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“A Tragic Waste Of Time”: In The Budget Fight, The GOP Doesn’t Act In The National Interest

Are we really going to do this? Are we going to wade into a struggle we don’t really want to fight? Are we going to mire ourselves in a senseless, grinding conflict whose possible outcomes range from bad to worse?

I’m talking about the upcoming budget battles in Washington, of course. (What, you thought I meant something else?)

Incredibly, Congress seems determined to spend much of the fall demonstrating its boundless talent for dysfunction. House Republicans say they will threaten once again to send the nation into default — and the economy over a cliff — by refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling, now set at $16.7 trillion. This means that by mid-October, the government would exhaust its borrowing authority and be left without enough money to pay its bills.

“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week at an Idaho fundraiser. “But I’ll say this: It may be unfair, but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

In other words, Boehner is looking forward to the opportunity to threaten the nation with grievous harm. Nice little economic recovery you’re working on. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.

President Obama, who has seen this movie before, says there will be no fight because he categorically refuses to negotiate over the debt ceiling. He demands that Congress do its job — which amounts to a routine bit of bookkeeping — without all the needless drama.

Investors around the world still consider U.S. Treasury bills, notes and bonds to be the ultimate safe haven, especially in times of economic uncertainty. It is unthinkable that our elected officials, supposedly working in the nation’s best interests, would threaten this exalted and immensely beneficial status by intentionally triggering a default.

So who’s going to blink?

Obama certainly has the stronger political position. His approval numbers may be stuck in the 40s, but ratings for Congress are down in the teens — and sinking.

Boehner has almost no room to maneuver. House Republicans are still fuming at having been forced to swallow a modest tax increase for the wealthy as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal earlier this year. The responsible thing would be for Boehner to bring a simple bill raising the debt ceiling to the floor, where it would pass with the votes of Democrats and non-crazy Republicans. But that would probably cost Boehner his job.

You’re depressed already? I’m just getting started.

Before we even get to the debt-ceiling fight, the government will run out of authority to spend money on Sept. 30 — which means no ability to function — unless Congress approves a continuing resolution. Doing so should be another no-brainer, but some Republicans are itching for a government shutdown. Because, you know, that worked so well for Newt Gingrich in the ’90s.

Boehner wants none of that. But in an attempt to get House Republicans to avert a shutdown by passing a short-term funding bill, he promises them a “whale of a fight” later over the debt ceiling. (He treats his caucus as if it were a cage full of rabid wolverines.)

Oh, and there’s another whole dimension to the pointless political snarling and bickering we will have to endure over the next few months: Obamacare.

Some Republicans believe, or say they believe, that they can use the continuing-resolution fight or the debt-ceiling fight, or maybe both, to force Obama to sign legislation nullifying all or part of his health-care reforms. One idea is to take away Obamacare’s funding. Another is to delay the individual health insurance mandate, due to take effect next year.

Do they really believe the president is willing to forsake his most important legislative accomplishment? Before it even comes fully into effect?

This is a tragic waste of time and effort, and the House Republicans are to blame. Remember when Democrats captured the House in 2006? They worked with George W. Bush even though they disagreed with his policies. Most Democrats adamantly opposed the Iraq War, but then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi made sure that Bush got the funding he required for the troops.

Boehner and his crew need to act like grown ups. If they don’t, voters need to send them home.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 2, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand Paul’s Unique Understanding Of Syria”: Strong Opinions About Another Subject He Doesn’t Really Understand

It wasn’t surprising to see Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on “Meet the Press” yesterday criticizing the idea of military intervention in Syria. It was, however, interesting to hear his rationale for what U.S. foreign policy should look like in this case.

“I think the failure of the Obama administration has been we haven’t engaged the Russians enough or the Chinese enough on this, and I think they were engaged. I think there’s a possibility Assad could already be gone. The Russians have every reason to want to keep their influence in Syria, and I think the only way they do is if there’s a change in government where Assad has gone but some of the same people remain stable.

“That would also be good for the Christians. I think the Islamic rebels winning is a bad idea for the Christians and all of a sudden we’ll have another Islamic state where Christians are persecuted.

“So I think really the best outcome for all the major powers would be a peaceful transition government, and Russia could influence that if they told Assad no more weapons.”

Paul seemed oddly preoccupied with Christians in Syria — a group he mentioned five times during the brief interview — to the point at which it seemed the senator may be confusing Syria with Egypt, where Coptic Christians have seen their churches burned.

But it was his rhetoric about Russia that was especially out of place.

About 13 years ago, then-Gov. George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore met for the first of three debates, and Jim Lehrer asked about Slobodan Milosevic, who was threatening at the time to ignore his election results and leave office. Bush said it would be “a wonderful time for the Russians to step into the Balkans” and help lead diplomatic efforts.

Gore said that didn’t make any sense — Russia had largely sided with Milosevic and wasn’t prepared to accept the election results. Bush said, “Well obviously we wouldn’t use the Russians if they didn’t agree with our answer, Mr. Vice President.”

“They don’t,” Gore replied, making clear that only one candidate on the stage knew what he was talking about.

I thought about that 2000 debate watching Paul suggest the Obama administration should “engage” Russia to help create a “change in government” in Syria. Indeed, in Paul’s vision, Obama would convince Russia to deny military aid to the Assad government.

How would this happen, exactly? Does Rand Paul realize that Russia and the U.S. are on opposite sides of this, and “engaging” Russians to help oust Assad doesn’t really make any sense? Did the senator not fully prepare for questions about Syria before the interview?

Or is this just another issue in which the Kentucky Republican has strong opinions about a subject he doesn’t really understand?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 2, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Rand Paul, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Failing Young Rape Victims”: Children Are Children And Acting Older Doesn’t Make Them Older

Last year, a defense attorney called an 11 year-old gang rape victim a “spider” luring men into her web. When The New York Times covered the case, they reported she “dressed older than her age,” wore make up and hung out with teenage boys. It wasn’t a new framing; when young girls are raped – especially young girls of color – they’re frequently blamed for “enticing” adult men or painted as complicit in the attack because of their supposed sexual maturity. From the criminal justice system that re-traumatizes assault victims to a media that calls rape cases “sex scandals” or insists statutory rape isn’t ‘rape rape’, we are failing young sexual assault survivors every day.

One young woman we have failed is Cherice Moralez. When Moralez was 14, she was raped by her 49 year old teacher. She killed herself a few weeks before her 17th birthday. Last week, a Montana judge sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold – who admitted raping Moralez – to just 30 days in jail. Judge G. Todd Baugh said Moralez was “older than her chronological age,” and was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist. Baugh also said the assault “wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”

While state prosecutors are seeking to appeal the sentence and the case has generated justifiable outrage, some believe the 30 days was too much. Former lawyer Betsy Karasik, for example, used the case as an example to argue for the decriminalization of student-teacher “relationships” in The Washington Post. Karasik insisted that no one she knew who had sex with teachers was “horribly damaged” and that “many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature.”

But biological maturity or “acting” mature is not the same thing as being an adult. Roxane Gay writes, “People often want to ‘complicate’ the statutory rape conversation by talking about the sexual empowerment of adolescents and this and that. These exercises in intellectual masturbation are pointless.”

“I was a teenager, we were all teenagers and we all felt empowered in our youthful seductions. We maybe were and we probably weren’t. We like to tell ourselves we know exactly what we’re doing, even when we don’t.”

When I was a sophmore in high school, my social studies teacher – who was in his 60s or 70s – asked me to come to the board because “everyone wants to see how you look in that shirt.” I stopped going to class, too ashamed to return. Before the semester ended, the teacher cornered me in the hallway and told me if I gave him a hug, he would give me a 95 in the class. I did it.

At the time, I laughed with my friends about the “pervy teacher who gave me an awesome grade.” I reacted the same way when I was 17 and a man in his 30s who had been my teacher since I was 13 years old, called my home the week I graduated to ask me out. Because that’s what teens do – deflect pain with humor.

I thought my blasé reaction made me mature, but the truth is that it epitomized my immaturity – a testament to the fact that I didn’t know how to handle unwanted advances of much older men.

Teenagers can act unhurt over sexual harassment and abuse for all sorts of reasons, including trying to reclaiming agency from an abusive situation. That does not mean what is happening is not abuse, or rape, or assault. And no matter how grown teens act, it’s the responsibility of teachers and adults to remind us that we’re not adults, not to lasciviously bolster a myth that says otherwise or worsen it with blame.

Sexualization of young girls is not just something that happens as part of abuse, it’s something that’s part of their everyday lives. A report from the American Psychological Association shows that even the personal relationships girls have with peers, parents and teachers can contribute to this sexualization through daily interactions:

Parents may contribute to sexualization in a number of ways. For example, parents may convey the message that maintaining an attractive physical appearance is the most important goal for girls. Some may allow or encourage plastic surgery to help girls meet that goal. Research shows that teachers sometimes encourage girls to play at being sexualized adult women or hold beliefs that girls of color are “hypersexual” and thus unlikely to achieve academic success.

For girls like Moralez – who are depicted as “troubled” or deserving of the abuse done to them because of racism and their perceived sexuality – the consequences are acute. One study, for example, showed that Latina girls are likely to stop attending school activities in order to avoid sexual harassment – a survival technique that is more likely to result in a label of deliquency than victimhood.

Cherice Moralez deserves more justice than 30 days. She deserves more humanity than being fodder for an intellectual argument that supports rape. And no matter what she looked like or acted like, she was a child.

As Cherice’s mother Auliea Hanlon told CNN, “How could she be in control of the situation? He was a teacher. She was a student. She wasn’t in control of anything. She was 14.” Cherice was described as “gifted” by her teachers. She loved poetry. She was 14.

By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, September 2, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Sex Abuse | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shocked And Awed”: Media Outlets Spitting Mad At President Obama For Spoiling Their Plans To Cash In On War

Following the President’ surprise announcement that he would seek the advice and consent of Congress before launching an attack on Syria, it seemed that no matter where you landed on the cable news dial everyone was in a state of upset.

With visions of TV screens filled with ‘shock and awe’ dancing in their heads along with the blessed promise of the ratings that follow the hysteria of war—not to mention a sublime ending to the slow news agonies of August that dogs all news show production staffs, writers and broadcasters (trust me,I know)—Obama had held out the football for Charlie Brown to kick and then pulled it away at the last minute.

And the media was pissed.

Some focused on their having been misled by the speech given by Secretary of State John Kerry—a speech that appeared to be the final case for war in Syria and a warning to the media to get reporting staff into the region because of what was coming. So angry was the media at this bit of perceived misdirection, many suggested that Kerry would now have to resign his post in embarrassment.

It was as if the media was demanding someone’s blood for the crime of having spoiled their plans for war and Kerry was the likely choice.

So the boss changed his mind at the last minute. It happens. It not only has happened to me, it has probably happened to just about everyone reading this column.  It can be embarrassing but you get past it and remind yourself that you won’t do it when you get to be the boss…although you probably will.

But if the media was going to be denied their war opportunities, they expected that the Administration make good by throwing out a sacrificial lamb to fill a few news cycles for them. It was the least that Obama could do, right?

And then there were the pundits appearing on networks representing all sides of the political spectrum—including those who claim to play it ‘down the middle’—who took to the airwaves to angrily argue that the President’s backing off an attack pending Congressional approval would weaken America in the eyes of the world.


With the largest military on the planet and a defense budget larger than the next top eleven countries combined, could anyone really believe that the world’s leaders now view the United States as a weakened force on the world stage because of a delay in going forward with a lesson-teaching attack on Syria?

If failure to launch a few missiles on some prescribed schedule—a schedule that appeared to be primarily driven by the media—means that the U.S. is now a ‘weakened nation’, it should conversely stand to reason that when the U.S. moves forward with an attack, as we did in Libya, the opposite should occur.

And yet, our actions in Libya—not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan—certainly did not cause Bashir Assad and his government to seriously consider our daring and bravado when deciding to gas innocent children to death in the middle of the night, now did it? And where were the compliments from the same pundits now screaming bloody murder when Obama engaged in a bit of regime-change in Libya? Apparently, they were too busy criticizing the President for “leading from behind” in Libya to note that there could have been no Libyan action without the United States—something that, if we are to believe these critics now, should have greatly strengthened our position on the world stage and stopped Assad from doing something that could lead to intervention by the United States.

The fact that nations do not make decisions based on another country’s nuanced track record versus the realities of a given situation should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. In the real world, leaders of nations know far better than to make their plans based on what the United States may have done in the past and know full well that they cannot rely on past American war decisions to either protect them or inspire them when it comes to what we might choose to do in the future.

We live in a time where some sort of international crisis occurs on a fairly regular basis and our reaction to those events can always be expected to vary depending on circumstances. How we reacted in Libya is very different than how we are reacting in Syria. How we reacted during the Iranian uprising in 2011 was very different than how we reacted to what occurred in Libya.

Accordingly, what world leader would be so profoundly stupid as to presume that the United States can be counted on to react in the very same way each and every time because of what we may have done during the last crisis? We don’t do that. Nobody does. And pretending that a decision pertaining to Syria will have some huge impact on what we might do during the next international crisis is nothing short of preposterous.

And then there are those who go on and on about the terrible message the President’s decision is sending to allies like Israel and enemies like Iran.

Apparently, those who have taken this line of criticism believe that neither of these governments are capable of grasping the reality that the United States—like all nations— can only be counted upon to act based on what we perceive to be in our best interests—interests that may be very different when it involves Iran than how we perceive our interest, or lack thereof, in Syria.

Do you really imagine that the Mullahs are now presuming that they have some green light to do as they please in the belief that the United States is just some paper tiger because we might elect to leave the Syrian situation alone? Do you actually suspect that Israel will base their expectations on what we might do should they elect to move against Iran on the same factors we are considering with respect to Syria—or any other decision we have taken in the past that is wholly irrelevant to the circumstances that would be at work should Israel choose such a course of action?

Still, none of this logic has been of any importance to the talking heads and show hosts who cannot seem to get past their anger over Obama’s spoiling their fun—not to mention embarrassing them for being flat out wrong about our pending attack on Syria.

In reality, there are two things that are driving the response to Obama’s “surprise” Syrian move—ratings and politics.

If you imagine, even for a moment, that both Republicans and Democrats are not crafting their response to the President’s decision with the elections of 2014 and 2016 firmly in mind—with the exception of Rand Paul who can’t possibly believe that his being supportive of the Assad regime is somehow good for his presidential bid—I have a frozen tundra in Siberia I’d like to sell you.

And if you imagine that the news outlets are not furious at the President for being a buzzkill during a month where ratings and newspaper sales are hard to come by, and are acting out in response to this anger, I’m afraid I’m going to have to double the asking price for that Siberian resort.

Nothing drives interest in news and politicians like an apparent crisis. Accordingly, expect both the media and the politicians to make the most out of it. But if you are actually forming your own point of view based on the illogical and emotional responses of either, you are doing yourself a great disservice.

If you think our interests are best served by lobbing missiles into Syria or taking an even more active role in their civil war, then you should feel free to criticize this president for not acting in accordance with your wishes. If you believe that this is not a fight that we should engage in, call your Congressional Representatives and tell them to vote against supporting Obama’s war plans.

But if you are forming these opinions based on the self-interest of the media or the politicians, you might wish to rethink your position based on reality as neither the media nor the politicians are fulfilling their responsibility to give you measured analysis designed to assist you in forming your own perspectives.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, September 2, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Media, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mandatory Ineffectiveness”: Mandatory Minimum Prison Sentences Don’t Make Us Safer

There are many reasons to oppose mandatory minimum sentencing laws. They frequently require excessive punishments, they put too much power into the hands of prosecutors (at the expense of judges), and they are expensive. Defenders of such laws say they’re worth it because they keep society safe. They argue that crime rates drop whenever mandatory sentences are enacted and rise when they are repealed or reduced. But after 30 years of experience with mandatory sentences at the federal and state level, we know that’s not true.

Congress passed strict mandatory sentences for buying and selling cocaine, marijuana, heroin and other drugs in 1986. Selling even small amounts of these drugs resulted in automatic five-year prison sentences (10 years for higher quantities). Beginning in 1987, when the new mandatory sentencing law took effect, the violent crime rate actually rose over the next four years by a startling 24 percent and did not return to its 1987 level until a decade later.

Before it reached that point, however, Congress acknowledged that the new mandatory minimum prison sentences were sometimes excessive, and in 1994 voted to exempt certain first-time, nonviolent and low-level drug offenders from mandatory minimums. In those cases, courts were authorized to impose individualized sentences based on the defenders’ role in the crime.

So crime went up, right? Not even close. Since the mandatory minimum carve-out, known as the “safety valve,” was implemented, roughly 80,000 drug offenders have received shorter sentences, and the crime rate has dropped by 44 percent. Needless to say, a theory that says mandatory sentences reduce crime cannot explain how the crime rate dropped so far and so fast when tens of thousands of drug offenders were spared the full weight of such sentences.

The experience of the states is even more devastating to mandatory sentencing’s defenders. Over the past decade, 17 states took steps to reduce their prison populations, including by repealing or curtailing their mandatory sentencing laws. In all 17 states, prison populations fell, and so did their crime rates.

What we have learned is that, while punishment is important, mandatory prison sentences for everyone who breaks the law don’t make us safer. University of Chicago economist and “Freakonomics” author Steven Levitt was perhaps the most influential supporter of pro-prison policies in the ’90s. He said that sending more people to prison was responsible for as much as 25 percent of the decade’s crime drop. Proponents of mandatory sentences cited Levitt at every turn.

But recently, Levitt concluded that as the crime rate continued to drop and the prison population continued to grow, the increase in public safety diminished. He told The New York Times earlier this year, “In the mid-1990s I concluded that the social benefits approximately equaled the costs of incarceration.” But today, Levitt says, “I think we should be shrinking the prison population by at least one-third.” No one in Congress is proposing anything that radical. But reducing our nation’s prison population and crime rate are achievable goals.

Next month, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on a bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., which would give federal courts more discretion to depart from ill-fitting mandatory minimum sentences. The bill, the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, would build on the success of the 1994 legislation. Thirty years of evidence suggests this approach will make us safer.


By: Julie Stewart, U. S. News and World Report, September 2, 2013

September 3, 2013 Posted by | Criminal Justice System | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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