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“An Old Lie Makes A Shameful Comeback”: John Boehner Owes The Public An Explanation For How He Can Be So Uninformed

USA Today ran an editorial today on House Republicans’ anti-Obama lawsuit, and the paper was clearly unimpressed, calling it a “political sideshow.” As the paper always does, it then ran a companion opinion piece making the opposite case. Defending the litigation was, of course, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The basic pitch was copy-and-paste boilerplate, but it included something specific that’s worth additional attention.

I believe the president’s actions in a number of areas – including job-destroying energy regulations, releasing the “Taliban 5” from Guantanamo without notice and waiving the work requirements in welfare – exceed his constitutional authority.

Remember, Boehner – or whoever writes these unpersuasive missives for the Speaker – could have picked any examples he wanted to bolster the case. If Obama “exceeds his constitutional authority” all of the time, as congressional Republicans claim, Boehner and his office presumably have a lengthy list to choose from.

And what did the Speaker come up with? Climate regulations, in a rather literal sense, can’t be an example of the president “exceeding his constitutional authority” – using the Clean Air Act to address the climate crisis has already been authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court. A prisoner swap to free an American POW is also a bizarre example, since prisoner swaps do not require congressional or judicial approval. In other words, Boehner’s 0 for 2.

And then there’s the claim that President Obama “waived the work requirement in welfare.” This is a lie, and if Boehner doesn’t know that, the Speaker owes the public an explanation for how he can be so uninformed.

We last covered this in March, when former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) alluded to the same falsehood, but in case anyone’s forgotten, let’s quickly review reality.

In the president’s first term, a bipartisan group of governors asked the Obama administration for some flexibility on the existing welfare law, transitioning beneficiaries from welfare to work. The White House agreed to give the states some leeway – so long as the work requirement wasn’t weakened.

That’s not “waiving the work requirements in welfare”; that’s the opposite. Providing governors, including several Republicans, the flexibility they requested to help move beneficiaries back into the workforce is exactly the sort of power-to-the-states policy that Boehner and his cohorts usually like.

But in 2012, the policy inspired Mitt Romney and GOP leaders to turn this into a rather shameless lie, accusing Obama of weakening welfare work requirements. The more fact-checkers went berserk, the more aggressive Romney became in pushing the lie. One can only speculate as to the rationale behind the ugly falsehood, though the Republican presidential campaign seemed quite eager at the time to use the words “Obama” and “welfare” in the same sentence, even after the GOP candidate and his team realized they were lying.

Two years later, Boehner is echoing the racially charged falsehood for no reason. If the Speaker is struggling to defend his frivolous lawsuit, that’s unfortunate, but it’s no excuse to repeat a shameful lie.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 28, 2014

July 29, 2014 Posted by | Constitution, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obama’s Weakness, Or Ours?”: Swagger And Invasion Are Overrated As Foreign Policy Instruments

The odds are that you think President Obama’s foreign policy is a failure.

That’s the scathing consensus forming, with just 36 percent of Americans approving of Obama’s foreign policy in a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week. Foreign policy used to be a source of strength for the president, and now it’s dragging him down — and probably other Democrats with him.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, warns that Obama “has weakened the national security posture of the United States.” Trent Franks, a Republican member of the House from Arizona, cites foreign policy to suggest that Obama is “the most inept president we have ever had.”

Obama is no Messiah, but this emerging narrative about a failed foreign policy is absurdly harsh. Look at three issues where Republicans have been unfairly jabbing him with pitchforks:

Trading five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl was unpopular with the public, and the Obama administration may have made the trade in the incorrect belief that Bergdahl was near death. Then again, here’s an American soldier who spent five years in Taliban custody, some of that reportedly in a cage after trying to escape. If we make heroic efforts to bring back American corpses, how can we begrudge efforts to bring back a soldier who is still alive?

Sure, there are risks. But the five Taliban prisoners have probably aged out of field combat, and, if they return to Afghanistan after their year in Qatar, they would likely have trouble finding American targets because, by then, the United States will no longer be engaged in combat.

More broadly, there’s nothing wrong with negotiating with the Taliban. The blunt truth is that the only way to end the fighting in Afghanistan is a negotiated peace deal involving the Taliban, and maybe this deal can be a step along that journey.

Russian aggression in Ukraine was infuriating, but it’s petty Washington politics to see it as emanating from Obama weakness. After all, President George W. Bush was the most trigger-happy of recent presidents, and he couldn’t prevent Russia from invading Georgia in 2008 and helping carve off two breakaway republics.

Obama diplomacy appears to have worked better than military force would have. Contrary to early expectations, Russia did not seize southeastern Ukraine along with Crimea, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia this week called on Parliament to rescind permission to invade Ukraine. Be wary, but let’s hope the Bear is backing down.

The debacle in Iraq is a political and humanitarian catastrophe, but it’s a little rich for neocons to blame Obama after they created the mess in the first place. Obama was unengaged on Iraq and Syria, but it’s not clear that even if he had been engaged the outcome would have been different.

Suppose Obama had kept 10,000 troops in Iraq as his critics wish. Some would have been killed; others injured. We would have spent another $50 billion or so in the Iraqi sands (that’s more than 25 times what Obama requested to start universal prekindergarten, but Congress balks at the expense). And Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki might have felt even less need to keep Sunni tribes on his side. Would all this really have been the best use of American lives and treasure?

Yes, Obama has made his share of mistakes, especially in Syria, where he doesn’t seem to have much of a policy at all. Partly balancing that, he helped to defuse the Syrian chemical weapons threat.

Look, the world is a minefield. President Clinton was very successful internationally, yet he bungled an inherited operation in Somalia, delayed too long on Bosnia, missed the Rwanda genocide and muffed the beginning of the Asian financial crisis — and all that happened during a particularly skillful administration.

As for former Vice President Dick Cheney complaining about Obama’s foreign policy, that’s a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: killing your parents and then pleading for mercy because you’re an orphan. In the Bush/Cheney years, we lost thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, we became mired in Afghanistan, Iran vastly expanded the number of centrifuges in its nuclear program, and North Korea expanded its arsenal of nuclear weapons. And much of the world came to despise us.

Blowing things up is often satisfying, and Obama’s penchant for muddling along instead, with restraint, is hurting him politically. But that’s our weakness more than his. Obama’s foreign policy is far more deft — and less dangerous — than the public thinks, and he doesn’t deserve the harsh assessments. If there’s one thing we should have learned in the Bush/Cheney years, it’s that swagger and invasion are overrated as foreign policy instruments.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, National Security, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rand Paul’s Defining Fraud”: Behind His Moment Of Non-Truth On Iraq

If the United States were finally going to have a sober debate about post-9/11 national security and defense policy, deciding what to do about the chaos in Iraq would seem to be the time for it. It seems like a tailor-made opportunity for Sen. Rand Paul to showcase the foreign policy of realism and restraint his admirers say could make him a formidable 2016 contender; just this weekend, on MSNBC’s “Up With Steve Kornacki,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele suggested Paul might emerge as a leader among antiwar voices in Congress.

But not quite yet. While Paul has voiced caution about putting ground troops back in Iraq – as has the president, and most sane people – on Sunday he tried out some new gravitas by saying he’s open to airstrikes, in an interview with the Des Moines Register. Yes, in Iowa, home to the first 2016 caucus.

“I think we aided the Iraqi government for a long time; I’m not opposed to continuing to help them with arms,” Paul said. “I would not rule out airstrikes. But I would say, after 10 years, it is appalling to me that they are stripping their uniforms off and running. And it concerns me that we would have to do their fighting for them because they won’t fight for their own country, their own cities.”

The problem is there’s little that airstrikes can do to change the fundamental political problems that are leading to the bloodshed. That’s why it’s become clearer, over the weekend, that the major voices calling for military action in Iraq don’t foresee getting the job done with a few precision airstrikes, or maybe a drone campaign to minimize the possibility of U.S. casualties. No, they’re now saying Nuri al-Maliki must go, committing the U.S. to another round of regime change at an unimaginable cost.

On Friday MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Sen. John McCain whether Maliki could be coerced into broadening his government and changing his ways, and McCain answered, “He has to, or he has to be changed.”  On Sunday Sen. Lindsey Graham even suggested the U.S. work with Iran to topple Maliki and form a new government.  “The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall,” he said blithely. “We need to coordinate with the Iranians and the Turks need to get in the game and get the Sunni Arabs back into the game, form a new government without Maliki.”

That’s interesting. Here’s what Graham said about Iran seven months ago, when discussing negotiations over its nuclear program:

We’re dealing with people who are not only untrustworthy: this is a murderous regime that murders their own people, create chaos and mayhem throughout the whole world, the largest sponsor of terrorism. This deal doesn’t represent the fact we’re dealing with the most thuggish people in the whole world” (h/t The Wire).

Now Graham thinks “the most thuggish people in the world” are preferable to the Maliki government. To be fair to Rand Paul, supporting airstrikes does put him in opposition to the surreal hawkishness of his GOP Senate colleagues preaching regime change. But Paul could be meeting the Iraq crisis to lay out his larger vision of a realistic, restrained foreign policy that avoids such entanglements. Instead, there he was in Iowa taking a middle ground. “Rand Paul 2016: Not as Hawkish as the Old Guys” won’t make much of a bumper sticker.

It’s not the first time Paul’s supposed courage to question the national security state has itself come in for questions. After his filibuster against President Obama’s drone policy last year, he suggested he’d support the use of drones against the Tsarnaev brothers, the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, and even against someone trying to rob a liquor store. “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him,” the supposed libertarian told a shocked Neil Cavuto on Fox. Sounds like due process to me.

He missed another opportunity to stand out from the craven, anti-Obama Republican Party in the controversy over the prisoner swap that brought home Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The libertarian hero might have stood up for the principle that Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty of various charges made by some of his fellow soldiers, or for the notion that we don’t leave our military men or women behind on the battlefield. The complicated politics of Bergdahl’s release, and even the circumstances of his enlisting in the Army – he’d been rejected by the Coast Guard but entered the Army on waivers that became common given the strain two wars put on the military – might have provided Paul with an opportunity to discuss the very human implications of America’s military overreach.

Instead, he used it as an opportunity to make a dumb partisan joke, suggesting Obama should have traded Democrats, not Taliban fighters, to retrieve Bergdahl. Another statesmanlike moment for the man some think could be the 2016 front-runner.

Some Republicans suggest Paul could be a formidable 2016 foe to Hillary Clinton, who may or may not be more hawkish than he is on foreign policy. I say “may or may not” because when Paul is pushed on his alleged anti-intervention, pro-liberty stances, he often goes limp: Drones are bad in Pakistan but OK in Boston? There’s not much the U.S. military can do in Iraq but let’s do some airstrikes because … well, we don’t know why. Airstrikes are quickly becoming the safe way for Republicans to trash Obama for the Iraq debacle without  committing themselves to ground troops either, and Paul missed another chance to show the foreign policy courage his supporters are always telling us about.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, June 17, 2014

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Fiscal Policy, Iraq, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Emboldened Mob”: To Right-Wing Nutjobs, Ordinary Voters Are The Enemy

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

–Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues.

So the Bonnie and Clyde of the great Bundy ranch standoff thought they could start a national uprising by murdering two cops in a Las Vegas pizza joint. After executing Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo in the most cowardly way possible, would-be freedom fighters cc draped the officers’ bodies with a Nazi flag and the “Don’t Tread on Me” banner flown at Tea Party rallies, and left a note proclaiming a new American Revolution.

The duo then proceeded to Walmart, where they also died in the most cowardly way possible — a murder-suicide, saving the slain officers’ colleagues the unpleasant necessity of shooting them dead.

Along the way the pair encountered the proverbial “good guy with a gun,” Joseph Robert Wilcox. They killed him too. Wilcox’s mistake was to pull his own concealed handgun without firing. It’s something combat instructors say one should never do, although it’s a decent human being’s first instinct — one good reason ordinary citizens shouldn’t carry.

You can’t learn combat shooting skills in a few hours with a retired deputy. It’s a potentially fatal mistake to try.

But I digress. Can anybody say they didn’t see this coming? The day before the Las Vegas tragedy I’d told a friend that between now and Labor Day, I expect to see a large scale firefight between crackpot right-wing militia types and police and/or federal authorities somewhere in America — Ruby Ridge, Waco, possibly even Oklahoma City all over again.

We’d been talking about those “open carry” geeks parading around in Fort Worth restaurants; also the self-appointed Texas posse that vowed to forcibly prevent Bowe Bergdhal’s Idaho hometown from throwing a welcome-home celebration for the recently released POW.

What the truth is behind the murky circumstances of Bergdhal’s capture by the Taliban, nobody really knows. However, Fox News and CNN succeeded in raising an electronic lynch mob. In essence, these jokers pronounced themselves willing to kill or die to prevent President Obama from getting a bump in opinion polls — the proximate cause of the sickening right-wing media freakout over Bergdhal’s release.

But back to Bonnie and Clyde. Supposedly, the Millers were asked to leave the Bundy ranch because of the male half’s criminal record. But definitely not because the duo was any crazier than the “Mountain Men” and other armed zealots eager to fight it out with the Bureau of Land Management over Cliven Bundy’s God-given constitutional right to graze free government grass.

“I was out there but they told me and my wife to leave because I am a felon,” Miller wrote on his Facebook page. “They don’t seem to understand that they are all felons now for intimidating law enforcement with deadly weapons. We sold everything we had to buy supplies and quit our jobs to be there 24/7. How dare you ask for help and shun us dedicated patriots!”

Posing as a rancher, Miller did a TV interview sounding no crazier than Bundy. “I feel sorry for any federal agents that want to come in here and try to push us around or anything like that,” he said. “I really don’t want violence toward them, but if they’re gonna come bring violence to us, if that’s the language they want to speak, we’ll learn it.”

Sounds like something Kevin Costner might say in a movie, right?

Miller was right about the law, though. Pointing a gun at a federal agent is a serious felony, and you wouldn’t want to live in a country where it’s not. No doubt the BLM was right not to risk a firefight over a couple of hundred scrawny cows. But it definitely emboldened the mob.

Of course there are also deeper long-term issues at play.

“In our recent history,” writes Paul Waldman in the Washington Post, “every election of a Democratic president is followed by a rise in conspiracy-obsessed right-wing populism. In the 1960s it was the John Birch Society; in the 1990s it was the militia movement shouting about black UN helicopters, and during the Obama presidency it was the Tea Party.

It’s also clear that President Obama’s race has a lot to do with far-right hysteria. Indeed, the most striking thing about Miller’s Facebook page is its sheer banality: Benghazi, Hillary, Nancy Pelosi, the global warming conspiracy, the tyranny of Obamacare, Agenda 21, fluoridated water, gun confiscation, etc.

I get chain emails about this nonsense every day. Along with veiled, and sometimes not so veiled, threats.

To the nutball right, ordinary Democratic voters have become the main enemy. Their apocalyptic theology requires a Satanic enemy, and it’s the majority. Some won’t rest until they get the violent confrontation they think they want. Then look for the professionals to take down the amateurs, with prejudice.

It’s the American way.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 11, 2014

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Right Wing, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“McCain Just Can’t Seem To Help Himself”: One Of These Days, The Beltway Will Stop Looking To McCain As An Expert

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran into a little trouble last week. The Republican senator, a little too eager to condemn the Obama White House, complained about the prisoner swap that freed an American POW despite having already endorsed the exact same plan a few months prior. After getting caught, McCain falsely accused his critics of “lying.”

Making matters slightly worse, the Arizona lawmaker, himself a former POW, complained to the media that he hadn’t learned anything from a classified briefing on Bowe Bergdahl’s release, neglecting to mention that he’d left in the middle of it.

Despite – or perhaps, because of – these embarrassments, McCain scored another Sunday-show invitation, where he somehow managed to add insult to injury.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday called the five Guantanamo detainees released in a prisoner swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “hardcore military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11” and said he expects them to return to fighting against the U.S.

In context, looking at the full transcript, it’s hard to say whether McCain believes these five detainees were “responsible for 9/11” or whether he believes all of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were “responsible for 9/11,” but either way, the senator is plainly wrong.

McCain added, in reference to the Bergdahl prisoner-swap, “I wouldn’t release these men, not these men. They were evaluated and judged as too great a risk to release.”

That’s wrong, too. In fact, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay told msnbc’s Alex Witt over the weekend that at first he didn’t even recognize these detainees’ names. “To trade five of them for a U.S. service member, in my estimation, and I’m often critical of President [Barack] Obama, I think they struck a pretty good deal,” retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis said.

What’s more, just a few months ago, McCain personally endorsed the plan to transfer these exact same Taliban prisoners. When he says he wouldn’t have completed the swap for “these men,” he’s neglecting to mention that he’d already expressed public support for swapping “these men.”

And all of this led to the creme de la crème:

“I believe that there are other prisoners, some of whom we have already released, that we could have released that – in exchange,” McCain argued.

If someone could explain what this means, I’d appreciate it. Putting aside the fact that McCain already endorsed the plan to swap these exact same prisoners before he changed his mind and denied changing his mind, it’s not at all clear how U.S. officials could have swapped prisoners “whom we have already released.”

It’s tempting to think that, one of these days, the Beltway will stop looking to McCain as an expert on matters related to national security and the military, but I’ve been waiting for that day for quite a while. It never seems to arrive.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 9, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | John McCain, National Security, POW/MIA | , , , , | 1 Comment

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