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“In The Land Of Conservative Forgetting”: The Right Didn’t Mind When Bush Paid A Ransom To Terrorists

The Bowe Bergdahl story moves to the hearing stage this week, so we’ll be treated to the sight of preening House Republicans trying to press Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on when it was that he, too, started hating America. Meanwhile, over in the fever swamps, speculation is growing about an alleged “ransom” the Obama administration may have paid to bring Bergdahl home. That Ollie North, of all people, started this talk is one of those laugh, cry, or shoot-the-television moments that now assault our synapses with such regularity; it’s like Judas calling John or James a traitor, or Bernie Madoff aspersing Warren Buffett as a swindler.

North aside, the charge is picking up steam. Fox “News” “reported” that a ransom was on the table last year. The Free Beacon the other day quoted a “senior intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press,” who “speculated” that a cash payoff to the Haqqani Network, Bergdahl’s captors, surely had to be involved; the whole story made no sense otherwise. Get the picture? The typical evidence-free allegation, oxygenated by rife speculation from the usual suspects, who have no knowledge of anything but just want to get a meme started. So far, among elected officials, only House GOPer Steve “I’m Even Too Out There for Texas Republicans” Stockman has uttered the r-word.

But what starts with Stockman rarely ends with Stockman. And so I predict this charge is going to become a central talking point on the right in the coming days and weeks. Why wouldn’t it? It’s as high-voltage an allegation as Republicans can muster up. It carries, in its crude form, a subtext not only of colossally naive misjudgment but quite possibly of treason: the idea that not merely did the Manchurian president pay too high a price in the form of the Taliban Five to get back a good-for-nothing deserter, but now he (the theory will go) paid cash money to an evil terrorist network, thus helping to finance the group’s operations against America. As North, who knows whereof he speaks on the subject of abetting terrorists, put it: “Was there a ransom paid? Did the government of the United States, either directly or indirectly, finance a terrorist organization?”

This would all be quite shocking if proved true, right? And maybe even legitimate grounds for impeachment. Funny, though—it somehow wasn’t either of those things in 2002, when the Bush administration did it.

We turn now to the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf terror network—Islamic fundamentalist, al Qaeda-linked, occupant of a slot on the State Department’s official terrorist-organization list since Bill Clinton put it there in 1997—was rampaging around the southern archipelago and taking Westerners hostage. Two such hostages were an American husband-and-wife missionary team, Martin and Gracia Burnham. They were kidnapped in May 2001. Their captivity was a pretty big story for a while, but then came September, and the inferno of Lower Manhattan.

The Abu Sayyaf M.O. was the normal one—to demand large (or oddly not so large; the original demand for the Burnhams’ safety was $1 million) sums of money for their captives’ safe return. There were talks, and they bled into 2002. In April of that year, Bush gave a speech that included the line: “No nation can negotiate with terrorists, for there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.”

A nice line. But of course, at that exact moment, the United States was negotiating intently with Abu Sayyaf for the Burnhams’ release. And not only that: The Bush administration arranged an indirect payment to Abu Sayyaf of $300,000, as reported a little later by ABC’s John McWethy, the veteran Pentagon correspondent, and even by Fox’s Brent Baier, whose phrasing had it that “the U.S. government facilitated a ransom payment to al Qaeda-linked terrorists.”

It seems that the payment was indirect rather than direct. But these days, that’s good enough for Ollie North (go reread his quote above). Even an indirect payment by the Obama administration to the Haqqani Network would clearly have these people screaming for impeachment hearings.

But then? Well, that was different. It was after 9/11. Bush was our Churchill. We were strong then, united! And sure enough, I find little record of conservative talking heads or elected Republicans criticizing Bush then, and alas not even any sense that cowed Democrats said much of anything. Those were the days of watching what you said, watching what you did.

Oh. I forgot one detail. We “facilitated” the ransom, but even then we still failed: Poor Martin Burnham was killed in a skirmish when the Philippine army stormed the compound to rescue the couple. Gracia lived, and lives on now. But just imagine that Obama had “facilitated” a ransom to Haqqani, and yet Bergdahl had been killed during a rescue mission. I don’t think I need to complete that thought.

And so here we are again, in the land of conservative forgetting. I do hope, as these hearings commence and House Republicans start raising questions about a possible ransom, that some of their colleagues remind them.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June10, 2014

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, House Republicans, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What’s Wrong With Gun Registration?”: Impeded By Gun Proponents Stirred Up And Financed By A Cynical Commercial Gun Lobby

I live in Maryland, whose nickname is the “Free State,” and I am no less free because of the laws in my state require registration of handguns and prohibit the more dangerous varieties of firearms, magazines and ammunition. In fact, I feel more free because I have less fear of being blown away, freedom and all, than I would have if guns were less regulated.

Very few people have serious objections to registration of activities in many other contexts; we register our cars, dogs, bicycles, burglar alarms, births, deaths, marriages and our kids into schools every day. Even with no military draft, we have draft registration. Many people have totally given up on privacy in giving any information to businesses. But guns are treated differently. Why? One reason is that we are inundated by demands that we do so from loud gun proponents stirred up and financed by a cynical commercial gun lobby. Another is we all have at least a little bit of rebellion in us and we can dream of throwing off the restraints of civilization and of running wild.

But we should not forget that this dream is a dream of going back to the state of nature and, as every one knows, the state of nature is where life is “nasty, brutish and short.” It certainly was short for the twenty children and six teachers who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the thirty thousand or so who died from gun incidents last year.

The slogan or talking point “registration always leads to confiscation” has been taken up and repeated so many times that it seems impossible to trace its origin. Of course, law enforcement agencies, whether tyrannical or benign, have seized illegal items as part of their duties throughout history; but the picture being painted by gun zealots is of “jack-booted thugs” from the federal government taking the tools of liberty from true patriots. An example of this is currently happening in New York State where the SAFE Act requires registration of assault weapons. Many owners are being reported as unwilling to comply.

Seizure of weapons that are illegal, held by prohibited persons or not brought into compliance with licensing requirements is being presented as a sinister conspiracy rather than normal law enforcement. A U.S. congressman, Steve Stockman (R-TX), has just introduced a bill to cut off federal funds to states engaging in “registration” or “confiscation” of guns.

The NRA expresses fear of government tracking in amazing detail. For example, it filed a Friend of the Court brief against National Security Administration data collection on the grounds that such data could identify firearm ownership, siding with the ACLU.

Lots of people have frustrations about the current state of society and it’s easy to project these frustrations onto the government, but we don’t live in a tyranny and President Obama isn’t a totalitarian dictator. We have an amazing array of freedoms which would be severely put in jeopardy if we did have a revolution. The existence or even the perception of armed angry people hiding their identity among us and waiting to spring forth diminishes our ability to find happy, productive and unmolested lives. In our society, the vast majority of our citizens stand for enforcement of the law as it is adopted by our representatives in legislatures or Congress, and even the NRA calls for the enforcement of laws while they work to make that enforcement impossible.

So those of us who don’t live our lives in paranoid fear and can sleep without having a gun under our beds can ask why we would want to insist that guns be registered with the government. The most important reason is to keep guns out of dangerous hands. Our existing system for that purpose is to background check some sales of guns, but there is an immense loophole for private sales in most states. Anyone with an interest in getting a gun knows where to buy one without a check being performed. The background check system also is dependent on identifying from the entire population, not just those wanting to acquire guns, those who are prohibited and keeping that list in databases. A registration and permit system would apply to all sales and require determining the suitability of only those wanting to buy a gun at the current moment.

Another limitation of background checking is that it assumes that a person passing the check will remain a legal gun possessor indefinitely. Many of the situations that are denounced as confiscation consist of a government moving to seize guns already in the hands of people who are later convicted of crimes that make their continued gun possession illegal. Getting these guns out of the hands of their now illegal owners is critical to protecting the public but is slowed and blocked by resistance from legislatures and pro-gun forces.

A gun registration system can also serve the goals of preventing legal owners from letting their guns get into illegal hands in secondary ways. It can include a requirement that gun transfers, losses and thefts be reported. This will help greatly in investigation of illegal guns seized on the street and of incidents of gun violence.

If firearm registration remains politically infeasible, there is another way to accomplish most of these goals. That is to have insurance, starting at manufacture and requiring continuance of insurer responsibility through all transfers unless replaced by new insurance. Readers who know my writing know I spend most of my time advocating such insurance in the face of massive resistance from both the gun and the insurance industry.

 

By: Tom Harvey, The Huffington Post Blog, April 22, 2014

April 23, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Lobby, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Does The National Media Get Texas So Wrong?”: Ultra-Conservative Candidates Aren’t Fading Away

Tuesday, as Texas primary voters headed to the polls, Politico published an article titled, “The Texas tea party’s best days may be behind it.” Below the headline were photographs of Governor Rick Perry, the state’s junior U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Steve Stockman, who had decided to wage a last-minute, barely visible campaign again Texas’s senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn. The article focused on the Cornyn-Stockman race, and it mentioned a congressional primary in which incumbent Pete Sessions faced a Tea Party challenge from Katrina Pierson.

To anyone familiar with Texas politics, the article was baffling. It made no mention of the state’s most-watched (and most important) GOP primary, the race for the lieutenant governor nomination, and it made only a passing reference to the attorney general race, even though both contests featured bloody fights between so-called “establishment” and Tea Party candidates. The state’s hardest-right election force, the Empower Texans political action committee, also didn’t figure anywhere in the story.

Even after results poured in showing that for the most part Texas remains a dangerous place to skate too near the center, The New York Times headlined its recap with “Texas GOP beats back challengers from the right.” The Times reported that “conservatives inspired by Senator Ted Cruz largely failed to topple mainstream incumbents”—largely because Stockman and Pierson lost.

From these write-ups, you would never guess the significance of incumbent Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst’s poor showing. Dewhurst, whose U.S. Senate dreams were toppled by Ted Cruz in 2012, managed only 28 percent, while his challenger, the pro-life, pro-Tea Party state Senator Dan Patrick, hit 44 percent. The two will run off May 27 but things don’t look great for Dewhurst. The lieutenant governor, who occupies the state’s most powerful office, has personal wealth that can provide whatever funds he needs, but Patrick’s fan base is larger—in addition to being a state senator, he’s a talk-radio personality in the state.

Results shook out similarly in the attorney general’s race, where Tea Party-backed state Senator Ken Paxton got the most votes and will run off against state Representative Dan Branch. You’d also have no idea that veteran state Senator John Carona, one of only a few moderates left in the Texas senate, had fallen to a Tea Party challenger, as did a handful of state representatives. Stockman may have garnered the most national attention, but he was never a serious contender. He ran a haphazard campaign that received little support from the state’s strong Tea Party network, despite his extreme rhetoric.

So how did Politico and the Times miss the big picture? Texas is complicated because there’s no binary opposition between “establishment” candidates and those affiliated with the Tea Party. Should we define “establishment” as Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who has himself a relatively moderate record but has presided over one of the state’s most conservative legislatures? Outside Tea Party groups have tried to topple Straus, yet he also commands support from Tea Party-backed state representatives. Or is the “establishment” closer to Governor Rick Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, who gave one of the first major speeches at a Tea Party rally in 2009? Or is it David Dewhurst, who hung tight to Perry’s message, passed extreme measures, but then watched his political dreams crumble as Cruz rose to power by accusing Dewhurst of being a moderate?

There’s no clear leader of the Texas right. Cruz may be the current face of the Tea Party movement, but he’s busy gumming up the gears in Washington; when it comes to state politics, particularly in a dominant party with several different factions, there’s a lot more to consider than just Cruz’s endorsement. Ever since his “oops” moment while running for president, Perry’s iron fist has been slackening back home. And Empower Texans, the state PAC that frequently bullied elected officials with threats of a primary challenge, managed to annoy too many incumbents and is now facing ethical charges.

Incumbency is the least helpful method for judging whether someone is Tea Party or establishment. This is the Tea Party’s third election cycle. The candidates of 2010 are now veteran lawmakers, and many moderate Republicans have peeled off over the last four years. Plus, a number of prominent party members currently affiliated with the Tea Party predated the movement anyway. Arguing that the right is getting beat back because incumbents largely escaped unscathed misses the whole point. Many incumbents are Tea Party already.

In the attorney general’s race, for instance, three candidates ran. Ken Paxton, a state senator who, as a House member, challenged Straus for the speakership and earned plenty of Tea Party accolades, got the most votes and will run off against Dan Branch. Branch is a state representative from Dallas’s wealthiest suburb, and he’s been a loyal Straus lieutenant. That’s relatively straightforward until you throw Barry Smitherman in the mix. Smitherman came in last, but during the campaign he may have won the award for most extreme comments, including his promise for a “conservative crusade.” So is his loss a loss for the Tea Party? Don’t tell that to Paxton.

The Tea Party isn’t monolithic and it sure as hell isn’t represented solely by national fundraising groups like FreedomWorks or figures like Ted Cruz. There are rural Tea Partiers and suburban ones who are bound to have different views on issues like public schools or water policy. There are stylistic differences and substantive differences, from those who are more libertarian to those who are more business-oriented, and of course the social conservatives. They all hate President Obama, but that doesn’t mean they’re all going to look just like Ted Cruz.

The “movement” may no longer be the powerhouse it was in 2010, and certainly its splintering means there’s no central “Tea Party voice.” But Tuesday night’s results don’t show the ultra-conservative candidates fading away. Maybe by the May runoffs, the national media will see that too.

By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, March 5, 2014

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Tea Party, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP’s Wango Tango With Ted Nugent”: Republicans Are Dancing With A Professional, Maniacal, Racist Freak

For well over a year now, Americans have been treated to the spectacle of GOP leaders plotting and planning and searching for clever ways to assure the public that it is not the party of old, angry, testosterone-heavy, and most of all white grievance politics. Granted, this is a delicate task, calling for a thoughtful, multi-faceted approach. But how’s this for a modest starting point: Stop sucking up to freak-show, has-been rocker Ted Nugent?

Honestly, it was sad enough when Rep. Steve Stockman took Ted as his date to the State of the Union address this month. Then again, these days, people pretty much expect that level of adolescent fuck-you from rank-and-file House members. But a leading gubernatorial candidate from our second-most populous state?

Sure enough, there was Nugent in all his unhinged glory, campaigning in North Texas on Tuesday for state attorney general and gubernatorial wannabe Greg Abbott. Texas Dems understandably threw a fit, pointing to some of Ted’s latest ravings, most notably his calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.”

Abbott’s team pushed back limply. Before the appearances, they pooh-poohed concerns about Nugent, praising him as a great patriot. As Abbott’s spokesman informed Politico:

Ted Nugent is a forceful advocate for individual liberty and constitutional rights—especially the Second Amendment rights cherished by Texans. … While he may sometimes say things or use language that Greg Abbott would not endorse or agree with, we appreciate the support of everyone who supports protecting our Constitution.

Likewise, following the rally in Denton, Abbott told reporters:

Sen. Davis knows she is suffering with voters because of her flipping and flopping on 2nd Amendment gun laws. And she knows that Ted Nugent calls her out on her disregard for 2nd Amendment rights. We are going to expose Sen. Davis’ weaknesses on the 2nd Amendment and show that in this area and in so many other areas, she represents the liberalism of Barack Obama that is so bad for Texas.”

Oh, so this is all about Abbott’s love for the Second Amendment? Bullshit. Yes, Nugent is loud and proud about his fondness for playing with guns. But the Texas governor’s race is not about protecting gun rights. Wendy Davis is no Michael Bloomberg here. She has voted to allow guns in cars on college campuses and to put armed marshals in schools. The woman supports open-carry laws, for God’s sake. She may not strut around begging the president to “suck on my machine gun” ala Nugent, but that’s only because she’s not a professional maniac.

Abbott’s snuggling up to Nugent is not about the Second Amendment or the Fourth Amendment or any part of the Constitution. It is about courting and stoking the absolute ugliest, most paranoid, most ass-backwards elements of the GOP coalition. We’re not talking here about garden-variety gun lovers or small-government enthusiasts or evangelical values voters. We’re talking about people who find it quaint when Nugent starts raving about how black people are lazy or how disgusting he finds gays or how Hillary Clinton is a “toxic cunt” and “a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.” (Media Matters has a sprawling, multi-decade sampling of Ted’s greatest hits here.) We’re talking about people who find it hilarious when Nugent waves his little guns around and froths, “Hey Hillary! You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”

A great patriot indeed.

To be fair, Abbott is hardly the only prominent Republican to embrace the unhinged rocker. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the very man Abbott is looking to succeed, asked his good buddy Ted to headline Perry’s 2007 inaugural ball. (With a respectful nod to Texas’s increasingly diverse populace, Nugent showed up clad in a confederate-flag shirt and started talking smack about the state’s non-English speaking residents.) Nor are Texas pols the only Nugent courters. Even poor Mitt Romney sought Nugent’s (grudging) endorsement two years ago.

That said, it was Romney’s—and the broader GOP’s—epic failure that touched off this recent round of soul-searching among Republicans. Sure, the trials and tribulations of Obamacare have given them breathing space of late, but the times they are a changing—along with the nation’s demographics—and Republicans’ cozying up to characters like Nugent is not a recipe for a healthy national party.

The morning after Ted and Greg’s road show, I emailed a handful of Republican strategists. Subject line: “Ted Nugent.” Question: “Why? That’s all I want to know. Why?” Not even the most conservative among them had a serious answer.

As for Gregg Abbott, when pressed by reporters about the appropriateness of his new pal’s comments, the candidate, predictably, claimed ignorance. “I don’t know what he may have done or said in his background. What I do know is that Ted Nugent stands for the Constitution.”

I like to think that Abbott is not actually this stupid. It’s far less troubling to assume that the man likely to become the next governor of Texas is a shameless liar than to imagine that he’d embrace the famously vile Nugent without some vague sense of what made the guy a wingnut celebrity to begin with. (Hint for the would-be governor: It’s not Nugent’s 40-year-old hit song.)

Then again, maybe Abbott really is that clueless. At this point, Nugent has been spouting racist, sexist, generally insane invective for so long that the ugly particulars of any one rant quickly dissolve into his vast sea of lunacy. People tend to roll their eyes and give Nugent a pass because the ranting is seen as just part of his schtick. I mean, he’s the Motor City Madman, right? And, this being America, the guy can say whatever the hell he wants, right?

That he can—and does. But so long as Republicans keep hitching their wagon to a star like Nugent, they really shouldn’t wonder why more and more Americans see the party as defined by an unsettling blend of rage and ignorance.

 

By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, February 19, 2014

February 20, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Level Of Immaturity”: Ted Cruz Manages To Get Even More Repulsive

OK, Sen. Ted Cruz showed me: I accused him of hypocrisy for his Nelson Mandela praise last week – praise that horrified his racist wingnut Facebook fans – and he followed up by attending Mandela’s memorial service this week.

That’s nice. But far from getting into the “What Would Mandela Do?” spirit of the day, he made headlines by walking out on the speech by Cuban President Raúl Castro. President Obama, meanwhile, is being torched by the right for shaking Castro’s hand, and even seeming to “bow” to the Communist leader; can’t some tall conservatives, at least, explain that what we saw was a tall man greeting someone shorter? Nah.

Of course, Cruz couldn’t pull off his walkout with quiet dignity. ABC News broke the story, and its headline reads “Cruz says he walked out of Mandela service when Raul Castro spoke.” Get that? It appears Cruz wasn’t spotted walking out, he announced it, with a hectoring statement from his spokeswoman to ABC: “Sen. Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela. For decades, Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents. Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners. He should hold free elections, and once and for all, set the Cuban people free.”

I can very much promise you that Ted Cruz has not learned the lessons of Nelson Mandela.

Communist Cuba did indeed help the African National Congress and Mandela always expressed his gratitude. Castro had as much right as Obama to speak at the service. In fact, one lesson of Mandela applies to Cuba today: We should stop seeing the world in Cold War terms – which is what led the U.S., particularly Ronald Reagan and the American right, to support Mandela’s jailers and their apartheid rule — and realize that we can do more to support democracy in Cuba by engaging with Castro than by walking out on him.

Also: Are we supposed to think it’s a big deal that Cruz won’t endorse Steve Stockman against “liberal” Texas Sen. John Cornyn (he of the second most conservative voting record in the U.S. Senate, which is saying something). Because it’s not. “As the senator has said many times, he will likely not get involved in any incumbent primaries,” Cruz’s communications director told Jonathan Martin. (That’s a promise he made to mend fences with his GOP colleagues after his government shutdown fiasco.)

Of course, anyone who cared about either the state of Texas or the state of the Republican Party would “get involved” in that race. They’d stand up and say Steve Stockman isn’t fit to be a rodeo clown, let alone a U.S. senator, and endorse Cornyn. If Cruz’s staying neutral is supposed to represent a new maturity, I’d hate to see what’s considered his juvenile behavior.

Well, we’ve already seen it. But still, what a low bar for Ted Cruz’s “maturity.” Even Rand Paul is backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell over his 2014 Tea Party challenger – and Matt Bevin, said challenger, isn’t a racist nutjob. If Cruz won’t support Cornyn, that’s because he’s hoping he can get an edge on Paul with the racist nutjob vote in 2016. Good luck with that, Sen. Cruz.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 11, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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