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“This Whole Debate Is A Charade”: Let’s Stop Pretending Republicans Have A Serious Critique Of The Iran Deal

Secretary of State John Kerry went to Capitol Hill today to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. As expected he absorbed a lot of insults and invective from Republicans who are critical of the deal. Along with Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, Kerry tried to rebut the criticisms as best he could.

But you could see in Kerry’s occasionally exasperated expression something that we all ought to be willing to acknowledge: This whole debate is a charade.

There’s a reason no Republican has managed to answer President Obama’s challenge to articulate an alternative that would be preferable to what the six-party negotiations produced, and it isn’t because this deal is perfect or couldn’t have been better. It’s that from where Republicans sit, any deal negotiated with Iran is a bad one by definition.

That’s partly because it was negotiated by the Obama administration, of course, and the GOP has gotten itself to a position where opposition to pretty much anything Barack Obama does is not just reflexive but mandatory for any elected Republican who wants to keep his job. It’s also because the sustained critique of Obama’s foreign policy that Republicans have pushed for the last six and a half years is that everything Obama does is “weak.” The word comes up again and again in Republican statements about foreign policy; ask them what they’d do differently, and in every situation their answer always revolves around being stronger. The content of this strength is rarely detailed, but when it is it usually involves more aggressive use of the military.

And it assumes that when dealing with adversaries like Iran, negotiation is weak, again by definition. Negotiation means talking to those we hate, and even offering them concessions. Successful negotiation ends with an outcome that our adversaries actually praise, when what we really want is for them to fall to their knees and surrender to our might. This is what elected Republicans believe, and more importantly, it’s what they’ve been telling their constituents for years, so it’s what those constituents demand.

So there was literally no deal this administration could have negotiated with Iran that Republicans would have agreed to. None. From their perspective, the substance of the deal never mattered. No one who has been remotely attentive to our politics in recent years could honestly deny that.

And there’s something important to understand about whether Republicans have an alternative. Yes, it’s a reasonable rhetorical point to demand that they explain what other kind of deal they’d support. But right now, they are actually proposing an alternative: that the U.S. pull out of this deal. And we need to explore what that means.

You can argue that this deal should have been different, but when it comes time to vote on whether it should go forward, members of Congress will be choosing between two options, neither of them hypothetical. A yes vote means all the parties — not only Iran and the United States, but also the United Nations, China, Russia, and the European Union — implement this deal. A no vote, in contrast, doesn’t mean that some fantasy deal will fall from the sky. It means that the U.S. walks away from this deal, and it collapses.

That also could mean that the existing sanctions regime collapses. We can keep our sanctions on Iran, but the reason sanctions have been so devastating to the country’s economy is that they haven’t just come from the U.S., but also from the United Nations, the European Union, and elsewhere. If those other sanctions were to disappear, Iran would get most of what it wanted without having to fulfill any obligations at all. And if they want to pursue a nuclear weapon, they could then go right ahead.

So now that the deal is on the table and congressional votes are on their way, what Republicans really need to explain is not what sort of deal they might have preferred. We know their answer to that question — they’ll say they would have rather had a deal where Iran gives us everything we want, and we give up nothing. But that’s irrelevant at this point. What they need to explain now is why the U.S. pulling out of this deal — and what happens afterward — will be preferable to implementing it, imperfections and all. Do they think the Iranians will come crawling back and make further concessions? Do they think the rest of the world’s powers, which support the deal they helped negotiate, will just follow us and impose new sanctions in the hope that eventually that might lead to more negotiations (which, like these, would take years) and ultimately the fantasy deal where Iran capitulates? What precisely is the chain of events Republicans think will occur if we pull out?

If they’ve given that question even a moment’s consideration, you wouldn’t know it to listen to them. But it’s what they ought to be asked now.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 23, 2014

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, John Kerry, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Politicians Should Be Held To A Higher Standard”: For Gun Victims, The Prayers Of Conservative Politicians Are Not Enough

After the latest mass shooting by an anti-tax, anti-government, anti-feminist arch-conservative in Lafayette, LA, the reactions from Republican politicians were as predictable as they were empty and stale. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal had the usual reaction:

Frankly, that reaction is getting more than a little tiresome no matter what one’s religious beliefs might be. When terrorists used airplanes as missiles against the United States in 2001, we didn’t just pray for the victims: we changed our entire airline security system, spent billions on a new homeland security bureaucracy, and invaded not one but two countries at gigantic cost to life and treasure. When the ebola virus threatened to break out in the United States we didn’t pray for deliverance from the plague; we went into a collective public policy and media frenzy to stop it from spreading further. When earthquakes prove our building standards are inadequate to save lives, we don’t beg the gods to avert catastrophe and pray for the victims; we spend inordinate amounts of money to retrofit so it doesn’t happen again.

On every major piece of public policy in which lives are taken needlessly, we don’t limit ourselves to empty prayers for the victims. We actually do something to stop it from happening again.

But not when it comes to gun proliferation. On that issue we are told that nothing can be done, and that all we can do is mourn and pray for the murdered and wounded, even as we watch the news every day for our next opportunity to grieve and mourn and pray again–all while sitting back and watching helplessly.

For most of us, prayer and good vibes are all we can provide. It’s not in our power to prevent the next deranged killer from gaining access to a deadly weapon of mass violence. But politicians should be held to a higher standard. They do have the power to act. For them, prayers are empty and basically meaningless compared to the power they refuse to wield to actually solve the problem.

No longer should we accept the facade of devotional compassion Bobby Jindal and his friends use to mask their indifferent obedience to the NRA and its rabid voters. If they refuse to act, their prayers don’t mean a thing.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 25, 2015

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Deserve Good Policing”: Legal Or Not, ‘Warrior Policing Mentality’ Leads To Deadly Outcomes

When I first heard about the arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland in Texas after she apparently tried to get out of the way of a police vehicle and failed to signal a lane change, I immediately thought of the University of South Carolina law professor (and ex-cop) Seth Stoughton’s distinction between the “warrior” and “guardian” models of policing, as explained here at TMS a while back.

So I was pleased to see that TPM recruited Stoughton to watch the daschcam video of the encounter between Texas trooper Brian Encinia and Bland and offer his commentary.

He concludes that Encinio did nothing illegal–but also avoided several opportunities to de-escalate the situation, pretty clearly because he thought it was important to have Bland acknowledge his authority. And so an encounter that might have been brief and harmless–it seems Encinio intended to give Bland a mere warning until she started acting uppity–turned confrontational, violent, and eventually, for Bland, lethal.

Concludes Stoughton:

When Encinia ordered Bland to exit her vehicle, she refused. “I don’t have to step out of my car.” Rather than handling the remainder of the stop with her sitting in the car, or explaining why he wanted her to step out of the car, or attempting to obtain her cooperation, or calmly explaining the law, Encinia simply invoked his legal authority, shouting at one point, “I gave you a lawful order.” He was right. It was lawful. And when Bland did not obey, she was refusing a lawful order, a crime under Texas law. Her arrest, like the confrontations that led up to it, may have been lawful, but it was entirely avoidable had Encinia chosen a different approach.

We all deserve more than legal policing. We deserve good policing.

Now it’s entirely possible Encinio was strictly following his training, which, as Stoughton has noted in the past, is often based on the “warrior model” notion that every citizen is a potential cop-killer and every encounter a potential shoot-out, making it incumbent on the officer to “stay in charge” from the first moment. But if this isn’t a situation where bad policing can be blamed on a “bad cop,” it’s all the more reason to examine our policies to make sure certain Americans don’t have to assume–as Sandra Bland seemed to fear, accurately–that minor traffic offenses can turn deadly.

 

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

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Shootings, Sandra Bland | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Privatization Of Medicare”: Jeb Bush Now Says He Wouldn’t ‘Phase Out’ Medicare. What He Would Do Is Just As Wrong

It had to happen sooner or later: a Republican presidential candidate says something suggesting he’d destroy Medicare, the Democrats jump all over him, and he backtracks, saying that’s not what he meant and in fact he only wants to strengthen it. This time it’s Jeb Bush, who said the other day that though we can keep Medicare around for the people who are currently on it, “we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.”

This is an old argument from Republicans, one they also use to justify attacks on Social Security: the program is doomed anyway, so we should go ahead and privatize it. The argument is completely wrong with regard to Social Security, and the truth about Medicare is that the program’s future is looking brighter and brighter — in no small part because of the Affordable Care Act. The argument Bush is making is ten years out of date.

Bush did try to walk back his statement a bit, saying the “phase out” part was taken out of context and he’s only talking about how we “reform our entitlement system.” Here’s his follow-up, which doesn’t change the essence of what he was arguing:

“It’s an actuarially unsound health care system,” said Bush, who said something must be done before the system burdens future generations with $50 billion of debt. “Social Security is an underfunded retirement system; people have put money into it, for sure.

“The people that are receiving these benefits, I don’t think that we should touch that; but your children and grandchildren are not going to get the benefit of this that they believe they’re going to get, or that you think they’re going to get, because the amount of money put in compared to the amount of money the system costs is wrong.”

Bush hasn’t yet released his plan to phase out/reform Medicare, but given these comments it seems likely he’ll embrace something like what Paul Ryan has been advocating for years. It involves changing Medicare from a guaranteed single-payer government insurance plan into a voucher plan, in which the government gives senior citizens a set amount of money with which they can go out and get private health insurance. It saves money by limiting the value of that voucher, so if it’s less than what coverage actually costs, well, tough luck. In that way, it eliminates the central promise of Medicare, which is that every American senior citizen will have health coverage.

We’ll await Jeb’s particulars, but I promise you that most of the GOP candidates will embrace some version of this plan, because that’s what the Republican consensus on Medicare is these days. And it’s always justified with the argument Jeb gives: because of skyrocketing costs the program is doomed, so privatization is the only way to make sure it’s there for your kids. But don’t worry, current seniors, we won’t touch your Medicare! Which is one of the ironies of their argument: the free market is supposed to make everything wonderful, but they fall all over themselves to promise senior citizens that they won’t disturb the big-government, socialist program that seniors love.

Now on to the cost question. As it happens, the Medicare Trustees just released their annual report on the future of the program. And as Kevin Drum noted, things are looking a lot sunnier than they were a few years ago:

Ten years ago, Medicare was a runaway freight train. Spending was projected to increase indefinitely, rising to 13 percent of GDP by 2080. This year, spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090. Six percent! That’s half what we thought a mere decade ago. If that isn’t spectacular, I don’t know what is.

Those are projections for what’s going to happen decades from now, so things are doubtless going to change. But the presumption of the Republican argument is that Medicare is eventually going to eat the entire federal budget, and so we have no choice but to fundamentally alter it. And that’s just not true.

The other assumption they make is that the way to alter Medicare is simple: privatize it. But they’re wrong about this, too. Medicare is expensive, but that’s not because it’s an inefficient big-government program. In fact, Medicare is remarkably efficient, more so than private insurance. That’s because it benefits from economies of scale, and because it doesn’t have to spend money on things like marketing, underwriting, and big salaries for executives. The reason Medicare is expensive is that American health care is expensive, and it serves a lot of people. The retirement of the large Baby Boom generation is what’s producing its current funding challenges.

Let’s not forget that at the same time Republicans cry that Medicare is unaffordable and so must be dismantled, they fight any effort to actually lower costs in a rational way. For instance, they’re adamantly opposed to comparative effectiveness research, which involves looking at competing treatments and seeing which ones actually work better. That this isn’t something Medicare already takes into account sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. If there are two medications for a particular ailment that are equally effective, but one costs $100 a year and one costs $100,000 a year, wouldn’t it make sense for Medicare to 1) find that out, and 2) make coverage decisions accordingly? But Republicans have said no — Medicare should just pay for both, no matter what it costs.

Republicans also oppose the most significant effort to reduce Medicare costs in decades, something called the Affordable Care Act, which included all kinds of provisions meant to achieve this goal. Perhaps most critically, the law starts a move away from the fee-for-service model, in which doctors and hospitals make more money the more procedures they do, to a model where they get paid a single rate for treating a patient. Under the fee-for-service model, if your hospital screws up, you get an infection, and you have to get re-admitted, they make more money; the ACA actually punishes them for that, giving them a greater incentive to provide better and less expensive care.

But Republicans not only want to repeal the ACA, which means repealing all those kinds of payment provisions, they have nothing much to say about how, specifically, we might save money in Medicare. Their only answer is that if we privatize it, the magic of the market will produce savings. Of course, if that were true America would have the cheapest health care system in the advanced world, since ours is already more private than in any other similar country. And yet we don’t — ours is far and away the most expensive, and that’s precisely because the market has failed.

So to sum up, this is the Republican argument on Medicare: We absolutely can’t do anything in particular that would bring down the cost of Medicare, but the cost of Medicare is so outrageous that we have no choice but to privatize it.

When Jeb Bush and the other candidates talk about this subject, pay close attention to what they say. They’ll use the word “strengthen” a lot — we want to strengthen Medicare! They’ll tell seniors, who vote in great numbers, that they aren’t going to touch their precious Medicare. And they’ll ignore what we’ve learned in the last few years, talking as though things look just as bad as they did before the Affordable Care Act was passed and health care spending slowed. But the truth is that their solution is no solution at all.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 24, 2015

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Medicare, Seniors | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elected Officials Have Failed To Lead On Gun Regulation”: How Many Must Die In Mass Shootings For Lawmakers To Act?

The alleged perpetrator of yet another mass shooting — this one in a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater — had been “involuntarily committed” by his family, and reportedly had a history of domestic violence and mental illness. Why was he able to get a handgun? Because elected officials have failed to lead on gun regulation.

At a Thursday night screening of the comedy Trainwreck, the 59-year-old man from Alabama, identified as John Russell Houser, shot and killed 33-year-old Jillian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux, and injured nine other people, seven of whom remain hospitalized.

The suspected shooter used a .40 caliber handgun and had an additional magazine, which he used to reload, firing one round to kill himself inside the theater, Lafayette police chief Jim Craft told reporters Friday.

Police found 13 shell casings in the theater, Craft said. State police and FBI agents are also investigating the shooting, according to MSNBC.

Houser was denied a pistol permit in 2006 while he was living in Alabama, the New Orleans Advocate reports. According to The Associated Press:

Court documents from 2008 say family members of the theater shooter petitioned the probate court to have him involuntarily committed “because he was a danger to himself and others.”

A judge issued the order, and John Houser was taken to a hospital in Columbus, Georgia.

The wife and other family members of [Houser] … asked for a temporary protective order in 2008 against the man.

Court documents seeking the order said John Houser, “exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements.”

The documents said even though he lived in Phenix City, Alabama, he had come to Carroll County, Georgia, where they lived and “perpetrated various acts of family violence.”

Houser “has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder,” the filing said.

The filing says Houser’s wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, “has become so worried about the defendant’s volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.”

The protection order was at least temporarily granted.

Law enforcement officials have not yet reported how Houser obtained the handgun used in the theater shooting. But based on the earlier court records, it seems clear Houser should not have been in possession of a firearm.

In a BBC interview earlier this week, President Obama said “his failure to pass ‘common-sense gun safety laws’ in the U.S. is the greatest frustration of his presidency.”

“If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands,” the president said.

So, what will it take for U.S. political leaders to pass common-sense gun regulations?

The killing of two women and wounding of nine others in a Louisiana movie theater?

Perhaps the recent shooting of four Marines at a Chattanooga, Tennessee military recruitment office, or the killing of 12 people and injuring of eight at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013?

Maybe, the racially motivated murder of nine parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church, including a state senator? The South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, a symbolic act to honor those killed by a white supremacist, but gun control was never even up for debate.

How about the 2012 killing of 12 people and injuring of 58 in another movie theater, this one in Colorado? The shooter has been convicted and awaits the sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty, but what has been done to limit future mass shootings?

Surely, the gunning down of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school (after the shooter killed his mother at their home) in Connecticut would spur elected officials to action. President Obama even visited the town and gave an emotional speech appealing for stronger gun regulations. But, no, the 24/7 news cycle, the American people, and Congress moved on.

How about shooting a United States congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in the head? That shooter killed six people and injured 12 others. Giffords’ congressional colleagues were still not moved to act. She lived and has become a vocal advocate to prevent gun violence, but no longer in office, she won’t achieve reform by herself.

According to Mother Jones, more than three-quarters of the guns possessed by the killers involved in mass shootings in the United States since 1982 were obtained legally. It’s doubtful common-sense restrictions, background checks, and waiting periods would have allowed all these gun sales to go through.

Nearly 600 Americans have been killed and 500 injured in mass shootings in the last three decades, and “active shooter events have become more common in recent years,” according to The Washington Post.

A U.S. president hasn’t been shot since Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt in 1981. Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated while in office in our nation’s history by men with guns.

Even if the commander-in-chief was shot and killed by a person with a gun who shouldn’t have had one — in the 21st century — that would likely still not motivate officials to enact policies that decrease mass shootings by taking guns out of the hands of extremists, those with criminal histories, and those living with mental illness.

The problem is these armed killers may act alone, but they have far too much company when it comes to people with undue access to firearms. If current legislators continue to fail to protect their constituents from the dangers of gun violence, and don’t even pass laws that would limit the potential for mass shootings, then perhaps voters need to find other lawmakers who will.

 

By: Matt Surrusco, The National Memo, July 24, 2015

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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