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“Secularism Does Not Have A Lock On Globalization”: What Republicans Keep Getting Wrong About The Iraq War

The 2016 Republican hopefuls more or less agree: Knowing what we know now, they would not have invaded Iraq.

But there is a nagging sense that we weren’t just wrong about invading Iraq — we were missing the point. It’s easy to admit that the war was an error. But it’s more difficult to explain that we entirely misread what was happening in the Middle East.

Make no mistake, we’re still struggling with that very same challenge. We now largely agree that it’s not about remaking the world in our image — nor is it about turning terrorism into a mere nuisance. But we have mostly failed to acknowledge that our struggles in the Middle East stem from a fatal flaw in our view of human progress.

The lessons of Iraq are so hard to unpack because the circumstances surrounding the invasion were so unusual. There was no other regime in the world with such a strange combination of intransigence, opacity, strategic importance, and vulnerability. One big reason we invaded Iraq was how much easier it was to invade than the rest of the so-called Axis of Evil.

Most importantly, in 2003, Iraq wasn’t surrounded by countries in great disarray. It was superficially plausible that a free and whole Iraq might start a chain reaction of beneficent globalization throughout the region.

And even when those ambitions were sharply curtailed, Republicans still argued that the U.S. ought to lead the way in modernizing the Middle East. At a presidential debate in New Hampshire eight years ago this month, Mitt Romney called for us to “combine for an effort to help move Islam towards modernity. There is a war going on, and we need a broad response to make sure that these people have a different vision.”

Despite powerful pressure from the anti-war left, even leading Democrats, including Barack Obama, insisted that modernization and globalization, hand in hand, were essential to remaking the Middle East as a realm of peace and prosperity.

In his landmark Cairo address, President Obama explained that “human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.”

Alas, the Arab world did not share that vision. But it was not because the Middle East’s Muslims wanted to lurch backward in time. Like George W. Bush, Obama was right to sense that the era of secular strongmen was ending in the region. And like Bush — and so many others — Obama failed to understand that globalization and modernization would exaggerate religious fervor and strengthen religious identity, rather than accelerate Western-style liberalization.

As the Islamic State has made obvious, some manifestations of this new religious movement clearly despise some values we associate closely with modernity. That has helped blind us to seeing the radical modernity of religious revival inside and outside the Muslim world.

Americans must be shown that secularism does not have a lock on globalization. “What all Islamist movements have in common is a categorical rejection of any secular realm,” as the philosopher John Gray has observed. “But the ongoing reversal in secularization is not a peculiarly Islamic phenomenon. The resurgence of religion is a worldwide development… For secular thinkers, the continuing vitality of religion calls into question the belief that history underpins their values.”

Republicans teaching the true lessons of Iraq must go even further. The religious resurgence, of which Islamism is only one part, hinges on a particularly modern phenomenon: the yearning for direct, transformative experience, whether in faith or other realms of life. In a bygone age, stable religious hierarchies arranged powerful, official intermediaries between individuals and God — so much so that individuals could hardly see themselves as such. Today, that framework is a shambles. Recall the horrific personal initiative and independence on display on 9/11. Rather than a throwback to a time of obedience to unquestioned creedal rulers, terrorism betokens a stunningly profound break in the vertical of authority that characterized organized religion for centuries.

There is more. Even Islamists’ view of the enemy as absolutely evil and beyond compromise is a modern take on an old idea — starkly contrasting the aristocratic, detached, and calculated view of the secular despot, always shifting sides and weighing advantages.

The true lesson of our Iraq misadventure, Republicans must explain, is that our enemies are more like us than we care to think: not in their values, of course, but in their patterns of thought. Ignore this uncanny fact, and the GOP is likely to lose much more than the presidential election.


By: James Poulos, The Week, June 11, 2015

June 13, 2015 Posted by | Iraq War, Middle East, Religious Beliefs, Secularism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Political Party Of Their Own”: RNC Discovers A Problem With The Koch Brothers’ Operation

The more Charles and David Koch provided the resources for a massive political operation, the more it seemed as if the far-right billionaires were creating a political party of their own. The Kochs had an army of field organizers, blanketed the airwaves with political ads, and even had their own voter lists.

All of this, of course, raises important questions about the role of money in the political process, and just how much influence wealthy interests can wield in a democratic system. But as Yahoo News reports today, for the Republican National Committee, the Koch brothers’ power is raising very different kinds of questions.

The Yahoo News report notes, for example, that in the 2014 election cycle, the RNC and the Kochs’ operation struck a deal to share voter data, though the arrangement evaporated once the season came and went. Now, however, the two sides are sharply at odds, creating what one Republican operative described as “all-out war.”

Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts – which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC – is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.

The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over – some even say control of – the GOP.

Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff, told Yahoo News, “I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how.”

I can appreciate why fights over data may seem like the ultimate in inside-baseball, but this is a fight worth paying close attention to.

Remember, for many modern campaigns, this data is the foundation for any successful endeavor. The more reliable and comprehensive the data, and the easier it is to use, the more effective the targeting, messaging, advertising, and grassroots organizing of any major campaign.

In this case, as one might expect, the Republican National Committee controls the Republican voter file, but the Kochs’ operation seems to have discovered that it really doesn’t need the Republican National Committee – the Kochs have their own platform to manage the data, and their own relationships with campaigns that want to make use of the data.

If that’s the case, some of you may be wondering why the Republican National Committee is needed at all – and you wouldn’t be the only one. From the Yahoo piece:

The core issue, from Priebus’ point of view, is one of loyalty and allegiance. The RNC is a permanent entity, committed to the Republican Party without question. The Koch network is too independent from the party to be trusted with possession of the GOP’s most valuable core assets. If the Kochs – whose political history is steeped more in libertarianism than it is in any loyalty to the Republican Party – decided next week to use their database to benefit only their massive multinational corporation, they could do so. […]

The Kochs’ political arm, Freedom Partners, which oversees i360, views the issue as one of capability. Koch aides – several of whom used to work at the RNC – want to win elections, and in their view the RNC has inherent challenges to helping the party win. Party committee fundraising is severely limited by federal election law, while building, maintaining and enriching a database is expensive.

The other angle to keep in mind is just how striking it is to see Republican officials discover their heretofore non-existent concerns about outside money and the political process. The RNC’s Katie Walsh didn’t even rely on anonymity – she straight up told Yahoo News, on the record, that she believes it’s “dangerous” to extend too much power to “well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone.”

Ya don’t say. We might want to think twice before turning over parts of the democratic process to unaccountable, wealthy players with their own agenda? I’ve heard similar concerns for many years, but I don’t recall them ever coming from RNC officials.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 11, 2015

June 13, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Koch Brothers, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The G.O.P. Opts Out Of Equality”: Conscience Is Never Just Personal When The Occasion Is A Fraught Debate Over Public Morality

On May 28th, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory vetoed Senate Bill Two, which proposed allowing public officials to temporarily stop performing weddings based on “any sincerely held religious objection.” In other words, if a public official were confronted by a gay couple who wished to marry, he could refuse to perform the ceremony. McCrory’s veto put the Republican governor at odds with a Tea Party legislature, which immediately promised to override it. On June 1st, the state senate voted to override, and, this morning, the house of delegates did, too, making it legal for North Carolina magistrates to turn away gay couples.

The Bartleby-like public official who “would prefer not to” marry same-sex couples would not have been asked to just one year ago. In 2012, North Carolina adopted a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, in line with thirty other states where a majority at one point opposed it. Then, in June, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and federal courts turned decisively in favor of gay marriage. In October, 2014, a federal judge ruled North Carolina’s marriage amendment unconstitutional, and same-sex ceremonies began. That month alone, court decisions also lifted same-sex-marriage bans in thirteen other states—Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—more than twice the number of states where same-sex marriage was legal in 2010.

Following this rout, conservatives have moved rapidly from enforcing a unified public morality based on traditional marriage to speaking the language of pluralism as they seek exemptions from the rising legal norm of marriage equality. Their model has been the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (R.F.R.A.), of 1993, which exempts believers from federal laws that “substantially burden” their religious exercise, except where the regulation is the least burdensome way to fulfill a “compelling governmental interest.”

The R.F.R.A.—which was intended to protect neglected religious minorities, such as Native American worshippers who had recently lost public-sector jobs in Oregon because of their ritual use of peyote—was the basis of last year’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which held that certain business owners can refuse to offer insurance coverage for contraception based on their religious objections. The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law this March, is a model for the state-level expansion of religious exemptions, applying its protections to all corporations and making religious belief a defense in private legal actions, such as anti-discrimination suits. A similar bill passed in Arkansas later that month.

Supporters describe the state R.F.R.A.s and other religious accommodation laws as acknowledging the “increasing religious pluralism in American culture,” and protecting “religious liberties and the freedom to live out religious convictions,” as Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, put it in March. These exemptions, for the individuals, public officials, and business owners who wish to say, “I would prefer not to,” have become the new front in the culture war, the redoubt of attitudes that were recently in the majority. Invoking tolerance to defend intolerance is ironic at best, but at a moment when disapproval of gay marriage looks ever more like plain bigotry, it is better to say not, “I disapprove of you,” but rather, “This is who I am.”

The Bartleby strategy has taken center stage in conservative resistance to a wide range of liberal policies. In 2012, the Supreme Court nearly overruled the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that individuals buy insurance. Five justices voted to protect the consumer’s freedom to opt out of a market, such as the health-insurance market, warning that, if Congress could require this purchase, it could also command people to buy health-club memberships, American cars, or broccoli. (The insurance requirement survived through a sleight of hand, as Chief Justice John Roberts, who agreed with the rest of the Bartleby argument, found a hook for the law in Congress’s constitutional power to impose taxes.) In 2014, the Court held that certain members of public-sector unions could opt out of paying their union dues, which fund organizing and advocacy. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito argued that mandatory dues impinge on the First Amendment’s rights of free expression and voluntary association, and hinted that dues requirements in general might be found unconstitutional in the future.

As conservatives press these claims for personal exemptions, they have also been highly solicitous of states that would prefer not to accept new federal standards. The Supreme Court did real damage to the Affordable Care Act when, as part of its 2012 ruling, it found that states could not be penalized for refusing to expand Medicaid, which was an essential part of the A.C.A.’s path to near-universal coverage. As a result, twenty-one states have not signed on to the Medicaid expansion, and nearly four million low-income Americans have not obtained health insurance that the federal government intended them to have.

Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging state governments to disobey the Obama Administration’s order to develop climate-change regulations. McConnell has some support for his argument that the Clean Air Act does not stretch far enough to require these regulations, and there is sure to be litigation on the issue. But his call for a coordinated strategy of passive resistance in the meantime is extraordinary. The more opt-outs any climate policy includes, the more likely it is to fall apart in a wave of free-riding, as everyone decides to let someone else make the sacrifice, leaving no one to make the sacrifice at all.

Of course, a state refusing to make law is different from an individual refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Medicaid policy and pollution regulation directly affect millions of people and billions of dollars of economic activity. The argument for conscience-based individual exemptions is that they concern the exempted individual most of all. The problem with this argument is that an individual’s conscience is never just a personal matter when, as in the case of the Hobby Lobby decision, it bears on the terms of employment. Then the person denied contraceptive benefits, or who is looking for a new job where she can get those benefits, is also part of the picture. Economic life is deeply interdependent, and involves conflicting interests and unequal power. This is why, from the New Deal until very recently, the Supreme Court did not permit many opt-outs from economic regulation. The new raft of conscience claims is creating unprotected spaces within an already precarious economy.

A second problem with individual opt-outs is just as basic. Conscience is never just personal when the occasion is a fraught debate over public morality. Once public laws banning same-sex marriage are gone, authorizing supposedly private discrimination against same-sex couples continues the cultural fight by other means. In hindsight, no one doubts that allowing business owners to discriminate against black people during the Civil Rights era would have denied them full equality and hampered desegregation. (Arguably, the continued tolerance of discrimination by private clubs also undermines desegregation, though club membership is less essential to daily life than shopping.) Similarly, allowing private discrimination against gay couples is not an exemption from a new rule of full equality; it is a compromise that allows inequality to persist. Proposals to let magistrates withhold marriage licenses have the same problems, with the added insult that the discrimination is effectively coming from the state. If officials can decide not to implement laws they dislike, then equality under the law—for gay couples, at least —is just a slogan.

The Bartleby position appeals to touchstone liberal values: personal conscience, diversity, tolerance, and autonomy. On their face, these values seem to promise there are no hard conflicts: there is room for everyone’s conscience, everyone’s outlook, and tolerance enough for each person’s freedom. The new generation of opt-outs show that this is a misconception: there is conflict over what these values mean, and there is never enough room for all their meanings. The politics of tolerance, diversity, and autonomy are distributive politics, with winners and losers.

From Thoreau’s night in jail protesting slavery and the Mexican-American War to the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-ins, sitting still and not doing as you are told has been among the most potent of political tactics, though its effects are often complex and long delayed. As in much else, initiative in this tradition of creative refusal belongs to the political right today. There is no paradox in conservatives using liberal values and tactics to their ends. By the same token, there should be no liberal embarrassment in resisting. There is no incoherence here, but there is disagreement too sharp for tolerance alone to resolve it.


By: Jedediah Purdy, The New Yorker, June 11, 2015

June 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Marriage Equality, North Carolina | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Bad Faith Legal Mischief”: Democrats Have Every Reason To Save Republicans From An Obamacare “Bloodletting”

Sometime this month, possibly as early as Monday morning, the Supreme Court will issue its ruling in King v. Burwell. If the Court ignores both the text and purpose of the Affordable Care Act, and rules for the challengers, millions of the law’s beneficiaries in 34 states will quickly lose their insurance subsidies and be forced off their health plans. The ensuing chaos would be the consequence not just of the ruling itself, but also of the Republican Party’s expected unwillingness to pass a one-sentence bill clarifying that Obamacare subsidies are available in every state, whether or not each state established its own health insurance exchange.

When King, and similar cases, were first conceived, they quickly became vessels of hope for conservatives, who recognized how difficult and punishing it would be to hobble or eliminate Obamacare through the legislative process. What many of them have come to recognize in the subsequent years is that farming out the job to the judiciary can’t spare them from the subsequent political cost: As decision day approaches, more and more of these conservatives are acknowledging candidly—and typically anonymously—that they will suffer badly if the Supreme Court does the very thing they’ve asked the Supreme Court to do.

“The most likely option is that Congress is unable to pass a fix,” an anonymous Republican Hill staffer told Joel Gehrke of the conservative National Review—a magazine that has beseeched the Court to void the subsidies. “Either Republicans won’t be able to settle on a fix or the president will veto whatever we do come up with. At that point, it will be up to the governors to pass their own laws deeming the national exchange a state exchange. That is the path of least resistance.”

Gehrke looks at the cross-pressures Republicans would face after a ruling for King and wonders whether they “could be in for a bloodletting.” Though they can’t admit it publicly, the promise of a bloodletting—compounded by the fact that every vulnerable Republican senator in cycle next year represents an affected state—is precisely why so many Republicans privately hope the Court will uphold the subsidies.

If the conventional wisdom which took shape after oral arguments—and to which I subscribe—is correct, the government will win, and this painful exercise in bad faith legal mischief will come to nothing. But if the challengers win, and a bloodletting ensues, Democrats won’t be able to stand back while Republicans absorb the political damage. Bloodletting or no, Obamacare will be crippled in most states. It could easily remain crippled indefinitely. Its fate will turn on the question of whether the political consequences for Republicans resemble the consequences of a government shutdown or collision with the debt limit. But either way Democrats will have to play an active role in bringing about a resolution.

The best-case scenario for Democrats is a public outcry so severe and sustained that Republicans cave, and agree to restore the subsidies with a clean fix.

Republicans have tacitly acknowledged that they won’t be able to sit on their hands while state insurance markets collapse. They have introduced legislation in both the House and Senate that would restore subsidies, but only for existing beneficiaries, and only on conditions Democrats could never accept, like the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate.

You can interpret these offers in two ways. The first, as Greg Sargent of The Washington Post has noted, is that these bills are designed to be vetoed, allowing Republicans to blame an uncompromising Obama for perpetuating the crisis. But they could also serve as bases for a compromise, or surrender. If the public responds to a ruling for King the way they’ve responded to other GOP-instigated crises, Republicans would have to scale back their demands and eventually agree to reinstate the subsidies, perhaps for a modest price.

Two different forces will push in that direction. Even if sprinkled liberally with poison pills, and even if its proximate purpose is to invite a veto, Republican-sponsored legislation to partially reinstate ACA subsidies probably can’t pass. Democrats aren’t going to vote for an ersatz fix and neither will many rank-and-file conservative members of Congress. “As soon as the messaging is out there saying, ‘Look, a half-a-sentence fix saves millions of people from either losing their coverage or having massive spikes,’ we as a party won’t be able to sustain that pressure very long — certainly not through the August recess,” another Republican aide tells Gehrke.

But that doesn’t mean Democrats will win a standoff outright. Though their case for a clean fix will be compelling, they will also be highly motivated to reinstate the subsidies immediately, even if it means Republicans get to pocket unreciprocated concessions. Those can’t include structural damage to the core of the law, but could include eliminating things like the medical device tax and the employer mandate.

Real danger arises if, per Gehrke’s other source, an adverse King ruling registers somewhere below a government shutdown on the political Richter scale, inflicting damage on the GOP but not enough to make them seek a solution in earnest. Against the backdrop of a paralyzed Congress, Obamacare would begin to unravel in dozens of states, and would continue to do so until at least 2017. A ruling for the challengers would boomerang violently on Republicans, but Democrats have every reason in the world to want them spared from it.


By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, June 8, 2015

June 13, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Democrats, King v Burwell, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Votes Boehner Didn’t Deliver”: And Therein Lies The Problem, Republicans Didn’t Really Do Their Part

After this afternoon’s drama in the U.S. House, Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office issued an interesting statement, effectively saying, “Don’t look at me.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today issued the following statement after the House failed to pass legislation reauthorizing the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program:

“The outcome of today’s TAA vote was disappointing. Republicans did our part, and we remain committed to free trade because it is critical to creating jobs and growing our economy. I’m pleased that a bipartisan House majority supported trade promotion authority. This is an opportunity for the Democratic Party to take stock and move forward in a constructive fashion on behalf of the American people.”

The assertion that Boehner was disappointed by the TAA vote, but “Republicans did our part,” stands out. Strictly speaking, it’s not quite right.

Here’s the roll call on today’s vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance. Notice, 86 House Republicans voted for it, while 158 voted against it. Had the House GOP voted for the measure in greater numbers, “fast track” would be on its way to President Obama’s desk for a signature right now.

And therein lies the point: Republicans didn’t really do their part, so much as they voted for the part of the package they like (Trade Promotion Authority) and voted against the part of the package they don’t like (Trade Adjustment Assistance).

Clearly, the principal focus today is on House Democrats, and for good reason – President Obama made a direct appeal to his ostensible allies today, and few of them were swayed.

But let’s be clear about the broader dynamic: House Democrats are in the minority. In fact, it’s the smallest Democratic minority in the chamber in generations, and it’s not really up to them to decide what passes and what doesn’t.

Over at Vox, Timothy B. Lee had a good piece on this under-appreciated angle to the politics of the trade fight.

In principle, most Republicans are in favor of the president’s trade agenda…. But most House Republicans weren’t willing to spend the $450 million per year contemplated by the Senate bill on Trade Adjustment Assistance. That’s why House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was forced to resort to a complicated scheme where Democrats would have to approve TAA while Republicans approved the rest of the bill.

If you buy the arguments for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which many Republicans profess to, this seems crazy. One influential study from the Peterson Institute estimated that the trade deal would generate $78 billion of economic benefits for the United States. Of course it’s worth taking this kind of projection with a grain of salt. But even if we assume it’s exaggerated by a factor of 10, the deal’s benefits still dwarf the $450 million annual price tag of TAA.

And yet, Boehner barely tried to get TAA through his chamber today, and he mustered up just 86 votes.

In fairness, that’s still more than double the number of Democratic votes the White House was able to secure, so it’s not as if Obama is in a position to call up the Speaker and complain. For that matter, it’s possible Boehner will pull together more votes early next week.

But as the dust settles on today’s fight, and as Round II takes shape on Tuesday, let’s not forget that Boehner is supposed to have great influence over what clears the House, and if he supports “fast track” as much as he claims, he can do some heavy lifting – or at least try to.

Lee’s report concluded, accurately, “[I]f the TPP collapses, they’ll bear some of the blame.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 12, 2015

June 13, 2015 Posted by | John Boehner, Republicans, Trade Promotion Authority, Trans Pacific Partnership | , , , | Leave a comment

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