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“Cleaning Up The Last Bush/Cheney Mess”: There Is Almost Never A Way To Do So That Pleases Everyone

One of the sad realities of the Obama presidency is that he and his administration have had to spend so much of their time cleaning up messes that were left by Bush and Cheney. I won’t try to capture all of them, but two wars in the Middle East, an economy careening towards a second Great Depression and exploding federal deficits are the three big ones. When President Obama titled his 2015 State of the Union Address “Turning the Page,” a lot of what he was saying is that his administration was finally ready to move on from most of that.

But one intransigent mess lingers on…the prison Bush/Cheney built in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Obama is determined to close Gitmo before his term ends and the White House has been clear that they are drafting a plan to do so.

This week right wing media sites have gone a bit berserk over the fact that two more detainees have been released. The first was the man who was reported to be Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.

The former detainee, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, is from Saudi Arabia, and he was one of 32 Middle Eastern men who were captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was among the first batch of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the American naval station in Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002.

Second was the last of several British residents and citizens who have been held at Gitmo.

The Obama administration has notified Congress of its intent to send Shaker Aamer, a suspected al-Qaeda plotter held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than 13 years, back to Britain, yielding to a lengthy campaign to secure the British resident’s release, officials said Friday.

For a status update on where things stand with closing Gitmo, the New York Times has some helpful graphs. Of the 771 detainees who have been held there, 657 have been released and 114 remain. Of the 53 who have been cleared for release but are still there, 43 are from Yemen. The Obama administration has been reluctant to repatriate detainees to Yemen due to the chaos that currently exists in that country. Ten detainees have either been convicted or await trial. Finally, as a testament to how badly the Bush/Cheney administration handled all this, the remaining 51 have been recommended for indefinite detention without a trail – mostly due to the fact that evidence has been tainted by their treatment (read: torture).

In December of last year, Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration in their efforts to close Gitmo. This is very likely one of the topics he and the President discussed in their one-on-one meeting this week. I would assume that the Vatican might be most helpful in working with countries to provide alternatives for the 53 who have been cleared for release. No matter how controversial plans for that might be, you can be sure that whatever President Obama proposes to do with the remaining detainees (10 convicted/awaiting trail and 51 to be indefinitely detained), there will be howls from both sides of the political spectrum. The left will suggest that they shouldn’t be held at all and the right will complain because President Obama’s likely solution will be to move them to a maximum security prison(s) in the United States.

I will simply say that one of the problems that is endemic to cleaning up your predecessors messes is that there is almost never a way to do so that pleases everyone. Nothing more ably demonstrates that than Gitmo. Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree with is that President Obama deserves some credit for his determination to not leave this one to the next president.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 27, 2015

September 30, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GITMO, Bush-Cheney Administration | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Kind Of White-Identity Interest”: The Republican Candidates Chose Nativism Over Christian Rhetoric

Where did God come up in Wednesday night’s GOP debate? In two key places: the discussion of religious liberty (vis-a-vis Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who recently made headlines by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples) and a brief consideration of Planned Parenthood, which came under fire earlier this summer thanks to a series of videotapes that purported to show Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal tissue for profit.

What was interesting about the candidates’ treatment of these issues and the others that followed was how limited their discussion of Christianity really was, especially compared to their focus on the transcendent values of America itself, more nativist than Christianist. While Christian reasoning likely underpinned much of the reasoning aired on stage—for instance, the unanimous anti-abortion sentiment and distress over religious liberty when it comes to contraception and gay marriage—direct appeals to Jesus and the Bible were rare and muted. In his statements on Planned Parenthood, Jeb Bush said he believed “life is a gift from God”; the remainder of the candidates explored their plans to defund the organization based not on clearly articulated religious objections to its practices, but rather on its impact on, as Carly Florina put it, “the character of the nation.”

Appeals to the strength and identity of the United States rather than specific religious interests also issued from other candidates. When asked about his position on a flat tax based on Biblical tithing procedures, Carson replied: “It’s all about America.” The Biblical reason he had formerly proposed for flat taxation disappeared.

Mike Huckabee, who flew to Kentucky in the wake of Kim Davis’ jailing to offer her support, made relatively little of his excursion. In fact, during his arguments for strengthened religious liberty protections, Huckabee cited the accommodations made for Muslim prisoners as evidence that Christian workers like Davis deserved the same treatment. When prompted to describe his litmus test for a Supreme Court judge, Huckabee said he would demand an appointee recognize fetal life as human, but then listed a series of amendments he would also require an appointee to value, among them the second and tenth. For a candidate who built his entire career on the Evangelical ascendancy of the 1980s, he said remarkably little about, say, the country’s failure to please God.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki stood out in his argument that Kim Davis and other individuals who refuse to carry out their work on religious grounds should be fired, based on a respect for the rule of law. Pataki, who is a Roman Catholic, received applause from the audience when he said he would have fired Davis for her refusal.

The most rousing rhetoric of the night centered around the character of the United States and the preservation thereof: as in, for example, Pataki’s suggestion that allowing Davis and workers like her to refuse to perform their jobs on religious grounds would be tantamount to an Iranian-style theocracy. Given the debate’s setting, there were numerous invocations of former President Ronald Reagan, who seemed to stand in for an age of American greatness which Donald Trump, among others, seem eager to recover. But the description of the nation as specifically Christian as opposed to just great was notably muted.

Even John Kasich, who, in the run-up to the GOP debates was vocally invested in his Christian faith, seemed to pipe down on the Christian rhetoric. “Jewish and Christian principles force us to live a life bigger than us,” he noted at one point, when explaining a position on foreign military policy.

The majority of the debates were spent discussing immigration, the Iran nuclear deal, and economic policy with regard to flat versus progressive taxation schemes. But the Christian issues of yesteryear—the scourge of pornography, the presence of creationism in schools, the nature of the country as a specifically Christian nation—were ignored. Of the original issues that stirred evangelicals during Reagan’s reign, only abortion remained as a prominent issue, and it has mostly zeroed down to a debate about how to deal with Planned Parenthood in light of a specific scandal. In the place of those specifically Christian concerns is the nativist nationalism Trump introduced into the race early on, which his fellow candidates must now echo to compete with him for the support of their base. Nativism is almost never friendly to Christianity as anything more than a kind of white-identity interest, and even then, the international nature of the religion and its roots in the Middle East tend to put the most ardent white nationalists off. While no GOP candidates currently exhibit that level of nativist sentiment, there certainly appears to be a choice of focuses: either hardcore nativism, or Christianity itself. In this debate at least, it’s clear which decision the candidates made.


By: Elizabeth Bruenig, The New Republic, September 17, 2015

September 21, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates, Nativism, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“How The ‘Party Of Stupid’ Birthed Trump And Carson”: Leveraging Racism Plus Pandering To The Dumb And Incoherently Angry

At the start of the cycle, conservative soothsayers boasted of the “deep bench” on the right; governors of purple states, with proven records, were the headliners. Worries that a handful of first-term senators in the mix might suggest a lack of seriousness about the real work of governance were brushed off by pointing to Barack Obama as precedent.

Now the party’s rising stars are two men who have exactly as much experience in government as they do interest in making government work. Their fealty to the Republican Party is almost as recent as their decision to run for president. Carson was a registered independent until 2014, and Trump flaunts his pan-ideological predilections to this very day.

Conservatives like to paint liberals as slaves to sentiment. The “bleeding hearts” sobriquet also connotes eyes too misty with tears to see the hard truths: We legislate based on immigrant sob stories and vote for presidential candidates to salve our own guilty consciences. Trump’s politically incorrect shtick is just another way of calling out this supposed divide: “We’re tired of the nice people,” he says, and by saying it creates a truth if it didn’t exist before.

For his part, Carson has been eager to prove his soothing bedside manner is an interface, not a core value. His youthful Democratic sympathies were Kool-Aid-induced; Reagan “reprogram[med]” him: “He sounded like a logical person and my mind changed.”

Since the neocons first uncracked themselves from the Ivy League, the conservative movement has masqueraded as the “think, not feel” wing of American politics. But their courtship of nativists, segregationists, and other grievance-seekers has led to this Trump/Carson moment. Not the party of ideas, but the party of stupid, where even smart, successful people have to pander to the dumb and incoherently angry.

According to CNN, 75 percent of those supporting candidates with no previous electoral experience are attracted to “their views on the issues.” I suspect that respondents selected that answer because they couldn’t just grunt.

Trump’s distaste for policy specifics could fill dozens of white papers that he’d never read. The fact that Carson justified his damning of Obamacare as “worse than 9/11” because the 9/11 attack was “an isolated event” speaks to his ignorance about terrorism as much as it does about the effects of the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s the thing: Trump and Carson are winning a huge slice of the GOP base because of that prideful ignorance, which to voters signifies not just a rejection of the establishment or elites but a release from the hard work of having to think.

Let me be clear: To say Carson and Trump are anti-intellectual doesn’t mean they are dumb. Far from it.

Trump, especially, has shown a genius—a high-level forethought, not some native street smarts—in how he communicates his… oh, let’s call it his “vision.” Carson, too, has crafted his brand to appeal to those tired of ideas and arguing and philosophical debates. Given Carson’s smooth affect, his marketing handiwork is, ironically, a less subtle product than Trump’s; it shows the seams from where Carson has had to forcibly rip out the parts of his intellectual history that evince a deviation from the full-throated anti-establishmentarianism the Republican base now demands. (Forget his much-discussed turnaround on abortion: what about endorsing death panels, affirmative action, and eliminating for-profit insurance companies?)

Both Trump and Carson are brilliant in leveraging their extraordinary professional success as bait to voters whose principal complaint hinges on a nagging sense of failure. Audiences aren’t flocking to these brutalist polymaths for their ideas. Indeed, in a party already thirsty for innovative policy approaches, Trump and Carson stand out for the pride they take in their xeriscape platforms: empty places, where occasional quasi-insights drift by like tumbleweeds, unmoored from experience or data.

Trump’s screechingly casual approach to information is especially appalling. An anecdote in a recent Rolling Stone profile charts the route from Trump’s complete ignorance on the heroin epidemic in the Northeast (“You know New Hampshire has a huge problem with heroin? Why do ya s’pose that is?”), to his query of the reporter for information (“I tell him that it probably has to do with OxyContin and school kids raiding their parents’ medicine chests”), to his airy reference in a speech minutes later: “It starts probably with OxyContin, from what I’m hearing.” The conclusion implies, among other things, that this is a subject he may have discussed more than once.

From the embroidered, hearsay nature of Trump’s answers to concrete questions, I would say he treats facts like gossip—except I’m sure he takes gossip more seriously than facts. Trump knows he is expected to have some command of issues beyond “deals,” and so he clings to one or two more-or-less certain applause lines like a sticky-fingered child. Witness these excruciating exchanges with a slumming Hugh Hewitt, in which Trump dismisses questions about the intricacies of Middle East foreign policy with a koan-like recitation, “The Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated.” He says this even when the question is about Hezbollah, or al-Baghdadi—or, points for trying, the “Quds.”

Such rote memorized factlets have all the substance of cotton candy, and when he stretches them to apply to topics outside his limited scope of knowledge, they tatter and fall apart embarrassingly. Or, what would be embarrassing, if it were not for the fact that Trump has been able to rely on the underlying distrust his supporters have for experts.

Carson is not much better. If Trump’s shameless doubletalk (to evangelical voters, especially) suggests he thinks his supporters are suckers, Carson thinks his are rubes. His compulsory campaign tome is punctuated with what should be hackle-raising condescension, or at least revealingly faulty logic: “If you know all 26 letters of the alphabet, you are on your way to reading.” Perhaps he thought he was writing an audiobook script.

In a saner or at least more deliberative world, Carson’s debate-ending “zinger” about being the only person on stage to have separated Siamese twins would be treated as a howler of a gaffe, along the lines of Admiral Stockdale’s retrospectively winsome admission, “Who am I? Why am I here?” One thing (neurosurgery) has nothing to do with the other (the presidency), and to pretend the skills are transferable is an insult—mostly to neurosurgeons.

Carson has a predictable defense to his nonchalant naiveté: “There’s nobody who knows everything,” after all. He’ll delegate, just like how when he “runs into a kidney problem… will call in a renal specialist!” But he’s giving comfort to the patient by only taking the analogy halfway. The real parallel wouldn’t be a surgeon calling in for help on a single complication, it would be having a really smart diplomat trying to figure out how to run an ER.

There’s a difference between being anti-intellectual and being dumb; there’s also a difference between having a governing philosophy and being smart. Scott Walker, for instance, has a more-or-less coherent approach to governing (do less and less of it). But he appears to be impersonating an honest-to-goodness dumbass, incapable of answering the simplest questions without sinking into the rhetorical version of Zeno’s paradox. He gets halfway to a definitive opinion, then halfway again, forever splitting the distance between himself and, it seems, the nomination.

Walker, like all the other Republican politicians with a résumé that matches the job opening, has been reduced to playing dumb. Is it an accident that the first major candidate to drop out was also the one with the longest gubernatorial résumé?

How did we get here?

You can’t spend 40 years tacitly making racists feel welcome in your party and expect the intellectual atmosphere not to suffer, or for that anti-intellectualism to stay bounded with race.

Not only does the GOP’s history of leveraging racism, if not explicitly endorsing it, explain Trump’s success (as numerous commentators have pointed out), it also explains Carson’s rise—and not just as embedded in the sideways condescension of considering Carson “not like the others.” Carson appeals to the same anti-intellectual, anti-government, anti-idea, anti-democratic set of biases the GOP establishment has been cultivating for decades.

Bigotry entered into the conservative movement’s DNA like a virus, altering the intellectual inheritance of the party of Bill Buckley and Irving Kristol. Where once it meant something to declare certain attitudes or policies too ugly or hateful to take seriously, much less include in debate, there is now a movement that can’t afford to call out bald ignorance and gross sexism for fear the most ardent banner-carriers might get offended. They say it’s the left that is governed by political correctness, but the deference paid to the sensitivity of Trump’s followers is as oppressive as any campus trigger warning.

“There is just something about him,” one fan of Carson’s said early on, as if he was “appointed by some higher power to do this.” Anti-democratic sentiments don’t come much more clearly expressed than that.


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, September 14, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, GOP Base | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Now Have A Low-Information Candidate”: Hey, Trump; America’s Great Right Now, Buddy

The United States “is a hellhole” that “is going down fast.” America “is in big trouble” and “never has victories anymore.” In fact, the United States is a “laughingstock all over the world.”

Who do you think made these comments over the last few months?  A. Vladimir Putin; B. An ISIS recruiter; or C. Donald Trump?

It’s actually a tough question to answer accurately. I know for sure that Trump made those remarks but it’s also possible that words to those effect were uttered by Putin or ISIS’s head honcho Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (The last two of these people we recently learned Trump wasn’t familiar with. We have all heard of low-information voters, we now have a low-information candidate.)

But we do know Trump has made the above statements and more. He even suggested at a recent event that we are now a nation of losers because we haven’t had victories in years, and he’s no longer proud of America.

Why would Trump badmouth America? Simple, because he’s trying to make the case that America is a disaster and he’s the only one who can “make America great again.” (In Trump’s defense, he does know a thing or two about debacles, given the failures of his Trump vodka, Trump airline, and Trump University, to name just a few of his failed ventures.)

When I hear Trump crapping on America, two thoughts come to mind. First, he’s unequivocally wrong. America is still great today. And second, if a Democratic presidential candidate said the same stuff, the GOP would be labeling that candidate as person who hates America, doesn’t view America as exceptional, or worse.

Look, America can always be better. In fact, President Obama offered this exact sentiment a few months ago with his remarks that our nation is “chronically dissatisfied with itself, because embedded in our DNA is this striving, aspirational quality to be even better.” But the United States is still an exceptional nation, something I have yet to hear Trump acknowledge.

The real question is, how do you measure greatness? In Trump’s case it appears it’s based on if he or others are making more money or if our airports are nicer than the beautiful ones in Dubai and Qatar that he has been bragging are far superior to our own.

But that’s not how I measure it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to see middle-class wages grow, but that’s not why people risk their lives to immigrate to our nation. It’s not why my Palestinian father moved to the United States even though he had no family here, or why my Sicilian grandparents sailed halfway across the world.

It was for the promise that continues today of living in nation where there’s not just economic opportunity, but also a place where you can raise a family without fear of warlords, or a risk of a sudden, massive refugee crisis, or the lack of safe drinking water, or being dragged off by a dictator’s henchmen to be tortured or killed for their political views. It’s the promise of a nation where we can passionately disagree on issues with the understanding that it will be ballots, not bullets that will decide the outcome.  It’s the promise that all men and women are created equal and are guaranteed the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I don’t think for a second Trump appreciates that aspect of America’s greatness. And that’s what makes him vastly different from his alleged political idol, Ronald Reagan.

In 1980, Reagan’s campaign slogan, which Trump has co-opted less one word, was “Let’s Make America Great Again.” At the time, Reagan ran against President Jimmy Carter when the U.S. economy was a mess with high unemployment (over 7 percent) and even higher inflation (13.5 percent). Plus, the Iran hostage crisis was weighing on the American psyche.

But Reagan didn’t broadly piss on America like Trump. Instead he provided detailed criticism of Carter’s policies and then offered words to inspire, such as, “the American spirit is still there, ready to blaze into life…the time is now, my fellow Americans, to recapture our destiny.” That’s a far cry from Trump’s  “America is a hellhole, laughingstock that’s going down fast.”

I’m sure some on the right likely cheer Trump’s ridiculing of America because they view his words as an attack on Obama’s policies. However, even Marco Rubio recently called out Trump for his dumping on our nation: “I would remind everyone America is great. There’s no nation on Earth I would trade places with.” And Rubio is not alone in this sentiment. A recent poll found that 84 percent of Americans agreed they would rather live here than any other country.

Trump obviously can choose any words he wants to wage his campaign. But there’s zero doubt that if a Democratic candidate were employing the same rhetoric, many on the right would crucify that person.

Look at what we saw earlier this year when Rudy Giuliani said of Obama, “I do not believe that the president loves America.”  Why did he make that outrageous charge? Well, Giuliani explained, because Obama “criticizes America” so much that he sounds more “like he’s more of a critic than he is a supporter.” Then what does he make of Trump’s daily America bashing?

Even Michelle Obama was attacked during the 2008 presidential race when she said, “for the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country, because it feels like hope is making a comeback.” Mrs. Obama came under immediate assault from the right for inferring she had not previously been proud of America. Of course, not a peep about Trump no longer being proud of our nation from conservatives.

Trump’s strategy of “America sucks” may end up helping him capture the White House. But even if it does, I still won’t believe that Trump truly grasps what makes America great.


By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, September 9, 2015

September 14, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, United States of America | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Cheapening The Legacy Of 9/11 On 9/11”: Grossly Inappropriate Joy Over Hatred And Destruction

I try not to dip my brain too much into the toxic waste of anti-Islamic bigotry. But occasionally its purveyors profane the very memories they claim inspire them, as in this nasty piece of work from Carol Brown of The American Thinker, who manages to cheapen the legacy of 9/11 on 9/11:

It is now official. On Thursday the Senate let the Iran deal go through – a deal that will forever change the landscape of the world in terrifying and unthinkable ways. I need not enumerate how this collaboration with Iran (and it is a collaboration) will affect Israel, the Middle East, the United States, and indeed the entire world.

Readers know all too well.

And yet, you’d hardly know how our fate was sealed on Thursday. America’s alignment with the Nazis of the 21st century hardly made a dent in media coverage. Headlines appeared as they do on any other day.

Imagine that.

[O]n Thursday, after Republican leaders spent months colluding with the Democrats, the Washington cartel ensured that our children and grandchildren will live in a world with a nuclear Iran.

In between profound sorrow, incredible dread, and blind rage, I find myself asking: Why?

Perhaps many elected officials don’t care about America, their oath of office, or our children. Apparently their allegiance to party and power trump concern for even their own children.

If reading this annoys you, be glad I left out the long, long quote from Mark Levin. But here’s the coda:

And so we now not only have a 9/11, but a 9/10 – when our leaders sold us down the river. Yet again. But this time the stakes are as high as they get.

People like Brown and Levin want, welcome, demand constant global war with Islam, and will accept nothing less (Brown has been singled out by the Anti-Defamation League for her “ugly rhetoric” about Musims). They should stay the hell away from the memorials to 9/11, since their joy over hatred and destruction is grossly inappropriate to the commemoration of innocents and those who died to in an effort to save them.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 11, 2015

September 14, 2015 Posted by | 911, Conservatives, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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