Syria, Spookhousing, And A Scary Stroll Through The Neoconservative Mind

It was inevitable, of course. No, I’m not talking about the Obama-Kerry agreement with the Russians on what to do with Syria’s chemical weapons. I’m talking about the subsequent criticism and hysteria coming from the shoot-first-negotiate-later crowd.

No matter how things turned out, no matter what decision the President made, no matter whether we dropped bombs or didn’t drop bombs, shot missiles or didn’t shoot missiles, we could have expected this headline:

John McCain, Lindsey Graham Criticize Syria Deal: ‘An Act Of Provocative Weakness’

You have to admit that is a clever phrase: “Provocative weakness.” But what does it mean? McCain and Graham try to explain:

What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement: They see it as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part, We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon.

Let me see here. If seeking and perhaps finding a non-bomb way out of an international dispute, while keeping the threat of bombs on the table, represents a weakness that will provoke our enemies, then it is not hard to fathom what is the right thing to do for McCain and Graham and others today criticizing the President’s attempt to find a peaceful way out of a crisis: bomb the hell out of your enemies even if your enemies are willing to give you what you want! Because, apparently, getting what you want without dropping bombs is not a sign of strength and success but a sign of weakness and failure.

Even though it is sometimes necessary, I don’t like spending much time rummaging around in the spook-filled heads of people who think like that, who refuse to take yes for an answer while there are still plenty of cruise missiles to launch. Trying to figure out what makes people like McCain and Graham tick, what makes them long for and lead cheers for warfare even when, at least right now, it isn’t necessary to accomplish our stated limited goal, is not likely to bear much fruit.

But one thing is very clear: McCain’s and Graham’s goal in Syria is not limited. It is much more ambitious than stopping a dictator from using chemical weapons that the world long ago agreed were too horrendous to countenance. Obviously, these two and others on the right are eager to jump into every fire in the Middle East, no matter how many times we get burned, because, well, otherwise we look weak. It is much, much better to get burned to a crisp, or burn others to a crisp, than to appear weak to some warmongering conservatives. Never mind that we have spent a decade at war in at least two countries in the region and we don’t appear all that strong. In fact, a good case can be made that protracted warfare has genuinely weakened us in the eyes of the world.

As I say, I don’t want to spend much time spookhousing, trying to figure out what makes people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham think and act the way they do. Suffice it to say that today we should all give thanks that the band doesn’t play “Hail To The Chief” when John McCain walks into a room, and that the weight of his opinions on our international dos and don’ts is felt mainly on television talk shows, on which he appears almost daily and on which he is rarely if ever aggressively challenged.

Don Knotts searches for spooks in Ghost ProtocolIn any case, speaking of strange thinking, speaking of spookhouse-minds to explore, perhaps this is a good time to mention one of the craziest things I have read in a major publication in a long time. It comes via the Wall Street Journal and an article authored by Norman Podhoretz, an old neoconservative who is widely respected—and I mean widely respected: George W. Bush handed him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 for being “at the forefront of American intellectual thought for the last half-century.” Keep that in mind as we go on: “intellectual thought.”

There are at least three more things you need to know about Norman Podhoretz before we get to his article:

♦ He suggested in 1980 we might lose the Cold War with the Soviets and even believed Ronald Reagan wasn’t tough enough on the commies, saying in 1984 that the Gipper was “following a strategy of helping the Soviet Union stabilize its empire, rather than a strategy aimed at encouraging the breakup of that empire from within.” A mere five years later the Soviet Union began to dissolve. Yikes, Norman!

♦ Not only was he a cheerleader for the 2003 Iraq War, he was a cheerleader for attacking Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the 1990s. Yikes again, Norman!

♦ In 2007—in 2007!— he called for and prayed for George W. Bush to bomb the hell out of Iran because time was running out. He answered critics of his scheme, who warned of the dangerous repercussions involved, by citing, who else, John McCain:

Nevertheless, there is a good response to them, and it is the one given by John McCain. The only thing worse than bombing Iran, McCain has declared, is allowing Iran to get the bomb.

Yikes once more, Norm! That’s three yikes! and Podhoretz should be out, but nope, he’s still in the game. His latest article, weirdly but strategically titled, “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” is perhaps this old right-winger’s finest moment in right-wing intellectual nuttery.

Podhoretz believes that not only is the President’s leadership leading to national decline and an “erosion of American power,” it is not happening because Obama is “incompetent,” “bungling,” “feckless,” “amateurish,” and “in over his head.” No, no, no. The President is none of those things, says this respected neocon. You see, Obama means to lead the United States into decline. Obama wants to undermine American strength, but he has to hide his motives:

His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish. The accomplishment would not have been possible if the intention had been too obvious. The skill lies in how effectively he has used rhetorical tricks to disguise it.

Referencing Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky—the unholy trinity in the liturgy that informs right-wing conspiracists in the First Church of Obama-Haters—Podhoretz says Obama is a “left-wing radical” who believes “that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs” and, thus, the President wants to fundamentally transform the United States by reducing “the country’s power and influence.”

Obama is so crafty in pursuing this diabolical goal, that all this apparent incompetence, fecklessness and amateurism is just a cover. And the President, Podhoretz tells us, doesn’t really care that people see him that way:

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen.

You see? President Obama is willing to sacrifice his own reputation in order to weaken the country so that we will all live happily ever after as world citizens. Got it? Spooky, ain’t it?

Journeying through the ghoulish mind of Norman Podhoretz—again, a man well-respected as an “intellectual” on the right—makes one long for a respite in the little-less-scary and the lot-less-intellectual noggin of John McCain. Why? Because for all his militaristic bravado and chronic interventionism, I think John McCain really does believe President Obama is merely incompetent, amateurish, and in over his head, as opposed to believing that our Commander-in-Chief is skillfully misleading us all as he purposely engineers the decline of America.

No matter what, though, the neoconservative mind, represented either by John McCain or Norman Podhoretz, should send shivers down your spine.

Remarks And Asides

First the bad news:

If Higgs Boson Calculations Are Right, A Catastrophic ‘Bubble’ Could End Universe

Now the good news:

Earth will likely be long gone before any Higgs boson particles set off an apocalyptic assault on the universe. Physicists expect the sun to burn out in 4.5 billion years or so, and expand, likely engulfing Earth in the process.

___________________________

at a couple of town hall meetings in Arizona on Tuesday, John McCain got in a scrap with know-nothings over immigration reform. These are the same ignorant folks McCain pandered to during his last election, so he damn well deserved it.

Here’s how the AP reported part of the pushback:

“There are 11 million people living here illegally,” [McCain] said. “We are not going to get enough buses to deport them.”

Some audience members shouted out their disapproval.

One man yelled that only guns would discourage undocumented immigration. Another man complained that undocumented immigrants should never be able to become citizens or vote. A third man said undocumented immigrants were illiterate invaders who wanted free government benefits.

McCain urged compassion. “We are a Judeo-Christian nation,” he said.

“A Judeo-Christian nation”? The senator apparently doesn’t understand Judeo-Christian compassion, at least the kind we see on display these days. From USA Today:

BEAUMONT, TEXAS — Pastor James McAbee believes the Scriptures can tame temptation and wash away sins.

But he’ll tell you that nothing repels true evil like a well-placed, loaded Glock .40-caliber pistol.

Speaking in strange tongues, the Assembly of God preacher said:

I preach peace. Having a firearm keeps the peace.

A piece keeps the peace? Amen, say all the followers of Jesus, the gun-toting Prince of Peace.

_____________________________

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog published an article titled, “Wal-Mart’s freaking out about the economy. Should the rest of us?” It began by citing comments from “a couple of internal e-mails from Wal-Mart executives panicking about the company’s worst sales start in seven years” :

Well, we just had one of those weeks here at Walmart U.S. Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?

Where’s their money? Heck, that’s an easy one. The Walton family finally has it all!

From the Forbes list of the 400 richest folks in America:

walton family wealth2

That’s a total of $115.5 billion. Those folks need to do a little more shopping at Wal-Mart!

___________________________________

f 2inally, there is the case of Dan Friedman, a reporter for the New York Daily News. He has come forward to admit it was he who, accidentally, started all those weird stories about yet-to-be-confirmed Chuck Hagel speaking to “Friends of Hamas”:

Here’s what happened: When rumors swirled that Hagel received speaking fees from controversial organizations, I attempted to check them out.

On Feb. 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did Hagel’s Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed?

Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the “Junior League of Hezbollah, in France”? And: What about “Friends of Hamas”?

The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed — let alone that a former senator would speak to them.

No one could take seriously the idea”? Huh? We’re talking about crazy people here. HuffPo describes what happened next:

The following day, an article appeared on the conservative website Breitbart.com with the headline, “SECRET HAGEL DONOR?: WHITE HOUSE SPOX DUCKS QUESTION ON ‘FRIENDS OF HAMAS.’” Conservative pundits, including Mike Huckabee, and other websites also addressed the rumor. It even came up during a Fox Business segment with host Lou Dobbs.

The right-wing website RedState also got in on the action and someone commenting on that story explained exactly how wing-nut journalism works, when it comes to Barack Obama:

Any accusation against the President or anyone in anyway connected to his administration must be treated as a fact based truth until otherwise proven false.

Yes!

The Republican War On Class

Contemporary conservatives are a classy bunch:

♦ One of them, a Texas congressman, invited a vulgar, Obama-hating gun freak to the State of the Union address to provide, he explained, “balance.” The vulgar, Obama-hating gun freak then said he could not offer a reaction to the speech because, “I’m supposed to keep my pants on.” Now, that’s balance.

♦ Another conservative, a well-known and well-paid whore for the gun industry, urged people to buy even more guns just in case there is a “fiscal collapse” brought on by President Obama. If that sounds familiar, it is exactly the rationale of Nancy Lanza, a “prepper” who feared an economic collapse and kept several guns in her home to defend herself. Unfortunately, her disturbed son shot her in her sleep and proceeded to Sandy Hook Elementary School to kill six-year-olds and teachers before putting a gun to his own head.

♦ Two insanely-conservative U.S. Senators—I repeat: U.S. Senators—have essentially accused President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Republican Chuck Hagel, of being in bed with foreign terrorists. And 41 Republican Senators, including Missouri’s Roy Blunt—who had previously indicated Hagel should not be filibustered—supported a historic filibuster to keep Hagel’s nomination from coming to a vote, a vote he would otherwise clearly win.

Hagel’s offense, as John McCain eventually admitted, was pissing off his fellow Republicans many years ago by criticizing George W. Bush and the surge in Iraq. Republicans can forget all the damage they have done to the economy and all the debt they have racked up, but they can never forget one of their own who told the truth about them.

♦ Three Fox “News” hosts mocked Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old African-American woman who, because of Republican voter suppression tactics, waited hours in line to vote last November, with one of the hosts saying,

What was she the victim of? Rashes on the bottom of her feet?

♦ A Republican congressman from Georgia, seeking an open U.S. Senate seat in 2014, has bragged in a fundraising letter about his insight into Barack Obama:

I was the first member of Congress to call him a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies like government control of health care and redistribution of wealth.

Turns out the congressman is a liar, but not for saying Obama is a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies—heck, we all know he is—but because the congressman was not “the first” to say so.

♦ A big-time Tea Party group, FreedomWorks, which recently paid its former chairman Dick Armey $8 million bucks to go away, produced a video with a segment that featured two female interns, one pretending to be a panda and one pretending to be Hillary Clinton. The panda-intern was, reportedly, “performing oral sex on the then-secretary of state.”

Classy stuff. Real family values. Onward Christian soldiers!

False Equivalence And The Immigration Issue

I have heard a lot of talk about President Obama’s interview with The New Republic, but little of it has focused on his answer to a question about the “nastiness” that has  characterized politics in Washington:

I think the issue is that we have these institutional barriers that prevent what the American people want from happening. Some of them are internal to Congress, like the filibuster in the Senate. Some of them have to do with our media and what gets attention. Nobody gets on TV saying, “I agree with my colleague from the other party.” People get on TV for calling each other names and saying the most outlandish things.

Even on issues like the response to Hurricane Sandy, Chris Christie was getting hammered by certain members of his own party and media outlets for cooperating with me to respond to his constituents. That gives you an indication of how difficult I think the political environment has become for a lot of these folks. And I think what will change that is politicians seeing more upside to cooperation than downside, and right now that isn’t the case. Public opinion is going to be what changes that.

In the follow up, TNR’s Franklin Foer rightly stated:

FF: When you talk about Washington, oftentimes you use it as a way to describe this type of dysfunction. But it’s a very broad brush. It can seem as if you’re apportioning blame not just to one party, but to both parties—

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, no, let me be clear. There’s not a—there’s no equivalence there. In fact, that’s one of the biggest problems we’ve got in how folks report about Washington right now, because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity. And so the default position for reporting is to say, “A plague on both their houses.” On almost every issue, it’s, “Well, Democrats and Republicans can’t agree”—as opposed to looking at why is it that they can’t agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?

How gratifying that was to read. Imagine: The President isn’t as ignorant as some folks thought he was on the issue of both-sides-do-it journalism. He’s a pretty smart guy after all!

Yes, public opinion is the only way to change “the political environment.” And, yes, journalists play the lazy game of telling the public that both sides are equally guilty of the dysfunction we see.

But sometimes journalists don’t take the lazy way out and blame both parties. There is no better example of that than the immigration issue.  USA Today reports:

As President Obama prepares to lay out his immigration plan during a speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday, a group of bipartisan senators has reached agreement on a framework to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

One doesn’t read very often that “a group of bipartisan senators” have reached agreement on anything because, well, Republicans have taken the bi out of bipartisan. So, why the change of mind on the immigration issue? I’ll let John McCain, making his trillionth appearance on a Sunday TV talk show, tell you:

Well, look, I’ll give you a little straight talk. Look at the last election. Look at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours, for a variety of reasons, and we’ve got to understand that.

McCain, of course, was for comprehensive immigration reform before he was against it before he was for it, so he should know why it is that Republicans have come to the table ready to deal. It isn’t because they have suddenly swelled up with compassion.

No, as President Obama said, public opinion changes things and there is no better snapshot of public opinion than an election. And the one issue where one could find good reporting—that is, explaining to people what was really happening in Congress—during the last election was on the issue of immigration. Democrats hammered Republicans on this issue and, for once, journalists didn’t engage in any false equivalence.

It was clear who was obstructing progress on immigration in Washington and it was clear that the GOP presidential candidate took a hard line on the issue because the extremists in his party would have it no other way.

And thus it was clear to the electorate, that browning and beautiful swarm of voters, who the culprits were. That, and only that, is why we finally see Republicans acting on the issue.

The lesson in all this is that if Democrats will keep hammering Republicans on their party’s dangerous hostage-taking budget strategy—and if President Obama will lead the way and keep reminding journalists that both sides are not equally guilty—then we may be able to correct at least the most destabilizing form of dysfunction in our country’s capital.

As the President told The New Republic:

Until Republicans feel that there’s a real price to pay for them just saying no and being obstructionist, you’ll probably see at least a number of them arguing that we should keep on doing it. It worked for them in the 2010 election cycle, and I think there are those who believe that it can work again. I disagree with them, and I think the cost to the country has been enormous.

President Rand Paul

I watched in its entirety Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning.

Predictably, the biggest grandstander in the current Senate, John McCain, did his grandstanding for his Fox “News” Channel fans. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin did the same. No doubt, both will be guests on Fox today and tonight.

But the biggest grandstander of them all was Rand Paul who, unbelievably, uttered this sentence:

Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi and did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.

Now, although she is rather feisty and capable of putting Senator Paul (God, that makes me cringe) in his place, Hillary Clinton did not really do that. I, though, will write the response that she should have given the Senator from Kentucky:

Senator Paul, you said, “if you had been president” you would have fired me. Let me explain something to you: If there ever is a future time when the American people are stupid enough to put you in charge, nobody would have to worry about firing me. I would grab my family, those whom I love, and get the hell out of the country. As dangerous a place as Libya is, I’d rather live there than live any place in which you had real power.

Now, if you please, the thought of someone like you ever becoming president has made me ill yet again and I will have to take a break.

 

Language Matters, But Not Much To Journalists

George Lakoff is an amazing linguistics guru who I have quoted often. He has something to say about what Republicans in Michigan did to unions:

Michigan has just passed a corporate servitude law. It is designed to take away many of the worker rights that unions have conferred throughout their history: the right to a living wage. The right to equal pay for women. The right to deferred payments in the form of pensions. The right to negotiate workplace standards and working conditions. The right to overtime pay.

The law is intended to destroy unions, or at least make then ineffective.

Something else Lakoff said should have your attention:

The deeper truth about unions is that they don’t just create and maintain rights for workers; they work for and create crucial rights in society as a whole. Unions created weekends, the eight-hour workday and health benefits. And through their politics, they have been at the center of support for civil rights and other social justice issues. In short, unions don’t just work for their members. They work for all of us. Including businesses: Workers are profit creators.

But perhaps the most important truth Lakoff, the linguist, passes on to all of us who call ourselves Democrats is this:

Language matters. Republicans understand this better than Democrats. Republicans have called their corporate servitude law a “right to work” law, as if the law conferred a right instead of taking many away. The first principle of political and social communication in cases of conflict is: avoid the other side’s language. The Democrats keep violating this principle, using the Republicans’ name for this law. In this way they are helping Republicans, because using the Republican language activates Republican framing, not just for this law, but for conservative ideology at the deepest level…

Language works so that the conservative name “right to work” evokes the conservative political ideology in the brains of those who hear it without wincing. The more an idea is activated in the brain the stronger it gets. Thus, the use of the conservative name strengthens the conservative ideology in the brains of the public.

The press is not being neutral in using the Republican name for the law. Journalists too, in just using the name, are supporting both the Republican framing of the law and conservative ideology. The press is not being balanced — which is what journalists typically claim to be. Balance would be to use both the names “corporate servitude law” and “right to work law” and to explain the differences in the progressive and conservative understanding of what the law is and does.

Of course, to do so would change a false view of language that journalists too often internalize, namely, that language is neutral. To see that it isn’t, just try speaking or writing of “Michigan’s corporate servitude law” and listen to conservatives scream bloody murder over a truth that does fit their view of democracy. And listen to them keep screaming because it is important to keep repeating the true name of the law if the public is to understand what the law really does.

No, language is not neutral. Language matters. Journalism matters. Politics matters.  Ask labor unions in Michigan. Heck, ask Susan Rice, who has now withdrawn her name from consideration to be our Secretary of State, all because a handful of Republican senators, among them John McCain and Lindsey Graham, working openly with Fox “News” and other more reputable news outlets, sought to destroy her public service career, and now have.

I recommend you read the entire Lakoff piece.

President Obama Dope Slaps McCain And Graham At Press Conference

If you heard a loud pop this afternoon, it came from Washington, D.C., as President Obama, during an excellent press conference that every American should have seen, dope-slapped John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

And it’s about damn time.

Here was the question and the President’s remarks:

JONATHAN KARL: Thank you Mr. President. Senator John McCain, and Senator Lindsey Graham both said today that they want to have Watergate-style hearings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and said that if you nominate Susan Rice to be Secretary of State, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination. Senator Graham said, he simply doesn’t trust Ambassador Rice after what she said about Benghazi. I’d like your reaction to that? And — and would those threats deter you from making a nomination like that?

OBAMA: Well first of all I’m not going to comment on various nominations that I’ll put forward to fill out my cabinet for the second term. Those are things that are still being discussed. But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill, and professionalism, and toughness, and grace. As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.

If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi? and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? and to besmirch her reputation? is outrageous.

And, you know, we’re after an election now. I think it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi, and I’m happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have and we will continue to provide information. And we’ve got a full-blown investigation, and all that information will be disgorged to Congress.

And I don’t think there’s any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that’s a problem. And we’ve got to get to the bottom of it and there needs to be accountability. We’ve got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won’t get any debate from me on that.

But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity at the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.

That was a presidential beat down. And McCain and Graham deserved every bit of it.

The Right’s Convenient Outrage Over Benghazi

It’s official: John McCain thinks the President, who whipped his sorry behind four years ago, is a liar.

Regarding Benghazi, I heard him tell the low-information hosts on Fox this morning:

Why did the President of the United States continue to deceive the American people and the world? We need a select committee. Nobody died in Watergate. Nobody died in Iran-Contra. Four people died here because of their lack of action. As my friend Lindsey Graham says, they turned that consulate into a death trap.

Fox host Steve Doocy, in whose brain IQs go to die, followed McCain’s outrageous assertion with, “They did indeed.”

It’s amazing to me that without any evidence, with only “new questions” about what happened, the Foxers and their allies in Congress can continue to pretend that they know President Obama is guilty of everything from ignorance to treason.

I’m also amazed at how damned concerned are all those Foxers and Republican legislators about the four Americans who died in Libya, when those same people spent little time worrying about the Bush II administration’s failure to pay close attention to intelligence that seemed to foresee what happened on 9/11.

If Fox and its allies had spent a fraction of the time looking into that unfortunate episode as it has spent claiming that Obama is lying about what happened in Benghazi, we probably wouldn’t have had the second Bush administration.

And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it?

For the record, and because Fox “News” will never touch it, here is an excerpt from Kurt Eichenwald’s article two months ago in The New York Times:

On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.

It took almost three years for the Bushies to release that incriminating document, and they did so only under pressure from the 9/11 Commission. The Times article continued:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

Eichenwald points out that despite the CIA’s “repeated warnings” and more briefs about the upcoming “planned assault,”

the White House failed to take significant action.

Get that, Fox? Get that, John McCain and Lindsey Graham and all you others out there who are now quick to blame Obama for Benghazi? George W. Bush failed to take significant action. He failed. Where was your outrage over that? Where is it today? Three thousand Americans died on 9/11 and many more have died in our response, much of it misguided, to those attacks that the CIA warned were coming. Where’s the ongoing outrage?

We don’t know if the 9/11 attacks could have been stopped, even if Bush and his neocon friends had paid sufficient attention to the warnings. But we know it wouldn’t have hurt if they had, as there were at least a couple of events—co-conspirator Mohamed al-Kahtani’s detention in Orlando in August of 2001 and flight-school trainee Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest later that month in Minnesota—that might have led to the unraveling of the entire plan.

And we all know that the death of four Americans in Benghazi was indeed a tragedy, apparently one that could have, should have, been prevented, even though we don’t yet know enough to say what went wrong and who was responsible for it.

And, sadly, we know that people like John McCain and his channelers at Fox “News” will not wait to find out what happened before they hurl accusations at President Obama, even though not a damned one of them bothered to so much as question Bush’s ham-handed handling of intelligence warnings, just prior to the worst terrorist attack in our history—and on our own soil.

If McCain and other Foxers had been all over the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 failures, if they had been on television demanding Watergate-like hearings over those failures, then perhaps they would have more credibility today, as they prematurely demand a “select committee” over Benghazi, which would quickly turn into an Obama hate fest.

But they didn’t say a word about those prior failures, and I, for one, don’t give a damn what they are saying now.

The McCain Counterfactual

Thomas Frank was on MSNBC this morning promoting his new book, Pity the Billionaire: The Unlikely Resurgence of the American Right:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: After the collapse of the markets in 2008, you would expect a huge populist revival, a revival of the left, but actually two years later the biggest Republican landslide nationally in U.S. history. Why?

THOMAS FRANK: Exactly opposite of what you would expect. You know, if your model is the 1930s, everything went in the opposite direction…The populist feeling was really captured by the other side, by the conservative movement. You know, they got out there in the parks with the rallies—the Tea Party movement. And they were the ones denouncing the banks, denouncing Wall Street. They really captured that sensibility…

It is amazing when you think about it. The Republican Party, especially given the failure of the economic philosophy that governed it and governed the country, itself seemed on the edge of collapse after Republicans oversaw the near-collapse of the financial system.

As Frank said, one would expect a populist revolt from the left, like what happened much later with the Occupy movement. Wikipedia has a nice summary of the motivation of the “different local groups” that constitute what we know as the Occupy movement:

among the prime concerns is the claim that large corporations and the global financial system control the world in a way that disproportionately benefits a minority, undermines democracy and is unstable.

It’s not that hard to hear an echo of Tea Party resentment in those concerns. There is something of an overlapping outrage between populists left and right, when it comes to big banks and corporations and their inordinate influence.

But where were the Occupiers in the fall of 2008?

Well, oddly, the election of Barack Obama short-circuited that leftist revolt. Folks on the left were disposed to give him a chance to change things. I don’t think there is any doubt that if McCain had won in 2008, instead of witnessing the rise of the angry, ultra-conservative Tea Party, railing against bank bailouts and big government and that black man in the White’s House, we would have had a revival of left-leaning populism, one modeled very much on the Occupy movement, attacking the system from a different angle, an attack in support of the “99%” and most definitely an attack on the influence of money in politics.

Indeed, how different would our politics look today, in 2012, if there had been no Tea Party, no hysteria about the Scary Negro and his “socialist” policies? Certainly a President McCain would have had to bail out the banks in 2009, as Obama did, following George Bush’s tentative rescue. And certainly there would have been a 2010 mid-term resurgence by Democrats based on that bailout.

But would a populism from the left have been as fierce as what we saw, and continue to see to some extent, as that coming from the right? Would that populism have been as anxious to embrace every weird conspiracy dreamed up by liberal radio and television personalities? Would Democrats have regrouped after McCain’s election and secretly plotted to destroy his presidency on inauguration night, as Republicans did?

No. Why? Because there just aren’t that many liberal radio and television personalities to begin with. And those who do exist tend not to be Rush Limbaugh-size conspiracy fools.

More important, though, is that Democrats, the party of government, would have had no initial interest in sabotaging a McCain presidency, especially since McCain had periodically demonstrated in his career that he was willing to work with them to get things done. Because of their fondness for good government, it just isn’t in their nature to gum up the works (something that will have to change if Romney-Ryan, after a campaign of utter dishonesty built on Republican congressional obstruction, “takes back” the White’s House).

Left out of this analysis so far is the influence, which has come to be a dominating influence, of evangelicals on the Tea Party movement. The so-called teavangelicals have to a large degree muddled a movement that was energized by a libertarian antipathy to big government, debt and deficits, high taxes, and other “unconstitutional” intrusions.

Today the movement has been focused more on social issues, like contraception, abortion and homosexuality, because the movement is whiter, wealthier, manlier, and, most important, more evangelical than the population as a whole.

It’s entertaining to speculate about what might have happened if the country had chosen John McCain four years ago. But it is not that entertaining to observe what has happened to the country, particularly what has happened to the Republican Party, since America elected its first African-American in the midst of the worst economic turmoil in 80 years.

In fact, it is downright depressing.

One Fine Day

Well, I said yesterday that Romney’s attack on President Obama for “sympathizing” with those who attacked and killed American diplomats on Tuesday—I still can’t believe Romney made it necessary to write that—would require a “multitude of relatively sober Republican leaders in Congress” to step forth and “call this for what it is” or else “the Republican Party is truly beyond redemption.”

Okay, so let’s look at what happened.

Joe Scarborough, who has his hear tuned to the weird frequency congressional Republicans use to broadcast their bullshit, tweeted:

He was “inundated,” he said. Some inundation. Quiet as could be.

No Republican that I could find openly condemned Romney for suggesting not once but twice that President Obama essentially sided with those attacking American embassies in that he felt the need to “apologize” to them. Not one Republican.

Oh, to be sure, there weren’t that many Republicans willing to go all-in with Mittens, but neither were they rushing to call him out for his recklessness or his questionable patriotism.

Of course, I didn’t expect they would. But I did expect people like Richard Lugar, a veteran Republican who gets credit for being sensible on foreign policy matters, to strongly criticize Romney’s irresponsibility, especially since Ambassador Chris Stevens worked as a staffer for Lugar on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But no criticism of Romney came from Lugar. Only rightful praise for Chris Stevens, whose priceless service and sad death Romney stomped all over with his viscous and opportunistic attack on the Commander-in-Chief.

What about John McCain, who fancies himself, depending on what day it is, the de facto Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, and sometimes even the de facto President of the United States. What did he have to say?

Well, I saw McCain twice on Thursday morning defending Romney. And I mean defending him. Here’s how NBC wrote up his appearance on the Today show:

A day after he and many fellow Republicans showed restrained reaction to the White House’s response to the deadly attacks against American diplomats in Libya, Sen. John McCain on Thursday ripped into President Obama for “feckless foreign policy” he said is harming Middle East relations.

See? Romney lies about and attacks the Commander-in-Chief before McCain’s dead “friend” Chris Stevens is cold, and McCain, statesman that he is, rips Obama—the man who ordered bin Laden to the bottom of the sea—as “feckless.”  Thank Allah that guy never actually became president.

What about Rob Portman, who was a Paul Ryan cowlick away from being Romney’s VP pick? What did he have to say about Romney’s unpatriotic overreaction to a statement from our embassy in Cairo? On CBS This Morning, he said this:

I think for Governor Romney, having seen that statement, to react as he did is the reaction that most Americans would have…which is that at a time when we have this kind of violence against American territory, the thing to do is to condemn it and not to begin by issuing an apology…

Are you bleeping kidding me? Huh? First, Governor Romney is not just one of a breed we call “most Americans.” We don’t want a man in the White House who will react like Most Americans. We want one who actually gets all the facts right before he runs his mouth, a running mouth that will run all over the world.

Second, Portman, as interviewer Norah O’Donnell tried to point out to him, is simply spouting off without knowing the chronology of events. For the millionth time, the statement—not cleared by the White House but completely acceptable given the circumstances—issued by a staffer in the embassy in Cairo occurred about six hours before the breach of American territory happened, and Secretary Hillary Clinton was quick to condemn the violence after it became clear what was going on.

Dammit, get it right. You’re a bleeping U.S. Senator for God’s sake.

I saw Allen West, congressman from a place in Florida where facts are apparently manufactured for convenience, repeat to the Three Stooges on Fox and Friends this morning the same lie Portman and Romney are still pushing:

We should not have made some type of conciliatory, apologetic stance in the middle of our embassies being attacked…

The fact that there was no apologetic stance at any time, let alone “in the middle” of an attack on our embassies, didn’t bother the Three Stooges, as they nodded in agreement with that lying fool from Florida, in all but pigmentation a perfect representation of today’s GOP.

I saw Jim Inhofe, the loopy senator from Oklahoma, aggressively defending Romney on Fox this morning, embarassing himself, and if it is possible to further embarass that God-forsaken and embarrassing state, Oklahoma.

I read a statement released by Senator Jim DeMint, the real father of the Obama-loathing, reactionary Tea Party, not only defending Romney, but also picking up Romney’s lie about the President, whom he hates with a Christianly, Waterlooish passion:

Governor Romney is absolutely right, there is no justification for these deadly attacks and we should never apologize for American freedom. Islamic radicals will use any pretext to justify their hatred of America and our freedom.

It was disheartening to hear the administration condemn Americans engaging in free speech that hurt the feelings of Muslims, while real atrocities have been repeatedly committed by Islamic radicals against women, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East.

How do you begin to describe a party whose leaders say stupid and dishonest shit like that?

And speaking of stupid and dishonest shit.

Rush Limbaugh, who just a day earlier said Romney “may as well be Elmer Fudd,” since conservatives weren’t voting for him but “against Obama,” was on Wednesday all gooey-eyed and Viagra-hard over Mittens:

And after all this happens, guess who the bad guy is?  Mitt Romney, who is the only guy that looked presidential in all of this, who had the guts to go out and characterize this statement from the embassy accurately.  And the media is now saying that Romney jumped the gun, launched a political attack before the facts of the embassy violence were known…

Stupid and dishonest shit is what that is. But there is plenty more, which I won’t go into, except for what was revealed about Romney’s motives by none other than Laura Ingraham, the nasally, hysterical talk show host and Fox “News” regular, who hates Obama almost as much as she loves her converted-Catholic Jesus.

On Tuesday, before the events in Libya and Egypt, Ingraham said this about Mittens:

This is a gimme election, or at least it should be. If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down. Start new, with new people.

Ingraham was expressing the frustrations conservatives were feeling over Romney’s declining poll numbers. But on Wednesday, things had changed. After playing a clip of Romney’s presser in which he doubled-down on the initial lie about Obama and the embassy statement, Ingraham said:

Excellent. Mitt Romney is gettin’ his groove on…He did not back down one iota. That’s exactly how he should conduct this campaign. Keep these people back on their heels…Maybe this will just spur Obama to get a pair as well…

Her first caller after that stellar commentary was a spectacularly ignorant gentleman from New Albany, Indiana, who confessed that, “Obama makes my skin crawl,” after he chimed in with this:

This is what I’ve been waiting for. This-is-what-I-have-been-waiting-for. In one press conference, Governor Romney looked more presidential than any press conference I’ve seen Barack Obama conduct in four years…

Now, one would have had to see that pathetic Romney press conference to know just how disturbed is this gentlemen’s perception, but his comment does reveal the real reason why Mitt Romney behaved on Tuesday like Glenn Beck instead of a candidate for high office. He was trying to get people like Limbaugh and Ingraham and that low-information, bigoted American from Indiana to love him.

Because nothing makes palefaced folks say “I love you” like a factless attack on our feckless, Muslim-loving, hyper-apologetic, terrorist-sympathizing, Kenyan Commander-in-Chief.

And if Republicans want a party that only right-wing know-nothings on the radio and TV can love, then that is what they will have.

And one fine day they will have it all to themselves.

Muslim Internment

Recently I read an essay written by one of my favorite thinkers, Sam Harris (author of bestsellers The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, And the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation, among others). The essay is titled, “In Defense of Profiling,” and its basic argument is that at our nation’s airports,

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.

Harris claims that all the unnecessary screening procedures at airports amount to a “tyranny of fairness” because they are wasted on “people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists.”  While I recommend reading Harris’s post, I also recommend reading a thoughtful rebuttal of it written by security expert Bruce Schneier, who argues that Harris’ profiling idea is a bad one because,

It doesn’t make us any safer—and it actually puts us all at risk.

Schneier offers several good arguments against profiling Muslims at airports and the one I find most convincing is this one:

Beyond the societal harms of deliberately harassing a minority group, singling out Muslims alienates the very people who are in the best position to discover and alert authorities about Muslim plots before the terrorists even get to the airport. This alone is reason enough not to profile.

This deliberate harassment and resulting alienation is not something to ignore just because “we” are not the ones being harassed or alienated. As with most important policy issues, it comes down to this: What kind of country do we all want to live in?

I bring up all this because of the shameful nonsense in the news about right-wing legislators, including Michele Bachmann, and their conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, being nefariously connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Even John McCain found what these legislators did—and continue to do— shameful and he, along with a handful of Republicans, denounced it. But other prominent conservatives, including Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, have defended Bachmann and her colleagues, claiming she was only asking questions and not making allegations.

Gingrich suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood may have influence over the Obama administration and he asked Bachmann’s critics,

What is it they are afraid of learning?

Gingrich’s and Limbaugh’s and Bachmann’s curiosity would be admirable if, say, it was applied to Mitt Romney’s tax returns, but it is disgusting in this case because there is no evidence—exactly no evidence—that the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Muslim group has “infiltrated” our government. The only “evidence” is that there are folks working in the government who happen to be Muslims.

And that is why people like Sam Harris are wrong to endorse profiling at airports. Once such profiling is widely accepted, the public can easily slither into dangerous reasoning like the following, from the founder of an Arizona Tea Party group:

Have you ever read the Quran? I suggest you do so, because anyone that is a Muslim is a threat to this country, and that’s a fact. There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. If they are Muslim they have to follow the Quran. That’s their religion and that’s their doctrine.

As the AzCapitolTimes reported, the Tea Party honcho is planning on recalling John McCain for criticizing Michele Bachmann’s smearing of a government official and he also endorsed an email from an extremist website (which used to be hosted by WordPress, by the way) that accused McCain of defending “Islamic enemies of America.”

You see? If you are a Muslim you are ipso facto a threat to the country and if you dare to oppose such specious and culturally-damaging reasoning you are defending our “Islamic enemies.” Such hysteria characterizes reactionary politics these days, and Sam Harris, a man whose mind I admire greatly, contributes to it with his advocacy of profiling Muslims at airports.

I share with Harris a deep aversion to fundamentalist Islam, which is similar to my deep aversion to all fundamentalist religions. But I ask again: What kind of country do we want to live in? Isn’t taking your shoes off at an airport and undergoing a brief screening better than pushing a whole group of people into metaphorical internment camps?

The Real Muslim Conspiracy

Look, it is obvious that congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a nut’s nut, is a very sick woman. But her conspiracy-laden, paranoic mind couldn’t do the country much harm if it weren’t for folks like John Boehner, who appointed her, for God’s sake, to sit on the House Intelligence Committee.

And her paranoia would mostly go unnoticed, if it weren’t endorsed and spread far and wide by people like Glenn Beck, who said on Thursday:

There are a few people in Washington D.C. that I trust and tell the truth…Michele Bachmann is one of them…

One of the Beckian truths that Bachmann is still telling, despite a scolding by John McCain, is that our government is being infiltrated by double naught Muslim Brotherhood spies, one of whom may be Hillary Clinton’s long-time aide, Huma Abedin. The truth is, though, that our government, particularly the House of Representatives, has been infiltrated by some folks with double naught IQs.

As Salon pointed out, Michele Bachmann, who is taking much of the criticism for slandering Huma Abedin, is not the only one who signed onto letters demanding investigations of five national security agencies. One of those other nuts is a man named Louis Gohmert, needless to say a Tea Party Republican from Texas. Gohmert warned just a few short years ago that Muslim terrorist babies—yep!—were invading us:

It appeared they would have young women who became pregnant [and] would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn’t even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would return back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, 20, 30 years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.

Yes, I know. It sounds like I’m just making that up, a fine piece of satire. But I’m not making it up, just like I’m not making up what Gomer, uh, I mean Gohmert said today about the killings in Aurora, Colorado:

You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place…People say … where was God in all of this? We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed … I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.

If God had a protective hand, surely he would use it to slap some sense into people like Louis Gohmert and Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck, wouldn’t he? I mean I can’t think of a better use of his hand than that.

But the sad fact about all this is that even paranoics have enemies. As Nina Burleigh pointed out, there is something to worry about in terms of a global Muslim conspiracy, and the latest nuttery from the right-wing draws attention away from it and even undermines an understanding of it:

There is a kernel of truth to Bachmann’s paranoia. If she really cared, she could start looking at America’s good friend, Saudi Arabia, which, according to political scientist Alexi Alexiev, spent over $80 billion between 1973 and 2002 creating a worldwide network of Wahhabi mosques, Islamic centers, madrassas, and charities “that constitute the actual infrastructure of Islamic extremism worldwide,” including in many Western cities. Among the recipients of Saudi money are the Afghan Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists as far away as Indonesia. “This truly colossal sum” Alexiev told a Congressional committee, was “the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever known.”

Saudi Arabia’s publicists and agents in the United States and on K Street include highly paid men in fine suits and savvy blonde PR girls who tote expensive designer bags and sport gold earrings snagged during layovers in Dubai. They have American and British accents and names that Bachmann’s constituents at Lake Woebegone can pronounce. Some of them have probably even walked through the Capital Hill offices of the intelligence expert and Congresswoman from Minnesota.

Note: Before some of you, especially my liberal friends, criticize me for including the above quotation, please read “The Global Spread of Wahhabi Islam: How Great a Threat?” as well as this article by Thomas Friedman, then we can have a discussion.

Reverend Wright Stuff Exposes What Romney Is Really Worried About

Rich guy Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade and whose family owns most of the North Siders, also known as the Chicago Cubs, funds a right-wing Super PAC (what self-respecting rich bloke doesn’t these days? I mean, America is for sale and, all in all, it’s going fairly cheaply).

His Super PAC was considering a proposal to do what John McCain wouldn’t do in 2008: dramatically stir up more white angst than was already a part of that campaign season.

The title of the proposal was “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good.”  The appeal:

Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed. And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”

Romney, who didn’t exactly “repudiate” any of his friendly Super PACS that were making mincemeat of his primary opponents, did “repudiate” this latest effort to rehash the Jeremiah Wright stuff.

Of course, that is because it is obvious these attacks will only help Obama with independent voters, who knew all about Wright and his sermons last time and were not moved by them.

But beyond that, Mittens used the opportunity today to do two things. First, he is trying to force the Obama campaign to pivot away from attacking his Bain days, saying during a short news conference this afternoon that doing so amounted to Obama attacking him personally, as suggesting he is “not a good person or not a good guy“:

My own view is that we can talk about a lot of things but the center piece of his campaign is quite clearly character assassination. And the center piece of my campaign is gonna be my vision to get America working again and provide a brighter future for our kids…it’s about jobs and kids.

Yes, jobs and kids. That’s what it’s about. Except in February, when Mittens was under the dark influence of Sean Hannity, it was about something else:

I think again that the president takes his philosophical leanings in this regard, not from those who are ardent believers in various faiths but instead from those who would like America to be more secular. And I’m not sure which is worse, him listening to Reverend Wright or him saying that we must be a less than Christian nation.

I suppose one could twist that statement into it being about “jobs and kids,” but it would take an Etch-A-Romney effort to do so.

Finally, Romney is trying to get his story straight about Bain. Throughout the primary, when he was being relentlessly attacked by Gingrich and Perry for being a vulture capitalist, Mittens couldn’t quite figure out how to respond effectively, except to attack them for attacking a fellow Republican capitalist.

Now, though, we see his general campaign defense for pre-political life shaping up:

My effort at Bain Capital, as you know, was in every case designed to try and make the enterprises we invested in more successful, to grow them. There’s this  fiction that somehow you can be highly successful by stripping assets from enterprise and walking away with lots of money and killing the enterprise. There may be some people who know how to do that, I sure don’t. Our approach was to always make try and make the enterprise more successful.

The statements Romney made today suggest that the exposing Romney’s Bain past has been effective, or is expected to be effective, and Mittens wants to shut it down.

The response from Democrats should be: double down and keep talking about it.

The Sound of Mitt’s Silence, Part II

It’s good to know that “of course” Mittens doesn’t think his political opponent—who happens also to be the President of the United States—”should be tried for treason,” as a woman asserted at his town hall in Cleveland on Monday.

But understand: It’s not that Obama hasn’t committed treason—that may be up for discussion, I assume—it’s just that he shouldn’t be tried for it.

What bizarre times we live in. There is no indignity that can be hurled at Barack Obama during a Republican event these days that Republican candidates feel compelled to challenge.

Mittens defended his silence this way:

I don’t correct all of the questions that get asked of me.

Ah, the old Rick Santorum dodge. Remember this:

Santorum: Not My Job to Correct Voters Who Say Obama’s a Muslim

Now, the problem with Romney using the Santorum Shuffle here is that he has bothered to correct voters in his recent campaign past:

Romney to angry fairgoers: ‘Corporations are people, my friend’

How could we forget that wonderful moment where Mittens decided he should educate someone in the audience who dared suggest that corporations should be taxed more.

Apparently, corporations warm Mittens’ heart-cockles such that a bad word towards them spikes his pissometer and compels him to speak out. But not so when someone—as part of a question being asked of Romney—clearly states that Obama “should be tried for treason.”

Treason, the last time I checked, is a crime punishable by death in the United States. And one would think that if a disturbed audience member at a Republican town hall accused a sitting president of a capital crime like treason, that perhaps the presumptive GOP presidential nominee might have a McCain moment and object to it.

But nope. No McCain moment, perhaps because Romney’s confrontational courage was wasted during the Vietnam War in France, shilling  for Joseph Smith’s cultic church.

Let’s imagine that the questioner had said that Obama’s stance on abortion meant that he should be “tried for murder.” What would Mittens have said?

There is obviously no outrageous charge that can be made against Barack Obama that would stir Romney to decency. If accusing the President of treason doesn’t do it, nothing will summons from Mittens even a hint of decorum.

The man is a walking advertisement for political pusillanimity. He cannot and will not take on the freaks in his party. Even the creepy talk show host and theological teabagger Bryan Fischer is on to him.

Fischer, who claimed that Romney fired Richard Grinnell, his gay foreign policy spokesman, under pressure from right-wing homophobes like Bryan Fischer, said this:

… if Mitt Romney can be pushed around, intimidated, coerced, co-opted by a conservative radio talk show host in Middle America, then how is he going to stand up to the Chinese? How is he going to stand up to Putin? How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?

How, indeed.

Republican Lies In Triplicate

Apparently, Republican presidential campaign lies come in threes.

Rick Santorum said last night during his post-loss falsehood-fest in Michigan:

…we have a government that is crushing us every single day, with more taxes, more regulations, and the idea that they know better than you how to run your life.

Let’s count ‘em up: Obama’s government is crushing us with (1) more taxes (2) more regulations and (3) run-your-life superiority, a trifecta of untruths.

Mitt Romney said last night during his post-win lie-fest in Michigan, that Barack Obama,

put us on a path toward debt and deficits and decline.

Admittedly, Romney’s unholy trinity of falsehoods sounds good to Obama-hating ears, but the only way it could be true is if it were said about George W. Bush.

Romney engaged in another tall-tale threesome:

We’ve seen enough of this president over the last three years to know that we don’t need another five years of President Obama—he thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution, he’s unresponsive to the will of our people, and in a second term he would be unrestrained by the demands of reelection. If there’s one thing we can’t afford, it’s four years of Barack Obama with nothing to answer to.

Let me reiterate: Obama (1) “he thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution” (2) “he’s unresponsive to the will of our people” (3) “he would be unrestrained by the demands of reelection.”

Keep all that stuff in mind as you read on.

Remember the controversy at the end of last year over the National Defense Authorization Act and the provision that allows the indefinite military detention of terrorist suspects—including Americans?

For now, thanks to Obama—who did what he promised when he signed the bill—apparently there is at least some reason to relax, if only while Mr. Obama is in office:

WASHINGTON — The White House released rules Tuesday evening waiving the most controversial piece of the new military detention law, and exempting U.S. citizens, as well as other broad categories of suspected terrorists…

Naturally, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham (and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire) are not exactly excited about the waiver and the temporary protection of our civil liberties:

“We are particularly concerned that some of these regulations may contradict the intent of the detainee provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress last year.”

All three senators were adamant that all terrorism suspects — American citizens or otherwise — should be taken into military custody.

Now, what we have here is an Administration, headed by a man who is supposedly “crushing us every single day” and who “thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution” and is “unresponsive to the will of our people,” trumping three Republican senators whose disregard for the Constitution and the will of the people may one day be legendary.

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be A Scavenging Capitalist

What is going on in the Republican Party is, well, unbelievable.

On one side is Gingrich, Perry, and Palin.  On the other is the GOP establishment, featuring Rush Limbaugh, for God’s sake.  On trial is what John McCain calls, “the essence of what we Republicans believe,” a nasty and brutish brand of capitalism manifested through what are known as venture capital and private equity firms like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital.

Or here is how Rick Perry, famously now, expressed his affection for Bain:

They’re vultures. They’re sittin’ out there on the, on the tree limb, waitin’ for the company to get sick, and then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.

Those ominous birds, it must be said, aren’t all bad, as a blogger named Cameron McCormick, in a piece titled, “On the Importance of Vultures,” made clear:

Our anthropocentric stigma against scavengers is totally underserved and in fact, carrion consumption is a valuable ecological “service.”

Obviously, consuming the rotting flesh of dead animals is valuable in terms of the ecology, and Republicans defending Romney are trying to assert the same thing about private equity firms vis-à-vis the economy: they contribute to overall economic efficiency by feeding on weak companies.

But who grows up thinking, “I want to be a scavenging capitalist”?

A piece posted on the far-right Tea Party site, Red State, asked about the character of a man who made millions upon millions scavenging:

We know that Bain killed American jobs when it meant profit for the shareholders and investors. When political profit is at stake, will Mitt do what is right for America, or will he serve his own best interests?[...]

Whether Bain Capital is good, or evil, necessary or sleazy, is beside the point. They do what they do (though some specific deals may be questionable), and it’s all apparently legal. It is also irrelevant. What is relevant is what his Bain days say about Mitt Romney’s character, and for that reason alone the discussion is both necessary and appropriate.

In his defense, Romney says:

There are some businesses that are growing and thriving … [and] there’s some businesses that have to be cut back in order to survive.

At least he is a polite scavenger.

I will end with a quote from Rick Perry, who must be bewildered at the criticism he is receiving for pointing out what is obvious to anyone to the left of Rush Limbaugh:

There is nothing wrong with being successful and making money. But getting rich off failure and sticking someone else with the bill is indefensible.

Well, apparently it is not indefensible these days in the Republican Party. In fact, again as John McCain helpfully observed,  it is “the essence of what we Republicans believe.”

Here’s a nice graph that Ed Schultz uses on his show now:

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Obama Lost The War In Iraq, Don’t You Know

On the way to Springfield on Sunday I heard a BBC radio report relating how Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who has previously flirted with joining the Taliban, said:

God forbid, if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will side with Pakistan.

Then upon returning home I discovered that Lindsey Graham told Fox “News” that President Obama made a “serious mistake” by keeping to the Bush Administration timetable of troop withdrawal from Iraq at the end of this year:

Not being able to close the deal in Iraq is a very serious mistake. Celebrating leaving with no troops behind is a serious mistake… He’s put in question our success in Afghanistan and he ended Iraq poorly. He fumbled the ball inside of the ten. I hope I’m wrong about what happens in Iraq, but they are dancing in the streets in Tehran.

Then I learned that Lindsey Graham’s Siamese twin, John McCain, also criticized—on foreign soil—Obama’s Bush-endorsed decision on ABC’s This Week:

Well, I think it’s a serious mistake. And there was never really serious negotiations between the administration and the Iraqis. They could have clearly made an arrangement for U.S. troops.

Yes, I’m here in the region. And, yes, it is viewed in the region as a victory for the Iranians.

So, clearly the Republican establishment, as represented by Graham and McCain, believe Mr. Obama, who is simply following the plan of his presidential predecessor, is turning over the region to the Iranians. 

Then we have even nuttier charges, like this one from presidential candidate Rick Santorum, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation:

I think that’s reason people are so upset, that, you know, we’ve lost — in many respects, we’ve lost control, lost the war in Iraq because we have Iran having broadened its sphere of influence.

Lost the war?  Obama lost the war?

In the midst of all this insanity, one must ask this rather sane question: Who is it that enhanced Iranian power in the region in the first place? Yep. The neocon philosophy-drunk Bush Administration, who altered the balance of regional power by invading and occupying Iraq, making it possible for the Iranians to potentially team up with the previously oppressed Shiite majority in Iraq and cause regional mischief.

By Republican reasoning, Mr. Bush lost the war just after we fired the first shot.

But was Graham or McCain or Santorum asked about that? Nope. Nor were they asked just how long the United States should stay in Iraq.  Ten more years?  Twenty? They should have been asked how many more Americans should die in Iraq, beyond the 4469 dead to date. Or how many more thousands of American wounded, beyond the 32,213 already suffering, will it take before Messrs. Graham and McCain and Santorum want to call it quits?

Not least, how much more of our treasure should be hauled overseas to flitter in an Iraqi wind?

All of which leads me back to Hamid Karzai.  The Afghanistan leader has given President Obama every reason to send him drone-delivered Christmas greetings from America. Thus, the requisite backtracking:

A spokesman for Karzai, Siamak Herawi, said the president had not intended any slight to the Western governments that have spent billions of dollars shoring up the Afghan administration during the 10-year war that has claimed the lives of at least 1,817 American troops.

“The media misinterpreted [Karzai’s] speech,” he said, adding that the president had been trying to express solidarity with Pakistan for having taken in millions of Afghan refugees during decades of war and the subsequent rule of the Taliban movement.  

Although it would send Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Rick Santorum into irreversible apoplexy, Mr. Obama should announce that he is stepping up troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, admitting that, like Iraq, a hundred more years in that Allah-forsaken place would at best only marginally advance American interests, which used to be the primary goal of our foreign policy.

Sarah Palin And The End of Civility

Now that the fractional governor, Sarah Palin, has been exposed for all—even the gullible—to see (something I repeatedly maintained would happen), I think it is time to examine two uncomfortable details from the 2008 campaign that I shall never get over and that perhaps changed the nature of our politics for generations.

Number one: On October 4, 2008, Ms. Palin, a candidate for Vice President of the United States, said this about Barack Obama:

This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for all of us. Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.

The Associated Press reported at the time:

The Republican campaign, falling behind Obama in polls, plans to make attacks on Obama’s character a centerpiece of presidential candidate John McCain’s message with a month remaining before Election Day.

But the attacks on Barack Obama were more than just desperate, last-minute campaign tactics. They turned out to be a glimpse into the post-election future, as the Republican Party and its extremist allies conspired to demean, delegitimate, and destroy the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.

And, oddly, I don’t completely or even largely blame Sarah Palin for the initial unprecedented attack—and suggesting that Barack Obama sympathized with terrorists “who would target their own country” is unprecedented as far as I’m concerned— on a political opponent who was aspiring to be President of the United States.

I blame people like Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, not to mention John McCain, who ultimately picked her.

Which leads me to the number two detail about the 2008 presidential campaign:

Steve Schmidt was the top campaign strategist for John McCain and Nicolle Wallace was a senior advisor. Today, you can see them both frequently on cable television.   Three years ago they were essentially Palin’s “handlers” after she was chosen for VP, and both of them came to find out that she was, essentially, unfit for the office she was seeking.

Ms. Wallace just confessed to Time magazine (in a stunningly strange interview that lacked proper follow-up questions) the following about the inspiration for a VP character in her latest book of fiction:

The idea of a mentally ill vice president who suffers in complete isolation was obviously sparked by the behaviors I witnessed by Sarah Palin. What if somebody who was ill-equipped for the office were to ascend to the presidency or vice presidency? What would they do? How long would it take for people to figure it out? I became consumed by this question.

Wallace went on to suggest that like the character in her book, Palin was in a “troubled state of confusion, despair and helplessness,” and,

Palin vacillated between extraordinary highs on the campaign stage — she ignited more enthusiasm than our side had seen at any other point — to debilitating lows. She was often withdrawn, uncommunicative and incapable of performing even the most basic tasks required of her job as McCain’s running mate…

There certainly were discussions — not for long because of the arc the campaign took — but certainly there were discussions about whether, if they were to win, it would be appropriate for her to be sworn in.

Now, Steve Schmidt, who don’t forget was running John McCain’s campaign, was asked about Nicolle Wallace’s remarks and this is what he told Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night:

…during the campaign after the economy collapsed we were essentially out of it. We were never closer than six or seven points again. But if the question is, did all of us, you know,  a bunch of us, who had been around the West Wing of the White House, did we see behavior that we found deeply troubling? And the answer to that question is,  yes, we did. Uh, did we talk about it? Uh, yes, we did. You know, was there, you know, legal considerations? No, there were not. But did we talk about a pattern of behavior that we found troubling during the campaign? Of course we did.

Now, forget, if you can, how  cold-dead frightening are the admissions by Wallace and Schmidt.  Let’s go back to Palin’s appalling and unprecedented remarks about Barack Obama.  They were made on October 4.  And remember that Schmidt referenced the economic collapse of 2008, asserting that after the collapse, “we were essentially out of it.” When did that collapse happen?  September 15, 2008.

So, we have Sarah Palin making her  famous “palling around with terrorists” remark after Schmidt recognized that the campaign was doomed, and after he and Nicolle Wallace recognized that Palin’s behavior was, in the words of Schmidt, “deeply troubling,” and in the words of Wallace merited discussions about whether “it would be appropriate for her to be sworn in.” 

Those aren’t my words.  Those aren’t the words of any Obama supporter. Those are the words of those closest to John McCain and his campaign in 2008.

Let the cynicism sink in.  Let it penetrate your brain like WD-40. 

These disgusting people were using Sarah Palin to trash Obama in unthinkable and country-dividing ways, even when they knew the race was lost, when they knew that their vice presidential candidate was profoundly and dangerously flawed.  For his part, to this day John McCain defends his decision to unleash the quit-in-a-fit governor on the rest of the country.

Just a few days after the 2008 election, when the anti-Palin stories were trickling out from “anonymous” campaign staffers,  I wrote a column for the Joplin Globe, partly defending Sarah Palin on the basis of her obvious ordinariness:

Ms. Palin’s naiveté included the fact that she did not understand how her Republican handlers used her; how they cynically chose her to appeal to women; how they disgracefully structured her stump speeches to question Barack Obama’s patriotism; and how they finally discarded her when she failed to convince a majority of the electorate to take her seriously as a candidate.

While she deserves part of the blame for such crass cynicism, the real culprits were the Republican Svengalis who, confident in their own ability to hoodwink the electorate one more time, plucked her from her Alaskan nest, knowing she could not fly.

I have little doubt that she honestly believed in what she was doing. That’s what makes it so sad and pathetic to watch her fellow Republicans cut her up and now suggest to the world that the whole Palin phenomenon was founded on a lie.

Using her anti-elitist persona as a hook to attract similarly lowbrow voters, the campaign insisted she was nevertheless qualified to be commander in chief. Turns out that presenting her as merely “common folk” wasn’t just a phony campaign tactic. Ms. Palin was as common as advertised, but she was uncommonly unfit to lead the free world.

That was November, 2008, and Ms. Palin, of course, has since learned a thing or two about how to manipulate those anti-elitist types for her own financial gain. But much of the fault for what Sarah Palin did—and continues to do—to our politics, lies with people like Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt and John McCain, who were willing to use the  ‘ill-equipped” “pit bull” Palin to  jump-start the prejudices and fears of part of the American electorate in order to win an election and achieve power.

And as the 2012 general election season approaches, those prejudices and fears will be stoked once again, and the campaign to come—largely because of what happened in 2008—will feature a cyclone of cynicism which will likely blow away what’s left of our political civility.

Remarks And Asides

TV evangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson has declared he is done with endorsing candidates: 

I’ve personally backed off from direct political involvement. I’ve been there, done that. The truth of the matter is politics is not going to change our world. It’s really not going to make that much of a difference.

Now, if only he will tell GOP Jesus that. The Man Upstairs has got at least three Republican candidates in the race.

___________________________

In response to an assertion from Dick and/or Liz Cheney that President Obama “slandered the nation,” and that he “owes an apology to the American people” for daring to criticize the Bush torture policy while subsequently following Bush-like counterterrorism strategy, John McCain said the following:

It is very obvious that one of the great recruitment tools that our enemy has is the fact that we tortured people, which is not in keeping with the standards of the treatment of prisoners. We never got useful information as a result of torture, but we sure got a lot of angry citizens around the world, and deservedly so.

Deservedly so.” Imagine, if you can, what would have happened if President Obama had said “citizens around the world” were “deservedly” angry at us for torturing prisoners. 

_______________________________

Speaking of Obama’s imitation of the Bush-Cheney strategy on terrorism, Joshua Hersh at HuffPo reminded us of this quote from the 2008 version of Mitt Romney:

Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the War on Terror. They would retreat and declare defeat. And the consequence of that would be devastating. It would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child’s play. About this, I have no doubt.

He had no doubt.  He had no doubt that “Barack and Hillary” “would retreat and declare defeat.” Someone should tell that to Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki and many others because they do have serious doubts whether Barack and Hillary would retreat and declare defeat.

Of course if you want to tell them you will have to call long-distance.

_______________________________

In light of the Wall Street protests in New York and elsewhere, someone at HuffPo pulled this remarkable quote from an old George Carlin routine (I’ve changed the profanity to protect the innocent):

You know something? [Wall Street] will get it. They’ll get it all from you sooner or later, ’cause they own this (bleepin’) place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club. … The table is tilted, folks. The game is rigged. And nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care. Good, honest hard working people … continue to elect these rich (bleepbleepers) who don’t give a (bleep) about them.

Bleepin’ A.

________________________________

Finally, take this all you Obama-hating, Warren Buffett-loathing Reagan worshippers:

Obama The Taxcutter

While I was researching a column I was writing for the Globe, I came across some comments made by candidate John McCain during the second presidential debate:

…nailing down Sen. Obama’s various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. There has been five or six of them and if you wait long enough, there will probably be another one.

But he wants to raise taxes….

Sen. Obama’s secret that you don’t know is that his tax increases will increase taxes on 50 percent of small business revenue. Small businesses across America will have to cut jobs and will have their taxes increased and won’t be able to hire because of Sen. Obama’s tax policies.

Now, there’s nothing new about Republican candidates trying to scare the bejesus out of well-off taxpayers by claiming Democrats like Obama, if elected, will take their stuff. But after Mr. Obama has been in power for 32 months, must Republicans lie about the actual facts?

Yes.

Commenter John McKnight directed me to Steve Benen’s column in which he quotes the shameless Richard Shelby, Senator from NoObama, also known as Alabama:

“Oh you mean his big tax increase and all that? Absolutely, I have a lot of reaction to it. We’ve seen this movie before. It’s like the son of stimulus. It’s always more taxes and not enough cuts.”

Of course, like nearly every group of loosely-related words that find their way out of Shelby’s mouth, these words aren’t true. “Always more taxes,” says Shelby.  That’s not even remotely true, as Benen points out with a handy graph from the Tax Policy Center:

So, you can see that John McCain’s campaign assertion and Richard Shelby’s recent statement was and is false.

Now, if Shelby and the Republicans want to argue that President Obama has bought into their supply-side tax-cutting nonsense way too much, I will listen to that.

Bizarro!

Although he tried to minimize the damage by cozying up to Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, John McCain, who ruined his reputation by, among other things, unleashing Sarah Palin on an unsuspecting world, did manage to slam the Tea Party on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

What is really amazing is that some members are believing that we can pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in this body with its present representation – and that is foolish. That is worse than foolish. That is deceiving many of our constituents.

To hold out and say we won’t agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, it’s unfair, it’s bizarro.

Bizarro. I like that. McCain also dismissed any idea of rearranging payments after a default:

Today we are six days away from a possible default which could plunge this country into a serious crisis. There are those that argue somehow in a bizarre fashion that somehow we could prioritize our payments to the most urgent requirements, such as our veterans, such as Social Security.

Bizarro. Bizarre. Okay. But McCain also said the following, which is bizarrely bizarro in its own right:

This is the same kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP nominees.

What?  He’s dissing Sharron Angle?  Now, that is bizarrely bizarro because of this news story from October of last year:

LAS VEGAS - In her quest to topple U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican challenger Sharron Angle introduced U.S. Sen. John McCain (Arizona-R) to a crowd of Las Vegas supporters at the Orleans Friday night. McCain took the stage and delivered a ringing endorsement for Angle.

“I look forward to standing side by side with Sharron Angle,” Sen. McCain said. “I look forward to fighting with her against this out of control spending, this mortgaging of our children’s futures, this generational theft that has taken place.”

Whoops!

[Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images]

Republican Economist: “It’s Not About The Debt Limit”

On ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour, an “Economic Outlook” roundtable segment featured a discussion on, of course, the debt ceiling.

One of the panelists was a local gal, Sheila Bair.  Ms. Bair is from Independence, Kansas, about a rock’s throw from Joplin.  (Okay, okay. About 75 miles.)  In any case, Sheila Bair is the current—soon to be former—Chairman of the FDIC, put there by George Bush in 2006.  A couple of years ago, Forbes named her the second most powerful woman in the Solar System, or something like that.

You get the idea.  She’s a powerful chick.

She’s so powerful that she could hurl hormonal insults at a couple of the other panelists, namely the Nobel-winning and liberal Paul Krugman, my favorite economist, and the non-Nobel winning and conservative Doug Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s favorite economist.

The boys were arguing about what to do regarding the Republican threat to blow up the economy over the debt ceiling:

AMANPOUR:  How is President Obama to respond to the call for “trillions” not “billions” of dollars in cuts?

KRUGMAN: If he gives in on this he’s setting himself up for repeated blackmail. He’s basically saying that, “I care about the economy more than the Republicans do, and therefore every time they threaten to blow it up, even though it will hurt all of us, I’m gonna give in.”  So, I think Obama’s got very, very little wiggle room, even though it’s a terrible thing.

AMANPOUR: Most of the economists are saying the Republicans are playing with fire. That hitting the debt limit, exceeding it, is not like shutting down the government;  it could cause a real cascading economic crisis.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I don’t think there’s any great desire to hit the debt limit. The key is to recognize the limit is a symptom and that the fundamental problem is the underlying condition of the U.S. budget. What you’re seeing now are calls for, both from Speaker Boehner and from the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, for real solutions to the real problems.  It’s not about the debt limit. It’s making sure that in the short-term we get cuts, in the medium term we have an enforceable path, and that you take care of something in the long-term. Entitlements have to be on the table.

Get that? “It’s not about the debt limit.”  It’s about cutting the size of government, the economy be damned.

Enter Sheila Bair.  She told Amanpour this:

I do think that both sides have a point. Last November I published an op-ed in The Washington Post where I said if we didn’t get these deficits under control I thought it would precipitate the next financial crisis.  I also agree with the administration, though, that it is irresponsible to even entertain an idea of a so-called “technical” default on the public debt. 

So, I think both sides have a point and I hope they come together and,  gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me,  I think there’ s maybe a little too much testosterone in this debate.  It’s too much about winning and losing and not enough “both sides are right, let’s come together and have a solution.”

Never mind the sexist statement about testosterone.*  What about the idea that “both sides are right,” when one side is clearly prepared—judging by its rhetoric—to go to the brink and beyond and risk financial disaster? 

How can “both sides are right” be anyone’s position in this debate?  Clearly, if Democrats were in charge, there would be no flirting with not raising the debt ceiling and thus no flirting with economic calamity.  The only reason there’s a possibility of defaulting on our debt—past obligations approved by Democrats and Republicans—is because Republicans are holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States to further their ideological goals.  There’s no “both sides” to it.

Near the end of the discussion, Bair, after explaining what would be the dire consequences of defaulting on Treasury debt,  said this:

I’m sorry, but it truly frightens me. I don’t think we should be talking about it.

To which Krugman replied that he, too, was “terrified by it.”  Then he said:

But I’m also terrified by a blackmail political system.

Testosterone or not, why isn’t everyone?

________________________________

* It is inconceivable that one of the gentlemen in the segment would have said to Ms. Bair:

Now, honey, your estrogen is getting in the way of understanding what’s going on here.

Some of McCain’s Heroes Today Were Bush’s Terrorists Yesterday

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who pulled his head out of John McCain’s rectum long enough to talk to CNN, said of the U.S. involvement in Libya:

I like coalitions: It’s good to have them, it’s good to have the U.N. involved.  But the goal is to get rid of Gaddafi…So, I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do.

In other words, to hell with the rest of the world, we’ve got bombs to drop!

For his part, John McCain, who seemed to be enjoying his Graham-free rectum, said on Sunday that a stalemate in Libya “would open the door for Al Qaeda to come in.”

Whoops!  It may be too late.  McCain, who on Friday called the Libyan rebels the “legitimate voice of the Libyan people,” and his “heroes,” also said,

I have met these brave fighters and they are not al Qaeda,” he said. “To the contrary, they are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation.

Except that the New York Times reported this weekend that a former Guantanamo detainee—he was released by the Bushies in 2007—who was “judged ‘a probable member of Al Qaeda’ by analysts there,” and deemed a “medium to high risk” as a threat to the United States, is now leading a “ragtag band of fighters” in Libya.  And the paper reported that,

American officials have nervously noted the presence of at least a few former militants in the rebels’ ranks. 

None of this gives Lindsey Graham or John McCain (or Israeli representative, Sen. Joe Lieberman) pause, however.  They want the U.S. to engage more aggressively in Libya, with Graham urging Obama to bomb Libya’s capital. He told CNN’s Candy Crowley:

My recommendation to NATO and to the administration is to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Gaddafi’s inner circle, their compounds their military headquarters in Tripoli. The way to get Gaddafi to leave is to have his inner circle break and turn on him, and that’s going to take a sustained effort through an air campaign.

Apparently NATO was listening.  This morning comes word that NATO aircraft bombed Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, which renewed charges that the good guys are trying to assassinate Gaddafi. 

Whether we are, or whether we’re just trying to put the fear of Allah in him or his “inner circle,” as Graham suggested, it is clear that there will be no stalemate in Libya, even though a stalemate might be the best possible outcome, in terms of short-term regional stability.  Gaddafi’s days are numbered. 

What remains is the obvious question: What happens after Gaddafi is gone?  

Nobody, not Barack Obama or, Allah knows, not even John McCain, can give us a credible answer to that question.  Somehow, though, I suspect that whatever happens, President Obama—who is under pressure from the militaristic Right to step us his Libya game—will never get any credit for a good outcome, only blame for a bad one.

“Happy Days” Is Here Again

In many ways, Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Republican Conference, is the prototypical contemporary conservative Republican: anti-choice, anti-stem cell research, anti-gay marriage, and so on. For my money, Hensarling, a rising star in the GOP, is the favorite to replace retiring Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012. 

Congressman Hensarling was mentored in politics by none other than ex-Senator Phil Gramm, responsible for much economic mischief during the Reagan years. Gramm was also co-chair of John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, and just before the economy collapsed that year, he famously said:

Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.

Apparently God wasn’t tuned into Republican prayers at the time, thus the Great Recession.

In any case, Jeb Hensarling’s mentor said that America had become “a nation of whiners” and that we were merely in a “mental recession,” not a real one.  As Phil Gramm’s state director in the late 1980s, this is where Jeb Hensarling learned to talk Republican nonsense.

Which leads me to what Hensarling said on Morning Joe this morning:

Let’s remember, again, that the main drivers of this national debt are three large entitlement programs, programs that have been of great comfort and assistance to my parents and grandparents, but are morphing into cruel Ponzi schemes for my nine-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old son.

You see how this works, right?  When Hensarling’s grandparents and parents were enjoying the benefits of our social safety net, entitlement programs weren’t Ponzi schemes, but sources of “comfort and assistance.” 

Today, though, those same entitlement programs are turning into “fraudulent investment operations“—the definition of a Ponzi scheme—because the Hensarling family—beneficiaries of years of socialistic welfare programs—receive their comfort and assistance at considerable cost to current taxpayers.  So, logic would dictate that the Hensarlings give up a little of that comfort and assistance, right?

Wrong.

Paul Ryan’s cynical budget plan—which Jeb Hensarling enthusiastically supports—doesn’t ask much of those 55 and over but asks a lot of younger folks.  Grandfathering in grandfathers and grandmothers is really a case of Republicans protecting those who are now comfortable, thanks to Social Security and Medicare, and who tend to vote for Republicans because they are so comfortable.

Hensarling suggests that his children will not get a good deal under the current system.  But the truth is that under the Ryan-Republican budget plan, the kiddies will really get the shaft. 

Those younger than 55 will be asked to continue to subsidize the older, more comfortable Hensarlings of the world—whose trillions of dollars worth of medical benefits will continue throughout their ever increasing life spans—while the youngsters will be lucky to get enough money under Ryan’s plan to pay for band-aids and aspirin, should they make it to a likely-increasing retirement age. 

That’s a pretty good deal for older Hensarlings, but not a good deal for the younger ones.  And since older folks vote in bigger numbers than younger ones, Republicans are hoping their own scheme—call it a “Fonzie” scheme—will work.

In case you are not an aficionado of the old 1970s Happy Days show, in a three-part episode, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, clad in trunks and leather jacket, jumped over a shark to prove how brave he was. The idiom “jump the shark” originated with this less-than-sterling example of 70s television. 

Wikipedia explains the connection to today’s Republican politics:

The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution, characterized by absurdity, when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.

If that doesn’t define the Republican Party today, nothing does.

It might be helpful here to mention that the sensible, wholesome Richie Cunningham tried to tell the Fonz that jumping over the shark was stupid, to which the Fonz replied:

Stupid, yes. Also dumb. But it is something I’ve gotta do.

Exactamundo, GOP!

McCaskill Answers The Challenge

Last night on Rachel Maddow’s show, our own Claire McCaskill rose to Saint Rachel’s challenge last week and appeared on her show to defend McCaskill’s willingness to look at disposing of the federal mandate at the center of the health care reform law. 

The discussion was interesting, and McCaskill held up her difficult end fairly well. Rachel also asked her to defend her support of the controversial Boeing C-17 cargo plane, which costs $250 million each. Defense Secretary Gates and President Obama and even John McCain oppose continuation of the program, saying additional planes are unnecessary. 

The problem for McCaskill, who fashions herself as a deficit hawk, is that even though there are a lot of people who want to get rid of the C-17, about 1,000 St. Louis jobs are connected to it. Parts of the plane are manufactured all over the country (in 44 states involving 30,000 middle class jobs) and the program has an estimated $8.4 billion national economic impact, but a whopping $700 million of that is connected to the Missouri economy

In 2009, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that McCaskill had sort of a come-to-Jesus moment when Boeing “convened a strategy meeting with local labor leaders…at its St. Louis offices”:

Shortly after the meeting, Soutier [president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council] criticized McCaskill in the St. Louis media, questioning her support for thousands of local jobs. McCaskill responded quickly. She defended her C-17 bona fides and in May announced she was sending a letter to Obama and Gates emphasizing her backing for the Boeing cargo aircraft.

To be fair to McCaskill, her spokesman said there was merely “a misunderstanding” on the issue and that McCaskill had actually always supported the program. But all of the controversy around the C-17 and other military programs just shows how difficult it is to kill anything in the Pentagon’s budget, especially because manufacturers are careful to spread the wealth around the fifty states. 

In any case, here is the segment from Saint Rachel’s show featuring Missouri’s McCaskill:

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