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“The Senate’s Most Endangered Incumbent”: A Republican Senator And His Beloved Conspiracy Theory

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’s up for re-election this year, has an incentive to appear as moderate and level-headed as possible. He is, after all, a Republican running in a pretty blue state, sharing a ballot with Donald Trump in a presidential election year. The circumstances have made Kirk arguably the Senate’s most endangered incumbent.

And yet, the GOP senator just keeps making bizarre comments. Politico reports today:

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk hasn’t let up on his insistence that President Obama is using his power as president to lash out at a political enemy.

At a fundraising event last month in Chicago, the Illinois Republican can be heard on audio defending indicted New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, while accusing Obama of targeting Menendez because of his stance on Iran.

According to a recording Politico obtained, Kirk told his audience, “And let me say something about Bob Menendez. I believe that Bob Menendez was indicted solely on the crime of opposing the president on Iran.”

It wasn’t an off-hand comment: the Illinois Republican has pushed the same conspiracy theory over and over again.

To the extent that reality matters, we know that Kirk is completely wrong. The corruption investigation into Menendez’s work initiated long before the Iran deal negotiations even began, and the indictment was issued before the Iran deal was finalized. Besides, Menendez’s opposition to the international agreement was inconsequential, so the White House has no incentive to punish him.

But even if we put that aside, what Kirk is arguing is that the White House orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy, involving multiple federal prosecutors and investigators over the course of several years, to seek retribution against a senator from the president’s own party, who generally agrees with the administration’s position on most issues.

As proof, Kirk points to … nothing. The Illinois Republican believes the White House is guilty of an impeachable offensive, manipulating federal law enforcement to execute a partisan retribution scheme, as a result conspiracy theory that doesn’t make sense. The senator is comfortable throwing around this accusation, repeatedly and in public, despite having literally no evidence whatsoever.

Senators generally aren’t supposed to behave this way. Senators worried about their re-election bids never behave this way.

And circling back to a report from last summer, there’s also the larger pattern of Mark Kirk’s bizarre rhetoric as the election draws closer. When congressional Republicans threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security last year, it was the Illinois senator who got a little hysterical, urging the GOP to “build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office.”

A few months prior, during an ugly fight over Loretta Lynch’s attorney general nomination, Kirk suggested Democrats were defending slavery. A month later, he said people drive faster through black neighborhoods.

In isolation, these bizarre incidents might be easier to dismiss as regrettable slip-ups, but taken together, a pattern emerges of a senator who once claimed moderation, but not anymore.

If there’s an electoral strategy that explains such behavior, I can’t think of it. Kirk should be going out of his way to appear sensible, but for reasons no one seems able to explain, the GOP senator is doing the opposite.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2016

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Bob Menendez, Conspiracy Theories, Mark Kirk | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Simply Has No Idea What He’s Talking About”: Trump’s Newest Dubious Boast: ‘I Do Know My Subject’

Last week, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump had a fairly long conversation with the Washington Post, which tried to explore his views on foreign policy in detail. The discussion made it abundantly clear that the GOP candidate simply has no idea what he’s talking about. It’s not just that Trump’s arguments are wrong; it’s also that he seems lost when it comes to basic details.

On Friday afternoon, it was the New York Times’ turn. Alas, it appears efforts to teach Trump about international affairs aren’t going well.

In criticizing the Iran nuclear deal, he expressed particular outrage at how the roughly $150 billion released to Iran (by his estimate; the number is in dispute) was being spent. “Did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States?” he said.

Told that sanctions under United States law still bar most American companies from doing business with Iran, he said: “So, how stupid is that? We give them the money and we now say, ‘Go buy Airbus instead of Boeing,’ right?”

But Mr. Trump, who has been pushed to demonstrate a basic command of international affairs, insisted that voters should not doubt his foreign policy fluency. “I do know my subject,” he said.

It’s quite clear, of course, that he doesn’t know his subject. The full transcript has been posted online, and honestly, it’s hard to even know which parts to highlight – because so much of the interview is incoherent. Andrea Mitchell noted on “Meet the Press” yesterday that Trump “is completely uneducated about any part of the world.” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg added on “Face the Nation” that it’s “remarkable to imagine that someone who shows so little interest in understanding why the world is organized the way it is organized is this close to the presidency of the world’s only superpower.”

Trump noted, for example, that countries with “nuclear capability” represent the “biggest problem the world has.” Soon after, however, the candidate argued that the United States has to “talk about” allowing Japan and South Korea to have a nuclear arsenal of their own. He also referred to his fear of “nuclear global warming,” whatever that is.

Asked about U.S. policy towards China, Trump added this gem: “Would I go to war? Look, let me just tell you. There’s a question I wouldn’t want to answer. Because I don’t want to say I won’t or I will…. That’s the problem with our country. A politician would say, ‘Oh I would never go to war,’ or they’d say, ‘Oh I would go to war.’ I don’t want to say what I’d do because, again, we need unpredictability.”

In other words, just take a guess, American voters, before casting a ballot about the possible intentions of the country’s next Commander in Chief. Trump won’t tell you before the election, but don’t worry, he promises to be “unpredictable” – in a “winning” way.

Trump spoke with pride about his “take the oil” posture related to Iraq, but he conceded that would require deploying considerable U.S. ground troops, which he’s not prepared to do. “Now we have to destroy the oil,” he said articulating a new position.

I saw some comparisons over the weekend between these Trump interviews and the infamous Sarah Palin interview with Katie Couric in 2008. The parallels matter: both made clear that the Republican seeking national office was manifestly unprepared to lead.

But there are differences. First, Palin’s difficulties were televised, which tends to produce a different public reaction – along with excerpts that can be re-aired, over and over again, by a variety of networks – as compared to long print interviews.

And second, in 2016, it appears Trump’s ignorance, no matter how brazen, just isn’t seen as a problem among his Republican supporters.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2016

March 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, International Affairs | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Talking Encourages Effective Change”: Obama In Cuba, And The Astounding Legacy Of A Pragmatic President

I’m old. Not as ancient as, say, the dinosaurs, but I’m certainly not young. In fact, I’m only a few years younger than the president, which, while young for the White House, is kind of old in my house.

How old am I? Well, I’ll tell you: I’m old enough to remember when all manner of things now the stuff of daily life were the stuff of Hollywood — the notion of an African-American president, for one.

Or, for instance, relations with Cuba. Are you mad, son? That embargo outlived the Iron Curtain! We will never have anything to do with Cuba (other than smuggled cigars) until the Castros are dead and a unicorn sits on a throne of dollars in the heart of Havana. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and Cuba is natio non grata, forever and ever.

Until this month. Until Sunday. Until, actually, December 2014, when the president announced, “Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba” — an announcement which frankly left me gobsmacked and a little pie-eyed. I hadn’t been paying attention, you see, and seemingly out of the blue, this president had done the undoable, as if 50 years of human history could be changed with human hands. Now he’s walking around Havana and meeting with Raul Castro.

Or how about that other impossibility: U.S.-Iranian détente? I actually remember when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed. I’m also old enough to remember George W. Bush’s 2002 Axis of Evil speech, the one that torpedoed active Iranian cooperation with America in post-9/11 Afghanistan. And yet here we are, one president later, in possession of a nuclear deal with one of our most implacable foes, a foe that has in the meantime elected a slate of surprisingly moderate politicians to its parliament, reinforcing Obama’s position that talking encourages change more effectively than ceaseless saber-rattling.

Oh, I’m old enough to remember all kinds of things. I remember when “LGBTQ rights” were called “the homosexual agenda” and orange juice pitch-woman Anita Bryant told America that the gays wanted to hurt your children. I also remember the AIDS crisis, and how many people had to die before anyone in power began to treat them with dignity. I think that as a young woman I literally wouldn’t have been able to imagine a circumstance in which a sitting U.S. president would oversee the establishment of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Obama “evolved” on the issue, he told us — bringing America along with him, allowing us to evolve toward that more-perfect union of which our founders spoke.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten health care reform, which has been impossible since Harry Truman. I remember when the current Democratic frontrunner tried her hand at reshaping health care and got so badly burned that she and her then-president husband paid for it for years. Today, on the other hand, millions of Americans for whom basic health care was once as unimaginable as that unicorn in Havana now have insurance, and cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions — such as, for instance, domestic violence or having a cervix. ObamaCare is, in many ways, feminism at its most brass-tacks, and I’m pretty sure Young Me also couldn’t have imagined having a president who is a feminist.

No one accomplishes anything on their own, no matter the office they hold. In the course of seven years, the president has had to learn from, respond to, and work with people ranging from grassroots activists to Pope Francis (while, it should be noted, the opposition party has done all it can to prevent him from accomplishing anything at all). And on many of these matters, Obama has just barely been ahead of the curve. When he announced the change in relations with Cuba, for instance, just less than half of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County supported the embargo anymore — down from 66 percent in 2004 and 56 percent in 2011.

The president has never been a revolutionary; to borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda, he is and has always been a bold pragmatist — which is, in my book, a compliment.

I don’t want to give the impression that I agree with everything Obama and his administration have presided over. Ask me (or better yet, don’t) about Obama’s record on Israel/Palestine — or maybe talk to the Central Americans deported back to their home countries after fleeing unspeakable violence. To borrow from the internet, your faves are always problematic. My faves are, too.

And yet. There are days on which this old woman looks at her young president’s record, and all but falls out of her chair. The foregoing is but a partial list, missing many things Obama has accomplished or advanced that were, as far as I once knew, impossible or pretty near. The beautiful thing, of course, is that you don’t actually have to be old to see it — you just have to be paying attention.

Thanks, Obama.

 

By: Emily L. Hauser, The Week, March 21, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, Diplomacy, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Critical Role Of Diplomacy”: The GOP Presidential Candidates Really Embarrassed Themselves During The Iran Navy Incident

It was a foreign policy crisis: After an equipment failure rendered their vehicle inoperative, a group of American military personnel had fallen into the hands of an adversarial state far away. How would the president get them back? A daring rescue mission? Threats of military action? Diplomacy? Outright groveling? In the end, he felt he had no choice but to submit to the hostage-takers’ demands, and the government wrote a letter filled with apologetic language (“We are very sorry” for the incident, and “We appreciate” our adversary’s “efforts to see to the well-being of our crew” they held prisoner for 10 days).

You would think that Republicans, who are so committed to the singular importance of “strength” in foreign affairs, would have been outraged and appalled at the weakness shown by the president in this incident. But they weren’t. That’s because the president was George W. Bush, and this was April 2001, when an American spy plane had to make an emergency landing on a Chinese island after a mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet. Here’s the letter of apology.

It was hard not to be reminded of that incident 15 years ago when this week two small American naval boats apparently drifted into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf after engines failed, and the Iranian navy detained them. As soon as the capture of the vessels was reported, Republican politicians stiffened their spines, flexed their pecs, and condemned the wimpy and feckless Obama administration that was obviously going to grovel before the ayatollah, leaving our brave sailors at the mercy of the Iranians for who knows how many days, weeks, or months. “The fact that [the capture] happened is a direct consequence of the weakness of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy,” said Ted Cruz, no doubt thinking wistfully about how if he were in charge, once the boats came up on radar the Iranians would have said, “Let them go where they want — we don’t want to anger President Cruz, who is so strong and resolute.” Joe Scarborough, perhaps caught in the middle of a Charles Atlas workout, tweeted, “Hey Iran, you have exactly 300 days left to push a U.S. president around. Enjoy it while you can. After that, there will be hell to pay.” Jeb Bush, testosterone practically dripping off his iPhone, tweeted, “If our sailors aren’t coming home yet, they need to now. No more bargaining. Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again.”

But then something strange happened. Wednesday morning, after only 16 hours, Iran released the sailors back to the United States, along with their boats. And we didn’t even have to bomb anybody.

A few conservatives are currently expressing faux-outrage over photos taken by the Iranians showing the sailors with their hands on their heads during the capture, as though that were some epic humiliation. But what’s important is that the whole matter was settled through a series of phone calls between American and Iranian officials, in which they apparently agreed that nobody was trying to be provocative and it would be best not to blow this out of proportion. Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly made the case that the administration was able to resolve this incident the way it did because of the diplomatic contacts that had been built up during negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. “We can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago,” he said. “Today, this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and efficiently resolved, and that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong.”

So what do we learn from this? First, diplomacy does work. It’s possible that even if we hadn’t spent a couple of years negotiating with Iran, we would have arrived at the same outcome, but it probably didn’t hurt that our officials and their officials have a better relationship today. And it’s hard to imagine that even the most bellicose of Republican candidates wouldn’t have done the same thing the Obama administration did.

Maybe we’re supposed to believe that if someone like Ted Cruz was president and a couple of small boats got captured, when his secretary of state said, “Mr. President, I’ll call their foreign minister and see if we can’t get this taken care of,” he’ll say, “No, Bob — I’m going to go on TV and tell those jerks that if they don’t release our sailors in 10 minutes, we’re letting the bombs fall!” But I doubt it. In the real world, Republicans do diplomacy when the situation demands it too, and I have trouble believing that any politician would be so reckless as to cause a confrontation when it would have been so unnecessary.

Second, it’s a reminder that reducing every foreign policy question to “strength” is idiotic. There are times when strength matters a lot, and times when you have to be smart and restrained. Complaining about the “weakness” of the Obama administration may play well during primary season, but in real foreign policy a nation doesn’t demonstrate strength by going around provoking everything it sees.

That’s how you act when you’re gripped by insecurity and you need to overcompensate. Candidates can live in their fantasy world, where they’re constantly causing dramatic showdowns they always win because of their steely glare. But fortunately for us (and for those 10 sailors), none of them had the chance to test their theory. At least not this time.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, January 14, 2016

January 15, 2016 Posted by | Diplomacy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Navy Incident | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Pretty Good Year In A Pretty Bad Century”: A High Point In A Century Marred By The Disastrous Bush Presidency

Imagine the 21st century as a Broadway show. We’re not talking “Hamilton” material. Actually, it’s pretty much a flop. If it were a Broadway show, it would have closed by now.

A year-end 2015 album picture, taken in Paris, showing solemn world leaders gathered to march in mournful defiance of the Islamic state group’s November terrorist attack arrested my attention. There was Germany’s Angela Merkel. There was France’s Francois Hollande. And even Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. But not the American president, Barack Obama. And that seemed strange.

Whatever. But the picture wept. The Islamic State group was our own scary gift to the world, after all, wrapped up during our long war in Iraq; and the tag definitely has George W. Bush’s name on it. Obama has yet to fully face this unforeseen consequence of war, bound to shadow his last year in office. To his credit, he recognizes the futility of going to war once again.

So let’s skip the year in review and go straight to the century in review. It’s a good time to look back over our collective shoulder.

A full 15 years have ended in a pretty pass. At home, we are a nation more roiled by race and police brutality than ever since the 1960s civil rights movement, even with a black president. Income inequality is a plague on our houses. And we are seriously looking at an abrasive reality show host as our next Republican presidential nominee. I mean seriously, folks. Some pundits who urged us onto the Iraq War blithely assert Donald Trump will never win the primary. I don’t put my faith in those wise men. I foresee leading Democratic contender Hillary Clinton facing Trump in the general election.

We’ve seen roughly half and half in Republican and Democratic control this century. Eight years of George W. Bush as president – defined by Sept. 11 and a couple wars – followed by seven years of Barack Obama – defined by picking up the pieces and trying to make peace. A huge economic downturn was also passed along directly from Bush to Obama. The euphoria at Obama’s inauguration lasted about a day in the frigid winter air.

Obama surely deserved better than what he got, but presidents don’t pick their predecessors. Bush had staked all on avenging the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and invested in becoming a “war president.” A Special Forces lightning-like attack on Osama bin Laden, the mastermind, would have been the wiser course of action, as commander-in-chief Obama showed much later. For on 9/11, there was no army against us, just 19 hijackers: Fifteen men from Saudi Arabia, zero from Iraq.

Bush’s slothful insult toward a storied city felled by a hurricane – tipping Air Force One’s wings over New Orleans in 2005 – was the tipping point of his presidency. Suddenly, the dots of his incompetence connected and his approval rating, too, was felled and never got back up again.

Everything that came out of the Bush years – false premises for declaring war, looting antiquities, the Patriot Act, torture, Guantanamo, mass surveillance on citizens, thousands of military and civilian casualties – tarnishes what we are supposed to stand for. In the end, the Islamic State group is the last cosmic slice of “just desserts” for an absolutely meaningless war. Few who thanked soldiers for their service in airports could fully embrace or explain what it was for. Next time, people, get a draft. It’s much harder to go to war with a draft.

As the new century dawned, the omens were plainly ominous. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in late 2000 called into question whether a Supreme Court 5-4 decision is a fair election. It was hard to tell from the timid press coverage, but Gore clearly won the popular vote. Just think how different the last 15 years would have been if the outcome had gone the other way. The peace and prosperity of the Bill Clinton years seem like a dream.

Obama has done much repair work, especially on the economy and foreign policy. In fact, between the Iran deal and the recent Paris Agreement on global warming, the seventh has been his best year in office. In fact, 2015 has been the best year since this century began. But he’s not the best morale-booster. That’s just not his way.

In singing “Amazing Grace” solo at the funeral service of nine murdered black church parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, the president showed amazing grace that moved the nation. For that June day, he became consoler-in-chief. Whether he’ll reach out to the American people to conduct heartfelt dialogues on race in 2016, somehow I doubt it, unless another catalyst arises. An eloquent writer on race in his memoir, Obama seldom put it on the front burner in the White House. But with or without him, it’s a burning subject.

2016, here we come into the maelstrom, a divided country swept by cross-currents. With Clinton in the election cycle, gender may soon join race as a force awakening in the national conversation. Iowa and New Hampshire voters, as usual, will be treated like they know so much. Both are overwhelmingly white states with rural swaths. They do not speak for flash points of violence and pain: Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; nor Charleston, South Carolina.

But we can take heart: 2015 was a pretty good year in a pretty bad century, so far.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, 21st Century, Bush-Cheney Administration | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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