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“The GOP Candidates Are Pledging To Undo The Iran Nuclear Deal; Don’t Buy It”: Get’s Us Nothing, And Potentially Costs Us A Great Deal

Republicans have spent much of the last six years shaking their fists in impotent protest against the things that Barack Obama has done. That’s the way it is when you’re out of power: There are only so many tools at your disposal to undo what the president does, even if you control Congress. This dynamic also explains some of the restiveness in the Republican electorate, since their leaders have been telling them of all the ways they’ll fight Obama (like repealing the Affordable Care Act), only to be stifled at every turn.

And now it looks like they’re going to fail to stop the deal the United States and five other world powers negotiated with Iran to restrain its nuclear program. Since the agreement isn’t a treaty, it doesn’t require ratification; instead, Congress can try to pass a resolution to stop it, which President Obama would veto. A veto override would require two-thirds of the members of both chambers of Congress, and the deal’s opponents aren’t going to get that.

While there are still a few Democratic senators who have not made their positions known, the last few days have seen one after another come out in favor of the deal (with the exception of New Jersey’s Bob Menendez, to no one’s surprise). Republicans need 13 senators to join them in opposition to the deal, and so far they have only two. As of this writing, there are 13 Democrats who have yet to announce their position; unless 11 of them come out in opposition — which seems all but impossible — the deal will have enough supporters to stop a veto override. Furthermore, such an override would probably fail in the House anyway.

So what will happen then? When all the votes are cast and the deal’s critics come up short, the Republicans running for president will rush to the microphones to repeat what they’ve already said: that this is the worst deal in diplomatic history, that Barack Obama is Neville Chamberlain, that Israel is all but already consumed in a fiery nuclear blast, etc.

If there’s been any disagreement between the candidates, it’s only in how fast they want to tear up the deal. For instance, Scott Walker says he’d do it on “day one” of his presidency, and even suggested he might launch a military strike on Iran to boot. Marco Rubio has said something similar, that he would “quickly reimpose sanctions,” which means tossing out the deal. Jeb Bush suggested that he’d at least hire his cabinet and check in with allies before figuring out what to do next, which is what passes for thoughtfulness in GOP circles these days.

What none of them have grappled with is what happens afterward. It’s possible that the other signatories to the agreement, including Germany, China, and Russia, will say that whatever President Trump thinks, they’ll hold up their end. If Iran agrees, then it might be subject to renewed U.S. sanctions, but the reason the current sanctions regime has been so effective is that the U.N. and so many other nations have participated in cutting Iran out of the world economy; sanctions by the U.S. alone would not have nearly the same impact.

On the other hand, if the agreement falls apart when we pull out — which is what Republicans would obviously prefer — then we return to the status quo, with Iran free to pursue nuclear weapons if it wishes without any inspections at all.

If the past is any indication, I don’t expect Republicans to find the time to discuss what would actually happen if they got their wish, since they’ll be too busy throwing Munich analogies around. But let’s assume that the deal doesn’t get shot down in Congress, and it begins to take effect. A year from now, what will the GOP nominee say about the deal? What if it seems to be working — the sanctions have begun to be unwound, inspections are proceeding, and there’s no indication yet that Iran is secretly trying to create nuclear weapons. What then? Will that nominee say, “I don’t care if it looks like it’s working, Bibi Netanyahu once showed me a picture of a cartoon bomb, so I’m still going to walk away from this agreement”?

Maybe. But the truth is that the next president abandoning this agreement has about as much likelihood of happening as Donald Trump’s plan to convince Mexico to pay for a 2000-mile wall between our two countries. It’s the kind of thing a candidate says when he wants to sound tough, but it’s not the kind of thing a president — even if it’s one of these guys — actually does. It would get us virtually nothing, and potentially cost us a great deal.

Think about that when you see the candidates shouting at the cameras after Congress fails to stop the agreement, pledging to do their utmost to destroy it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 21, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“On The Crazy Train To 2016”: The Most Endangered U.S. Senator Going Into His 2016 Reelection Race

I know the air is filled with Republican hysteria about the Iran nuclear deal, but it’s still possible to distinguish honest disagreement on a complex topic with politically motivated or just plain crazy treatment of this highly contingent multilateral agreement as one of the worst moments in human history. I mean, it’s one thing to talk about acceptable and unacceptable risks, but some of these birds are acting as though the missiles aimed at Tel Aviv are being armed as we speak.

With that in mind, read this series of quotes served up by Buzzfeed‘s Andrew Kaczynski and see if you can figure out who might have uttered them:

“This agreement condemns the next generation to cleaning up a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf,” ____ said. “It condemns our Israel allies to further conflict with Iran.” ____ added that he thought the agreement will yield “more nukes, and more terrorists, and more irresponsibility by the Iranians,” saying he thought Iran will now increase their influence in Iraq and Yemen.

“This is the greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler,” ____ continued, saying he believed Obama only went through with the deal because he has a poor understanding of history and did not realize appeasement made war more likely. _____ said he thought the deal meant that Israel would now have to take “military action against Iran.”

“The president will make this a viciously partisan issue, leading most Democrats to standing with the Iranians and hopefully losing the next election on this point,” ____ said. “He will ask the Democrats all to stand with Iran and make sure that we can’t get two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.”

Asked if any Democrats disagreed with the president, ____ pointed to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, who he believed “has just been indicted maybe on the crime of being against the Iran deal.”

____ said he believed the only reason the president supported legislation from Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, that allowed Congress to review the deal was because he “wants…to get nukes to Iran.”

Okay, time’s up. Who do you suspect? Frank Gaffney? Jennifer Rubin? James Inhofe? Ted Cruz? Lindsey Graham? Tom Cotton?

No, it’s the junior senator from Illinois, Mark Kirk, often described as a “centrist” or a “moderate,” and universally thought of as the most endangered U.S. Senator going into his 2016 reelection race.

I guess this could be some ploy to pursue Jewish voters, though there wouldn’t be this whole meme about Netanyahu’s war with American Jews if that sort of talk was widely popular with Jewish folk. Or maybe he’s making up for lost gabbing after his recovery from a stroke. But it’s weird to see a statewide elected official from the president’s home state–a blue state at that–basically accuse him of deliberate assistance to terrorists right before voters consider him for another term.

 

BY: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 15, 2015

July 16, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, Mark Kirk, Terrorists | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Supreme Court’s Extreme Faith”: The Menendez Case Proves The Supreme Court Was Naive About Campaign Finance Laws

No cameras are allowed inside the main Supreme Court chamber, but on Wednesday, a group of activists—for the second time this year—evaded tight security controls and snuck one in to record themselves causing disorder in the court. Their goal: Decry two of the court’s most controversial rulings on campaign finance, Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which have paved the way for powerful donors and corporations to influence elections.

“Justices, is it not your duty to protect our right to self-government?” a protester is heard yelling in a video posted on YouTube. “Reverse McCutcheon. Overturn Citizens United. One person, one vote.” Court police escorted her out, followed by other protesters, including a man chanting, “We who believe in freedom shall not rest.”

Chief Justice John Roberts was not impressed. SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston, one of the few reporters at the scene, noted he grew impatient and later said, “Oh please,” on top of threatening contempt sanctions against the protesters.

Say what you will of the activists’ stunt or the chief’s reaction—because really, no protest in the world will ever overturn a Supreme Court precedent. But consider what Roberts himself proclaimed in McCutcheon, which turned one year old today: “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner influence over or access to elected officials.”

McCutcheon invalidated something very specific—the limit on the total amount a person can give to all federal candidates during a two-year election cycle—but Roberts didn’t stop there. Time and again he kept singling out blatant quid pro quo arrangements as the only thing Congress could regulate. Not so with meager attempts to “prevent corruption” or curbing “the appearance of mere influence and access.” Those things aren’t as big a deal under the Constitution. Only tit-for-tat corruption is.

Compare that to the other case the protesters targeted, 2010’s Citizens United, a ruling as grand as it was shocking for the dearth of evidence on which it rested: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” The court went on: “The appearance of influence or access … will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democratic order.”

But it turns out corruption, appearances, and influence-peddling are all at the crux of federal charges against New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. He was indicted Wednesday on several counts of bribery and other offenses, stemming from an allegedly cozy relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and longtime friend who is accused of giving lavish gifts to the senator. These included a trip to a luxury hotel in Paris, a stay at an upscale villa in the Dominican Republic, contributions to a legal-defense fund, and more than $1 million in donations to various political action groups supporting Democratic candidates—all in exchange for political favors for Melgen, his business interests, and his numerous girlfriends.

Whether these salacious allegations stick or lead to some kind of plea deal will soon be decided; Menendez pled “not guilty” on all charges Thursday. But a sizeable contribution listed in the indictment calls into question the Supreme Court’s extreme faith that large sums of money not directly given to a candidate fail to amount to corruption.

According to prosecutors, Melgen, through his own company, contributed $600,000 to a political action committee aimed at helping Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s all well and good under Citizens United,except Melgen allegedly earmarked the money so it went directly to the Menendez re-election campaign. That’s also kosher under campaign regulations, except the indictment alleges Menendez “sought and received” the donation—comprised of two checks for $300,000 each, sent to the super PAC in exchange for Menendez’s assistance in resolving a Medicare-related dispute. Interestingly, the indictment notes that Melgen cut one of the checks on the same day he attended an annual fundraiser Menendez hosted.

The legal process will determine the extent to which the alleged favors and contributions are related. But even if they weren’t and the case went away, the Menendez indictment undermines the Supreme Court’s facile conclusion that merely spending large sums of money—absent a clear showing of quid pro quo—isn’t enough to prove that corruption has taken hold. Or the notion that the mere appearance of influence and access to elected leaders fails to be an interest compelling enough to require strong campaign-finance laws—the kind that governs how big donors and big money behave each election cycle.

Chief Justice Roberts may not be too pleased with the recent protests and security breaches at the Supreme Court, but the Menendez case opens the door for some introspection on how recent campaign-finance rulings are reshaping who calls the shots in our democratic order.

 

By: Cristian Farias, The New Republic, April 2, 2015

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, John Roberts | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Badly In Need Of A More Persuasive Pitch”: Rubio Struggles With Condemnations Of Obama’s Cuba Policy

The politics of President Obama’s new U.S. policy towards Cuba does not fall neatly along partisan lines. Plenty of Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are celebrating the White House’s announcement, while a handful of Democrats, most notably Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), aren’t at all pleased.

But among all critics, few have been as vocal and visible today as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who’s been apoplectic about the administration’s breakthrough. That’s not unexpected, though the far-right senator’s complaints seem deeply flawed and poorly thought out.

In an official written statement, for example, the Florida Republican called the White House’s shift “inexplicable.”

“While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear.”

It almost sounds as if Rubio thinks “business interests” – in this case, farmers and Rubio’s allies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – should accept limits on free enterprise, even as other countries trade with an American neighbor. Doesn’t the senator usually see “business interests” as “job creators”?

“But most importantly, the regime’s brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed. Access to information is restricted and controlled by the regime.”

Right, and that’s after 54 years of the exact same U.S. policy. How many more decades of a failed policy would Rubio recommend to improve the conditions of the Cuban people? Isn’t it at least possible that Cubans will benefit better relations and expanded opportunities with the United States?

Rubio later said Obama’s moves “will tighten” the Castro regime’s grip on power “for decades.” I suppose that’s possible, but my follow-up question for the senator is simple: hasn’t the Castro regime already had a tight grip on power for decades? Has the old, ineffective U.S. policy weakened that grip in any way whatsoever?

Rubio then raised concerns that normalized relations won’t address Cuba’s human rights record, which is an odd argument coming from a senator who was defending torture just last week.

The senator saved some of his most striking material for Fox News.

“At minimum, Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we’ve had as president since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the modern history of the country.”

Didn’t Jimmy Carter negotiate the Camp David Accords, one of the most sensitive and successful diplomatic endeavors of this generation? Couldn’t Rubio think of a less ridiculous comparison?

As if all of this wasn’t quite enough, the Floridian decided it’d also be a good idea to lecture the Pope.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) torched President Barack Obama’s new policy aimed at normalizing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday, and addressed Pope Francis’ support for the president’s move.

“My understanding is that the influence that His Holiness had was on the release of Mr. [Alan] Gross, which I’ve not criticized. As I said, I’m happy that he’s with the Cuban people [sic]. I would also ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free,” Rubio, a Catholic whose parents immigrated from Cuba to flee the Castro regime, told reporters.

Look, I realize that foreign policy obviously isn’t Marco Rubio’s strong suit. In September, when he called for a “permanent” U.S. troop presence in the Middle East, his entire argument seemed quite foolish. A month later, Rubio urged President Obama to follow a specific course against Islamic State militants, and then he complained bitterly when Obama did exactly what the senator suggested.

If Rubio is going to make this the centerpiece of a national campaign, he’s going to need a more persuasive pitch.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 17, 2014

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Foreign Policy, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s ACORN’s Fault”: Fake Prostitutes, Fake Terrorists, And The Trouble With Conservative Media

Just before the 2012 election, the Daily Caller, a website run by Tucker Carlson, produced a blockbuster report claiming that New Jersey senator Robert Menendez had frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and they had the prostitutes’ testimony to prove it. Bizarrely, mainstream media did not pick up the story, Menendez was re-elected, and to almost no one’s surprise, the whole thing now appears to have been a slander cooked up by Republican operatives. How did such a thing happen? The answer is, it’s ACORN’s fault. Hold on while I explain.

It turns out that Republican operatives pitched the Menendez story to ABC News at the same time as the Daily Caller, but after looking into it ABC decided it was probably bogus, as they explain here. It was pretty obvious the women were being coached, and their stories just strained credulity:

Her account of sex with Menendez in the video interview was almost word-for-word the account given by two other women who were produced for interviews about having sex with the man they knew only as “Bob.”

Asked during the interview with ABC News how she knew that the man named “Bob” was a United States Senator, one of the other women said she had put the name “Bob” into a web search site and a picture of Menendez popped up.

Only a liberally biased journalist could be at all skeptical of that story, which explains why ABC passed on it, and the Daily Caller ran with it. And lo and behold, one of the women eventually came forward with an affidavit saying she had been paid to accuse Menendez of patronizing her services. And this only the latest in a string of instances in which conservative media outlets have embarrassed themselves by “reporting” things that turn out to be absurdities or outright fabrications, from Jeff Sessions’ crazy GAO report to Chuck Hagel’s relationship with the fictional “Friends of Hamas” (Michael Calderone has a long story exploring this issue).

What does this have to do with ACORN? You’ll remember that the group, which had been mismanaged for a long time, was brought down by a video in which young James O’Keefe claimed he had gone into ACORN offices dressed as a pimp, with a girl he claimed was an underaged prostitute, and got advice on how to set up his prostitution business from ACORN staff. It turned out that much of what O’Keefe said was false (he didn’t actually wear the pimp outfit when visiting the offices, and he got tossed out of one ACORN office after another before finally getting some employees on tape giving what seemed like helpful advice), but the damage was done. Conservative media at all levels swung into action against ACORN, joined by Republican politicians. In short order, the group disintegrated, and went out of business in 2010.

This weekend, Up With Chris Hayes featured a panel with a group of conservatives about the state of the conservative media, and during the discussion, Hayes made an excellent point, tying the buffoonery of outlets like the Daily Caller, Breitbart, and the Washington Free Beacon back to ACORN. “The ACORN thing ruined a lot of conservative media,” he said, because it worked. O’Keefe targeted ACORN, and when it was all over, ACORN no longer existed. “It sent everyone chasing down this rabbit hole: what’s going to be the next undercover sting operation that destroys part of the left?”

I’d argue that looking for something that will produce the next ACORN—an actual scalp—is part of the explanation for why these outlets do what they do how they do it, but at heart it’s an issue of psychology. It’s about how they view liberals in general and Barack Obama in particular: not as people who are wrong or misguided, but deeply, fundamentally, corrupt and immoral. So even when these conservative journalists hit upon a story that may have some substance to it, their fervent belief that corruption and immorality lies beneath every administration policy and beats within the heart of every Democrat ends up twisting their approach to the story and eventually destroying their credibility. It will never be enough for them to discover that, say, a program to track guns moving from the United States to Mexico was incompetently handled, and the people responsible should be held accountable. Instead, they have to believe that it was all part of a grand conspiracy to send jackbooted thugs into Americans’ homes to take away their guns, a conspiracy that went all the way to the Oval Office. When it turns out not to be so dramatic, they end up looking foolish.

And when you’re so convinced that your opponents are corrupt to their very core, crazy sting operations exposing that sinister corruption begin to look like the appropriate way of attacking them. Why bother poring through the details of policy, when those bastards are probably using underage prostitutes and stealing money and intentionally letting Americans die in war zones and consorting with terrorists and who knows what else?

As I argued last week, the problem for the right goes beyond the media people themselves; it runs through their elected officials and the audiences to whom both are appealing. And lo and behold, it turns out that the budget bill House Republicans just submitted contains a provision mandating that no government funds be given to ACORN, which is kind of like prohibiting the government from buying any Wang computers. But if you can’t find any new corruption to attack, you might as well go after an organization that ceased to exist three years ago. That’ll show ’em!

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 6, 2013

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Journalists, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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