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“The ‘Bad Ideas’ Category”: Cruz Gets Creative To Undermine U.S. Foreign Policy

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn’t exactly shy about his opposition to the international nuclear agreement with Iran, but it’s not exactly within his power to derail it. He’s just one far-right senator with limited influence on Capitol Hill.

But over the weekend, it seemed as if the Republican presidential candidate was starting to turn his attention away from federal policymakers altogether. Indeed, as Roll Call reported, Cruz is looking to states to help sabotage American foreign policy.

Sen. Ted Cruz said Sunday that doing everything possible to thwart the Iran deal should include states exploring imposing their own sanctions.

The Republican presidential candidate from Texas was asked at a raucous town hall-style forum here about the prospects of states taking action to impose sanctions on the money the Obama administration has agreed to release as part of the deal regarding the country’s nuclear development.

“I think that states should act and lead to do exactly that,” Cruz said during a campaign appearance in Pelham, Alabama. (Note, Alabama is a Super Tuesday primary state, which votes just a week after the Nevada caucuses early next year.)

More so than usual, the far-right Texan seemed willing to hint that this fight wouldn’t turn out well for his like-minded allies. “It’ll be a fight,” Cruz said. “It’s not an open and shut legal argument, but we ought to do everything we can to resist this … Iranian deal.”

I’m inclined to put this in the “bad ideas” category.

For one thing, it’s probably not legal. It’s not up to states to create their own foreign policies; it’s up to the United States at the federal level. I’m reminded of this Vox piece from January, when congressional Republicans began trying to sabotage American officials in earnest.

The Supreme Court has codified into law the idea that only the president is allowed to make foreign policy, and not Congress, because if there are two branches of government setting foreign policy then America effectively has two foreign policies.

The idea is that the US government needs to be a single unified entity on the world stage in order to conduct effective foreign policy. Letting the president and Congress independently set their own foreign policies would lead to chaos.

And letting states and the United States have competing foreign policies would lead to even greater chaos. If the White House is principally responsible for American foreign policy, in conjunction with congressional oversight, there’s definitely no role for state legislators.

What’s more, I’m not exactly sure how Cruz envisions this plan working on a practical level. States aren’t in a position to create an international coalition to impose new sanctions against Iran – other countries partner with the United States government, not governors’ offices and state legislators – and states also don’t have authority of federal banking laws or international finance.

My suspicion is Cruz already knows this, but didn’t want to disappoint a far-right group in Alabama by telling them there’s nothing Alabama can do to undermine U.S. foreign policy. That said, this isn’t exactly responsible rhetoric from a prominent presidential candidate, either.

In the larger context, thought, let’s not overlook the fact that if Cruz were confident that Congress would kill the diplomatic agreement, he probably wouldn’t bother talking about states taking the “lead.” Perhaps even he realizes the writing is on the wall?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 10, 2015

August 11, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Two Americas Will Be The Defining Trend Of 2014”: Conservative States Will Become Hellholes Of Exploitation And Cruelty

This morning, one of my editors suggested that I might comment on what I thought the big issues of the coming year are going to be. When it comes to the things that will dominate political discussion, most of it we can’t predict. There could be unforeseen crises, natural disasters, war breaking out somewhere, or the emergence of previously unknown yet charismatic political figures. A baby might fall down a well, or a little boy could pretend to float up in a balloon, or a young singer might stick out her tongue and move her hips in a sexually suggestive manner, precipitating a national freakout.

One trend I do think will shape people’s lives this year and in years to come is the increasing divergence between the places where lots of Democrats live and the places where lots of Republicans live. Yes, it sounds trite and overdone to talk about Two Americas, but it is true, and it’s becoming more true all the time. And one question I’m curious about is whether we’ll see an increase in people picking up and moving to places where public policy either accords better with their values or offers them important benefits they need to live their lives (or both).

The new year always sees a whole raft of state laws taking effect, but the ideological implications of some of them this year are particularly stark. And liberal states are showing some of the aggressiveness we’ve come to associate with conservative states. The minimum wage is going up in places like Connecticut and California. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states plus D.C. In Colorado you can walk down to a store on the corner and buy cannabis, and you’ll be able to do the same in Washington in a few months. There are new restrictions on guns in blue states, and new laws making guns more ubiquitous in red states. There are also new laws in conservative states aimed at making abortions all but impossible for women to get, and making it as hard as possible for certain kinds of people to vote. And in one of the most critical changes, as of yesterday millions of Americans are getting health coverage through Medicaid—if they live in the right place. Approximately 5 million Americans are missing out because of the refusal of Republican states to allow the Medicaid expansion, in what Ed Kilgore has evocatively termed the “wingnut hole.”

Obviously, the underlying divisions that drive this policy divergence are as old as the nation itself. But there are more reasons than ever for people to get up and move to the states where the political leadership is working to make it the kind of place where people like them would want to live. The more we talk about it, the more conscious people become of it, and the closer a conservative in Maryland or a liberal in Mississippi gets to saying, “That’s it—I’m finally getting the hell out of here.”

There are limits to how far this can go. Even though getting up and moving to a new state is a common part of many people’s lives at one time or another, and we tend to associate it with something fundamental in the American spirit—taking a risk, striking out for new horizons, the wind in your hair as you hurtle down the highway toward a brighter future—there are a lot of forces that keep people in place, too. Even if your state’s public policy makes your life more difficult, if you grew up there chances are you’ve got family, friends, and the general familiarity with your surroundings that makes leaving it all behind very daunting. But if the number of people moving not just for a new job but for ideological reasons increases, then that will feed a cycle in which more states become even more ideologically homogenized, which leads to public policy even more ideologically one-sided.

Since I’m a liberal, I believe that the liberal states will become models of freedom, justice, and prosperity, while the conservative states will become hellholes of exploitation and cruelty. Conservatives will naturally see things differently. But watch what’s on the ballot in states in 2014, and what state laws get passed in the coming months. State-by-state divergence is my guess for the key political/social trend of the coming year.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January, 2, 2013

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trapped In A Conservative Box”: The Cost Of The GOP’s Redistricting Wins Presents A Real Problem

Sometimes in politics you can lose by winning. Witness the problems the Republican Party is experiencing trying to govern with a majority that is widely believed to be unshakeable in the near future thanks to the redistricting job GOP state legislators did after the 2010 census.

Politico’s Alex Isenstadt has a report today suggesting that the party’s success has trapped Republicans in a conservative box, “narrowing the party’s appeal at a time when some GOP leaders say its future rests on the opposite happening.”

This isn’t necessarily a new thought. As I wrote back in early March:

In a sense the GOP’s success in the last round of redistricting – creating what the Cook Political Report sees as over 200 safe GOP districts – is proving Pyrrhic. If you’re a Republican member of Congress your greatest existential threat comes from primary challenges, so that’s what shapes your agenda, even if it comes at the cost of national political viability.

I was writing then about the GOP’s doubling down on the same policy agenda that voters rejected last November. That hasn’t changed in the intervening months. In fact, if you watched most House Republicans (and more than a few senators and other elected officials) you would not know that the party lost last year on multiple fronts: The presidential race wasn’t close and Obama became the first candidate since Dwight Eisenhower to crack 51 percent two elections in a row; Democrats picked up seats in both chambers of Congress and won more House votes than did the GOP, though Republicans held the lower chamber because, in large part, of their redistricting success. Meanwhile, the national GOP brand remains terrible.

Isenstadt is writing about “recurring drama within the House Republican Conference – from the surprise meltdown on the farm bill to the looming showdown over immigration reform,” but it’s the same basic problem: Conservatives unchecked by practical considerations such as what will help the party nationally.

The Politico piece has a couple of telling nuggets:

Of the 234 House Republicans, just four now represent districts that favor Democrats, according to data compiled by The Cook Political Report. That’s down from the 22 Republicans who resided in Democratic-friendly seats following the 2010 midterms, prior to the line-drawing.

They’re also serving districts that are increasingly white. After redistricting and the 2012 election, according to The Cook Political Report, the average Republican congressional district went from 73 percent white to 75 percent white. And even as Hispanics have emerged as America’s fastest-growing demographic group, only about one-tenth of Republicans represent districts where the Latino population is 25 percent or higher.

The piece also has the obligatory conservative quote about how what the party really needs is not to broaden its appeal but more starkly state its case. But this proceeds from an incorrect assumption of conservatism’s nationwide appeal. I am always reminded of this passage from Ryan Lizza’s Eric Cantor profile a few months ago. Lizza spoke with Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price, a conservative leader:

He explained how surprised he was when one of his colleagues from a Northern state told him that he favored a tax increase on millionaires. “It hit me that what he was hearing when he’s going home to a Republican district in a blue state is completely different than what I’m hearing when I go home to a Republican district in a red state,” he said. “My folks are livid about this stuff. His folks clearly weren’t. And so we weren’t even starting from the same premise.”

Price is no tea party freshman just finding his way around the Congress. He’s the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee and has been in Congress for eight years. And yet it only just recently occurred to him that not every district holds the same political beliefs as his. That’s a real problem for Republicans and it’s one their redistricting success is only exacerbating.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, July 1, 2013

July 2, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Empty Ritual”: Republicans Ignore Science And The Supreme Court In New Anti-Abortion Bill

Republicans have once again rolled their old war horse out of the barn for another run at the Constitution. This time the anti-abortion crowd has decided the viability of a fetus outside the womb should be twenty weeks, defying scientific evidence and the Supreme Court‘s settled judgment in repeated cases. Never mind, once again House Republicans oblige by passing the measure, this time accompanied by sly little sex jokes about masturbating male fetuses.

And then what? And then nothing. Talk about masturbation—this is an empty ritual the old bulls of the GOP have been performing for forty years, ever since Roe v. Wade. Sometimes they have even gotten a law enacted. But the story ends the same way—rejection by the Supreme Court, conservative though it is. This time there won’t be any new law, since Senate Democrats won’t allow it. Yet the juggernaut cranks up for another run.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of an anti-abortion political action group, called the House vote “historic.” Activists boast that they are winning big at the state level. Fourteen states so far this year have enacted a storm of newly restrictive laws at the state level, suggesting that the anti-abortion cause is cresting anew.

Actually, no. If you look at those fourteen states—from Alabama to Utah—they are pretty much the same states that have been doing this for decades, mostly under-populated and rural. I did a little “back of the envelope” calculation and determined that the fourteen states represent 15 percent of the US population, 47 million out of 308 million.

Many of the states are also from the Deep South. That region has lots of experience defying Supreme Court decisions—the experience of losing in the long run.

 

By: William Greider, The Nation, June 19, 2013

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Quiet Closing Of Washington”: America Is Splitting Apart Without The Trouble Of A Civil War

Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform.

It’s as if an entire branch of the federal  government — the branch that’s supposed to deal directly with the nation’s problems, not just execute the law or interpret the law but make the law — has gone out of business, leaving behind only a so-called “sequester” that’s cutting deeper and deeper into education, infrastructure, programs for the nation’s poor, and national defense.

The window of opportunity for the President to get anything done is closing rapidly. Even in less partisan times, new initiatives rarely occur after the first year of a second term, when a president inexorably slides toward lame duck status.

But the nation’s work doesn’t stop even if Washington does. By default, more and more of it is shifting to the states, which are far less gridlocked than Washington. Last November’s elections resulted in one-party control of both the legislatures and governor’s offices in all but 13 states — the most single-party dominance in decades.

This means many blue states are moving further left, while red states are heading rightward. In effect, America is splitting apart without going through all the trouble of a civil war.

Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, for example, now controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades. The legislative session that ended a few weeks ago resulted in a hike in the top income tax rate to 9.85%, an increased cigarette tax, and the elimination of several corporate tax loopholes. The added revenues will be used to expand early-childhood education, freeze tuitions at state universities, fund jobs and economic development, and reduce the state budget deficit. Along the way, Minnesota also legalized same-sex marriage and expanded the power of trade unions to organize.

California and Maryland passed similar tax hikes on top earners last year. The governor of Colorado has just signed legislation boosting taxes by $925 million for early-childhood education and K-12 (the tax hike will go into effect only if residents agree, in a vote is likely in November).

On the other hand, the biggest controversy in Kansas is between Governor Sam Brownback, who wants to shift taxes away from the wealthy and onto the middle class and poor by repealing the state’s income tax and substituting an increase in the sales tax, and Kansas legislators who want to cut the sales tax as well, thereby reducing the state’s already paltry spending for basic services. Kansas recently cut its budget for higher education by almost 5 percent.

Other rightward-moving states are heading in the same direction. North Carolina millionaires are on the verge of saving $12,500 a year, on average, from a pending income-tax cut even as sales taxes are raised on the electricity and services that lower-income depend residents depend on. Missouri’s transportation budget is half what it was five years ago, but lawmakers refuse to raise taxes to pay for improvements.

The states are splitting as dramatically on social issues. Gay marriages are now recognized in twelve states and the District of Columbia. Colorado and Washington state permit the sale of marijuana, even for non-medical uses. California is expanding a pilot program to allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions.

Meanwhile, other states are enacting laws restricting access to abortions so tightly as to arguably violate the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. In Alabama, the mandated waiting period for an abortion is longer than it is for buying a gun.

Speaking of which, gun laws are moving in opposite directions as well. Connecticut, California, and New York are making it harder to buy guns. Yet if you want to use a gun to kill someone who’s, say, spray-painting a highway underpass at night, you might want to go to Texas, where it’s legal to shoot someone who’s committing a “public nuisance” under the cover of dark. Or you might want to live in Kansas, which recently enacted a law allowing anyone to carry a concealed firearm onto a college campus.

The states are diverging sharply on almost every issue you can imagine. If you’re an undocumented young person, you’re eligible for in-state tuition at public universities in fourteen states (including Texas). But you might want to avoid driving in Arizona, where state police are allowed to investigate the immigration status of anyone they suspect is here illegally.

And if you’re poor and lack health insurance you might want to avoid a state like Wisconsin that’s refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government will be picking up almost the entire tab.

Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.

Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”

But the trend raises three troubling issues.

First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.

Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way easily to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.

Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.

A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, June 8, 2013

June 11, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Federal Government | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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