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“The Price For Letting Them Off Easy”: The Bush Era Starting To Take On Less Of The Flavor Of Criminality And More Of Mere Incompetence

Things that make me want to sanitize my brain by dunking my head in a bucket of iodine:

As George W. Bush’s public image improves, more former Bush officials are running for office — and are starting to tout their connections to the former president rather than running from them.

Top former Bush advisor Ed Gillespie included photos with his old boss and talked of his work in the White House in the video announcing his Virginia Senate bid on Thursday.

Gillespie isn’t the only Bush alumni looking to be on the ballot this fall. The former Republican National Committee chairman joins a long list already looking to launch their own electoral careers: Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan (R); Elise Stefanik, the current GOP front-runner for retiring Rep. Bill Owens’s (D-N.Y.) seat in upstate New York; North Carolina congressional candidate Taylor Griffin (R) and West Virginia House candidate Charlotte Lane.

Former Bush officials Tom Foley (R) and Asa Hutchinson (R) are also running for governor in Connecticut and Arkansas. Neel Kashkari, who served both the Bush and Obama administration as assistant Treasury secretary running the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is mulling a bid to the GOP nominee for governor in California. One of Gillespie’s little-known Republican primary opponents, Howie Lind, served in Bush’s Department of Defense.

I know it is unrealistic to think that the Republican Party could field a nation of candidates without using anyone who served in the Bush administration, but it galls me that it might be anything but a liability.

There was way too little legal accountability for the various crimes of the Bush administration, and the effort to reach out (remember the vote on the Stimulus?) was met with a petulant stiff-arm. The result is that the Bush Era has begun to take on less of the flavor of criminality and more of mere incompetence. In reality, it was a lethal combination of both, and we should have never let America develop amnesia about that fact.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 19, 2014

January 20, 2014 Posted by | George W Bush, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Derailing The GOP Jihad”: Deeper Message, Republicans Wasted A Year Arguing What Turned Out To Be Phony Issues

The Senate Intelligence Committee made headlines last week by reporting that the 2012 attack in Benghazi was preventable. But frankly, we knew that. The deeper message of the bipartisan report was that Republicans in Congress wasted a year arguing about what turned out to be mostly phony issues.

The GOP’s Benghazi obsession was the weird backdrop for foreign-policy debate through much of last year.

Sen. Lindsey Graham used it as a pretext for blocking administration nominations. Rep. Darrell Issa used the issue to impugn the integrity and independence of a review conducted by retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former Ambassador Tom Pickering.

Driving the Republican jihad was a claim, first reported in October 2012 by Fox News, that CIA personnel had wanted to respond more quickly to the Benghazi attack but were ordered to “stand down,” perhaps by political higher-ups. Although this claim was promptly rebutted by CIA officials, it was repeated by Fox at least 85 times, according to a review by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters. This barrage fueled Republican charges that the Democrats were engaging in a cover-up.

The Senate Intelligence report addressed this inflammatory charge head-on. “The committee explored claims that there was a ‘stand down’ order given to the security team at the annex. Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the mission compound, the committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the chief of [the CIA] base or any other party.”

The Senate panel also rejected the insinuation, made repeatedly by Republicans, that the Obama administration failed to scramble available military assets that could have defended the Benghazi annex and saved the lives of the four American victims. “There were no U.S. military resources in position to intervene in short order in Benghazi,” the report says flatly. “The committee has reviewed the allegations that U.S. personnel … prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks, but the committee has not found any of these allegations to be substantiated.”

These are bipartisan findings, mind you, endorsed by the panel’s Republican members as well as Democrats. GOP members offered some zingers in their additional minority views, but the Democrats rightly credited their colleagues for standing up to the right-wing spin machine: “We worked together on a bipartisan basis to dispel the many factual inaccuracies and conspiracy theories related to the Benghazi attacks.”

The Obama administration’s supposed cover-up on Benghazi became a crusade for leading Republicans. A low point came when Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a report last September questioning “the independence and integrity of the review” by the Mullen-Pickering group. These were extraordinary charges to make against a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former ambassador to six countries — especially since Issa didn’t present any conclusive evidence to back up his allegations.

The Republican tirades about Benghazi were unfortunate not just because they were based on erroneous speculation but because they distracted policymakers from the real challenge of framing coherent policy in the Middle East. Sometimes, it seemed as if Benghazi finger-pointing was the only issue that leading Republicans cared about.

In fact, the Senate Intelligence report echoes many of the themes of the earlier report by the Accountability Review Board, which noted “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies.” Warnings about deteriorating conditions in Benghazi were ignored; proposals to add additional security there were rejected; even as evidence mounted of al-Qaeda’s growing power in Benghazi, the State Department failed to respond adequately. The Senate report makes clear that some important security mistakes were made by Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the courageous but sometimes incautious diplomat who was among those who died in the attack.

Perhaps the silliest aspect of the Benghazi affair was the focus on the errant “talking points” prepared for Congress, which cited incorrect intelligence about “spontaneous demonstrations” in Benghazi that wasn’t corrected by the CIA until a week after the points were delivered on Sunday talk shows by Susan Rice, then U.N. ambassador. Rice is still under a cloud because she repeated the CIA’s “points” prepared at Congress’ insistence.

Next time, the Senate report notes, the intelligence community should just tell Congress what facts are unclassified — and let the legislators do the talking.

 

By: David Ignatius, Real Clear Politics, January 19, 2014

January 20, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Diabolical Chicken-And-Egg Conundrum”: Fear Is Why Workers In Red States Vote Against Their Economic Self-Interest

Last week’s massive spill of the toxic chemical MCHM into West Virginia’s Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes. Not only are employees eager to accept whatever job they can get. They are also also unwilling to demand healthy and safe environments.

The spill was the region’s third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as “Chemical Valley,” and repeated recommendations from federal regulators and environmental advocates that the state embrace tougher rules to better safeguard chemicals.

No action was ever taken. State and local officials turned a deaf ear. The storage tank that leaked, owned by Freedom Industries, hadn’t been inspected for decades.

But nobody complained.

Not even now, with the toxins moving down river toward Cincinnati, can the residents of Charleston and the surrounding area be sure their drinking water is safe — partly because the government’s calculation for safe levels is based on a single study by the manufacturer of the toxic chemical, which was never published, and partly because the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies the drinking water, is a for-profit corporation that may not want to highlight any lingering danger.

So why wasn’t more done to prevent this, and why isn’t there more of any outcry even now?

The answer isn’t hard to find. As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen’s group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia’s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, explained to the New York Times: “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.”

Exactly.

I often heard the same refrain when I headed the U.S. Department of Labor. When we sought to impose a large fine on the Bridgestone-Firestone Tire Company for flagrantly disregarding workplace safety rules and causing workers at one of its plants in Oklahoma to be maimed and killed, for example, the community was solidly behind us — that is, until Bridgestone-Firestone threatened to close the plant if we didn’t back down.

The threat was enough to ignite a storm of opposition to the proposed penalty from the very workers and families we were trying to protect. (We didn’t back down and Bridgestone-Firestone didn’t carry out its threat, but the political fallout was intense.)

For years political scientists have wondered why so many working class and poor citizens of so-called “red” states vote against their economic self-interest. The usual explanation is that, for these voters, economic issues are trumped by social and cultural issues like guns, abortion, and race.

I’m not so sure. The wages of production workers have been dropping for thirty years, adjusted for inflation, and their economic security has disappeared. Companies can and do shut down, sometimes literally overnight. A smaller share of working-age Americans hold jobs today than at any time in more than three decades.

People are so desperate for jobs they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want rules and regulations enforced that might cost them their livelihoods. For them, a job is precious — sometimes even more precious than a safe workplace or safe drinking water.

This is especially true in poorer regions of the country like West Virginia and through much of the South and rural America — so-called “red” states where the old working class has been voting Republican. Guns, abortion, and race are part of the explanation. But don’t overlook economic anxieties that translate into a willingness to vote for whatever it is that industry wants.

This may explain why Republican officials who have been casting their votes against unions, against expanding Medicaid, against raising the minimum wage, against extended unemployment insurance, and against jobs bills that would put people to work, continue to be elected and re-elected. They obviously have the support of corporate patrons who want to keep unemployment high and workers insecure because a pliant working class helps their bottom lines. But they also, paradoxically, get the votes of many workers who are clinging so desperately to their jobs that they’re afraid of change and too cowed to make a ruckus.

The best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility is a strong and growing middle class. But in order to summon the political will to achieve it, we have to overcome the timidity that flows from economic desperation. It’s a diabolical chicken-and-egg conundrum at a the core of American politics today.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, January 15, 2014

January 20, 2014 Posted by | Public Health, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“But I Only Moved The Cones!”: Chris Christie May Pay A Big Toll For The Bridgegate Scandal

Texas populist politician Jim Hightower is noted for the saying, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

That’s not the case in New Jersey. Here the middle of the road is often occupied by a toll booth. And nothing could be a more fitting symbol of the crisis that seems to be ending our governor’s national ambitions.

As of last month, the toll on the George Washington Bridge rose to $13 for rush-hour traffic. It was a mere $8 when Christie took office. Consider that in light of Christie’s claim, repeated in his State of the State address last week, that he has never raised taxes.

That claim rests on the assumption that those tolls are “user fees,” not taxes. In fact, only a small percentage of the toll money goes to maintaining the bridge. The rest is raked off for so many pet projects that the Port Authority might better be named the “Pork Authority.”

Without all the extra swag from those and other tolls — and a lot of creative bonding — Christie could never have kept that no-tax-hike pledge that would have served him so well in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

I say “would have” because after last week the odds of such a run are no longer in Christie’s favor. The hearing room was crammed with cameras as the Assembly Select Committee on Investigations held its first session Thursday. Afterward, Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) announced that 17 people would receive subpoenas. Among them were a host of key Christie aides who should have plenty to say both about the closure of those bridge lanes and the motive, which was political vengeance.

Christie’s political future rests on his claim that, over the four months the scandal unfolded, he had no idea the “traffic safety survey” behind the closure was a sham.

That claim brought comparisons to the Sergeant Schultz character from the old TV comedy “Hogan’s Heroes.” One wag even posted a picture of Christie’s face inserted under the World War II German helmet of the prison camp guard whose biggest laugh line was “I know nothing! I see nothing!”

They say a great man can survive anything but ridicule. We’ll see if that’s true in the coming weeks as those hearings reveal just what Christie knew and when he knew it.

The results will likely clear some traffic from the middle of the road in the 2016 race. Christie’s claim to fame was electability and he had quite a claim until Bridgegate. Christie’s appeal was based not on his ideology but his popularity. After that 22-point landslide re-election win, he could make a plausible claim that he could break the Democrats’ stranglehold on at least one blue state, his own, and perhaps others.

The rest of the middle-of-the-road candidates look ready to repeat Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012, when 40 states were not seriously contested and the election was decided by 10 swing states that swung Democratic.

So that’s not good news for the GOP. Christie was the one candidate who might have brought about a realignment. Virtually everything he did over the past few years was designed to make that case, from endorsing New Jersey’s version of the Dream Act giving in-state tuition rates to undocumented students to reaching out to minorities and urban mayors.

It looks like his campaign reached a bit too far when seeking the endorsement of at least one mayor. Last month, Christie was running just three points behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in an NBC News/Marist poll of potential candidates in the 2016 presidential race. By last week, that poll had Christie trailing Clinton by 13 points. So it looks like this moderate Republican governor may not be going anywhere.

This points out a key problem not just with Christie but with moderates in general. Their moderation is often a cover for an approach to politics that focuses more on doing well than doing good. Over the coming weeks, we can expect to learn a bit about the politically connected lawyers and developers who enriched themselves while wheeling and dealing behind the scenes at the Port Authority.

The mainstream media may not think much of extremists. And they certainly have their flaws, whether they’re leftists or rightists. But as Hightower noted, there’s a reason the voters often prefer them. Sometimes a little bit of idealism can get you a long way down the road.

ON THE OTHER HAND, insightful reporter Matt Katz takes the position that Christie may survive this scandal with his national ambitions intact:

Consider that most of his potential presidential opponents have avoided slamming him on the controversy. Or that a New Hampshire poll released Thursday showed him leading all Republican comers — by a larger margin than in September. Most of those questioned had heard of Bridgegate, and 14 percent of GOP voters said it made them like him more.Yes, Christie was scorned in a (hilarious) “Born to Run” parody by Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon. But there could be worse things for a Republican with base troubles than to get raked through the coals by the media elite.

Christie’s political advisers say interest was high for fundraisers he’s hosting this weekend in Florida, and national donors are calling to express support. The road to 2016 may now have some more traffic on it, but if Christie’s name doesn’t make a damning appearance in a subpoenaed Bridgegate document, he will have the cash and connections to mount a strong bid for the presidency.

Katz was the guy who asked the question at that Dec. 2 press conference that elicited the “I moved the cones” wisecrack from Christie. That remark will certainly come back to haunt Christie. And unless the governor can explain why he still believed that “traffic study” was legit, he won’t be putting this scandal behind him.

By: Paul Mulshine, The Star Ledger, New Jersey, January 18, 2014

January 20, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Anti-Establishment Establishment”: In The GOP, The “Kids” Have Stopped Listening And The “Adults” Are No Longer In Control

To those of us who are perpetually skeptical of the alleged power of the incredibly “adult” and deeply “responsible” Republican Establishment to keep the “constitutional conservatives” in line, a Timothy Carney piece in the Washington Examiner earlier this week was especially interesting. It argued that the ability of said Establishment to kick ass and take names in Congress was being sharply eroded by the loss of a monopoly over money and jobs in Washington:

Cold cash, together with control of institutions, is what makes the Establishment the Establishment. But in the current Republican civil war, the insurgents have secured their own money pipelines, and they control their own institutions – which means the GOP leadership and its allies in the business lobby have a hard fight in front of them.

The firing and hiring of conservative staffer Paul Teller makes it clear that the anti-establishment has built its own establishment.

Teller was a House staffer for more than a decade, and was longtime executive director of the conservative Republican Study Committee. The RSC always exerted a rightward pull on party leadership, but it is nonetheless a subsidiary of the party.

After the 2012 election, the Republican Establishment captured the RSC, in effect, by getting Congressman Steve Scalise elected chairman. Scalise is a conservative, but he is also a close ally of the party leadership – much more so than his predecessors Jim Jordan and Tom Price. Scalise immediately swept out most of the RSC staff.

Last month, Teller was accused of working with outside groups such as Heritage Action to whip RSC members – and Scalise showed Teller the door.

In the old days, this might have been a disaster for Teller. He had lost his job and landed on the wrong side of the party leadership. Anyone who picked up Teller would be spitting in the eye of the Establishment. But this week, Sen. Ted Cruz announced he had hired Teller as deputy chief of staff.

Carney goes on to discuss the rapid rise of alternative sources for campaign money like the Club for Growth and Super-PACs, and the conquest of one important Beltway institution, the Heritage Foundation, by people openly hostile to The Establishment.

Now when you add in the already virtually complete control by hard-core conservatives of basic formulations of GOP ideology and messaging (the best example remains Jim DeMint’s Cut, Cap and Balance Pledge, an insanely radical piece of fiscal flimflammery that a long line of Republicans, from Mitt Romney on down, lined up to sign in 2011 and 2012) and the disproportionate strength of conservative activists in the presidential nominating process, it’s increasingly clear the “adults” are not necessarily in control. Indeed, like parents who try to behave like a kid to maintain some influence with their kids, Establishment folk are forever conceding territory to the “activists” they privately call crazy people. And the loss of its monopoly over jobs and money is like a parent’s loss of a teenager’s car keys and allowance. At some point, “the kids” just stop listening.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 16, 2014

January 20, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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