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“Putin’s War, Not Obama’s”: Hear This Republican’s, Putin’s Halo Will Disappear The Moment Russian Troops Kill Innocent Ukrainians

There’s a fallacy afoot in the efforts to blame President Obama for the crisis in Ukraine. It goes like this: Because American’s hand on the global tiller is unsteady and President Obama failed to enforce his “red line” in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin feels empowered to threaten and perhaps make war with Ukraine because he does not fear repercussions. Moreover, by letting Russia invent the solution to Syria’s transgression, Putin has earned some political capital that he feels he can spend. There’s a veneer of plausibility on these allegations. The president’s refusal to endorse some type of kinetic, military punishment against Bashar al-Assad stands as a moral failure to many, and could conceivably have further opened the aperture for murderous misbehavior by other tyrants. And Russia enjoyed its (rare) moment in the sun as the international peace-broker.

But the “if we had only done this” school of foreign policy can easily hang itself by its own noose. The reason why President Obama did not intervene in Syria has more to do with domestic and international norms collected after the disaster of the Iraq War. For the sake of argument, it is more plausible to assume that Americans would be less opposed to military action in Middle Eastern counties if the torment of Iraq were not on their minds. Also plausible: Had the military not learned about modern Middle Eastern adventurism and had generals not developed their own (probably correct) biases against one-off “signaling” military strikes outside the realm of counter-terrorism, Obama’s military advisers might well have forecast different outcomes had he decided to punish Assad by, say, airstrikes against the command and control structure, or by a bigger commitment to Syrian rebels.

One undeniable truth: Iraq weakened the U.S. more than anything done since. Maybe Obama overlearned its lessons; maybe we all have. But nothing empowered Vladimir Putin more than America’s squandering of moral standing in the early part of this century.

I also find Ukraine and Syria to be different genotypically and phenotypically. Syria was never part of the Soviet empire. The Ukraine was a critical part of it. There is no equivalent Crimean problem in Syria; the duly, if unappealingly elected president of the Ukraine, has asked for Russia’s help here. (Yes, we might think that Viktor Yanukovych’s election was not legitimate, but that is not a very solid principle upon which to base a recognition of legitimacy; if it were, America really should never attend U.N. generally assemblies and ought to withdraw from half of the treaties it has negotiated.) Crimea has also directly appealed for Russia’s military assistance.

None of this is to say that Putin faces a clear path forward. Any post-Sochi halo will disappear the moment Russian troops kill innocent Ukrainians. The West will regroup against Russia for the duration of the conflict. Putin’s domestic political standing is at stake, too. War would be disastrous, but Russians don’t want to lose Ukraine to the West, and they are particularly protective of ethnic Russians in the Crimea. What I don’t know, in other words, is whether the United States’s protests would have mattered any more to Putin if Obama had somehow used the U.S. military to punish Syria.


By: Marc Ambinder, The Compass, The Week, March 1, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Russia, Ukraine | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Promises, Promises”: The Elusive Policy That’s Always On The Horizon

In 2009, as Democrats advanced the Affordable Care Act, congressional Republicans promised to produce an alternative plan to prove to the public that the GOP approach was superior. It sounded very nice.

But Republicans, working in secret, missed their own deadline. Then they missed another. Eventually, GOP lawmakers threw together a half-hearted package, which was a bit of a joke. As Matt Yglesias noted at the time, the Republican approach to reform sought to create a system that “works better for people who don’t need health care services, and much worse for people who actually are sick or who become sick in the future. It’s basically a health un-insurance policy.” The CBO found that the plan would leave “about 52 million” Americans without access to basic medical care.

Four-and-a-half years later, we find ourselves in a surprisingly similar situation. For reasons they sometimes struggle to explain, congressional Republicans still hate “Obamacare,” and just as importantly, are still working in secret on an alternative reform plan that will prove their superior policymaking skills. One of these days, they keep saying. Just you watch. It’ll be **awesome.

Except, of course, the elusive policy is always just out of reach. It sits at the horizon, but it never draws closer.

Suddenly, a House vote on a Republican alternative to Obamacare seems less likely.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to commit to an alternative measure coming up for a vote this year but said GOP leadership is going to “continue to having conversations with our members” about items like tax reform and replacing President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation.

And what about the recent promises from House Republican leaders that they will present an ACA alternative – and vote on it – sometime in 2014? “We’re going to continue to go through a lot of ideas,” Boehner said yesterday, using the most non-committal language possible.

By any fair standard, this is quickly becoming a rather ignominious fiasco.

Jon Chait published a gem this week, highlighting the recent Republican rhetoric.

 * On Jan. 30, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) vowed, “This year, we will rally around an alternative to ObamaCare and pass it on the floor of the House.”

 * On Feb. 21, Cantor said Republicans are working “to finalize our Obamacare replacement plan.”

 * On Feb. 24, Cantor’s office said it’s prepared to “begin” working on the party’s alternative.

 * On Feb. 27, Boehner said he’s prepared to “have conversations” with Republicans about what might be in an alternative policy.

Notice the pattern? Over the course of four weeks, we’ve gone from a guaranteed vote on an alternative to descending assurances about whether an alternative will ever even exist. Chait explained:

Lots of people treat the Republican Party’s inability to unify around an alternative health-care plan, four years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, as some kind of homework assignment they keep procrastinating on. But the problem isn’t that Cantor and Boehner and Ryan would rather lay around on the sofa drinking beer and playing video games than write their health-care plan already.

It’s that there’s no plan out there that is both ideologically acceptable to conservatives and politically defensible.

Quite right. Republicans could present an alternative policy that they love, but it’ll quickly be torn to shreds, make the party look foolish, and make clear that the GOP is not to be trusted with health care policy. Indeed, it would very likely scare the American mainstream to be reminded what Republicans would do if the power over the system were in their hands.

On other hand, Republicans could present a half-way credible policy, but it would have to require some regulations and public investments, which necessarily means the party’s base would find it abhorrent.

And so we get … nothing. Years of promises later, the GOP can’t meet its own commitment to the public, not because Republicans are lazy, but because it’s a post-policy party.

They sure are great at complaining, though, aren’t they?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 28, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Health Reform | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Scourge Of The Businessman Politician”: I’m No Politician, But I Can Clean Up Washington

Attentive readers will recall that among my many pet peeves (and being able to complain to a wide circle of people about your pet peeves is one of blogging’s greatest fringe benefits) is the candidate who proclaims that you should vote for him because he’s “a businessman, not a politician.” As though the fact that there are a lot of shady car mechanics out there means that when you need a new timing belt, the best person for the job would be a florist or an astronomer, because they’re not tainted by the car repair racket.

I’ve written at some length about why exactly success in business doesn’t prepare you to be a good senator or governor, but the short version is that the two realms are extremely different. So it isn’t too surprising that when businesspeople decide to run for office, most of the time they fail. They come in with a lot of money, flush it down the toilet on an overly expensive campaign, and quickly discover that there is a whole set of skills necessary for success that they don’t possess. When you try to think of business leaders who got elected, then used their business acumen to do things differently and really made a major impact, it’s hard to think of many names other than Michael Bloomberg. Here and there you’ll find someone like former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen who did pretty well, but more common is candidates like Ross Perots, or Meg Whitman, or Linda McMahon, or Al Checci (there’s a blast from the past for you political junkies). They think, “Sure I can do this better than those empty suits—I’ve made a billion dollars!” And then they lose.

Not every time, of course, but most of the time. Which is why Democrats should be pleased to hear this:

Republicans are banking on businessmen to help them retake the Senate in 2014.

A half-dozen top GOP candidates boast records as wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs. If voters decide they’re successful job creators on Election Day, Republicans could be on their way to the six seats they need to win the upper chamber.

Now maybe these candidates are all going to turn out to be just aces. But if history is any guide, more than a few of them are likely to be terrible at running for office. For many of them it’s their first time, which is often a disaster, and it’s particularly hard to have your first run for office be a high-profile Senate race with lots of pressure and press scrutiny. (The list of highly successful politicians who had a loss in their first run for office, or one of their first runs, is a notable one. It includes Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, among many others. It seems that early loss is a highly edifying experience.)

It’s easy to see why this is happening. These candidates are attractive to party leaders because they bring their own money. Republicans have also spent years creating a cult of the businessman, trying to convince others, and no doubt convincing themselves, that those who succeed in business are the most virtuous, brilliant, and generally admirable of all human beings. And that may extend to primary voters, to a degree anyway. Which gives them a good shot to make it to the general election, and which also means that we’re going to have to endure a lot more of that “I’m no politician, so I can clean up Washington!” crap in this election. But what else is new.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 26, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Businesses, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Show Me The Medicaid Money”: Buckle Up Republicans, Obamacare Is Here To Stay

Somewhat quietly, Obamacare enrollment hit 4 million this week. Now, it’s certainly true—as critics have noted—that enrollees aren’t the same thing as people who will continue to stay with their plan for a full year. If an enrollee encounters an unexpected expense of replacing a head gasket or something like that, he might skip a payment. But even so, 4 million’s a more-than-respectable number.

Also rather quietly this week, a new tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed support for repeal of Obamacare down to 31 percent. As Jay Bookman noted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, overall the poll wasn’t something the president would exactly brag about, but it did represent noticeable change, especially among independents, 57 percent of whom now support the law.

That 31 percent number made me sit up straight for one reason. The percent of Americans who identify themselves as conservative is, lately, about 38 percent, says Gallup. So 31 percent is getting down there. And consider this: As of mid-December 2013, the percentage of Americans who favored repeal was 52.3 percent in a Real Clear Politics average of numerous polls. The Affordable Care Act may not be as popular as Twelve Years a Slave, but it’s not The Lone Ranger anymore either.

I would think there’s a direct correlation between these two sets of facts, no? The more people go to the web site and see that they can get insurance at a decent price (in most cases), the more they tell their co-workers and neighbors that doing so wasn’t the horror show they expected. The more people learn about some of the law’s benefits, the more opposition to it softens.

There are still a few more things the American people need to learn about the law, though, and it’s up to the Democrats to tell them, and I’m going to bang on about this until I see some action. As I wrote Wednesday, Governor Rick Perry has said no to $9 billion in free money. Texas is the largest state in the union that hasn’t accepted the Medicaid expansion money, so that’s the biggest figure, but the figures are significant in relation to the population and budget in every single state.

These figures are from a Commonwealth Foundation report from three months ago. Florida is saying no to $9.6 billion, Georgia to $4.9 billion, North Carolina to $5.7 billion. Wisconsin is passing on $1.75 billion, Virginia on $2.15 billion, and Pennsylvania on $5.5 billion (although Pennsylvania is considering the opt-in). And this report’s figure for Texas is actually $9.6 billion.

You know how states clamor for federal highway money? Well, as Commonwealth points out, in every one of these cases, the Medicaid money is more—at least double, typically, and sometimes far more—than what these states get in highway money. And yet they say they don’t want it. They say that over time, they’re going to be on the hook for vast expenditures they can’t afford, or they fret publicly that Washington might change the formula. They’re both bogus arguments.

The federal government is paying 100 percent of states’ expansion costs through 2016 and no less than 90 percent thereafter on a permanent basis. It’s a sweet deal. But okay, what about that (up to) 10 percent that states are going to have to start paying? Ten percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but in dollar terms, isn’t that real money?

The answer is, not really, in most cases. This gets complicated and involves a category of spending by the states for something called “uncompensated care,” which is just what it sounds like—health care provided for free to poor people. State and local governments typically pitch in now on uncompensated care. But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains in a 2012 report: “The Medicaid expansion will reduce state and local government costs for uncompensated care and other services they provide to the uninsured, which will offset at least some—and in a number of states, possibly all or more than all—of the modest increase in state Medicaid costs.” Overall, the health-care consulting firm The Lewin Group estimates a minimal increase in states’ spending obligations, around 1 or 2 percent, depending on the state.

As for the argument that some GOP governors make that they fear Washington might change the formula…well, that’s straight from Orwell or Kafka. That is: Barack Obama isn’t going to change any formula. President Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be changing any formula. A Democratically controlled Congress won’t be changing any formulas. Only Republican presidents and congresses would do that. In other words, these Republican governors are saying—yeah, the deal looks fine now, but my party might take over, and then I’d be really screwed!

The ACA is here to stay. It’s not going to be struck down. It’s not going to be repealed. That would require a Republican president and 60 GOP senators and a solid GOP House majority, and the odds are strongly against the emergence of such a confluence. It’s going to exist. And inevitably, it’s going to grow. And more and more people are going to get used to it and learn to live with it. And over time, the people in states like Texas and Georgia and Wisconsin are going to see that people in nearby states that took the money are in fact pretty happy with their situations.

It’s only a matter of time before these resistant governors and state legislatures start caving. Democrats have it in their power to help hasten that timetable by making this an issue. They have to have the courage not to wilt or get the vapors whenever a right-winger invokes the evil gummint or the hated Kenyan. Democrats say they’ve waited decades for this moment. Well, it’s here. Now’s not the time to run away from the fight.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 28, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right Defends A New Jim Crow”: 50 Years Since The Civil Rights Act, Wingnuts Still Don’t Get It

Watching the debate over Arizona’s SB 1062 (better known as the state’s anti-gay Jim Crow law) unfold this past week, I couldn’t help but think of the already iconic line from Matthew McConaughey’s “True Detective” character Rust Cohle: “Time is a flat circle.” As is always the case with the nihilistic and willfully esoteric Cohle, it’s not entirely clear what he’s trying to say with the metaphor, but we get the gist: Like Nietzsche’s “eternal return,” Cohle’s flat circle theory holds that all of us are destined to relive every moment of our conscious lives, forever. It’s as if we all were stuck in the late Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” but instead of repeating a single day, we repeat our entire lives.

Beyond the fact that, like many others, obsessing over “True Detective” has increasingly become the chief way I spend my free time, Arizona’s brief foray into the politics of segregation reminded me of the flat circle quote because I had recently seen Bryan Cranston’s Broadway debut, “All the Way,” in which the “Breaking Bad” star plays former president Lyndon B. Johnson during the historic period between Kennedy’s assassination and Johnson’s reelection, a time when the 36th president was working feverishly to ensure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The play is good and Cranston is great, but what was most striking throughout was how much Johnson’s opponents then sounded like SB 1062’s supporters today. It was, as Cohle would say, some “heavy shit.”

The similarities weren’t merely superficial, either. Sure, the play, written by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (who obviously did his homework), was littered with hysterical charges of “fascism” and “socialism” and “big government” from no-name Dixiecrats that most of us never knew or were happy to forget. And of course these moments brought to mind much of the anti-Obamacare rhetoric that has emanated from conservatives during the past five years. But the parallels went deeper than that. It wasn’t just the language that sounded so familiar, but the logic behind it, too. Whether conservatives were defending Jim Crow proper or the Southwest’s latest variant, their worldview, all these years later, was disturbingly unchanged.

To explain what I mean, allow me to cite two of conservatism’s leading lights: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and all-around media mogul Glenn Beck.

As the opposition to SB 1062 increased in fervency and numbers, the usually loquacious Paul was, unlike his fellow Senate Republican John McCain (who opposed the bill), deafeningly mute. Anyone familiar with Paul’s history knows why: Because the obvious presidential aspirant wanted to avoid reminding people of the unfortunate 2010 interview with Rachel Maddow in which he stated that, even today, he would not support the government-run dismantling of Jim Crow. “I don’t want to be associated with those people,” Paul said, referring to white supremacists who’d bar blacks from their restaurants, “but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way…” Paul’s orthodox libertarianism told him that the freedom to discriminate was too valuable, too sacred, to let the federal government stand in its way. Like Sen. Barry Goldwater did in 1964, when he voted against the Civil Rights Act, Paul argued that the Constitution had no room for anti-discrimination.

Roughly four years later, Glenn Beck made a similar argument, this time in defense of SB 1062. After doing his best impression of Hamlet, grappling aloud with his competing interest to not be a bigot while on the other hand maintaining allegiance to his understanding of liberty, Beck cut to the chase, telling his coworkers that he could only support Arizona’s bill, because “freedom is ugly.” Like Paul, Beck was sure to make clear that he held no sympathy for anyone who would ban LGBTQ people from their premises. But also like Paul, Beck had no choice but to conclude that the freedom to ostracize and discriminate was, in part, what the American experiment was all about. “I don’t like that world,” Beck said, “but that’s freedom! That’s freedom! Freedom is ugly. It’s ugly.”

High-profile though they may be, Beck and Paul are hardly the only conservatives who still cling to a vision of freedom that many Americans wrongly thought was swept into Reagan’s “ash-heap of history” decades before. Tucker Carlson — who, if Paul is to be Goldwater, we must describe as today’s version of the braying, segregationist Dixiecrats — was adamant in his defense of SB 1062, saying on Fox News that opponents of the bill were advocating for “fascism” and had gone “too far” in their quest to prevent state-sanctioned bigotry. “Everybody in America is terrified to tell the truth,” Carlson warned, “which is, this is insane, this is not tolerance, this is fascism.” Tellingly, when his sparring partner, Fox’s house liberal, Alan Colmes, asked Carlson whether he would have supported the Civil Rights Act, the editor of the Daily Caller could only respond by saying, “Don’t bring [that] into this,” with a sneer.

Even conservatives who are more intellectually inclined than Beck, Paul and Carlson put forward a defense of SB 1062 that could easily and quickly be adopted to oppose the federal government’s dismantling of Jim Crow. Ilya Shapiro of Cato, libertarianism’s premiere think tank and ostensible guardian of liberty for all, wrote, “I have no problem with SB 1062.” Repeating an argument that was offered by Goldwater, Paul, Beck and Carlson, Shapiro maintained that those who would be discriminated against, were SB 1062 to pass, should simply trust that the free market would punish bigots and, eventually, guarantee their liberty. “[P]rivate individuals should be able to make their own decisions on whom to do business with and how – on religious or any other grounds,” Shapiro wrote. “Those who disagree can take their custom elsewhere and encourage others to do the same.”

The fact that this very same logic recently undergirded a century of Jim Crow seemed to escape Shapiro. Either that or he, like W. James Antle III of the American Conservative, was content to dismiss comparisons to Jim Crow on the grounds that Arizona is not the Jim Crow South and 2014 is not the mid-’60s. “People often argue for or against the civil-rights laws of the 1960s on the basis of abstract principles,” Antle wrote, “but they were in fact a reaction to a very specific set of circumstances.” (This is an argument that, more than anything else, raises the question as to whether this is the first time Antle’s come into contact with an analogy.) Perhaps Shapiro, like Antle, was content to support the bill not because it wouldn’t give the government’s imprimatur to homophobia, but because such an outcome is, in their minds, “not very likely.” After all, what’s a little discrimination in the grand scheme of things?

If we put all these and many other conservative defenses of SB 1062 together, it’s hard not to reach a clear and unsettling conclusion: While conservatives themselves have largely given up the racism that coursed through a previous generation’s defense of Jim Crow, conservatism itself has learned no enduring lesson from the Civil Rights Movement and has made no ideological adjustments as a result. Indeed, National Review’s Kevin Williamson recently declared that Goldwater’s brief against the Civil Rights Act “has been proved correct” for worrying that “expanding the federal mandate … would lead to cumbrous and byzantine federal micromanagement of social affairs.” Going further, National Review’s editors, writing on the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington (which NR at the time opposed) would only concede that the magazine was wrong to oppose the Civil Rights Movement because its principles “weren’t wrong, exactly” but were instead “tragically misapplied.”

For all of her many flaws, Jan Brewer decided on Wednesday to refrain from applying her conservative “principles” in such a “tragic” manner, opting instead to veto the bill and maybe — just maybe — push her party that much closer to joining the rest of us in the 21st century. And while many conservatives received the veto as a crushing disappointment, or even a step toward “slavery,” I’d caution my right-wing fellow citizens against slipping into outright despair. If the events in Arizona have taught us nothing else, they’ve shown that time is indeed a flat circle; future right-wingers will have plenty of chances to keep getting this most basic question of freedom terribly, terribly wrong.


By: Elias Isquith, Salaon, March 1, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Arizona, Civil Rights, Jim Crow | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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