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“So Many Choices”: Obama Picks His Favorite Conspiracy Theory

The right has come up with more than its share of conspiracy theories related to President Obama. In fact, some of the more nonsensical ideas – he wasn’t born in the United States; he’s secretly non-Christian – began before he was even elected.

Obama sat down with Bill Simmons recently for an interview published by GQ, and Simmons asked a question I’ve wondered about myself.

SIMMONS: What’s the most entertaining conspiracy theory you ever read about yourself?

OBAMA: That military exercises we were doing in Texas were designed to begin martial law so that I could usurp the Constitution and stay in power longer. Anybody who thinks I could get away with telling Michelle I’m going to be president any longer than eight years does not know my wife.

The president didn’t literally use the words “Jade Helm 15,” but I think it’s safe to say that’s what he was referring to.

In case anyone’s forgotten about this one, let’s recap. Earlier this year, the military organized some training exercises for about 1,200 people in areas spanning from Texas to California, which started in mid-July. Somehow, right-wing activists got it in their heads that the exercises, labeled “Jade Helm 15,” were part of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving the Obama administration, the U.S. military, Walmart, and some “secret underground tunnels.”

It all seemed terribly silly – because it was – but several Republican officials, including senators, governors, and House members, at least pretended to take it seriously for a short while. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) even felt the need to order the Texas Guard to “monitor” the military exercises – just in case.

The training exercises wrapped up in September without incident.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 20, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Jade Helm 15 | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Rather Difficult To Find”: Wanted; A GOP Presidential Candidate Who Is Actually Serious About Foreign Policy

Today, Jeb Bush will give a speech at the Citadel in South Carolina on defense policy, where he’ll argue that in order to defeat ISIS we need a bigger military than the one we have. From this, I conclude that one of two things must be true: Either he is an ignoramus of Trumpian proportions, or he thinks Republican primary voters are idiots.

Here’s what we know based on the excerpts of the speech his campaign has released:

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is calling for a broad military buildup and says the U.S. armed forces have been left ill-prepared to defeat the Islamic State, blamed for the Paris attacks that killed at least 129 and wounded hundreds more.

The former Florida governor is projecting himself as a potential commander in chief able to handle such challenges, as his presidential bid tries to gain traction in a primary campaign likely to be shaken up after the Paris attacks.

“The brutal savagery is a reminder of what is at stake in this election,” Bush says in excerpts of a speech he plans to deliver Wednesday at The Military College of South Carolina, known as The Citadel.

“We are choosing the leader of the free world,” he said, according to passages provided to The Associated Press in advance. “And if these attacks remind us of anything, it’s that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership.”

Ah yes, serious leadership. So what about Bush’s idea that fighting terrorism means we need a bigger military? That’s simply ridiculous. Yes, there are certain resources that need to be used to fight ISIS, but is there any evidence that the problem we have in meeting this challenge is insufficient personnel and materiel? Of course not. We could invade Syria and Iraq tomorrow if we wanted, and roll over ISIS and Bashar Assad’s government. But we don’t want to, because recent experience has taught us that doing that would cause more problems than it would solve, including, in all likelihood, giving rise to terrorist groups we haven’t yet imagined (don’t forget that ISIS grew out of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq).

You don’t have to be the reincarnation of Carl von Clausewitz to grasp that, and people within the military are now expressing concerns that too many people have already forgotten the complications that come with a large-scale military operation in the Middle East. Like most of the Republican candidates for president, when Bush is asked what he’d actually do to fight ISIS, he offers a combination of things the Obama administration is already doing (Engage with our Arab allies! Use our air power!) and meaningless generalities (America has to lead!). None of it requires a dramatically larger military.

While Republicans always want the military to be bigger than whatever it happens to be at any moment, I don’t think even they believe that its size is really the problem. It isn’t as though ISIS’ leaders are saying, “The United States military is down below 15,000 war planes! If they had 20,000, we could never oppose them, but this is our chance!” No, Republicans believe the problem is will. They think Barack Obama is weak and unwilling to use the military he has with sufficient enthusiasm. They think our enemies don’t fear us enough, not because they aren’t intimidated by American weaponry, but because they aren’t intimidated by the man in the Oval Office.

If Jeb Bush wants to argue that what we really need to prepare for is a land war in Europe against the Russian army, a conflict for which the sheer size of our military might make a difference, then he can go ahead and make that case. But he isn’t. Instead, he’s taking the pre-existing belief all Republicans share — the military should always be bigger — and grafting it on to the thing Americans are afraid of at the moment, which is ISIS.

Right after the Paris attacks, many old-line Republicans expressed the hope that now, in the face of such a grim reality, primary voters would end their dalliance with silly inexperienced candidates and turn back to the serious, seasoned potential presidents. There were two problems with that hope. The first is that there was no reason to believe it would happen; if anything, with their fear elevated the voters will likely lean toward the candidates offering the most simplistic, bellicose answers. The second is that, as Jeb Bush is showing, serious Republican presidential candidates are rather difficult to find.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, November 18, 2015

November 20, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, ISIS, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“That Old Anti-Government Mantra”: Bashing “Big” Government Is Easy, Effective And Out Of Touch With Reality

It is easy. It is simple. It plays into the current cynicism of Americans.

Bash government. Tear into not just Washington and the gridlock but into the federal government itself.

If you listen to this crop of Republican presidential candidates you will get an earful – constantly.

Carly Fiorina, for example, said in the CNBC debate, “And this big, powerful, corrupt bureaucracy works now only for the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected.” Heck, she sounds like Huey Long, what a populist. But coming from Fiorina, the epitome of the super wealthy, this statement is, indeed, rich.

And Chris Christie couldn’t resist: “The government has lied to you, and they have stolen from you.”

The debate went on and on with each candidate trying to outdo the other with attacks on government. So, you say, what’s new about that – it has been going on for decades.

Aside from being destructive and counterproductive, the attitude towards government as a big, bad, out-of-control bureaucracy increasingly does not fit reality.

First, let’s take a look at what constitutes the current federal government. Across the U.S., there are about 2,750,000 executive, legislative and judicial employees (federal civilian employees). There are another approximately 1,400,000 uniformed military employees. These numbers don’t include contractors or the postal service.

But here is a very interesting fact: Of those 2,750,000 civilian employees in government, 1,232,000 are employed in a military or homeland security capacity – about 60 percent. And the vast majority are employed outside the Washington area.

Veterans Affairs leads the list with 326,000 civilian employees, followed by the Army with 257,000, Homeland Security with 193,000, the Navy with 192,000, the Air Force with 166,00 and the Department of Defense with 98,000.

Thus, when we add those to the uniformed military we come up with about 2.7 million, which leaves only about 1.5 million working for the federal government in traditional non-defense/security-related agencies or for Congress or the judiciary.

And many of those employees whom voters typically associate as “government” have seen serious reductions over the last decade.

For those who constantly complain about government’s growth, from 2003 to 2013 we have seen workforce reductions of 17 percent at Housing and Urban Development, 14 percent at Agriculture, 11 percent at Treasury, 10 percent at Education, 10 percent at Environmental Protection Agency, 8 percent at Interior and the list goes on.

In addition, when considered as a percentage of the overall workforce, the 2,750,000 constitute just 2 percent, and the 1.5 million non-defense/security-related, just about 1 percent.

The bottom line, too, is that most of these people are working hard to do more with less, are committed to serving the public and care about contributing to society. They may not be glamorous jobs, or very high paying, but they are fulfilling because civil servants know that they are there to make a difference in people’s lives. The vast majority simply care and care deeply. And they don’t deserve the derision of politicians. Government is not the problem, and it is not bloated; sadly, that may be more of an apt description of some of the politicians.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, November 9, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Anti-Government, Federal Government, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“America Is Not A Brave Nation”: Once Again, Fear Has Made Us Our Own Worst Enemy, Has Made Us Stupid

America is not a brave nation.

Yes, that’s a heretical thing to say. Yes, our military is the world’s finest and our servicewomen and men provide daily examples of incontestable courage. Yes, police officers brave bullets, firefighters rush into burning buildings and ordinary Janes stand in harm’s way to save complete strangers on a routine basis. Yes, there are brave people all over this country, people who put self second every day.

But courage is not only about putting self second. Courage is also about who you are in stressful times, about the ability to not be rattled, to act with sound judgment, to keep your head when those about you are, as Rudyard Kipling put it, “losing theirs and blaming it on you.”

And by that standard, no. There are many words you might use to describe the character of this country, but brave isn’t one of them. Rather, we are fraidy-cats and cowards.

We’ve proven this many times since that Tuesday morning in September of 2001 when Islamic extremists kidnapped four planeloads of our fellow citizens and turned them into guided missiles in an attack that ripped away our illusions of security.

We proved it by bungling into a needless war chasing terrorists who were not there, by burning mosques and criminalizing Islam, by compromising basic civil rights for the Great Pumpkin of security.

And we proved it again last Monday when Ahmed was arrested for bringing a clock to school.

Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old ninth grader from MacArthur High in Irving, Texas, had built the digital clock at home and was eager to show it to his engineering teacher, who liked it. When his English teacher saw it, however, she thought it looked like a bomb. Next thing he knew, the teenage tinkerer, who wants to be an engineer when he grows up, was under arrest.

There’s a picture of him online that’s heartbreaking: It shows a slight, brown-skinned boy in glasses, looking frightened and confused. He’s wearing a NASA T-shirt. He is also wearing handcuffs.

Ahmed says police told him he was being charged with building a hoax bomb. James McLellan, a spokesman for the Irving police, told local station WFAA, “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”

That, of course, is because it was a clock.

Eventually, whoever has custody of the brain at the Irving PD must have recognized this for the Islamophobic idiocy it was. Ahmed was released. No charges will be filed.

Word of all this set Twitter ablaze. Ahmed has received supportive tweets from Arianna Huffington and Hillary Clinton. Mark Zuckerberg invited him to Facebook. President Obama invited him to the White House. And his ordeal inspired a trending hashtag: #IStandWithAhmed.

Which is good. But one hopes it will also inspire a little soul-searching for this country, which would be better.

Because once again, fear has made us our own worst enemy, has made us stupid. The fact that a bright kid — a kid with initiative, a kid who only wanted to make his teacher proud, a kid who, by all appearances, is precisely what we wish more kids would be — was hauled away in handcuffs for those very attributes ought to make us sober and reflective about the nation we have become in the years since Sept. 11.

One is reminded of the time President George W. Bush strode out on an aircraft carrier beneath a celebratory banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” But given that the primary goal of terrorism is to make people afraid, maybe somebody should find that banner and ship it to al Qaeda.

Judging from what happened to Ahmed, they deserve it more than we ever did.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, September 21, 2014

September 27, 2015 Posted by | 9-11, Fearmongering, Islamophobia | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Iran And The Case For Realism”: The Choices We Face Are ‘Often Between Greater And Lesser Evils’

Foreign policy debates rarely get away from being reflections of domestic political conflicts, but they are also usually based on unstated assumptions and unacknowledged theories.

That’s true of the struggle over the Iran nuclear agreement, even if raw politics is playing an exceptionally large role. There are many indications that Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine) might in other circumstances be willing to back the accord. But they have to calculate the very high costs of breaking with their colleagues on an issue that has become a test of party loyalty.

There is also the unfortunate way in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has chosen to frame Congress’s vote as a pro- or anti-Israel proposition. Many staunch supporters of Israel may have specific criticisms of the inspection regime, but they also believe that the restraints on Iran’s nuclear program are real. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), for example, has said that U.S. negotiators “got an awful lot, particularly on the nuclear front.” And the “nuclear front,” after all, is the main point.

But the pressures on Cardin, who is still undecided, and several other Democrats to vote no anyway are enormous. A yes vote from Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, would be a true profiles-in-courage moment — and have a real influence on his wavering colleagues.

President Obama and his allies are right to say that the dangers of having the agreement blocked by Congress are much higher than the risks of trying to make it work. The notion that the United States could go back and renegotiate for something even tougher is laughable, because this is not simply a U.S.-Iran deal. It also involves allies who strongly back what’s on the table. Suggesting that the old sanctions on Iran could be restored is absurd for the same reason: Our partners would bridle if the United States disowned what it has agreed to already.

The administration’s core challenge to its critics is: “What is the alternative?” It is not a rhetorical question.

The counts at the moment suggest that Obama will win by getting at least enough votes to sustain a veto of legislation to scuttle the pact. He has a shot (Cardin’s decision could be key) of getting 41 senators to prevent a vote on an anti-deal measure altogether.

But once this episode is past us, the president, his congressional opponents and the regiment of presidential candidates owe the country a bigger discussion on how they see the United States’ role in the world. Obama in particular could profit from finally explaining what the elusive “Obama Doctrine” is and responding, at least indirectly, to criticisms of the sort that came his way Friday from Republican hopefuls Scott Walker and Marco Rubio.

There are many (I’m among them) who see Obama primarily as a foreign policy realist. Especially after our adventures in Iraq, realism looks a whole lot better than it once did. I say this as someone who still thinks that the United States needs to stand up for democratic values and human rights but who also sees military overreach as a grave danger to our interests and long-term strength. The principal defense of Obama’s stewardship rests on the idea that, despite some miscues, his realism about what military power can and can’t achieve has recalibrated the United States’ approach, moving it in the right direction.

A useful place to start this discussion is “The Realist Persuasion,” Richard K. Betts’s article in the 30th anniversary issue of the National Interest, realism’s premier intellectual outpost. Betts, a Columbia University scholar, argues that realists “focus more on results than on motives and are more attuned to how often good motives can produce tragic results.” While idealistic liberals and conservatives alike are often eager to “support the righteous and fight the villainous,” realists insist that the choices we face are “often between greater and lesser evils.”

“At the risk of overgeneralizing,” he writes, “one can say that idealists worry most about courage, realists about constraints; idealists focus on the benefits of resisting evil with force, realists on the costs.” On the whole, “realists recommend humility rather than hubris.”

For those of us whose heads are increasingly realist but whose hearts are still idealist, realism seems cold and morally inadequate. Yet the realists’ moral trump card is to ask whether squandering lives, treasure and power on impractical undertakings has anything to do with morality. Critics of realism confront the same question that opponents of the Iran deal face: “What is the alternative?”

 

By: E. J. Dionne Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 31, 2015

September 1, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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