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“Down Another Political Blind Alley”: Three Reasons Why Reviving ‘Benghazi’ Is Stupid For The GOP

House Speaker John Boehner has made what appears to be the remarkably stupid decision to set up a “select” committee of the House to once again “investigate” the 2012 Benghazi incident in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens was killed.

He apparently believes that another “investigation” of this tragedy will be politically advantageous to Republicans in the mid-term elections — and somehow tarnish the reputation of the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she prepares a potential run for the White House in 2016.

Already the GOP has bet heavily that its obsession with Obamacare will bolster its political position — a bet that increasingly looks like a loser. Now, in its never-ending attempts to mollify the tea party fringe, the GOP leadership has turned down another political blind alley.

There are at least three reasons why their renewed obsession with “Benghazi” is politically stupid for the GOP.

Reason #1: There is no “there,” there. The Benghazi attack has been investigated over and over and there is simply no evidence that there is any scandal to be had at all.

The latest “revelation” is that Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email aimed at helping former ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice frame her description of what happened in Benghazi before she went on various talk shows. Problem is that his suggestions were entirely in line with the talking points produced by the intelligence community — which believed early on that the attack was mainly the result of reaction to an anti-Muslim videotape and demonstrations that had erupted in Cairo in protest.

Of course, it turned out later that there was more to the story — though both The New York Times and the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the event did in fact confirm that the response to the video tape did play a role — and Al Qaeda did not.

David Corn of Mother Jones pointed out that The New York Times, after a comprehensive investigation, reached this conclusion:

Months of investigation…centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

The Times continued:

Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs…

The violence, though, also had spontaneous elements. Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.

The Senate intelligence committee report released in January concluded that the attack was, “not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic.”

It went on to say:

It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day’s violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video.

And is anyone really surprised that the actual circumstances surrounding the attack were unclear at the outset? The same was true of the circumstances surrounding the Boston bombing and the Newtown shootings that took place right here in the United States — events involving our own law enforcement. That is the nature of chaotic violent events.

The right wing has done everything in its power to turn “Benghazi” into a politically salient scandal without success. CBS’ Sixty Minutes even bought into the right wing narrative when correspondent Lara Logan based an entire story on a tale about Benghazi that turned out to be entirely fictional. The story was fabricated by contractor Dylan Davies in order to sell his book. Ultimately CBS suspended Logan as a result.

On its face, the loss of life at Benghazi demonstrated a breakdown in diplomatic security. That’s why the independent State Department Inspector General did a study of what went wrong and how to prevent a future loss of life. Procedures needed to be changed. But there was never a shred of evidence that any U.S. official did anything intentionally — or because of some political motivation — that caused this event.

And what did the Republicans who are so fixated on embassy security do in response? They actually cut the budget for State Department security.

If you were in the position of making it harder to prevent future attacks like the one at Benghazi would you really want to focus attention on the subject?

Reason #2: The “Benghazi scandal” does not resonate with most voters — except, of course, the extreme right wing.

Republicans counter that polls show a plurality of Americans disapprove of the way the Benghazi attack was handled. In fact, a Huffington Post/You.gov poll show showed 42 percent disapprove and 27 percent approve of the way “Benghazi” was handled by the administration. But of course people are dissatisfied with the way the event was handled — four people were killed.

The real question is whether “Benghazi” is an issue ordinary people care about. The fact is that the Benghazi issue has no political saliency. It never appears on the list of major concerns the voters express might affect their choices in the 2014 mid-terms. That is partially because there is no real “Benghazi scandal.” It is also because ordinary people have much more important questions on their minds like the need to increase their wages and standards of living.

The fact is that “Benghazi” does not have the elements that have made “scandals” of the past — like Watergate or the Monica Lewinski affair — relevant to the voters.

To be politically salient, a “scandal” must include two key elements that are not present in “Benghazi”:

  • Real “scandals” do not involve flawed procedures. They must involve actions taken — or not taken — for improper or immoral reasons. There is no indication whatsoever that the American ambassador or anyone in the administration short-changed security in Benghazi to advance their political fortunes or to make money. Instead you have a brave American Ambassador who was willing to risk harm to himself to accomplish his mission but with inadequate security procedures. The ambassador was President Obama’s personal emissary — the last thing he wanted to do was risk his death.
  • To have staying power, real “scandals” generally involve a cover-up. The Republicans argue that the administration’s taking points after the event somehow constituted a “cover-up.” But instead they reflected the best information from the intelligence community at the time. Instead of a “cover-up,” what followed was an independent State Department Inspector General report that was very critical of procedures and proposed changes — but found no “scandal” whatsoever.

By reaching out for “Benghazi” the GOP looks desperate for something to talk about. And that’s for good reason. On virtually every other major issue that is really of concern to ordinary Americans, the Democrats have the high political ground — e.g. the minimum wage, unemployment benefits, the power of big money in government, immigration reform, equal pay for equal work, voting rights, reproductive choice, contraception, gay and lesbian rights, and increasingly even Obamacare — which by Election Day could actually help Democrats (especially with turnout).

Reason #3: Do the Republicans really want to turn the conversation to foreign policy?

The GOP launched the Iraq War — the most disastrous foreign policy catastrophe in the last half-century — and they want to talk about competency and honesty in foreign policy?

In fact, some of the same people who regularly go on Fox News to rail on about the “Benghazi conspiracy” helped promote the notion that we were invading Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — the most pernicious lie ever used in recent American politics.

The War in Iraq was an unmitigated disaster — killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, costing thousands of American lives, costing our economy trillions of dollars, and spoiling America’s reputation throughout the world.

Frankly, no self-respecting media outlet should allow any of the people who intentionally lied to the American people about Iraq on the air ever again.

If you were the political party that presided over such a horrific foreign policy disaster would you really want to turn the political conversation to the question of who is best equipped to conduct America’s foreign policy?

Apparently so. It appears possible that the Republican leaders are just as inept at formulating their own political strategy as they were at conducting America’s foreign policy.

 

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post Blog, May 5, 2014

May 7, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Foreign Policy, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hedge Funds Versus Kindergarten”: There’s Nothing Natural Or Moral Going On Here

The inequality issue is one in which economic and moral considerations can quickly become tangled. That’s particularly true at a time when defenders of free-market economics are increasingly prone to advance the argument that the “natural” distribution of resources via unregulated markets is a measure of the actual value of each person’s contributions to society, with any redistribution representing virtual theft.

Consider this data point from Ezra Klein today at Vox:

Alpha magazine is out with its annual “rich list” detailing the successes of the highest earning hedge fund managers in America. The news once again is that it’s good to be a successful hedge fund manager: the top 25 earned a collective $21.1 billion this year.

Even within that group there’s considerable inequality. The top earner, David Tepper, took home $3.5 billion which is about five times as much as either of the two men tied for the tenth slot.

How does that look in context? Well, it’s about 0.13 percent of total national income for 2013 being earned by something like 0.00000008 percent of the American population. Another way of looking at it is that this is about 2.5 times the income of every kindergarten teacher in the country combined.

Now I am open to the argument that hedge funds are at least a marginally useful lubricant to the efficiency of the U.S. and global economies. But you cannot tell me a handful of hedge fund managers add more to the wealth and productivity of America than all the kindergarten teachers combined. There is nothing “natural,” much less “moral,” about a system that distributes the fruits of the economy in that manner.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Wroter, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 6, 2014

May 7, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Teachers, Wealthy | , , , , | Leave a comment

“On His Extremist Island”: Clarence Thomas Would Turn Back The Clock

In yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on official government prayers at town-council meetings, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 decision arguing that such practices are permissible under the First Amendment. There was a separate concurring opinion from Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, but then Justice Clarence Thomas decided to go further than any of his colleagues.

As Dahlia Lithwick noted, Thomas made the case “that in his view the First Amendment religion clauses don’t apply to the states in the first place.”

Wait, really? Yep, that’s what Thomas actually believes.

…Thomas couldn’t get Scalia’s signature for another part of his dissenting opinion, in which Thomas – not for the first time – disputes the notion that the 1st Amendment’s ban on the “establishment” of religion even applies to state and local governments.

Here’s the deal: the first 16 words of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Nearly a century ago, under something called the incorporation doctrine, courts ruled that most of the Bill of Rights applies to state and local government, too.

In other words, under the literal text of the Constitution, Congress can’t pass laws interfering in religion, abridging the freedom of speech, or undermining a free press, but once the Bill of Rights was applied more broadly, neither can states or municipalities.

Thomas, however, wants to turn back the clock. If policymakers in your state chose today to establish Christianity as the official state religion, Clarence Thomas believes that would be entirely permissible under the First Amendment. So long as Congress didn’t pass the law, he says, it’s kosher.

Even Scalia, hardly a moderate, seems to think that’s nutty, but Thomas just doesn’t care.

As Michael McGough’s report added, “Thomas has argued, the Establishment Clause ‘is best understood as a federalism provision – it protects state establishments from federal interference but does not protect any individual right.’”

This is clearly quite radical, even by contemporary standards, though Thomas isn’t entirely alone on his extremist island – it was just last year when North Carolina Republicans considered legislation that read, “The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

That bill ultimately failed, as did Thomas’ effort to find justices who would endorse his perspective, but as conservative politics moves sharply to the right, it’ll be worth watching to see just how many Republican officials end up embracing this argument.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 6, 2014

 

May 7, 2014 Posted by | Constitution, Public Prayer, Separation of Church and State | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Neutral, Generic Blessings?”: Get Prayer Out Of The Churches And Back In The Public Square Where It Belongs!

Maybe it’s something I retained from my early training as a Southern Baptist, way back when members of that denomination, believe it or not, hewed closely to Roger Williams’ doctrine of strict separation of church and state. But every time increasingly conservative courts make fresh accommodations for state-sanctioned religious expressions, as SCOTUS did yesterday in Town of Greece v. Galloway, I have an adverse reaction from a religious point of view.

As Dahlia Lithwick points out at Slate, the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision goes well out of its way to emphasize the banality of prayers at town meetings and other public events:

There will be a good deal of bitterness in the coming days among members of religious minorities and majorities who believe that the Town of Greece decision is just or unjust depending largely on how they feel about sectarian Christian prayers. But stepping back from the specific arguments of the plurality and dissent, it’s fascinating to see how Kennedy and Justice Samuel Alito relentlessly characterize religion as an essentially peaceful, civilizing, lofty influence that seems to have more to do with social politeness than religious zeal. Kennedy’s majority opinion contains the complete text of four prayers, presumably to calm and unify his stressed-out reader, and he writes lovingly of prayer that is “solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing.” He seems unaware that for every solemn and respectful prayer, America offers up dozens of fiery, judgmental, even violent ones.

And yes, Americans also offer up soul-wrenching, spiritually deep, and challenging prayers, too. Cheapening prayer into a “neutral,” generic blessing of secular proceedings offends me as much as sanctioning sectarian expressions because most people in a given community more or less belong to a particular faith, which appears to have been the case in Greece, New York.

Had I been on the Court, I would have probably filed a dissenting opinion urging the reversal of Marsh v. Chambers, the 1983 precedent which basically authorized generic public prayers to a generic God, instead of expanding Marsh to include “non-coercive” sectarian prayers, as the majority did, or drawing the line at prayers so empty as to be deemed non-sectarian, as the dissenters did.

Corporate prayer is meaningless if it does not invoke the beliefs of the community for which it is offered. That is why it belongs in gatherings of believers (and those who for whatever reason–say attendance at a wedding or funeral–are voluntarily participating in a religious event). Yes, throughout the centuries there have been many religious believers who reject the very idea of a “secular” realm, but that is unmistakably alien to American traditions, much as latter-day “constitutional conservatives” try to demonstrate otherwise in their audacious efforts to turn Jefferson into a theocrat.

So let’s don’t assume the only Americans who object to the kind of public prayers sanctioned by Town of Greece–or for that matter, Marsh–are members of religious minorities or unbelievers, justified as they are in the exclusion they feel in public events blessed according to rites they do not accept. Some wag years ago mock-thundered that it was “time to get prayer out of the churches and back in the schools where they belong.” That’s exactly how I react to the the whole “religious expression in the public square” movement. It’s offensive to those who pray as much as to those who don’t.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 6, 2014

May 7, 2014 Posted by | Public Prayer, Separation of Church and State | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Election-Year ‘Hustle The-Base’ Strategy”: Democrats Should Boycott Latest Benghazi Charade

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is trying to make the GOP’s latest Benghazi theater more than partisan drama by asking Speaker John Boehner to appoint an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to the new “investigative” panel he’s convening. The speaker is unlikely to do that, so Democrats should boycott this latest GOP fundraising stunt.

Five House committees have already investigated the Benghazi tragedy and issued biased reports; there have been two Senate committee reports plus the Accountability Review Board’s findings. The bipartisan reports found errors on the part of State Department personnel and recommended staffing and other changes. But because none of the investigations were able to charge then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with incompetence, or prove that President Obama tried to cover up the truth to get re-elected, Republicans won’t believe them, and insist there’s more to “investigate.”

Thus we have the latest House Benghazi stunt – and Democrats should stay away from it. There’s precedent for boycotting such a panel: Dems did so in 2005, when Republicans organized a sham “investigation” into how President Bush handled the Katrina catastrophe, when it became clear the effort was meant to be a whitewash, not a thorough probe.

I admit, Benghazi is to progressives what climate change is to conservatives: No matter how much the right wing shrieks about it, and purports to have new evidence of wrongdoing, we don’t believe it. The difference is, progressives are right. The notion that a newly uncovered email from national security communications staffer Ben Rhodes “necessitated” this latest investigation is another partisan cover story.

On one level, the new committee is actually a rebuke to histrionic House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa, whose many forays into the swamp of Benghazi conspiracy theories uncovered nothing to hurt Democrats, not even the Rhodes email. As ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings has pointed out, Issa denied Democratic members the most basic tools with which to participate in his committee’s sham investigation:

Over the past year, House Republicans have conducted their Benghazi investigation in a completely partisan manner by denying access to hearing witnesses, leaking cherry-picked excerpts to create a false narrative, issuing unilateral subpoenas without Committee votes, releasing multiple partisan staff reports, excluding Democratic Members from fact-finding delegations to Libya in violation of the Speaker’s own rules, and launching unsubstantiated accusations that turn out to be completely false. So I do not have much faith that a new select committee will be any different.

The new committee won’t have any more power than Issa’s did. And there’s no reason to believe chairman Trey Gowdy will be smarter or fairer than Issa (check out Simon Moloy’s profile here.) Gowdy is the Oversight Committee member who has set his hectoring of witnesses to action-movie music and posted it to You Tube. He is likely to out-Issa Darrell Issa.

There’s possible political risk in boycotting the Gowdy charade. “Some of these hearings are going to be televised,” political scientist Norman Ornstein told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “The question is, does it make more sense to be in there, participating in the process and pointing out Republican overkill again and again, or does it make more sense to further destroy the image of the committee by staying out of it?”

It’s true that as the Oversight Committee’s leading Democrat, Cummings has been able to regularly thwart Issa and counter the chair’s allegations in the media. But he did so at a constant disadvantage, since he was shut out of the investigative process by Issa. There’s no reason to expect Gowdy to treat Democrats any differently. (Cummings’ office says he has not yet taken a position on the boycott idea.)

Gowdy’s committee is best understood as as a base-energizing fundraising tool for the GOP, part of what Politico’s Michael Hirsch calls “the Benghazi industrial complex,” engineered to damage Clinton so much she either can’t run for president or decides it’s not worth the pain. Of course, Benghazi fever hasn’t spread beyond the fever swamps of Obama hatred that afflict the GOP’s far-right base. But that’s enough to keep it alive, and potentially make it a potent midterm-election organizing tool. House Democrats should make that role clear by boycotting it.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 6, 2014

May 7, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, House Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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