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“Acts Of Journalistic Malpractice”: Email Servers Are Just The Latest Manufactured Scandal

You read it here first: “Fearless prediction,” this column began last April 6:  “No legalistic deus ex machina will descend to save the nation from the dread specter of President Hillary Rodham Clinton…no Kenneth Starr-style ‘independent’ prosecutor, no criminal indictment over her ‘damn emails,’ no how, no way.

“Ain’t gonna happen…

“Those impassioned Trump supporters holding ‘Hillary for Prison’ signs are sure to be disappointed. Again. Played for suckers by a scandal-mongering news media that declared open season on Clinton 25 years ago. And haven’t laid a glove on her yet.”

If they wanted to prevent Hillary from taking the oath of office next January, I wrote, voters were “going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: defeat her at the polls.”

As of this writing, that’s not looking too likely either. Minutes before the news broke that FBI Director James B. Comey announced that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges against Secretary Clinton, I’d made an observation to a Republican friend on Facebook regarding his expressed wish to see her jailed.

“As a personal matter,” I wrote, “you wouldn’t trust Trump to walk your dog.” After Comey’s announcement, he groused that Hillary had friends in high places, but didn’t dispute my characterization of Trump. Although we disagree politically, I’d trust my friend with anything requiring honesty and steadfastness—dog-walking, cow-feeding, anything at all.

I see Trump, I keep my hand on my wallet. Seen that bizarre interview on Lives of the Rich and Famous where Trump speculates about the eventual size of his infant daughter’s breasts?

No? Then read on USA Today about the thousands of contractors—carpenters, plumbers, electricians–Trump’s stiffed on construction jobs. You do the work, he doesn’t pay. Even his own lawyers sometimes.

The man’s been sued 3500 times. Think he gives a damn about you?

So anyway, last week saw the collapse of not one, but two ballyhooed Hillary Clinton investigations. Even after two years, $7 million and 800-odd pages, Rep. Trey Gowdy’s celebrated Benghazi committee—the eighth of its kind—failed to come up with hurtful new evidence against Secretary Clinton in the tragic events in Libya on September 11, 2012.

But then that wasn’t necessarily the point.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee,” GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy boasted last September. “What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

So the committee folds its cards, Bill Clinton does his happy Labrador retriever act on Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s airplane, and The Washington Post says we’re nevertheless back to Square One: “Can Hillary Clinton Overcome Her Trust Problem?” reporter Anne Gearan asks.

Clinton herself acknowledges that voters don’t see her as Miss Congeniality. She says she’s working hard to overcome that impression, but acknowledges it’s an uphill struggle.

“You know, you hear 25 years’ worth of wild accusations, anyone could start to wonder…Political opponents and conspiracy theorists have accused me of every crime in the book. None of it’s true, never has been, but it also never goes away,” Clinton told the Post.

“And it certainly is true that I’ve made mistakes. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t,” Clinton continued. “So I understand that people have questions.”

Indeed many of those “questions” about Hillary’s dishonesty originated in acts of journalistic malpractice so crude that their authors would have been shamed out of the profession—if the profession had any shame at the Washington pundit level.

Back in December 1995, ABC’s Nightline broadcast a doctored video clip that made Hillary appear to be lying about representing a Whitewater savings and loan. In reality, she’d explained her role as billing attorney on the account. No wonder “the White House was so worried about what was in Vince Foster’s office when he killed himself,” Jeff Greenfield observed, an insinuation as ugly as it was false.

Her imminent indictment was widely predicted.

A few months later, financial journalist James B. Stewart appeared on the same program, promoting his farcically inaccurate book “Blood Sport.” (He’d failed to read the Treasury Department’s “Pillsbury Report” and taken soon-to-be-convicted Jim McDougal’s word for everything.) Stewart gravely produced a loan application he alleged that Hillary had falsified, a federal crime, he said.

Joe Conason noticed something at the bottom of the page: “(BOTH SIDES OF THIS DOCUMENT MUST BE COMPLETED.)” Sure enough, Stewart had neglected to examine page two of a two page application.

Oops, hold the handcuffs and the orange jumpsuit.

If you think Stewart’s career suffered, you must not read the New York Times or the New Yorker.

Anyway, nothing’s really changed. Paradoxically, the collapse of one ballyhooed Clinton “scandal” after another appears to have hurt her. Few follow the details. But people suspect that she must be especially cunning and slippery to keep getting away with it, the bitch.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 5, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Clinton Emails, Conspiracy Theories, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Seven Years And Counting”: House Republican On Health Care Plan: ‘Give Us A Little Time’

One of the best running jokes in American politics is the one about Republicans releasing their own alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Any day now, GOP leaders have been saying for many years, they’re going to have a plan that rivals “Obamacare,” and it’s going to be awesome.

Yesterday, The Hill reported on the latest installment in this ongoing fiasco.

A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare.

“Give us a little time, another month or so,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. “I think we’ll be pretty close to a Republican alternative.”

Upton is not just some random figure in the broader effort: The Michigan Republican is a key committee chairman and a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “task force,” responsible for coming up with the GOP’s reform alternative.

Upton said the Republican group is currently in “listening mode” – which it’s apparently been in since its creation 14 months ago.

And yet, we’re apparently supposed to believe that in “another month or so,” House Republican lawmakers will be “pretty close” to having their own reform plan.

Who knows, maybe the GOP is making enormous strides towards its goal. Maybe “listening mode” is going so well that the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act is nearly complete. Maybe, with “a little time,” they’re ready to deliver.

It’s certainly possible, but the odds are heavily against it.

As we discussed when the Republican “task force” was created early last year, the political world may not fully appreciate just how overdue this GOP health care plan really is. It was on June 17, 2009 that then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made a bold promise. The Missouri Republican, a member of the House Republican leadership at the time, had taken the lead in crafting a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and he was proud to publicly declare, ”I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill.”

The same week, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of “Obamacare” was just “weeks away.” We’d all see the striking proof that far-right lawmakers could deliver real solutions better than those rascally Democrats.

This was nearly seven years ago. The Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they’re finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to quietly fail every time.

In early April 2014, then-House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his party’s health plan was nearly done, but it was being delayed “at least a month.” That was 24 months ago. In 2015, assurances that the Republican plan was on the way were also wrong.

In 2016, however, a GOP leader has been reduced to arguing, “Give us a little time,” seemingly unaware of how hilarious this is.

As we talked about last week, the problem probably isn’t dishonesty. In all likelihood, Republicans would love to have a health care plan of their own – no one likes to appear ridiculous while breaking promises – but haven’t because they don’t know how to craft one.

As New York’s Jon Chait explained, “The reason the dog keeps eating the Republicans’ health-care homework is very simple: It is impossible to design a health-care plan that is both consistent with conservative ideology and acceptable to the broader public. People who can’t afford health insurance are either unusually sick (meaning their health-care costs are high), unusually poor (their incomes are low), or both. Covering them means finding the money to pay for the cost of their medical treatment. You can cover poor people by giving them money. And you can cover sick people by requiring insurers to sell plans to people regardless of age or preexisting conditions. Obamacare uses both of these methods. But Republicans oppose spending more money on the poor, and they oppose regulation, which means they don’t want to do either of them.”

Or as a Republican Hill staffer famously put it in 2014, “As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act…. To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA.”

Which, of course, Republicans can’t bring themselves to do.

But hope springs eternal, and I can’t wait to hear more about the GOP’s progress in “another month or so.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 19, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Fred Upton, Health Care, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Urgency Of Six Years Later”: Ryan Sees ‘Urgent’ Need For GOP Alternative To Obamacare

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered a fairly long speech at the Library of Congress yesterday, fleshing out his vision for making America “confident again” through a far-right approach to governing. There wasn’t anything particularly surprising about the remarks, and the Republican leader conceded his vision won’t be implemented so long as President Obama is in office.

But there was one part of the speech that jumped out at me as noteworthy. On health care policy, the new Speaker said “the other side” – presumably, Democrats – opposes giving consumers choices, while Republicans want to encourage “insurance companies to compete for your business.” It’s an odd line of attack, since the Affordable Care Act’s exchange marketplaces were specifically designed to invite insurers to compete for consumers’ business. I’m not sure how he could have missed this detail.

Ryan added:

“There are a lot of other ideas out there, but what all conservatives can agree on is this: We think government should encourage personal responsibility, not replace it. We think prices are going up because people have too few choices, not because they have too many. And we think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of Obamacare.”

Let’s just skip the usual points about the efficacy of the ACA, the law’s many successes, and the millions of Americans benefiting from its implementation. Suffice it to say, there’s no credible reason to try – or even want to try, really – to replace “every word” of the Affordable Care Act.

What I found amusing, however, was Ryan’s use of the word “urgent.”

As the Republican leader sees it, there’s no time to waste. The problems in the health care system are so great that the Speaker believes it’s “urgent” for his party to present their conservative alternative – nearly six years after the ACA was signed into law, nearly two years after the ACA was fully implemented. Now Ryan’s serious about his party’s replacement plan.

It’s hard for even the most charitable observers not to laugh. On June 17, 2009, then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the House Republican leadership at the time, publicly declared that he was helping craft his party’s alternative to the Affordable Care Act. “I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill,” he said six and a half years ago.

The same week, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of “Obamacare” was just “weeks away.”

The Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they’re finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to quietly fail every time.

We were told 2014 would be different. In April 2014, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his party’s plan was nearly done, but was being delayed “at least a month.” That was 20 months ago.

Then we were told 2015 would be different. Ryan was tasked with personally heading up a Republican “working group” that would finally put together the GOP’s health care plan. Then-House Speaker John Boehner promised Fox News, “There will be an alternative, and you’re going to get to see it.”

That was 11 months ago.

As of yesterday, however, Ryan believes the issue is “so urgent” that we’ll see the Republican “plan” in 2016. And who knows, maybe we will. I wouldn’t bet on it, but anything’s possible.

But revisiting a piece from February, I think we can safely assume that the House GOP alternative to “Obamacare” – if it ever exists – is going to be cover-your-eyes horrible. How can I know that? Because in order to actually reform the pre-2010 health care system – “replacing every word” of the ACA – policymakers have to commit to extensive public investments, expansive government regulation of the insurance industry, and a commitment to help struggling families receive guaranteed benefits.

In other words, to do reform right, Republicans would have to willingly take policy steps that are anathema to everything they believe about government. It’s a safer bet they’ll do reform wrong – if they follow through at all – and when the GOP alternative stands alongside “Obamacare” and consumers are allowed to compare, it won’t be much of a contest.

This point is routinely lost on much of the chattering class, but Republicans don’t actually like health care reform, which is why we’ve waited so many years to see a plan that still doesn’t exist. GOP lawmakers didn’t see the old system – the bankruptcies, the uninsured rates, the deaths, Americans paying more for less – as a problem requiring a solution, which is precisely why they haven’t invested time and energy in writing a detailed reform blueprint.

Ryan seems to think this time will be different.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 4, 2015

December 7, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform, House Republicans, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Asked And Answered A Thousand Times”: This Week Marks The End Of The Benghazi ‘Scandal’

Hillary Clinton will be testifying before the Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday, and by the time she walks out of that hearing room, chances are that all the Republicans’ hopes of using this issue to bring Clinton down will be officially gone.

The timing of Clinton’s testimony couldn’t have worked out better for her, coming as it is after a string of revelations and embarrassments for the committee. First, then-presumptive Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said on Fox News that the committee’s purpose was to bring down Clinton’s poll numbers, a “gaffe” that had an extraordinary impact, especially when you consider that he was only acknowledging what everyone in Washington already knew. Then we learned that the Select Committee has all but abandoned investigating Benghazi to focus on Clinton’s emails (and that committee staffers are so busy they’ve formed a wine club and a gun-buying club).

Then we learned that a former staffer for the committee is suing them, alleging that he was fired because he wanted to keep investigating Benghazi and not Clinton. Over the weekend, we learned that Democrats are questioning committee chair Trey Gowdy’s accusation that Clinton recklessly used the name of a secret CIA source in an email. According to Democrats, the CIA says the information isn’t sensitive. “I would say in some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life,” Gowdy told Politico. No wonder.

And what’s going to happen on Thursday? Understand that most of the time, congressional testimony makes the witness look much better than the questioners. There are exceptions here and there, but a well-prepared witness who knows the facts will usually look almost heroic when posed against a bunch of grandstanding blowhards trying in vain to trip her up. The Republicans on the committee will be trying so, so hard, but their main problem is that they just don’t have the thing they hoped they would find: evidence that Clinton committed some act of malfeasance or corruption that led to the deaths of four Americans on that night in Benghazi three years ago.

Which is why, when they originally began negotiating over this testimony, Gowdy wanted it to be in private. If it was, then committee members could do what they’ve been doing all along: selectively leak out-of-context snippets of her testimony to the press in an attempt to make her look bad, while keeping the full context secret. Clinton insisted on testifying publicly, and so she will.

The discussion about this committee has changed profoundly in the last couple of weeks, and not because the committee itself suddenly changed what it was doing. Don’t forget that there have been seven separate investigations into Benghazi, most of them run by Republicans, and all have failed to deliver the shocking revelation that would destroy Clinton’s presidential hopes. From the beginning, Democrats belittled the Select Committee as one more desperate attempt to do what the other investigations couldn’t, while the Democrats on the committee itself, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings, regularly criticized how the committee was doing its work, including the selective and misleading press leaks and the focus on Clinton. Today those committee Democrats released a new report documenting yet again the committee’s failure to substantiate any of the spectacular claims Republicans have made about the administration’s alleged misdeeds and Clinton’s in particular, from the imaginary “stand-down order” to the fictional cover-up.

So what changed? McCarthy’s comments gave people in the media permission to talk about the committee in a different and more realistic way, one that accorded with what they already understood to be true. Before, the story was framed by Republican allegations about Clinton, but now the committee itself has become the issue. The operative question is no longer, “What is Hillary Clinton guilty of?”, because that has been asked and answered a thousand times. Whether you think she ought to be president or not, there’s simply no evidence that she committed any misdeeds before or after the Benghazi attack. The question is now, “What the heck is going on with this committee?”

It’s possible that Clinton could perform terribly in her testimony on Thursday, just as it’s possible that the committee will discover some shocking new information that none of the prior investigations managed to find. But it’s more likely that the committee’s Republicans will seem more angry about their inability to catch her in a crime than about whatever awful thing she was supposed to have done, while she succeeds in making the whole investigation look like a farce.

Her testimony will be the big story in the news on Friday. Then it will be the subject of a hundred think pieces over the weekend. By next week, the only real question Republicans will be asking themselves is, how did we screw this up so badly?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, October 19, 2015

October 21, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taking Stock Of The Global Dysfunction On The Right”: Raising The Debt Ceiling Won’t Prove House Republicans Are Sane

After House Speaker John Boehner announced his decision to resign at the end of October, and then more urgently when the Treasury Department alerted Congress that the deadline to increase the statutory debt limit had advanced to the beginning of November, a sense of dread momentarily overwhelmed official Washington.

Budget experts, economists, and anyone with a political memory going back at least four years were abruptly consumed with the likelihood that the responsibility for increasing the debt limit would fall to an untested new speaker—and, more troublingly, a speaker whose election would require him to placate House hardliners with dangerous promises.

The solution to the dilemma was obvious at the time, and remains so: An unencumbered Boehner could place legislation to increase the debt limit on the House floor, and it would pass. But until this week it was unclear how aggressively he intended to clean house before his departure, or whether he’d leave multiple obligations to his successor.

Though the speakership crisis and the debt-limit crisis remain unresolved, the sense of alarm has drained out of the story almost as rapidly as it emerged. Cooler heads have seemingly rescued the debt limit from conservative hostage-takers. And that has created a temptation to celebrate averted catastrophe as a triumph of political reality over right-wing fanaticism.

Succumbing to that temptation would be a huge mistake. It is crucial at this point to take stock of the global dysfunction on the right, and appreciate just how badly it has imperiled our system of government.

We owe the prospect of an uneventful debt limit resolution to a deus ex machina. Boehner’s heir presumptive, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, abandoned the race for speaker to the tune of Yakety Sax, denuding the House Benghazi Committee along the way and compelling Boehner to consider increasing the debt limit—either without precondition, or as part of a genuinely bipartisan agreement—before he leaves Congress.

Despite rumblings from the other chamber, this should go down fairly smoothly in the Senate. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s chief deputy, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said in a recent CNN interview that he’s “ready to raise the debt limit ‘until 2017’ in order to get the matter off the table during an election year. McConnell, sources say, feels the same way, and the two sides are discussing the possibility of raising the debt limit until March 2017, just two months after a new president and Congress are sworn in.” Crisis deferred.

Debt-ceiling dramas like this aren’t borne of necessity. They’re concocted to appease reactionaries in the House. In this way, they’re an artifact of the Tea Party insurgency five years ago, and the untenable promises GOP leaders made to conservatives after President Obama was first elected. The legislative landscape is littered with such artifacts—past hostage crises, consensus immigration legislation, even the Benghazi committee itself—and it’s our good fortune that several of them are now at the forefront of U.S. politics simultaneously.

The fact that Republicans revealed the Benghazi Committee to be an elaborate farce, just in time for Hillary Clinton to testify before it, and that the’re likely to extend the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority without incident, can both be construed as side-effects of overreach—a natural political check on extremism that prevents the legislature from becoming completely weaponized. “Whether or not Boehner actually ends up sparing us the needless drama of a protracted confrontation,” writes Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, “the fact that he’s looking to resolve this without one itself confirms how this will ultimately end, no matter what has to happen along the way. And there’s no need for anyone to pretend otherwise.” 

There’s something comforting about that interpretation, and at a general level, it’s basically correct. But it doesn’t account for the enormous role coincidence played in saving the country from another near-catastrophe, or outright default, in this particular instance.

It would thus behoove us to be mindful of how badly things could have gone if events had transpired slightly differently—if the debt limit deadline hadn’t budged, if McCarthy had succeeded Boehner, by promising confrontation with the White House—before moving on to the next big story. Republican dysfunction has never caused the U.S. to default, but it does create a much higher-risk environment. One plausible remedy lies in the hope that the confluence of events—the speakership crisis, the debt-limit drama, the Benghazi admissions, the Republican primary meltdown—will, in James Fallows’ words, eliminate “the discomfort of reporters, old and young alike, with recognizing that the United States doesn’t currently have two structurally similar political parties approaching issues on roughly comparable terms [but] one historically familiar-looking party, and another converting itself into something else.”

In an interview with Bloomberg View, the political scientist Thomas Mann—who, along with his coauthor Norm Ornstein, has been at pains for years to awaken the press to the reality of modern American politics—explained that “the solution … must focus on the obvious but seldom acknowledged asymmetry between the parties.”

Under quieter circumstances, that would be a pipe dream. Under the extreme circumstances of the moment, it’s a little more plausible. First, though, everyone must resist the temptation to disaggregate these stories and chalk them up individually to dramatic, but ultimately normal, politics.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, October 16, 2015

October 18, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Freedom Caucus, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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