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“The Next Generation Of Birthers?”: Bizarre Ideas Make Their Way From The Far-Right Fringe To The Conservative Mainstream

We tend not to hear much from the “birther” activists anymore. For a while, these right-wing critics were obsessed with President Obama’s birthplace, ignoring all evidence in order to turn a ridiculous conspiracy theory into a cottage industry.

But with the president already thinking about his post-White House plans, and the 2016 election season underway, even the most unhinged conservatives no longer see much of a point in focusing on Obama’s origins. They’re just not going to force him from office.

And while it’s tempting to think the entire strain of nonsense is behind us, TPM reports that this may be wishful thinking. The birther “movement” has effectively surrendered in its crusade against President Obama, but what about some of his would-be successors?

In a column published last week on the conspiracy theory website WND, author Jack Cashill noted that questions had been raised about whether four of the 17 candidates in the GOP field were really “natural born citizens” and therefore eligible to run for President.

Ted Cruz has already dealt with those questions publicly – the Canadian-born senator from Texas renounced his citizenship with that country last summer in anticipation of a 2016 bid – but Cashill also listed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) among those who were suspect.

Though the line between satire and sincerity can seem blurry in far-right media, the WorldNetDaily piece does not appear to be a joke. It starts with a passive-voice classic – “The question has been raised for Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and even Rick Santorum” – and proceeds from there as if this were a legitimate area of inquiry.

It goes so far as to argue, “No one doubts that Jindal was born in the United States, but what is not clear is where the loyalty of his parents lay and whether Jindal is a natural born citizen under the law.”

I’ve read this a few times, and I’ll confess, I’m still not sure what that’s supposed to mean.

And what about Santorum? Why is he included in the mix? Jack Cashill, the author of the WorldNetDaily piece, told TPM, “Because his father was born in Italy and there’s some question as to whether his father was a citizen at the time Santorum was born. That’s a strange case. Only the purest of the constitutionalists would take up that challenge.”

I’m sure Santorum is relieved.

But I’m still stuck on, “The question has been raised.” By whom? When? Why? Cashill told TPM, “Especially in very strict constitutional tea party circles it’s a very lively topic…. It is an undercurrent. It’s not enough to turn an election, but it’s enough to cost like 1 percent of a potential electorate.”

There is, to be sure, a considerable distance between one article on WorldNetDaily and months of scuttlebutt in non-fringe campaign circles. But as we’ve seen many times, bizarre ideas can make their way from the far-right fringe to the conservative mainstream with surprising speed.

There is literally no reason to question the presidential eligibility of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum, but if your weird uncle sends you an all-caps email on the subject, now you’ll know why.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 18, 2015

August 19, 2015 Posted by | Birthers, GOP Presidential Candidates, Right Wing Extremisim | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Loophole To Avoid Official Scrutiny”: No Keystone, No Problem; The Oil Industry Is Making Other Pipeline Plans

Environmentalists have been waiting since 2008 for President Barack Obama’s decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. That decision may come any day now. But Canada’s tar sands industry hasn’t been waiting around.

Publicly, TransCanada, the company behind the embattled pipeline, insists it is still optimistic it will win the long-running standoff—not just over Keystone, but another pipeline project that has faced environmental opposition as well, Energy East. “We’re optimistic for both of our projects,” TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper told the New Republic.

The speculation in private, however, is that the writing may be on the wall for Keystone at least. “The rumor is that the decision to deny has been made, and they’re just waiting for the right time and venue,” an unnamed source familiar with the company told The Canadian Press this month. Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have echoed the pessimism. “I don’t see a scenario where the president would sign off on Keystone,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski told Bloomberg recently. Then there are Obama’s own words over the last year, which suggest he’s leaning against the project.

This decision will be Obama’s final word on the Keystone XL pipeline. But for TransCanada, it won’t be the end of the story. Even if its permit is rejected, TransCanada has a few paths forward for keeping Keystone alive. The company may eye a NAFTA lawsuit arguing trade discrimination, or it may submit a new application under the next president—if it’s a Republican, the company would face a much easier time.

In the meantime, rail is the go-to substitute for missing infrastructure to ship oil from Canada to the U.S. Sixty percent of Alberta’s unprocessed oil already makes its way to American refineries by rail and pipelines. And in 2012, Canada exported 16,000 barrels of oil per day by rail to the U.S. In the first quarter of 2015, it exported 120,000 barrels per day, which might rise depending on whether global oil prices begin to increase again. As green organizing has focused on pipeline infrastructure, it’s done little to stop the explosion in tar sands shipments by rail and tanker.

But TransCanada’s main business is still in pipelines, not rail, giving it every incentive to plow forward with alternative options if Keystone gets axed. For a hint at how round two of this fight could play out, Energy East offers a few clues.

This project would run from Alberta eastward to the Atlantic coast, carrying even more oil (at 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day) than Keystone. Just like Keystone, Energy East’s way forward hasn’t been easy. The project is facing its own political opposition from Canadian provinces that are concerned about the pipeline’s environmental impact.

The years of waiting for a decision on Keystone has made the company aware of what scrappy environmental organizing can do. “There’s a very loud and vocal minority that have been very effective in their messaging, and we have had over the years needed to adjust how we get out there,” Cooper said. And so, from the beginning, the Energy East project has included an aggressive public relations campaign, including paid media, monitoring of op-ed pages and letters to the editor, social media campaigns, meetings with landowners, politicians, and third parties. It officially filed its application with Canada’s Stephen Harper administration in October 2014, amid a publicity blitz.

In a further example of the company’s newfound savvy, TransCanada pulled plans in April to build a marine tanker terminal to Energy East along a river in Quebec, which had roused local and environmental concerns for the region’s beluga whales. As a result, there’s been a two-year delay to the pipeline, with an anticipated in-service date in 2020. Yet this concession was a deliberate move, one that fits in with TransCanada’s broader P.R. push. The terminal delay is inconsequential, considering the company’s long-term thinking: TransCanada builds good-will in Canadian provinces by caving on specific environmental concerns that don’t make or break the project, all in order to get the final OK from governments.

And as TransCanada faces obstacles on all fronts for its pipelines, other companies have taken measures to avoid similar struggles. One of these controversial projects is Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper or Line 67 pipeline, which crosses the U.S. border in North Dakota. The company wants to expand the pipeline’s capacity from 450,000 barrels per day to 800,000.

And in order to avoid the complications that have plagued Keystone, it found a way to ship oil across the border without needing a new permit from the State Department. Enbridge simply plans to connect two pipelines through an existing cross-border line, Line 3. By using the 1960s-era Line 3, which doesn’t require the same environmental assessment and public comment as Line 67, Enbridge can still ship 800,000 barrels of oil per day, as it originally planned.

According to environmentalists, this is a bait and switch, and 63 green groups urged Obama to reconsider in a June letter. “Rather than wait for this requisite environmental review and permitting process to run its due course, Enbridge decided it would immediately increase the flow of Alberta Clipper by diverting the oil onto an adjacent pipeline for the actual border-crossing, then diverting the oil back to Alberta Clipper just south of the U.S.-Canada border,” the letter said.

Enbridge critics insist the company needs to be held to the same environmental standards as Keystone, and that this work-around is nothing more than a loophole to avoid official scrutiny. The company did not return a request for comment.

For green activists, the most effective way to limit tar sands development has long been to block, delay, and frustrate attempts to build the infrastructure that will carry crude oil, which contributes roughly 17 percent more in greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. The ideal form of transport for the industry is by pipeline, for the same reasons environmentalists oppose the new infrastructure. It is cheaper and more efficient, meaning the oil and gas industry can ship more at less cost. Or more accurately, it’s cheaper by pipeline if you don’t count the cost of potential oil spills, clean-up, and the overall impact on the climate.

Still, as long as economic conditions make oil extraction profitable in the medium- to long-term, TransCanada and other companies have every incentive to try new and ever shrewder ways to make a profit.

 

Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, August 18, 2015

August 19, 2015 Posted by | Canadain Tar Sands, Keystone XL, Oil and Gas Industry, TransCanada | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Know, The United States Needs More Of This”: In The Race To The Bottom On Immigration, Walker Makes His Move

Over the weekend, Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to unveil an actual immigration plan. It wasn’t quite what reform proponents were hoping for – Trump’s vision includes mass deportations for roughly 11 million people, a Mexican-built wall, ignoring provisions of the 14th Amendment, and quite possibly deporting U.S. citizens.

If there’s a race to the bottom underway among Republicans battling for anti-immigrant voters, it was a fairly bold move. As Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday, it left one of Trump’s top rivals scrambling to tell conservatives how similar his plan is to the leading GOP candidate.

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker said Monday his immigration plan is “very similar” to the policy blueprint released Sunday by Donald Trump which amounts to a comprehensive attack on legal and illegal immigration.

“I haven’t looked at all the details of his but the things I’ve heard are very similar to the things I’ve mentioned,” the Wisconsin governor said on Fox & Friends.

Yes, we’ve reached the curious stage of the 2016 cycle at which prominent Republicans boast about how in sync they are with Donald Trump. Last week, it was Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Yesterday, it was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).

As viewers of last night’s show know, the degree to which Trump is actually influencing the direction of Republican politics is increasingly difficult to ignore. Sure, that’s to be expected by a White House candidate who’s dominating the race, but given Trump’s clownish reputation, it’s nevertheless striking to see the dynamic unfold before our eyes.

As for the far-right governor, as the day progressed, Walker’s approach to immigration came into sharper focus. He still doesn’t have a detailed plan, per se, but he’s offering more than just “I’m like Trump” on this key issue.

For example, Walker is now the latest national Republican candidate to oppose birthright citizenship – more on this point later today – and he’s on board with mass deportations. So how is this different from Trump? BuzzFeed noted that the Wisconsin governor is eyeing a very different model as a source for inspiration.

Walker repeated his call for a border fence between the U.S. and Mexico on Monday similar to the one separating Israel from Palestinian territories in the West Bank. […]

“I was in Israel earlier this year, they built a 500-mile fence and they have it stacked and it’s lowered terrorist attacks in that region by about 90-plus percent. We need to do the same along our border, we’ve obviously got a bigger border, about four times that, but we’re a country that should be able to hold that,” Walker said while speaking on the Des Moines Register soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.

Let’s not brush past Walker’s point of comparison too quickly. Who looks at the barriers separating Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and thinks, “You know, the United States needs more of this”?

As for the broader debate, 2012 exit polls suggest Mitt “Self-Deportation” Romney won about 27% of the Latino vote in the last presidential election. Driven by a rabid GOP base, the current crop of Republican candidates seems determined to fare considerably worse in 2016.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 18, 2015

August 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Immigration, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republican Race Is Being Led By A Buffoon”: The GOP Primary Is A Mess. Can Anyone Unite This Party?

Jeb Bush is starting to remind me of someone. Tall guy, former governor, worshipped his politician dad? That’s right, I’m talking about Mitt Romney.

It isn’t just the part about their fathers, or the fact that like Romney, Bush is the representative of the “establishment” and doesn’t get a lot of love from the Tea Party base, or even that he seems to share Romney’s propensity for reinforcing his most glaring electoral weaknesses. (Jeb spent much of the last week explaining how the Iraq War was actually a tremendous success and we just need to bring back the Bush Doctrine, which is a great way to win over the many voters pining for a rerun of George W.’s term in office.)

It’s also that Bush’s only path to his party’s nomination may be to duplicate what Romney did successfully in 2012: use his money (and dogged persistence) to hang around while one ridiculous clown of a candidate after another has their momentary flight then crashes ignominiously to the ground, at the end of which primary voters run out of other options and say, “Oh all right, I guess we’ll go with you.”

All things considered, it isn’t such a bad strategy. And given the sourness of the Republican electorate, there may be no other way to win.

If we look beyond the bizarre candidacy of Donald Trump, the 2016 primary race is looking a lot like the 2012 race. While there were some serious people in that one, just as there are in the GOP campaign today, the overall picture voters got was of a chaotic mess in which a bunch of people you couldn’t imagine being president got an undue amount of attention. Just like now, you had candidates who had been elected to Congress but who had no business running for president. You had amateurs whom voters found attractive because they were different than all those blow-dried politicians. And for a long time, no one was able to move into a clear lead.

At this time four years ago, the only candidates in double digits were Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann. Many of that race’s most amusing developments—Bachmann’s demise, the steep rise then fall of Herman Cain, the same for Newt Gingrich—had yet to occur. Today, there are so many GOP candidates, and other than Trump most of them have the support of so few voters, that it looks even fuzzier. Look at the latest Fox News poll, which shows Trump at 25 percent, Ben Carson at 12 percent, Ted Cruz at 10 percent, and Jeb limping in at 9 percent. Three of those four people are never, ever going to be president. A Reuters/Ipsos poll has Trump at 21 percent, Bush at 12 percent, and nobody else over 8 percent.

The GOP race is being led by a buffoon who, despite his appeal to a certain kind of voter, is widely loathed by the public as a whole, barely pretends to understand the first thing about public policy, and still believes that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Meanwhile, the guys who are supposed to represent the future of the party, like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, are struggling to hold on to the support of one out of every 15 Republicans or so. To call the race a mess would be too generous.

If the party knew what it wanted, it might be able to settle on a candidate who could give it to them. The problem is that it’s made up of people who want different things. There are sober people who just want to find the candidate who can win them back the White House. But there are many more who know a lot more about what they don’t like than whom they might support. For years now, the Republican Party’s leaders (both politicians and media figures) and its voters have been dancing a manic pas de deux of extremism, where the leaders tell the voters to constantly increase their demands and punish anyone who strays from ideological purity, and the voters respond.

No Republican politician could possibly satisfy everyone in the roiling cauldron of anger, suspicion, and disappointment that is today’s GOP. How do you unite a party when the prevalent theme of their internal debate in recent years has been how disgusted they all are with their own side?

You can’t. But someone is going to be this party’s nominee, and it’s likely to be the one who can keep a steady pace while the others flame out. Jeb Bush recently said, “I’m the tortoise in the race—but I’m a joyful tortoise.” It isn’t much of a plan, but it may be the best anyone has. And there sure isn’t a lot of joy going around among Republicans these days.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, August 16, 2015

 

August 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Jeb Bush, Like Many Republicans, Wants A War With Iran”: That’s The ‘Pretty Good Deal’ Republicans Have In Mind

Like all Republican presidential candidates, Jeb Bush is opposed to the world powers nuclear agreement with Iran, and has denounced it in withering terms as a “bad,” “horrific” deal. Late last week, he offered some valuable perspective on what counts in his mind as a “good deal” in global affairs, when, speaking at a foreign policy forum in Iowa, he argued, “I’ll tell you, taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal.”

Because almost nobody in America thinks the Iraq War was a particularly good deal, the political media is holding his comment up as a gaffe. But against the backdrop of GOP opposition to the Iran agreement, it’s much more revelatory than that. It crystallizes the increasingly open secret in the world of foreign affairs that the “pretty good deal” we got in Iraq and the “better deal” Iran foes allude to so frequently are actually the same deal. Not in every particular—nobody of any prominence on the right is currently arguing for a wholesale invasion and occupation of Iran. But forced regime change was what we got in Iraq, and it’s what the supporters of the war there ultimately want in Iran.

There’s a danger whenever Bush is asked to comment about national security or Middle East policy that his comments will stem less from any considered position than from the poisoned soils of family loyalty and legacy redemption. For precisely that reason, it took him a week this past spring to make the easy migration from outright support for the Iraq invasion to conditional opposition (“knowing what we know now”).

But Bush has now rolled out, and adhered to, a tangle of views that could be mistaken for his brother’s—void the Iran agreement and possibly attack Iran, rescind President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order banning torture, and possibly send thousands of U.S. troops back into Iraq—and none of them is even remotely controversial among his co-partisans.

Republicans of a neoconservative bent grow prickly when accused of promising a “better deal” in bad faith, or of harboring ulterior motives, and they became especially prickly when Obama points it out, as he did in a resolute speech at American University earlier this month. What makes their thin skin so odd is that these motives aren’t even really ulterior. They’re articulated unabashedly by many, many conservatives all the time. Republican presidential candidates, including Bush, have expressed interest in military strikes to set back Iran’s nuclear activities. Conservative writer Norman Podhoretz has been arguing for them for years.

That this view is widely shared on the right emerges as well from the cold logic of the multilateral negotiations themselves, and from the growing consensus among Republicans that the next U.S. president should walk away from the agreement as a first order of business.

This matrix is slightly oversimplified, but only slightly. Thanks to the agreement, there’s a decent chance that Iran won’t produce a nuclear weapon for many years. If the agreement collapses, the diplomatic channel will essentially be closed, Iran will probably manufacture a weapon, and the drumbeat for airstrikes will intensify. That’s a cardinal truth, no matter who violates the agreement. The ancillary benefit for hawkish Iran foes is that if Iran breaches the deal, it will provide U.S. policymakers with a robust rhetorical foundation for demanding the reimposition of sanctions, and coordinated airstrikes. Republicans are effectively saying that this isn’t good enough, and that we should void the deal ourselves—sacrifice all of that good will—to precipitate the crisis more rapidly.

That’s what Jeb Bush meant, in his foreign policy address last week, when he said, “If the Congress does not reject this deal, then the damage must be undone by the next president—and it will be my intention to begin that process immediately.” Ripping up the global powers agreement is the predicate for the “pretty good deal” Republicans have in mind. It’s the whole show.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, August 17, 2015

August 19, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, Iraq War, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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