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“No Longer May Liberty Be Denied”: Liberals Just Had An Amazing Week At The Supreme Court

The conservative Roberts Supreme Court just gave American liberals the most joyous judicial week they could have asked for.

In a span of just two days, the rightward-leaning court all but settled Obamacare as the law of the land; reaffirmed key components of housing discrimination law meant to protect minorities; and granted gay Americans the right to get married in any state they wish.

Even Texas.

The string of progressive victories left officials hugging and high-fiving at the White House, gay couples crying tears of joy on the courthouse steps, and hardline conservatives wondering on Twitter whether their erstwhile judicial heroes were now traitors.

To recap:

In King v. Burwell, decided Thursday, the court ruled 6-3 to reject a lawsuit brought by conservatives that would have stripped Obamacare subsidies from people who purchased their health coverage on the federal exchanges. A ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor threatened to unravel the system created by the Affordable Care Act, potentially causing millions to lose their health care coverage and wreaking havoc on state insurance markets.

The ruling marked the second time in three years the court had rejected an existential threat to Obamacare. As in the previous case, 2012’s NFIB v. Sebelius, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberal wing of the court, this time along with Justice Anthony Kennedy, to keep the president’s signature law intact. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in a typically scathing dissent, lambasted the majority’s reasoning as “interpretive jiggery-pokery” and “pure applesauce.”

In Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities, also decided Thursday, the court handed a victory to civil rights groups with a 5-4 decision that upheld so-called disparate impact claims. Joined by Kennedy, who often plays the swing vote, the liberal justices ruled that someone suing under fair housing law doesn’t need to prove that a developer or the government knowingly discriminated — only that the policy had a disparate impact, something that can often be demonstrated with statistics.

Had the conservative wing prevailed, plaintiffs bringing claims would have had the far more difficult task of proving intentional discrimination, which typically isn’t documented by those who practice it. Civil rights groups so feared an unfavorable ruling in such a case that the Obama administration sought to keep the question of disparate impact away from the Roberts court.

Finally, in Obergefell v. Hodges, issued Friday, the justices ruled 5-4 to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, marking a triumph for the gay rights movement decades in the making. The liberal justices, who were joined again by Kennedy, determined that the Constitution grants anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, the right to marry, effectively invalidating the bans against same-sex unions that still exist in 13 states. “No longer may this liberty be denied,” Kennedy wrote in his highly quotable decision for the majority.

Scalia penned another memorably incredulous dissent, opening by saying he chose to write separately from Roberts in order to “call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy.” Insisting his concern was not the merit or lack thereof of gay marriage, he wrote that the majority’s “pretentious” and “egotistic” opinion lacked “even a thin veneer of law” and was chock full of “mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages.” “[W]hat really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch,” he seethed.

The good news for liberals wasn’t confined to just the high-profile cases. In Friday’s Johnson v. United States decision, which was overshadowed by the Obergefell case, the court ruled 8-1 that a section of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which is used to extend prison sentences, is “unconstitutionally vague.” The ruling may compel Congress to address the language of the law as thousands of prisoners seek to have their sentences reduced.

The majority opinion in the Johnson case was written by Scalia, giving progressive court watchers another reason to celebrate. As ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser explains, the Johnson opinion makes Scalia one of just two justices who’ve penned as many as eight majority opinions this term. If tradition is any indication, then Scalia probably won’t be writing another majority opinion before the court breaks, likely leaving the duty to one of his less conservative colleagues.

 

By: Dave Jamieson, The Blog, The Huffington Post, June 26, 2015

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Fair Housing Act, Johnson v United States, Obergefell v Hodges, Texas Dept of Housing v Inclusive Communities | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What We’ve Paid For War In Afghanistan And Iraq”: Apparently, ‘Mission Accomplished’ Means ‘Mission Never-Ending’

War is hell.

Major General Harold Greene could certainly tell you all about that — but, sadly, he’s dead. On August 5, General Greene became the highest-ranking American soldier to die in our unfathomable, 13-year war in Afghanistan, joining 2,339 other servicemembers who’ve paid the ultimate price for being sent by warmongering politicians into that fight for… well, for what?

No president or congressional leader has ever offered a coherent or credible answer, much less a compelling one, for why our troops have been made to sacrifice so much for so little. Indeed, how bitterly ironic that the general was not killed by the Taliban or al Qaeda, whom we’re supposedly fighting, but by one of the Afghan government’s own soldiers, whom we’re supposedly helping.

Another blunt reminder of the hellish absurdity of our political leaders’ quick-draw approach to war can be seen in a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. Military budget analysts in this non-partisan congressional agency keep track of how much the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are costing us taxpayers. The tally has now topped a trillion dollars — and that amount doesn’t count the cost of the the future health care bill for veterans or the enormous interest payments that’ll be made on that debt, which will multiply the trillion-dollar outlay three- or fourfold.

And the meter is still running. The Pentagon, White House, and Congress intend to keep a contingent of soldiers and trainers in both countries for the foreseeable future, plus provide billions more of our tax dollars to both countries for building their infrastructure and education systems. Meanwhile, a trillion dollars and so many American lives later, Iraq is in chaos and falling apart, and Afghanistan is mired in corruption and facing a Taliban takeover.

And — ready or not — here we go again. Our military has been hurled back into the chaos of Iraq. Apparently, “Mission Accomplished” is “Mission Never-Ending.”

We’re told that, for now, America will provide only jet fighters, drones, weaponry, humanitarian airdrops, military advice, training — and, of course, our money — to the cause of making this unworkable country work. At least President Obama has put his foot down and sensibly pledged that there will be no American “boots on the ground.”

However, in the politics of Iraq, don’t count on “sensible” surviving the chaos. The Shia-Sunni-Kurdish divide still rages on there, now exacerbated by the theocratic Islamic State’s sudden sadistic invasion. Plus, Iraq’s former prime minister (a corrupt autocrat whom our foreign policy geniuses installed during the disastrous Bush-Cheney reign of errors) was so detested by practically everyone that the parliament dumped him. However, he added slapstick to Iraq’s chaos by desperately trying to cling to power, finally having to be almost physically hauled away.

But the least sensible factor affecting Iraq is our own red-faced, militaristic, warmongering members of Congress, demanding that we must go to war. For example, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham is filled with bloodlust over the ferocious rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, so he says we have no choice but to return there to destroy the fanatics.

Of course, by “we,” congressional warriors like Lindsey don’t mean them, their loved ones, or anyone else they actually know.

Since the end of World War II, practically every American president, backed by Congress, has sent our troops to die in wars of lies and political flimflam. From Vietnam to Grenada to Iraq, our soldiers have been in senseless wars nearly non-stop for 70 years. It’s time to tell the perennial political sword-rattlers that they should wield the swords themselves. War is hell…and this one is stupid.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, August 20, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Awful Brutality Of War”: On Iraq, Leaders Should Listen To Ghosts Of Dead Soldiers

Iraq is not my war. But I spent 14 months in Afghanistan, and am one of the only combat veterans known by my circle of DC friends. I receive many questions of what I think about ISIS steamrolling their way towards Baghdad.

The next time one of them raises the prospect of America involving itself in a third conflict in Iraq, I’m going to tell them about Dan Whitten.

Last week, I was headed to my air-conditioned office building in downtown Washington in the already scalding 9am heat. The humidity was so thick I practically waded through it.

Just before my sweat forced me into a foul mood, I spotted him in the crosswalk. I hadn’t seen Captain Daniel Whitten since we were in Afghanistan in 2008. He had been an officer in my company, but got called up to be an aide to one of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Generals. We weren’t close, but we were friendly. We shared a cigar together at Musa Qala. Just before the deployment, we ran into each other at a Fayetteville CarMax, each there with our wife, trying to sell the vehicles we wouldn’t need for the next fifteen months. We spent a couple hours talking baseball, and discussing a mutual friend from West Point who had washed out and now worked as an enlisted man in the same office I did.

The corners of my mouth lifted as I prepared to ask Cpt. Whitten—whom I could now just call “Dan”—what he was doing in a suit in DC, still wearing a pair of sporty Oakleys like he had back then.

Then I remembered it couldn’t be Dan Whitten. Because Dan Whitten is dead. He was killed by an IED when he came back to our battalion to take a company command for the next deployment. I passed shoulders with this man who looked like Dan and went on my way.

I’ve had a handful of these moments since 2008. I’ve seen Drak and Frazier and Cleaver at various times in different parts of the country. No matter the distance between me and my time in Afghanistan, their ghosts drag me back.

Washington, D.C., is more haunted than most places. When I first moved inside the Beltway to a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington that I shared with my daughter, my bus took me by Arlington National Cemetery every morning. If I strained, I could see section 60, where Charlie and Slip and Frazier rest.

And there are the monuments to Korea, Vietnam, and World War II. From in front of the Capitol building that was burnt by British troops in 1812, General Grant gazes at General Washington, and beyond him the Commander-in-Chief of the War of the Rebellion. Admiral Farragut looks over the square where my bus arrives each morning. The African-American Civil War veterans keep watch on the street where I drink. More heroes and remembrances and former installations dot the District than I know.

For all those ghosts that haunt This Town, the city that sends American men and women into harm’s way never seems to heed—forget remember—their warnings. We cast the specters in bronze and put their spirits on our lapels and car bumpers. We neglect to consider why they haunt us in the first place. These walls and figures and marble temples are placed for the deliberate purpose of remembering the awful brutality of war. How many tourists or even residents can point to Peace Circle on a map? Or can tell you what FDR says about war in his monument (he hates it)? Or know that the MLK, Jr., monument engraves opposition to war in stone?

Every day, those of us who live and work here walk by these ghosts without a second thought. We come home and turn on our televisions and watch other (usually) men who work in This Town argue over whether we’re leaving a war too fast, or if the third time would be a charm for Iraq. If we paused for a moment and listened to our ghosts, even those of the just wars, they would tell us that war is horrible, and that no matter how righteous the justification many will die needlessly. And yet, men and women who now wear the same uniform I did and took the same oath have pledged to go anywhere in the world in the name of their county, and are willing to die for it. They pledged, as Dan and Charlie and Drak and Slip and Frazier did, to do this without asking whether such a sacrifice would be worth it.

The least we can do, as a nation, is ask that question for them.

 

By: Richard Allen Smith, a former Army sergeant. He served five years on active duty, including a deployment to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division from February of 2007 to April of 2008; Time, June 20, 2014

 

June 21, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Legend In His Own Mind”: McCain Was Just As Wrong About Afghanistan And Pakistan

The only thing worse than a policymaker who’s nearly always wrong is a misguided policymaker who falsely believes he’s always right. Take Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, reflecting on the credibility he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) still pretend to enjoy.

McCain said that Paul, Rubio and Cruz all come to him for foreign policy advice and that he’s not surprised that Republicans still lean on him for his views. McCain said his advice is still popular among Republicans because lawmakers are looking to be led by “who’s highly regarded” – and that means the two amigos.

“We have had long experience and haven’t been wrong,” McCain said.

I honestly had every intention of avoiding McCain content for a while, but seeing the Arizona Republican boast about his track record and credibility is a bit too much to take.

Two weeks ago, for example, McCain complained about the prisoner swap that freed an American POW despite having already endorsed the exact same plan. After getting caught, McCain falsely accused his critics of “lying.” He then suggested the detainees were “responsible for 9/11,” which didn’t make any sense.

Soon after, the senator told a national television audience, “We had literally no casualties there in Iraq during the last period after the surge was over.” That’s ridiculously untrue.

McCain then argued that militants holding prisoners don’t kill Americans, followed by the senator leaving policy briefings before they’re done so he can repeat false talking points for the cameras.

McCain then demanded that the suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack in Benghazi be brought to Guantanamo Bay, telling reporters, “It’s where we put terrorists when we apprehend them.” In reality, (a) that’s not even close to being true; (b) sending Abu Khattala to the detention facility probably wouldn’t be legal, and (c) McCain doesn’t seem to remember his own position, which is that the Guantanamo prison be closed.

McCain is convinced he hasn’t “been wrong”? These are just the more notable mistakes from the last two weeks.

The senator’s track record is all the more appalling when considered in its entirety. As Rachel noted on the show a couple of days ago, following another round of McCain interviews on U.S. policy in Iraq, “Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq, in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that. He was wrong about Saddam having weapons. He was wrong about how long the war would take. He was wrong about how big the war would be. He famously said that as far as he was concerned, he thought that maybe Saddam sent the anthrax attacks. John McCain was wrong about whether there might ever be any trouble between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq.”

What’s more, following up on a post from last week, our pals at “All in with Chris Hayes” did a nice job last night pulling together some of the evidence documenting how wrong McCain has been about U.S. policy in Iraq.

Of course, this is a small sampling. I’m also reminded of this Frank Rich piece from 2009.

[McCain] made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.

He takes no responsibility for any of this.

Let’s also not forget this Maddow Show segment from November 2012, in which Rachel explained, “Even if you’re just in Congress, even if you’re just the opposition, you need to know what you’re talking about. You need to have a basic level of competence. And doing what John McCain says is not a reasonable substitution for basic competence on this subject. Pick somebody else.”

Remember, there are two main angles here. The first is that McCain’s track record on his signature issue is genuinely atrocious. But the second is that McCain remains absolutely convinced of his own self-righteous credibility. When he boasts that he and his closest ally “haven’t been wrong,” this isn’t the punchline to a ridiculous joke; he actually means it.

Dana Milbank asked this morning whether anyone is still listening to McCain. It’s tempting to also ask why anyone should.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 19, 2014

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Iraq War, John McCain | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Wars Not Fought”: The Doors Into Hell Are Many, The Exits However Are Fewer

We owe Mother Jones, the magazine, a public service nod for a graphic tour last year of all the countries that John McCain has wanted to attack. Spanning the globe, the fist-first senator has called for violent regime change in more than half a dozen nations, ranging from all-out ground invasions to airstrikes to arming sides in endless sectarian conflicts.

The map of McCain’s wars is worth considering as a what-if had the would-be vice president Sarah Palin and her running mate in 2008 prevailed. McCain continues to play quick-draw commander in chief to this day. He said he’d send troops into Nigeria “in a New York minute,” to rescue the girls kidnapped by Islamic terrorists, even without permission of the sovereign country. And just after President Obama’s speech Wednesday at West Point, McCain lamented that America’s young men and women were not still in the Iraqi city of Falluja.

Yes, Falluja — where tribal militias loyal to one warped religious tenet or another continue to slaughter each other with abandon. It’s a hard truth for a country as prideful as the United States to accept, but most Americans have now concluded that the Iraq War was a catastrophic mistake. Obama, at least, has tried to learn something from it.

Al Qaeda was never in Falluja before the American invasion. They have a stronghold in Falluja now, for which McCain blames the withdrawal of United States troops. Think about that: it’s not our fault because we opened the doors to the factions of hell; it’s our fault because we withdrew from hell.

As Obama tries to pivot from foreign policy by bumper sticker, McCain and an intellectually bankrupt clutch of neocons are trying to present themselves as the alternative. Dick Cheney, the warrior with five draft deferments, is in this diminishing camp, calling Obama “certainly the weakest” president in his lifetime. But both McCain and Cheney are outliers, blustery relics with little backing in either party. Only seven percent of Americans expressed support for even considering a military option after Russia forced Crimea into its fold. That’s a sea change in sentiment from 2001, or even 2008.

The nation’s future military leaders embody this shift. The biggest response from the cadets at West Point came when Obama said, “you are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.” They cheered.

But all of that is not to let Obama off the hook. His big foreign policy speech was flat and passionless, with no central vision. The fault may lie with this particular moment in world history. The Cold War was easy to frame. The War on Terror was as well, at least at first. Now, things are more muddled. How do we help the newly elected government of Ukraine? If we aggressively arm one side in Syria, what happens if they turn out to be religious extremists who want to put women back in the 9th century?

Obama didn’t specifically say so, but the guiding principle for this era of nuance and shadows may be no more complex than this: Stay out of wars of unintended consequence.

“Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint,” said Obama, “but from our willingness to rush into military adventure — without thinking through the consequences; without building international support and legitimacy for our action, or leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required. Tough talk draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.”

Is that weakness, or wisdom? Well, neither. But it’s a realistic reaction to the hard fact that the last 50 years have produced the three longest wars in American history. And it’s a pitch-perfect reflection of where most Americans are today.

Afghanistan was supposed to be a swift move to crush a regime that allowed terrorists to flourish — not 13 years, and counting, of nation-building. Vietnam was billed as a blow for freedom against global communism — not a 10-year military muddle in a civil war posing no threat to the United States. Iraq was going to be clean and quick — we’ll be greeted as liberators! — not eight years in one of the most ghastly places on earth, at a cost of more than $2 trillion and a loss of at least 190,000 lives on all sides.

Obama’s foreign policy is a lot like his economic policy. Give him credit for preventing something awful from happening. The financial collapse could have been truly catastrophic, save for the action the president and the Federal Reserve took in the first year following the meltdown. For that, history will be kind. The wars not fought by Obama are the alternative to John McCain’s map. For that, the verdict of the ages is less certain. After 50 years, what a war-weary nation does know is this: the doors into hell are many; the exits, fewer.

 

By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, May 29, 2014

May 30, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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