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“Back Here On Planet Earth”: The Clinton’s Still Aren’t Corrupt

So now I’m supposed to believe that Hillary Clinton turned the Department of State into a giant shakedown operation? According to Beltway conventional wisdom, it seems that I am compelled to believe exactly that. Because you know those Clintons.

And so we have a lot of credulous hand-waving about this new book. Conservatives sharpen their knives, liberals sweat bullets that it’s all over. But very few people stop to think: Clinton has been in our faces for 20-plus years. Where is any evidence of real corruption? I don’t mean stuff you may not have liked or that kinda looked funny. I mean actual, Rhode-Island-style, steal-a-hot-stove corruption.

Don’t say Whitewater. She endured millions of dollars’ worth of investigations by a prosecutor (Ken Starr) who quite obviously wanted to nail her to the wall, and he came up with nothing. I still remember, by the way, the hopped-up political atmosphere after Bill Safire wrote a column calling her a “congenital liar” and predicted that she was going to be indicted any day now. It was not unlike the mood this week, as we anticipate The New York Times and The Washington Post’s reducing themselves into effectively collaborating with Fox News to trumpet Peter Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash. But Safire was wrong, as he in fact so often was about so many things, and Starr never got her.

Cattle futures, billing records—it’s all the same. Thousands of people, people who hate her and want to see her thrown in jail, have been over and over and over these things. I know the fact that she walks freely among us suggests to many people that she and Bill are so brilliantly devious that they always knew exactly how to get away with it. But just maybe Occam’s Razor applies here, and she’s never done anything illegal.

And now she is supposed to have muscled through a trade deal with Colombia to thank a donor to her husband’s foundation. Right. Look at the chronology.

The man whose business interests the Colombia deal apparently advanced was named Frank Giustra, a Bill friend who has, as we shall see, come up before in the media in this connection. Giustra gave the Clinton Foundation $131 million—$31 million in 2006, [NOTE: this initially said 2005 but has been corrected] and another $100 million pledged that same year that he made good on over the next three years, up through 2008.

Now, 2008, you will recall, was when Hillary Clinton was running for president. It would stand to reason, would it not, that if Clinton was so intent on advancing Giustra’s Colombian business interests, she would have been for the trade deal at the exact moment Giustra finished paying her husband $131 million? But she was against it as a candidate, and implacably so! “I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” she said on the stump in Pennsylvania that April.

That’s not exactly the position of someone shilling for a donor, but I suppose if you’re a committed enough Clintonologist, you can turn it all into a conspiracy—she was just opposing it then to throw the rest of us off the scent, but she’d support it later when it mattered. In fact, she was so intent on hiding her “real” position that she even parted ways with campaign manager Mark Penn because he was consulting for the Colombian government in behalf of the deal.

So then she became Secretary of State. And, indeed, she did start supporting it—but after that became the administration’s position. Obama had also opposed the deal, which the Bush administration had begun negotiating with Colombia back in 2006, as a candidate. But the Obama administration used the Colombia deal as a test case for whether it could get a trade partner to agree to tougher labor protections (there was, and still is, violence against trade unionists in Colombia, although the number of killings has gone down since the pact) as part of gaining access to U.S. markets. The labor provisions got in there. People debate today how much good they’ve done, but they’re in there, and so Obama and Clinton changed their position and backed the deal.

Now, for Clinton to have known in 2008 that all this would play out to Frank Giustra’s benefit, she would have had to have known that Obama was going to beat John McCain and, rather more improbably than that, that Obama was going to appoint her to be his Secretary of State. But those wily Clintons know things like that, see.

I will grant you, she and Obama did not change their positions for reasons that Frank Capra would make a movie about. They changed them, I would imagine, because business and agricultural interests wanted the deal and had more power than the labor and human rights interests that opposed it. You can decry that, too, but it’s just politics.

Think Progress got a copy of Schweizer’s book, and on their description it actually sounds like it’s going to disappoint the heavy breathers. Aviva Shen writes: “Schweizer explains he cannot prove the allegations, leaving that up to investigative journalists and possibly law enforcement.” “Possibly” law enforcement. Nice touch.

While I’m at it with the irony quotes, I might as well drape some around that adjective “investigative” too. The Times, it seems, has decided to debase itself by following the breadcrumbs dropped by this former adviser to Sarah Palin because Schweizer devotes a chapter to Giustra and Kazakhstan, which the Times reported on back in 2008, and the Times plans to follow up on that.

I remember reading that Times story at the time and going, “Wow, that does look bad.” But then I also remember reading this Forbes (yes, Forbes!) debunking of the Times story, which was headlined “Clinton Commits No Foul in Kazakhstan Uranium Deal.” By the time I finished reading that piece (and please, click through and read it so that you are forearmed for the coming Times hit job), I was marveling to myself: Golly, that Times piece looked so awful at the time. But it turns out they just left out some facts, obscured some others, and without being technically inaccurate, managed to convey or imply that something skuzzy happened where it in fact hadn’t. How can a great newspaper do such a thing?

We’re about to find out again.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 22, 2015

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Hillary Clinton, Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Big Split In The Republican Party”: Here Comes The Big Intra-GOP Fight Over Obamacare Subsidies

It’s been obvious for a while that congressional Republicans will be placed in a difficult position if SCOTUS strikes down subsidies for health insurance purchases under the Affordable Care Act in states that did not create their own exchanges. On the one hand, they’ll be blamed for failure to do something about the consequent loss of insurance and/or increases in premiums (at least in states that do nothing about it, either), when a one-sentence law confirming the original understanding virtually everyone had about the universal availability of subsidies would suffice. On the other hand, any reaction to such a SCOTUS decision that does not at least begin with an all-night kegger-and-prayer-vigil in celebration of this blow against tyranny will rile up The Base into a hate frenzy. Theoretically, GOPers could be ready with a full-fledged Obamacare Replacement bill that could be presented to the president on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, but despite having five years to come up with such a creature, that ain’t happening.

So as TPM’s Sahil Kapur explains today, Sen. Ron Johnson has introduced a bill, which the Senate GOP leadership has quietly gotten behind, that would extend the Obamacare subsidies until the end of 2017, in exchange for some key concessions to conservatives that fall vastly short of an alternative structure for health care reform.

The Senate’s top five Republican leaders have cosponsored legislation to extend until 2017 the Obamacare insurance subsidies that may be struck down by the Supreme Court this summer

The legislation, offered by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), one of the most politically vulnerable Senate incumbents in 2016, would maintain the federal tax credits at stake in King v. Burwell through the end of August 2017.

The bill was unveiled this week with 29 other cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his four top deputies, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), John Thune (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). Another cosponsor is Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the chairman of the conference’s electoral arm.

Such a move would seek to protect the GOP from political peril in the 2016 elections when Democrats would try to blame the party for stripping subsidies — and maybe insurance coverage — from millions of Americans in three dozen states. A defeat for the Obama administration in a King ruling would likely create havoc across insurance markets and pose a huge problem for Republicans, many of whom have been pushing the Supreme Court to nix the subsidies.

Given the certainty that this proposal will split Republicans, what are the odds Democrats would go along with this semi-“fix.”?

Democrats would probably demand a fix to make the subsidies permanently available if they go down. But they would be hard-pressed to vote down a bill to temporarily extend them if Republicans were to bring it up.

That may depend, however, on what happens to provisions Kapur calls “sweeteners” for conservatives, including elimination of Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates, and perhaps even more crucially, of the ACA’s minimum benefit requirements. Kapur seems to anticipate, and some conservative critics agree, that Republicans would cave on most of these “sweeterners” in exchange for Democrats agreeing to a temporary instead of a permanent extension of subsidies.

But you will note that the cosponsors of Johnson’s bill do not include Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or Marco Rubio, who will likely be focused on the Iowa Straw Poll at the time the decision comes down. There’s also a competing Senate bill from Ben Sasse that would instead of extending the subsidies replace them with simple tax credits for insurance purchasing that would fade away over time. And there are, according to The Hill‘s Sullivan and Ferris, several plans percolating in the House that would replace the subsidies with our without some “bridge” offering temporary relief. You can judge how much consensus there is from this remark by Republican Study Committee co-chair Bill Flores of Texas, who is one of the people working on one of the many plans:

“I’m not saying there should absolutely not be a bridge, I’m not saying there should absolutely be a bridge,” Flores said. “If we start building toward a shore, but we don’t know what that shore is, then the bridge might not work very well.”

I think we can all agree on that. And that is why despite everything you will hear from them before and after SCOTUS rules, there’s probably no group of people more avidly if silently cheering for Obama to win this case than are congressional Republicans.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 24, 2015

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, King v Burwell | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Dumber Than A Brick In A Tumble-Dryer”: Marco Rubio Is Criminally Overrated On Foreign Policy

Marco Rubio wants people to know that he’s kind of a big deal when it comes to foreign policy. He has bragged about his expertise to Iowans, saying that “few, if any,” of his potential Republican competitors “have spent the amount of time on it that I have.”

Most recently, Rubio has been passionately defending the enormously unsuccessful, if emotionally satisfying, embargo on Cuba. He is attacking President Obama for establishing diplomatic relations with the Castros, and is making moves to undo their conciliation. It’s hard to come up with a more useless foreign policy stance than this. But even if we excuse Rubio’s position as an understandable part of his identity — stemming from his background and his loyalty to Florida’s expatriate community — there is little other reason to think Rubio has any worthwhile foreign policy expertise, despite years of sitting on important committees.

In March of 2011, Rubio became one of the most vocal Republican supporters of the Hillary Clinton-Obama war in Libya. “If we believe that the rise of this new attitude among young people and others seeking a new life and a new way in the Middle East is a positive thing, and I believe that it is, then it serves our national interest to see that happen,” he said.

Among the reasons Rubio cited for supporting Moammar Gaddafi’s overthrow was that he “sowed instability among neighbors, plotted assassination attempts against heads of state, and supported terrorist enterprises.”

Since the desired knockout of Gaddafi’s regime, the terrorist enterprise known as the Islamic State has a stronger foothold in that nation. The war that we exacerbated in Libya has destabilized neighboring Mali. And the Libyan people are risking (and losing) their lives in desperate attempts to emigrate from the “freedom” we helped impose on them.

What Rubio seems to have missed is that a significant source of the “new attitude” in the Middle East is an impatience with authoritarians who accord some rights to religious and ethnic minorities, rather than fully embrace political Islam.

In 2014, he castigated the Obama administration for not enforcing its own “red line” in Syria, and intervening in the civil war there. Rubio claimed that the Islamic State rushed into the vacuum only because the Obama administration didn’t intervene, even though all the evidence suggests that Islamists were always a large part of the rebel forces in Syria. The counterfactual history that GOP hawks have maintained — in which a little more muscle would have turned the plausibly non-Islamist Free Syrian Army into a supreme (and supremely moderate) opposition force — is not credible in any case.

But who can expect Rubio to keep the counterfactuals straight when even the factual eludes him? In the same op-ed, Rubio offered the administration advice on how to proceed:

To confront the Islamic State terrorists, we need a sustained air campaign targeting their leadership, sources of income, and supply routes, wherever they exist. We must increase our efforts to equip and capacitate non-jihadists in Syria to fight the terrorist group. And we must arm and support forces in Iraq confronting it, including responsible Iraqi partners and the Kurds. In addition, we must persuade nations in the region threatened by the Islamic State to participate in real efforts to defeat it. [The Washington Post]

And, oddly enough, the Obama administration has been trying almost exactly the policies that Rubio suggested: air campaigns, arms, and encouragement to Iraqis and Kurds.

But in early 2015, Rubio decided that what the campaign against ISIS really needed was stronger adjectives. At CPAC, he said the president should “put together a coalition of armed forces from regional governments to confront them on the ground, with U.S. special operations support, and then provide logistical support, intelligence support, and the most devastating air support possible.”

“Devastating.” I guess he really means it now.

Rubio concluded, “The reason Obama hasn’t put in place a military strategy to defeat ISIS is because he doesn’t want to upset Iran.”

I don’t know how to say this respectfully. But this is dumber than a brick in a tumble-dryer: a clanging, dangerous error. Iran is one of the principal enemies of ISIS. It didn’t even need to be persuaded to join the fight. It sees ISIS as another manifestation of the kind of Sunni extremism that threatens Iran’s regional allies: Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the Shia-friendly government in Baghdad. If we really wanted to stick it to Iran, we’d be arming Islamic State fighters and providing “devastating air support” to them.

And given the record of Republican hawks over the last two decades, I wouldn’t be surprised if a future Rubio administration ends up doing just that, through a mixture of hubris, democratizing enthusiasm, and sheer stupidity — just as the Bush administration cheered on democratic elections that empowered Hamas, and a war that led to a destabilized Iraq where Sunni extremism now flourishes. Bush was not alone: Other GOP hawks cheered on revolutions and civil wars that led not to liberal democracies, but terrorism, extremism, and anarchy.

Rubio has a reputation for foreign policy expertise because he chooses to talk about foreign policy often, promises large budgets to the Pentagon, and mostly pronounces the words correctly. Rubio’s foreign policy consists of babyish moralizing, a cultivated ignorance of history, and a deliberate blindness to consequences. This is the same “foreign policy expertise” that led to a misbegotten war in Iraq and empowered Sunni insurgencies across the Middle East.

It will be enormously popular among people who think nothing of wasting money and other people’s lives. Or as Rubio may one day call them from the West Wing, “my fellow Americans.”


By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, April 21, 2015

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Marco Rubio, Middle East | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Adjudicating From The Legislature”: Yes, Constitutional Conservatives Are Radicals

This morning Brother Benen looked at a proposal by Steve King to strip the federal judiciary of jurisdiction over any case involving marriage and noted its provenance in prior right-wing court-stripping measures. But he also suggested such advocacy ought to debar King from calling himself a “constitutional conservative.”

Whatever one thinks of marriage equality, court-stripping is itself ridiculous. The constitutional principles of “separation of powers” hasn’t disappeared just yet, so the idea that the legislative branch will dictate to the courts what kind of cases judges are allowed to hear is more than a little crazy – it undermines the very idea of an independent judiciary.

And it sure as heck isn’t “constitutional conservatism.” Indeed, it’s effectively the congressional version of “legislating from the bench” – King and his cohorts want to adjudicate from the legislature.

I think a clarification is appropriate here. People like King use the modifier “constitutional” before “conservative” to indicate that they are not interested simply in opposing change or in going back to very recent public policies. Their eyes are fixed on a distant vision of the perfect governing order that they believe the Founders spelled out before it was ruined by courts and legislators and presidents alike. And it certainly does not include the right of final judicial review as understood by the rest of us. And so their expedient is court-stripping schemes which they believe help restore the proper constitutional order, or at least prevent current disorders from getting worse.

Just as “constitutional conservatives” tend to believe that absolute property rights and even fetal rights were embedded in the Constitution, never to be removed without an explicit amendment, they believe in an eternal scheme of states’ rights that would most definitely include all matters related to marriage. So in their minds, that eternal scheme, not recent precedents, in what defines “conservatism,” and thus the most radical measures are justified to bring back the “Constitution” as they understand it.

Of course constitutional conservatives are radicals. But many of them believe they are fighting for a governing model quite literally handed down by God Almighty, who intended it to be maintained quite literally forever. And that is indeed a conservative–and a radical–way of looking at things.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 23, 2014

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Marriage Equality, Steve King | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz Is So Done With The Senate”: Legislating Never Really Was His First Priority To Begin With

Ted Cruz was the only senator to miss the vote on Loretta Lynch’s confirmation as attorney general, despite his vociferous objections to her nomination, because he was on his way to a fundraiser—a circumstance that generated some predictable mockery. Yet as Philip Bump tells us, Cruz has actually missed lots of votes—70 percent of them this month, more than any other senator. Bet let me defend the gentleman from Texas.

Obviously, we want our senators to vote on bills and nominations. That’s a big part of what we send them to Washington to do. At the same time, there are very few votes where one senator’s vote makes the difference, and the outcome of this particular conflict was clear to all. Cruz’s opposition to Lynch would have been made no more emphatic had he actually been there to offer his official thumbs-down.

The fact that Cruz has missed more votes than anyone else isn’t too shocking either, not only because he’s running for president—an enterprise that takes up a lot of one’s time—but also because legislating never really was his first priority to begin with. He’s a show horse, not a work horse, and he sees his job not as passing legislation but as using his position as a platform to advocate the things he believes in. He’s certainly not alone in that.

And at a time when Congress accomplishes very little, there aren’t that many votes of consequence to begin with. Lynch’s confirmation may have been one of them, but as a general matter, not much depends on whether Ted Cruz is there to vote or not.

So go ahead, Senator—skip it. We don’t need to pretend that you’re really trying to legislate. That’s not your thing, and that’s OK. Of course, your constituents might not feel exactly the same way I do.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 24, 2015

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Lawmakers, Senate, Ted Cruz | , , , , | Leave a comment

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