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“Straying From The Partisan Script”: What James Comey And John Roberts Have In Common

In conservative circles, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts used to be a respected figure, held in high regard. Roberts enjoyed a lengthy record as a center-right jurist, and when then-President George W. Bush nominated him to the high court, Republicans everywhere were delighted.

Roberts did not, however, stay in the right’s good graces. After the chief justice voted to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act – twice – quite a few conservatives, and even some Republican presidential candidates, turned on Roberts, questioning his judgment, intellect, and integrity.

Right about now, I suspect FBI Director James Comey can relate to how Roberts must feel about his former admirers abruptly changing their opinions.

Comey, in case anyone’s forgotten, is a lifelong Republican who served as a top official in the Bush/Cheney Justice Department. He cut his teeth as a public-sector attorney in the 1990s, when Comey signed on “as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee,” where he went after, of all people, Hillary Clinton.

I’m not aware of anyone on the right questioning Comey’s abilities or professionalism ahead of yesterday’s announcement in the email matter. On the contrary, Republicans gave Comey a vote of confidence as recently as June. Politico published this report one month ago today:

Should the FBI not recommend an indictment of Hillary Clinton following its investigation of the setup of her private email server, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Monday said he and his Republican colleagues would “probably” accept the outcome.

“Oh, probably, because we do believe in [FBI Director] James Comey,” the Utah Republican said during an appearance on Fox News’ “Outnumbered.” “I do think that in all of the government, he is a man of integrity and honesty.”

Yesterday, however, Chaffetz said the exact opposite, and accused Comey of failing to carry out his duties. Other GOP members of Congress made related arguments, while some Republican pundits adopted an even harsher posture.

The pattern matters. John Roberts was an excellent justice, Republicans said, right up until he strayed from the partisan script. Trey Gowdy was the perfect person to lead the GOP’s Benghazi Committee, they said, right up until he failed to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And Jim Comey was a fine FBI director, right up until he left his party dejected by exercising independent judgment.

In reality, Roberts, Gowdy, and Comey aren’t guilty of corruption or partisan betrayals – their “failures” exist solely in the minds of lazy ideologues. What their Republican critics don’t seem to appreciate is that their ostensible allies asked them to go too far, ignore their responsibilities, abuse an otherwise legitimate process, and look out for the “team,” whether the facts warranted it or not.

Comey didn’t play along with a partisan game, and his reward is a round of condemnations from the same people who, up until 24 hours ago, sang their praises.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 6, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | James Comey, John Roberts, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Impressed By His Efficiency”: For His Next Trick, Trump Offers Praise For Saddam Hussein

Donald Trump’s views on Iraq have long been at odds with Republican Party orthodoxy. The GOP candidate, for example, has said more than once that he believes the Bush/Cheney administration “lied” about weapons of mass destruction. Trump also likes to say he opposed the U.S. invasion from the start – a claim that’s patently false.

But the presumptive 2016 Republican nominee also appears to be the only politician in America who’s willing to publicly praise Saddam Hussein.

Donald Trump praised former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein Tuesday night, allowing that he was a “really bad guy” but had redeeming qualities when it came to his handling of terrorists.

Trump lauded the former U.S. adversary for how “well” he killed terrorists, recalling that he “didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were terrorists, over.”

Oh. So in Trump’s mind, Hussein may have been “bad,” but Trump is nevertheless impressed by the efficiency with which the Butcher of Baghdad massacred people without regard for due process.

Let’s also note that the Republican’s praise is at odds with reality. As the New York Timesreport noted, Trump’s recollections of Saddam Hussein thwarting terrorists “are not grounded in fact. While Mr. Hussein’s interests were not aligned with jihadists … Iraq was listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department before the 2003 invasion. In the 1980s, Mr. Hussein fired scud missiles at Israel and used chemical weapons on tens of thousands of Iraqis.”

If Trump’s admiration for Saddam Hussein’s policies seems familiar, it’s because last night wasn’t the first time the GOP candidate praised the Iraqi dictator, though as defenses go, I’m not sure it helps his case to say, “Donald Trump keeps expressing admiration for Hussein.”

But as remarkable as it is to have an American presidential candidate publicly complimenting Saddam Hussein over and over again, there’s also the broader pattern of Trump praising authoritarian regimes.

I’m reminded of something Hillary Clinton said in a speech last month:

“I have to say, I don’t understand Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America. He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength. He said, ‘You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit’ for taking over North Korea – something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie. And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A.

“Now, I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.”

I take Clinton’s point, but perhaps it’s best not to leave this to the psychiatrists. Rather, it may be worthwhile for all of us – voters, journalists, officials in the political arena – to come to terms with Donald J. Trump and his frequent admiration for authoritarian regimes.

As of last night, it seemed some conservatives weren’t altogether pleased with the GOP candidate’s judgment. John Podhoretz, for example, responded to Trump’s praise of Hussein by saying the presumptive 2016 nominee is “f—ing insane,” while Amanda Carpenter, a former aide to Ted Cruz, added, Seriously. “How do you screw up messaging Hillary’s ‘extreme carelessness’ by praising Saddam freaking Hussein”?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 6, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Dictators, Donald Trump, Saddam Hussein | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Too Much Capital In Too Few Hands”: Populist Backlash Will Keep Increasing As Inequality Continues To Rise

Listen to a typical center-left Democrat, and you’ll hear rosy things about the economy. GDP growth is solid, unemployment is low, and even wages are starting to rise. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party generally will be touting these achievements even as they focus on issues of structural racism and sexism while offering government support in areas like childcare.

But there’s a big problem: overall, inequality is still rising at an astonishing rate to unprecedented levels:

Financial inequality became even wider in the United States last year, with average income for the top 1% of households surging 7.7% to $1.36 million.

Income for the richest sliver rose twice as fast as it did for the remaining 99% of households, according to an updated analysis of tax data by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s true that the 99% is doing better than it has since the 1990s, but the gains are relatively modest. Furthermore, basic cost of living has gone way up, particularly in the areas of tuition and housing. Housing in particular is a major problem driven by inequality itself: with accumulation of capital comes the need for places to store it, and real estate is a popular piggybank for wealthy investors. This in turn drives up the cost of housing, making it more difficult to afford housing in the urban areas where most jobs are located.

The bigger problem is that America already tried the 1990s approach to prosperity, assuming that rising inequality isn’t a problem as long as everyone is doing OK. What does it matter if the rich are getting much much richer, if the fortunes of the poor and the middle class are also improving even if at a slower rate?

The answer is that it’s unsustainable in both the short and long term. Over the long term high rates of inequality shrink the middle class and increase political instability. In the short term, too much capital in too few hands leads to speculative bubbles, that in turn lead to big recessions. Recessions tend to wipe out the wealth of the middle class in a much more devastating way than that of the wealthy who have more ways to protect their money. More importantly, the wealthy recover their position much more quickly as asset values balloon back, but the jobs that sustain the middle class and the poor return more slowly–often at permanently lower wage levels when adjusted for inflation.

Automation and globalization are likely to inexorably drive the trend toward rampant inequality, exacerbated by tax policy designed to protect the wealthy and overgrown financial sector. Merely tackling structural racist and sexist inequalities will do good in their own ways for women and minorities, but they will do little to address the overall problem. Targeted government programs to help citizens with childcare and other needs will help somewhat but won’t do much to fix what’s fundamentally wrong.

Only much more aggressive policies that give workers a greater say in how companies are run to “pre-distribute” wealth, as well as much more progressive graduated tax policies that distribute uneven gains more equitably, will ultimately tilt the balance back toward the middle class where it belongs. Until then, expect to see increasingly virulent strains of populist backlash from both the right and the left until something changes. Incrementalism may be all that is possible politically, but it’s not an answer for the problems that beset us and give rise to anxious backlash. As long as inequality rises, Donald Trump, Brexit and ISIS will be just the beginning of the world’s back-to-basics nativist woes.

People don’t just want the 99% to do better. As the 1% continues to outpace everyone else, a great many people in America and the world actively want the 1% to do worse. And it’s hard to blame them for that sentiment.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 4, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Middle East, Populism, The 1% | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Acts Of Journalistic Malpractice”: Email Servers Are Just The Latest Manufactured Scandal

You read it here first: “Fearless prediction,” this column began last April 6:  “No legalistic deus ex machina will descend to save the nation from the dread specter of President Hillary Rodham Clinton…no Kenneth Starr-style ‘independent’ prosecutor, no criminal indictment over her ‘damn emails,’ no how, no way.

“Ain’t gonna happen…

“Those impassioned Trump supporters holding ‘Hillary for Prison’ signs are sure to be disappointed. Again. Played for suckers by a scandal-mongering news media that declared open season on Clinton 25 years ago. And haven’t laid a glove on her yet.”

If they wanted to prevent Hillary from taking the oath of office next January, I wrote, voters were “going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: defeat her at the polls.”

As of this writing, that’s not looking too likely either. Minutes before the news broke that FBI Director James B. Comey announced that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges against Secretary Clinton, I’d made an observation to a Republican friend on Facebook regarding his expressed wish to see her jailed.

“As a personal matter,” I wrote, “you wouldn’t trust Trump to walk your dog.” After Comey’s announcement, he groused that Hillary had friends in high places, but didn’t dispute my characterization of Trump. Although we disagree politically, I’d trust my friend with anything requiring honesty and steadfastness—dog-walking, cow-feeding, anything at all.

I see Trump, I keep my hand on my wallet. Seen that bizarre interview on Lives of the Rich and Famous where Trump speculates about the eventual size of his infant daughter’s breasts?

No? Then read on USA Today about the thousands of contractors—carpenters, plumbers, electricians–Trump’s stiffed on construction jobs. You do the work, he doesn’t pay. Even his own lawyers sometimes.

The man’s been sued 3500 times. Think he gives a damn about you?

So anyway, last week saw the collapse of not one, but two ballyhooed Hillary Clinton investigations. Even after two years, $7 million and 800-odd pages, Rep. Trey Gowdy’s celebrated Benghazi committee—the eighth of its kind—failed to come up with hurtful new evidence against Secretary Clinton in the tragic events in Libya on September 11, 2012.

But then that wasn’t necessarily the point.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee,” GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy boasted last September. “What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

So the committee folds its cards, Bill Clinton does his happy Labrador retriever act on Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s airplane, and The Washington Post says we’re nevertheless back to Square One: “Can Hillary Clinton Overcome Her Trust Problem?” reporter Anne Gearan asks.

Clinton herself acknowledges that voters don’t see her as Miss Congeniality. She says she’s working hard to overcome that impression, but acknowledges it’s an uphill struggle.

“You know, you hear 25 years’ worth of wild accusations, anyone could start to wonder…Political opponents and conspiracy theorists have accused me of every crime in the book. None of it’s true, never has been, but it also never goes away,” Clinton told the Post.

“And it certainly is true that I’ve made mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t,” Clinton continued. “So I understand that people have questions.”

Indeed many of those “questions” about Hillary’s dishonesty originated in acts of journalistic malpractice so crude that their authors would have been shamed out of the profession—if the profession had any shame at the Washington pundit level.

Back in December 1995, ABC’s Nightline broadcast a doctored video clip that made Hillary appear to be lying about representing a Whitewater savings and loan. In reality, she’d explained her role as billing attorney on the account. No wonder “the White House was so worried about what was in Vince Foster’s office when he killed himself,” Jeff Greenfield observed, an insinuation as ugly as it was false.

Her imminent indictment was widely predicted.

A few months later, financial journalist James B. Stewart appeared on the same program, promoting his farcically inaccurate book “Blood Sport.” (He’d failed to read the Treasury Department’s “Pillsbury Report” and taken soon-to-be-convicted Jim McDougal’s word for everything.) Stewart gravely produced a loan application he alleged that Hillary had falsified, a federal crime, he said.

Joe Conason noticed something at the bottom of the page: “(BOTH SIDES OF THIS DOCUMENT MUST BE COMPLETED.)” Sure enough, Stewart had neglected to examine page two of a two page application.

Oops, hold the handcuffs and the orange jumpsuit.

If you think Stewart’s career suffered, you must not read the New York Times or the New Yorker.

Anyway, nothing’s really changed. Paradoxically, the collapse of one ballyhooed Clinton “scandal” after another appears to have hurt her. Few follow the details. But people suspect that she must be especially cunning and slippery to keep getting away with it, the bitch.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 5, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Conspiracy Theories, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Politically Inconvenient Truths”: Gingrich Shows How Far He’ll Go To Be Vice President

One month ago today, Newt Gingrich was asked to comment on Donald Trump’s racist remarks about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and the former House Speaker was surprisingly candid. “This is one of the worst mistakes Trump has made,” Gingrich said, adding that the presidential hopeful’s comments were “inexcusable.”

A few days later, however, the Georgia Republican remembered that he might be a top contender to become Trump’s running mate – which led Gingrich to walk back everything he’d just said. The former Speaker told CNN that Trump is “learning very, very fast” and taking the necessary steps “to win the presidency.”

What about Trump’s “inexcusable” mistake? “Any effort to take one or two phrases out of the 90-minute dialogue and say, ‘Gee, Gingrich was anti-Trump,’ is just nonsense,” he said.

Late last week, as Politico noted, we saw a related shift.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, under consideration as Donald Trump’s running mate, is dropping his decades-long support of free trade deals and picking up Trump’s strongly protectionist position.

“I basically agree with Trump’s speech on trade,” Gingrich said in an email to POLITICO on Friday.

Gingrich wasn’t just a passive proponent of modern trade agreements; he championed many of the trade deals Trump is now running against. Trump, for example, has repeatedly condemned NAFTA, which Gingrich not only voted, he also literally stood alongside then-President Bill Clinton when it was signed into law.

 Slate’s Josh Voorhees added that Gingrich continued to voice support for trade agreements after he was driven from Congress, including having been “a vocal cheerleader of permanent trade relations with China.”

That is, until Gingrich decided he had a shot at the VP slot, at which point he discovered he “basically agrees” with the presidential candidate he’s eager to impress.

So, here’s my question: if the vice presidential nomination goes to someone else, will Gingrich go back to his previous beliefs or stick with these politically convenient new ones?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Vice-President Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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