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“When Top Prosecutors Break Bad”: So What Does It Say About Our Politics That Two Of Them Were Indicted This Month?

In theory, attorneys general are the people who are supposed to catch the bad guys, not be them.

But now two attorneys general from big, important states have been indicted within the space of a few days of each other. One is accused of forgetting to tell investors in an energy project that he had a stake in it, and the other is accused of leaking secret grand jury proceedings to the media to smear political opponents.

The more colorful story comes to us from Texas, where Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted on felony securities fraud charges. If you’re from outside Texas and Paxton’s name is ringing a vague bell, it might be because a mere two days after the Supreme Court issued its same-sex marriage decision, Paxton came out roaring that judges in the great state of Texas were entitled to deny marriage licenses based on their religious beliefs. I think Alabama may have beaten him to the punch on that one, but that’s about it. Paxton’s move led some other Texas lawyers to start calling for him to be disbarred.

The merest look into Paxton’s track record leaves you shaking your head that the man ever managed to become Texas’s top lawyer to begin with. He’s been in the financial soup before. Back when he was a legislator, he got hooked up in a Ponzi scheme. In that one, he got bilked and lost nearly $100,000. The man who according to the Dallas Morning News perpetrated the swindle had previously established his credibility by being part of an expedition group that claimed to have found the remains of Noah’s Ark in Iran.

Paxton also seems to have lifted a $1,000 Montblanc pen that another man had left behind at a security checkpoint. This wasn’t revealed until after he was elected AG. And now, a grand jury in his home county north of Dallas says he talked friends into investing $600,000 in an energy company while failing to tell them that he was making a commission off their investments. An attorney general!

Paxton’s attorneys have said he will plead not guilty.

In Pennsylvania, the indicted attorney general is Kathleen Kane, who in 2012 became the first female Democrat ever elected to the job. In the Democratic primary, she beat Patrick Murphy, the former congressman and Iraq War veteran.

The Kane indictment has its roots in a 2014 Philadelphia Daily News article about how a different prosecutor bungled an investigation into a local civil rights leader a few years prior. Kane had sparred with that prosecutor, so when people started wondering where the Daily News got its info, thoughts turned naturally toward Kane’s office. Kane acknowledged that her office may have provided the paper with some material but insisted that none of it was bound by secrecy rules. Or maybe that someone in her office did that without her knowledge. Now she’s been charged with perjuring and obstructing administration of law, though she maintains she has done nothing wrong.

Kane is slightly more than just a local Philly story. After beating Murphy, she dispatched the Republican in a landslide. She got talked up for a lot of races. Big future. And she clearly has connections beyond southeastern Pennsylvania. It popped my eyes a little to see that Kane is being represented by Gerald Shargel. Why? Because Shargel is a New York lawyer. And he is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, a mob lawyer. Partly. He does other stuff. He’s a brilliant lawyer, and everybody up to and including John Gotti is entitled to a vigorous defense. It’s just a little surprising.

But Shargel is Clarence Darrow compared to the man Kane had doing her public relations, Washington lobbyist Lanny Davis. On this front, she chose to link arms with Ivory Coast war criminal Laurent Gbagbo and National Football League thought criminal and Washington, D.C., football team owner Dan Snyder, both of whom had been served by this same PR heavy. But about a month before her indictment, Kane’s wiser angels prevailed, and she ended her relationship with Davis. Or maybe he severed ties to her. It’s unclear. In any case, the Allentown Morning Call reports that Davis was her 10th PR adviser in the space of two years.

We’ve all come not to expect much from politicians. And in a lot of places, at the local and state level, when a pol retires after 20 or 30 years without ever having been indicted, that’s something that counts as a legitimate accomplishment. But from attorneys general, who direct huge staffs of lawyers and investigators and can destroy careers and put people in jail, it would be nice to do a little better than this.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Attorneys General, Kathleen Kane, Ken Paxton | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“How Dr. Ben Carson Ruined His Legacy”: Taking A Blowtorch To His Own Credibility

As a doctor, it’s hard to imagine a career more accomplished and admirable than that of Dr. Ben Carson. His achievements as a physician so vastly exceed my own as to render any comparison laughable, a fact that I will happily concede.

In fact, so great are his successes as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins that they comprise the sole basis for his run for president of the United States. Which is why it is astonishing to me as a fellow medical professional to watch as he takes a blowtorch to his own credibility in service to his political ambitions.

The most recent example of Dr. Carson the candidate saying something Dr. Carson the medical scientist knows to be incorrect was his response to the ongoing controversy about Planned Parenthood and the use of fetal tissue obtained from abortions performed there. According to Dr. Carson, “there’s nothing that can’t be done without fetal tissue” when it comes to medical research.

As it turns out, Dr. Carson has himself participated in research on fetal tissue obtained through abortion. First reported by obstetrician (and The Daily Beast contributor) Dr. Jennifer Gunter, Dr. Carson was an author on a 1992 paper that studied tissue from two different fetuses, one aborted at 17 weeks.

In response to Dr. Gunter’s blog post, Dr. Carson has said, “My primary responsibility in that research was when I operated on people and obtained the tissue. This has everything to do with how it’s acquired. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”

This equivocating non-answer adds to the pernicious narrative surrounding abortions and Planned Parenthood that suggests some kind of ghoulishly nefarious end to use of fetal tissue following abortions, or that babies are being aborted specifically for the purposes of harvesting that tissue. Of course this is not the case, and the decisions women make when they seek abortions are not informed by the research that may be done afterward. Those conducting that research are no more implicated in the process by which the samples were obtained than Dr. Carson was.

Furthermore, as Dr. Gunter’s post goes on to discuss, there is a great deal of very meaningful research that does rely on fetal tissue. Which leads to the problem inherent in Dr. Carson’s initial response to the controversy, even if it turned out he’d never worked with such tissue himself—no matter how accomplished a researcher and surgeon he may be, it doesn’t mean he has plenary knowledge about all medical research everywhere. Any appropriately humble scientist will concede the limits of his or her expertise when it comes to fields that do not overlap their own.

Simply put, there’s really no way Dr. Carson can speak with authority when it comes to the use of fetal tissue in research for immunology, hematology, or any of a host of other areas that do not intersect with neurosurgery or neurology.

This leads to the salient question of whether being a neurosurgeon is in any way a relevant qualification to seek the highest elected office in the nation. As a pediatrician, I will gladly talk to you with confidence about the safety, mechanism of action, and efficacy of vaccines, but would rather flee the room than pretend to understand the nuances of monetary policy. Is there a plausible basis to expect that the skills that make one a master in the operating room will transfer in any way to working with a recalcitrant Congress or shepherding multilateral arms negotiations? After all, in the OR everyone is bent toward the single purpose of the patient’s well-being under the guidance of a sole authority, which can’t be said when you’re dealing with China or the Senate majority leader of the opposing political party.

Unfortunately, Dr. Carson’s latest comments are not the first time he’s spoken in a manner out of keeping with a scientific mind. On the topic of homosexuality, earlier this year he stated “[A] lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight—and when they come out, they’re gay.”

He later walked that statement back, while gesturing toward his own credentials: “I’m a doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine, who was blessed to work at perhaps the finest institution of medical knowledge in the world. Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.”

A doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine who chooses to pontificate on the lack of “definitive studies” should know full well that vague anecdotes about gay ex-felons are the weakest kind of evidence. Even if one accepts that a significant number of formerly heterosexual men emerge from prison embracing a new gay identity (which I do not), observational data like that are among the worst, least reliable kind for drawing broad conclusions. Dr. Carson the scientist would laugh someone off the stage at a conference if they presented such sloppy thinking for review.

However, most egregious to me were his comments during the first GOP debate about the use of torture on terrorism suspects. When asked about whether as president he would allow waterboarding, he refused to condemn it and blithely dismissed fighting “politically correct wars.” Coming from a man who has presumably taken the Hippocratic oath, I found this jaw dropping. It made me wonder what other parts of that oath he’d be willing to elide in service to political expediency.

Dr. Carson is hardly the first accomplished physician to leverage his prestige for fame and fortune, and I’m sure he won’t be the last. But if he has no record to justify his claim to the Oval Office beyond his career as a neurosurgeon, shooting his scientific credibility to hell undermines any reason to consider voting for him. He’s all but swift boating himself when he flagrantly jettisons the sound judgment he’s touting as a reason to pick him instead of the other candidates.

The sad reality is that the party that gave America Todd Akin and has a bloviating vaccine truther as its front-runner sorely needs the voice Dr. Carson could be lending to its dialogue. A willingness to speak in an honest and informed manner about health-care issues, including but not limited to women’s reproductive health, would be a welcome addition to the conversation up on the GOP debate stage. But it seems like Dr. Carson lacks that willingness, and prefers to peddle the same claptrap as his far less educated and expert rivals. It’s a woeful diminution for a man who clearly has so much more he could be offering.

 

By: Russell Saunders, The Daily Beast, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primary Debates, Science | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Chief Mess-Maker As A Consultant”: Can Jeb Bush Ever Escape His Brother’s Shadow?

Jeb Bush has firmly established himself as the Republican to vote for if you wish his brother were still president. Best of luck with that.

In what was billed as a major foreign policy speech Tuesday, Bush proposed inching back into Iraq, wading into the Syrian civil war and engaging in much the same kind of geopolitical engineering and nation-building that George W. Bush attempted. So much for the whole “I am my own man” routine.

He finally understands that to have any credibility, even amid a field of uber-hawks (minus Rand Paul), he has to say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. But judging from his actions, that’s not what he seems to believe. Why would someone who thinks the war was wrong include Paul Wolfowitz, one of its architects, among his top foreign policy advisers? Why would someone who sees the Middle East as an unholy mess reveal that he consults his brother, the chief mess-maker, on what to do next?

Bush says “we do not need . . . a major commitment” of American ground troops in Iraq or Syria to fight against the Islamic State — at least for now. But he proposes embedding U.S. soldiers and Marines with Iraqi units, which basically means leading them into battle. He proposes much greater support for Kurdish forces, which are loath to fight in the Sunni heartlands where the Islamic State holds sway. And he wants the establishment of no-fly zones and safe havens in Syria, as a way to battle both the Islamic State and dictator Bashar al-Assad.

That all sounds like a “major commitment” of something . And none of it addresses the fundamental problem in Iraq, which George W. Bush also failed to grasp: the lack of political reconciliation among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Bush 43’s vaunted “surge” was a Band-Aid that masked, but did not heal, this underlying wound.

Like the other Republican contenders, Jeb Bush opposes the Iran nuclear deal and promises to undo it — although he is equally silent about how the “better deal” that critics say they want could be achieved.

In general, as one might expect, Bush blames President Obama and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for basically all that is wrong with the world. Voters may have short memories, but I think they’ll remember it was Bush’s brother who shattered the Iraqi state and created the vacuum that the Islamic State came to fill. Voters might also recall that when Bush’s brother took office, Iran had no operational uranium enrichment centrifuges; when he left, Iran had about 4,000.

Jeb Bush tends to rush through his foreign policy speeches as if he’s checking boxes on a job application form. He becomes much more animated, and seems on more solid ground, when he’s talking about domestic issues. But remember that George W. Bush intended to have a domestic focus, too, before history decided otherwise.

Can Bush ever escape his brother’s shadow — or, for that matter, his father’s? I have serious doubts. For now, however, he’s busy enough trying to get out of Donald Trump’s wake.

Jeb! might think about adding more exclamation points to his logo. He’s running an utterly conventional campaign in an unconventional year, and frankly he seems to be putting a lot of Republican voters to sleep.

While other contenders for the nomination compete with front-runner Trump to say the most outrageous things and draw attention to themselves — a battle they’re not likely to win — Bush plods along. He made it to center stage at the first debate, right alongside Trump, but his performance was unexciting. If Bush declines to throw red meat to the activist Republican base, he’ll be better positioned to win the general election. But he’ll have a worse chance of making it through the primaries.

Recent state-level polls might not be enough to send Bush and his advisers into panic mode but definitely should make them pay attention. In Iowa, the Real Clear Politics polling average puts Bush at 7 percent — behind Trump, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz, and tied for sixth place with Marco Rubio. For a candidate with Bush’s thoroughbred pedigree and overstuffed bank account, that’s embarrassing.

And in New Hampshire, the Real Clear Politics average has Bush in second place behind Trump but just one point ahead of John Kasich, who suddenly seems to be challenging Bush for the “reasonable conservative” vote.

His brother’s name is already hurting Jeb Bush. His brother’s policies will hurt him more.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 14, 2014

August 15, 2015 Posted by | George W Bush, GOP Primaries, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Angry Base And The Angrier Base”: An Apoplectic Hate-Rage Aimed At The Republican Party

As you may recall, in the days just prior to his annual Red State Gathering, Erick Erickson went into what can clinically be called an apoplectic hate-rage aimed at the Republican Party for its failure to immediately promise to shut down the government if necessary to produce the de-funding of Planned Parenthood. We don’t have to review his hissy fits in detail, but he did specifically say this after fulminating for a good while:

If Abraham Lincoln’s Party cannot go to war against that where war is not bullets, just a government shut down until the President relents, then Abraham Lincoln’s Party needs to be put on the ash heap of history. It really is that simple.

Now Erick’s dealing with a sea of hyperbolic emails and tweets from people unhappy with his decision to disinvite Donald Trump to the Gathering, and he’s begging them to “recalibrate” and get a grip:

Conservatives have a real and legitimate reason to be pissed off at the GOP. Polling suggests conservatives hate the Republicans in Washington more than Democrats hate the Republicans in Washington. That anger has galvanized conservatives and pushed them toward Donald Trump. To his credit, he has capitalized on that anger.

But folks, this is anger at an unhealthy level. It is anger that has gone beyond the righteous anger of repeated betrayals from Washington. It is an anger that has become unhinged and is potentially uncontrollable. Anger at that level is more often destructive than constructive.

I want to beat Hillary Clinton next year. I want to beat her with a Republican who is not just another party apparatchik surrounded by lower level party apparatchiks within the Republican Party.

But I know we cannot beat Hillary Clinton with this level of anger. We won’t be able to draw people to our side and our cause like this.

Gee, Erick, I’m confused. A few days ago you were ready to blow up the Republican Party forever if it did not do your bidding on a single issue. Now you want people to calm down so they can beat Hillary. Correct me if I’m wrong, but an exploded GOP that has lost its base isn’t going to beat Hillary, is it? So which is your current opinion? Your temper tantrum or your sermon against temper tantrums?

Truth is the Republican Party has been juggling dynamite for years in paying tribute to people like Erickson who claim to speak for the “angry base.” Now there’s an “angrier” base. Where are you going to draw that line?

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Erick Erickson, GOP | , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Triumph For Presidential Leadership”: Pundits; Obama’s Too Mean To Iran Deal Critics

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, to her credit, supports the international nuclear agreement with Iran. In her new column, however, she criticizes President Obama anyway, not over the substance of his foreign policy, but for not being nice enough to the diplomatic deal’s opponents.

Obama once understood, even celebrated, this gray zone of difficult policy choices. He was a man who took pains to recognize and validate the legitimate concerns of those on the opposite side of nearly any complex debate.

The new Obama, hardened and embittered – the one on display in his American University speech last week and in the follow-up spate of interviews – has close to zero tolerance for those who reach contrary conclusions.

In fairness to the columnist, Marcus goes on to make substantive suggestions about how best to argue in support of the deal, and she concedes “Obama’s exasperation is understandable.” Her broader point seems to be that she wants to see the deal presented in the most effective way possible, but Marcus nevertheless chides the president for his tone and unwillingness to “accommodate” his foes.

She’s not alone. After the president noted that the American right and the Iranian hardliners find themselves on the same side of this fight, other pundits, including National Journal’s Ron Fournier, raised related concerns about Obama being harsh.

That’s a shame – there are constructive ways to look at the debate over U.S. policy towards Iran, but hand-wringing over presidential tone seems misplaced.

Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. President Obama and his team defied long odds, assembled an unlikely international coalition, and struck a historic deal. By most fair measures, this is one of the great diplomatic accomplishments of this generation.

For all the incessant whining from the “Why Won’t Obama Lead?” crowd, this was a triumph for presidential leadership, positioning Obama as one of the most effective and accomplished leaders on the international stage.

To watch this unfold and complain that Obama is simply too mean towards those who hope to kill the deal and derail American foreign policy seems to miss the point.

What’s more, let’s also not lose sight of these detractors’ case. Some of the deal’s critics have compared Obama to Hitler. Others have accused the White House of being a state-sponsor of terrorism. Many of the agreement’s foes in Congress clearly haven’t read the deal – they decided in advance that any agreement would be unacceptable, regardless of merit – and many more have approached the entire policy debate “with vagueness, deception and hysteria.”

Slate’s William Saletan attended the recent congressional hearings on the policy and came away “dismayed” at what opponents of the deal had to offer. Republicans, he concluded, seem “utterly unprepared to govern,” presenting little more than “dishonesty,” “incomprehension,” and an “inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world.”

To Marcus’ point, it’s fair to say that the president is not “taking pains to recognize and validate the legitimate concerns of those on the opposite side.” I suppose it’s possible Obama could invest more energy in telling Americans that his critics, when they’re not comparing him to Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, or both, are well-intentioned rivals.

But at this stage of the debate, there should be a greater emphasis on sound policy judgments and accurate, substantive assessments. I’m less concerned with whether Obama is being nice to his critics and more concerned with whether he’s correct.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Pundits | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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