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“Big Money’s Futile Search For A GOP Frontrunner”: There Is No Overriding Argument To Rally Republican Insiders

The New York Times has a well-reported article today outlining the desires of various Republican Party donors and bundlers to get behind a single establishment candidate in the 2016 presidential primary. There’s only one problem: That doesn’t seem remotely possible.

Yes, it makes sense to try to limit the intraparty war. The three potential establishment candidates — former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney — would presumably compete for the same donors and voters if they all enter the race. But each of the three has his own personal ambitions, core set of loyalists, individual and institutional strengths, and potentially fatal flaws. Why should any two such candidates cede to a third? And what of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker? Ohio governor John Kasich? Florida senator Marco Rubio? If they run, each will depend in some degree on establishment support as well.

Bush has all but dared the party to nominate someone else, saying that, if he runs, he won’t court Republican base voters so eagerly that he alienates the general electorate. He refuses to abandon his commitment to Common Core educational standards, which the base has come to perceive as ideologically sketchy and governmentally oppressive. Worse, he is unabashedly pro-immigrant in a party that has concluded that, at the end of the day, it really prefers a good deportation. Bush’s description of illegal border crossing as an “act of love” will prove a constant temptation to the devil perched on the party’s shoulder. Which of the candidates competing for the base’s roar of approval will resist the temptation to label Bush a quisling in the existential war against the Other?

Christie may be even less of a sure bet. A Department of Justice investigation into his subordinates’ creepy “Bridgegate” activities is yet to be concluded. Christie’s presidential calling card — his “character” — rides on his aggressive demeanor and the results of that investigation. But a long presidential campaign seems unlikely to serve his ambition. I have never been able to get over this Christie television ad from 1994 in which he sits with his wife and baby, and proceeds to lie to the camera about two Republican primary opponents. Yes, the ad is old. Yes, the office he sought was relatively small potatoes (a county board seat). But find me another top-tier presidential candidate who has used a family tableau with his wife — let alone his infant child — to falsely attack opponents. (Christie was subsequently sued by his opponents and, remarkably, settled out of court.)  Bridgegate. Babygate. All that shouting at regular people. Something is not right about this guy. A presidential campaign will almost certainly expose it — if the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey doesn’t first.

That leaves Romney. He’s competent, tried, true, tested. And the base — convinced that Romney’s 2012 outing proves that establishment candidates lack the real faith to win — will have conniptions if party elites try again to force him to the top of the Republican heap.

So if you’re a big Republican donor, or an ambitious bundler, who do you get behind? And how do you convince rival donors to join you? There is no favorite among the three, no overriding case to be made for any particular candidate. Which means that there is no overriding argument to rally Republican insiders representing various industries, regions and personal loyalties to abandon their personal stakes in one candidate and support a different candidate.

The only people who can clear the field are the candidates themselves. That’s usually the purpose of a primary. And it’s always the outcome.


By: Francis Wilkinson, The National Memo, December 8, 2014

December 10, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Campaign Donors, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Racism Is As American As The Fourth Of July”: Despite Progress On Racism, The Uncomfortable Truth Is That Work Remains

President Obama’s observation that racism is “deeply rooted” in U.S. society is an understatement. Racism is as American as the Fourth of July, and ignoring this fact doesn’t make it go away.

These truths, to quote a familiar document, are self-evident. Obama made the remark in an interview with Black Entertainment Television, telling the network’s largely African American audience something it already knew. The president’s prediction that racism “isn’t going to be solved overnight” also came as no surprise.

Right-wing media outlets feigned shock and outrage. But their hearts didn’t seem to be in it. Not after Ferguson and Staten Island. Not after the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. These recent atrocities prompted Obama’s comments.

“This is something that is deeply rooted in our society. It’s deeply rooted in our history,” the president said, in excerpts of the interview that were released Sunday. “You know, when you’re dealing with something that’s as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you’ve got to have vigilance but you have to recognize that it’s going to take some time, and you just have to be steady so that you don’t give up when we don’t get all the way there.”

Patience and persistence are virtues. As Obama well knows, however, we’ve already been at this for nearly 400 years.

The election in 2008 of the first black president was an enormous milestone, something I never dreamed would happen in my lifetime. Obama’s reelection four years later was no less significant — a stinging rebuke to those who labored so hard to limit this aberration to one term.

But no one should have expected Obama to magically eliminate the racial bias that has been baked into this society since the first Africans were brought to Jamestown in 1619. The stirring words of the Declaration of Independence — “all men are created equal” — were not meant to apply to people who look like me. The Constitution specified that each slave would count as three-fifths of a person. African Americans were systematically robbed of their labor — not just before the Civil War but for a century afterward, through Jim Crow laws and other racist arrangements. Blacks were deliberately denied opportunities to obtain education and accumulate wealth.

You knew all of this, of course. I recite it here because there are those who would prefer to forget.

A Bloomberg poll released Sunday found that 53 percent of those surveyed believe race relations have worsened “under the first black president,” while only 9 percent believe they have improved. A 2012 Associated Press poll found that 51 percent of Americans had “explicit anti-black attitudes” — up from 48 percent four years earlier, before Obama took office. All this makes me wonder whether, for many people, Obama’s presidency may be serving as an uncomfortable reminder of the nation’s shameful racial history.

Then again, it may be that having a black family in the White House just drives some people around the bend. Why else would a congressional aide viciously attack the president’s daughters, ages 16 and 13, by telling them via Facebook to “dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar”? The scold apologized and resigned, perhaps without fully knowing why she felt compelled to go there in the first place. For some people, it doesn’t matter what the Obamas do or don’t do. Their very presence is inexcusable. There’s something alien about them; their teenage girls can’t just be seen as teenage girls.

We already know, from painful experience, how our society looks upon black teenage boys.

After reminding the nation that racism exists, Obama went on to express optimism. “As painful as these incidents are, we can’t equate what is happening now to what was happening 50 years ago,” he said. “And if you talk to your parents, grandparents, uncles, they’ll tell you that things are better — not good, in some cases, but better.”

Of course, that’s true. But it would be a betrayal of the brave men and women who fought and died during the civil rights movement to lose our sense of urgency when so much remains to be done.

U.S. neighborhoods and schools remain shockingly segregated. Jobs have abandoned many inner-city communities. The enormous wealth gap between whites and blacks has increased since the onset of the “Great Recession.” Black boys and men wear bull’s-eyes on their backs.

Whatever Obama says about race, or doesn’t say about race, somebody’s going to be angry. He should just speak from the heart — and tell the uncomfortable truth.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 9, 2014

December 10, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, Civil Rights, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“I’m Not Stupid, I’m Me”: First Step For Perry Is Getting Filthy Rich

I read with some amusement Philip Rucker’s WaPo profile of the new, improved Rick Perry. The outgoing governor of Texas wants us all to know that he won’t make the same mistakes in this presidential cycle as in the last, and that he intends to project an image that’s distant from the strutting tear-the-head-off-the-donkey ferocity that excited conservative activists in 2011 before he disgusted them with his talk of compassion for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Unsurprisingly, Perry’s proto-message for 2016 will focus on his “economic miracle” claim, based on the exciting new idea of growing the economy by whorishly giving “investors” any damn thing they want. But as I have myself observed over the years, the trouble with encouraging governors to hang out with extremely rich people in the guise of “economic development” is that they start wondering Why ain’t I as rich as my new friends? And so we read this:

After Republican Greg Abbott is sworn in as governor on Jan. 20, Perry’s immediate priority will be to make serious money, something he has never done. He is considering writing a memoir — how a Boy Scout from Paint Creek became governor and presided over “the Texas miracle” economic boom — as well as giving paid speeches and serving on corporate boards, his advisers say.

So even as he’s sitting there with his tongue lolling out, trying to convince a political reporter he’s rough and ready to leap into a contest that’s already begun, Perry admits he’s going to have to take a little detour to lift himself and his family into the economic stratosphere. For a guy who hasn’t shaken two indictments just yet, he’s awfully confident he can run for president while becoming filthy rich, without engaging in any conflicts of interest or perhaps making voters wonder if he’s just in it for the dough.

Something tells me Ted Cruz is going to eat Perry’s lunch as the candidate of feral Texas conservatives while Perry’s trying to “make serious money” and convince people he’s not as stupid as he sometimes sounded four years ago.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 9, 2014

December 10, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rick Perry | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Create The World We Expect”: What Happened To Protect And Serve? Cops, Civilians And Guns

If you’ll excuse my descending into cliche, the issue that began in Ferguson, Mo. is moving beyond racism to the present-day penchant of police departments to apply military thinking to civilian life.

This thinking leads cops to expect and insist on instant obedience in any interaction. If they don’t get it, they escalate.

This can naturally take things in the wrong direction, a phenomenon reinforced by the intimidating appearance of surplus military equipment, widely distributed to urban, suburban, and rural departments alike from the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters .

Cops have very dangerous jobs. Anything can suddenly move from ordinary conversation to a life-or-death matter — especially in a country that has more guns than people.

And according to the most authoritative source, the Small Arms Survey, there were least 270 million privately-owned guns in the U.S. in 2007 — an average of 88.9 guns per 100 Americans. Since President Obama’s election in 2008, another 67 million guns have been sold–a total of 337 million guns in a nation with 319.3 million people.

With that many guns out there — Americans are the world’s best-armed people — cops can’t be blamed for assuming that anybody they stop may have one. So taking this approach is probably advisable, assuming the cop wants to live.

But the result has been that cops have been encouraged to adopt the thinking of combat officers. A combat officer’s job is to protect the lives of his men. He does that by killing the enemy. It’s a brutal logic, but appropriate for the circumstances. And it’s not a stretch to say that cops are in combat 24/7 and suffer a form of PTSD, and that this reality probably helps cops to have high suicide rates.

Still, we create the world we expect, and if cops stick to this rationale, we have to expect to see more of these incidents, however you want to label them. Even if Michael Brown’s death can be explained away (I don’t think it can be), Tamar Rice and Eric Garner’s can’t be.

In any event, the fundamental premise of this thinking is badly flawed, because cops are there to protect us, and by and large, ordinary citizens–the people cops mostly deal with–are not their enemies.

Meanwhile, MOTHER JONES has just published an excellent article proving with the available statistics they have assembled that black and Hispanic Americans are much more likely to be shot by a policeman than whites.

The usual objection to statistics like this is the assertion that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be committing the sorts of crimes that cops encounter. But if we accept that almost all crime is economically-driven, and not an outgrowth of some baked-in ethnic malignity, what they really show is that by and large, the non-white population in this country is poorer than the white population. So it follows that the real issue is likewise economic, since overall, the black and Hispanic populations in America are poorer than whites.

To my mind, if we want to resolve this wave of racially-tinged, indefensible killings of civilians growing out of the militarization of the police — on December 6, Phoenix, Ariz. police shot Rumain Brisbon, an unarmed 34-year-old, because they mistook a bottle of pills for a gun — we have to address how cops are trained, the sort of income inequality that’s been produced by supply-side economics, and the relentless pro-gun drumbeat coming from NRA headquarters.


By: Andrew Reinbach, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 8, 2014

December 10, 2014 Posted by | Guns, Militarization of Police, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Affront To Our National Values”: The Gigantic Disaster Of The CIA’s Torture Program

The Senate Intelligence Committee released the executive summary of its report on the CIA’s use of torture in the years after the September 11 attacks, which took place at “black sites” in foreign countries (the full report can be read here). While we’ve known a good deal about this for some time, many of the details are new, and I want to focus attention on a few of them to make a particular point about this program and how we’re debating it today.

The picture the CIA itself and Bush administration officials have always tried to paint of the torture program is one of highly trained professionals using carefully considered, perfectly legal techniques that were limited and humane, and produced valuable intelligence that directly saved American lives. When you read the Senate report, however, you see something very different: people who essentially had no idea what they were doing.

Their task was urgent, and their fear was genuine, but in that urgency and fear they brutalized prisoners, withheld information and in some cases lied outright to other agencies of government (including Congress, the State Department, and the White House), and generally made a mess of things. There’s no other way to put this: the torture program was a gigantic disaster; if this weren’t a family newspaper I’d use a word that starts with “cluster.”

First, let me quote from the executive summary of today’s report, about one of the black sites:

Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. The chief of interrogations described COBALT as a “dungeon.” Another senior CIA officer stated that COBALT was itself an enhanced interrogation technique. At times, the detainees at COBALT were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods  of time. Other times, the detainees at COBALT were subjected to what was described as a “rough takedown,” in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with Mylar tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.

One of the detainees at this site was left overnight shackled to the wall and naked from the waist down in near-freezing temperatures. The next morning he was found dead of hypothermia.

Now let me cite a couple of the specific cases. This an email from a medical officer present for the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah:

The sessions accelerated rapidly progressing quickly to the water board after large box, walling, and small box periods. [Abu Zubaydah] seems very resistant to the water board. Longest time with the cloth  over his face so far has been 17 seconds. This is sure to increase shortly. NO useful information so far.. ..He did vomit a couple of times during the water board with some beans and rice. It’s been 10 hours since he ate so this is surprising and disturbing. We plan to only feed Ensure for a while now. I’m head[ing] back for another water board session.”

In addition to waterboarding, Zubaydah was subjected to extended use of stress positions, which are designed to produce excruciating pain. At the end of the intensive period of interrogation, CIA officers declared the torture a success — not because Zubaydah had actually given up information on upcoming attacks, but because the officials decided they had completely broken his will and satisfied themselves that he had no such information to give.

Quite naturally, what concerned interrogators most was the prospect of future attacks. However, in multiple cases, they were faced with prisoners who were cooperative and supplied intelligence on things like the structure of al-Qaeda, but if the prisoner said he had no information about upcoming attacks, that would be taken as proof that he should be tortured further.

A significant amount of the report focuses on the site known as Cobalt, which is described not only as a horrific “dungeon” but a place where personnel rotate in and out and few seem to have any idea what they’re doing. Here’s the result of a visit there by a military legal advisor:

The U.S. military officer also noted that the junior CIA officer designated as warden of the facility “has little to no experience with interrogating or handling prisoners.” With respect to al-Najjar specifically, the legal advisor indicated that the CIA’s interrogation plan included “isolation in total darkness; lowering the quality of his food; keeping him at an uncomfortable temperature (cold); [playing music] 24 hours a day; and keeping him shackled and hooded.” In addition, al-Najjar was described as having been left hanging — which involved handcuffing one or both wrists to an overhead bar which would not allow him to lower his arms — for 22 hours each day for two consecutive days, in order to “‘break’ his resistance.” It was also noted al-Najjar was wearing a diaper and had no access to toilet facilities…According to the CIA inspector general, the detention and interrogation of Ridha al-Najjar “became the model” for handling other CIA detainees at DETENTION SITE COBALT.

But it wasn’t always the on-site interrogators pushing the interrogations to be more brutal. In one case cited by the report, the interrogators judged that a detainee named Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was implicated in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, was being cooperative and forthcoming, based on their interactions with him and the fact that he was giving information on things like the structure of al-Qaeda. But he claimed that he didn’t have any information on upcoming attacks. The interrogators’ superiors at CIA headquarters wrote to them, “it is inconceivable to us that al-Nashiri cannot provide us concrete leads…. When we are able to capture other terrorists based on his leads and to thwart future plots based on his reporting, we will have much more confidence that he is, indeed, genuinely cooperative on some level.”

In other words, the idea that the prisoner simply didn’t have information on upcoming attacks was inconceivable to them. So they sent an untrained interrogator known for his temper to the site, who proceeded to do things like threaten the prisoner with a gun and an electric drill.

When that also failed to produce information on upcoming attacks, a contractor psychologist visited and created a new interrogation plan, based on yet more brutal techniques. This led the CIA’s chief of interrogations to inform his colleagues that he was retiring. In an email, he wrote, “this is a train wreak [sic] waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens.” Eventually, everyone concluded that al-Nashiri didn’t have any information on upcoming attacks.

That’s just a bit of what’s in the report. One other interesting detail that jumped out at me was that on a couple of occasions, interrogators used mock executions, a favorite psychological torture technique of the Iranian regime.

We should note that many in the CIA dispute the details, particularly whether they were dishonest in their dealings with other agencies. What seems beyond dispute, however, is that the United States of America initiated a program of torturing prisoners that was planned and executed by people who knew next to nothing about interrogation.

As John McCain — who was subjected to some of these same torture techniques as a prisoner of war in Vietnam — said about this report: “The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.” Many in his party don’t share that belief.

And even the White House can’t seem to bring itself to call this by its true name. Today I was on a background call with a group of senior administration officials, and they were asked repeatedly why they seemed so reluctant to use the word “torture,” even after President Obama admitted that “we tortured some folks.” One official replied, “We’re not going to go case by case in a report like this and try to affix a label to each action.” But they do affix a label: “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which they used again and again, accepting the euphemistic label the Bush administration affixed to it.

The White House certainly deserves credit for ultimately supporting the release of this report (even if they seemed reluctant to do so). For all the protestations of the CIA, Bush administration officials, and their supporters, a few things are beyond dispute. George W. Bush and the people who worked for him made torture the official policy of the United States government. The program that carried out their wishes was an unholy mess. It was an affront to all the values that this nation is supposed to stand for. And it made it much easier for terrorist groups to recruit new adherents.

And there are a lot of people talking on television, writing op-eds, and even running for office who sound like they’d be only too happy to do it all over again.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 9, 2014

December 10, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Terrorism, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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