Tag Archives: Benghazi

Take That Yellow Ribbon Magnet Off Your Bumper

Yellow Ribbon Senator Harry Reid (R-NV) nailed the ginned up controversy about the capture of a Libyan terrorist in this commentary:

“It doesn’t matter what your ideology is, you should feel good about this. There’s no conspiracy here, this is actual news. But the reaction of some of the Republicans, I’ve been told, is to downplay and insult the brave men and women of our special forces and the FBI. They’re trying to say, oh, it’s no big deal. I wonder if the men and women who captured the terrorist agree. But the Republicans said it’s no big deal. Even in these days of polarization, created by the obstruction, the delay, and diversion of the Republicans, even in these days of polarization, their reaction is shocking and disgusting. They’re so obsessed with criticism, criticizing anything President Obama does. They’ll go so far as to sit here and insult the men and women in uniform and in law enforcement. They should stop and think, just for a little bit, about what it’s like to put your life on the line and to do something for our country — that’s what they did. They’re insulting these good men and women who did some courageous things, heroic things, in order to criticize President Obama. I think they’ve lost touch with reality; it’s really pathetic, there’s no other word for it.” [TPM]

The Senate Majority Leader’s remarks contain the essence of the Republican response — belittle, allege conspiracy, insulting, and carping — because some credit might accrue to the Administration for coordinating the capture of the terrorist who launched the attack on our diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.

Indeed the capture of Khattala did garner much chattering in the wasteland that comprises Fox News. [TPM]  “It” was a conspiracy — a capture designed to help Sec. Hillary Clinton with her book tour? “It” was ill timed — gee, Khattala’s been walking free for two years, what was the Administration doing all that time?  The Administration could have issued the “go order” at any time!  Pathetic really is a well chosen word for this palaver.

Consider the result for a moment, and think of the intricacy of entire operation.  A terrorist 6,259 miles from the United States, in a country of 6.2 million people, is captured without being injured, and in an operation which did NOT result in any civilian casualties.  Further, the terrorist is not only captured, but arrested, to be charged with capital crimes against American citizens.  The case against him has to be built, carefully and with all the precision required by our system of justice.

Obviously, our Special Forces held up their end — the intelligence gathering, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation in addition to the assignment and training of personnel; and then the rehearsal, the plan modifications, the logistical coordination of men, transportation, supplies, and equipment — everything and everyone to be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

What thanks do they get from the carping right wing noise machine? They could have captured Khattala at any time?  Criticism of this ilk really has lost touch with reality — as if the critic is sitting in the living room with the game controller playing through a Shoot’em Up Script.  Criticism of this nature is an insult to those who plan, coordinate, assess, revise, and implement complicated military operations.

Those who “support the troops” should be appreciative of their efforts.

So, my right wing acquaintances — you can keep that yellow Support the Troops magnet on your bumper when:

1. You can give credit where credit is due. When you can applaud the killing of Osama Bin Ladin without sniffling. When you can applaud the take down of the Somali pirates without carping. When you can take pleasure in the surgical extraction of a known terrorist over 6,000 miles away and return the felon to face the charges he richly deserves.

2. You can call as loudly for the funding of veterans services and benefits as you do for launching military operations which create more veterans.  If I never hear another Republican like Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) say that veterans’ benefits are an entitlement we can’t afford [Electablog] it will be too soon.

3. You can understand that while we want our troops to have the best and most effective weapon systems we also need to pay the personnel who are to use them.  It doesn’t do to bellow about cuts to military BAH (Basic Allowance Housing) or subsidies for military families, while at the same time calling for balancing the budget and paying for weapons systems the Pentagon doesn’t even want.  The term we’re looking for here is “fiscal responsibility.” Fiscal responsibility in the very real world.

4. You call for using diplomacy before you shout for more young men and women to take on dangerous tasks in dangerous places. Professional members of our arms forces know that war is the failure of diplomacy — perhaps at some point you’ll understand this as well.

When you can comprehend these four things then I’ll no longer be justified in seeing your bumper magnet as merely a proclamation of your militarism and your disdain for the Commander in Chief.

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Filed under Politics, Republicans

Selling Benghazi, One Shriek At A Time

PeacockWouldn’t it be nice if today were the day the House Republicans decided NOT to sound like a steel barn filled to the rafters with alarmed peacocks?

There are more people signed up for private health insurance plans than predicted. People have paid their premiums. There are fewer people without health insurance than five years ago. [BusWk] So, what could be more predictable than…………

Benghazi! [Salon]

And, Heaven Forefend, anyone would ever believe the Republicans would attempt any fundraising on the tender subject?  Oh, they did? Yes, the Republican National Committee quickly sent out the message, trampling on Rep. Trey Gowdy’s disclaimer:

“I have never sought to raise a single penny on the back of four murdered Americans,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier this week.  A few minutes before Gowdy’s TV appearance, however, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) sent out an e-mail blast urging backers to become  “Benghazi Watchdogs” by giving money. “You can become a Benghazi Watchdog right now,” says the message on the NRCC’s “BenghaziWatchdog.com web site.” [Seattle PI]

But wait…there’s MORE!  There’s Merchandise.  Car magnets. Beer glasses. Throw pillows.  Shower curtains. Calendars. Iphone cases. And, my all time favorite — the pink footed pajamas.

What’s interesting about the merchandise, beyond the truly tacky nature of the products, are the ‘themes.’

There’s the “Alamo” motif on the car magnet admonishing us never to forget the patriots who died defending the diplomatic post — without mentioning that some of our Libyan allies also died there, and that Ambassador Stevens had opted not to accept additional security, along with the not so minor and well publicized cuts made to diplomatic security funding by the Republicans in the House.

There’s the “Bloody Hand” theme on the beer glass which conveniently merges U.S. operation in Afghanistan, Fast and Furious, and Benghazi into an arch above the logo.  Whoa, and here I was thinking that the GOP was in favor of our military intervention in Afghanistan?  How do you reconcile your “Bloody Hand” beer glass with your “Support the Troops” ribbon coasters?  And, if memory serves, wasn’t F&F launched during a previous administration?

That throw pillow will let the prospective owners get a jump on the Hillary Clinton bashing which will surely be a right wing theme in 2016 should the former Senator and Secretary of State decide to run for the presidency.  The owners will recognize Mrs. Clinton, Ambassador Rice, but want to make bets on how many will have to resort to Google to find out who “Mills” is?  Hint: You probably don’t know ‘Mills’ unless you are an aficionado of right wing conspiracy sites.

The shower curtain is pure 2016.  “Benghazi, what difference does it make,” — Clinton, is excerpted out of the context of her testimony to the Senate panel.   Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) tried to get the former Secretary to say the administration believed the attack was the result of ire about the anti-Islam video, Mrs. Clinton was having none of if, and retorted:

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton responded, raising her voice at Johnson, who continued to interrupt her. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.” [HuffPo]

But, it’s really hard to get all of that on a shower curtain.  The essential question — what happened and how to prevent it from happening again — don’t seem to be part of the right wing screech machine repertoire.

The calendar asks “Who gave the stand down order?”  Huh? There was no stand down order, in fact the CIA rushed some operatives to the rescue in addition to some military assets which were immediately available. [Snopes]  If you want an accurate calendar, just cut off the top.

However, the Iphone case “Nobody died at Watergate, Impeach Obama now!” demonstrates that the Republicans have still not moved on from June 17, 1972.  Whatever any Democratic Party member does from now to eternity, will be “just as bad as Watergate!” No matter what.

The pink pajamas, with footies, reverts to the Alamo Theme — never forget. Possibly not, if for the heft price of $74.50 the decal tends to bleed if the sleeper sweats onto the sheets. And, should enough sweat permeate enough pj’s onto enough sheets then perhaps a substantial number of Klan members will be recalling Benghazi at future meetings?

But, hey, the House GOP isn’t being shrill about this — like screeching peacocks — they just want to raise a little money.

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Filed under Politics, Republicans

Post Scripts and Other Matters

PS post script** Oh, by the way, there’s another problem with House Speaker John Boehner’s commentary on “no new regulations” highlighted by the Examiner:

“In the last 5 years that Obama has been President, Republicans in Congress have done all that they could to loosen regulations for hazardous waste, and to make it harder for the EPA to protect our nation’s water and air. Republicans have even gone as far as calling for the abolishment of the EPA.”  More here.

** Benghaziiiiiiiii — Nevada Progressive reports that Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is going to head up a House committee to investigate…. wait for it…. Benghazi.  All I can add is that a person hoping to maintain some sanity should click over to Sound Cloud and click on Rocky Mountain Mike’s Right Wing Troll Notification System audio.

Should the latest Benghazi “investigation” not wish to re-invent the wheel, or the use of fingers to get food from fire to mouth for that matter, there are some excellent sources of information.  There’s the State Department’s Accountability Review Board report (pdf) and there’s David Fitzpatrick’s excellent reportage for the New York Times (December 28, 2013.   If that’s not enough for you, there’s the 85 page report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (pdf) issued on January 15, 2014.

But then, nothing will ever be enough to satisfy the anti-Secretary Clinton crowd, and generally befuddled Faux News viewers, who cling to their conspiracy theories and react vehemently  to every new report debunking their fantasies.  Replay the “Right Wing Troll Notification System,” then read Bob Cesca’s “13 Benghazis that Occurred Bush’s Watch Without A Peep From Fox News.” [HuffPo]

** On a more serious note, see the NVRDC’s post on the Mythical Budget Deficit.   And, you know I’m going to quote a piece that includes my favorite economic concept for 2008-2014 — “aggregate demand:”

“The government should not be running a fiscal surplus when aggregate demand is still lagging in the macro economy. The country’s infrastructure is falling apart and we should be fixing it right now because the money is there and isn’t being used to expand employment or investment in the private sector. Instead coporate balance sheets are hoarding cash and using it to pay special dividends and stock buybacks for the investor class. That money should be put to work investing in America!” (emphasis added)

Combine this reading with Dan Crawford’s post on Angry Bear, “Time to end redistribution upwards…” (January 16, 2014)

** The campaign to elect Niger Innis to the Congressional seat held by Representative Steven Horsford (D-NV4) [Ralston] [Sebelius] seems to have gotten off to a rough start, with an FEC complaint [Ralston] from another candidate, “concerned citizen, ” whatever…

** We’re Number 2 — in the nationwide rate for residential foreclosures. Florida is still number 1. [RGJ]

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Filed under Economy, Politics, Republicans

Forests and Trees

forestThe current hyper-partisan environment in Washington, D.C. appears to be both a result and function of the Village Press which has confused incidents and policy to such an extent that it is difficult to separate the scandals du jour from the policy reforms which might mitigate the possibilities of future foul ups.

Case in point: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.   As long as the D.C. press continues to focus on the construction of talking points in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on a diplomatic outpost seeking an elusive, and very likely non-existent connection to political machinations in campaign season, we’ll not get around to addressing some very real problems which make our diplomatic missions less safe.

There is another way to frame this information issue:  As long as the D.C. press corps is intent on categorizing all policy decisions and governmental activity in political terms we won’t get deeply enough into the policy implications.  This framing is easy, requires very little if any policy expertise, and can be deftly constructed to create a platform for hyperbole. The focus may sell newspapers and advertising but it’s not very helpful when looking for ways to solve real problems.

It might be interesting to know how many of the commentators and pundits who have graced us on the Sunday morning jabberwocky sessions have read the 39 page report from the State Department’s independent review panel.  (pdf)  Those who have will be familiar with the following sample of recommendations for action made by the independent review panel.

The Department must strengthen security for personnel and platforms beyond traditional reliance on host government security support in high risk, high threat posts.

The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities.

Regional bureaus should have augmented support within the bureau on security matters, to include a senior DS officer to
report to the regional Assistant Secretary.

The Department should develop minimum security standards for occupancy of temporary facilities in high risk, high threat environments, and seek greater flexibility for the use of Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) sources of funding so that they can be rapidly made available for security upgrades at such facilities.

The Board supports the State Department’s initiative to request additional Marines and expand the Marine Security Guard (MSG) Program – as well as corresponding requirements for staffing and funding.

The Board strongly endorses the Department’s request for increased DS personnel for high – and critical – threat posts and for additional Mobile Security Deployment teams, as well as an increase in DS domestic staffing in support of such action.

Perhaps instead of endlessly opining on the subject of how the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency disputed the crafting of information to be made available to the public at large (including interested parties in Libya) we might take a moment to ask:

# What actions have the Department of State and other governmental agencies taken to reduce our reliance on host nation security forces for the protection of diplomatic outposts?

# What actions have been taken to better coordinate the agencies and departments responsible for developing and implementing plans for outpost security in high risk environments?

# If we are using temporary facilities in high risk areas what contingency plans are now in place to reduce the probability of attack.  Granted, we shouldn’t announce our security plans to the entire world, but it would be nice to know that the Department of State and other agencies are coordinating their efforts to plan for the use of temporary facilities and to mitigate threats.

# Where were the Marines?  The quick answer is: In Tripoli.  The important question isn’t why weren’t they dispatched to the scene immediately?  Quick answer: The were guarding the permanent embassy in Libya. The long answer is another question:  What is the appropriate kind of staffing for diplomatic security?

“Approximately 90 percent of U.S. diplomatic security personnel are private contractors, according to Deborah Avant, a scholar with a doctorate from the University of California San Diego who oversees The Private Security Monitor, an independent research project on government contracting.”  [UTSanDiego]

Do we want to increase funding for the expansion of the Marine Security Guard (MSG) Program? Or, do we want to rely on privately contracted security personnel?   If we mix the two, what percentage should be military personnel? Corporate security personnel?  Contractors from the host nation?  No, this kind of discussion doesn’t make for rousing ratings, but it would be far more informative than bickering about who edited talking points for Sunday morning consumption.

# The independent review panel urged the State Department to “increased DS personnel for high – and critical – threat posts and for additional Mobile Security Deployment teams, as well as an increase in DS domestic staffing in support of such action.”

“The State Department is asking Congress for more than $1.3 billion to boost security, out of contingency funds once allocated for Iraq: $553 million for additional Marine security guards, $130 million for civilian diplomatic security personnel and $691 million for installation improvements, officials told The New York Times.” [UTSanDiego]

The request has been made, now we need to know how much of this recommendation has be implemented, or is in the process of implementation?  Perhaps we could even find out how Marine Corps plans to get 1,000 more guards trained and available for diplomatic security duty?  Do they have the funding necessary to make all posts as secure as reasonably possible? Or, are current funding levels sufficient to meet some needs but not others?

The recommendations mentioned above are only a handful, and not representative of the entire report, but they are illustrative of the kinds of questions we should be discussing as a civil society with legitimate concerns for the safety of our diplomatic endeavors.  So long as the Villagers are content to air the political rendition of the Bickersons we’ll not likely hear much about the policy changes necessary to improve diplomatic security.

Case in Point:  The Tax Man Cometh.  The Internal Revenue Service faced a veritable flood of requests for 501 c(3) and 501 (c) 4 status (tax exempt) in recent years.  There were no less than 2,744 501 (c) 4 applications in 2012:

Compare that to 1,777 applications in 2011 and 1,741 in 2010, federal records show. Not since 2002, when officials processed 2,402 applications, have so many been received.

Meanwhile, Exempt Organizations Division staffing slid from 910 employees during fiscal year 2009 to 876 during fiscal year 2012, agency personnel documents indicate.

In 2010, IRS officials projected exempt division staffing at 942 employees. But IRS officials cut the number to 900 after the agency began slashing its budget in response to fiscal woes affecting most corners of the federal government.  [CPI]

Thus we have a decreasing number of people handling a 56% increase in the number of applications in a single year — and what do people tend to do when an agency is short handed?  They make short cuts.  In this instance some not very good ones.   We can quibble endlessly about who did what to whom? However, questions like is the “targeting” of right wing groups comparable to IRS investigations of Green Peace or the NAACP?” aren’t very constructive.   There are two policy points in this controversy, each less well covered in our media than would be good for us.

# Who should be making decisions about the application of campaign finance laws?  There are some legitimate lines of inquiry here:

“For the I.R.S.’s bipartisan legion of critics, the agency’s record has underscored its contradictory and seemingly confused response to the fastest-growing corner in the world of unlimited political spending: tax-exempt groups that have paid for at least half a billion dollars in campaign ads during the last two election cycles.

The I.R.S. has done little to regulate a flood of political spending by larger groups — like Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, co-founded by Mr. Rove, and Priorities USA, with close ties to President Obama — as well as Republican leaders in Congress and other elected officials. And an agency that is supposed to stay as far away from partisan politics as possible has been left in charge — almost by accident — of regulating a huge amount of election spending.”  [NYT]

Given the amount and sources of political funding in this country, it hardly seems rational to leave the determination of regulation to an agency tasked with revenue collection.  Perhaps we ought to be using this latest “scandal” as a starting point toward rationalizing our campaign finance structure?  We can see the agency struggling with how to deal with groups that announced their intention to “improve our general welfare,” but whose main object was to funnel campaign funds.   How was the agency to determine what was political and lobbying and what was “advocacy?”  Would a political, as contrasted with a social welfare, organization necessarily be involved with limited or expanding government, or with educating people about the Constitution?  [ABC pdf]  Should the term “party” in the title of the group be an acceptable flag identifying the applicant as a political rather than a social welfare or educational organization?   There is appropriate indignation from both sides of the political aisle about the shorthand methodology of the IRS, but that still leaves us wondering — Who is in charge of implementing campaign finance regulation in this country?

# Is the Internal Revenue Service appropriately staffed to allow that agency to meet citizens’ needs in a timely and accurate fashion?  Do we really believe that cutting staff from 942 to 900 will mean there are enough people to review the increasing number of applications for tax exempt status?  Is the agency so understaffed that there is a temptation to ignore the Big Players while smaller organizations get more scrutiny?

Case in Point: Pressing the Press.  The Department of Justice used FISA warrants to obtain information from 20 telephone lines related to reporting by the Associated Press.

“The organization was not told the reason for the seizure. But the timing and the specific journalistic targets strongly suggested they are related to a continuing government investigation into the leaking of information a year ago about the Central Intelligence Agency’s disruption of a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner.” [NYT]

We need to tread carefully here.  In 2008 Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act, in the wake of revelations about the NSA warrantless wiretaps during the Bush Administration.   This would be the self-same H.R. 6304 about which the ACLU raised significant objections.     The bill passed with a 293 to 129 vote in the House of Representatives on June 20, 2008 [roll call 437] and by a vote of 69 to 28 in the Senate on July 9th.  [roll call 168]  There were 188 House Republicans who voted for the bill and 105 Democrats voting in favor.  128 Democrats voted against it, while only 1 Republican (Rep. Johnson, IL) voted “no.”   All 28 “no” votes in the U.S. Senate were cast by Democrats.

While the Associated Press may characterize the the intrusion in angry terms:

“Gary Pruitt, the president and chief executive of The A.P., called the seizure, a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news gathering activities.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” he wrote. “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the news gathering activities undertaken by The A.P. during a two-month period, provide a road map to A.P.’s news gathering operations, and disclose information about A.P.’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.” [NYT]

The Associated Press ought not get a free pass in this instance because (1) we don’t know if it was “massive,” — we actually don’t know much of anything because that’s how the FISA Law was written,  (2) we don’t know if it was “overbroad” either because that’s how the FISA Law was drafted, and (3) we don’t know if AP’s “sources and methods” were compromised — and we probably aren’t going to find out because in the wake of various acts of terrorism the majority of members of the 110th Congress were pleased to enact ‘reformed’ measures to allow for this kind of surveillance in cases of national security (in this instance a CIA operation).   If the Associated Press naively thought it was somehow immune to the provisions of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 because a press pass is as good as a law-proof vest, then they’ve been sorely disabused of their optimism.

Some caution should be exercised when we call for a No-Holds Barred approach to “fighting the War on Terror” in the name of national security, because while it may appear to be a grand idea when the target is a potential or alleged terrorist or someone associated with a potential or alleged terrorist –  it’s a whole different ball game when the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 is applied to you.

The discussion in this instance needs to be more broadly focused — not on whether or not the AP is an aggrieved party or if CIA operational methods and sources were compromised by reporting — but on whether we may finally be ready to take a serious look at the objections to H.R. 6304 which were raised by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations when the law was being considered.

Simply bouncing from one “scandal” to the next in order to boost ratings and sell print isn’t going to serve the American public any better now than it did when we followed Whitewater into nothingness.   With each major incident there is a choice to be made — either follow popular titillation with the shallow aspects of a scandal, or take a more measured long term view which addresses serious questions about which we should demand serious answers.  It’s the difference between be able to discern good wood from pulp.

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Filed under campaign finance reform, civil liberties, Foreign Policy

Profiles in Squirmage: Heller on Hagel

Heller 2Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was one of 40 members of the United States Senate to vote against cloture on the nomination of former Republican Senator Charles Hagel as Secretary of Defense. [Senate Vote 21]  Senator Heller’s contribution to Squirmage includes the following statement:

“U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who voted against advancing the nomination, echoed Republican sentiments, saying Thursday in a statement: “Even after sitting down with Senator Hagel in recent weeks, I still have concerns about his nomination to be secretary of defense. While I have great respect for Senator Hagel’s brave service in the Armed Forces, my colleagues and I are still waiting for additional information from the senator. I do not believe it is appropriate to move forward until that information is provided.” [RGJ/AP]

Additional information? What additional information?  Would Senator like more information about the Benghazi attack?  It’s becoming readily apparent that the GOP would like to keep the Benghazi station tragedy in the headlines until (1) something sticks, or (2) they find some other issue with which to assault the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.   As truly tragic as the Benghazi attack was, it is one of many examples of the perils faced by our diplomats and foreign service personnel around the globe.

On January 22, 2002 radicals attacked the U.S. consulate in Calcutta, India.  Five members of the mission were killed.  On June 14, 2002 our consulate in Karachi, Pakistan was attacked, and 12 people were killed by the truck bomb.  On February 28, 2003 two people died in an attack on our Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.  June 30, 2004 our Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan was the target of a bomber; two died.  On December 6, 2004 Al Qaeda militants attacked our diplomatic compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; nine members of our mission were killed.  March 2, 2006 our diplomats were attacked again in Karachi, Pakistan when a car bomb detonated, killing 2 at the Consulate.  September 12, 2006 gunmen attacked our Embassy in Damascus, Syria, four members of our diplomatic mission were killed.

January 12, 2007 an RPG was fired at our mission in Athens, Greece, fortunately there was no one killed as a result; but the results were different when on March 18, 2008 our diplomats in Sana’a, Yemen were fired on — two died.  July 9, 2008 we lost six members of our mission to Turkey during a armed attack on our diplomatic personnel in Istanbul.   There was worse to come again in Sana’a, Yemen, when two car bombs went off at our Embassy on September 17, 2008 killing 16 people.  [complete list]

The obsessive focus on the Benghazi, which is far more intense than the attention we paid to post attacks in the previous Administration, illustrates little more than the Rule of Shifting Goal Posts.  Republicans would be satisfied if they were briefed — they were in November 2012 when the Intelligence committees were given a closed door classified information briefing on the subject. [CNN]  That was declared insufficient.  Republicans were “troubled.”

One key critic, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) missed the briefing because he was holding a press conference…on Benghazi. [ABC]  Republicans would be satisfied if the State Department offered testimony — it did, they weren’t.  Republicans would be more pleased if Secretary Clinton testified — she did, they weren’t.   At this juncture, the GOP was emitting Whitewater Signals.  No matter what evidence might be provided, even documentation illustrating transparency and accountability, it would always be “troubling,” “insufficient,” “incomplete,” or “incredible.”  If Senator Heller is playing this political game, it’s truly beneath the dignity of the office, and unhelpful toward the end of creating a cogent foreign policy.

The other game is even more deleterious.  Tea Party darling, Republican Ted Cruz (R-TX) stepped into some treacherous territory:

“We do not know, for example, if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups,” Cruz told the Senate Armed Services Committee before it voted Tuesday to approve Hagel’s nomination. “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”

The “only reasonable inference” to draw from Hagel’s refusal to provide additional financial information, he said, is “there was something in there that they did not want to make public.” [RCP]

Senator Cruz is “demanding” five years worth of financial disclosure, although Committee rules require only two.   The innuendo, offered without even a nod toward any substantiation, also flies in the face of separate disclosure requirements which call for 10 years worth of disclosure concerning any dealings with foreign nations.   Cruz’s slanderous remarks are well beyond the pale.   Surely, Senator Heller isn’t aligning himself with this line of attack?

There really is NO excuse for a no vote on former Senator Hagel’s nomination.  The first excuse is little more than an exercise in Moving The Football, both hypocritical and a blatant exploitation of the Benghazi tragedy for political points.  The second is an unconscionable reversion to McCarthyite guilt by suggested association; a Republican era to which we ought not return.  Exactly what questions DO you have Senator Heller?

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Heller

The Fiscal Bluff and GOP Politics As Usual

Vegas Jessie posts a timely letter from a small business owner to Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) along with a predictable response from the Congressman, which just as predictably doesn’t directly address the issues raised by the correspondent.  Heck, as Vegas Jessie observes “presented nothing new or nothing of any practical application…”

No one should be surprised.  The Republican Party — in all its glorious disarray in Nevada — hasn’t had a new idea since St. Ronald de Reagan opened his presidential campaign at the Neshoba (Mississippi) County Fair.  The current incarnation of Republicanism is as obvious as it has been since the Days of Lee Atwater and Company.  The name of the game is still the same; GOP support for the wealthy and their agenda, including privatizing, voucherizing, and shredding the social safety net.  Their first major tactic is simply obscurative, the second is obstructionist.

The Politics of Distraction

The Benghazi Blitz: So, will someone explain, cogently and rationally, why any sentient human being would be passionately concerned about Ambassador Susan Rice’s preliminary information about the attack on the Benghazi consulate?  There isn’t one. Ambassador Rice could secure the imprimatur of the Pope and it wouldn’t suffice to satisfy Senator John McCain’s need to have a topic at hand for his weekly appearance on some Sunday Villager Shows.  If Ambassador Rice explains that the talking points were prepared by the intelligence agencies, then McCain complains that the intelligence community was at some unspecified fault AND that Ambassador Rice should have “asked better or more questions.”  If she had released NO information regarding the Benghazi attack then McClain would clamor about the lack of commentary.  In short, there’s no way to win — this is simply a distraction from larger issues, as well as a way for a Senator facing a term limit on his committee assignments to remain “relevant.”  The issue does make for a nice side show for the Chattering Classes, but accomplishes  nothing to advance political issues of any import.  It’s also an effort to “Create-A-Problem.”

Create-A-Problem Politics

The current Debt Crisis provides an excellent example of “Create-A-Problem” politics.  The process of setting a “debt ceiling” has been around since 1917 when it was an initial step toward financing the costs associated with World War I.  The debt ceiling has been raised without much controversy 74 times since 1962, including 10 times since 2001. [CNN] However, the Congress — imbued with an abundance of Tea Party enthusiasm and plutocrat campaign money — decided to transform the Debt Ceiling to a Debt Crisis in 2011.

Combining the national debt issue (run up by the Bush administration’s tax policies + two wars kept off the books + a nasty recession), with the Republican raison d’etre, repealing the New Deal and the Great Society, gave the GOP its talking points: We ‘must reform entitlements’ (privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare) and bring down the debt along with other government activities associated with serving the needs of those American people who aren’t ensconced in corner offices.

That privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare are wildly unpopular doesn’t faze the average Republican servant of power.  Thus, cutting these programs must be carefully couched in a climate of fear.

The GOP would have us all a-tremor as if Annie Wilkes, Baby Jane Hudson, Leatherface, Norman Bates, and the Riddler were at the doorstep.   “Social Security… is going broke…has been raided…is going bankrupt…won’t be there for our grandchildren….”  None of this is true, but that doesn’t stop the GOP from using the talking points.

Since this line of attack didn’t work in 2004, 2008, and 2012, there’s a back up plan.  Encapsulated as, “We have to ‘reform’ Social Security and Medicare because we’re going broke.”  Here’s where the manufactured Debt Crisis comes into play.

The outcome of the Big Budget Manufactured Crisis of 2011 was the Budget Control Act, a complicated piece of legislation which gave the White House what it wanted — an extension of unemployment benefits and a second stimulus package in exchange for allowing the Corner Office denizens to continue enjoying their Bush Era tax cuts.  [Corn, MJ]  The Obama Administration (contrary to the Villager Narrative) didn’t get played:

“At a postelection meeting with labor leaders and progressive activists, several of whom were itching for a tax cut fight with the Republicans, White House aides were blunt. To win these stimulative shots, Summers told them, we’re going to have to give up on killing the tax cuts for the rich. “Getting more for our people is more important than getting less for their people,” he said at the meeting.” [Corn, MJ]

The Obama Administration won the first round, and if anything could be more convincing that the Republicans are driven by the need to protect the income of the top 1% the Budget Control Act then someone missed the memo in which the GOP agreed to two things which would have been unconscionable for them under ‘normal’ circumstances  (unemployment benefit extensions & a second stimulus) in order to preserve the lower tax rates for the Upper Uppers.

Distractions and the Creation of the Fiscal Bluff

The Budget Control Act of 2011 sowed the seeds of its own destruction.  The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (Super Committee) included in the legislation was supposed to ‘solve’ the deficit reduction problem admitted failure in November 2011:

“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.”

It might be interesting to find out how many people thought the Super Committee had any chance, however remote, to succeed in the first place.  The posturing, positioning, and palaver of 2011 gave the Administration what it wanted, and kicked the tax issue into the 2012 elections.

At this point the Fiscal Cliff becomes the Fiscal Bluff.  The Bush Tax Cuts are due to expire with the last toot of the last manufactured-in-China paper New Year’s horn.   There are new cards on the table, but the GOP is still playing with a very used deck.

McConnell’s old card, propose the discredited Romney unspecified loophole plan, cut corporate taxes, and tax lower income people (GOP code is “broaden the tax base”) It’s no accident the Bowles-Simpson Commission earned the sobriquet “Cat Food Commission.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s a secret that for our part, Republicans have shown a clear willingness to make tough choices in order to find a solution to the trillion-dollar deficits of the last four years. “We’ve been open to revenue by closing loopholes, as long as it’s tied to spending cuts and pro-growth tax reform that broadens the base and lowers rates. This is the model laid out by the Bowles-Simpson commission, and it’s a model both parties should step forward and embrace.”  [RCP]

McConnell went a bit further, playing an even older card, and  putting social safety net programs up for grabs on the GOP side of the table:

“McConnell said Republicans want any agreement to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” to include adjustments to eligibility and benefits in the Social Security and Medicare programs.”  [LCJ]

Cantor’s old card, put the Affordable Care Act ‘on the table’ as a bargaining chip in deficit reduction talks.  By Cantor’s lights it’s a bloated entitlement.

“During an appearance on Fox News on Monday, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) asserted that Obamacare “ought to be on the table” for cuts during ongoing budget and deficit-reduction negotiations between President Obama and Congressional leaders.” [Times24/7]
That the Affordable Care Act actually reduces the federal deficit by $143 billion in the next decade appears of little concern to Representative Cantor.  The Republicans, and their health insurance corporate allies, don’t like the provisions of Obamacare, ergo they’ll throw it out as a possible chip — which has about as much chance of success as promoting  a Dachshund High Jump Contest.

House Speaker John Boehner’s old card is the same as Cantor’s, put Obamacare on the table.

“The president’s health care law adds a massive, expensive, unworkable government program at a time when our national debt already exceeds the size of our country’s entire economy. We can’t afford it, and we can’t afford to leave it intact. That’s why I’ve been clear that the law has to stay on the table as both parties discuss ways to solve our nation’s massive debt challenge.” [Cin.Com]

What’s expensive about a program that decreases the deficit by $143 billion over the next ten years?    Speaker Boehner’s tactical argument is little more than a repetition of the 33 ceremonial House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.   [LAT]

The Affordable Care Act repeal suggestions are pure bluff — what politician could possibly believe that the President wouldn’t veto a bill repealing his signature piece of legislation?

The American public must then be left with the unmistakable conclusion that it is more important for the Republicans to protect the income of the Richer Rich than to secure  Social Security, Medicare, and Affordable Care Act for the middle class, as they play all the old games bluffing their way toward the Fiscal Cliff of their own devising.

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Filed under Heck, McCain, Medicaid, Medicare, Republicans, Social Security, tax revenue, Taxation

Yosemite Sam Shallow: Romney’s Foreign Policy

There’s shallow, and then there’s so shallow you wouldn’t get your shoe laces wet if you stepped in it.  Thus we have Governor Romney’s foreign policy statement.

“The attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the Administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long.  No, as the Administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.”  [WSJ]

Where to begin? How about the conflation between the Libyan and Egyptian situation?  Let’s stick with Libya.  Secretary of State Clinton spoke to the situation in Benghazi without referring to the infamous inflammatory film trailer, only hours after the attack on the consulate:

“But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group – not the people or Government of Libya. Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya, in a country scarred by war and tyranny, they were hailed as friends and partners. And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris’ body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. And last night, when I spoke with the President of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible.” [State 9/12/12]

To say that the Administration has “finally conceded” the attacks were the result of terrorists is to ignore Secretary Clinton’s opening sentence:

“Yesterday, our U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya was attacked. Heavily armed militants assaulted the compound and set fire to our buildings.”  [State 9/12/12] (emphasis added)

That would be “heavily armed militants.”   Where did Secretary Clinton speak to “This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the Administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long,” in her remarks on behalf of the American government?

Evidently, the Romney campaign didn’t get the memo from the State Department in which they’ve now been able to firmly identify those who attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi:

“The Department of State amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and E.O. 13224 designations of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula to include the new alias, Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS). The Department of State previously designated AQAP as an FTO and under E.O. 13224 on January 19, 2010.”  [State 10/4/12]

These designations are not made lightly, nor are they simply elaborations of unsubstantiated news reports or the product of punditry — the designations have consequences.

“The consequences of adding the new alias for AQAP include a prohibition against knowingly providing material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with, Ansar al-Shari’a, and the freezing of all property and interest in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of U.S. persons. The Department of State took these actions in consultation with the Departments of Justice and Treasury.

In addition, today the United Nations 1267/1989 Al-Qa’ida Sanctions Committee listed AAS. As a consequence the group now faces a worldwide assets freeze, a travel ban, and an arms embargo. The actions taken today against AAS support the U.S. effort to degrade the capabilities of its parent organization, AQAP. We are determined to eliminate AQAP’s ability to execute violent attacks and to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat their networks.” [State 10/4/12]

Let’s look to the generalities adopted by Governor Romney, such as the statement: “…attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.”

And, there’s nothing like having an opponent who wants to wage perpetual war to make any neoconservative delighted beyond reason.  Here we have all the necessary elements, (1) a “dark ideology,” which can be easily conflated with an entire religion; (2) a valiant nation out to protect women and girls; (3) the adoption of the Al Qaeda pipe dream of the revival of the Caliphate (don’t bet on it); and (4) the “perpetual war” motif which refers back to the neat and tidy categorizations of the Cold War Era.

What we have here is a rhetorical amalgamation of neo-conservative bombast, anti-Muslim propaganda, a smattering of the White Man’s Burden, and the proposal that we readjust the old Cold War classifications into which we can conveniently shove various and sundry new governments.

So, what is Governor Romney’s complaint?

“But it is the responsibility of our President to use America’s great power to shape history—not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events.  Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves in the Middle East under President Obama.” [WSJ]

This in the part where we’d expect to find some suggestions for how to shape policy.  Instead we simply heard a justification for intervention.

“Across the greater Middle East, as the joy born from the downfall of dictators has given way to the painstaking work of building capable security forces, and growing economies, and developing democratic institutions, the President has failed to offer the tangible support that our partners want and need.”  [WSJ]

The statement is demonstrably false.   First, the U.S. is in a delicate position in some Middle Eastern nations.  Our previous support for the Mubarek regime in Egypt has left many Egyptians with a bitter after taste.  Secondly, we can point to some very tangible kinds of support to both the new  Egyptian and the Libyan governments.   Those in the fact based universe will want to consult the State Department’s fact sheet on aid to Libya, describing aid ranging from political and electoral development to health and medical services.   American aid and expertise lent to the new Egyptian government is the subject of a fact sheet released by the State Department on September 24th.  For good measure, there’s also a summary of U.S. support for the new Tunisian government.

The remainder of Governor’s speech was a litany in support of intervention. Possibly military. Maybe economic. Could be aid based?  In short, a relatively empty framework into which those wishing to hear support for both military intervention or more foreign aid may find rhetorical sustenance.

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Filed under 2012 election, Foreign Policy