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“Doubling Down On W”: Determined To Take What Didn’t Work From 2001 To 2008 And Do It Again, In A More Extreme Form

2015 was, of course, the year of Donald Trump, whose rise has inspired horror among establishment Republicans and, let’s face it, glee — call it Trumpenfreude — among many Democrats. But Trumpism has in one way worked to the G.O.P. establishment’s advantage: it has distracted pundits and the press from the hard right turn even conventional Republican candidates have taken, a turn whose radicalism would have seemed implausible not long ago.

After all, you might have expected the debacle of George W. Bush’s presidency — a debacle not just for the nation, but for the Republican Party, which saw Democrats both take the White House and achieve some major parts of their agenda — to inspire some reconsideration of W-type policies. What we’ve seen instead is a doubling down, a determination to take whatever didn’t work from 2001 to 2008 and do it again, in a more extreme form.

Start with the example that’s easiest to quantify, tax cuts.

Big tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy were the Bush administration’s signature domestic policy. They were sold at the time as fiscally responsible, a matter of giving back part of the budget surplus America was running when W took office. (Alan Greenspan infamously argued that tax cuts were needed to avoid paying off federal debt too fast.) Since then, however, over-the-top warnings about the evils of debt and deficits have become a routine part of Republican rhetoric; and even conservatives occasionally admit that soaring inequality is a problem.

Moreover, it’s harder than ever to claim that tax cuts are the key to prosperity. At this point the private sector has added more than twice as many jobs under President Obama as it did over the corresponding period under W, a period that doesn’t include the Great Recession.

You might think, then, that Bush-style tax cuts would be out of favor. In fact, however, establishment candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are proposing much bigger tax cuts than W ever did. And independent analysis of Jeb’s proposal shows that it’s even more tilted toward the wealthy than anything his brother did.

What about other economic policies? The Bush administration’s determination to dismantle any restraints on banks — at one staged event, a top official used a chain saw on stacks of regulations — looks remarkably bad in retrospect. But conservatives have bought into the thoroughly debunked narrative that government somehow caused the Great Recession, and all of the Republican candidates have declared their determination to repeal Dodd-Frank, the fairly modest set of regulations imposed after the financial crisis.

The only real move away from W-era economic ideology has been on monetary policy, and it has been a move toward right-wing fantasyland. True, Ted Cruz is alone among the top contenders in calling explicitly for a return to the gold standard — you could say that he wants to Cruzify mankind upon a cross of gold. (Sorry.) But where the Bush administration once endorsed “aggressive monetary policy” to fight recessions, these days hostility toward the Fed’s efforts to help the economy is G.O.P. orthodoxy, even though the right’s warnings about imminent inflation have been wrong again and again.

Last but not least, there’s foreign policy. You might have imagined that the story of the Iraq war, where we were not, in fact, welcomed as liberators, where a vast expenditure of blood and treasure left the Middle East less stable than before, would inspire some caution about military force as the policy of first resort. Yet swagger-and-bomb posturing is more or less universal among the leading candidates. And let’s not forget that back when Jeb Bush was considered the front-runner, he assembled a foreign-policy team literally dominated by the architects of debacle in Iraq.

The point is that while the mainstream contenders may have better manners than Mr. Trump or the widely loathed Mr. Cruz, when you get to substance it becomes clear that all of them are frighteningly radical, and that none of them seem to have learned anything from past disasters.

Why does this matter? Right now conventional wisdom, as captured by the bookies and the betting markets, suggests even or better-than-even odds that Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz will be the nominee, in which case everyone will be aware of the candidate’s extremism. But there’s still a substantial chance that the outsiders will falter and someone less obviously out there — probably Mr. Rubio — will end up on top.

And if this happens, it will be important to realize that not being Donald Trump doesn’t make someone a moderate, or even halfway reasonable. The truth is that there are no moderates in the Republican primary, and being reasonable appears to be a disqualifying characteristic for anyone seeking the party’s nod.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, George W Bush, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Iowa Intrigue”: Huckabee And Santorum Backers Reportedly Plotting To Help Rubio Against Cruz

The late stages of the invisible primary would not be complete without reports of intrigue and skullduggery in Iowa, with campaigns forming tactical alliances against common enemies. We have one today from National Review‘s Tim Alberta and Eliana Johnson, who report that supporters of the last two caucus winners, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, are so bitter at being eclipsed by Ted Cruz that they are conspiring to block the Texan and instead elevate Marco Rubio. There’s only one problem with that scenario: Under Republican caucus procedures, there’s no way the disgruntled social conservatives can achieve their alleged goal without damaging their own candidates, who will probably drop out if they don’t do surprisingly well in Iowa.

The reason Democrats are usually featured in these Iowa intrigue stories is that their caucus procedures encourage tactical alliances via minimum thresholds for “viability” (i.e., the opportunity to elect state convention delegates, which is the only measurement of success), meaning that support can be loaned to favored candidates and denied to disfavored candidates on a precinct-by-precinct basis. Republicans, by contrast, have a simple candidate preference vote at their caucuses, so there’s no way for would-be tacticians to loan or borrow support without hurting their own candidate’s statewide tally.

That’s what makes the NR report suspect. Are Huck and Santorum zealots really so angry at Cruz that they’d screw over Huck and Santorum to help Rubio? That’s not at all clear. Yes, the campaigns of the two former caucus winners are going after Cruz hammer and tongs, trying to exploit Mike Allen’s pseudo-scoop about Cruz telling an audience in sinful New York that fighting same-sex marriage would not be a “top-three priority” (long story short: Cruz enclosed the issue in his top priority, defending the Constitution as he misunderstands it). But that’s because the Texan is obviously the primary obstacle to their survival in Iowa. Helping Rubio try to beat him by giving away any of their own meager support would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise.

The intrigue-within-the-intrigue is burnished by the fact that the only people on the record validating the part of the cabal involving surreptitious support for Rubio are (1) a 2012 Santorum supporter who’s now neutral, and (2) Craig Robinson, proprietor of influential web page the Iowa Republican, who’s not really a Christian right figure but who does for some reason seem to hate Ted Cruz. There is a quote from a Santorum campaign official saying that Rubio’s immigration record is “more honest” than Cruz’s, but that’s in the context of condemning both.

The bottom line is that what Alberta and Johnson are reporting appears to be either a Rubio campaign plant, or scuttlebutt from scattered folk in the Huckabee and Santorum camps who actually want their candidates to drop out sooner rather than later and are (disloyally) already making their plans for the future. In Iowa, the intrigue is often deeper than it first appears.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, December 30, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | Iowa Caucuses, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hot 2015 Words? A Political ‘ism’ Vision”: At Least Some People Care About The Words Our Political Leaders Use

What’s the word? The “Word of the Year” at Oxford Dictionaries is not even a word. It is an emoji, a digital image that is used in text messages to express an idea or emotion in a style that seems in my eyes to be aimed at illiterates.

Oxford Dictionaries justified this selection by citing an explosion in “emoji culture” over the last year and not, as I fear, a collapse in the public’s desire to read.

“It’s flexible, immediate and infuses tone beautifully,” said Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries in a statement. “As a result emoji are becoming an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders.”

Indeed, I’m sure that’s true, provided that you can figure out what the darn emoji means. The emoji that Oxford Dictionaries happened to choose is hardly a model of simplicity or clarity.

Titled “face with tears of joy,” it depicts a gleefully cheerful smiley face with enormous water drops exploding out of its eyes. Cute, but it’s nowhere near the “rich form of communication” displayed by what has become known as the “poop emoji” in polite company. It depicts a steaming brown coil of the stuff with enough clarity to require no further translation.

But as an indicator of the social, political and economic world in which I usually work, a world that feels a lot less predictable than it did a year ago, I prefer the choices made by two other major dictionary companies.

First prize in my view goes to “identity,” the choice of Dictionary.com, a timely topic for the year that gave us Rachel Dolezal and Caitlin Jenner, among other challenges to our society’s conventional sense of selfhood and otherness.

Dolezal will be remembered as the Spokane, Washington, NAACP leader who passed for black, a complete reversal of the usual American tradition. This upset white conservatives who didn’t like the NAACP anyway. It also upset black traditionalists who felt Dolezal hadn’t paid enough dues to pose as an authentic African-American.

This conundrum proved to be remarkably similar to the dustup kicked up by Caitlin Jenner’s decision to emerge from the body of Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner. A few prominent radical feminists resented what they saw as Jenner’s EZ-pass around decades of struggle against institutional sexism.

Episodes like that, Dictionary.com CEO Liz McMillan said in a news release, sent enough people running to online dictionaries and other media to make identity “the clear frontrunner.”

“Our data indicated a growing interest in words related to identity,” McMillan said in the release, “as people encountered new terms throughout the year based on events tied to gender, sexuality, race, and other key issues.”

In a similar vein, Merriam-Webster.com named a suffix to be their Word of the Year: “-ism.” The website’s word watchers began to notice a surge in lookups that ended in those three letters. Of the thousands of queries seven with noticeably political themes rose to the top: socialism, fascism, racism, feminism, communism, capitalism and terrorism.

This was a year in which Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate and self-described democratic socialist, opened up a national dialogue of how socialism really works as something more than the epithet that conservatives like to fling at President Barack Obama. As Sanders’ crowds surged in mid-summer, so did lookups for “socialism” online.

Similarly billionaire showman Donald Trump’s calls for mass deportation of immigrants and praise for Vladimir Putin, among other comments, sent many rushing to their keyboards to look up “fascism.”

And racism, feminism, communism, capitalism and terrorism — among other popular “isms” — have been so bent out of shape by partisan and ideological accusations and counter-accusations that you need a dictionary just to keep score.

It is too early to say how much of an impact all of this chatter about identity and “-isms” will have on the 2016 presidential campaigns. We have elections to decide questions like that.

But as money, ideology and celebrity increasingly replace political parties as the pilots of national election campaigns, I am encouraged to hear that at least some people care about the words our political leaders use. I wish more of our political leaders did.

 

By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, Dictionaries, Words of The Year | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congress Consorting To Thwart U.S. Diplomacy?”: The NSA Reportedly Spied On Congress. Is That The Real Scandal?

There’s a lot we don’t know beneath The Wall Street Journal‘s report today that the National Security Agency picked up intelligence on meetings with U.S. members of Congress and domestic political groups while spying on the Israeli government after credible reports (subsequently validated by the surveillance) that the Israelis were collecting and leaking intelligence on the sensitive U.S.-Iran nuclear talks.

The story has many dimensions. But, so far, virtually all of the reaction involves two questions: (1) Should the U.S. be spying on our ally Israel? (This was raised immediately if cautiously by Marco Rubio, who’s in a bit of a quandary because he’s normally a fan of surveillance.) And (2) should the Executive branch be spying, even incidentally, on the Legislative branch? (Former House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra called for an investigation of this possibility and for indictments if it turned out to be true.) These are both important and complex issues. But there should be a third question raised as well: Should members of Congress be consorting with agents of a foreign government to thwart U.S. diplomacy?

Perhaps this question seems obvious in the context of a situation where the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives invited a foreign prime minister to address Congress with the thinly veiled intention of building opposition to approval of the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. But most Republicans and some Democrats have long adopted the habit of arguing that the U.S. should defer to Israel on all matters relating to the Middle East, to the point of abandoning any pretense of an independent point of view. The dominant position among Republicans was articulated by Mitt Romney in October of 2012: “The world must never see daylight between our two nations,” meaning the U.S. and Israel. No one was under the illusion that Romney was instructing Israelis to move closer to the U.S.

This was and remains a dangerous and largely unprecedented position. Even if one intends slavish obeisance to a foreign government, there’s something to be said for keeping up the appearance of independence. After all, a lot of the conservatives most determined to carry Bibi Netanyahu’s water in Washington are also outspoken about the U.S. being the unchallenged colossus of global affairs, unconstrained by alliances with Euro-weenie socialists or even friendly relations with Muslim countries. So it would be preferable if American politicians who want to signal to conservative Evangelicals or to Sheldon Adelson that Bibi’s policies will be their own could find a way to do so without meeting with people who are under U.S. intelligence surveillance. Their hatred of Barack Obama is no excuse for disloyalty to the United States.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, December 30, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Foreign Policy, Israel, National Security Agency, Treason | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Pretty Good Year In A Pretty Bad Century”: A High Point In A Century Marred By The Disastrous Bush Presidency

Imagine the 21st century as a Broadway show. We’re not talking “Hamilton” material. Actually, it’s pretty much a flop. If it were a Broadway show, it would have closed by now.

A year-end 2015 album picture, taken in Paris, showing solemn world leaders gathered to march in mournful defiance of the Islamic state group’s November terrorist attack arrested my attention. There was Germany’s Angela Merkel. There was France’s Francois Hollande. And even Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. But not the American president, Barack Obama. And that seemed strange.

Whatever. But the picture wept. The Islamic State group was our own scary gift to the world, after all, wrapped up during our long war in Iraq; and the tag definitely has George W. Bush’s name on it. Obama has yet to fully face this unforeseen consequence of war, bound to shadow his last year in office. To his credit, he recognizes the futility of going to war once again.

So let’s skip the year in review and go straight to the century in review. It’s a good time to look back over our collective shoulder.

A full 15 years have ended in a pretty pass. At home, we are a nation more roiled by race and police brutality than ever since the 1960s civil rights movement, even with a black president. Income inequality is a plague on our houses. And we are seriously looking at an abrasive reality show host as our next Republican presidential nominee. I mean seriously, folks. Some pundits who urged us onto the Iraq War blithely assert Donald Trump will never win the primary. I don’t put my faith in those wise men. I foresee leading Democratic contender Hillary Clinton facing Trump in the general election.

We’ve seen roughly half and half in Republican and Democratic control this century. Eight years of George W. Bush as president – defined by Sept. 11 and a couple wars – followed by seven years of Barack Obama – defined by picking up the pieces and trying to make peace. A huge economic downturn was also passed along directly from Bush to Obama. The euphoria at Obama’s inauguration lasted about a day in the frigid winter air.

Obama surely deserved better than what he got, but presidents don’t pick their predecessors. Bush had staked all on avenging the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and invested in becoming a “war president.” A Special Forces lightning-like attack on Osama bin Laden, the mastermind, would have been the wiser course of action, as commander-in-chief Obama showed much later. For on 9/11, there was no army against us, just 19 hijackers: Fifteen men from Saudi Arabia, zero from Iraq.

Bush’s slothful insult toward a storied city felled by a hurricane – tipping Air Force One’s wings over New Orleans in 2005 – was the tipping point of his presidency. Suddenly, the dots of his incompetence connected and his approval rating, too, was felled and never got back up again.

Everything that came out of the Bush years – false premises for declaring war, looting antiquities, the Patriot Act, torture, Guantanamo, mass surveillance on citizens, thousands of military and civilian casualties – tarnishes what we are supposed to stand for. In the end, the Islamic State group is the last cosmic slice of “just desserts” for an absolutely meaningless war. Few who thanked soldiers for their service in airports could fully embrace or explain what it was for. Next time, people, get a draft. It’s much harder to go to war with a draft.

As the new century dawned, the omens were plainly ominous. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in late 2000 called into question whether a Supreme Court 5-4 decision is a fair election. It was hard to tell from the timid press coverage, but Gore clearly won the popular vote. Just think how different the last 15 years would have been if the outcome had gone the other way. The peace and prosperity of the Bill Clinton years seem like a dream.

Obama has done much repair work, especially on the economy and foreign policy. In fact, between the Iran deal and the recent Paris Agreement on global warming, the seventh has been his best year in office. In fact, 2015 has been the best year since this century began. But he’s not the best morale-booster. That’s just not his way.

In singing “Amazing Grace” solo at the funeral service of nine murdered black church parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, the president showed amazing grace that moved the nation. For that June day, he became consoler-in-chief. Whether he’ll reach out to the American people to conduct heartfelt dialogues on race in 2016, somehow I doubt it, unless another catalyst arises. An eloquent writer on race in his memoir, Obama seldom put it on the front burner in the White House. But with or without him, it’s a burning subject.

2016, here we come into the maelstrom, a divided country swept by cross-currents. With Clinton in the election cycle, gender may soon join race as a force awakening in the national conversation. Iowa and New Hampshire voters, as usual, will be treated like they know so much. Both are overwhelmingly white states with rural swaths. They do not speak for flash points of violence and pain: Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; nor Charleston, South Carolina.

But we can take heart: 2015 was a pretty good year in a pretty bad century, so far.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, 21st Century, Bush-Cheney Administration | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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