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“Torture Queen”: Kelly Ayotte Did Something For Us All To Be Proud

So who is Kelly Ayotte anyway, to be threatening to place an unprecedented (in modern times) hold on a secretary of state nominee? She hasn’t done much yet in the Senate, but the one thing she did really try to do was to pass an amendment that could have permitted the United States to torture suspects again.

This all unfolded in late 2011, and the amendment didn’t become law. But it’s instructive anyway. After Obama limited interrogation techniques to those found in the Army Field Manual, some on the right started barking about how since the field manual is available online, terror suspects would know what they might be subjected to, and somehow of course this added up to appeasement and so forth. Adam Serwer reported at the time for Mother Jones:

“When a member of Al Qaeda or a similar associated terrorist group, I want them to be terrified about what’s going to happen to them in American custody,” said Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), explaining his support for the amendment. “I want them not to know what’s going to happen, I want that the terror that they inflict on others to be felt by them as a result of the uncertainty that they can look on the Internet and know exactly what our interrogators are limited to.” In an exchange with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ayotte acknowledged that part of her goal was to reauthorize some Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques” other than waterboarding.

Great. Something for us all to be proud of. No wonder she picked up where Lieberman left off. Quite a “worthy” successor to him as the third amigo.

She also became known, while her name was briefly on some short lists to be Mitt Romney’s veep choice, for parrotting the “apology tour” lie. PolitiFact destroyed her in this post over the summer. Demagogic nonsense, which American voters handily rejected.

I want to emphasize again what a new low in partisan warfare it would be to place a hold on a secretary of state nominee. If there’s one cabinet post that just has to be filled, it’s that one. State was the first cabinet agency created by Congress, meaning that the secretary of state is the oldest cabinet position, and to most people it’s the most venerated and important post of all of them (Treasury logs a few votes).

For one senator, especially a relatively junior one, to deny a reelected president his choice to head State would be rather amazing. I see that some on the right are calling such a potential move payback for what the Democrats did to John Bolton. Not an insane point, but three responses to that.

One: The UN ambassador (which Bush nominated Bolton to) ain’t the secretary of state by a longsihot. Two: Bolton had a particularly incendiary history of attacking the UN, the very body before which Bush wanted him to represent our country (which he ultimately did, as a recess appointee).

Remember this quote?: “The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” I know all our wingers will say that’s true, but wingers, imagine a Democrat nominating to head the Pentagon someone who said the building could lose the E ring and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

Third: Opposition to Bolton was hardly limited to liberal senators. Fifty-nine former diplomats from both parties signed a letter urging Bush not to name Bolton. The day Rice faces that kind of opposition, then the two cases will be parallel. Until then, not so much.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 28, 2012

November 29, 2012 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Debilitated, Angry And Envious”: John McCain Descends Further Into Incoherence

At this point, when it comes to the political controversy surrounding the Benghazi attack, I no longer know what Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is complaining about. He’s raised questions, which have been answered. He’s raised theories, which have been debunked. He’s smeared Susan Rice, but he knows her only crime is sharing credible intelligence on a Sunday show.

And yesterday, the Republican senator’s descent into incoherence reached new depths.

For those who can’t watch clips online, McCain appeared on Fox News to raise a series of strange complaints, and roll out a truly bizarre new analogy.

“[W]ho changed the talking points that was used by Ambassador Rice? And why? And on what circumstances? Why was reference to Al Qaeda left out? There are so many things that have happened. And the interesting thing is, finally, Neil, we knew within hours of all the details when we got bin Laden in the raid there, every bitty one of them. They are making a movie out of it.

“And here we are 10 weeks later, and finally our ambassador to the United Nations who appeared on every national Sunday show has now said that she gave false information concerning how this tragedy happened as far as the spontaneity of a demonstration triggered by a hateful video.”

We already know who changed the talking points. And we know why and under what circumstances. And we know why al Qaeda references were removed. And we know Rice didn’t deliberately deceive anyone.

But comparing this to the raid on bin Laden’s compound is a special kind of dumb. I realize national security and foreign policy are issues McCain struggles with, but this isn’t complicated: the bin Laden raid was our idea. It was our mission. We planned it and we executed it. We knew the details “within hours” because, unlike the terrorists’ attack on Benghazi, the raid in Abbottabad was carried out by our guys, not their guys.

Honestly, I’m not sure whether to be annoyed by the senator’s nonsense or feel sorry for him.

I’m reminded of this recent piece from Time‘s Joe Klein, who remembers when McCain used to be “an honorable public servant,” before he became the politician we see today.

[H]e’s now a political caricature, severely debilitated by anger and envy. His trigger-happy foreign policy beliefs have always been questionable, but this Benghazi crusade has put in the weird circle inhabited by nutcases and conspiracy theorists like Michele Bachmann and Allen West. He should honor the memory of those who lost their lives that terrible night by putting a cork in his disgraceful behavior immediately.

We can speculate as to why McCain has become so unhinged, but the fact remains he’s now impossible to take seriously.

Don’t worry, though, I’m sure he’ll be able to explain himself in more detail on a Sunday show very soon.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 28, 2012

November 29, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“An Effective Ad Man”: Democrats Could Use Their Own Grover Norquist

Here’s the first lesson from the early skirmishing over ways to avoid the fiscal cliff: Democrats and liberals have to stop elevating Grover Norquist, the anti-government crusader who wields his no-tax pledge as a nuclear weapon, into the role of a political Superman.

Pretending that Norquist is more powerful than he is allows Republicans to win acclaim they haven’t earned yet. Without making a single substantive concession, they get loads of praise just for saying they are willing to ignore those old pledges to Grover. You can give him props as a public relations genius. Like Ke$ha or Beyonce, he is widely known in Washington by only one name. But kudos for an openness to compromise should be reserved for Republicans who put forward concrete proposals to raise taxes.

The corollary is that progressives should be unafraid to draw their own red lines. If you doubt that this is a good idea, just look at how effective Norquist has been. Outside pressure from both sides is essential for a balanced deal.

Start by insisting that Social Security and any increase in the retirement age be kept off the table. President Obama’s bargaining hand will be strengthened further if he can tell Republicans that there just aren’t Democratic votes for steep cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. The president’s room for maneuver expands still more if liberals refuse to look at cuts in programs unless Republicans are prepared to raise tax rates on the wealthy.

Already, there are signs that Republicans realize how much leverage the president has. If Congress doesn’t act, all the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year. At that point, the Senate’s Democratic majority has the power to block (or Obama can veto) any restoration of the upper-end Bush tax rates.

One indication that Republicans are aware they’re boxed in came from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), one of his party’s shrewdest political minds. He suggested that Republicans should take up the president’s invitation to extend the Bush tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans who earn less than $250,000 a year. Yes, this would amount to throwing in the towel on those upper-bracket levies. But Cole knows that it won’t help the Republican brand if voters come to see the GOP’s one and only objective as protecting wealthier Americans from tax increases.

The next lesson is not about politics or PR. It’s about substance, and this is where the Washington establishment has to get serious. The simple fact is that it’s bunk to claim that “tax reform” alone can produce the revenue we need.

One of the great disservices of the Bowles-Simpson commission was that it fed the impression that tax reform could generate so much cash that it would permit a cut in tax rates.

Grant Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson credit for good intentions — they were desperate to find a way to get Republicans on their commission to acknowledge the need for new revenue. It’s also worth remembering that their proposal assumed the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year. Nonetheless, their stress on tax reform with lower rates was more a political deal than wise policy. They sent us down the wrong path.

The only way tax reform might raise enough money to prevent a rate increase, let alone create an opportunity for rate cuts, is to reduce popular deductions (like the one on mortgage interest) so deeply that middle-class Americans would get a tax increase, too. And eliminating or sharply undercutting the deduction for state and local taxes is a bad idea. This only penalizes higher-tax states that try to solve their own social problems — for example, by providing health insurance to their low-income residents.

And all the schemes to eliminate tax expenditures to avoid rate increases have the effect of protecting just one group: Americans with very high incomes. That’s how the math works.

The right thing is to bring back Bill Clinton’s tax rates on the well-off and then have a broad tax reform discussion next year. A similar logic applies to health-care programs, as Jonathan Cohn suggested in the New Republic. Before making big cuts in Medicaid and Medicare, we need to see whether the reforms in the Affordable Care Act can contain medical inflation.

The fiscal cliff creates an enormous opportunity to end an era in which it was never, ever permissible to raise taxes. In the pre-Grover days, conservatives believed passionately in pay-as-you-go government. A tough stand by progressives will make it easier for conservatives to return to the path of fiscal responsibility.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 28, 2012

November 29, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Desperate And Delusional”: A Truly Harebrained GOP Scheme To Prevent President Obama’s Second Term

The election is over — but not in the minds of a handful of true-believer conservatives.

A plot has been hatched over the last week to, in a last-ditch effort, deny President Obama a second term and install Mitt Romney as the next president.

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips argued in a column last week at World Net Daily that states that voted for Romney could simply boycott the Electoral College, thereby depriving it of the two-thirds quorum it needs to elect a president. At that point, the House of Representatives would pick the president. And guess who controls the House? The GOP.

The cause was then taken up by Idaho state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll (R) this week, with Nuxoll tweeting that the scheme is the GOP’s “last chance” to install Romney as president.

The problem? Even if Phillips’s theory were practical — and getting one-third of states to flout the will of the country would be a neat trick — it’s based on a totally false premise.

Phillips cites the 12th Amendment as proof that the Electoral College needs a two-thirds quorum (i.e. having enough states present to conduct a vote), but in fact, the 12th Amendment only governs quorums in the House. There is nothing in the law, it appears, that prevents the Electoral College from electing a president even if some states don’t participate.

In fact, even World Net Daily, the conservative Web site on which Phillips’s column was posted, has acknowledged this fact, adding an editor’s note that says the entire crux of the column is faulty.

“Since this column was posted it has been discovered that the premise presented about the Electoral College and the Constitution is in error,” the website wrote. “According to the 12th Amendment, a two-thirds quorum is required in the House of Representatives, not the Electoral College.”

The scheme enunciated by Phillips, of course, is just the latest bit of conservative backlash against the Electoral College. When Romney was leading Obama in national polls but trailing in swing-state polling, some conservatives called for a national popular vote.

As of now, Obama is winning the popular vote by just more than four points in the swing states, but by about 3.5 points nationally. So while a national popular vote would have meant a slightly closer race, there really didn’t wind up being that much of a difference.

There may be an Electoral College revolt in the coming years, but this won’t be it.


By: Aaron Blake, The Washington Post, November 28, 2012

November 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unicorn’s And Other Fables”: Grover Norquist’s Latest Plot To Drown Government…Monthly Debt Ceiling Fights

There’s two ways to look at Grover Norquist. He’s either the most powerful unelected man in the world or an amazing self-promoter who is about to be proven obsolete. Norquist obviously feels he’s the former. For nearly two decades, he’s held Republicans to a pledge to never raise taxes. Now he wants them to force the president to cede to their wishes on a monthly basis.

The President of Americans for Tax Reform is urging Republicans to use the debt ceiling to exact spending cuts or continue the Bush tax cuts for incomes over $250,000.

“The debt ceiling that Obama’s plans bump into every month or so for the next four years provides plenty of ‘leverage’ for the GOP to trade for spending cuts — as done in 2011 — or continuing the lower rates,” Norquist wrote Wednesday in The Hill.

Nearly 6 out of 10 Americans want to end the Bush tax breaks for the rich. But enough Republicans in the House and Senate have signed Norquist’s American Taxpayer Pledge that he’s certain that the negotiations on the so-called “fiscal cliff” can end without taxes going up.

After an electoral college landslide, many — including the White House — believe that the president has the leverage in negotiations. But the debt ceiling, which we will hit in February, does give Republicans a chance to make demands on the president.

When President Obama asked Speaker Boehner to raise the debt limit, Boehner reportedly said, “There is a price for everything.”

In 2011, Republicans, for the first time ever, used the debt limit to force cuts — something they never asked for in the dozens of times they raised the limit for the last three Republican presidents.

Though senators Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss and other Republicans have said they would break their pledge with Norquist, the lobbyist seems unfazed. He told Slate’s Dave Weigel that he has no concerns that his pledge is about to crumble.

“I’ve talked to Lindsey Graham on the phone after some of his pronouncements, and he’s said, ‘Oh, I would need 10-1 [ratio of cuts to tax hikes], and it would have to include permanent, unalterable entitlement reform.’ I said, ‘Lindsey, if that’s what it’s going to take to get you to raise taxes, I’m not going to worry about you,” Norquist said. “You are not in danger of being offered a silver unicorn, because unicorns don’t exist.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent keeps insisting that the GOP is just trying to present an appearance of compromise. Some Republicans are making news with their alleged willingness to buck Norquist — but votes speak louder than words.

Unlike many Republicans, Norquist would be pleased if the so-called sequester goes into effect. He’s a Republican who believes the Department of Defense isn’t sacred when it comes to spending cuts.

The question is, how many Republicans would be willing to risk the cuts to Defense along with responsiblty for a middle-class tax increase by holding out for a deal that honors Norquist’s pledge?

And if the president won’t agree, will they doom the United States’ credit and cause unprecedented “uncertainty,” which Republicans claim to hate, by holding the debt limit hostage on a monthly basis?

Even if Republicans were to go down that path, the president would have to adopt a strategy advocated by former president Bill Clinton often called “the 14th Amendment option.”

The amendment includes the sentence, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion shall not be questioned.”

In 2011, Clinton said that “without hesitation” he would invoke the 14th Amendment “and force the courts to stop me.”

President Obama nixed that plan, saying his lawyers didn’t see the validity in it. But if Republicans decided to use the debt ceiling to keep him on an “allowance,” it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him deciding that it was worth going to court.

Norquist has never been shy about his disdain for government. He’s often joked,” I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” But he’s never faced a predicament like expiring tax cuts and a president with the political capital to fight to keep some of them expired.

Soon we’ll find out how much power he actually has.


BY: Jason Sattler, The National Memo. November 28, 2012

November 29, 2012 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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