You’ll have Clarence Thomas putting up Bernie Sanders yard signs if you don’t stop talking smack.

Mike, my Republican friends would rather hoist the Jolly Roger than fly the rebel flag like a bunch of cement-head biker trash with Nazi face tattoos.

To what political party do you think Abraham Lincoln belonged? We won the Civil War.

And my Republican friends aren’t worried about LGBT rights or undocumented aliens. Who do you think decorates Republicans’ houses? The guys from the Moose Lodge? And who mows Republicans’ lawns? Lincoln Chafee?

You’re nuts, Mike. You were on John McCain’s short list for running mates and he picked Sarah Palin for her comparative sanity.

Furthermore, Mike, as a hard-shell Baptist, you are accused of tea-totaling until proven innocent. I don’t want any damn sweet tea in my stemware when you invite me to a State Dinner at the White House. And you may have to. I’m the only inside-the-beltway type who’d come.

Because you wrote a book called, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. It’s a great title and—between saying Grace, the Glock I’m cleaning, and the bacon, sausage and scrapple—that’s pretty much what was on my breakfast table this morning.

“Marriage as an institution is not so much threatened by same-sex couples as it is by heterosexuals’ increasing indifference to it.” That’s you in your book. Maybe you should re-read GGG&G as well as the Bible.

Mike, you think God is involved in politics. Observe politics in America. Observe politics around the world. Observe politics down through history. Does it look like God is involved? No. That would be the “Other Fellow” who’s the political activist.

I suppose your candidacy won’t disappear immediately—not until the Holy Rolly Pollys, amen snorters, snake handlers and flat-earthers have met at their Iowa caucus tent revivals and born witness to your divinely inspired campaign.

Then, however, as is foretold in Revelation, you will look around at the field of other candidates and realize that “without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters” and go back to Fox News and AM talk radio.

But even there you aren’t the “In-the-beginning-there-was-the-Word” that you once were. Mike, national opinion is flowing so fast against your brand of conservatism that you look—even to God-fearing Republicans—like a man trying to row up Class 5 rapids on a standing paddleboard.

Yes, you have your base. There are the no-account redneck gospel-grinding, pulpit-hugging evangel-hicks who think that the answer to every question including “What to wear to the prom?” is found in Leviticus, Chapters 17 to 26, in English like God spoke to Moses.

But, as I said, it’s the “Other Fellow” who’s involved in politics. And he’s helping you reap what you’ve sown, which is, in the case of your ridiculing Obama, a bunch of dried up old “corn” stalks.

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble.

— Malachi 4:1

 

By: P. J. O’Rourke, The Daily Beast, August 1, 2015

August 2, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Christians, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Stench Of Death”: No White House For You, Rand Paul

All happy campaigns are alike, but each unhappy campaign is unhappy in its own way. Those unique experiences of campaign failure provide some of the best entertainment of the long and arduous journey, and the pain is compounded by the observed scientific reality that a political corpse is capable of continuing to trudge forward well after its viability has expired. We begin our study of failure with Rand Paul.

Many failed campaigns are doomed attempts to rise above obscurity. Paul actually began his in a blaze of grandeur. Time put him on its cover and called him “The Most Interesting Man in Politics.” Such disparate pundits as the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza, NBC’s Chuck Todd, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, and former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele tabbed Paul as not merely a possible nominee but the early front-runner. Paul seemed to combine two opposing traits: He inflamed the passions of tea-party activists, but also had a plausible-sounding blueprint for expanding his party’s general election appeal.

It has not worked out. Paul finds himself languishing in every metric of campaign success: polls, fund-raising, insider support, media attention. Two pre-postmortems today convey the stench of death that clings to Paul’s once-buoyant presidential hopes.

Alex Isenstadt has the most comprehensive autopsy of the things that have gone wrong for Rand Paul 2016. His campaign manager resents his chief strategist. Paul, incredibly, turned down a chance to attend a retreat with the Koch Brothers, who are kind of a big deal in the Republican Party. Staff morale is abysmal. The candidate hates fund-raising. Donald Trump has overshadowed him. Paul has “peppered aides with demands for more time off from campaigning, and once chose to go on a spring-break jaunt rather than woo a powerful donor.” And the campaign has retained the services of an utterly terrifying figure:

The senator was mingling with the crowd while John Baeza, a 280-pound retired NYPD detective and Paul family loyalist, stood behind him and provided security. [Campaign manager Chip] Englander barged over, convinced that the ex-cop was getting in the way of supporters eager to snap pictures with the senator.

“What the fuck, Baeza?” Englander said, grabbing his shoulder. “Why are you always getting in our fucking shot?”

“Don’t ever put your hands on me again,” the bodyguard fired back.

David Weigel and Ben Terris report the campaign’s explanations for its lack of success, which Paul and his minions gamely present as a shrewd long-term plan. Is it bad that Paul has fallen out of the public debate? No, no: “they insist there is minimal downside to being out of the media glare six months before the Iowa caucuses.” Paul, they report, has skipped two Citizens United “freedom summits” and the RedState Gathering. But that’s okay, Paul says, because, “The message of his state supporters is the message from the campaign: Anyone doing more than Paul is probably phoning it in at his real job.” If there’s one thing voters will reward, it’s a sterling record of Senatorial vote-attendance.

Paul is presenting his failure to attract attention as a reflection not of his love for spring break but rather a principled aversion to campaign high jinks. The candidate recently offered, with a touch of pathos, that he would not set himself on fire to compete with Donald Trump — but he’s not above cheeseball antics like setting the tax code on fire.

Perhaps Paul’s problem is that he started off setting things on fire, and, since his election in 2010, has spent his half-decade in office tamping down the flames to make himself acceptable to the party Establishment. Paul’s highest priority has been rendering himself acceptable to the Republican elite, by trimming his positions on issues like Israel and defense spending. Instead of bringing together activists and the Establishment, he has failed to reassure the latter, and bored the former. Paul has no principled aversion to facilitating the influence of the very rich over the political system. He’s just lazy and bad at it.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 29, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | Establishment Republicans, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Any Fool Can Start A War With Iran”: Because Of Our Strength, We Have To Take A Practical, Common-Sense Position

Right now, it’s beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he so prematurely received in 2009.

Perhaps you recall how, during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama’s opponents treated his expressed willingness to speak with the leaders of unfriendly countries such as Cuba and Iran as a sign of immaturity.

“Irresponsible and frankly naïve,” was how Hillary Clinton put it.

Joe Biden said it was important for an inexperienced president not to get played by crafty foreigners.

Obama was unrepentant. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration,” he said, “is ridiculous.”

And so it was. Only ridiculous people talk that way now. With hindsight, it’s become clear that Obama wasn’t simply repudiating the GOP’s melodramatic “Axis of Evil” worldview, but expressing his own considerable self-regard.

Also his confidence in America as he sees it through his unique personal history as a kind of inside-outsider, capable of being more than ordinarily objective about our place in the world. When you’re the most powerful economic and military power on Earth, he keeps saying with regard to the Iran deal, it’s important to act like it: strong, calm, and confident. Able to take risks for peace because your strength is so overwhelming.

President Obama told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that if Ronald Reagan could reach verifiable arms agreements with the Soviet Union, a country that posed “a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be,” then dealing with the Iranians is “a risk we have to take. It is a practical, common-sense position.”

As we saw in 2003, any damn fool can start a Middle Eastern war. And while hardly anybody in the United States wants one, even Iranian hardliners should have no doubt who would win such a conflict.

“Why should the Iranians be afraid of us?” Friedman asked.

“Because we could knock out their military in speed and dispatch if we chose to,” Obama said.

That’s the same reason Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and his allies in the U.S. Congress) need to cool it with the Chicken Little rhetoric. Obama thinks it’s “highly unlikely that you are going to see Iran launch a direct attack, state to state, against any of our allies in the region. They know that that would give us the rationale to go in full-bore, and as I said, we could knock out most of their military capacity pretty quickly.”

Of course Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But here’s the kind of thinking that he and his allies on the evangelical right really object to:

“Even with your adversaries,” Obama said, “I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so…they have their own…narrative.”

Demonizing Iran serves Netanyahu’s short-term political purposes. Ditto Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has a wider audience and a longer view in mind. Much of what he said was directed over the heads of his domestic audience. Besides, GOP war talk makes it easier for Democrats to support Obama.

“Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he told Friedman. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region. They don’t need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity. Now that’s what I would say to the Iranian people.”

He also focused upon the common enemy:

“Nobody has an interest in seeing [the Islamic State] control huge swaths of territory between Damascus and Baghdad,” Obama said. “That’s not good for Iran.”

Indeed not. More than the Turks, more than Saudi Arabia, more than anybody but the Kurds, Iranian forces are fighting ISIS on several fronts.

The president’s words were grudgingly noted in Tehran. In his own carefully crafted speech expressing guarded blessings for the arms control agreement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei assured hardliners that he hadn’t gone soft on America.

However, he also alluded to Obama’s conciliatory remarks.

“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Khamenei complained.

Which is how conversations begin.

This deal isn’t the end. But it’s an excellent beginning—of what, remains to be seen. Iran has essentially purchased anti-invasion insurance, while the U.S. and its allies have bought relative stability in the Persian Gulf.

Could things go wrong? Things can always go wrong.

But there’s always time to start a war.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 22, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, President Obama | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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