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“Tom Cotton’s Whopper”: A Circular Right-Wing-Bloggers-To-Fox-News-To-Republican-Pols Collective Delusion

I’ve generally operated under the assumption that we’re living in an age where lies, even the most obvious and outrageous of them, need to be challenged or they become tomorrow’s “facts.” So I’m glad TNR’s Danny Vinik went to the Department of Homeland Security and asked about Rep. Duncan Hunter’s claim that Islamic State operatives have been found crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. Hunter says he was told that by unnamed border control agents. DHS says it’s “categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground.” That’s bureaucratese for “Hunter either made this stuff up or relied on uninformed Border Patrol gossip.”

But sometimes this stuff seems to just sponteneously spring up because it’s politically convenient. Greg Sargent went to some trouble to track down the sources for Tom Cotton’s rather audacious claim that IS is working with Mexican drug cartels to pose an imminent threat to Arkansas (yes, Arkansas), and found it was all sort of a circular right-wing-bloggers-to-Fox-News-to-Republican-pols collective delusion. But every time it’s repeated there’s a new “source.”

Now you can say this is just politics as usual. But let’s remember Tom Cotton is the subject of massive national GOP adulatory hype. If he wins in November, he’ll immediately be the subject of presidential speculation, if not for 2016 then soon down the road. As Charlie Pierce says, we have an obligation to “nip the career of young Tom Cotton in the bud before he does real damage to the country.” He’s already doing real damage to the truth when it comes to understanding actual terrorist threats.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Right Wing, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Are The Judicial Activists Now?”: People Like Ted Cruz Will Never Stop Screaming Judicial Activism

As is regularly the case in American politics, you have to hand it to Ted Cruz: His reaction to the Supreme Court’s order on same-sex marriage was the best one I came across Monday for sheer outrage-iness. “Judicial activism at its worst!” he thundered (okay, the exclamation point is mine). This, remember, in response to an inaction. The Court did exactly nothing. And now that’s judicial activism.

In fact, the Court took a pass, one presumes, because there weren’t two circuit-court decisions before it that presented conflicting legal interpretations of statute. In the absence of such a conflict, the Court did exactly what most experts I’ve read and spoken to over the last few months predicted it would do. But to Cruz, it’s “astonishing.” Ditto that the Court acted (or in-acted) “without providing any explanation whatsoever.” Which it never does in such instances, but never mind.

People like Cruz will never stop screaming judicial activism. No, wait: They will stop screaming judicial activism, at least on the question of same-sex marriage; and they will stop doing so sooner rater than later. This will constitute a major victory for the forces of light, one very much worth marking and thinking back over.

Ever since, well, Brown v. Board of Education, and probably before, conservatives have complained about judges making law against the will of the majority of voters. The critique extends into nearly every little crevice and lacuna of our civic life. Roe v. Wade was legislating from the bench; affirmative action; of course taking God out of the classroom; but basically anything any court did that conservatives didn’t approve of.

And let’s admit it—on at least the abstract level, the complaint has often had merit. I mean, there can be little doubt that public opinion in Dixie in 1954 opposed the integration of the schools. So the Court of 1954 was indeed making law from the bench. And thank God for it, since the problem is that public opinion was wrong. Not just wrong like “I think I’m not putting enough salt in my grits” wrong, but immorally wrong. What’s a court to do in such a case? Many forests have been sacrificed so that various scholars could take up this question, but the answer is really quite short and simple: The right thing.

And so liberalism has lived now with decades of such criticisms from conservatives, with the understanding that it’s far better to have won the right in question from a court than not to have won it at all—and the understanding that out there in America, yes, the backlash against these judges and the policies that grew from their decisions was probably brewing.

But same-sex marriage is different for two reasons. First, the amazing and oft-commented upon speed at which public opinion has flipped. And second, the fact that if the legal consensus can be said to be coming down on one side or the other, it’s clearly coming down on the side of same-sexers having the same constitutional matrimonial rights that the rest of us have. When federal judges in Oklahoma and Utah say it, it ain’t judicial activism, folks. It’s, you know, the more-or-less-impossible-to-deny law.

So the process by which same-sex marriage has advanced in this country hasn’t been overwhelmingly judicial at all. Until the Court’s announcement Monday, in fact, the tally was that gay marriage became legal by court decision in 13 states, and by the will of the people in 11 (legislative action in eight, popular referendum in three). And in most of the states where the change happened through the courts, the issue is decreasing in controversy, and public opinion is coming along.

You may remember that Iowa was the first unexpected heartland state where the state Supreme Court made gay marriage legal, back in 2009. It’s true that three judges who so ruled were removed from the bench in judicial retention elections in 2010. But by 2012, when the “values” crowd went after a fourth, they walked away scalpless: Judge David Wiggins retained his seat by a landslide 10-point margin. The temperature had cooled. Today, polling shows that public opinion in the state is still divided on same-sex marriage but is firmly against any kind of state constitutional amendment that would ban the practice.

So now, after what the Court did Monday, same-sex marriage is going to extend into 11 new states. It seems fair to say that majorities are against gay marriage in most of these states (the aforementioned Utah and Oklahoma, plus Kansas, Indiana, West Virginia, and the Carolinas). We’re going to see the usual skirmishes and hear the predictable sound bites. In political terms, if you’re a liberal who wants to read the tea leaves, keep an eye trained on the North Carolina Senate race.

Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is steadily but narrowly leading GOP challenger Thom Tillis. Hagan backs same-sex marriage. But the state voted overwhelmingly against it two years ago in a referendum. And now, as a part of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, North Carolina is about to have the sinful practice foisted on it. Public opinion in the state still runs strongly against same-sex marriage. I think we can reasonably expect Tillis to double down on the issue, and it would be horrible to see Hagan lose because of it.

It’ll take time in these states, but the same thing will happen in them as is happening in Iowa. People will adjust. Gay couples will marry. Straight couples will see that their own marriages were somehow not sullied after all.

This is the core dilemma for conservatives on same-sex marriage: The more widespread its practice, the more accepted it becomes. This is the exact opposite of abortion and affirmative action, two red-hot issues on which the right has used the “judicial activism” charge to great effect in recent history. If you think abortion is murder, then the more widespread its practice, the more aghast you are. If you oppose racial preferences, then ditto. But that isn’t how same-sex marriage works. It takes nothing away from heterosexual couples, or for that matter anyone.

Eventually, the Supreme Court will rule 5-4 (with Kennedy) or maybe even 6-3 (with Roberts—not completely impossible) in favor of gay marriage, because the law is clear, and because the Court isn’t going to tell many thousands of married couples in 30 states that they’re suddenly not married. Judicial activism? No. Just the right thing. The judicial activists will be those, led by their godhead Scalia, who will try to invent new ways to march backwards while pretending that they themselves aren’t trying to dictate morality from the bench. And the charge of judicial activism, which hurt liberalism because it resonated with a resentment that millions of average Americans felt, will lose its sting soon enough.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 7, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Judicial Activism, Marriage Equality, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fighting For The Lords Of Darkness”: Chris Christie Defends The “Great American” Koch Brothers

The Koch brothers like to meet in secret with their political minions. And, for the most part, the minions prefer to keep their interactions with the billionaire campaign donors on the down low.

But not Chris Christie.

The governor of New Jersey, who currently chairs that Koch-tied Republican Governors Association, and who well understands that a steady flow of dark money will be required to light up his 2016 presidential prospects, is elbowing everyone else aside in his mad rush to defend the billionaire brothers.

A Koch favorite who has appeared at secret summits organized in the past by the major donors to conservative causes and the RGA, Christie has been among their most vocal defenders in recent months. At the the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, for instance, he hailed brothers Charles and David Koch as “great Americans who are creating great things in our country.”

Now, as the 2014 midterm elections approach, no one is championing the Kochs more aggressively than Christie—even if that means he has to grab the spotlight from candidates the embattled New Jerseyan is supposed to be assisting.

After The Nation revealed that Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey had flown to California in June to attend what was supposed to be a secret summit with the Kochs and the circle of millionaires and billionaires they work with to shape the political discourse, Ducey took a lot of hits at home.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Fred DuVal demanded that Ducey renounce the “dark money” support that has benefitted the Republican’s candidacy. DuVal campaign consultant Rodd McLeod offered a checklist of complaints: “Doug Ducey works for out-of-state billionaires, not for Arizona. He goes to meetings with them, gives a secret speech, says you’re known by the company you keep.”

Headlines in the state’s newspapers told the story:

Ducey took campaign pitch to Koch network

Ducey’s Secret Speech at Koch Getaway

Secretly kissing up to Kochs pays off for Doug Ducey

The “kissing up” piece, a column by The Arizona Republic’s Laurie Roberts, began

Well. I suppose it’s safe to say that Doug Ducey won’t be fighting the lords of darkness if he gets into the governor’s office.

Fresh off a primary in which dark-money attacks were launched against any Republican who stood in Ducey’s way, we now learn that Ducey has been cozying up to America’s premier princes of dark money.

As he traveled Arizona, Ducey was bombarded with questions from print and broadcast reporters about why he thought getting together with out-of-state oligarchs at an elite resort was—as the gubernatorial candidate told the Kochs—so “very inspirational.”

Those aren’t the sort of questions a candidate who is in a tight race wants to answer.

So Chris Christie did the answering for Ducey.

Visiting Arizona in his capacity as the chairman of the RGA, Christie was with Ducey when the gubernatorial candidate was asked about his sojourns with those premier princes of dark money.

Yet, though the questions were clearly directed at Ducey, Christie jumped in with the answers.

Such as they were.

Brahm Resnik, one of Arizona’s most prominent political reporters and the host of KPNX-TV’s Sunday Square Off, set the scene, explaining to viewers, “You’ll hear Christie jump in before Ducey could answer my question about why he meets in secret with the Koch brothers. Now, those brothers, Charles and David, are billionaire industrialists who host these beauty pageants for candidates for the benefit of their wealthy donors. Ducey’s campaign has benefited from several hundred thousand dollars from Koch-connected organizations—all the money from anonymous donors. Ducey is also supported by Sean Noble, an Arizona operative who is one of the leading bundlers of Koch brothers’ cash. Now, watch Ducey begin to answer my question a few minutes ago, before Christie jumps in:

DOUG DUCEY: Uh, uh…

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Well, that’s your opinion. Your opinion is that are that these folks are folks with dark money. The facts on Fred DuVal are pretty clear…

BRAHM RESNIK: You’re saying the Koch brothers and these entities are not dark-money givers?

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Listen, what I’m saying very clearly is that everyone has a right to participate in the political process and let’s judge these people up or down based on what they do. But, no, I don’t believe the Koch brothers are that—nor any of these other folks.

Christie dismissed attempts to track the influence of the Koch brothers as “silliness” and “sophistry.”

Ducey’s critics were taking the issue seriously, however.

The DuVal campaign featured links to the tape from the Koch summit, along with media coverage of it, on social media. A tagline read: “Doug Ducey is quietly hanging with billionaires who seem intent, among other things, on privatizing education, killing unions and eliminating government regulations that protect the air we breathe.”

As for the Ducey campaign, it wasn’t highlighting the Koch tape or the tape in which Chris Christie elbows Ducey aside in order to defend billionaires who have the resources and the connections to make or break ambitious Republican politicians like, well, Chris Christie.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Koch Brothers, Midterm Elections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Working Off The Same Script”: Why Can’t Republican Candidates Say Whether They Want Boots On The Ground?

It was a busy night on the campaign trail Tuesday, as candidates in several key races faced off in debates. Moderators frequently asked whether candidates thought President Obama should commit US ground troops to the fight against ISIS—and most Republican candidates dodged the question with notable clumsiness.

In North Carolina, which has the third-highest military population among US states, incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan is opposed to troops on the ground. In Tuesday’s debate, moderated by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, she noted the United States “has many domestic needs at home” and said Iraqi and Syrian soldiers should wage the fight. Then Stephanopoulos put the question to her opponent, Thom Tillis:

STEPHANOPOLOUS: When I was speaking to House Speaker John Boehner last week, he told me that if other nations don’t step forward, the United States would have no choice but to put boots on the ground. Do you agree?

TILLIS: I think one of the reasons that many nations are afraid to step forward is because this president is afraid to lead the world. Normally in crises like these, the president is considered to be the leader of the free world. He rallies nations together to put down terrorist threats like ISIS. But now our allies, our friends across the world, really don’t know where this president stands because he telegraphs his plan to our enemies, he gives strength to the terrorists by telling them what we’re not going to do. He should have everything on the table and he should build some credibility and Senator Hagan should be right there with him.

There’s a small glimmer of an answer in there; Tillis seemed to be suggesting it was best not to say one way or the other whether ground troops should go. Stephanopoulos did not follow up, but Hagan immediately noted that Tillis didn’t answer the question.

In Colorado’s Senate debate on Tuesday, Republican Representative Cory Gardner was directly asked to “describe the circumstances in which you would support American boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq,” and answered with a word salad of attacks on Udall and Obama’s foreign policy. (Democratic incumbent Mark Udall opposes troops on the ground.) Gardner’s answer in full:

GARDNER: Look, our foreign policy is in the situation it is today because of the failure of leadership at the White House. And the president has said his policies are going to be on the ballot this November. Mark Udall voted with those policies 99 percent of the time. The president said we have no strategy when it comes to dealing with ISIL. The president said they were junior varsity actors. The president said we will lead from behind, and that’s Mark Udall’s plan, too, because he agrees with him 99 percent of the time. We must make sure that we protect the safety and security of American families. That’s why I have supported efforts to make sure that we take out the terrorists. But Senator Udall believes the Islamic State is not an imminent threat to our nation. Senator Udall believes that they are not plotting against our country. We had people arrested at Denver International Airport for conspiring with the Islamic State. In Chicago for conspiring with the Islamic State. And Senator Udall doesn’t even show up at the Armed Services hearing when it talks about emerging threats. Senator Udall is absent.

In West Virginia, Democratic challenger Natalie Tennant has plainly said she opposes troops on the ground and, in Tuesday’s debate, reiterated her opposition and cited the pain of having sent her husband off to war. She did give a mini-evasion to the moderator’s question—he noted she opposed ground troops, but asked what future situation might justify them. That’s a tough hypothetical to answer, and Tennant basically said she would need more information.

When the moderator put the same question to the Republican candidate, Representative Shelley Moore Capito, she evaded the question of ground troops entirely:

CAPITO: The visuals of ISIS beheading two Americans and threatening to behead another, and British journalists and aid workers, is just jarring to all of us. I think that because of the president’s weak policies in Iraq, we find ourselves in a position where this terrorist group has been fomenting, raising money, raising membership. I find it frightening in terms of what could happen on our homeland. That has to be what you think about. There is nothing more valuable for us as Americans than our servicemen and women, and I appreciate [Tennant’s] husband’s service to our country. I take these decisions very seriously. I did vote to have the president train the Syrian rebels because I feel like we need a coalition of people that will stop the terrorist group from further growth.

In Georgia’s Senate debate on Tuesday night, the moderator repeatedly pressed Republican David Perdue on whether he wants ground troops in Iraq and Syria, and this is the closest Perdue came to an answer: “If we put boots on the ground, that better have a chance to win. Right now we don’t have that.” (I have no idea what that means.)

In Virginia’s Senate race last night, Republican Ed Gillespie said only that Obama should not have ruled out ground troops, and incumbent Senator Mark Warner agreed.

But in most races, Republican candidates are working off the same script: avoid calling for ground troops at all costs and simply step around the question. The similarly scripted attacks on Obama’s alleged incoherence on ISIS seem rather strange given that fairly massive dodge.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Boots On The Ground, Foreign Policy, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“One-Dimensional Foreign Policy Thinking”: Leon Panetta Is What’s Wrong With D.C.

When Harry Truman apocryphally said, “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog” he might have had someone like Leon Panetta in mind. Not content with letting Republicans pummel his old boss, President Obama’s former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense released a new memoir this week that attacks Obama for “losing his way” on foreign policy, for sending “mixed messages” to allies and enemies alike and for failing to use military force more promiscuously in protecting US interests in the Middle East.

There is more here, however, than just DC-style situational loyalty. In Panetta’s obsessive focus on the politics of national security, his fetishization of military force and his utter lack of strategic vision, what is also evident is the one-dimensional foreign policy thinking that so dominates Washington—and which Panetta has long embodied.

None of this should come as a surprise. When Panetta became CIA director in 2009, he was demonstrably unqualified for the job. He had no background in foreign policy, intelligence or national security. His most apparent and highly-touted skill was that he understood his way around bureaucratic Washington.

At both Langley and the Pentagon he became a forceful advocate for—or, some might say, bureaucratic captive of—the agencies he ran. As CIA Director he pushed back on efforts to expose the agency’s illegal activities during the Bush Administration —in particular, the use of torture (which he had once decried).

At DoD he ran around with his hair practically on fire denouncing cuts to the defense budget in out-sized, apocalyptic terms. The “catastrophic,” “draconian” cuts would initiate a “doomsday mechanism” and “invite aggression,” he claimed and always without specific examples. Ironically, when Panetta was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the early 1990s, he took the exact opposite position and pushed for huge cuts to the defense budget.

For Panetta, principles appear to be determined by wherever he happens to be sitting at any given moment.

However, his irresponsible threat-mongering and his constant stream of gaffes and misstatements (like the claim that the US was in Iraq because of 9/11 and that the war was worth it) masked a stunningly narrow and parochial foreign policy vision. It wasn’t just that Panetta was saying crazy things. As his new memoir shows, he apparently believed them.

Take, for example, Panetta’s now oft-repeated position on troop withdrawals from Iraq in 2011, a move that as Secretary of Defense he praised but now three years later labels a failure. While Panetta acknowledges that the adamant refusal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to maintain a troop presence in Iraq was a key impediment, he has a brilliant after-the-fact solution: the US should have just turned up the heat on Maliki.

According to Panetta, the US could have simply said that we would withdraw both reconstruction and military aid to Iraq until Maliki bent to America’s will. That Panetta thinks that threatening and demeaning the Iraqi leader was a worthy step to make in order to maintain a US force that the Iraqis clearly didn’t want is remarkably short-sighted. Panetta seems utterly uninterested in the question of what happens if Maliki called the US bluff or, if he said yes, how would that affect the long-term relationship between the US and Iraq. For Panetta, the only thing that mattered in 2011 was maintaining a residual US military force in the country, which he says—without much in the way of evidence—would have helped prevent the rise of ISIS.

Panetta is fond of such retrospective certainty. He asserts that if the US had backed Syrian rebels militarily it would have built up a moderate counter-weight to ISIS. He also labels the president’s failure to use force against Syria when it crossed Obama’s “redline” and used chemical weapons against his own people a damaging “blow to American credibility.” According to Panetta, “the power of the United States rests on its word, and clear signals are important both to deter adventurism and to reassure allies that we can be counted on.” The implication is that if the US had merely bombed Assad, those clear signals would have been sent and received by enemies and allies alike.

Of less concern to Panetta are not only the potential negative consequences from using force but also the actual diplomatic agreement negotiated by the US to completely destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons. While he gives a perfunctory nod to this “important accomplishment” in his memoir, he complains that “hesitation and half-steps have consequences.”

As for what those specific consequences are, other than vague platitudes about credibility and signals: your guess is as good as mine. For Panetta, the act of using force is seemingly more important than the actual tangible result achieved by using force.

Nowhere is this mindset of war as a presentational tool more evident than Panetta’s discussion of the 2009 surge in Afghanistan. While Panetta says the focus on the Taliban, rather than al Qaeda, was misplaced and he complains that the military actively tried to box in Obama on troop levels … he says that there was no reason for the decision on the surge to have taken so long.

“For him to defy his military advisers on a matter so central to the success of his foreign policy and so early in his presidency would have represented an almost impossible risk,” says Panetta. Translation: the surge was a bad idea, but the politics of national security demanded that Obama send American troops to fight a war that Panetta in his memoir calls “not a ringing success.”

Ironically, in his public appearances Panetta has been forcefully stating that a commander-in-chief must keep all options on the table—an implicit criticism of Obama’s refusal to put troops on the ground to fight ISIS. But in Afghanistan, the one option that Panetta appears to believe we should not have had on the table was defying the military and not surging, which is nothing if not an interesting twist on the principle of civilian control of the military. For Panetta, “all options” means only one thing—use of force.

Here, Panetta could not be more explicit. He says President Obama was a “strong leader on security issues” in his first term and cites as evidence Obama’s support for CIA military operations and the fact that he was “tough on terrorism.”

Now, however, Panetta believes that the president has “lost his way” because since then because he’s shown greater “ambivalence” about using military force. If Obama is willing to “roll up his sleeves” on ISIS he can restore that strong legacy. For Panetta, might always equals right.

Panetta likes to present himself an “honest,” “straight-talking,” aw-shucks kind of guy—the son of Italian immigrants who has lived the American Dream. But in reality he is the quintessential example of how Washington corrupts. Principles are conditional and where you sit is where you stand; politics trumps policy, even bad policy that puts American lives at risk; military force is a magic elixir not only in solving international problems but in burnishing one’s public image (though it appears for Panetta that this mainly applies to Democrats); it’s also the most important criteria in how you judge a president’s national security decision-making and his or her requisite strength.

During a recent interview on CNN, Panetta took a break from bashing the president who appointed him to two Cabinet offices to offer one of those platitudes that long-time DC denizens love to state without a moment of introspection. “Logic doesn’t work in Washington,” he said.

You can say that again.

 

By: Michael Cohen, The Daily Beast, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Leon Panetta, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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