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“Titillating The Republican Base”: Under Pressure From The Right, Gowdy Renews Benghazi Shenanigans

The Benghazi Select Committee shed the bipartisan cloak it had worn in public, as Republican members used Tuesday’s hearing to bully Joel Rubin, deputy undersecretary of state for legislative affairs. For more than two hours they badgered their witness, apparently haven taken cues from Eric Cartman (a petulant child portrayed in the cartoon South Park) demanding the State Department respect their “authoritah.”

The Central Intelligence Agency’s Neil Higgins, director of the agency’s Office of Legislative Affairs, for the most part sat silently at the witness table, happy to allow his State Department counterpart take the brunt of the public flogging as successive Republican lawmakers berated Rubin.

The exchanges between Rubin and the Republican members of the committee were a sideshow to the real fight in the room. For months tensions have been brewing between the majority and minority staff.

Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, made this clear in a series of letters he wrote to Gowdy, two of which were made public on Tuesday morning. At the heart of the dispute are interviews the majority staff conducted without the knowledge or presence of Democratic staff.

Investigating the accusations reported by Sharyl Attkisson at The Daily Signal, a website owned and published by the Heritage Foundation, that Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell witnessed members of the department’s staff removing documents that might put [State Department officials at the Bureau of Near East Affairs] in a bad light,” the committee interviewed a second witness whom Maxwell claimed would confirm these allegations.

Instead that witness contradicted the story, saying that they had never been a part of such an effort, according to the letter penned by Cummings to Gowdy on November 24. This came as a surprise to the committee’s minority staff, who, according to Cummings, had been told by the Republicans via e-mail that they “learned nothing else of note in our discussion, so we don’t plan to conduct any additional follow-up.” Far from nothing of note, debunking a major conservative allegation is a seemingly important detail.

From the perspective of Representative Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the select committee, the source of tension was the State Department’s inability to fully respond to the committee’s request for documents and the availability of witnesses, despite the 40,000 documents that State had already forked over. The wide-ranging request delivered on November 18 was for “two full years worth of emails from 11 State Department principals.”

Democrats were quick to point out that this first request for documents came a full six months after House Speaker John Boehner created the committee. They repeatedly noted at the hearing that the committee created to investigate the federal government’s failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina had started and completed its work in this time span.

In the eight months since the committee’s formation was first announced, Gowdy has yet to present a single question about the attacks that has not already been answered. For six months, the committee had not requested a single document. Now it was suddenly claiming that State’s failure to comply with the entire document request in two months was unacceptable. Republicans tried to smooth over this uncomfortable fact by citing subpoenas from other committees.

Yet as recently as mid-December, Gowdy seemed to indicate he was pleased with the performance of the State Department, in response to his committees request telling Fox News Host Greta Van Susteren:

“They are making an effort to be cooperative. The timing issue we may work on a little bit. But you know as lawyers look at documents it may lead them to make another request for production. So if the State Department were here they’d tell you: ‘Look quit asking us for more documents. We’ve given you what you wanted so far.’ But for us to be able to do the kind of job you expect and the people who watch your show expect we’re going to have to have access to the witnesses and the documents. But sometimes that means lawyers decide late in the game that I need this batch. So the State Department hasn’t been difficult to work with and I don’t expect that will change.”

Clearly Gowdy’s comments on Tuesday signaled a change in tune.

Conservatives have begun to turn on the chairman, calling him “ineffective.” Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James “Ace” Lyons spoke to the right-wing website WorldNetDaily, claiming that “the idea that government-agency stonewalling—continuing now for over two years—is the reason Gowdy’s committee can’t make progress is pure nonsense.”

Gowdy now seems intent on pleasing the right by taking his investigation down the same path that led Representative Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, and other Republicans astray. (Issa’s Benghazi investigations became something of a national joke.) To show his toughness in front of the conservative media, Gowdy took to abusing a deputy undersecretary of state. Then, at the end of the hearing, he acknowledged that Rubin was not responsible for his purported anger.

Just the kind of BDSM display that seems to titillate the Republican base.


By: Ari Rabin-Havt, The American Prospect, January 27, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Republicans, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Obama’s Budget Matters”: Differences Within The GOP That Could Be Finessed In The Past Will Have To Be Dealt With Openly

When President Obama releases his budget on Monday, the words “dead on arrival” will be widely incanted because they are part of a quasi-religious Beltway ritual.

This year, those words will be misleading.

No one expects Obama’s budget to be enacted as he proposes it. Republicans responded even to early outlines of his plan with a wall of opposition. But this time around is different because, paradoxically perhaps, the fact that Republicans control both the House and Senate makes Obama’s role more rather than less important.

For the last four years, the budget game was three-cornered. The president played alongside an often radically conservative Republican House and a Democratic Senate with views of its own. Now, Obama’s plan will be the main public alternative to whatever the Republicans decide to do.

Moreover, the Republicans are responsible for passing a budget through two houses, so differences within the GOP that could be finessed in the past will have to be dealt with openly.

The most obvious will be on whether to continue cuts in the defense budget prescribed under the so-called sequester enacted in 2011. GOP defense advocates want to raise Pentagon spending substantially, libertarians want to keep both domestic and military spending low, and many mainstream conservatives will try to cut domestic spending even more to accommodate defense increases. The third option will almost certainly be a non-starter, not only with the president — he has a veto and will insist that any cuts be balanced between the two sides of the ledger — but also with many in the GOP rank-and-file.

Obama has declined to offer premature concessions to the Republicans in his own proposal, which further clarifies the stakes. At the same time, he has made things trickier still for his opponents by putting many of his ideas in a form that Republicans have supported in the past. That’s true even of some of his tax proposals.

The president is aware that the most damaging alliance in Washington has been the one between establishment deficit hawks, who continue to think that long-term deficits are the premier economic issue before the country, and Republican conservatives, who have used the legitimate concerns of the deficit hawks to justify deep cuts in government programs without any offsetting increases in revenues.

The president will call this bluff by putting $1.8 trillion in long-term deficit reduction on the table. But most of it will come on the revenue side. His argument here is straightforward: The bulk of the deficit reduction in the deals reached since 2011 has come from cuts in discretionary spending — that is, almost everything except the big retirement programs — which is now at its lowest level as a share of GDP in decades.

The deficit hawks who aren’t part of the ideological assault on the public sector know that the basic functions of government have already been cut too much and that some new domestic spending, particularly for infrastructure, is essential. Obama calls the question: If additional revenues are unacceptable, how is deficit reduction supposed to be achieved? There can’t be any “grand bargains” until conservatives acknowledge upfront that tax increases of some kind need to be part of any long-term solution.

But the biggest challenge to Republicans may be whether they are willing to go along with Obama on ideas that are plainly in their wheelhouse. One small but significant hope: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have been pushing the idea that we need more evidence-based policymaking, and Obama is joining their campaign. This sounds like a no-brainer, but much needs to be done to integrate concerns about what works and what doesn’t into our governing routines.

Republicans have been trying hard to tout their concern about income stagnation and an increasingly frozen class structure. Obama will be pushing for a new initiative, “The Upward Mobility Project,” to provide more flexibility to local officials in a set of government programs if they can show how their efforts will help people climb occupational and income ladders. Projects of this sort are exactly what we should be thinking about.

When budget fights become melodramas over whether the government will shut down or default, we lose track of what the exercise is supposed to be about. Obama’s opening bid ought to be the start of a back-to-basics debate — an argument that will extend into the 2016 campaign — over what we actually want government to do, and how we propose to pay for it.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, February 2, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Church And State”: Mike Huckabee’s Christian Sharia Law

Mike Huckabee is known as a former governor, an author, a onetime Fox News host, and as a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And now we have a new way to describe Huckabee: Christian Wahhabist.

For those unaware, Wahhabism is a sect of Islam, primarily practiced in Saudi Arabia, which follows a very conservative interpretation of the faith. Wahhabis demand that their religious principles be imposed as the law of their country. And Huckabee, in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN, made it clear that on certain social issues, he too believes that his religious beliefs should be the basis for the laws of the state.

But before we get to that issue, let me start with the reason Huckabee’s interview came to my attention. Huckabee stated that his continued opposition to same-sex marriage is based on the Bible, and that he can’t “evolve” on the issue “unless I get a new version of the scriptures.” He then added that it would be comparable to “asking a Muslim to serve up something that is offensive to him or to have dogs in his backyard.”

Being a Muslim who has offered many times before to be people’s “Muslim friend,” and to answer their questions the best I could about the faith, Huckabee’s dog comment immediately caused some friends to reach out on social media. “Are Muslims religiously prohibited from owning dogs?” they asked.

The simple answer: no. Nowhere in the Quran does such a prohibition appear. However, there are mentions of dogs in the Hadith, which are the sayings and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims view the Hadith as second only to the Koran in terms of being authoritative. But it should be noted that not all Muslims follow the Hadith and there are questions about the veracity of some of its passages.

In any event, there are passages in the Hadith that suggest dogs are “unclean”—but scholars note that was meant literally because it referred to dogs in the desert some 1,400 years ago. Consequently, some Muslims avoid dogs. But other passages of the Hadith say that Muslims can own working dogs, such as for hunting, farming, etc. And yet another passage notes that the Prophet Muhammad stated that God had forgiven a prostitute of her sins after she offered water to a dog in need of drink on a hot summer day. So, clearly, dogs are described in different ways in Islamic texts.

Bottom line: Many Muslims I know, including my own family, own dogs as pets. There was even a “Good Muslims Love Dogs” day in Canada few years back to counter bigots who urged people to taunt Muslims with dogs.

And regarding Huckabee’s remark that Muslims should not be required to serve food they find objectionable, my father was a cook and prepared pork for people daily. This was not a problem. In fact, there would only be a problem if the pork jumped off the plate and jammed itself into his mouth.

So Huckabee was wrong, but it’s not a big deal because he was clearly not trying to demonize Muslims as dog haters. But what is a big deal is his ludicrous argument that Muslims being asked to serve pork is the same as his desire to impose laws that bar gay Americans from getting married because it violates his religious beliefs.

Marriage, as our courts have found many times in the past, is a “fundamental right.” And there’s absolutely no comparison between that important right and the serving or not serving of pork.

Huckabee then gave us another baffling comment during his CNN interview. While complaining about courts striking laws that banned gay marriage, he stated, that “we don’t change laws because some people in a black robe just decide” an issue.

Well, actually, that’s exactly what we do. Our nation’s Founding Fathers set up our system of government so that we have a separation of powers and the judicial branch would interpret the law. And if a law were found to be unconstitutional by the courts, it would be struck down. This is all pretty basic stuff.

Still not done, Huckabee then defended the prohibition on gay marriage in certain states by noting that sometimes 70 or 80 “percent of the state’s population have affirmed natural law marriage.” Translation: If a majority of people support discrimination, then the court should defer to the will of the people.

Well, in 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws that made it a crime to enter into an interracial marriage in the seminal case of Loving v. Virginia, 73 percent of Americans supported such laws. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that a majority of Americans finally approved of interracial marriage. So, if we followed Huckabee’s logic to its end point, then interracial married couples, like President Obama’s parents, should have been criminally prosecuted through the 1990s.

To be honest, Huckabee’s Wahhabist tendencies are nothing new. When he last ran for president in 2008, he argued that we “should amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.

What would be the reaction if a Muslim candidate for president (or even dog catcher for that matter) argued that we should amend our Constitution to agree with the Quran? The right wing in this country would explode. It would be all the Breitbart.coms of the world would talk about. But many of those same right-wing people who fabricate the claim that Muslims in America want to impose Islamic law have no problem when a Christian politician tells us point blank he wants to impose what is, in essence, Christian Sharia law.

The good news: Our First Amendment prohibits the establishment of any religion in our country, be it Christianity or Islam or anything else. That doesn’t mean people like Huckabee—just like Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia—won’t continue to advocate for their religious beliefs to be the law of the land. But in the United States at least, our laws must be based on public policy considerations and the Constitution, not passages of religious text.

And thank God for that.


By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, February 1, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Church and State, Mike Huckabee, Muslims | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Acting As Political Human Shields”: The Upper Middle Class Needs To Stop Coddling The 1 Percent

The most criticism I’ve ever received as a writer came from articles suggesting that we curtail tax expenditures that mainly benefit the rich, like the mortgage interest deduction or 529 college savings accounts. (Okay, second-most — the top hate mail–getter, by a large margin, was a quite different issue.)

Why? As President Obama himself found last week, the last people you want to piss off are members of the upper middle class, who are set to a hair trigger when it comes to their personal government handouts. As Paul Waldman writes, they may be “the single most dangerous constituency to anger,” because a) unlike the 1 percent, they are relatively numerous; and b) like the 1 percent, they have a lot of disposable income, which politicians love.

On one level, this is an understandable reaction to a threat to personal economic interest. But on another, members of the upper middle class are being played for fools. They are acting as political human shields for the top 1 percent, which claims more of these benefits proportionally speaking and has been raking in essentially all the benefits of economic growth. The upper middle class (let’s define this as the top income quintile, minus the top 1 percent) ought to demand a lot more than it is getting.

To start, let’s get one thing straight. Tax expenditures are indeed government benefits, economically identical to direct government spending. Preferential treatment in the tax code is just another way of jiggering the national economic structure to direct benefits to one group or another.

Not all tax expenditures are equally terrible. According to a CBO analysis, exclusions for health care and pensions are spread relatively equitably across the population, while the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are major bulwarks against poverty.

However, the big deductions are unfairly skewed. Two-thirds of taxpayers can’t even use the mortgage interest deduction, because you have to itemize your deductions to get it; other countries manage high rates of homeownership without the subsidy. Overall, 1 percenters get 15 percent of the mortgage interest deduction, 30 percent of the state tax deduction, and 38 percent of the charitable contribution deduction.

Preferential tax rates for capital gains and dividends, meanwhile, are even worse. Over two-thirds of the benefits go to 1 percenters. The supposed idea is to incentivize investment and thus economic growth, but there is zero evidence this actually happens. Close analysis of the Bush administration’s cut on dividend taxes finds that it did not change anything except payouts to shareholders. Longer-term studies on capital gains tax rates finds no relationship to investment or broader economic growth. The major effect is a booming industry in legal chicanery allowing people to reclassify regular income as capital gains.

Meanwhile, over the last generation, 1 percenters have been capturing the vast bulk of economic growth, a trend that is only getting worse. Indeed, according to a new analysis at the Economic Policy Institute by Mark Price and Estelle Sommeiller, from 2009 to 2012 1 percenters literally received more than all the income growth. Because the incomes of the 99 percent fell on average, 1 percenters got 105.5 percent of real income growth. Policies that benefit the very top over everyone else are clearly to blame.

Clearly, that’s no good for anyone who isn’t in the 1 percent, including the merely affluent. But with the middle class lacking much punching power, and the poor largely ignored by everyone, the upper middle class really ought to be asking for more than the preservation of their existing government benefits. At the very least, the upper middle class could demand a cut of economic growth.

And if the upper middle class were willing to ally with the bottom and the middle, there’s reason to think it would be able to keep the structure of its current benefits (that is to say, access to college instead of merely some money to pay for it) while cutting everyone in on economic growth. Taxes might go up somewhat, but that would likely be compensated by better wages and universal benefits.

On the other hand, if the upper middle class can manage nothing but a hysterical defense of its own welfare handouts, and the American system keeps brutalizing the bottom half of the income ladder, a genuine mass movement could appear, as it has in the past. Such movements are not likely to be especially concerned with the upper middle class.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, February 2, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Tax Code, The 1%, Upper Middle Class | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, No, A Thousand Times No”: What Chris Christie Gets Wrong About Vaccine Deniers

Chris Christie is in England, because like so many candidates before him, he knows that the way to show American voters that you will make wise foreign policy decisions is to demonstrate that you have, in fact, visited another country. And while he’s there, he managed to make news by taking a position that is not only controversial but spectacularly wrong, on the topic of the spreading measles outbreak caused by unvaccinated children:

“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie told reporters here Monday. But the likely Republican presidential candidate added: “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

And it gets worse: Christie said, “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official.”

No, no, a thousand times no. It’s great that Christie vaccinated his children, but it’s also completely irrelevant. And what he thinks as a parent is absolutely not more important than what he thinks as a public official. Want to know why? Because he’s a public official. That means that he has a responsibility for the health and welfare of the nine million people who live in his state. I am so tired of politicians who say, “My most important title is Mom/Dad.” It isn’t. When you decided to run for public office, you accepted that there would be times when you’d have to act in the public interest regardless of your family’s interest, or your friends’ interest, or the interest of the town you grew up in. When you took the oath of office you made a covenant that you’d work on behalf of the larger community. The fact that you’re a parent can help you understand other parents and their concerns, but it doesn’t change your primary responsibility.

One can certainly express some measure of understanding toward anti-vaxxers while still holding that their views are not just mistaken but profoundly dangerous. Fear for the health of one’s children is a powerful force. As a general matter there’s nothing wrong with distrusting the pharmaceutical industry. One can understand how someone might end up with such views. That being said, there’s about as much real evidence that vaccines cause autism as there is that volcanoes cause post-nasal drip.

So the responsible thing for a governor to say would be, “As a parent, I get where they’re coming from. But as a public official it’s my responsibility to say that they’re wrong, and in their error they aren’t just threatening their own children’s health, they’re threatening the entire community.” You don’t have to think parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids should be arrested, but their ideas ought to be condemned for the harm they do. If Chris Christie has sympathy for them as a father, that’s fine. But he has a more important job to do.

After getting some criticism over his initial remarks, Christie clarified through a spokesperson that he believes all kids should be vaccinated. Which is good, and I hope that this episode provides a lesson for him and other officeholders. Politicians are always trying to tell us that they’re just regular folks like us, and all you need to succeed in high office is common sense and a strong memory of your humble roots. It’s baloney. We choose them for those offices because we need them to make complex and difficult decisions that require more than common sense. We don’t try to elect the best dad to be governor or president, we try to elect the person who’ll be the best governor or president.

Are Republicans more likely than Democrats to fall into this regular-guy routine? Politicians from both parties do it, but the GOP has certainly embraced know-nothingism on other issues. “I’m not a scientist” has become the standard Republican way to say we shouldn’t do anything to address climate change. For a long time they have played the identity politics game, which requires demonstrating that you’re “one of us” and your opponent is alien and contemptible, with particular vigor. That’s an argument that denies there’s anything special about public office; all we need is to find a candidate with “[insert our state here] values,” and everything will be fine.

But it won’t, and it would be nice if the people vying for office stopped pretending otherwise.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 2, 2015

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Public Health, Vaccinations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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