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“Chest-Thumping Belligerence, Been There, Done That”: Why Marco Rubio’s Tough Guy Act Is Actually A Display Of Cringing Cowardice

Marco Rubio is laying out his foreign policy platform for 2016, and the take-home message is this: PANIC!!!

Join me in keeping our country safe in the New American Century. Click here now:

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 16, 2015

Elsewhere, Rubio is laying claim to the usual panoply of hyper-masculine tough guy imagery: flags, bald eagles, and banners proclaiming “American Strength.”

What he means by strength can be seen in a speech he gave to the Council on Foreign Relations, blaming everything bad that has happened overseas in the past six years on President Obama’s insufficiently aggressive stance towards Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba. It would appear that chest-thumping belligerence is how safety is to be obtained.

Let’s call this what it is: cowardice. Whatever happened to political courage?

I’m speaking of real political courage, not the kind that neoconservatives equate with moar war. The politics of courage, as it is practiced by the Republican Party, is heavily gendered and homophobic — as can be seen in the slurs (e.g., “sissy”) used against those less militarily inclined. Attacking political enemies for lacking “manly” courage is a political commonplace going back hundreds of years.

Sexism, of course, has been a bipartisan affair, but these days Rubio’s party is undoubtedly the worse offender. Since the end of World War II, attacking liberals for their weak, effeminate unwillingness to make the “tough decisions” to kill or imprison lots of people has been a staple of conservative rhetoric. This has been buttressed more recently by Democrats’ association with feminism and gay rights, their corresponding greater number of female candidates, and the opening of a gender gap between the parties.

Such attacks rely on sexist tropes about women (or LGBT people) being incapable of hard, logical analysis due to excessive emotion or softness. Needless to say, those are totally illegitimate grounds for criticism. To the contrary, there is nothing strong, tough, or courageous about constant demands for more use of violence, or executing innocent people, or invading random countries for no reason.

However, if one can clear away the various prejudiced dross, there is a political case to be made for courage. I reject the idea that one can quickly and easily obtain more security by sacrificing liberty — and I also believe that not flying into a hysterical frenzy every time something terrible happens takes real courage.

After 9/11, that kind of courage was notably absent from American political leadership. Instead, there was a grasping panic; impossible, childish demands for physical security (the “one percent doctrine“); and a blind, psychotic thirst for vengeance. The most convenient victim turned out to be Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. That war of aggression did nothing for American security — indeed, it gravely harmed it. And like any act of bullying, it was fundamentally an act of cowardice.

Sometimes courage requires standing up to physical danger, like not losing one’s wits when under fire. It can also be strength in the face of pain and grief. A sensible reaction to terrorist attacks would involve both: a realization that total security is an impossible goal, and that senselessly lashing out at random targets will not heal the damage done by the attackers.

Unfortunately for something like half a million Iraqis, President Bush was a knock-kneed coward. It’s too bad that Rubio mistakes his foreign policy for courage.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 20, 2015

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Marco Rubio, National Security | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Where’s The Fox News Panic?”: America Snores When Christian Terrorist Threatens To Massacre Muslims

Have you heard about the Christian terrorist Robert Doggart, who was plotting a violent attack against a Muslim-American community in New York state? Probably not, because as opposed to when U.S. law enforcement officials arrest a Muslim for planning a violent assault, they didn’t send out a press release or hold a press conference publicizing Doggart’s arrest.

So let me tell you about Doggart and his deadly plan to use guns and even a machete to attack American Muslims in upstate New York. Doggart, a 63-year-old Tennessee resident, is an ordained Christian minister in the Christian National Church. In 2014, he unsuccessfully ran for Congress as an independent, espousing far right-wing views.

But don’t dismiss Doggart as some crazed wingnut howling at the moon. He served in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, worked for 40 years in the electrical generation business, has a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from La Salle University, and claimed he had nine “committed” men working with him to carry out this attack.

No, Doggart can’t be dismissed as simply a loon; he’s a lethal threat. That is why Muhammad Matthew Gardner, the spokesman for the local Muslim community in the Islamberg, New York, community that was Doggart’s intended target, explained to me, “Our community has been traumatized.” Islamberg is a hamlet in upstate New York, right along the Pennsylvania border, that was founded in the 1980s by a group of Muslims who left New York City to escape racism, poverty, and crime. Gardner added, “Our community consists of veterans, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. We are true American patriots, unlike Doggart, who is not representative of Christianity, but more like the American Taliban.”

The criminal complaint against Doggart, filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tennessee, paints a bone-chilling picture of a plan to launch a violent military-style assault on Islamberg, home to about 200  predominately black Muslim Americans. Right-wing media outlets have in the past made outlandish claims about the town, which have been consistently debunked by local law enforcement.

Doggart came to the FBI’s attention via postings on social media and a confidential informant. Why attack these Muslims? Doggart’s own words highlight his motive being grounded in at least partially in his view of Christianity: “Our small group will soon be faced with the fight of our lives. We will offer those lives as collateral to prove our commitment to our God.” Doggart continued, “We shall be Warriors who inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace.”

Doggart, who was also recorded via wiretaps speaking to militia members in Texas and South Carolina, didn’t mince words about his plans for the Muslims of Islamberg: “We will be cruel to them. And we will burn down their buildings [Referring to their mosque and school.] …and if anybody attempts to harm us in any way… we will take them down.”

He also detailed the weapons he would use in the attack, including an M-4 military assault rifle, armor-piercing ammunition, explosives, pistols, and a machete, because “If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds.”

Doggart expressed a hope that he would survive the terror attack, but explained, “I understand that if it’s necessary to die [in this attack] then that’s a good way to die.”

Doggart planned to travel to Islamberg on April 11 to do some reconnaissance. However, the FBI arrested him on April 10, before he could depart. Doggart was charged with violating a federal statute that makes it a crime to damage or destroy any religious property (or attempt to do so) and to use interstate communication to plan to injure persons. Astoundingly, however, he was not charged with any terrorism-related crimes.

On April 24, Doggart entered into a plea agreement, pleading guilty to one count of making threats via the phone, and he will be fined up to $250,000 and spend as much as five years in prison pending a judge’s approval of the deal.

It goes without saying that if Doggart had been Muslim and had planned to kill Christians in America, we would have seen wall-to-wall media coverage. Fox News would have cut into its already-daily coverage of demonizing Muslims to do a special report really demonizing Muslims. And few can doubt that a Muslim would’ve been charged with terrorism-related crimes.

One big reason for the lack of media coverage was that neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office put out a press release about Doggart’s arrest. In contrast, the FBI office in Knoxville, the one that handled this investigation, has posted press releases for numerous other recent arrests, such as for drug crimes and robbery charges. (My calls to the FBI about this issue have not been returned.)

However, when a Muslim is arrested in a sting-type operation, as we saw recently in Brooklyn, the FBI touts that arrest to the media with a detailed press release. We have also seen U.S. attorneys hold press conferences to announce the arrest of Muslims, as we witnessed recently with the six Minnesota men charged with planning to join ISIS. But not here.

In fact, this incident would have likely been ignored but for the local Islamberg community reaching out to the media. They even posted a powerful photograph on social media of the children of the town sitting under a big banner that asked: “Why do you want to kill us Robert Doggart?”

But here’s the reality: This will likely not be the last time we hear about a planned attack on Muslim Americans by right-wing groups. Alarmingly, a recent poll found 55 percent of Americans hold anti-Muslim views, the highest numbers ever recorded.

Obviously the images of ISIS committing horrific actions has fueled this sentiment. But Republican politicians like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindhal claiming Muslim Americans want to create “no-go” zones, where Islamic law rules, and other Republicans alleging that Muslims aren’t loyal to America has ginned up the hate to levels that take some to the doorstep of violence.

And there’s another issue of great concern here. If Doggart had succeeded at his attack and slaughtered Muslims, ISIS would have been ecstatic. ISIS is hoping for these very types of attacks, which is why they release videos when they kill Christians. ISIS desperately wants Christians to attack Muslims in the West so that it makes ISIS’s recruitment pitch resonate more strongly with young Muslims.

Even though Doggart has been arrested, this case is far from over. As the Islamberg community’s spokesman explained, “We will not feel safe until he and his co-conspirators are behind bars.”

The FBI should be commended for its work in arresting Doggart before he could complete his terrorist plot. But the FBI needs to publicize these types of arrests the same way as when they arrest a Muslim on similar charges and also not hesitate in charging non-Muslims with terror-related crimes. That sends a clear message that the U.S. government is taking these incidents seriously and that Muslim lives matter. Plus, it serves as a powerful deterrent to the Doggarts of this country. This not only upholds our nation’s values, it protects all Americans by undermining ISIS’s sales pitch.


By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, May 18, 2015

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Muslims, Terrorism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Chill, People!”: Hey, Warren Fans; Hillary Would Be The Most Liberal Nominee In Your Lifetime

So, Hillary’s taken a few questions from the press now. But something more interesting than that has been happening over the past month: She has moved to the left or signaled her intention to do so on a pretty broad range of issues. All of you who want Elizabeth Warren in the race? Chill, people. She practically is.

Now, for all I know it might make the Clinton people cringe to see me write that, because it surely provides some degree of ammo for the right. But I reckon the right would have noticed this without my intervention, so my conscience is clear. But this is the emerging reality: If you are a 40-something Democrat who has voted over the years for Bill Clinton and Al Gore and John Kerry and Barack Obama, it’s looking like you are about to cast a vote next year for the most liberal Democratic nominee of your voting lifetime.

Start with the two positions she’s taken since the announcement video that have probably gotten the most attention. Her immigration position is considerably more aggressive than Obama’s, expanding his executive actions to allow more people to obtain work permits. Then, on prisons, she famously called for the end of the era of mass incarceration. The speech was filled with pleas to get low-level and nonviolent offenders out of prison and with sentences like “there is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.”

There’s a lot more where that came from, usually announced, or mentioned, in those meetings with voters that the press following her so loathe. Here are the four most notable ones. These aren’t fully fleshed-out policy proposals, but presumably those will come:

• She told an audience in Keene, New Hampshire, that the country needs a free and universal pre-kindergarten program.

• At Tina Brown’s Women in the World summit in New York, she called for greatly expanded after-school and child-care programs.

• Also in Keene, she came out for closing the carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers, and the rhetoric was pretty populist, as she told furniture workers: “You are in the production of goods, and I want to do everything I can to support goods and real services and take a hard look at what is now being done in the trading world, which is just trading for the sake of trading. And it’s just wrong that a hedge fund manager pays a lower tax rate than a nurse or a trucker or an assembly worker here at Whitney Brothers.”

• And most important from my personal point of view, she’s been speaking out strongly in favor of paid family and medical leave, saying to a questioner at a Norwalk, Iowa, roundtable: “Well, boy, you are right on my wavelength because, look, we are the last developed country in the world that has no national paid leave for parenting, for illness.  And what we know from the few states that have done it—California being most notable here—is it builds loyalty.  If you really analyzed turnover in a lot of businesses where you have to retrain somebody—well, first you have to find them and then you have to retrain them—making your employees feel that you care about these milestones in their lives and you give them the chance to have a child, adopt a child, recover from a serious illness, take care of a really sick parent and get a period of time that’s paid just cements that relationship.”

These six positions—along with her support for a much higher minimum wage that’s indexed to inflation—almost by themselves make Clinton the most on-paper progressive candidate (and putative nominee) since who knows when. She is saying things that one never thought the Hillary Clinton of 10 or 20 years ago would have said.

It may be true that it’s less that she’s changed than that the times have, and she’s adapting. But hey, give her credit for adapting. Last summer, during her book tour, she said she didn’t think paid family leave was possible. Now, she’s talking like someone who isn’t merely describing a crappy reality but someone who sees that the point is to change it.

There are some important positions she hasn’t taken yet. On the TPP trade agreement, most obviously, which is one on which I think she might go against the left, although I’m just guessing. I want to see what she has to say down the road about entitlements. Something tells me, the way she’s been talking so far, that there won’t be much emphasis on grand bargains and being responsible and raising the retirement age. I’ll be curious to see, for example, whether she endorses raising the payroll tax cap. I went to see West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin speak at Brookings the other day, and he said he’d gladly support raising the cap to help fix the entitlements’ insolvency problems. If Joe can say it, can Hillary?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column urging liberals to suck it up and accept the fact that Hillary Clinton was the choice and there’s too much at stake and there’s nothing else to do so just get over it and support her. That column didn’t say much about her positions. It was just about the Supreme Court and what a nightmare Republican rule would be.

But at the rate she’s going, very little sucking it up will be required. She’s turning into a bona fide progressive. She may not go for the class-warfare rhetorical jugular with quite Warren’s gusto. But “the top 25 hedge-fund managers together make more money than all the kindergarten teachers in America,” which she said this week in Iowa, is close enough for me, and a lot closer than I thought she was going to be at this stage.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 20, 2015

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Liberals, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Brazen Arrogance Bordering On Amusing”: Christie-Brand Leadership: The Buck Stops Over There

About a week ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) sat down with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who asked about the governor’s “Bridgegate” scandal. The Republican presidential hopeful made it seem as if the entire fiasco had nothing to do with him.

“I’m the governor; it happens on my watch,” Christie said. “But you can’t be responsible for the bad acts of some people who wind up in your employ.”

A day later, the Garden State governor told the editors of the New Hampshire Union Leader, “I’ve learned to be less trusting and ask more questions, first off. The fact is my general nature is to be a trusting person.”

All of which led to yesterday’s Christie interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who asked about the scandal that’s helped drag down the governor. From the transcript, by way of Nexis:

KELLY: So far there’s nothing tying you to giving the order in the bridge gate scandal.

CHRISTIE: Nor will there be.

KELLY: But the case is not yet closed and so some say, what if you get indicted? Are you a risky bet?

CHRISTIE: No, the U.S. Attorney said in his press conference weeks ago, that there will be no further charges in the bridge matter. He said that affirmatively three or four times. This has been 15 months of investigation and there’s been no connection to me because there is no connection to me. I had nothing to do with it, knew nothing about it and nor will there be evidence come to the contrary because it just didn’t happen.

The more the governor says the scandal has “nothing to do with” him, the harder it is to take his defense seriously.

Indeed, looking back at Christie’s comments to Jake Tapper, note that he refers to his former aides – now under criminal indictment – as people who “wound up” working for him, as if the governor showed up at his office one day and discovered some random people who just happened to somehow end up in his administration.

The truth is far more straightforward. Some of Christie’s top aides conspired to punish some of Christie’s constituents because a local mayor failed to endorse Christie’s re-election. These Christie administration officials abused their powers – allegedly to a criminal degree – in Christie’s name.

“There is no connection to me”? C’mon. Even if one is inclined to accept the governor’s explanation at face value – Christie was simply too ignorant of what was happening around him to be held responsible – clearly the scandal has at least some connection to him, given that this was his team acting in his name.

What’s more, there’s also the possibility of a more direct link. David Wildstein’s lawyer said two weeks ago that the governor “knew of the lane closures as they occurred” and that “evidence exists” that proves it.

In last night’s interview, Megyn Kelly also reminded Christie that two-thirds of his own constituents do not believe he’d be a good president. The governor replied, in reference to New Jersey residents, “They want me to stay. A lot of those people that 65 percent want me to stay. I’ve heard that from lots of people at town hall meetings, ‘Don’t leave,’ and ‘Don’t run for president because we want you to stay.’”

Christie also probably believes they were saying “Boo-urns.”

To be sure, the brazen arrogance borders on amusing, but the notion that New Jersey voters are so in love with Christie that they can’t bear the thought of him moving to the White House is plainly silly. As of two weeks ago, the governor’s approval rating in his home state was down to just 35%.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 19, 2015

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The George Costanza Defense”: George W. Bush Didn’t Just Lie About The Iraq War. What He Did Was Much Worse

None of the conservatives running for president want to be associated with the last Republican president — not even his brother (for whom stepping away is rather complicated). After all, George W. Bush left office with an approval rating hovering in the low 30s, and his grandest project was the gigantic catastrophe of the Iraq War, which we’re still dealing with and still debating. If you’re a Republican right now you’re no doubt wishing we could talk about something else, but failing that, you’d like the issue framed in a particular way: The war was an honest mistake, nobody lied to the public, and anything bad that’s happening now is Barack Obama’s fault.

For the moment I want to focus on the part about the lies. I’ve found over the years that conservatives who supported the war get particularly angry at the assertion that Bush lied us into war. No, they’ll insist, it wasn’t his fault: There was mistaken intelligence, he took that intelligence in good faith, and presented what he believed to be true at the time. It’s the George Costanza defense: It’s not a lie if you believe it.

Here’s the problem, though. It might be possible, with some incredibly narrow definition of the word “lie,” to say that Bush told only a few outright lies on Iraq. Most of what he said in order to sell the public on the war could be said to have some basis in something somebody thought or something somebody alleged (Bush was slightly more careful than Dick Cheney, who lied without hesitation or remorse). But if we reduce the question of Bush’s guilt and responsibility to how many lies we can count, we miss the bigger picture.

What the Bush administration launched in 2002 and 2003 may have been the most comprehensive, sophisticated, and misleading campaign of government propaganda in American history. Spend too much time in the weeds, and you risk missing the hysterical tenor of the whole campaign.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of weeds. In 2008, the Center for Public Integrity completed a project in which they went over the public statements by eight top Bush administration officials on the topic of Iraq, and found that no fewer than 935 were false, including 260 statements by President Bush himself. But the theory on which the White House operated was that whether or not you could fool all of the people some of the time, you could certainly scare them out of their wits. That’s what was truly diabolical about their campaign.

And it was a campaign. In the summer of 2002, the administration established something called the White House Iraq Group, through which Karl Rove and other communication strategists like Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin coordinated with policy officials to sell the public on the threat from Iraq in order to justify war. “The script had been finalized with great care over the summer,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan later wrote, for a “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.”

In that campaign, intelligence wasn’t something to be understood and assessed by the administration in making their decisions, it was a propaganda tool to lead the public to the conclusion that the administration wanted. Again and again we saw a similar pattern: An allegation would bubble up from somewhere, some in the intelligence community would say that it could be true but others would say it was either speculation or outright baloney, but before you knew it the president or someone else was presenting it to the public as settled fact.

And each and every time the message was the same: If we didn’t wage war, Iraq was going to attack the United States homeland with its enormous arsenal of ghastly weapons, and who knows how many Americans would perish. When you actually spell it out like that it sounds almost comical, but that was the Bush administration’s assertion, repeated hundreds upon hundreds of time to a public still skittish in the wake of September 11. (Remember, the campaign for the war began less than a year after the September 11 attacks.)

Sometimes this message was imparted with specific false claims, sometimes with dark insinuation, and sometimes with speculation about the horrors to come (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” said Bush and others when asked about the thinness of much of their evidence). Yet the conclusion was always the same: The only alternative to invading Iraq was waiting around to be killed. I could pick out any of a thousand quotes, but here’s just one, from a radio address Bush gave on September 28, 2002:

The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.

What wasn’t utterly false in that statement was disingenuous at best. But if there was anything that marked the campaign, it was its certainty. There was seldom any doubt expressed or admitted, seldom any hint that the information we had was incomplete, speculative, and the matter of fevered debate amongst intelligence officials. But that’s what was going on beneath the administration’s sales job.

The intelligence wasn’t “mistaken,” as the Bush administration’s defenders would have us believe today. The intelligence was a mass of contradictions and differing interpretations. The administration picked out the parts that they wanted — supported, unsupported, plausible, absurd, it didn’t matter — and used them in their campaign to turn up Americans’ fear.

This is one of the many sins for which Bush and those who supported him ought to spend a lifetime atoning. He looked out at the American public and decided that the way to get what he wanted was to terrify them. If he could convince them that any day now their children would die a horrible death, that they and everything they knew would be turned to radioactive ash, and that the only chance of averting this fate was to say yes to him, then he could have his war. Lies were of no less value than truth, so long as they both created enough fear.

And it worked.


By: Paul Waldman, The Week, May 20, 2015

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Dick Cheney, George W Bush, Iraq War | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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