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“How Could Paul Ryan Have Known?”: Super-Wonk, Budget Wizard And Speaker-Designate Ryan Didn’t Know What His Staff Was Up To?

One of the more ridiculous and cynical features of this whole surprise budget deal is Paul Ryan’s expressions of horror and anger. Aside from the fact that the Republican House leadership is not about to blindside their hand-picked Speaker on something this big, there’s the little issue that Ryan’s staff helped draft a big chunk of it. HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney has the story:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday morning that he hadn’t seen the new bipartisan budget deal and that the secretive process used to craft it “stinks,” but there’s stuff in the bill that should smell good and familiar to him.

One of its most important provisions makes changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, and some of those changes came from the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Social Security and which Ryan chairs.

“Paul Ryan’s staff was involved in crafting the provision for weeks,” a Democratic aide told HuffPost. “His staff signed off on the provision, his staff also signed off on other key provisions” related to tax compliance and Medicare.

Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck denied that Ryan’s committee staff crafted the disability provision within the context of the legislation, which was negotiated by the White House with party leaders in the House and Senate. The committee had been working on changes to disability benefits earlier this year; Buck acknowledged that Ways and Means staff were aware the disability provision would be included.

At 52 pages, the disability insurance provision comprises a significant portion of the 144 page bill. It would prevent a 20 percent benefit cut scheduled to kick in next year for SSDI’s 11 million beneficiaries by diverting revenue from Social Security’s better-known retirement insurance program — a strategy some Republicans previously said amounted to “raiding” that program’s coffers.

The bill is also supposed to save $4 or $5 billion by tightening eligibility requirements for disability benefits, partly by requiring the Social Security Administration to make sure all initial applications include a medical screening.

But we’re supposed to believe super-wonk, budget wizard and Speaker-designate Ryan didn’t know what his staff was up to or how it related to an overall budget deal. Give me a break.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Paul Ryan, Social Security | , , , , | 3 Comments

“Why Ben Carson’s Candidacy Is Doomed”: The More Attention He Gets, The Less Electable He’s Going To Look

Ben Carson ought to get ready, because things are about to get very difficult for him. In fact, we can probably start the clock on the demise of his presidential candidacy.

Okay, so that’s a little dramatic. But today we saw the first national poll, from the New York Times and CBS, that puts Carson in the lead in the Republican race. Yes, it’s only one poll, and yes, that lead is within the margin of error, meaning he may not actually be ahead (the poll averages still have him trailing Donald Trump by a few points). But he’s clearly leading in Iowa, and this poll will be taken as a cue for the press to give him more scrutiny than he’s gotten so far. Carson has been getting more media attention, but that focus will intensify now. And it won’t be good for him.

In a year in which outsiders are all the rage, Carson is the most outsidery of all. Ted Cruz is a U.S. senator who built his identity by hating the institution he’s a part of and everyone who’s in it — but he’s still a senator. Carly Fiorina is a former CEO — but she ran for office before and has been involved in politics for some time. Even Donald Trump is less of an outsider than Carson. He may be just as ignorant about policy, but there’s a surface plausibility to him being president. He runs a company, you can see him on TV ordering people around, and he’s got a plane with his name on it.

With each passing week, however, Carson has been gaining. All of his shocking statements on things like Muslims not being allowed to run for president unless they publicly disavow their religion, or Obamacare being the worst thing since slavery, or that the Jews might have stopped the Holocaust if they had more guns, only seem to have helped him win support for his campaign. But there’s a limit to everything.

As of now, Ben Carson’s actual plans for being president will get much more attention. And even Republicans may not be happy with all of what they hear.

Take, for example, Carson’s plan to shut down Medicare and Medicaid and replace them with health savings accounts. From a policy standpoint, it’s utterly daft. But it’s also about as politically unwise as you could imagine. Medicare is one of the two most beloved government programs there is. Even though Republicans would love to get rid of it (in part because its success stands as a constant rebuke to their belief that government can’t do anything right), they always insist that their plans to cut or transform it are really about “strengthening Medicare to make sure it’s there for future generations.” They know that saying anything other than that they love the program and want it to exist forever is somewhere between treacherous and suicidal.

That doesn’t stop Democrats from charging that Republicans want to destroy the program, an attack that usually works. And with Carson, there wouldn’t be any doubt — he does want to end Medicare.

What else does he want to do if he becomes president? His ideas are almost absurdly vague, a fact that will become more and more evident as he gets more attention. Go to the “Issues” section of his web site, and you’ll search in vain for anything resembling an actual proposal. When he is asked about particular policy issues, he tends to offer something so simplistic and divorced from reality that it often seems like it’s the first time he’s ever thought about it. How might he change the tax system? Well, how about a tithe, like in the Bible? (Or actually not like in the Bible, but never mind that.) How would that actually work? He doesn’t know, and barely seems to care.

Carson certainly checks off many of the standard Republican boxes: overturn Roe v. Wade, balanced budget amendment to the Constitution (as idiotic an idea as either party has ever produced, but that’s a topic for another day), show Russia who’s boss, more guns, and so on. But as he’s forced to talk more about a Carson presidency, he’s likely to get lots of negative coverage growing out of his own lack of understanding of government.

You see, the journalists covering Carson come from that same Washington world he finds so alien, and they’ll be drawn to talking about his unfamiliarity with it. This has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism — someone like Ted Cruz, who’s every bit as conservative as Carson, can have a conversation about the presidency with reporters in which they’re all inhabiting the same planet. They can ask him a question about something like defense spending or Social Security or foreign policy, and while his answers might be oversimplified, they won’t make the reporters say, “Oh my god, did he just say what I think he said?”

You might reply that Donald Trump knows just as little as Carson, and also gives ridiculous answers to policy questions. But Trump’s ability to blow through those questions (“When I’m president, it’ll be terrific!”) is possible because his supporters don’t really care about the answers. They’re not party loyalists who are concerned with ideological fealty or electability.

But Carson’s support right now is centered on evangelicals and older Republicans, and they’re more pragmatic than you might think. Yes, they’ll support someone like Carson for a while — just as they gave Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee victories in Iowa — but that support isn’t permanent. Once other Republican candidates start going after Carson for wanting to eliminate Medicare (Donald Trump has already started), many of Carson’s voters are going to say, “Well that’s not going to go over too well,” and even, “I’m not sure I like that.” The more attention he gets, the less electable he’s going to look.

Am I being premature? Perhaps. Carson is so popular with evangelicals in part because they’ve known him for years (his autobiography is a common assignment in Christian home-school curricula everywhere). His combination of a calm, soothing manner and absolutely radical ideas has proven compelling to a healthy chunk of the Republican electorate. It’s entirely possible that he could sustain this support enough to win Iowa and then receive all the glowing coverage such a victory would produce. And the very fact that he’s doing as well as he is makes for a fascinating story. But it isn’t going to last.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Evangelicals, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Unhinged Rant That Smacks Of Sedition”: Back To The Dark Side; Dick Cheney’s Pax Americana

Exceptional, the new book from former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz, is not. It is nothing more than an unhinged rant that smacks of sedition.

“The children need to know the truth about who we are, what we’ve done, and why it is uniquely America’s duty to be freedom’s defender,” the prologue proclaims. The book, however, is not about who we are but who Cheney wants us to become. It is a call for Americans to reject constitutional government and those values that have guided our nation for 227 years and replace it with imperial rule in the name of “freedom”––even when that rule includes wars of choice, intrusive violations of our privacy and civil liberties, and of course, an aggressive regime of torture.

This review assumes that Exceptional represents Dick Cheney’s ideas, and so we will refer to the author only in the singular. (To the extent the book reflects Liz’s original thinking, consider it a mind meld.)

Part One begins with Uncle Dick recounting how “the American Century” has been marked by a fight that he and a few other white-hatted cowboys have waged to keep the world safe for “freedom.” In Cheney’s telling, pro-war and wartime leaders were strong and “right,” and the others weak and feckless. World War II is reduced to: “We liberated millions and achieved the greatest victory in the history of mankind, for the good of all mankind. America––the exceptional nation––had become freedom’s defender.”

Manichean World View

In Cheney’s Manichean worldview, Truman was right to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, and Eisenhower’s farewell speech was not a warning of the growing power of the military-industrial complex as is commonly understood, but, rather, a strong endorsement of it. Reagan’s unwillingness to give up America’s right to missile defense (SDI) was “an exercise of diplomacy that should be studied by all future policy makers.” Obama’s foreign policy strategy is simply, “don’t do stupid stuff.”

Left out of Cheney’s idyllic tale of American exceptionalism in that era are such inconvenient freedom-defending events as the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 and the imposition of the oppressive Shah who ruled with an iron fist until his downfall in 1978; the overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government in Chile, replaced by the military dictator, Pinochet; the Reagan administration’s support of the Contras in Central America in the 1980s; and the slavish support of African dictators like Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko.

Cheney conflates the Gulf War, conducted when he was George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, with the Iraq War (“We were right in 1991 and we were right in 2003.”) but without noting important differences. The Gulf War was a true coalition off the willing, with 32 nations contributing forces operating under the authority of the United Nations and very specific Security Council resolutions, and the rest of the world paying 90 percent of the war’s costs. At its conclusion, the United States was at the pinnacle of its power, which it used to advance the cause of conflict resolution in the region. By contrast, the Iraq War was essentially a United States operation to remove Saddam with limited support, no U.N. resolution, and the entire cost borne by the United States. The consequences are abundantly clear: the region is in chaos, overrun by the same brutal terrorists and radical forces that the Cheney doctrine was supposed to eliminate.

Cheney’s selective memory is again on display as he recounts the events surrounding 9/11. Absent are the infamous CIA memo of August 2001,“Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US,” the reports of missed signals such as suspicious pilot training, and the fact that the CIA was on the highest possible alert while Bush was cutting brush in Texas and Cheney fishing in Wyoming.

The recounting of the war on Afghanistan is rich in bravado (“we have to work the dark side”) and ultimatums (“the Taliban will turn over the terrorists or share their fate”), but poor on facts. Cheney omits the meeting at Camp David where Paul Wolfowitz kept turning the conversation from Afghanistan to Iraq; the directive Bush gave to Richard Clarke to go back and find some link between 9/11 and Saddam; and Donald Rumsfeld’s observation that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that we should consider bombing Iraq. There is no discussion of the pivot to Iraq just when we were on the verge of finding Bin Laden.

Defending Torture

Cheney then turns to a vigorous defense of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the torture policies he championed. Rather than share with the reader the influence he and his key staffers exerted on the decision-making process, Cheney instead recounts the statements of Democrats who voted to support the war, spreading the blame. He neglects to mention the massive propaganda operation directed by the White House or the fact that the whole case was built on lies. Other omissions: Yellowcake, aluminum tubes, mobile bioweapon labs, 9/11 attacker Atta’s supposed meeting with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague, and intelligence conclusions cooked up in the Pentagon Office of Special Plans and foisted on Colin Powell by Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby for presentation to the United Nations. Instead, “History will be the ultimate judge of our decision to liberate Iraq,” Cheney tells us, “and it is important for future decision makers that those debates be based on facts.” But only those facts he cares to share.

Smearing Obama

By the end of Part One Cheney has fully transitioned from defender of the indefensible to bare-knuckled attacker of President Obama. The Cheney snarl is on full display as he engages in an extended personal smear, complete with dog-whistle comments questioning the president’s patriotism and allegiance. The tirade is a new low, even for those of us who have personally experienced the depths to which Cheney will go to destroy an adversary. The opening paragraph of Part Two says it all: “The . . . level of self-regard was apparent, as was his underlying belief that America had played a malign role in the the world . . . . He [Obama] assessed the last fifty years of American foreign policy through the lens of Indonesia, a nation he called ‘the land of my childhood.’”

“Where some see an exceptional nation, unmatched in the history of the world in our goodness and our greatness, in our contributions to global freedom, justice and peace,” Cheney writes, “Barack Obama sees a nation with at best a ‘mixed’ record.”

Cheney combs the record for every quote and factoid that might be used to undermine the authority and legitimacy of the administration. Former senior intelligence officials are selectively quoted to criticize President Obama’s decision to end the torture program. Cheney would have us believe that

Ending programs that kept us safe, revealing the details about those programs to the terrorists, and spreading untruths about our policies was misguided, unjust, and highly irresponsible. . . . President Obama, having so consistently distorted the truth about the enhanced interrogation program and the brave Americans who carried it out, is in no position to lecture anyone about American values.

The personal attacks are unremitting and obnoxious, but they have a purpose: to whip up resentment, hatred, and every other base emotional reaction that makes civil discourse impossible. It is sedition, plain and clear.

One example is the Benghazi tragedy, where Cheney cannot resist offering his own interpretation: “At the most fundamental level it is the difference between being honest about what happened in Benghazi . . . and adopting a false narrative because it serves political purposes. It is the difference between lying to the American people and dealing with them truthfully—which is what we deserve.” The irony drips from the words.

Cheney saves his harshest attack for the Iran nuclear deal, flatly accusing the president of lying to the American people. The most comprehensive arms control deal with the most intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated, it is a deal not just between the United States and Iran but between the world and Iran, unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council and lauded by nuclear arms specialists worldwide. To Cheney it is presidential “falsehoods.”

After concluding “In the seventy years since World War II, no American president has done more damage to our nation’s defenses than Barack Obama,” Cheney’s solution to Obama’s perfidy is simple but profoundly disturbing: return to the past failed policies. He advocates massive additional infusions of money to the Pentagon, abandonment of key agreements, further attacks on civil liberties, and imposition of an American Diktat on the rest of the world, by force of arms if necessary. It is difficult to imagine a more ill-advised approach to American national security or international relations.

Exceptional deserves to be dismissed and ignored, except that to ignore it is to risk that the subversive ideas therein actually gain some currency, if left unchallenged. They are an affront to our history, to our values, to our culture, and must be fought.

 

By: Ambassador Joe Wilson (ret) and Valerie Plame, The National Memo, October 26, 2015: This book review originally appeared in The Washington Spectator

October 29, 2015 Posted by | American History, Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Pillars Of Moral Values”: Hey, Hobby Lobby Boss; Thou Shalt Not Steal

In their brief to the Supreme Court defending their “right” to deny their employees access to contraception, Hobby Lobby owner David Green and his family asserted (PDF) their principles of “[h]onoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

Apparently, that doesn’t include “Thou shall not steal.”

According to an exclusive by The Daily Beast’s Candida Moss and Joel Baden, the Green family has been under investigation by the federal government for smuggling antiquities. Moss and Baden report:

A senior law enforcement source with extensive knowledge of antiquities smuggling confirmed that these ancient artifacts had been purchased and were being imported by the deeply-religious owners of the crafting giant, the Green family of Oklahoma City. For the last four years, law enforcement sources tell The Daily Beast, the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq.

In 2011, a shipment of several hundred clay tablets was seized by U.S. customs agents in Memphis. The tablets, which had been shipped from Israel, were inscribed in cuneiform, the ancient script of Assyria and Babylonia in what is now present-day Iraq. And the tablets were confirmed to be several thousand years old. Yet on the customs filings, the Greens had listed the contents of the shipment as “hand-crafted clay tiles”—which was true, technically, but pretty damn misleading. Moss and Baden draw an analogy to another recent customs scandal in which a Picasso worth $15 million was shipped into the United States with a custom declaration form saying it was a “handicraft.” Again, technically true. But a deception meant to evade the scrutiny of customs officials.

So much for “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

The tablets were supposedly intended to join some 40,000 or so ancient artifacts the Green family owns and will include in the Museum of the Bible, which the family is funding and will open in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

Of course the perverse irony in all of this comes from the fact that the Green family won its historic Hobby Lobby lawsuit in the Supreme Court, establishing that corporations, which are people, too, can have religion and thus claim religious exemptions under the law. And now we have the same family allegedly breaking the law in order to build a religious museum that reflects their values. Hot damn, that’s some audacity.

Recall that in the Hobby Lobby case, the Green family didn’t want its employees to be able to access certain types of contraception under the company’s insurance plan. Prior to filing their suit, Hobby Lobby’s insurance had in fact covered such contraception and the medical and scientific community agrees that those forms of contraception are not equivalent to abortion. But the Greens asserted their personal opinion as fact, attached them to their business and used their supposed “fundamental values” to fundamentally upend the course of corporate jurisprudence and civil rights in America. Perhaps all while they were stealing religious antiquities from Iraq.

What remains unclear is how the Greens came by the antiquities in the first place. Were they outright stolen? Or purchased in the black market, from some shady group? At best, the Greens are taking the cultural heritage of Iraq. At worst, the Greens are wittingly or unwittingly supporting some really bad actors over there.

Personally, I would usually think myself above this sort of finger pointing and eyebrow raising. But the Greens brought this on themselves, not simply by illegally importing antiquities from Iraq but by doing so while promoting themselves as pillars of moral values—and altering the entire legal precedent of the United States to impose their values on others. You know how they say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? Well, people who want to use their narrowly construed extremist religious views to deny basic reproductive rights to women shouldn’t flout the most universal of religious principles by stealing and lying.

 

By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Much ‘Free Speech’ Can You Buy?”: Citizens United Produced A Platinum Class Of Mega-Donors And Corporate Super PACs

In today’s so-called “democratic” election process, Big Money doesn’t talk, it roars — usually drowning out the people’s voice.

Bizarrely, the Supreme Court decreed in its 2010 Citizens United ruling that money is a form of “free speech.” Thus, declared the learned justices, people and corporations are henceforth allowed to spend unlimited sums of their money to “speak” in election campaigns. But wait — if political speech is measured by money then by definition speech is not free. It can be bought, thereby giving the most speech to the few with the most money. That’s plutocracy, not democracy.

Sure enough, in the first six months of this presidential election cycle, more than half of the record-setting $300 million given to the various candidates came from only 358 mega-rich families and the corporations they control. The top 158 of them totaled $176 million in political spending, meaning that, on average, each one of them bought more than a million dollars’ worth of “free” speech.

Nearly all of their money is backing Republican presidential hopefuls who promise: (1) to cut taxes on the rich; (2) cut regulations that protect us from corporate pollution and other abuses of the common good; and (3) to cut Social Security, food stamps and other safety-net programs that we un-rich people need. The great majority of Americans adamantly oppose all of those cuts — but none of us has a million bucks to buy an equivalent amount of political “free” speech.

It’s not just cuts to taxes, regulations and some good public programs that are endangered by the Court’s ridiculous ruling, but democracy itself. That’s why a new poll by Bloomberg Politics found that 78 percent of the American people — including 80 percent of Republicans — want to overturn Citizens United. But those 358 families, corporations and Big Money politicos will have none of it. In fact, America’s inane, Big Money politics have become so prevalent in this election cycle that — believe it or not — candidates have found a need for yet another campaign consultant.

Already, candidates are walled off from people, reality and any honesty about themselves by a battalion of highly specialized consultants controlling everything from stances to hairstyle. But now comes a whole new category of staff to add to the menagerie: “donor maintenance manager.”

The Supreme Court’s malevolent Citizens United decision has produced an insidious platinum class of mega-donors and corporate super PACs, each pumping $500,000, $5 million, $50 million — or even more — into campaigns. These elites are not silent donors, but boisterous, very special interests who are playing in the new, Court-created political money game for their own gain. Having paid to play, they feel entitled to tell candidates what to say and do, what to support and oppose. A Jeb Bush insider confirms that mega-donors have this attitude: “Donors consider a contribution like, ‘Well, wait, I just invested in you. Now I need to have my say; you need to answer to me.’”

Thus, campaigns are assigning donor maintenance managers to be personal concierges to meet every need and whim of these special ones. This subservience institutionalizes the plutocratic corruption of our democratic elections, allowing a handful of super-rich interests to buy positions of overbearing influence directly inside campaigns.

Donors at the million-dollar-and-up level are expecting much more than a tote bag for their “generous gifts” of “free speech.” Of course, candidates piously proclaim, “I’m not for sale.” But politicians are just the delivery service. The actual products being bought through the Supreme Court’s Money-O-Rama political bazaar are our government’s policies, tax breaks and other goodies — as well as the integrity of America’s democratic process. To help fight the injustice of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and get Big Money out of our political system, go to www.FreeSpeechForPeople.org.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, October 28, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Citizens United, Corporations, Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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