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“If Cheney Wants A Conversation About Iran…”: He Needs To Appreciate The Role He Played In Creating This Mess

Even most Republicans will concede that the GOP campaign to derail the international nuclear agreement with Iran is going poorly, and barring any major developments, the diplomatic deal will move forward over the objections of far-right lawmakers.

But Politico reports that one die-hard critic still has something to say.

Dick Cheney will speak out against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran during a speech next month at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. […]

Cheney will speak on Sept. 8 – just a week ahead of the Sept. 17 deadline for Congress to vote on the deal’s authorization.

The White House hasn’t officially said anything in response, but I have to assume officials in the West Wing are delighted to see the failed former V.P. take the lead in condemning the agreement. It makes it that much easier to deliver a simple message to congressional Democrats: when it comes to national security in the Middle East, and the prospect of yet another war, do you want to partner with Dick Cheney or with President Obama?

But even putting all of the political wrangling aside, what the former vice president just doesn’t seem to appreciate is the role he played in creating the mess that the president is cleaning up.

Revisiting our discussion from several weeks ago, let’s not forget that Iran didn’t have a meaningful nuclear weapons program until Tehran developed one – during the Bush/Cheney administration. It was on Cheney’s watch that Iran’s total number of centrifuges grew from 164 to 8,000.

What kind of price did Iran pay for taking these provocative steps? Actually, Cheney didn’t do anything – he was busy watching his Iraq policy destabilize the entire region while allowing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to expand without any pushback from Cheney’s administration.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an aggressive hawk and no ally of Democrats, conceded not too long ago, “I think the Bush administration, they were a miserable failure when it came to controlling Iran’s nuclear ambition.”

I suppose it’s possible that Cheney has scheduled his AEI speech to deliver a public apology and acknowledge the ineptitude of his approach. But I have a hunch that isn’t what he has in mind.

About a year ago, Cheney appeared on a Sunday show and was asked about his stunning failures while in office. “If we spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago, we’re going to miss the threat that is growing and that we do face,” he replied.

In other words, the failed former V.P. can’t be bothered to defend his own record – probably because it’s indefensible. The fact remains, however, that Cheney stood by and watched as Iran’s nuclear program expanded, and it’s President Obama who didn’t just talk about addressing the problem; he’s actually doing it.

The less Cheney has to say on the subject, the better.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 24, 2015

August 25, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Be Very Afraid Of ‘King v. Burwell'”: It’s Whether Or Not The United States Has Essentially Become A Banana Republic

There was a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves.

–Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, 1726

The real question before the Supreme Court in the ballyhooed case of King v. Burwell isn’t merely the continuance of the mandated health insurance subsidies of “Obamacare.” It’s whether or not the United States has essentially become a banana republic — an oligarchy whose legal institutions exist to provide ceremonial cover for backroom political power plays.

Almost regardless of what you think of the Affordable Care Act, legalistic chicanery of the kind on display shouldn’t be rewarded. That King v. Burwell has reached the high court is bad enough. Should the Roberts Court hand down a 5-4 decision based upon a tendentious misreading of the statute, several things will happen: An estimated 8.2 million Americans will lose health insurance coverage, the U.S. health care system will be thrown into economic chaos, and a few thousand citizens will no doubt die.

To a certain kind of person styling himself “conservative,” this would be perfectly all right.  In an op-ed titled “End Obamacare, and People Could Die. That’s Okay,” one Michael R. Strain argues that higher death rates are “an acceptable price to pay for certain goals,” including “less government coercion and more individual liberty.”

Acceptable to Strain and his colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute, that is, a plutocrat-funded Washington think tank whose resident “scholars” are handsomely paid to mimic the values of 19th-century Russian aristocrats.

Along with the human casualties, the U.S. Supreme Court’s prestige as a fair arbiter would also be irrevocably damaged. As New York Times legal correspondent Linda Greenhouse argues, “The Court has permitted itself to be recruited into the front lines of a partisan war. Not only the Affordable Care Act but the Court itself is in peril as a result.”

And that would damage what’s left of American democracy.

During his 2005 confirmation hearings, Chief Justice Roberts likened himself to an umpire. His job would be to call balls and strikes, not to reinvent the rules of baseball. It was a very shrewd formulation, as most Americans prefer a non-partisan judiciary. “It is a very serious threat to the independence and integrity of the courts to politicize them,” Roberts has said repeatedly.

With the signal exception of Citizens United, a 5-4 decision invalidating campaign finance laws and pushing the nation in the direction of plutocracy, some observers do credit the Chief Justice with making an effort to move the Court away from overt partisanship. Almost two-thirds of recent Supreme Court rulings have been unanimous.

However, Roberts’ deciding vote legitimizing Obamacare’s insurance mandate infuriated many Republicans. They see in King v. Burwell an opportunity for the Chief Justice to redeem himself. All he needs to do is persuade a majority of the Justices, presumably including himself, that because the Affordable Care Act speaks of subsidies being available through a health insurance “exchange established by a state,” it means only, exactly, and literally that.

If your state—say, New York—set up and ran its own marketplace, then you’re eligible for Obamacare.

If not, you’re not.

No more health insurance subsidies for residents of Texas, Oklahoma and 32 other states that let the feds set up exchanges for them.

Never mind that the law specifically requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to “establish and operate such exchange[s] within the states.” Never mind that nobody anywhere understood the Affordable Care Act to have such a restrictive meaning when it was being debated, enacted and put into operation. Such an interpretation certainly never came up during the difficult period when the website labored to get up to speed.

Never mind too that time-worn Supreme Court precedents direct judges interpreting laws to consider not isolated snippets of language, but “the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole.” (The wording is from a 1997 opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas.)

For that matter, if anybody in Congress on either side thought the law meant what the plaintiff’s lawyers in King v. Burwell claim, why have we been having the political battle of the century about it? Why vote 56 times to repeal a law that only applies in 16 of the 50 states?

It’s an odd form of legalistic fundamentalism the justices must consider, the constitutional equivalent of a guy trying to beat a ticket for driving 95 mph in a school zone because a typo reads “ozone.”

The wonder is that the Court elected to hear the case at all after a three-judge appeals court in Richmond rejected it unanimously.

And the scary question is why?


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, March 4, 2015

March 5, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Those Lazy Jobless”: The Urge To Blame The Victims Of A Depressed Economy Has Proved Impervious To Logic And Evidence

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” Holy 47 percent, Batman!

It’s hardly the first time a prominent conservative has said something along these lines. Ever since a financial crisis plunged us into recession it has been a nonstop refrain on the right that the unemployed aren’t trying hard enough, that they are taking it easy thanks to generous unemployment benefits, which are constantly characterized as “paying people not to work.” And the urge to blame the victims of a depressed economy has proved impervious to logic and evidence.

But it’s still amazing — and revealing — to hear this line being repeated now. For the blame-the-victim crowd has gotten everything it wanted: Benefits, especially for the long-term unemployed, have been slashed or eliminated. So now we have rants against the bums on welfare when they aren’t bums — they never were — and there’s no welfare. Why?

First things first: I don’t know how many people realize just how successful the campaign against any kind of relief for those who can’t find jobs has been. But it’s a striking picture. The job market has improved lately, but there are still almost three million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. That’s nearly three times the pre-recession total. Yet extended benefits for the long-term unemployed have been eliminated — and in some states the duration of benefits has been slashed even further.

The result is that most of the unemployed have been cut off. Only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens.

Strange to say, this outbreak of anti-compassionate conservatism hasn’t produced a job surge. In fact, the whole proposition that cruelty is the key to prosperity hasn’t been faring too well lately. Last week Nathan Deal, the Republican governor of Georgia, complained that many states with Republican governors have seen a rise in unemployment and suggested that the feds were cooking the books. But maybe the right’s preferred policies don’t work?

That is, however, a topic for another column. My question for today is instead one of psychology and politics: Why is there so much animus against the unemployed, such a strong conviction that they’re getting away with something, at a time when they’re actually being treated with unprecedented harshness?

Now, as anyone who has studied British policy during the Irish famine knows, self-righteous cruelty toward the victims of disaster, especially when the disaster goes on for an extended period, is common in history. Still, Republicans haven’t always been like this. In the 1930s they denounced the New Deal and called for free-market solutions — but when Alf Landon accepted the 1936 presidential nomination, he also emphasized the “plain duty” of “caring for the unemployed until recovery is attained.” Can you imagine hearing anything similar from today’s G.O.P.?

Is it race? That’s always a hypothesis worth considering in American politics. It’s true that most of the unemployed are white, and they make up an even larger share of those receiving unemployment benefits. But conservatives may not know this, treating the unemployed as part of a vaguely defined, dark-skinned crowd of “takers.”

My guess, however, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not.

Whatever the explanation, Mr. Boehner was clearly saying what he and everyone around him really thinks, what they say to each other when they don’t expect others to hear. Some conservatives have been trying to reinvent their image, professing sympathy for the less fortunate. But what their party really believes is that if you’re poor or unemployed, it’s your own fault.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 22, 2014

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Economy, GOP, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Monster They Created”: Can Corporate America Break The Republican Radical Right?

Back in the early 1970s, corporate America got together and developed a plan of action to combat the takeover of America by what they saw as an unremittingly radical left. If we don’t act and get politically engaged, these corporate titans said, this country is going down the chute.

Forty years later, corporate America beholds the monster it created. And now, these same institutions need to step up and rein in an unremittingly radical right. Only they can stop this nonsense, and it will take an effort as concerted and well-organized as the one they undertook in the 70s.

Here’s what happened then. In the 1960s and early 70s, a good chunk of America’s corporate elite really did feel that the free-enterprise system was under threat. In 1971, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer in Richmond who would soon be nominated to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, to tell them how to save America. The result was the famous Powell memo, which urged the Chamber to start fighting back to protect the system before it was too late in the following arenas: on college campuses; in the media; in the courts; at stockholder and shareholder meetings; and in the political realm.

There’s been a lot of interesting debate over the years about how important the Powell memo really was. But whatever centrality one accords it, the fact is that it was right around then that conservatism really started to organize itself politically. The major think tanks got off the ground (Heritage in 1973), or, in other cases like the American Enterprise Institute, were transformed into something much more overtly political. Several media-monitoring outfits were started (Google the name Reed Irvine, if you weren’t around in those days). Groups were created to train young conservatives and fund right-wing campus newspapers. By 1980, they helped elect a president, feed him appointees and judicial nominees (the Federalist Society started in 1982), and create much of his policy agenda. Today, this organized right-wing infrastructure spends more than $300 million a year on politics.

But now, as we’re seeing, the corporatists’ biggest problem isn’t the left. It’s the right—the nativist and ideological right that no longer wants to listen to them. It was encouraging last week to see officials from the Chamber, the National Retail Federation, and other organizations vent their frustrations to the New York Times and vow that they are going to get involved in Republican primaries to try to defeat some crazies.

And it’s great to hear Tom Donohue, the head of the chamber, say things like these remarks, which he recently made on C-SPAN: “You’ve got to go into the primaries not just to affect this race or that but to send a message on who we are and what we believe. We want to get a better result for the American people and get people there who give the arguments a fair shake.” His ultimate goal, said Donohue, is a “more governable Republican Party.”

Hallelujah to that. But the Chamber and the others are going to have to put lots of money behind this. And they’re going to have to dig in for lengthy trench warfare. Can they reach, and energize, the half of the GOP electorate that isn’t driven by resentment? The half that’s conservative, which is fine, but not boiling over with rage? The half that would accept and embrace an immigration-reform bill and investments in infrastructure, as the Chamber does, even though Barack Obama wants them, too?

This is the biggest political issue of our time. Others are close—the corrupt hold of money on our system is admittedly a pretty close second. But this is the biggest one, because a reasonable GOP would make the country governable again. A critical mass of conservative compromisers, with maybe a few genuinely moderate Republicans thrown in, would end this dysfunction more quickly than anything else.

And the only way for that to happen is for Republican officeholders to fear that segment of the GOP electorate more than they fear the radical segment. That’s going to take a long time and lot of money and organization. But we do know from polls that those Republican voters exist. They’re just intimidated right now.

But to lead this fight, the Chamber needs to see it in just the historical terms I’ve laid out. It’s 1971 all over again. Who is the Lewis Powell who will save corporate America from the rage machine it helped create?


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 14, 2013

October 15, 2013 Posted by | Big Business, Corporations, U.S. Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bigoted Heritage”: At Right-Wing Think Tanks, Racism As Usual

The exposure of a Heritage Foundation research analyst as a proponent of racist theories reopens a troubling intellectual history that the right-wing think tank and its Republican allies would rather not discuss. This fresh embarrassment poses yet another obstacle for Republican leaders who are supposedly seeking to erase their party’s polarizing reputation and to connect with non-white voters.

Now led by former South Carolina Republican senator Jim DeMint, the team at Heritage – a lavishly funded Washington outfit long known for propagandistic research studies – certainly didn’t advance the Republican outreach effort last week. With a thinly sourced new study that claimed immigration reform would bankrupt the country with trillions of dollars in additional social welfare costs, they undermined Heritage’s fragile integrity and offended the Latino voting bloc.

However flimsy, the report certainly reflected a deep split within Republican ranks over immigration policy. What made matters far worse was the subsequent revelation in The Washington Post that Jason Richwine, the study’s co-author, had asserted in his 2009 Harvard doctoral dissertation that Latino immigrants are not only less intelligent than America’s “white native population,” but that their descendants can be expected to suffer from “low average IQ” – a condition he described as “effectively permanent.”

Following the Post article on Richwine’s dissertation, Yahoo News reported that he has posted inflammatory articles on a “white nationalist” website, Alternative Right, comparing crime rates among Hispanics, whites, and blacks. “The reality of Hispanic crime,” he concludes, “should be one of the many factors we consider when setting immigration policy.”

Seeking to control the damage from these revelations, Heritage quickly released a statement disowning Richwine’s racial theories. “This is not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation,” said Heritage official Mike Gonzalez in a statement. “Nor do the findings affect the conclusions of our study on the cost of amnesty to the U.S. taxpayer.”

But the true history of the Heritage Foundation – and of the American Enterprise Institute, the other major think tank where Richwine enjoyed a sinecure – reflects the ugly racial bias that has long disfigured the right in this country.

Scandalous links between the racist far right and allegedly respectable conservative institutions date back to Heritage’s earliest days in the 1970s, when the editorial board of Policy Review, its monthly publication, featured the notorious racial theorist Roger Pearson. Shortly after the Post reported Pearson’s role at Heritage, the think tank dumped him. But in the decades that followed, Heritage still lionized racially divisive politicians like Jesse Helms, the late Republican senator from North Carolina, awarding him its “highest honor” in 2002 and depicting him as an “indispensable patriot” when he died in 2008.

Over at the American Enterprise Institute, where Richwine’s anti-Hispanic essay still adorns its website, racist “scholarship” is likewise encouraged and disseminated. Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, an infamous work of pseudo-science that argues the genetic inferiority of blacks and Latinos, has been based at AEI for more than 20 years. Dinesh D’Souza held a fellowship there when he wrote The End of Racism, a book-length screed urging the repeal of basic civil rights statutes and endorsing racial discrimination by businesses, landlords, and private citizens. While D’Souza’s work provoked the resignations from AEI of black conservatives Robert Woodson and Glenn Loury, he eventually moved on to yet another conservative think tank, the Hoover Institution.

These dubious organizations — which continue to provide the intellectual ballast for the Republican Party – have emitted a spreading cesspool of academic and political racism for decades. When I published Big Lies in 2003, I examined how the arguments of Murray and D’Souza had defined a “mainstream conservative position on race” that promoted bigotry and undermined civil rights. Ten years on, despite all the talk of a kinder, gentler GOP, nothing has really changed.


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, May 10, 2013

May 11, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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