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“A National Embarrassment”: As A Member Of Congress, If Louie Gohmert Say’s It, There Must Be Something To It

About a year ago, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was wrapping up an important diplomatic mission in Cairo when her motorcade was confronted with angry protesters, many of whom threw shoes and tomatoes, while using Monica Lewinsky taunts. And why were these Egyptians so upset? Because they’d heard from right-wing extremists in the U.S. that the Obama administration “harbors a secret, pro-Islamist agenda” and backs the Muslim Brotherhood.

None of the claims were true, but there was a problem — the protesters in the streets of Cairo were relying on comments made by U.S. clowns like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). You know she’s ridiculous and not to be taken seriously, and I know she’s ridiculous and not to be taken seriously, but all Egyptians heard was that an elected member of Congress’ majority party had made provocative claims about U.S. policy in Egypt that many found credible.

A year later, as Sahil Kapur reports this morning, the problem persists as Rep. Louie Gohmert’s (R-Texas) nonsense about the White House and the Muslim Brotherhood, which Americans know to ignore, is “complicating U.S. foreign policy in the region.”

Anti-American conspiracy theories are rampant [in Egypt], for a variety of reasons related and unrelated to U.S. foreign policy, and hearing it from a United States congressman lends credibility to the theory that the U.S. is teaming up with the Muslim Brotherhood — and even Al-Qaeda — to destroy Egypt.

“I guarantee you nobody in Egypt really knows who Louie Gohmert is or what he’s about. So they could very well point to this and say ‘Look! He’s a member of Congress. This must be serious. There must be something to it,'” said Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It doesn’t help in a political environment where everyone is already angry at us to be fueling conspiracy theories against us. In that way it enables an overall level of hostility toward the U.S.”

Shadi Hamid, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, told TPM, “[L]ook, this does provide real ammunition to the conspiracy theorists when you have American sources seemingly verifying what they are saying…. It lends these bizarre theories a new code of legitimacy and amplifies them. When Egyptians see this, they don’t realize that just because a U.S. congressman is saying this that it can be wrong or that he can be lying publicly.”

Congratulations, far-right activists, your nonsense now has a global reach and is actually influencing international events among those who can’t tell the difference between serious policymakers and circus clowns from thousands of miles away.

The TPM report added:

The New York Times reported Monday that the U.S.-Brotherhood conspiracy theory has become “widespread” in Egypt, even to the point of being seen by some as common knowledge. Billboards and posters in Egypt tie President Obama to the Brotherhood and accuse him of supporting terrorism against Egypt. And segments of the pro-military Egyptian media have been playing a YouTube clip of Gohmert speaking on the House floor, spliced with ominous background music, likening the Obama administration’s aid to Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi’s government with assisting terrorists.

Gohmert defended his remarks in a statement to TPM, saying he was merely opposing President Obama’s policies and that Egyptians “are able to” make that distinction.

But they’re not able to. Most fair-minded political observers recognize Gohmert as a national embarrassment more in need of counseling than political power, but it’s not realistic to think Egyptians will have a sophisticated understanding of American politics. When they see YouTube clips of elected officials on the floor of our legislative body in Washington, and they hear outrageous conspiracy theories involving Egypt, they haven’t the foggiest idea that Gohmert is a few fries short of a happy meal.

Yes, in fairness, it’s important to note that many who are inclined to believe absurd conspiracy theories don’t really need proof — that, of course, applies to any country — and many Egyptians who want to believe in imaginary U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood are going to embrace the non-existent ties whether Gohmert talks them up or not.

But the point is, the right-wing Texas congressman, by recklessly spouting garbage, is making it easier for Egyptian conspiracy theorists to persuade others. Gohmert is obviously free to be as foolish as he wants to be, but one can only hope real-world events in Egypt will push him and his cohorts to be a little more responsible.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 27, 2013

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Gambler And The Loan Sharks”: John Boehner’s Carefully Planned Escape Hatch Is Closing

Yesterday afternoon, the Treasury Department warned congressional leaders that we’ll hit the debt ceiling earlier than expected, probably in mid-October. Jonathan already has some smart analysis previewing the fights to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government, but this new timeline will also effect the other big issue awaiting Congress when it returns from the August recess: The effort to defund Obamacare.

GOP leaders know the scheme put forward by Ted Cruz and others to shut down the government unless Obamacare is defunded is hopeless, but they risk mutiny in their ranks if they don’t at least pay lip service to it.

So, as Jon Chait, Greg and others have pointed out, House Speaker John Boehner has been playing a familiar game of bait and switch with his base by promising to let House Republicans do something crazy in the future in order to get them to stop threatening to do something crazy now. He ”treats his members the same way a gambler treats his loan shark. ‘C’mon, spot me again, I swear I’ll pay up next time!’” Brian Beutler quipped, noting that we’ve seen this same strategy play out again and again in numerous congressional fights.

In the case of Obamacare, House leaders have been trying to talk their members into claiming victory on sequestration cuts and abandoning the effort to defund the health care law. But assuming that won’t appease them (and it won’t), GOP aides have floated using the debt ceiling, instead of the government shutdown, as the bargaining chip. An aide to Eric Cantor told Reuters yesterday that the debt limit provides a good “leverage point” to try to force action on Obamacare.

Swapping the debt ceiling hostage for the government shutdown hostage, while even more dangerous, had the benefit of buying GOP leaders some time — or at least it did until the debt limit deadline got moved up.

Congress comes back into session on Sept. 9. It will have just three weeks to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government before the fiscal year ends on Oct. 1. Most people had expected Treasury to hit the debt limit in mid-November or even December, so Boehner could have played his standard game of kicking the apocalypse can down the road. He’d get the House to pass a continuing resolution by promising to use the debt ceiling to attack Obamacare later, and then he’d get a month or two to figure out how to defuse this newest crisis.

But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s letter yesterday blows up this whole strategy. As Kevin Drum writes:

Politically, this means that Republicans don’t really have the option of quickly passing a 2014 budget (or a short-term continuing resolution) and then taking some time off to plan for their latest round of debt ceiling hostage-taking at the end of the year. If mid-October really is the drop-dead date, it means that budget negotiations in late September and debt ceiling negotiations in early October pretty much run right into each other.

Now, Boehner can’t keep bluffing to his members. Two weeks is not enough time for them to forget that they just caved on Obamacare, so they’re probably not going to be in the mood to do it again. This was John Boehner’s escape hatch, and now it’s closing

Besides, as Steve Benen notes, all the talk of hostage taking may be moot as the White House is holding the line against negotiations over the debt ceiling. “Let me reiterate what our position is, and it is unequivocal. We will not negotiate with Republicans in Congress over Congress’ responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has racked up, period,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday. “We have never defaulted, and we must never default. That is our position, 100 percent, full stop.”


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 27, 2013

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Symbolism Of Pure Hate And Violence”: The Despicable Laura Ingraham Outdoes Herself

We can’t be surprised by the right-wing ignorance about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the politics of the 1963 March on Washington. Today’s conservative leaders are the political descendants of the forces who fought the civil rights movement as a radical, most likely Communist plot. When the movement turned out to be wholesome and all-American, when a quarter of a million marchers descended on the capital without riots or violence 50 years ago, well, then, it had to be co-opted, it had to prove that America was living up to its highest principles, that those noble people were satisfied with what the system gave them — a Civil Rights bill and a Voting Rights bill — and they went home, and marched no more. Dr. King’s assassination five years later made it easier for them to do that.

There are so many ignorant right-wing reactions to this anniversary to talk about, but the award for the most vicious and stupid has to go to radio host Laura Ingraham, who insists that those of us who are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march this week are trying “to co-opt the legacy of Martin Luther King into a modern-day liberal agenda.”

Actually, Ingraham is so wrong, she’s sort of right. Liberals did co-opt King’s radical, anti-corporate and antiwar agenda long ago. The King we commemorate today is a friendly shadow of his challenging, radical, visionary self. (Read Harold Meyerson on “The Socialists Who Made the March on Washington,” for a necessary corrective.)

But that’s not what the ignorant and vicious Ingraham was saying. She’s pretending King was some kind of conservative hero whose message of colorblindness – and that wasn’t his message at all – has been co-opted by liberal race-baiters and whiners and malcontents, who just won’t accept that Bobby Jindal is right when he talks about the “end of race,” because a first-generation Indian immigrant’s experience of racism is identical to that of people who were enslaved for hundreds of years, and he gets to decide when racism is over. Ingraham’s co-opting comment was just dumb. Typically dumb. What was unusually vicious, even for the often nasty radio host, was that she decided to interrupt an audio clip of the heroic Rep. John Lewis, the youngest person to speak at the march 50 years ago, speaking on Saturday, with the sound of a crackling gunshot.

A gunshot. After the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King, after the gunning down of so many civil rights workers over the years, Ingraham thought it was funny, or clever, or provocative, to “symbolically” cut off Lewis’ speech with the sound of a gun. The civil rights hero, who had his skull fractured on the first 1965 Selma march, falls silent in mid-sentence, as though he’d been hit by a sniper while addressing the crowd. (Listen to it on Media Matters; it’s more disturbing than you can imagine just reading about it.)

Lewis is in mid-speech, talking about the unfinished business of civil rights in America. “We must say to the Congress: fix the Voting Rights Act. We must say to the Congress: Pass comprehensive immigration reform. It doesn’t make sense that millions of our people …”

And then a shot rings out. Ingraham picks up what Lewis was saying. “OK. ‘It doesn’t make sense that millions of our people … are living in the shadows.’ They’re not only not living in the shadows, they’re appearing at the State of the Union speech. They’re actually visiting with the president in the White House. I think we have to drop that ‘living in the shadows’ thing. They might be standing on the street corner, but they’re not living in the shadows.”

Ingraham’s entitled to her opinion on immigration reform – she’s implacably against it, with her nativist buddy Pat Buchanan, who also appeared on the show – but I have to wonder why she chose to silence Lewis, symbolically at least, with a gunshot. It’s no coincidence she’s also an NRA mouthpiece whipping up fear that the government is coming for our guns. All of the white-grievance mongers are getting angrier, and their brew of pro-gun paranoia and white racial resentment is toxic. Ingraham should be ashamed of herself, but she’s just another rodeo clown, and she has no shame.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, August 27, 2013

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Right Wing | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Evil Bozo Creep Show”: Trump University And Clown School

There’s really nothing all that wrong with defining “success” as making an absolute buffoon of yourself. You get attention that way. You might even make money that way, especially if you convince people that being as much of an embarrassment as you are is, in fact, a good thing – and you can put them on TV so people can watch the spectacle unfold. And in our absurdly celebrity-obsessed culture, there’s enough blurriness to the line between famous and notorious that one can convince oneself they’re moral equivalents.

But they’re not. If you want to make an ass of yourself for fame and money, knock yourself out. But don’t expect to be taken seriously at the same time.

That lesson has escaped walking logo Donald Trump, whom we thought was spending all his time combing his thin hair over his forehead, putting his name on buildings in tacky bright lights and humiliating people on a recession-era TV show about getting a job. But Trump, it seems, was running something called Trump University. Who knew?

These are not, after all, two words that one would put next to each other, logically. But Trump runs some sort of seminar camp in which he charges people up to $35,000 to hear hand-picked speakers talk about how to do the “art” of the Trump real estate deal, according to a complaint by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. It’s not an actual university – that is, it doesn’t award degrees. And even the dangling carrot of the institution – the hope of actually getting to meet The Donald – wasn’t realized by many students (or, “students”) who, Schneiderman said, had to settle for a photo of themselves next to a cardboard cutout of Trump.

To his credit, that’s not a bad metaphor for the whole “university” scheme. But it’s hardly fair to people who shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars, thinking they’d get rich. Said Schneiderman:

Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers’ advancement through costly programs and caused real financial harm. Trump University, with Donald Trump’s knowledge and participation, relied on Trump’s name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand.

To be fair, there are other fake schools that collect high tuitions from desperate people who then can’t find jobs or make back the investment they made in their educations. Trump is a meaty target – something he surely knows, since he’s put a lot of effort into making himself one. And it’s entirely possible that Schneiderman, wanting a tiny piece of the media attention Trump courts 24/7, was drawing attention to a serious issue by going after the least serious “school” out there.

But Trump’s level of self-aggrandizement has reached stunning heights, as he now contends that the president of the United States himself is behind the sting. President Obama and Schneiderman met on a Thursday night. Could they have been talking about Democratic politics? A looming government shutdown and what it would mean for the economy? The impact of Obamacare in New York, where insurance premiums are expected to go way down? Nope, Trump insists. It all has to be about him – what else? Said Trump:

They meet on Thursday evening. I get sued by this A.G. Schneiderman, I get sued on Saturday at 1 o’clock. Think of it. What government agency in the history of this country has ever brought a suit on a Saturday? I never heard of such a thing.

Perhaps it will all be academic in the end – which is about as close to academics as his institute comes. But Trump University and Trump himself should cheer up. There’s always clown college.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, August 27, 2013

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Consumers, Donald Trump | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Monopoly On Stupid Comments”: Offensive Republican Rhetoric Is Backed By Offensive Republican Policies

As the nation’s attention turns to the 50th anniversary of the March of Washington, Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee are at least making an effort to show the public the party takes race, diversity, and civil rights seriously. Whether these efforts have merit is a separate question.

Keli Goff reports this morning that Priebus took questions from a handful of African-American journalists following an official RNC luncheon yesterday, and Goff asked the party leader an interesting question.

I asked Priebus, whether in light of the many racially inflammatory comments made by Republican leaders recently (which you can read herehere and here) and the many more made by Republican leaders as a whole since President Obama took office (which you can read here), if he as party leader would consider apologizing on behalf of the party for such rhetoric and setting a zero-tolerance policy so that such rhetoric stops being commonplace. The chairman replied that he has criticized specific Republicans for specific instances of offensive language, most notably when he pressed for the resignation of an Illinois Republican Party leader who made racist and sexist comments about multiracial Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold. But in a baffling turn, Priebus then seemed to insinuate that the GOP doesn’t have any more of a racist rhetoric problem than Democrats.

“Look I don’t think either party has a monopoly on stupid comments,” he told The Root. “I think both parties have said plenty of stupid things and when people in our party say them, I’m pretty bold in coming out and talking about them, whether it be the issue in Illinois [involving Erika Harold] or Todd Akin or a variety of issues.”

When Goff reminded Priebus that one of his predecessors, former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, apologized at an NAACP event for Republicans exploiting racial tensions for electoral gain, Priebus responded, “I don’t know what the back story is. You’re giving me facts and back channel information I’m not aware of.”

Nevertheless, the RNC chair’s response was unsatisfying for a variety of reasons.

When it comes to race, saying that the parties are effectively the same on “stupid comments” is belied by the facts. Indeed, it’s not even close — Republicans are the party of birthers. They’re the party of Rep. Steve “Cantaloupe” King and Gov. Paul “Kiss My Butt” LePage. It was Republican Don Young who talked about “wetbacks” in March, and it was Republican Sarah Palin who talked about “shuck and jive” during the 2012 campaign.

Obviously, plenty of Democrats make plenty of stupid comments all the time, but to hear Priebus tell it, specifically on race, there’s nothing especially unique about Republicans’ troubles. I think the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

What’s more, this isn’t just about offensive rhetoric; it’s about offensive policies. Republican policymakers nationwide continue to approve voter-suppression laws that deliberately target minority communities.

And therein lies part of the RNC’s problem: Priebus seems eager to do the right thing so he can expand his party’s old, white base, but he just doesn’t have anything constructive to offer in the way of solutions. He seems aware of the fact that he has a problem, but doesn’t know what to do about it, exactly, except say nice things about outreach.

Priebus will need far more.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 27, 2013

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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