Senator Stabenow Takes Legislative Action Against Cotton Letters

debbie-stabenow

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is taking legislative action to prevent a repeat of the type of letter sent by Senator Tom Cotton, attempting to sabotage diplomatic talks regarding nuclear energy in Iran. She introduced an amendment (pdf here) which would defund “the purchase of stationary [sic] or electronic devices for the purpose of members of Congress or congressional staff communicating with foreign governments and undermining the role of the President as Head of State in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States.”

The letter signed by 47 Republican Senators was highly irresponsible, and it is understandable why Senator Stabenow would like to defund any future such letters. The letter not only interferes with efforts to attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, it undermines the ability of the current and every future president to negotiate on behalf of the United States.

Of course Democrats might also like to keep this issue alive considering how unpopular the letter was with voters. It never hurts to remind the voters of how utterly irresponsible and bat-shit crazy the Republican Party has become.

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Calls For War With Iran From The Right

Washington Post War with Iran

There is no question that the letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican Senators was irresponsible. I will leave it to others to argue whether it breaks the law or constitutes treason, but it definitely ignores how foreign policy is conducted in the United States. At very least this was a curious move from the party which claims to be such strict backers of a Constitution which in reality they cite only when convenient. My initial reaction was more basic–why would anyone, regardless of party, want to derail an effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to having nuclear weapons in Iran? Yes, there is another election in two years and the United States could change course, but don’t undermine the ability of the current, and every future, president to negotiate on behalf of the United States by suggesting that agreements with the President of the United States are meaningless.

There are many possible explanations, ranging from incompetence (the signers didn’t read the letter) to the theory of many on the left, including Bernie Sanders, that Republicans want to go to war. I certainly would not accuse all Republicans of desiring war. They might even have legitimate concerns, even if this was the wrong way to express them. Fred Hiatt has added considerable credence to the belief that the right desires to go to war in publishing an op-ed from Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Muravchik argues that War with Iran is probably our best option:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal…

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.

James Fallows responded:

Right, repeated bombing raids “as necessary.” What could possibly go wrong with that approach? Yes, “surely the United States could best Iran.” Surely we could polish off those backward Viet Cong. Surely invading Iraq would work out great. (I haven’t taken the time to see if the author was a fan of invading Iraq, but I have a guess.) Surely the operational details of these engagements are a concern only for the small-minded among us.

How would we think about a “scholar” in some other major-power capital who cavalierly recommended war? How would we think about some other capital-city newspaper that decided to publish it? The Post’s owners (like those of the NYT and other majors papers) have traditionally had a free hand in choosing the paper’s editorial-page policy and leaders, while maintaining some distance from too-direct involvement in news coverage. Jeff Bezos, behold your newspaper.

While not all have explicitly called for war as Muravchik has, opposition to a negotiated settlement is becoming a wide-spread view among Republicans. This includes Mitt Romney:

I say courage because signing an agreement — any agreement — would undoubtedly be a political home run. The news media would repeatedly feature the signing ceremony. The coverage would rehearse the long and tortured history between our two countries and exalt at the dawn of a new era. The Iranian pooh-bahs would appear tame and responsible. The president would look, well, presidential.An agreement would also boost the prospects for Hillary Clinton: achievement by association.

Walking away from all that would be courageous. It would also be right.

As I noted yesterday, this is starting to become an issue going into the 2016 elections. This country rushed into a disastrous war with Iraq based upon the emotions following the 9/11 attack and lies from the Bush administration. During the 2016 election we need to carefully examine the views of the candidates regarding war and peace. This is not limited to the Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s views also need to be reviewed. While she has correctly criticized the Republicans for this letter, her views regarding use of military force must be questioned. Not only was she often among the most hawkish voices in the Obama administration, she was in the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party in urging war with Iraq based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

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The Primary Battles Beyond Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein wrote about how Hillary Clinton is crushing the opposition for the Democratic nomination, primarily due to winning the support of the Democratic elite. He does end with this thought:

The question for the Democratic Party is whether Clinton is going to be as strong in the visible primary — and the visible election — as she is in the invisible one. The skills necessary to win over Democratic Party elites may not be the skills necessary to win the election — and if Hillary doesn’t face serious opposition in the visible primary, Democrats may not find that out until too late.

Her mishandling of both her book tour and her response to the news on her private email server should be enough to suggest to the elites, and everyone else, that Clinton is no more prepared to run now than she was in 2008. Most likely she will win the nomination, but I’m not going to give up hope that the Democrats will nominate a liberal instead of Clinton with so much time to go. Martin O’Malley is a long shot but he does stand out in one way–he says he is running. Joan Walsh interviewed him at Salon. He primarily spoke about economic matters, positioning  himself to go after the Elizabeth Warren backers. He had little to say on issues beyond economics saying, “Let me say that over the course of the next couple of months we’ll be laying out a number of policy speeches, almost certainly on national security and foreign policy.”

Bernie Sanders would also go after Clinton from the left on economic matters but he is sounding less enthusiastic about running.

While Clinton definitely deserves to be challenged from the left on economic matters, I do wish there was a comparable potential challenger on the civil liberties and social issues which I’m more interested in. Ron Wyden’s name sometimes comes up in wish lists of Democratic candidates, and he would be high on my list. Any consideration of Democrats who have been strong on civil liberties issues will naturally turn to Russ Feingold. He is is leaving his current  job as a special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and there has been a lot of speculation that he is planning to run for the Senate in 2016. If Clinton should self-destruct, I wonder if he would aim higher.

Meanwhile over on the dark side, The Politico Caucus believes that the Republicans have harmed themselves with the Iranian letter:

“The Republicans handed the Democrats a perfect issue going in to 2016,” said a New Hampshire Democrat. “No matter what they do from now until November 2016, Democrats have endless editorials to pull devastating quotes from to demolish the Republicans. Truly a gift.”

“I talked to a number of non-political Granite Staters who were, to be blunt, shocked by its appalling lack of respect for the presidency,” said another, “by its undermining of American credibility and by what they felt was essentially an un-patriotic act.”

Far too few people who don’t follow politics closely do not realize how extreme the Republicans are, and the degree to which their actions are contrary to American interests. Can this be the issue which opens more eyes?

Despite how unethical Clinton’s behavior has been, both with the use of her private email server and her dishonest response, I doubt that this will have  any significant impact on the election results. The political meaning isn’t that people will turn against Clinton because of this, but that it shows Clinton’s ability to self-destruct as more controversies come up during the campaign. I did receive a link to one poll which claims, “Majority of Americans believe email controversy will hurt Clinton’s 2016 ambitions.” Being skeptical I checked into Vox Populi, which conducted the poll. It turns out to be a Republican outfit, with Mary Cheney a partner.

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Turning Around The Media’s Recent Obama As Loser Narrative

Pack journalism resulted in a misleading stream of newspaper articles which would make readers think that the Obama presidency had collapsed. Real problems have been exaggerated greatly out of proportion, with a temporary computer problem compared to Katrina and the desirable transfer of people from insurance plans designed to avoid payouts to real insurance plans presented as a disaster. As Reagan, Clinton, and Bush all had problems in their second term, the media  narrative has been that the same must happen with Obama. Fortunately there is hope that another feature of the news media, a desire to periodically change story lines, might lead to improved coverage once the web site is fixed and most Americans find out that they are better off, or at least doing the same, under the Affordable Care Act.

The New Republic is hardly a bell weather as to where the media will be going, but an article posted yesterday does present a hopeful sign of where coverage, if accurate, might change to:

It’s been a pretty good week for the Obama administration. The bungled healthcare.gov Web site emerged vastly improved following an intensive fix-it push, allowing some 25,000 to sign up per day, as many as signed up in all of October. Paul Ryan and Patty Murray inched toward a modest budget agreement. This morning came a remarkably solid jobs report, showing 203,000 new positions created in November, the unemployment rate falling to 7 percent for the first time in five years, and the labor force participation rate ticking back upward. Meanwhile, the administration’s push for a historic nuclear settlement with Iran continued apace.

All of these developments are tenuous. The Web site’s back-end troubles could still pose big problems (though word is they are rapidly improving, too) and the delay in getting the site up working leaves little time to meet enrollment goals. Job growth could easily stutter out again. The Iran deal could founder amid resistance from Congress or our allies.

After giving  examples, Alec MacGillis described some of the factors which led to such misleading coverage the last few weeks:

What explains for this even-worse-than-usual excitability? Much of it has to do with the age-old who’s-up-who’s down, permanent-campaign tendencies of the political media, exacerbated by a profusion of polling, daily tipsheets and Twitter. Overlaid on this is our obsession with the presidency, which leads us both to inflate the aura of the office and to view periods of tribulation as some sort of existential collapse. Add in the tendencies of even more serious reporters to get into a chew-toy mode with tales of scandal or policy dysfunction, as happened with the healthcare.gov debacle – the media has been so busy hyping every last aspect of the rollout’s woes that it did indeed start to seem inconceivable that things might get better soon.

Andrew Sullivan reviewed similar stories of gloom and doom for the Obama administration: “The Healthcare.gov fiasco was Katrina; the Syrian pivot was a disastrous wobble; the Iran negotiations were abject surrender; the economy was going nowhere.” Then he gave further examples of how reality looks far better than recent headlines:

But it’s worth digesting how all these alleged disasters have settled down. Obama’s alleged surrender to Putin on Syria … has led to something no one really believed possible: a potential shut-down of Syria’s WMD potential. What Bush failed to do in Iraq (because Saddam’s WMDs were a fantasy), Obama has almost succeeded in doing in Syria – with Putin’s help. The Iran negotiations – far from being a surrender – have set the stage for a real rapprochement. Les Gelb notes:

The Obama team has won the first round on the six-month agreement with Iran by a knockout. The phony, misleading, and dishonest arguments against the pact just didn’t hold up to the reality of the text. As night follows day, the mob of opponents didn’t consider surrender, not for a second. Instead, they trained their media howitzers on the future, the next and more permanent agreement, you know, the one that has yet to be negotiated.

Even George Will has conceded as much.

The media might stick with the current storyline and highlight every problem which is likely to occur with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the economy, and in unstable parts of the world. Or they might present the full story where Obama has been imperfect, has made mistakes, but has in reality done a lot to improve the economy, improve health care, and is showing promise regarding potentially major achievements in foreign policy.

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Iran Deal

POTUS about to make statement regarding deal with Iran on nuclear program. Next Fox to accuse Obama of making deal to reduce risk of nuclear war in order to take attention away from Obamacare problems.

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Wingnuts Say The Darndest Things: Bombing Iran

“What are we going to negotiate about? I would say ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ …You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ And so there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all,  and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes.’–Sheldon Adelson, a major financial backer of Mitt Romney

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CIA Documents Support Obama Administration On Libya

Mitt Romney was embarrassed by his belief in the untrue attacks on Obama from right wing about Libya during last week’s debate. Yet more evidence has come out debunking the attacks on Obama. CIA reports support the Obama administration:

The Romney campaign may have misfired with its suggestion that statements by President Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Riceabout the Benghazi attack last month weren’t supported by intelligence, according to documents provided by a senior U.S. intelligence official.

“Talking points” prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”

The CIA document went on: “This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.” This may sound like self-protective boilerplate, but it reflects the analysts’ genuine problem interpreting fragments of intercepted conversation, video surveillance and source reports.

The senior intelligence official said the analysts’ judgment was based in part on monitoring of some of the Benghazi attackers, which showed they had been watching the Cairo protests live on television and talking about them before they assaulted the consulate.

“We believe the timing of the attack was influenced by events in Cairo,” the senior official said, reaffirming the Cairo-Benghazi link. He said that judgment is repeated in a new report prepared this week for the House intelligence committee.

Here’s how the senior official described the jumble of events in Benghazi that day: “The attackers were disorganized; some seemed more interested in looting. Some who claimed to have participated joined the attack as it began or after it was under way. There is no evidence of rehearsals, they never got into the safe room . . . never took any hostages, didn’t bring explosives to blow the safe room door, and didn’t use a car bomb to blow the gates.”

The Benghazi flap is the sort of situation that intelligence officers dread: when politicians are demanding hard “yes” or “no” answers but evidence is fragmentary and conflicting. The political debate has focused on whether the attack was spontaneous or planned, but the official said there’s evidence of both, and that different attackers may have had different motives. There’s no dispute, however, that it was “an act of terror,” as Obama described it the next day.

“It was a flash mob with weapons,” is how the senior official described the attackers. The mob included members of the Ansar al-Sharia militia, about four members of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, and members of the Egypt-based Muhammad Jamal network, along with other unarmed looters.

The official said the only major change he would make now in the CIA’s Sept. 15 talking points would be to drop the word “spontaneous” and substitute “opportunistic.” He explained that there apparently was “some pre-coordination but minimal planning.”

The Los Angeles Times has a similar report on the attack.

Kevin Drum summarized what we know and ended with this summary:

There were conflicting reports on the ground, and that was reflected in conflicting and sometimes confused reports from the White House. I don’t think anyone would pretend that the Obama’s administration’s response to Benghazi was anywhere near ideal. Nevertheless, the fact is that their statements were usually properly cautious; the YouTube video really did play a role; the attack was opportunistic, not preplanned; and it doesn’t appear to have had any serious connection with al-Qaeda. It’s true that it took about ten days for all this to really shake out, but let’s be honest: ten days isn’t all that long to figure out what really happened during a violent and chaotic attack halfway around the world. I get that it’s a nice opportunity for Republicans to score some political points in the runup to an election, but really, there’s not much there there.

While it took time to figure out exactly what happened, it is not true, as Mitt Romney claimed, that Barack Obama did not refer to this as a terrorist attack for fourteen days. He actually made such references during the two weeks after the attack, including in speeches on September 12, and 13.

Republicans who are looking for a failure on national security might look back at George Bush, who first ignored intelligence warnings about the 9/11 attack, and then attacked Iraq based upon false claims of weapons of mass destruction.This shows the importance of Obama’s approach of viewing the intelligence as an evolving source of information as opposed to jumping to conclusions as Bush did with Iraq and Romney did with Libya.

Mitt Romney has stopped using Libya on the campaign trail, finding that his claims on the issue are not supported by the facts. It also will be harder for him to use Iran as a campaign issue now that the Obama administration has been successful in getting Iran to talk regarding their nuclear program:

News of the agreement — a result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term — comes at a critical moment in the presidential contest, just two weeks before Election Day and the weekend before the final debate, which is to focus on national security and foreign policy.

It has the potential to help Mr. Obama make the case that he is nearing a diplomatic breakthrough in the decade-long effort by the world’s major powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but it could pose a risk if Iran is seen as using the prospect of the direct talks to buy time.

It is also far from clear that Mr. Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, would go through with the negotiation should he win election. Mr. Romney has repeatedly criticized the president as showing weakness on Iran and failing to stand firmly with Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat.

Conservatives who oppose negotiations with Iran certainly might be right that Iran will not negotiate in good faith. Despite this risk, it would be foolish not to attempt a negotiated settlement. It will be interesting to see if Mitt Romney takes a position on the proposed negotiations.

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Things Still Not Going Well For “Mitt the Twitt” After Leaving London

Things just continue to go badly for Mitt Romney, even after leaving London, the site of multiple gaffes. He’s  flip-flopped on his decision not to allow the press at his fund raiser in Israel but still will leave many questioning whether he plans to tell the big donors something different from what he says in public. CNN reports that “The reporters, however, will be escorted out before Romney takes questions from the audience during the event on Monday.”

Romney was also forced to backtrack on a view expressed by an aide on Iran which Romney didn’t want expressed in public:

A top Mitt Romney foreign policy aide on Sunday said the GOP presidential candidate would back an Israeli military strike on Iran to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision,” said Romney adviser on Middle East affairs Dan Senor in a briefing with reporters, according to media reports.

Any doubts as to what he will tell Israeli donors once the media is escorted out?

Meanwhile the Israelis aren’t happy about Romney trying to drag them into partisan disputes:

The high profile battle surrounding the state of ties between the allies has inserted Israel into the campaign as never before. But Israeli officials and analysts are anxious about that spotlight, and would prefer to be more of an afterthought. That’s because an election debate over Israel could damage long term ties between they countries by risking the Jewish state’s long cultivated bipartisan support in Washington.

“We don’t want to be part of the issue,” says an Israeli diplomat, who was not authorized to speak. “We have very strong bi-partisan support and we want to keep it that way. We want there to be strong relations with the US. Not with blue or red.”

Further in the article:

Republicans and the Israeli right see common cause “on three issues: the Land of Israel, religion, and family values,” says Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster. “There’s a natural connection to the Israeli left to the Democrats, and vice versa: That’s based on share values of democracy, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and protection of minorities.”

But that risks upsetting a key strategy by pro-Israel allies in the US of cultivating support among both Democrats and Republicans in order to ensure that there’s continuity of US support for Israel regardless of who controls the White House or the Congress.

“It was very easy to stay out of this when American presidential candidates didn’t come to Israel three or four months before the election,” says one American Jewish official active in boosting bilateral ties. “If it looks like you look like you are backing one, and the other gets elected, you are in trouble.”

Romney hoped that his foreign trip might improve his reputation and make him look presidential, as a foreign trip did for Obama in 2008. Instead his constant gaffes only underscore how unprepared Mitt Romney is to be president, despite running for the job for several years. Romney’s often bizarre behavior is bound to result in more adverse media coverage, such as in the  Newsweek cover story (cover above). The story actually suggests that Romney might be something other than a wimp:

In some respects, he’s more weenie than wimp—socially inept; at times awkwardy ingratiating, at other times mocking those “below” him, but almost always getting the situation a little wrong, and never in a sympathetic way. The evidence resonates across too many years to deny. What kind of teenager beats up on the misfit, sissy kid, pinning him down and violently cutting his hair with a pair of school scissors—the incident from Romney’s youth that The Washington Post famously reported (and Romney famously didn’t really deny) back in May? The behavior extends, through more sedate means, into adulthood. The Salt Lake Olympics remains his greatest triumph, for which he wins deserved praise. But to many of those in the know, Romney placed a heavy asterisk next to his name by attacking the men he replaced on the Olympic Committee, smearing them in his book, even after a court threw out all the corruption charges against them.

And what kind of presidential candidate whines about a few attacks and demands an apology when the going starts to get rough? And tries to sound tough by accusing the president who killed the world’s most-wanted villain of appeasement? That’s what they call overcompensation, and it’s a dead giveaway; it’s the “tell.” This guy is nervous—terrified—about looking weak. And ironically, being terrified of looking weak makes him look weaker still…

But if Romney is elected? Be nervous. A Republican president sure of his manhood had nothing to prove. Reagan was happy with a jolly little shoot-up in Grenada, and eventually he settled down to the serious work of arms control, consummating historic treaties with Mikhail Gorbachev. But a weenie Republican—look out. He has something to prove, needs to reassert that “natural” advantage. That spells trouble more often than not.

Mitt Romney: Is he a wimp or a weenie? We report, you decide.

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ABC Promoting Bloomberg Story On Koch Illegal Activities

Conservatives in general, and especially the extraordinarily ignorant people who make up the Tea Party movement, are among the most gullible people who have ever lived. If you need sheep to promote your interests who will believe that cigarettes pose no danger to one’s health or that climate change poses no danger to the environment, there are plenty of conservatives who can easily be fooled into promoting your cause. Conservatives and libertarians are also the most dangerous threat to freedom and a working capitalist system in the world–presenting a far greater threat to free market economies than the socialists ever did. Conservatives promote a world view based upon false historical and economic facts which leads the right wing sheep to promote government policies which enrich the ultra-wealthy and eliminate the regulations which are essential for a market economy to function fairly. Of course the leaders of the conservative movement are well aware that the principles they preach are false, as can be seen in their actions.

The Koch brothers have been long-time heroes to libertarians and conservatives who have been unaware of how they have used government to enrich themselves. Their brand of libertarianism also appears to mean that they feel free to ignore the law. Bloomberg published a recent report on the activities of the Koch brothers, which has now been picked up by ABC News:

In a recent documentary, David Koch can be seen addressing Tea Party leaders and espousing American values, saying, “The American dream of free enterprise, capitalism is alive and well.”

But now questions are being raised about the American values of the source of the Koch brothers’ wealth.

This week’s edition of Bloomberg Markets reveals that one Koch Industries subsidiary was trading with Iran and that another subsidiary in France was paying bribes to get business in six different countries.

In one previously undisclosed document from a French labor court case, Koch Industries admits the payments are “violations of criminal law.” A company spokesperson told ABC News that the letter relates only to the conduct of the employee fired in the bribery case and “does not discuss or concern United States law or the company’s potential liability.”

“It’s a document right there in the court record, out of the lips of Koch Industries,” said David Evans, one of the co-authors of the Bloomberg Markets article.

 

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SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who Non-News & The Rise of The Iranian Machines

Here’s an abbreviated edition for this holiday weekend, dominated by non-news. There was no new broadcast of Doctor Who this week, with the BBC having concluded the series and BBC America taking the holiday weekend off, now falling four weeks behind the BBC. Coming up on Saturday is The Lodger in which The Doctor tries to blend in as a normal person when stranded without the Tardis for a week.  It is pretty much a stand alone episode, but there are subtle references to other events of the season, including a crack in the wall.

Other non-news involving Doctor Who is that the BBC is stating there are no plans for the rumored Doctor Who movie.  I’m not really disappointed. There is little point unless they came up with the right stand-alone story to be done as a movie. Even then, to avoid messing up the regeneration count, I would only like to see them do one if they used the current Doctor. The one exception to this is if they were able to bring back David Tennant to reprise his role.

In yet more non-news. there has been speculation that Matt Smith will be dropped as The Doctor. I did think he was a bit young and did not have the stature to follow David Tennant, but that would have been a difficult task for any actor. Fortunately Karen Gillan did such an excellent job as Amy Pond that this helped make the season a success.

There is also no news about the specifics of the script for the Christmas Special with rumors that the script is lost.

Iranian Robot Pre-Cylon

And finally, moving away from D, those who fear that we are fated to destroyed by Cylons or other robots of our own creation might take a look at Iran, which has announced the development of robots to do “sensitive jobs.” There is no elaboration on what there capabilities actually are.

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