Category Archives: Politics

Coming Distractions: The IRS Saga–More Republican Nonsense in a Congress Near You

Gallup Poll Shows Congressional Approval at around 13 percent.

Gallup Poll Shows Congressional Approval at around 13 percent.

In the knee-jerk fraud that masquerades as a Republican alternative, the latest pseudo-drama inside the Beltway will be the sanctimonious months of Congressional hearings about a non-existent conspiracy at the Internal Revenue Service.  Faced with real issues — immigration, health care, gun reform, electoral reform, among them — the wing-nuts that control the House of Representatives have a new excuse to do worse than nothing.

The real agenda is to attack their Democratic opponents, especially the president, and increasingly the leading presidential candidate for 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Succinctly stated, all of this, in a New York Times editorial:

Inevitably, the stumble by the I.R.S. will now be used by the Republicans as a point of attack. They are gleefully promising months of hearings, and the National Republican Congressional Committee is already trying to tarnish Democratic lawmakers with what it calls “the Obama administration’s use of the I.R.S. as a political tool.”

This will serve as the perfect distraction from issues, like the budget, gun control or immigration reform. And it will probably prevent any real progress on campaign finance reform, which, in turn, will make it vastly more difficult for the I.R.S. to prevent abuse of the tax code.

The I.R.S. stumble, if it is one, comes as a result of a highly partisan flawed and democracy-damaging decision by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. The I.R.S. began to investigate whether right-wing nonprofits claiming tax exemption were really political fronts for the Republicans who placed the Supreme Court majority on the bench so it could make the damaging decision. “Oh no,” meanwhile, cries the Tea Party, “we’re nonpartisan.”

All of this works very well as long as straight-thinking citizens pay little heed, not even the 22 minutes needed to watch The Daily Show, to check out the sad humor of it all.

I don’t know about you — but it becomes increasingly difficult to even read or watch the news from Washington — so predictable as it is. A moderate majority of citizens appears to have given up. We are left with a Senate tilted to low-population states, a House built by a Republican minority that stacked the deck state by state.

Two of the prime deck-stackers, the Koch Brothers, by the way, are now trying to purchase the Los Angeles Times and the rest of the Chicago Tribune’s assets. Then, they’ll even be able to control the message better than they already have.

Failing broader outrage from a gerrymandered public, laughter and mockery is probably the best way to go.

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Fear and Stupidity: Wrong lesson in government

Contrast the  fear-mongering of elected Republicans  with the abiding words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
fear itself

Lindsey Graham:

If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.

John McCain in a joint statement with Graham:

“The public safety exception is a domestic criminal law doctrine that allows questioning of a criminal suspect without Miranda warnings for a limited time and purpose.

Prejudgment, no facts, no faith in laws guaranteeing the constitutional rights of an American citizen.

Both are elected by a populace that should think things through. McCain, save us, could have been President of the United States.

The lesson to be taken from Boston is that police know their jobs, and the system does work. If anything, the danger is succumbing to fear. There is this wise analysis by author and journalist, James Bamford, echoing Roosevelt three-quarters of a century ago.

If the idea of terrorism is to terrorize, then the hyper-hysterical media coverage of the Boston bombing was made to order and almost guarantees that others, seeking similar attention, will follow. This was not 9/11, far from it. And shutting down an entire city, telling everyone to lock themselves inside, is not a sign of strength. It is also a terrible precedent to set. London and other major cities have seen much, much worse and managed to follow the principle, Keep Calm and Carry On.

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A Vision Test on Iraq and the Media. Choose A or B

Here are two competing visions of the media handling of the war in Iraq

This is the way it works at the eye doctor. He holds letters in front of your eyes and asks you to choose. The answer gets better and better, hopefully vision more and more clear.

Choose A….

This is a piece by Greg Mitchell, substantially published by The Nation, after being spiked by the Washington Post

For awhile, back in 2003, Iraq meant never having to say you’re sorry.  The spring offensive had produced a victory in less than three weeks, with a relatively low American and Iraqi civilian death toll.  Saddam fled and George W. Bush and his team drew overwhelming praise, at least here at home.

But wait.  Where were the crowds greeting us as “liberators”?  Why were the Iraqis now shooting at each other–and blowing up our soldiers?  And where were those WMDs, bio-chem labs, and nuclear materials?  Most Americans still backed the invasion, so it still too early for mea culpas–it was more “my sad” than “my bad.”

or B

A story by Paul Fahri published on the Opinion Pages

There’s no doubt that many news organizations, including this one, missed important stories, underplayed others that were skeptical of the administration’s case and acted too deferentially to those in power. A few instances — such as the New York Times’ September 2002 report hyping Iraq’s aluminum tubes as evidence of a reconstituted nuclear program — have become infamous. The Times and The Washington Post have publicly examinedand admitted their shortcomings.

But “failure” grossly oversimplifies what the media did and didn’t do before the war, and it ignores important reasons the reporting turned out the way it did. As new threats loom, from Iran to North Korea, better understanding these circumstances can help us assess what happened and whether we’re better positioned today.

Can they both be right? I don’t think so. Somebody will need new glasses.

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What Constitutes Victory for Israel: A review of “The Gatekeepers”

Advance billing makes it known ahead of time that The Gatekeepers is a stark critique of Israeli policy from within. The film features unprecedented interviews with six former bosses of Shin Bet, Israel’s super-secret domestic intelligence agency.

Experiencing The Gatekeepers, however, exceeds all expectations. This is a bold film that systematically and coldly analyzes decades of Israeli security policy in dealing with Palestinians and the enemies that surround Israel.

The Shin Bet bosses use steely, unsentimental logic: whatever the justifications of the past and the present—Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is a failure.

They may have their hard-line critics in Israel and the United States, but these particular men are hard to dispute. They are deeply committed to Israel, hardened veterans of battle, and unassailable in their logic.

Together, the men – Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin– represent three decades of successes and failures in the Israeli war on terrorism. All have realized that even their successes have been a failure.

In the end we are left with deep questions about morality, the Israeli psyche and extremism on all sides.

The Shin Bet bosses by no means excuse Palestinian terror – although one of the former leaders switches from Hebrew to English to characterize the Palestinian view of Israeli security forces with the old saying: One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter.

Success, in any case, is a strange commodity. As one of the men realized after a chance conversation during peace talks with a Palestinian psychiatrist: for the Palestinians, “victory is to see you suffer.”

They realize that there has been and can be no end to the morass of the Middle East under current circumstances. Israeli actions, the Shin Bet leaders say, amount to  “no strategy, all tactics.”

The Gatekeepers portrays the horrors exacted by extremism on both sides. While there is a hopelessness in the generations of unending cycles of death, I still found myself uplifted by the fact that the movie exists at all. These men face forward and speak truths and the filmmaker, Dror Moreh, has the guts to tell the story.

The way out is spoken clearly by the oldest and perhaps the toughest of them all – Avraham Shalom, at 86, a veteran of the Palmach underground fighters that battled and killed British soldiers in the Israeli war for independence after World War II. His answer is a call for negotiations:

“Talk to everyone, even if they answer rudely. So that includes even Ahmadinejad, [Islamic Jihad, Hamas], whoever. I’m always for it. In the State of Israel, it’s too great a luxury not to speak with our enemies…Even if [the] response is insolent, I’m in favor of continuing. There is no alternative. It’s in the nature of the professional intelligence man to talk to everyone. That’s how you get to the bottom of things. I find out that he doesn’t eat glass and he sees that I don’t drink oil.”

Israeli is the democracy that has allowed the filmmaker Moreh to make this film, even though the Israeli government is outraged and calls on Israeli filmmakers to practice self-censorship.

(By the way, as for the Oscars, I loved the film, Searching for Sugar Man, which won for best documentary against The Gatekeepers and another Israel political film, 5 Broken Cameras. Awards are awards but The Gatekeepers is unsurpassable in its strength and merits.)

Are there enough Israelis to listen and respond to the pragmatic reality that brought The Gatekeepers out of the shadows to the stage? I don’t know.

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Truths and Lies in the Senate

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Libya, a Tea Party Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, used indirect language to blame Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the killing of four American diplomats in Benghazi last year. Paul described their deaths as the worst tragedy involving Americans since 9/11. Partisan politics, ignorance and nonsense.

A newly elected senator answered him strongly:

“I think if some people on this committee want to call the tragedy in Benghazi the worst since 9/11, it misunderstands the nature of 4,000 Americans plus lost over ten years of war in Iraq fought under false pretenses,” newly elected Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said in response.

Under a Republican president, George W. Bush, the United States went to war using lies about U.S. intelligence information. To this hour, a number of Americans — perhaps the same number that voted Republican in the 2012 presidential election — think that President Bush invaded Iraq based on “the best available intelligence” at the time. That has been proven to be a lie, as I wrote with my colleague, Knut Royce, in the book, The Italian Letter. I also wrote about it in the Washington Post.

President Bush has not stood before the Senate to answer that serious charge. It is fairly certain that he never will.

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Guns Abroad — How Others See Americans

Guns turned in voluntarily after Australian law took effect (AP)

Once, when I was a kid, a lady in Germany was shocked that I was an American who could speak to her in her own language and took advantage. “Where’s your six-shooter,” she asked. Another time, entering New Zealand, a customs official thought about patting me down for drugs and weapons. “Florida, eh? he said raising an eyebrow.

That’s the way they see us.

Such is the case with U.S. gun violence; President Obama’s announcements on gun control were big news.

Australian television, for example, chose an extreme talking head, Larry Pratt, president of the Gun Owners of America, to discuss the issue.

By way of context, Australia imposed gun laws that worked in 1996 after a shocking mass killing. Former Prime Minister John Howard described the success of Australia’s laws in an op-ed article in the New York Times.

Here’s a section of the interview with Mr. Pratt on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

LEIGH SALES: In Australia, the government reacted to a massacre in 1996 by banning the sale, importation and possession of semi-automatic rifles and by removing 700,000 guns from circulation.

In the 18 years before that we had 13 massacres. After that we had zero. We didn’t have a civil war, the government didn’t come and take all of our stuff away from us. Why not just give it a try in the US?

LARRY PRATT: Once you’ve given it a try there’s no going back and so in the United States we’re not going to do that. In the United States we are citizens in control of the government and as the Swiss say to this day, a rifle is the emblem of a free man.

LEIGH SALES: But it worked in Australia. Why not just try it?

LARRY PRATT: Your violent crime rate is not so admirable and besides…

LEIGH SALES: It’s a lot lower than yours.

LARRY PRATT: We’re not interested in being like Australia. We’re Americans.

An American friend of mine visiting Australia called attention to the interview. “Doubtless Larry Pratt left the show pleased with his no holds barred defense of Americans’ right to own automatic weapons,” my friend said, “but I have to say that as the segment ended I felt sick.”

It is called American exceptionalism. Overseas, it is a farce.

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“A [political] change coming on”

muse of history“I feel a change comin’ on
Though the last part of the day’s already gone”
Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter

We may be witnessing a sea-change in American politics, but we’re too close to know exactly what it is. How can Republicans and their losing agenda survive when a majority of people in the United States support exactly what Republicans hate, issues including: gun-control; a woman’s right to choose; and the government role in health care. Oh and one more thing, a majority of Americans have just re-elected President Barack Obama. Republicans are not a happy lot.

There’s an interesting analysis by George Packer in The New Yorker that describes a progressive change in political alignment — the South was solidly Democratic until Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act, Republicans have been ensconced one way or another ever since. “At the same time,” Packer writes….

the Southern way of life began to be embraced around the country until, in a sense, it came to stand for the “real America”: country music and Lynyrd Skynyrd, barbecue and nascar, political conservatism, God and guns, the code of masculinity, militarization, hostility to unions, and suspicion of government authority, especially in Washington, D.C. (despite its largesse). In 1978, the Dallas Cowboys laid claim to the title of “America’s team”—something the San Francisco 49ers never would have attempted. In Palo Alto, of all places, the cool way to express rebellion in your high-school yearbook was with a Confederate flag. That same year, the tax revolt began, in California.

We hear a protest movement from that “real America,’ secession nonsense and defiance. Governors and legislators who are sworn to uphold BOTH the U.S. Constitution AND their state constitutions advocate defiance of federal programs, health insurance or any move from Washington to control guns.

Packer says the change, as far as we see so far, is that Republicans, controlled and distorted by this Southern bloc, can no longer lead.

The Southern bloc in the House majority can still prevent the President from enjoying any major legislative achievements, but it has no chance of enacting an agenda, and it’s unlikely to produce a nationally popular figure.

Where is it all headed? Interesting question on the eve of the inauguration of second term for a man who has repeatedly cited his own unlikely road to the White House. That man is a member of a new generation, a product as we all are, but not a part, of the South.

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