Browsing the archives for the Republican Party category.


Thank You, Wingnuts!

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Democratic Party, Republican Party

The Right is engaged in a full-court-press no-limits feeding frenzy over allegations that the Clintons are doing something fishy. See Charles Pierce, “The Return To Mena Airport: It Begins Again — In which we learn that rich people like the Clintons have lots of money.”

As best I can trace the lines of the conspiracy as it is taking shape, some of the countries and patrons of the Clinton Global Initiative may also have paid Bill Clinton the big money to talk to them. There’s a bit of innuendo to the effect that the Clintons may have been commingling Initiative money with their own. However, if Bill’s piling up $100 mil just for talking, and the man loves to talk, then they hardly seem to have to raid the cookie jar. But the basic thrust is that these countries and patrons one day may seek the favors of President Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The multiple avenues through which the Clintons and their causes have accepted financial support have provided a variety of ways for wealthy interests in the United States and abroad to build friendly relations with a potential future president.

You’re kidding. Wealthy interests might use their wealth to “build friendly relations” with politicians? In 2015? Has anyone told Anthony Kennedy? He might plotz.

(This, by the way, is Clinton Rule No. 2 — what is business as usual for every politician since Cato is a work of dark magic when practiced by either Clinton.)

Even the author of Clinton Cash, the book all the allegations are based on, admits he hasn’t found proof of any actual wrongdoing on the part of the Clintons. But who needs proof? All you have to say is “Oooo, a lot of money, plus Clintons.” A scandal is born.

However, it’s a wonder to me the righties are trotting this stuff out now. As I see it, turning the big guns on HRC now could be doing her, and the Democratic Party, a favor. If she survives this feeding frenzy intact and goes on to win the nomination, it’ll be old news in the fall of 2016. If, on the other hand, the screaming innuendo machine is able to plant the notion that HRC did something bad involving money and her job as Secretary of State in the public mind now, it could cost her the nomination. And then the GOP may end up running against someone they haven’t been smearing for nearly three decades.

So, bring it on.

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The Further Adventures of Gov. Sam Brownback

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Health Care, Republican Party

Adding to the rolling disaster that is Kansas, Gov. Brownback somehow decided that raising taxes on HMOs would be just the thing to close the state’s budget gap. This is not going well.

According to The Wichita Eagle, leaders at Aetna are warning lawmakers that if Brownback’s proposal goes into effect the healthcare company would be hit with $12 million in additional taxes and add $206 to an average HMO insurance policy holder’s bill. Brownback’s proposal is currently awaiting approval in a House-Senate conference committee.

Seriously, what was he thinking?

Specifically, Brownback is looking to raise a “privilege fee” on annual HMO premiums which is currently at 1 percent. Brownback wants to raise it to 5.5 percent in order to bring in $136 million in new revenues. The $136 million would then be used to replace $80 million in state funds currently going to Medicaid, according to the Eagle. Kansas officials argue that the tax has to go to all HMO companies that offer Medicaid through Kansas’s KanCare program.

And yes, of course Brownback refused to expand Medicaid through the ACA, which would have taken care of the Medicaid problem without Kansas citizens haven’t to suffer for it. Why would we expect anything else?

On Monday, new Kansas revenue estimates projected a $400 million deficit for the 2016 fiscal year. That deficit is projected to grow to near $500 million if lawmakers don’t pass new insurance taxes.

“Conservatives” seem to think that if they can find some magic formula regarding taxes and budgets that costs will just go away. But some costs don’t go away. You can manage them stupidly or smartly, but they aren’t going away, and shifting who has to pay for stuff is not making the cost go away.

Elsewhere: Be sure to read “I am a cook in the US Senate but I still need food stamps to feed my children” and “Conservative Republicans Alone on Global Warming’s Timing.”

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Who’s Got an Identity Problem?

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Democratic Party, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Republicans still assume that the only reason Barack Obama became POTUS is that he is black, because all those non-Republican voters are into “identity politics” and are attracted only by gimmicky candidates, i.e. racial minorities and women. A non-gimmicky candidate would, of course, be a white man.

Along these lines, Josh Kraushaar writes that Democrats have an “identity problem.”

The question of the moment—as the competitive GOP field grows larger by the day—is why Hillary Clinton is barely being challenged for the Democratic nomination. And the answer lies within the changing nature of her party. …

…  the main reason why Clinton is a near-lock for the nomination is that Democrats have become the party of identity. They’re now dependent on a coalition that relies on exciting less-reliable voters with nontraditional candidates. President Obama proved he could turn out African-American, Hispanic, and young voters to his side in 2012 even as they faced particularly rough economic hardships during a weak recovery. As the first female major-party nominee for president, Clinton hopes to win decisive margins with women voters and is planning to run on that historic message—in sharp contrast to her campaign’s argument playing down that uniqueness in 2008.

Do you remember that HRC “played down” her gender in 2008? I sure don’t.

It’s part of why freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren inspires excitement from the party’s grassroots, but former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose progressive record in office set liberal benchmarks, isn’t even polling at 1 percent nationally. It’s why Sherrod Brown, a populist white male senator from a must-win battleground state is an afterthought in the presidential sweepstakes. It’s why Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a runner-up to be Obama’s running mate in 2008, quickly jumped on the Clinton bandwagon instead of pursuing any national ambitions. On Bernstein’s list of 16 possible challengers, 15 are white and nine are white males. That makes many of them untenable standard-bearers in the modern Democratic Party.

Of course, being a white male is an “identity” also. As it says here, people who vote Republican tend to be older, whiter, wealthier, and much more conservative than the public at large. See also this new research from Pew, showing that the demographic groups that strongly identify with the Republican Party are Mormons; white evangelical Protestants; white southerners; white men; whites; and people aged 69-86. I’d call that an identity problem.

But old white wingnuts are dedicated voters, which everyone else (alas) is not. Does “everyone else” need a gimmick to be inspired to vote?

It isn’t that simple. The real reason Hillary Clinton has been crowned Miss Inevitable is that, for whatever reason, Democratic Party insiders have decided she’s going to win, and news media go along with this. I don’t think her support in the base is as strong as polls might show. Polls this early are all about party loyalty and name recognition; Hillary Clinton has name recognition running over, but Martin O’Malley has no name recognition outside of Maryland. And there is no leftie media/think tank infrastructure supporting a backbench of wannabee candidates as there is on the Right; O’Malley is on his own to get attention.

I like O’Malley, and I like Sherrod Brown, too, and would happily support either one over HRC for the Democratic nomination. And I think a lot of other potential Democratic voters would feel the same way if they ever learn who O’Malley and Brown even are. Tim Kaine, on the other hand, has a history of going squishy at inopportune times; I’m not sure if I would favor him over HRC. I’d have to think about that.

I do run into people on the Web who say they support Clinton because they think it’s time we got a woman president, but I seriously don’t think HRC’s gender will help her much in the general. Likewise race by itself doesn’t get anyone elected; there have been other African-Americans running for President before Barack Obama. A candidate needs more than a gimmick.

Progressives fell in love with Elizabeth Warren because she gives voice to a genuinely progressive perspective, not because she’s female. Notice we don’t exactly genuflect to Diane Feinstein. I honestly believe a white man who said the same things as well as Warren does would be considered a champion of progressivism also. It may be that, all other things being equal, not being a white male might be a small advantage to the Democratic base, but it’s not the primary factor in choosing a candidate. I doubt there’d be many crossover African-American votes for Dr. Ben Carson, for example, right-wing expectations to the contrary.

Kraushaar continues,

Consider: When President Obama was elected in 2008, the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of whites defined themselves more closely with Democrats, while 42 percent did so with Republicans. In 2014, that two-point deficit for Republicans has transformed into a nine-point advantage. According to Pew, 49 percent of whites now consider themselves Republicans, while just 40 percent view themselves as Democrats.

Yet among minorities, the Democratic advantage has mostly held or increased—even from the high-water mark of 2008 for Democrats. Pew found 81 percent of blacks identified as Democrats in 2008; that proportion is now 80 percent. Democrats have lost some support from Hispanics since Obama’s landslide in 2008, but it’s at higher levels than before Obama’s presidency. In 2014, 56 percent of Latinos identified as Democrats—a larger share than when Democrats swept Congress in 2006 (51 percent). And the fast-growing bloc of Asian-American voters now consider themselves more Democratic than when Obama first took office—in 2008, 57 percent identified with the Democrats, while 65 percent now do. To get these voters to show up, Democrats need to recruit candidates who reflect their newfound diversity. …

But while nominating a diverse slate of candidates is a laudable goal, there’s great risk when a party becomes obsessed with identity over issues. It fuels racial polarization, where one’s party label or positions on issues becomes synonymous with race or ethnicity. There’s less coherent connection among their constituents’ interests—beyond gender or the color of one’s skin. If Clinton runs a biography-focused campaign, it will require her to be more open and authentic—traits she has never demonstrated in her long career in public life.

For all the GOP’s recent internal struggles, the dividing lines within the party have primarily been over policy: tea-partiers against the establishment, Chamber of Commerce rank-and-file versus social conservatives, hawks against Paulites. Among Democrats, the dividing lines are much more personal. If Clinton wins a third straight Democratic presidential term, it will reaffirm the power of identity in American politics. But if she loses, Democrats will find themselves in a messy identity crisis, without many leaders left to turn to.

In other words, Kraushaar assumes that the only reason women and nonwhites are moving away from the Republican Party is that Those People are into “identity” and don’t care about policy, whereas the party whose voting base gets whiter and more XY-chromosome oriented by the second attracts people who are interested in policy.

Let us pause to let the deeper assumption behind that assumption soak in.

Now that we’ve all caught our breath, let’s go on …

I don’t need to repeat to all of you the many kinds of government policy that impact women more than men, the poor more than the wealthy, and nonwhites more than whites. You know this stuff as well as I do. Republicans remain oblivious to these issues, however, no matter how many times they are pointed out to them. It’s like they’re blinded by the white.

Likewise, I think the reasons the Dem base doesn’t reliably turn out to vote, especially in Midterms, has more to do with falling expectations that government will become responsive to their needs, and of course with white male wingnuts are allowed to run everything that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it’s complicated.

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Blowing Up the Deal

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Middle East, Obama Administration, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

I haven’t had time to look into specifics, but Iran and several world powers have agreed on a framework for a nuclear deal. Greg Sargent writes,

The preliminary deal would limit continued operation of centrifuges to one site, while converting a second one — which had been the subject of controversy — to a research facility. The Arak nuclear reactor could no longer be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

In exchange, sanctions against Iran will be lifted by the U.S. and European countries, after the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies Iran has taken those steps.

Naturally, congressional Republicans already are against it, because Obama. Blowing up any deal the President makes, no matter what it is, is a key litmus test among the 2016 presidential hopefuls. Because Obama.

Scott Walker told an interviewer that if he is elected POTUS he would not only blow up any deal with Iran on his first day as president, he would do so even if all of our allies want the deal to continue.

I asked Peter Juul, a Mideast analyst for the Center for American Progress, to explain what the consequences of that might be. He told me:

“The big questions would be, How would Europeans and Iranians react? It’s hard to believe that the Iranians would stick to their end of the deal. That would leave Iran open to take their nuclear program as far as they want.

“The Europeans would probably try to keep their portion of the deal in place and try to salvage it. This would place the burden of having blown up the deal on us. This would be particularly ironic, considering that a major Republican and conservative talking point is that the Obama administration is breaking faith with our allies. We would be alienating and breaking faith with our European allies right out of the gate. You’d be irreparably damaging our transatlantic relationships for however long Scott Walker were in office.

“Putin is not going to leave power anytime soon, unless he keels over. For all the talk about the Russian threat, it would be odd to throw our European allies under the bus on Iran at the same time they are facing down a Russia that is not particularly friendly.

“There would be a lot of ripple effects around wherever the U.S. and Europe have security cooperation. This is a reckless, irresponsible, shoot first, don’t-ask-questions-ever approach. It’s just not a viable strategy if your goal is to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.”

But for the idiot children like Walker who hope to be on the GOP ticket, the goal is not to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. The goal is to stick it to Obama.  It’s a bit like what the incoming Bush Administration did in 2001 when it assumed Clinton people like Richard Clarke, who were yammering about that dangerous al Qaeda thing, were just being hysterical.

All of this should theoretically lead to at least some kind of pressure on members of Congress who are looking to kill a deal — not to mention the 2016 GOP hopefuls — to say what they support doing instead beyond thwarting Obama. “The bottom line is that it’s unclear what Walker and others who think like him want out of this process,” Juul says. “If no deal could possibly satisfy them, they should say so.”

It’s a bit like Obamacare. Republicans keep saying they have a better way, but the better way really is to just go back to the way things were before.  And then make that even worse.

Salon has a roundup of reactions to the proposed Iran deal. The Right thinks the proposed deal with either bring back the Third Reich or usher the Apocalypse.

Paul Waldman:

I can make that prediction with certainty as well, because we’ve already heard plenty of them. But as I discuss at the Plum Line today, we should be absolutely clear what those who talk about Munich are saying:

Many of us roll our eyes and poke fun at endless Hitler analogies, but in this case their use is extremely revealing. If you believe that the negotiations with Iran are the equivalent of those in Munich in 1938, what you’re basically saying is that war with Iran is inevitable, so we might as well get started on it right away. After all, it isn’t as though, had Chamberlain left Munich without an agreement, Hitler would have retired and gone back to painting. The whole point of the “appeasement” argument is that the enemy cannot be appeased from his expansionist aims, and the only choice is to wage war.

That’s what Iran hawks are arguing: We shouldn’t pussyfoot around trying to find a diplomatic solution to this problem when there’s going to be a war no matter what.

You can call this clear-eyed realism, or you can call it terrifying lunacy. But it would be nice if they would admit that war is indeed what they’re advocating. Up until now, only a few conservatives have been willing to say so. I’d like to hear their argument, and not a bunch of “all options should be on the table” hedging, but a real case for why launching a war on Iran really is the best of the available options.

The idiot children really must be pushed hard to be explicit about what they actually intend. Over and over and over. I’m really certain the American people just want the Middle East to simmer down and stay out of the headlines, not more war.

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Who Wants to Vote for “Electable” Jeb?

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Republican Party

The GOP establishment has settled on Jeb Bush as the “electable” candidate to carry the Republican banner in 2016. The problem with this theory is that it’s hard to find people who want to vote for him.

Josh Kraushaar of National Journal writes that the Republican elite and the Republican base are not exactly on the same page.

But there are signs that a worst-case, crash-and-burn scenario for Bush is more realistic than even his skeptics recognize. He’s underperforming in early public polls and is receiving a frosty reception from Republican focus groups. His entitled biography is at odds with the Republican Party’s increasing energy from working-class voters, who relate best with candidates who have struggled to make ends meet. The Bush name is a reminder of the past at a time when GOP voters are desperate for new faces. And after losing two straight presidential elections, Republican voters are thinking much more strategically—and aren’t nearly as convinced as the political press that Bush is the strongest contender against Hillary Clinton.

It would be foolish to over-read the results of focus groups, but it’s equally egregious to ignore their findings—especially given that they’re paired with polls that show Bush’s candidacy a tough sell among voters. Last week, Bloomberg and Purple Strategies cosponsored a New Hampshire panel of 10 Republicans, most of whom were hostile to a Bush presidential bid. “I know enough to know I don’t need to keep voting for a Bush over and over again,” one participant said. Several laughed at the notion that he’s the front-runner. Not a single one said they’d support him for president.

The article goes on in this vein for a while. The Bush campaign people have decided that the public just doesn’t know enough about their boy yet. Somehow I don’t think that’s their problem.

Jeb’s entire sales pitch is that he’s the most electable candidate in a general election. Ed Kilgore writes,

The line about voters not buying Bush’s electability argument is especially important, and one I’m not sure anybody’s adequately made before Kraushaar’s column. Electability is supposed to be the Republican Establishment’s ace-in-the-hole, the argument carefully conveyed over time that wears down “the base’s” natural desire for a True Conservative fire-breather. In your head you know he’s right is the not-so-subtle message. But Jeb’s electability credentials are as baffling to regular GOP voters as they are obvious and unimpeachable to elites. …

… Looking at it more generally, the jury is out as to whether the appropriate precedent for Jeb is somebody like Mitt Romney, who gradually won over intraparty skeptics by dint of money, opportunism, and a ruthless ability to exploit rivals’ vulnerability, or somebody like Rudy Giuliani, a guy who looked great until actual voters weighed in. And even that contrast may not capture Jeb’s problem: Rudy did well in early polls.

And then there’s this:

Fearing that Republicans will ultimately nominate an establishment presidential candidate like Jeb Bush, leaders of the nation’s Christian right have mounted an ambitious effort to coalesce their support behind a single social-conservative contender months before the first primary votes are cast.

In secret straw polls and exclusive meetings from Iowa to California, the leaders are weighing the relative appeal and liabilities of potential standard-bearers like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and the former governors Rick Perry, of Texas, and Mike Huckabee, of Arkansas.

“There’s a shared desire to come behind a candidate,” said Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a national lobbying group that opposes abortion and equal rights for gays.

There was a time that the Christian right would dutifully support whatever the Republicans told them to support, including Jeb’s little brother. I take it those days are gone.

And Jeb can’t even count on his brother’s friends, the neocons.

Aren’t GOP presidential politics just great? You wake up one morning and suddenly Jeb Bush is the “anti-Israel candidate” in the Republican presidential primary field.

And this is because Jeb occasionally talks to James Baker, and James Baker is no fan of Benjamin Netanyahu. And of course it’s blasphemy on the Right these days to declare anything less than total unquestioning loyalty to Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is not to say Jeb can’t pull it off. His competition doesn’t even rise to the level of clowns; they’re more like punch lines in a lame stand-up act. A lot of insiders will still back him. He will have an endless pool of money. The media will treat him very kindly.

And then there’s this — while declaring that he is “his own man” he’s already holding fundraisers with his former President brother.  Oh, wait …

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Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh

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American History, Republican Party

Well, it’s move-in day at the Zen Center (ZCNYC-Fire Lotus Temple). Exactly how long I’m going to be there is up in the air. My intention is to stay at least six months and possibly a year, but we’ll see how it goes. And where I go after that I have no idea.

Anyway, some brief comments — Tom Cotton has learned that Iran is expanding its reach in the Middle East and already controls Tehran. He’s a quick one, our Tom. See also Jeb Lund, “None Dare Call It Treason: Tom Cotton, Iran and Old GOP Ideas.”

The CPAC conference room was standing-room only, stuffy with faint sweat, hot worsted wool and heavy breathing for boilerplate comments you could have predicted before you crossed the threshold. Cotton – who looks appropriately like Anthony Perkins in Psycho – proudly likened America to Rome, an empire that slowly tore itself apart over for-profit foreign wars, external threats leveraged to drown out domestic discontent, revenue diverted from infrastructure. Listeners murmured approvingly. Cotton asserted the need to send America to war to “defend its national interests” against “trans-national terrorist groups.” By his utterly meaningless definitions, we need to fight anyone, and we need to do it anywhere, and it is our right. A thrill went through the audience.

IMO it’s important to understand neocons and other reactionary hawks as pro-active isolationists. Oldstyle isolationists just wanted the outside world to stay out, and maybe go away. Pro-active isolationists will not rest until anything “outside” has been either forced into assimilation or destroyed. They’re something like the Borg, in other words.

Lund goes on to review the history of right-wing obstruction of U.S. foreign policy interests, from the 1930s Neutrality Acts to Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to negotiate a peace in Vietnam. And there is a review of Iran-Contra and the lie campaign that stampeded America into invading Iraq. And the fact that nobody ever is held accountable for any of this, and indeed, most of the voting public doesn’t really understand what was done, anyway.  Lund concludes,

In its Constitutional idolatry and boundless bellicosity, Cotton’s Republican Party has arrogated to itself the presumption that anything it does is explicitly American. The normative conditions of patriotism are whatever they want to do at any given moment, because only they have the courage to defend you from enemies abroad with guns and enemies at home via a fundamentalist reading of the texts and hadith of Our Founding Prophets (which, conveniently, also mentions guns). Anything outside their chosen agenda is met with the word no, which is the finest distillation of their agenda for anyone other than their own.

This prospective nuclear deal with Iran merely creates a shredded barbecue plate of corpses and the idea of America as commonwealth of disparate voices represented in equal strength. Government is not allowed to function when it disagrees with Cotton, because he not only considers government’s existence indivisible from his ideology but also because the Constitution in his reading explicitly demands that he do this. You cannot chasten a man who believes by the word of his holiest texts that this is his job. And his job, as written, is to advise and consent. On Iran, his message is clear. His advice is to stop, and you do not have his consent, which reifies not only the illegitimacy of your actions but the holy writ of his own. Without his consent, you cannot have anything at all, except a potential nuclear clash of messianic visions of world order. In which case – to quote the previous president’s nuanced address to the same enemies foreign and domestic – bring it on.

It’s also election day in Israel, and while Netenyahu’s Likud party is likely to lose he likely will be able to put together a coalition that will allow him to keep his position as Prime Minister. A pity.

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Cotton Comes to Harmin’

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Congress, Middle East, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Japan had the 47 Ronin; we have the #47Traitors, currently the number one hashtag on Twitter. Heh. I do acknowledge that the 47 didn’t actually commit treason by U.S. standards; they were basically just being assholes. The Logan Act is another matter, of course, but an exceedingly fuzzy one.

Anyhoo, possibly the most delicious thing I read today was the response from Iranian Foreign Minister Dr. Javad Zarif, who felt called upon to explain the U.S. Constitution and international law to the infamous 47.

Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.

Of course, the #47Traitors don’t consider the Obama Administration to be the legitimate executive branch of the government, so this will have been lost on them. But how can some foreigner presume to speak for the “nuances” of the United States Constitution?  Wikipedia:

Zarif attended Drew College Preparatory School, a private college-preparatory high school located in San Francisco, California. He went on to study at San Francisco State University, from which he gained a BA in International Relations in 1981 and an MA in the same subject in 1982. Following this, Zarif continued his studies at the Graduate School of International Studies (now named the Josef Korbel School of International Studies) at the University of Denver, from which he obtained a second MA in International Relations in 1984 and this was followed by a PhD in International Law and Policy in 1988. His thesis was entitled: “Self-Defense in International Law and Policy”.

Oh, that’s how. He also represented Iran in the United Nations for a few years, so he’s spent quite a lot of time here.

At the New York Times, Rita from California wrote in a comment,

The letter is quite strange. It has kind of a chatty, juvenile tone to it – much like a gang of middle school kids suggesting to a star football player that he is making a mistake by hanging around the wrong crowd. May I paraphrase: “We just wanted to let you know that you are dealing with the wrong person. You really should be talking to us because “WE” are the “cool kids”. Clearly not the type of letter written by those serious about international relations.

Did these 47 Senators honestly think that the Iranian government is so benighted that it was not aware of the workings of the U.S. government or the politics at work in the US? Are these Senators really so ignorant of the world?

I love that; “We really should be making all the decisions because ‘WE’ are the ‘cool kids'” kind of sums up the GOP vibe, don’t you think? Well, that plus big doses of resentment and grievances to go with the entitlement.

Also in the New York Times:

But the senators’ suggestion that international political commitments made by presidents can and should be easily overturned — and therefore by implication have no value — is at odds with tradition, American security interests and good sense. Every president has negotiated scores of agreements with foreign governments that have not required congressional approval and sometimes, not even congressional review. These include last year’s security agreement with Afghanistan, the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime which aims to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and — oh yes — the 2013 interim agreement with Iran that has already substantially curbed the country’s ability to make nuclear fuel.

Oh, wait, who was President in 1987, again? I know it’ll come to me …

Charles Pierce has been going to town, so to speak, on the subject of ringleader Tom Cotton. One, Cotton made the Bush Administration disappear. Then read How Tom Cotton Runs the Nation.

I know I missed it on election night back in November, but it seems that 478,819 citizens of the state of Arkansas voted themselves in control of the foreign policy of the United States. They determined in ensemble fashion to visit upon the Senate—and, thereby, the country—the genius of Tom Cotton, who decided over the weekend on his own to lecture the government of Iran on How America Works—and, in fact, to lecture the government of Iran how it should work, for that matter. Put not your trust in Kenyan Usurpers, Tom cautioned the mullahs, for nothing is forever.

Cotton stands revealed as a true fanatic. He’s stalwart in his convictions as regards things about which he knows exactly dick. What he and practically every Republican in the Senate did was nothing short of a slow-motion, partial coup d’etat. It was not quite treason, and it was not quite a violation of the Logan Act, no matter how dearly some of us might wish it was. (Imagine the howls if the Justice Department actually inquired into that possibility, which it certainly has a right to do. Lindsey Graham might never rise from the fainting couch.) But it stands in history with Richard Nixon’s grotesque sabotage of the Paris Peace Talks in 1968 and with whatever it was that the Reagan campaign did to monkeywrench the possible release of the American hostages from their captivity in Iran in 1980. It is an act of unconscionable and perilous presumption, reckless at its base and heedless of eventual consequences.

Possibly the best part of Cotton’s move is that he has pretty much killed any chance Senate Republicans could get enough crossover Democratic support in an effort to put restrictions on President Obama’s efforts to reach a deal with Iran. Before Cotton pulled this stunt, there were a number of Dem Senators (and I’m looking at you, Chuck) who might have helped the Republicans keep war on the table. Right now about any Dem senator who dares stand with Republicans on this matter risks being laughed, if not drummed, out of the Party. This week, anyway.

Way to go, T.C.

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Jersey Boys

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Republican Party

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is facing corruption charges that he accepted gifts from a political benefactor in exchange for favors. Corruption is something of a New Jersey tradition, of course, right up there with the Jersey Shore Food Truck Festival and Atlantic City mobsters. But, frankly, the charges against Menendez are small potatoes — in the form of Boardwalk Fries — compared to what it appears Gov. Chris “Hindenburg” Christie is trying to pull.

Here’s the background. For over a decade, New Jersey had been embroiled in a battle with Exxon Mobil over the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of public land in the northern part of the state. The company was found liable several years ago, but the amount of damages and cleanup costs it owed had not yet been determined.

Expert witnesses for the state ballparked the total figure at $8.9 billion, and a judge was expected to rule on the final number soon. But then, this month, the state’s lawyers swooped in and decided to settle for a mere $225 million, not including undisclosed cleanup costs.

You will never guess why the state’s lawyers did such a thing. Oh, wait, you did guess.

Most of the coverage of the peculiarly low settlement has emphasized Exxon Mobil’s generous donations to the Republican Governors Association. The company gave hundreds of thousands of dollars last year, while Christie was its chair and the case was in trial; suspicions about a tacit tit-for-tat don’t seem unwarranted.

But there’s more!

Christie’s crowning achievement as governor of the Garden State has supposedly been balancing the budget without raising taxes. He’s even managed to reduce corporate taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars annually. But he’s primarily accomplished these goals through accounting tricks, raiding rainy-day funds and other shortsighted gimmicks. He has, in other words, sold off the state’s future to preserve the fiction of his fiscal responsibility.

These environmental settlements are no exception.

Historically, under state law, money received from environmental settlements has to be used on environmental efforts. But last year the Christie administration snuck some language into the state budget that effectively overrode this. For this fiscal year — and potentially this fiscal year only — the first $50 million of any environmental settlement will go toward environmental programs; anything above that can be diverted to plug holes in the state’s general fund.

You really have to read Brian Murphy’s bit at Talking Points Memo to take in the breadth of the whole thing and get just a glimpse of the many layers of kickbacks and quid pro quo going on here, and not limited to Christie himself. And it’s probably not even limited to Republicans. You’ll remember how the state Democratic party effectively stood aside and let Christie take the 2014 election without a fight. Now those same Dems in the state legislature are making much noise about investigations, but I question whether they mean it.

See also Charles Pierce.

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Does the GOP Fear the Fallout from King v. Burwell? (Updated)

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Congress, Health Care, Obama Administration, Republican Party, Supreme Court

SCOTUS will hear the King v. Burwell case on March 4. This is the case in which it is alleged that states that did not set up their own exchanges under the Affordable Care Act cannot offer federal subsidies to people buying insurance through the federal exchange. The New York Times editorial board says of this,

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in one of the most anticipated cases of the term: King v. Burwell, a marvel of reverse-engineered legal absurdity that, if successful, will tear a huge hole in the Affordable Care Act and eliminate health insurance for millions of lower-income Americans — exactly the opposite of what the law was passed to do.

Even an idiot ought to be able to understand that the primary point of the exchanges is to facilitate people buying individual health policies that can be subsidized. I suspect even some Republicans realize this.

The suit is based on one ambiguously worded sentence in the ACA. In a subsection of the law dealing with tax credits, the ACA describes exchanges “established by the states.” The authors of the bill say this was a vestige of the original assumption that the states would set up their own exchanges. It wasn’t anticipated that so many would refuse to do so. But the Burwell challenge hangs on  those four words — established by the states.

The challengers did not innocently happen upon these words; they went all out in search of anything that might be used to gut the law they had failed to kill off once before, on constitutional grounds, in 2012. Soon after the law passed in 2010, Michael Greve, then chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is helping to finance the current suit, said, “This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”

After the challengers found the four-word “glitch,” as they initially called it, they worked backward to fabricate a story that would make it sound intentional. Congress, they claimed, sought to induce states to establish exchanges by threatening a loss of subsidies if they did not. (Not coincidentally, the challengers also traveled state to state urging officials not to set up exchanges, thus helping to create the very “crisis” they now decry.) Of course, if Congress intended to introduce a suicide clause into a major piece of federal legislation, it would have shouted it from the mountaintops and not hidden it in a short phrase deep inside a sub-sub-subsection of the law. So it is no surprise that no one involved in passing or interpreting the law — not state or federal lawmakers, not health care journalists covering it at the time, not even the four justices who dissented in the 2012 decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act — thought that the subsidies would not be available on federal exchanges.

So, the purpose of Burwell is to kill Obamacare, and if SCOTUS decides for the plaintiffs, it might very well succeed. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the states without their own exchanges lose subsidies, 13,402,890 Americans who ought to be insured by 2016 will lose out. And the entire law could quickly unravel for everyone, as the health insurance industry is thrown into chaos. I understand roughly 9 million people would lose their insurance almost immediately.

The immediate fallout from a decision for the ACA challengers would, therefore, be chaos and devastation, and the long-term consequences potentially even worse. The ripple affect could impact just about everybody, and probably not in a good way.

 This past week Republicans in Congress seemed almost frantic in demanding the Obama Administration reveal their “Plan B” to the world. What will they do to save the ACA if the subsidies are struck down in so many states? And the Administration has said, over and over, there is no Plan B. If the subsidies are lost, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to salvage anything.

But rightie media are not accepting this. The Administration is hiding Plan B. HHS denies it is preparing Plan B. The Administration won’t say it is preparing Plan B. (Actually, it plainly says there isn’t one and none are in the works.) But there must be a Plan B! How could there not be a Plan B? Of course there is a Plan B, and congressional Republicans demand to know what it is.

Smart money says all this posturing is trying to signal the Court that the actual fallout of a decision for the challengers wouldn’t really be that bad; the Administration has a Plan B! Also, when the dominoes start crashing and people find themselves cut off from health care again, they are prepared to point to the White House — See? They should have had a Plan B. It’s their fault.

Republicans also have proposed a Plan B, although no one who knows anything about health care insurance thinks it will work. And a whopping majority — 64 percent — of Americans think that if SCOTUS rules against the subsidies, Congress immediately should step up and reinstate them. Which Republicans in Congress have no intention of doing.

Which makes me think that at least a few Republicans are genuinely nervous that a ruling in their favor could bite them, hard. Deep down, a few of the less demented among them may really want the White House to jump in with a Plan B and save their butts.

Update: Here’s something interesting — a GOP senator is proposing that if the subsidies are struck down, Congress should extend them for 18 months.

The loss of subsidies for millions of people would also put the Obama administration on the offense for the first time to protect its signature healthcare law.

A White House crusade against the GOP would mean a firestorm of accusations that the party is taking away care and endangering lives  – building up for the 2016 election.

To avoid that situation, some Republicans are floating a stopgap that would keep the subsidies in place temporarily.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) promised this week that he would introduce legislation that creates a “temporary model to protect those harmed by ObamaCare” in which people could still receive financial help for their healthcare costs for 18 months after a court decision.

Startin’ to sweat a bit there, dude?

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) hinted at a similar proposal earlier in the week, promising “a short-term solution” until a Republican can enter the White House.

By some coincidence, 18 months from the likely date of the decision — end of June, 2015 — would possibly take us just past the 2016 elections.

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The GOP Tryouts, Self-Absorption Edition

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Republican Party

Apparently Chris Christie thinks the world owes him a presidential nomination.

He does not return phone calls. He does not ask for support. He arrives late for meetings. And he acts as if he has all the time in the world.

The complaints have piled up for weeks, dismaying many longtime supporters of Gov.Chris Christie of New Jersey and sending others into the arms of his rivals for the presidential nomination, according to interviews with more than two dozen Republican donors and strategists. …

“He’s a very popular figure, but he’s made a mistake by not creating the necessary momentum for the kind of national organization you need to be successful,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a New York hedge fund manager who is now backing Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. “He’s not touching enough people. And I think this is a classic rookie mistake.”

Friends say Mr. Christie is both understaffed and too controlling. They also say he is convinced that his raw talent and charisma can overcome the political obstacles in his way. Thomas H. Kean, a former governor of New Jersey and Mr. Christie’s onetime mentor, with whom he mended fences after a public break, said Mr. Christie had “gotten in the habit of kind of doing everything himself.”

“You can’t do that in a presidential campaign,” Mr. Kean said.

Especially since Christie would be challenged to win his own state in a presidential general election, his overconfidence would be puzzling. Would be, that is, until you consider his competition.

According to a CNN/ORC Poll taken February 12-15, the Republican field currently ranks in this order, top to bottom: Mike Huckabee (seriously?), Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Chris Christie or None (tie), Marco Rubio, and Someone Else. Then there’s a four-way tie among Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Unsure. Then comes John Kasich, and finally scraping the bottom at 1 percent each are Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina. Note that Bush and Christie were numbers one and two a month ago. Make of that what you will.

Speaking of mutts, Charles Pierce comments on Scott Walker:

By his works shall ye know him, and by his budget shall ye know Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, and current frontrunner in the Premature Nonsense Primary portion of the 2016 Republican nominating process. Where it is not actively hostile to the interests of anyone except his state’s plutocrats and out-of-state mining interests, there is in the budget a low-running contempt for the concept of the government’s obligation to do much of anything except protect the wealth of the wealthy and throw the right people in jail. His idea of “going big and bold” is to be petty and small-minded. His budget is a melange of childish vandalism, cut-rate empire building, and the construction of a Potemkin record for the consumption of oligarchical moneybags and hayshaking god-botherers in Iowa and elsewhere.

Pierce has the details.

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