With the American air campaign against ISIS now expanding into Syria, President Obama updated the nation this morning:
“We were joined in this action by our friends and partners: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments of the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.
“Meanwhile, we will move forward with our plan supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress, to ramp up our effort to train and equip the Syrian opposition, who are the best counterweight to ISIL and the Assad regime…
“I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress and I am pleased there is bipartisan support for the action we’re taking. America’s stronger when we stand united and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country.”
Obama obviously wants to spread the responsibility around, not only to other countries — which is crucial to having people in the Middle East and the rest of the world see this as a legitimate common enterprise and not simply America imposing its will on the region yet again — but also to his domestic opponents. However, he won’t be getting too many pledges of bipartisanship in return. In fact, it’ll be just the opposite.
Yes, Republicans voted to support part of Obama’s plan for combating ISIL. But even if they make some positive statements about today’s operation (which some have) or future ones like it, for the most part, we’re going to see a repeat of what we saw in the early 2000s: Democrats saying, “Hey, we’re all fighting this battle together,” while Republicans say, “Terrorists are coming to kill us all, and when they do it’ll be those weak Democrats’ fault!”
This morning, Greg noted a new ad from New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, saying that terrorists are “threatening to cause the collapse of our country,” and it just might happen because Obama and Brown’s opponent, Jeanne Shaheen, are “confused about the nature of the threat.” And if you want an attack with even less subtlety, check out this ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee: http://youtu.be/o1_6gjdqGRQ
Despite the surface similarity between political attacks like those and the ones we saw when George W. Bush was president, there’s a crucial difference. Back then, there was a Republican president taking actions against America’s enemies, while Democrats supposedly didn’t want to protect the country (even if, in reality, elected Democrats gave ample support to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other elements of the “War on Terror”).
Today, however, it’s a Democratic president who is taking action against terrorists. Even if you believe that action is inadequate, it still creates a fundamentally different impression with the public when they see Tomahawks launching and jets taking off from aircraft carriers on Barack Obama’s orders.
What the public is primarily witnessing right now is a war being waged by the head of the Democratic Party. Twelve years ago, Republicans successfully argued that they were the ones favoring action, while Democrats were a bunch of wimps who wanted to stand on the sidelines. And the Democratic party was deeply divided over Bush’s wars, its own internal arguments only lending credence to the GOP claim that only Republicans would stand up and protect America.
In contrast, no matter how hawkish some Republicans sound right now, they’re in the role of commenting on what the Obama administration is doing, while televisions play images of American military power — again, launched on Obama’s orders — on an endless loop.
So what Republicans are left with is the fear component: Terrorists are coming to kill your children, so vote GOP. That’s not nothing — fear can be effective, and research has shown that reminding people of terrorism and their own mortality can be enough to push some to support more conservative candidates. But it won’t have nearly the power it did in the days after September 11, when Democrats lived in desperate fear that Karl Rove might call them weak.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 23, 2013
To the casual reader of headlines, what most distinctively characterizes Sen. Ted Cruz’s typically loud rhetoric on the IS challenge and what to do about it is his bizarre focus–which NH Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown has also picked up on–on the Mexican border rather than Syria or Iraq as the most important theater of operations against IS.
But in a perceptive piece last Friday, Peter Beinart looked a little more carefully at how Cruz talks about the IS threat and discovers he represents a POV–which he calls “militaristic pessimism”–that favors military strikes without any real political strategy for–or even interest in–dealing with the situation in Syria and Iraq:
Like George W. Bush before them, McCain and Graham are militaristic optimists. They want America to bomb and arm its way toward a free, pro-American Middle East. Cruz is a militaristic pessimist. He mocks the Obama administration’s effort to foster reconciliation “between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad” because “the Sunnis and Shiites have been engaged in a sectarian civil war since 632.” Notably absent from his rhetoric is the Bush-like claim that Muslims harbor the same desire for liberty as everyone else. Instead of mentioning that most of ISIS’s victims have been fellow Muslims, Cruz frames America’s conflict in the language of religious war. “ISIS right now is the face of evil. They’re crucifying Christians, they’re persecuting Christians,” he told Hannity.
Notice the difference. When Sunnis kills Shiites, Cruz shrugs because there’s been a sectarian divide within Islam since 632. But when Muslims kills Christians—another conflict with a long history—Cruz readies the F-16s.
In this respect, says Beinart persuasively, Cruz probably best represents the views of the GOP “base:”
With his combination of military interventionism and diplomatic isolationism, Cruz probably better reflects the views of GOP voters than any of his potential 2016 rivals. According to polls, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see ISIS as a threat to the U.S. and to back airstrikes against it, but less likely to support arming Syria’s non-jihadist rebels. As Republican strategist Ford O’Connell recently told The Hill, “Ted Cruz is probably most in line with the Republican base in the sense he doesn’t want to have a discussion of Syria versus Iraq. He wants to dismantle and destroy ISIS. Period.”
More than a decade after the invasion of Iraq, this is where the GOP has ended up. Ted Cruz wants to kill people in the Middle East who he believes might threaten the United States. And he wants to defend Christianity there. Other than that, he really couldn’t care less.
There’s an old military saying (variously attributed to Marines or special forces troops, and dating back to the Catholic Church’s 13th-century campaign of extermination against the Albigensians) that probably describes this POV even better than “militaristic pessimism:” It’s “Kill em’ all and let God sort ‘em out!” It’s a monstrous but ever-popular sentiment that’s highly appropriate for a political party where unfocused rage is often confused with “patriotism.”
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 23, 2014
There can be no doubt that ISIS’s brutal murder of two journalists had a deep impact on how Americans perceive the terrorist threat. For years, polls showed a war-weary nation reluctant to launch new military offenses in the Middle East, but the recent beheadings abroad changed the calculus on the public’s appetite for intervention.
But it’s also true that many voices in the U.S. have exploited the political value of fear.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued a few weeks ago that there’s “a very real possibility” that ISIS terrorists may have entered the United States through the southern border with Mexico. Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) added that the U.S. border is “porous,” and officials must “secure our own borders” to prevent “ISIS infiltration.” This week, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), now running in New Hampshire, echoed Perry’s original claim, telling Fox News that ISIS terrorists might “actually [be] coming through the border right now.”
Last night on CNN, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined the chorus.
ANDERSON COOPER: Senator McCain, the president also said that we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland. Americans who hear those words might wonder, if that is really the case, then why do we need to take action against ISIS? To that you say what?
JOHN MCCAIN: I say that today, we had a hearing, and there was testimony from the counterterrorism people and the Department of Homeland Security. There is Twitter traffic right now and Facebook traffic, where they are urging attacks on the United States of America. And there is a great concern that our southern border and our northern border is porous and that they will be coming across.
A few hours earlier on Twitter, McCain encouraged his followers to read a piece on a far-right website, which reported that the U.S. officials have “confirmed” that Islamic State terrorists are “planning” to infiltrate the United States through our southern border.
Is it any wonder so many Americans are afraid?
Perhaps now would be a good time to pause for a deep breath – and a reality check.
The basic facts are not in dispute. First, there’s no evidence – literally, none at all – of ISIS terrorists entering the United States through the southern border with Mexico. In fact, there’s no evidence of ISIS terrorists even trying.
Second, the southern border is not “porous.” The Obama administration really has increased U.S. border security to levels unseen in modern times.
But what about the report McCain promoted that said U.S. officials have “confirmed” that Islamic State terrorists are “planning” to infiltrate through Mexico? The senator may have heard what he wanted to hear, but that’s not quite what officials told lawmakers.
Despite some Twitter chatter, there is no evidence ISIS terrorists are trying to slip into the United States from Mexico, Department of Homeland Security officials told Congress Wednesday.
Administration officials said they are more concerned about jihadists entering the U.S. legally on commercial airline flights.
Administration higher-ups testifying at a House hearing Wednesday threw cold water on scary border scenarios cited by conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Francis Taylor, the undersecretary for intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security, told McCain that there have been some “social media exchanges” among ISIS adherents about the “possibility” of entering the United States through Mexico, but none of the exchanges have led to action and Taylor added that U.S. officials are “satisfied we have the intelligence and capability on the border that would prevent that activity.”
So what are we left with? Some lunatics wrote some tweets about the “possibility” of trying to get into the United States. I don’t want to play semantics games, but it’s fair to say this is a far cry from Islamic State terrorists “planning” to infiltrate the country through Mexico.
What’s more, as Steve M. noted, “Let me remind you: Al Qaeda has never gotten anyone across the Mexican border to commit a terrorist act – and Al Qaeda clearly does want to pursue attacks on the West. We have to be watchful, but no, this sort of attack isn’t going to happen soon.”
It’s important to appreciate why Republicans are pushing this line. It seems pretty clear that McCain and others see the utility of Americans being afraid – if the public fears a domestic attack from ISIS, there will be stronger support for more and expansive wars.
But Republicans also want the White House to give the right what it wants on immigration: more border security in exchange for nothing. This rhetoric is intended to kill two birds with one stone.
No one should be fooled.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 11, 2014
“The Comforting Feeling Of Rolling Heads”: It May Make You Feel Better, But Will The Issue Be Solved?
Since the firing of Health and Human Services Director Katherine Sebelius you no longer hear as much about repealing the Affordable Care Act (although certain candidates, most recently Scott Brown, continue to bring it up). But when her head rolled a lot of people seemed to feel better. Now the call is for the head of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, after dozens of stories cited deaths allegedly related to delayed care for veterans at many of the nation’s 1700 veterans hospitals and treatment centers. If he is let go people may feel better. But will the issue be solved?
The so-called secret lists of veterans waiting for care is troubling, but if it is true then the system as a whole needs an overhaul. This has been apparent for some time and was previously highlighted by the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital and the delay in computerizing records. But these things most likely won’t follow merely by firing the secretary. And although Congress is calling for another investigation, at the same time recent budget proposals by the GOP reduce money for veterans, including cutting health benefits for veterans.
VA hospitals and clinics served 8.76 million veterans last year. In 2008, 37 percent of veterans sought treatment for PTSD and depression. But it is thought that at least half of all veterans suffer from these. Those who report PTSD usually also suffer from many other conditions, some of which do not manifest themselves until more than 5 years after service.
The VA is a huge bureaucracy which serves as the largest single health care system in the country. Along with men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, it still serves veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Today’s veterans survive injuries that would have quickly killed veterans of earlier wars, including burns, amputations and traumatic brain injuries. And in the past ten years the numbers of vets seeking care has increased exponentially due to our most recent wars, with almost half of those veterans seeking disability compensation for their injuries.
For some perspective: In 2010 the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services reported that bad care contributed to 180,000 deaths of patients in Medicare alone. As many as 440,000 people nationwide suffer from some sort of preventable harm which could have contributed to their death. And that is in our civilian hospitals. Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US.
Average wait time in hospital emergency rooms has risen. It can take two to four weeks to get an appointment with a specialist (In 2009 people waited an average of 20 days. In 2010 fifty percent of our population felt they could have avoided a trip to the ER if they had been able to get an appointment with their regular doctor People without insurance have received little or no care until recent changes with the implantation of the ACA. Before the passage of the ACA, as many as 45,000 uninsured died each year.
In many small towns, including Savannah, Georgia, waiting times to see a mental health specialist can be at least a month for a psychologist and three to six months for a psychiatrist. At the local VA clinic in Savannah, veterans wait no more than three weeks, and often less, for mental health care and walk-ins who are in crisis are treated immediately.
According to the Associated Press yesterday, a recent report indicated that the department’s internal watchdog found no evidence that delays have caused patient deaths. President Obama has appointed deputy White House chief of staff to review VA policies and procedures.
Further inquiries will be held and outrage will continue to mount until something concrete is done. This is not a new issue. But firing Shinseki is like providing palliative care for end-of-life patients: the patient will be more comfortable but he will still die. Any investigation into the VA has to result in major changes to the system as a whole which will not be possible if the problem is “solved” by yet another head rolling.
By: Lisa Solod, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 17, 2014
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown announced today that he’s joining the government affairs department of a giant multinational law firm with major Wall Street clients.
“Brown will focus his practice on business and governmental affairs as they relate to the financial services industry as well as on commercial real estate matters,” the firm, Nixon Peabody LLC, said in a press release. Brown will not be a lobbyist, the firm said, but whether he meets the specific legal requirements to be a registered lobbyist or not, it’s clear that he will draw on his contacts and status to help advance clients’ agenda in government. “He can offer many types of legal services to his broad network of contacts,” the firm said.
The head of the Nixon Peabody’s Government Relations practice is ex-New York congressman Tom Reynolds, who now lobbies for Goldman Sachs on “[f]inancial services regulatory and tax issues.” According to the firm, Brown will also work with fellow Massachusettsian Jim Vallee, who abruptly left his job as majority leader of the state House of Representatives last year after getting hired by the firm.
Nixon Peabody contributed $2,500 to a PAC associated with Brown’s reelection campaign last year, the most it gave to any candidate in the country (tied only with a Democratic House member).
Brown was a reliable ally of the financial services industry in the Senate, where he helped water down the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and influence other bills of interest to banks. It was no surprise, considering how much money they threw at his campaigns. The Securities and Investment sector was the top industry donor to Brown’s 2012 campaign, giving him $3.2 million, on top of the millions he received from the insurance, real estate and finance industries, according to Open Secrets.
The move, however, is a blow to Massachusetts Republicans, who see Brown as their best — and possibly only — hope of retaking a Senate seat or winning the governor’s mansion. Perhaps Brown didn’t think he could win or perhaps he was more interested in cashing in.
It’s notable that Massachusetts voters have replaced Brown, who is now almost literally a Wall Street lobbyist, with Elizabeth Warren, one of the most outspoken critics of the finance industry in the country.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, March 11, 2013