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“Failing To Deliver The Goods”: With Clinton Exonerated, Conspiracy Theorists Turn On Trey Gowdy

With the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee uncovering no meaningful new information, and with the panel’s investigation effectively exonerating Hillary Clinton, right-wing conspiracy theorists this week had no choice but to give up and find a new hobby.

No, I’m just kidding. They’re actually redirecting their ire towards Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Just yesterday, I predicted that some conservatives would turn on Gowdy, in whom they’d invested so much hope. The far-right South Carolinian was supposed to bury, not exonerate, Hillary Clinton, I wrote, and his inability to deliver a useful campaign weapon will likely be seen as both a failure and a betrayal.

A few hours later, far-right radio personality Michael Savage told his audience, “Trey Gowdy should be impeached for wasting my time! He promised us a lot! Remember?” (Members of Congress can be expelled, but not impeached, under the U.S. Constitution.)

Of course, Savage isn’t alone. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank explained today that “conspiracy-minded” conservatives are blaming Gowdy “for failing to deliver the goods.” There was a meeting yesterday of the “Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi,” where members agreed the far-right South Carolinian let them down by failing to confirm their beliefs.

A woman in the crowd floated a new Benghazi conspiracy. “Has someone in the GOP leadership gotten their fingers involved in watering down some of this to benefit Secretary Clinton?” she asked. Nobody rebutted this idea.

Herein lies a lesson for Republicans who are perpetually trying to appease the far right: It’s a fool’s errand. They went to the tea party – and now they’re taking Donald Trump to the prom. Likewise, then-House Speaker John Boehner named the Benghazi committee because activists were dissatisfied that seven previous congressional investigations had failed to uncover major scandal material. Now an eighth has produced more of the same – and the agitators are as agitated as ever.

There’s a certain twisted logic to this. The unhinged right starts with the ideologically satisfying answer – President Obama and Hillary Clinton are guilty of horrible Benghazi-related wrongdoing – and then works backwards, looking for “proof” that matches the conclusion. When their ostensible allies fail to tell these activists what they want to hear, they could reevaluate their bogus assumptions, but it’s vastly easier to believe Republicans have let them down.

Wait, it gets worse.

As Milbank reported, a former Ted Cruz adviser complained yesterday that Gowdy “did not draw a connection between the dots.” And why not? According to retired Gen. Thomas McInerney, the Benghazi Committee chairman “had his reasons – political” for holding back.

McInerney “speculated that congressional leadership had approved ‘black operations’ to run weapons from Benghazi to Islamic State forces in Syria.”

This is what it’s come to: Benghazi conspiracy theorists are so creative, and so unmoved by evidence or reason, that they can convince themselves that congressional Republicans are in on the conspiracy.

As Donald Trump and his allies try to incorporate ridiculous Benghazi rhetoric into their 2016 platform, keep in mind who his unhinged allies are.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 1, 2016

July 1, 2016 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Sanders Still Threatening A Floor Fight”: An Honest Discussion About Free Trade Is Not Likely In This Election

The DNC’s Platform Committee completed work last weekend on a draft document that will be discussed at a meeting in Orlando prior to being taken up at the Convention. According to reports, they reached a lot of important compromises, especially on the issue of Wall Street reforms.

But Nicole Gaudiano writes that Bernie Sanders is still threatening a floor fight over the platform if he doesn’t get further concessions. His primary target is the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Most important to Sanders, he said, is that the platform opposes a vote in Congress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation trade pact he says would have “disastrous” consequences for U.S. workers and the environment. Clinton’s supporters on the drafting committee rejected such an amendment by one of Sanders supporters last weekend.

…Sanders said “we want to see the TPP killed” and the amendment should have won overwhelmingly, but he said Clinton’s representatives worried they would “embarrass” President Obama, who has pushed for the TPP.

“Well, I don’t want to embarrass the president either. He’s a friend,” Sanders said. “But in a Democratic society, people can have disagreements.”

While it’s true that President Obama isn’t wavering in his support of TPP and a plank opposing it in his own party’s platform would be unprecedented, to hear Sanders talk, you would assume that all Democrats except the President oppose the deal. That is not true. As I wrote over a year ago, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (which is dominated by Democratic mayors) endorsed TPP. Ron Brownstein more recently reported on why that support from our major metropolitan areas is unwavering. Moreover, a few months ago, Max Ehrenfreund summarized polls showing that the American public in general has mixed feelings about free trade.

To the extent that Sanders wants to make this all about “Clinton’s representatives” or protecting President Obama from embarrassment, he is simply ignoring the position of Democrats from all over the country. Contrary to what many would have us believe, there is not a consensus position on free trade within the Democratic Party. That probably explains why the platform committee settled on language “that said ‘there are a diversity of views in the party’ on the pact and reaffirmed that Democrats contend any trade deal ‘must protect workers and the environment.’”

In this election, the American public is not getting an honest discussion about free trade. We all know that Donald Trump is demagoguing the issue, Bernie Sanders is simply saying “no” while exploiting the fears that were stirred up by NAFTA and Hillary Clinton is dodging the issue. In other words, the opponents are yelling so loud that no one else is even trying to speak up.

As someone who recognizes that trade is necessary and that agreements are a way to protect not only our economy/environment but have played a vital role in lifting people out of extreme poverty around the globe, this is an unacceptable situation. Discussing trade agreements raises hard issues that are likely to lead to both payoffs and sacrifices. One has to wonder if the American public is capable of having a discussion like that right now. In an election year, I guess not.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 29, 2016

June 30, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic National Convention, Trade Agreements | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Strange Justice, Indeed”: The Day Clarence Thomas Gained Power, He Lost Dignity

Should he stay or should he go?

The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas may have denounced the rumor that the controversial conservative may be planning to leave the bench next year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the rumor is false. If Thomas does decide to call it a career in 2017, it will bring an end to one of the greatest legal tragedies in modern American history.

As Thomas noted in his 2007 memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, there was a time when he was on the left side of the political spectrum, even voting for George McGovern in 1972. The ultimate catalyst for his shift to the far right was when he began to question the logic of federal desegregation programs, which made him a receptive audience for the pseudo-intellectualism of syndicated columnist and wingnut icon Thomas Sowell in the mid-1970s:

I felt like a thirsty man gulping down a class of cool water. Here was a black man who was saying what I thought–and not behind closed doors, either, but in the pages of a book that had just been reviewed in a national newspaper…It was far more common in the seventies to argue that whites, having caused our problems, should be responsible for solving them instantly, but while that approach was good for building political coalitions and soothing guilty white consciences, it hadn’t done much to improve the daily lives of blacks. Sowell’s perspective, by contrast, seemed old-fashioned, outdated, even mundane–but realistic. It reminded me of the mantra of the Black Muslims I had met in college: Do for self, brother.

My Grandfather’s Son is a morbidly fascinating work, one that provides insight into the odd personality that has occupied Thurgood Marshall’s seat on the High Court for over two decades. Indeed, this Friday marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of President George H. W. Bush’s nomination of Thomas to the Court.

In My Grandfather’s Son, Thomas wrote that prior to the announcement of his nomination, Bush promised him, “Judge, if you go on the Court, I will never publicly criticize any of your decisions.” One wonders if Bush privately regrets making such an awful nomination, just as he openly regrets the rise of Donald Trump. Remember when the 41st President referred to Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann as “sick puppies”? Considering the horrible votes he has cast over the past 25 years, that term is far more applicable to Thomas.

One also wonders if Thomas will ever take a hard look at his legacy once he steps down from the bench. Had Thomas never fallen for Sowell’s shtick, perhaps he would have gone on to become one of America’s great champions of civil rights, as opposed to an explicit enemy of equality. Maybe Thomas didn’t deserve some of the harsh race-based insults he received over the years–after all, no one ever accused Antonin Scalia of being a self-hating Italian-American–but he certainly deserves strong criticism for his profoundly bizarre interpretation of the Constitution, most recently on display in Utah v. Strieff. (Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent was seemingly written to challenge Thomas to confront the real-world implications of his disregard for the Fourth Amendment, or to suggest that one day, Thomas will have to face those very implications firsthand.)

It is interesting to note that in My Grandfather’s Son, Thomas actually admitted that the Republican Party he chose to embrace after being seduced by Sowell’s sentences didn’t have much use for African-Americans. Describing his days as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Reagan administration, Thomas observed:

Too many of [President Reagan’s] political appointees seemed more interested in playing to the conservative bleachers–and I’d come to realize, as I told a reporter, that ‘conservatives don’t exactly break their necks to tell blacks that they’re welcome.’ Was it because they were prejudiced? Perhaps some of them were, but the real reason, I suspected, was that blacks didn’t vote for Republicans, nor would Democrats work with President Reagan on civil-rights issues. As a result there was little interest within the administration in helping a constituency that wouldn’t do anything in return to help the president. My suspicions were confirmed when I offered my assistance to President Reagan’s reelection campaign, only to be met with near-total indifference. One political consultant was honest enough to tell me straight out that since the president’s reelection strategy didn’t include the black vote, there was no role for me. 

Clarence Thomas is 68 years old. He knows what his national reputation is. He knows that for many Americans, he is a symbol of extreme ideology and extreme ambition. He knows that the day he gained power, he lost dignity. When he leaves the bench, how will he live with himself?

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 26, 2016

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Clarence Thomas, Conservatives, Right Wing Extremisim, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Radically Redistribute Income Upwards”: Paul Ryan’s Plan For Everything: Hide The Numbers

Before Donald Trump started baying at the moon, and before Ted Cruz launched pointless shutdowns, the state of the art in Republican ideological extremism was Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand–inspired vision of government. Because Ryan is a practical extremist rather than an impractical one, and because he avoids displays of racism and misogyny, he has been cast as his party’s sensible alternative. Ryan has built his party’s agenda, which Republicans have rolled out in stages, achieving mostly adulatory coverage. USA Today’s lead earlier this month struck the typical tone: “Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday started rolling out policy prescriptions that he says are part of a positive Republican vision that will show Americans what the party is for, rather than focusing on what it’s against.” But all Ryan’s agenda would actually do is radically redistribute income upward on a historic and unprecedented scale.

House Republicans have released their plan in stages, and today they release their proposal to slash taxes. It contains all of the traditional elements of supply-side economics: The top tax rate would be cut to 33 percent, lower than it was under George W. Bush; taxes on capital gains and dividends would fall; and tax on estates — which currently applies only to inheritances of more than $10 million per couple — would be abolished. However, it is impossible to quantify just how enormous of a boon this would provide to the most affluent. Republicans have omitted enough key details to prevent a full measurement of the proposal’s effects. “The plan isn’t detailed enough for a complete nonpartisan congressional analysis to verify the impact on the budget and on households,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

The same holds true of the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. As with taxes, the overall direction of the policy is clear: It would strip away insurance from tens of millions of people, impose higher costs on people who are poor and sick, and provide lower costs for the affluent and healthy. But just how much cannot be calculated, because Republicans have, again, omitted the key details. “House Republicans have estimates from the Congressional Budget Office on how their health care plan, released Wednesday, would affect the federal deficit,” reports Caitlin Owens. “They’re just not releasing them.” Hard numbers, once again, would reveal all of the painful trade-offs in the Republican plan.

The same dynamic is also true of Ryan’s much-hyped plan to overhaul poverty spending. House Republicans need to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending for the poor, since doing so is the only way to reconcile their commitment to deep tax cuts, higher defense spending, and maintaining retirement benefits for people age 55 and up. But Ryan also needs to pose as an earnest friend of the poor, not as the champion of the upward income distribution his policies would actually bring about. So the “anti-poverty” plan relies on vague language and pixie-dust promises about rooting out unstated waste. “Many of the specific policy prescriptions aimed at addressing the problems identified in the paper were left out because members couldn’t agree on details such as how to prevent waste and fraud, according to aides,” report Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis.

Of course, if Trump manages to win, Ryan will claim that the public has given him a mandate for his ideas, and will quickly speed its passage through Congress. But getting to the point where they can do so requires hiding the numbers for as long as possible.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 27, 2016

June 28, 2016 Posted by | House Republicans, Paul Ryan, Tax Cuts for The Wealthy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Electoral Landscape Has Shifted”: Republicans May Finally Pay A Price For Towing NRA Line On Guns

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who led an unusual talking filibuster this week to promote Democratic measures on guns, now wants to take the issue to the ballot box.  Here’s what he told Roll Call in an article published today:

“There has to be a storyline coming out of 2016 that shows that senators that voted against consensus measures like mandatory background checks pay a political price.”

Which sounds like standard political rhetoric — everyone says that the public will rise up and support them on their issues. But the crazy thing is, he might be right.

I don’t say this lightly — I’ve been writing about the gun issue for years, and though I’ve long argued that the the NRA’s power to punish its enemies and reward its friends at the ballot box is a myth, it’s extremely rare for Republicans to actually lose elections because of the gun issue. But a confluence of events and critical timing could make 2016 different. Most surprising of all, there’s even a remote but real possibility that Congress could pass a gun control measure in 2017.

In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, Democrats are now pushing two separate ideas, both of which have failed to make it through Congress before. The first would make it easier for the federal government to stop gun sales to those who have been investigated for terrorism, which we’re going to put aside for the moment. The second proposal is universal background checks, which would extend those checks to private sales that today don’t require them, closing the “private seller loophole.”

It’s long been a source of wonder that in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre when 20 elementary school children were gunned down, and with polls showing support for the measure running at 90 percent (including huge majorities of gun owners), Congress still couldn’t pass universal background checks. If it didn’t happen then, why could it happen now? The answer is that timing is everything.

The Sandy Hook massacre took place in December of 2012. When Congress began to debate the Manchin-Toomey bill that included background checks, it was 2013. The election to which lawmakers were looking forward was the 2014 off-year election. Everyone knew that, with a Democratic president, it was going to be another big year for Republicans, since their voters are more likely to turn out in non-presidential years than Democratic voters are. So one of the big questions was how vulnerable Democrats from Republican-leaning states, who had been elected in the 2008 Obama wave, were going to vote.

In the end, the bill had a 54-46 majority, not enough to overcome the Republicans’ filibuster. Among the Democrats who voted for it were Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, both of whom lost their re-election bids that November. Four Democrats opposed it: the retiring Max Baucus, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota. Begich and Pryor lost that year, too, while Heitkamp isn’t up for reelection until 2018. And on the Republican side, only Pat Toomey (the bill’s co-sponsor), John McCain, Susan Collins, and Mark Kirk voted in favor.

It’s unclear exactly how much of an impact their votes had on the campaigns of Hagan, Landrieu, Begich, and Pryor. But you can bet that facing an electorate they knew was going to be stacked against them, the vote weighed on their minds.

Now let’s think about the current environment. The senators up for re-election this year came into office in the tea party wave of 2010, which is why Republicans are defending many more seats than Democrats. The most vulnerable Republicans are those from Democratic-leaning states, who now have to face a presidential-year electorate that will be much more tilted to Democratic voters than it was when they got elected the first time. They’ll also be carrying the weight of their party’s presidential nominee behind them.

Those vulnerable senators are the following, in rough order of how likely they already are to lose in November: Mark Kirk (IL), Ron Johnson (WI), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). If Marco Rubio decides to run again, you can put him in there too. Ayotte, Johnson, and Portman all voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill in 2013. Do you think their Democratic opponents are going to make an issue out of that? Oh yes they will.

In fact, even before Orlando, Ayotte was running ads claiming to be a background check supporter, when what she actually backed was an NRA-approved alternative to Manchin-Toomey, one that was about as meaningful as you’d expect. Portman now says he’s open to restricting sales to people probed for terrorism, but his campaign web site goes on in some length about his opposition to universal background checks. Johnson has suggested there might be a possible compromise on gun sales and the terror watch list, but he hasn’t changed his position on background checks, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Democrats to criticize him on that. Kirk is almost certain to lose anyway.

And Pat Toomey? Well, if Toomey does survive when other Republicans lose, many people will say that his high-profile advocacy for background checks was an important reason. If you combine that with defeats of other Republicans, you could see an entirely new conventional wisdom take shape, one that says that the electoral landscape on guns has shifted. Now it’s Republicans who are on the defensive, because of their doctrinaire opposition to even measures that nine out of ten Americans support.

There is a scenario in which even the NRA’s lock on Congress — which, unlike their alleged electoral potency, is real — could be broken. It’s possible (even if it’s a longshot) that the Democrats could take control of the House in an anti-Trump sweep to go with their (much more likely) win in the Senate. Passing something like background checks would require overcoming a filibuster, which is not likely at all. But it’s also possible that, in the face of broad and increasingly maddening filibuster abuse, Democrats could decide to get rid of the procedure altogether. That would be a momentous move, but it isn’t out of the question. And if they did, they could pass a background check bill for President Hillary Clinton to sign.

Yes, a lot of pieces would have to fall into place for that to happen. But even if it doesn’t, chances are we’ll come out of this election with a bunch of senators having paid a price for their alliance with the NRA, and everyone will know it. That in itself would be a major change.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 17, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control, National Rifle Association, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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