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“This From A Trained, Known Failure”: Rumsfeld Thinks “A Trained Ape” Could Do What Obama Can’t

Donald Rumsfeld, whose mastery of foreign policy was amply displayed in Iraq, thinks that “a trained ape” could have done a better job handling Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai, than President Obama and his team have. The problem, Rumsfeld told Greta Van Susteren, of Fox, on Monday night, is that Obama has not been deferential enough to Karzai: “The President has been unpleasant to him.” His entire Administration has dealt with Karzai “repeatedly and publicly in an abusive, unpleasant manner.” Is that perhaps what Rumsfeld considers untrained?

What is it about Obama that bothers people like Rumsfeld? He might ask himself, for a moment, why the idea of Obama—the President of the United States—speaking out of turn bothers him so much, and why the word “ape” sprung to mind. Rumsfeld worked for George W. Bush, who made something of a fetish out of talking like a cowboy; he spent a lot of time in office trying to out-preen Dick Cheney; and yet he just doesn’t like Obama’s tone. What’s particularly odd is that Van Susteren was asking Rumsfeld about, of all things, Karzai’s statement of support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. (Rumsfeld called it “understandable.”) Haven’t we been hearing from Republicans that Obama is too passive when it comes to Ukraine—that he’s too pleasant with Putin, and doesn’t talk tough in the way that they imagine they would? Just a few weeks ago, Rumsfeld told Van Susteren that “it is U.S. weakness that has shaken the world.” He has also railed against the President’s supposed “apologies” for America.

Van Susteren asked Rumsfeld why it was so hard to get Karzai to sign a status-of-forces agreement—a memorandum that would clarify the legal position of American troops in Afghanistan. Karzai has withheld his agreement for months, despite warnings that it won’t be possible to keep even a residual American force in Afghanistan without one, and despite the approval of Afghanistan’s loya jirga. (He may want to insure he has a card to play after the upcoming Presidential elections.) Rumsfeld scoffed at the idea that Karzai had been difficult—this is where he talked about how “a trained ape can get a status-of-forces agreement. It does not take a genius.”

By that, perhaps, Rumsfeld meant that it does not take a genius to put American troops in another country. Indeed, it does not—Rumsfeld proved that himself, by getting our forces over to Iraq. The hard part can be getting them out.

“I realize these are tough jobs, being President or Secretary of State. But, by golly, they have trashed Karzai publicly over and over and over,” Rumsfeld said. This when Karzai had been so “friendly” during the Bush Administration; under Obama, it had all “gone downhill like a toboggan.” And so, as far as Rumsfeld is concerned, Karzai, a man whose country was invaded by the Soviet Union, was left “feeling he has to defend himself” against a United States government now in the process of withdrawing from his territory by supporting Russia’s invasion of a third country. And, Rumsfeld said, “I personally sympathize with him.” The Obama Administration has certainly made mistakes in Afghanistan, but the most questionable moves, like doubling down on troop levels early on, have tended to be hawkish—and, Rumsfeld style, they didn’t really work. A bitterness toward Obama that would be rich enough to evoke Rumsfeldian warmth toward aspiring Russian proxies is quite a thing. (It seems likely that Karzai is hoping that Putin can be a source of replacement cash, a process that has already begun.)

Rumsfeld may be right that it’s easier than it looks to make Karzai happy, as long as one doesn’t mind losing a good deal of taxpayer money to Afghan graft, and American lives in opaque standoffs in villages where we have no idea who is paying whom for a drug route or a piece of a construction project two provinces over. When Van Susteren suggested that Karzai’s support for Putin on Crimea was “a poke in the eye” to the Americans who had fought and died in Afghanistan to keep his government safe, Rumsfeld brushed her off. Karzai, he said, might have conveyed “his extreme anger” to the American government, but “he also said to the American people give them my best wishes and my gratitude.” How very pleasant of him.


By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, March 25, 2014

March 30, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Donald Rumsfeld | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s No Big Deal”: Fifth Circuit Seems To Find No “Burden” As “Undue”

A three-judge panel of the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Texas’ new anti-abortion law, a classic of the genre insofar as it uses late-term abortion restrictions to mask a more general effort to shut down abortion clinics via medically dubious “health” requirements.

You can expect conservatives to make hay of the fact that all three judges on the panel are women (one of them the famous conservative judicial activist Edith Jones, who wrote the opinion). But they certainly had no sympathy for the women affected by their action, arguing that it’s no big deal if they have to travel across or beyond Texas to obtain abortion services. MSNBC’s Irin Carmon assesses the damage:

The Supreme Court has held that laws restricting access to abortion can’t put an “undue burden” or have the purpose of putting a “substantial obstacle” in the path of a woman seeking an abortion. But in a decision written by Judge Edith Jones and signed onto by Judges Jennifer Elrod and Catharina Haynes, the Fifth Circuit argued that Texas’s law wasn’t harsh enough to meet that standard. Despite the fact that the admitting privileges requirement has been rejected as medically unnecessary by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Fifth Circuit opinion accepted the state of Texas’s reasoning at face value – that it was intended to protect women’s health, not end access to abortion.

The Fifth Circuit wasn’t impressed at how much harder it has become for Texas women to have abortions, both because clinics whose providers have been rejected for privileges have closed outright and because clinics with doctors that have been able to get privileges are operating at reduced capacity. According to a map by RH Reality Check’s Andrea Grimes, “As of March 6, there are 25 open abortion clinics, six of which are ambulatory surgical centers, in Texas.” There were 36 abortion clinics in Texas at the time the law was passed, meaning that the dire prediction that a third of the clinics would close has come true. When requirements that abortions be provided in ambulatory surgical clinics go into effect in September, that will leave only six clinics, plus another one Planned Parenthood is building in San Antonio.

Since the 7th Circuit reached the opposite conclusion in striking down a similar law in Wisconsin, it’s now almost certain the Supreme Court will have to weigh in, giving Justice Anthony Kennedy a fresh chance to recite his paternalistic approach to women’s health, and the Court’s conservative bloc the best chance they’ve had in years to weaken the “undue burden” standard for abortion restrictions.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 28, 2014




March 30, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Texas, Women's Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Actually Weak President”: If Held Accountable Then, We Wouldn’t Have To Listen To Dick Cheney Mouthing Off Today

When Dick Cheney appeared at American University on March 28th, students protested outside Bender Arena, including the student government’s comptroller, who stated that he had voted against allowing Cheney to appear and had so far refused to sign a check compensating the former vice-president for his appearance. The protesters brought enough attention to the issue that Cheney felt compelled to defend himself against accusations that he is a war criminal.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney refuted accusations that he is a war criminal during his speech to students and members of the AU community in Bender Arena on March 28. The Kennedy Political Union hosted Cheney as part of a stream of speakers coming to campus.

“The accusations are not true,” Cheney said.

During his vice presidency, three people were waterboarded, Cheney said. Waterboarding refers to either pumping a stomach with water or inducing choking by filling a throat with a stream of water, according to a report by NPR.

“Some people called it torture. It wasn’t torture,” Cheney said in an interview with ATV.

Of course, “some people” includes virtually every disinterested observer, including the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who stated back in July 2012 that “[Cheney] and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.”

Perhaps one could argue that America had some kind of mandate to contain Iraq resulting from the Persian Gulf War and, therefore, our decision to invade that country and remove its leadership cannot be judged by the same type of standard we used to condemn Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait or Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea. If you want to try to carve out some of kind of double standard for America arising from our unique capabilities and responsibilities for maintaining the international system, I think we can have that debate. But it’s much harder to even imagine how one might justify our government’s decision to torture people during the Bush-Cheney administration.

This effort to simply call it something other than what it was is never going to fly. And, on that basis, Dick Cheney is unambiguously a criminal violator of human rights. But why do people have such an easy time condemning Cheney, or even Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Rice, and such a hard time condemning George W. Bush?

It seems one of the lasting features of the Bush administration is that people simply don’t think that Bush was calling the shots and, as a result, they are inclined to give him a pass on the decisions he made.

That’s a mistake.

If he and his subordinates were held responsible for what they did, we wouldn’t have to listen to his subordinates mouthing off about how weak the current president is.

You’ll know that the current president is as weak as Bush when students line up to protest former vice-president Joe Biden and completely ignore Obama.


By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 29, 2014


March 30, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney, Iraq War | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hot Air Is Cheap”: Paul Ryan’s Culture Attack Is An Excuse To Do Nothing About Poverty

Blaming poverty on the mysterious influence of “culture” is a convenient excuse for doing nothing to address the problem.

That’s the real issue with what Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said about distressed inner-city communities. Critics who accuse him of racism are missing the point. What he’s really guilty of is providing a reason for government to throw up its hands in mock helplessness.

The fundamental problem that poor people have, whether they live in decaying urban neighborhoods or depressed Appalachian valleys or small towns of the Deep South, is not enough money.

Alleviating stubborn poverty is difficult and expensive. Direct government aid — money, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance and the like — is not enough. Poor people need employment that offers a brighter future for themselves and their children. Which means they need job skills. Which means they need education. Which means they need good schools and safe streets.

The list of needs is dauntingly long, and it’s hard to know where to start — or where the money for all the needed interventions will come from. It’s much easier to say that culture is ultimately to blame. But since there’s no step-by-step procedure for changing a culture, we end up not doing anything.

This is what Ryan said in a radio interview: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

What exactly does he mean by culture? In the context of “our inner cities,” Ryan can’t be talking about rap music and baggy pants. If so, he ought to visit any high school in any affluent suburb, where he will find kids listening to the same music and wearing the same clothes — kids who will grow up to be doctors and lawyers.

Is he talking about the breakdown of family structure? To me, that’s looking suspiciously more like effect than cause. As President Obama has noted, the rise in out-of-wedlock births and single-parent households seen years ago among African Americans is now being seen among whites, especially in communities hit hard by economic dislocation.

Ryan surely can’t be talking about the use of illegal drugs, since most surveys indicate that young blacks and Hispanics are no more likely to be drug users than are young whites.

Ryan refers specifically to “the value and the culture of work,” and he may be onto something — almost. His description of “just generations of men not even thinking about working” is ridiculous. That would be like demanding to know what cultural shortcoming keeps me from spending time thinking about sailing my mega yacht to my private island.

In depressed urban and rural communities, there is an acute shortage of meaningful work. There was a time when young men who didn’t plan to go to college could anticipate finding blue-collar work at “the plant” nearby — maybe a steel mill, maybe an assembly line. There they could have job security, enough income to keep a roof over a family’s head, a pension when they retired. Their children, who would go to college, could expect lives of greater accomplishment and affluence.

This was how the “culture of work” functioned. How is it supposed to happen without work?

Confronting the devastation suffered by what used to be working-class communities is hard; adjusting to post-globalization economic realities is harder. Say the word culture and you sound erudite and concerned, especially if you drop the name of the Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington, who described world affairs as a clash of civilizations with different cultural values.

My problem is that when you identify something so amorphous as culture as the fundamental issue, you excuse yourself for not proposing concrete solutions.

As you might have gathered, I’m suspicious of the cultural hypothesis as a way to explain who succeeds and who doesn’t. I believe outcomes mostly depend on opportunities and that people are much less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior if they see opportunities that make sense to them.

If we had universal pre- kindergarten that fed all children into high-quality schools, if we had affordable higher education, if we incentivized industry to invest in troubled communities — if people had options for which they were prepared — culture would take care of itself.

But all of that is expensive. Hot air, as Paul Ryan knows, is cheap.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 24, 2014

March 30, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Constitutional Freedom Is Limitless”: Companies Are Not Churches, And Must Conform To Modern Laws

What do contraceptives have to do with religion?

As a liberal Protestant, I see no connection — but that’s beside the point. There are plenty of sincere Catholics and conservative Protestants who believe the use of contraceptives, or at least some types of them, is sinful. That’s reason enough to be careful about any broad government regulations involving birth control.

Religious liberty is a cornerstone of the American way of life, a fundamental principle of the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers were close enough to the bloody religious wars in Europe to try to found a country safe for pluralism, respectful of all religions while requiring none. If there is any such thing as American exceptionalism, freedom of religion is certainly one of its hallmarks.

Still, no Constitutional freedom is limitless. For more than a century, jurists have restricted religious liberties when they interfered with other important values. The Supreme Court did so as early as 1879, when it ruled against polygamy, practiced by some Mormons at the time.

That’s why the U.S. Supreme Court ought to rule against two corporations whose owners are fighting the requirement — a tenet of Obamacare — that employers’ health insurance plans pay for birth control. If businesses are given an exemption from a valid law that serves a useful public purpose because they claim it violates religious beliefs, where would it end?

(I’m leaving it to others to argue the perfectly valid point that corporations don’t have religious beliefs. They are not people. How many corporations have you ever seen sitting in the pews on Sunday?)

There are plenty of businesses and institutions that believe they have the right to fire gays and lesbians because homosexuality violates their religious beliefs. Some religious groups would keep outdated practices toward women, banning them from most high-powered jobs. While many people genuinely believe their God requires that, our civil society puts a premium on promoting equality.

If the two values are in conflict, individuals’ right to equality ought to win out. In a 1993 religious liberties case involving the use of peyote, Justice Antonin Scalia, himself a hyper-conservative Catholic, quoted from an earlier case when he wrote for the majority: “Can a man excuse his practices … because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

The case involving contraception is no different. The government has an overriding interest in ensuring that women’s health care is treated no differently from men’s, and reproductive services are vital. (As President Obama has noted, if men could have babies, contraception would already be a standard provision of all health insurance policies.)

For the record, laws have long been necessary to require health insurers to pay for certain procedures and pharmaceuticals. For example, the Georgia Legislature insisted in that 1990s that insurers pay for breast cancer screenings, which has helped to improve survival rates.

Since contraceptive use would help prevent abortions, religious conservatives ought to be among the most enthusiastic proponents of birth control coverage in health insurance. But one of the companies that opposes the law — Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft-supply stores — is owned by Southern Baptists who believe some forms of birth control, such as intrauterine devices, are tantamount to abortion. The other company involved in the Supreme Court case, Conestoga Wood Specialties, is owned by Mennonites who don’t believe in birth control of any sort.

The Obama administration has rightly compromised over religious objections to birth control mandates, exempting churches and other religious institutions. But corporations are not churches, no matter who owns them. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood should be required to abide by the laws of a modern state.

Otherwise, where would this end? Bigotry operating under the auspices of the Bible could once again become the law of the land.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 29, 2014

March 30, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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