AlterNet.org: Joe Conason http://believedwww.alternet.org/authors/joe-conason en Inside the Very Shady Nonprofit Dealings of the Trump Campaign's New CEO http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2016/man-world-steve-bannons-nonprofiteering <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Many unanswered questions about Stephen K. Bannon.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-08-21_at_10.16.00_am.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Before Donald Trump appointed Stephen K. Bannon as his presidential campaign’s CEO this week, he was known in media and political circles as the abrasive chief of Breitbart.com, the right-wing website that increasingly reflects <a href="http://www.nationalmemo.com/trump-breitbart-alliance-right-wing-medias-civil-war-just-got-whole-lot-worse/">white nationalist ideology</a>.</p><p>Over the past few several years, however, Bannon has also chaired a shadowy nonprofit group in Tallahassee, Florida called the Government Accountability Institute. Its president is Peter Schweizer, author of <em>Clinton Cash</em>, the 2015 HarperCollins bestseller that purported to reveal corruption and self-dealing at the Clinton Foundation. Found to contain numerous errors and distortions, the book was described in mainstream news outlets as “widely discredited” by the time Trump cited it in a speech attacking the Clintons last spring.</p><p>My forthcoming book, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Man-World-Further-Endeavors-Clinton/dp/1439154104"><em>Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton</em></a>, examines the background of GAI and its promotion of <em>Clinton Cash</em>. A close look at Bannon, Schweizer and GAI reveals that their complaints about the Clinton Foundation represent a textbook example of what psychologists call “projection,” that is, attributing their own questionable behavior and motives to someone else, such as a political adversary.</p><p>Exactly how questionable is difficult to tell since, unlike the Clinton Foundation, Bannon and Schweizer have failed to disclose GAI’s tax forms or other pertinent information from 2015. What follows is excerpted from <em>Man of the World</em>:</p><blockquote><p>When the Government Accountability Institute first appeared on the scene during the 2012 election cycle, the new “nonpartisan” entity almost immediately launched a series of harsh attacks on President Obama that were later determined to be inaccurate by the <em>Washington Post</em>fact-checkers. Eventually, researchers uncovered at least one important source of the money behind the “institute”—an eccentric right-wing hedge-fund executive named Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, based in New York, whose family foundation had given millions of dollars to Schweizer in 2013 and 2014.</p><p>The extent of Mercer’s specific support for <em>Clinton Cash</em>is not known, although it seems to have been the main project of GAI during that period. But when HarperCollins editor Adam Bellow, a friend of Schweizer, brought in the book, Schweizer alerted the publisher that GAI’s wealthy supporters were prepared to spend big to promote the book. Without seeking approval from HarperCollins for ads or media outlets, the GAI ran its own <em>Clinton Cash</em>publicity campaign.</p><p>The GAI has yet to release its 990 IRS form for 2015, so any specific expenditures on advertising for <em>Clinton Cash</em>remain secret. So does the disposition of the book’s advance and royalties. If Schweizer spent his nonprofit’s money promoting a book whose proceeds accrued to him personally, that would appear to represent precisely the kind of self-dealing for which he had indicted the Clintons. In 2013, the organization disclosed spending more than $100,000 for advertising on the Breitbart website—a company that happened to be chaired by Stephen Bannon, who also chairs the GAI board.</p></blockquote><p>Yes, Bannon spent his nonprofit’s tax-exempt funding to support the profitable media company that he chairs. No wonder Trump likes him so much.</p> Mon, 22 Aug 2016 07:08:00 -0700 Joe Conason, The National Memo 1062319 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Books Election 2016 trump On Israel, Sanders Is Right (And Clinton Knows It) http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2016/israel-sanders-right-and-clinton-knows-it <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What a surprise to hear a Jewish candidate for president speak so courageously about the country where he worked on a kibbutz as a young man.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_367504109_1.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The most significant moment of the Democratic primary debate in Brooklyn -- and perhaps any presidential debate this season -- came when Bernie Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton over her refusal to criticize Israel's excessive use of force against the Palestinians in Gaza. For the first time in memory, a major American political figure insisted publicly that the Jewish state and its leaders are "not always right" -- and that in attempting to suppress terrorism, they had killed and injured far too many blameless human beings.</p><p>Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about his judgment that Israel's military response to attacks from Gaza in 2014 was "disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent life," the Vermont Senator answered firmly: "Yeah, I do believe that." He mentioned that many other nations, including longtime allies of Israel, had denounced the atrocities in Gaza, along with human rights organizations around the world.</p><p>Having reiterated that he supports Israel as our ally -- with every right to self-defense -- Sanders said that "in the long run, if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity."</p><p>That should be blindingly obvious, especially to Clinton, who has worked alongside President Clinton and President Obama toward a decent two-state solution for almost a quarter century. Her disappointing reply to Sanders reflected her political priorities in the New York primary, rather than her commitment to human rights or her assessment of American diplomatic interests.</p><p>She talked about her effort in negotiating a Gaza ceasefire, but that self-serving paean was evasive, as Sanders pointed out. Pressed for a serious answer, she pandered to the most conservative voters, Jewish and Christian, who mistakenly believe friendship with Israel means supporting any violence perpetrated by Israel's government. She blamed the casualties among Palestinian civilians solely on Hamas, even as she vaguely mentioned "precautions" that Israel should have taken to prevent them.</p><p>This display of subservience to the most right-wing elements in Israel and its Washington lobby was all too typical of American presidential aspirants. Rarely does any U.S. politician dare to utter the truth about the conflict in Israel and Palestine. But coming from Clinton the usual pap sounds worse because, unlike the average pol, she possesses deep knowledge of the region.</p><p>When Bill Clinton was president, he and Hillary became close friends of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a former general in the Israel Defense Forces and a war hero who courageously sought a just peace with the Palestinians -- and paid for that brave policy with his life when a right-wing fanatic assassinated him in November 1995. Her memoir, "Living History," describes hopeful moments with Rabin and his wife Leah around the time of the Oslo accords -- and an affecting account of the moments after President Clinton, who loved Rabin like a father, told her he had been murdered.</p><p>Hillary Clinton knows that the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, responsible for the Gaza disgrace and more, is far closer in outlook to the ultra-nationalists who applauded Rabin's assassination than to the peacemaker whose death she lamented. She knows that Netanyahu's aim is annexation, not negotiation. She knows that our interests -- indeed, those of the entire world -- can only be advanced by a just peace that both protects Israel and relieves the suffering of the Palestinian people.</p><p>The day after the Brooklyn debate, her campaign issued a lengthy press release: "Hillary Clinton and Israel: A 30-Year Record of Friendship, Leadership, and Strength." But its failure to mention Palestinian rights and needs again revealed weakness, not "strength." We can only hope that if she wins the presidency, she will prove herself to be a true friend of Israel and its people -- as her husband did when he warned that unless they achieve a durable agreement with a new Palestine, Israelis will eventually lose their nationhood, their democracy, or both.</p><p>Unfortunately, Clinton's current approach is the dismal standard in American politics, which made Sanders' honesty even more refreshing. What a surprise to hear a Jewish candidate for president -- the first with a realistic shot at his party's nomination -- speak so candidly and courageously about the country where he worked on a kibbutz as a young man. With those words Bernie made a bit of history, and earned a lot of respect.</p><p><em>To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at <a href="http://www.creators.com/" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank">www.creators.com</a>.<br />COPYRIGHT 2016 <a href="http://creators.com/" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank">CREATORS.COM</a></em></p> Sat, 16 Apr 2016 08:50:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1054712 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 Grayzone Project World bernie sanders hillary clinton election cnn Israel palestine primary primaries voters voting trump jewish Jewish State jew democracy human rights palestinian arab world Bernie's Political Tightrope - Sometimes Hillary's a 'Friend,' Sometimes Not So Much http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/bernies-political-tightrope-sometimes-hillarys-friend-sometimes-not-so-much <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What does Sanders really believe about Clinton?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/clinton_sanders_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>When they debate, the Senator from Vermont usually refers to the former secretary of state as his "friend" -- not in the Congressional-speech sense of someone that he actually despises, but in what is presumably his deeply authentic, Brooklyn-born candor. He speaks frequently of his "great respect" for Clinton. And he has said more than once that "on her worst day" she would be a far better president than any of the potential Republican candidates "on their best day."</p><p dir="ltr">Even more often, however, Sanders suggests that Clinton has sold out to the financial industry for campaign contributions, or for donations to her super PAC, or perhaps for those big speaking fees she has pocketed since leaving the State Department. Certainly, he has fostered that impression among his supporters, who excoriate Clinton in the most uninhibited and sometimes obscene terms on social media.</p><p dir="ltr">But if Sanders believes that Hillary Clinton is "bought" -- as his legions to shrilly insist -- then how can he say, "in all sincerity," that she is his respected friend?</p><p dir="ltr">To date, his criticism of Clinton on this point is inferential, not specific. He hasn't pointed to any particular vote or action that proves her alleged subservience to the financial titans she once represented as the junior senator from New York. As Sanders knows, Clinton's actual record on such issues as the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill and the Consumer Financial Protection Board ran opposite to the banksters.</p><p dir="ltr">Back in 2007, eight years before she could ever imagine facing the socialist senator in debate, she spoke up against the special "carried interest" tax breaks enjoyed by hedge-fund managers. Her proposals to regulate banks more strictly have won praise not only from New York Times columnist and Nobel economist Paul Krugman, but from Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the populist Pasionaria, as well.</p><p dir="ltr">Still, to Sanders the mere act of accepting money from the financial industry, or any corporate interest, is a marker of compromise -- or worse. Why do the banks spend millions on lobbying, he thunders, unless they get something in return? The answer is that they want access, and they often donate even to politicians who don't fulfill their wishes.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Sanders doesn't apply his stringent integrity test to contributions from unions. This is a category of donation he accepts despite labor's pursuit of special-interest legislation -- and despite the troubling fact that the labor movement openly supports the Citizens United decision, which expanded their freedom to offer big donations to politicians.</p><p dir="ltr">By his standard, Sanders shouldn't take union money because the AFL-CIO opposes campaign finance reform, which he vociferously supports. Perhaps we shouldn't believe that he truly supports campaign finance reform, because he has accepted so much money from unions.</p><p dir="ltr">Such assumptions would be ridiculous, of course -- just as ridiculous as assuming that Clinton's acceptance of money from banking or labor interests, both of which have made substantial donations to her campaign, proves her advocacy of reform is insincere.</p><p dir="ltr">But political history is more complex than journalistic melodrama. If critics arraign Clinton for the decision by her husband's administration to kill regulation of derivatives trading, it is worth recalling that she was responsible for the appointment of the only official who opposed that fateful mistake. She had nothing to do with deregulation, but as first lady, she strongly advocated on behalf of Brooksley Born, a close friend of hers named by her husband to chair the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. As one of the few heroes of the financial crisis, Born presciently warned about the dangers of unregulated derivatives.</p><p dir="ltr">So it is fine to criticize Clinton's speaking fees from banks and other special interests, which create a troubling appearance that she should have anticipated. It is fine to complain that politicians are too dependent on big-money donors. And it is fine to push her hard on the issues that define the Sanders campaign, which has done a great service by highlighting the political and economic domination of the billionaire elite.</p><p dir="ltr">But it is wrong to accuse Clinton of "pay for play" when the available evidence doesn't support that accusation. And if Sanders wants to hold her to a standard of absolute purity, he should apply that same measure to himself.</p> Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:18:00 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1050628 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics Election 2016 News & Politics Joe Conason The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money' http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/man-who-drowned-democracy-sewer-money <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Justice Anthony Kennedy masterminded the Supreme Court&#039;s decision to undo a century of public-interest regulation of campaign expenditures.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2016-01-22_at_4.47.32_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>This week marked the anniversary of the Citizens United decision, which exposed American democracy to increasing domination by the country's very richest and most reactionary figures -- modern heirs to those "malefactors of great wealth" condemned by the great Republican Theodore Roosevelt -- so it is worth recalling the false promise made by the justice who wrote the majority opinion in that case.<br />        Justice Anthony Kennedy masterminded the Supreme Court's Jan. 21, 2010 decision to undo a century of public-interest regulation of campaign expenditures in the name of "free speech." He had every reason to know how damaging to democratic values and public integrity that decision would prove to be.<br />        Once billed as a "moderate conservative," Kennedy is a libertarian former corporate attorney from Sacramento, who toiled in his father's scandal-ridden lobbying law firm, "influencing" California legislators, before he ascended to the bench with the help of his friend Ronald Reagan.<br />        While guiding Citizens United through the court on behalf of the Republican Party's billionaire overseers, it was Kennedy who came up with a decorative fig leaf of justification:<br />        With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.<br />        As Jane Mayer's superb new book "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right" reveals in excruciating but fascinating detail, Kennedy's assertion about the Internet insuring disclosure and accountability was nothing but a little heap of happy horse-product. "Independent" expenditures from super-rich right-wing donors have overwhelmed the opponents of their chosen candidates, promoting a durable Republican takeover of Congress -- often through the deployment of false advertising and false-flag organizations.<br />        Late last year, Kennedy confessed that his vaunted "transparency" is "not working the way it should," a feeble excuse since he had every reason to know from the beginning that his professed expectation of "prompt disclosure" of all political donations was absurdly unrealistic.<br />        The Citizens United debacle led directly to the Republican takeover of the Senate as well as the House. Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice released a new study showing that "dark money" -- that is, donations whose origin remains secret from news organizations and voters -- has more than doubled in Senate races during the past six years, from $105 million to $226 million in 2014.<br />        During the past three election cycles, outside groups spent about $1 billion total on Senate races, of which $485 million came from undisclosed sources. In the 11 most competitive Senate races in 2014, almost 60 percent of the spending by "independent" groups came from those murky places, and the winners of those races benefited from $171 million of such spending.<br />        In elections gone by, when anonymous smear leaflets would appear in local races -- funded by nobody knew whom -- political operatives would shake their heads and mutter about "sewer money."<br />        Today we can thank Justice Kennedy, who was either poorly informed or willfully ignorant, for turning American democracy into a stinking open sewer.<br />        What a legacy.</p> Fri, 22 Jan 2016 13:46:00 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1049427 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics public citizen What Ted Cruz and Red-State Republicans Will Never Understand About New York City http://believedwww.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/what-ted-cruz-and-red-state-republicans-will-never-understand-about-new-york <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> Demagogues denigrating New York come and go with boring predictability.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_57571180.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Exactly what does Ted Cruz mean when he sneers about "New York values" as a reason to reject Donald Trump? Disparaging New York has long been a favorite trope for reactionary loudmouths, always with an ugly undertone of bigotry against racial, ethnic, religious and, more recently, sexual minorities.       </p><p>Demagogues denigrating New York come and go with boring predictability -- and the nation's greatest city will continue to thrive long after the Texas senator is merely an unpleasant memory. But in the meantime, his cheap insult tells us much more about him than about his target.</p><p>For someone who went to the very best schools -- and flaunted his academic elitism until that no longer served his ambition -- Cruz is remarkably narrow in his outlook, or at least he pretends to be. While he reeks of phoniness, perhaps he truly is so small-minded that he cannot comprehend just how large New York really is, in every way.</p><p>Despite the city's well-deserved liberal reputation, its tolerance for the broadest possible variety of opinions, faiths and lifestyles is its deepest strength. Conservatives are welcome in New York, birthplace of the Conservative Party and home of the National Review, its late founder William F. Buckley Jr., and so many who followed in his wake. They could have gone anywhere, but they took Manhattan -- just as David Koch and scores of other influential right-wingers do today.</p><p>Those right-wing New Yorkers include significant supporters and donors to the Cruz campaign, although one can hope they will reconsider that choice now. Either way, his remark suggests that Cruz is one of those oh-so-clever people who assume that everyone else is stupid. He seems to believe that nobody will notice how eagerly he sucks up to New Yorkers who can benefit him, even as he seeks to inflame prejudice against their hometown.       </p><p>Of course, slurring the original city of immigrants has always served as a thin scrim for traditional anti-Semitism, which is what Cruz evoked with his remark about "money and media" at the Republican debate on Thursday evening. He must think nobody noticed that his wife works for Goldman Sachs -- or that he took a big fat loan from that very Jewish-sounding Wall Street outfit when he first ran for the Senate. </p><p>In Trump's response, he spoke angrily and eloquently of 9/11 -- a moment when most of the nation rallied around the city, with admiration for the resilience and solidarity displayed by its people. Later, New Yorkers learned how shallow that support could be, notably among Republicans in Congress who resisted approving the aid they always expect when their own districts confronted disaster, and even sought to deny assistance to suffering first responders. At worst, support for New York turned into an excuse for hatred of Muslims and immigrants.</p><p>But the aftermath of 9/11 represented a perfect expression of real New York values: tolerance and charity across all boundaries of ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, class and occupation; decency and justice toward those who have the least, suffered the most and sacrificed for all; cooperation and collaboration in the face of tragedy; and the kind of knowing toughness that is sometimes mistaken for cynicism. Only a rube thinks that New York is about money and media alone; it is much, much bigger than that. New York values have always been the most enduring American values.</p><p>Now along comes Ted Cruz, who wants to grub New York money and then insult New Yorkers. Since he's such a tough guy -- blustering on about assault weapons and carpet-bombing innocent people far away -- he should try running his mouth about New York on the streets of Queens or Brooklyn, and see how that works out. (But no guns allowed, punk.)</p><p><em>To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at <a href="http://www.creators.com/" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank">www.creators.com</a>.</em></p><p> </p> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 11:54:00 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1049018 at http://believedwww.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing new york city nyc city ted cruz republican Up and Down the Line, the Presidential Republican Candidates Want to Destroy Safety Net http://believedwww.alternet.org/and-down-line-presidential-republican-candidates-want-destroy-safety-net <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The GOP is more open than ever about their desire to gut social security. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/rubio_3.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Ten years ago, as Americans celebrated the 70th anniversary of Social Security, the presidency of George W. Bush was already disintegrating over his attempt to ruin that amazingly successful program. The people's rejection of the Bush proposal to privatize the system was so powerful that Republicans in Congress scurried away -- and his political reputation never recovered.</p><p>Since then, the United States has endured a market crash and a crushing recession that proved how much this country needs its premiere social insurance plan. Those events demonstrated that ceding control of Social Security and its revenues to Wall Street, in accordance with the Bush scheme, would have been a national disaster. And yet the Republican candidates for president seem utterly unable to learn that simple economic lesson.</p><p>To paraphrase the French adage, the more things change, the more conservatism remains the same. On this 80th birthday of Social Security, the increasingly right-wing Republicans continue to blather the same old nostrums, as if they missed everything that has happened since 2005 -- and as if they still want revenge against Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the humiliations he inflicted on their ideological ancestors.</p><p>Since Aug. 14, 1935, Republicans and their financial backers have sought to undo the progress that Social Security represents for workers, the elderly, the disabled and their families. Today's Republican presidential wannabes all claim to be offering something new, but whenever they talk about Social Security, they sound as if they're stuck in 2005 -- or 1935.</p><p>From Rand Paul to John Kasich, from Marco Rubio to Rick Perry to Lindsey Graham to Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush to George Pataki, all agree that Social Security should be privatized. And with the possible exception of Mike Huckabee, all agree on undermining the only program that keeps millions of older Americans from ending their lives in poverty rather than dignity. Chris Christie, robber of public employee pensions, would swiftly raise the retirement age to 69, threatening grave hardship for blue-collar, lower-income Americans. Carly Fiorina would inflict similar suffering on workers who weren't fortunate enough to snag an undeserved $40 million "golden parachute," like she did.</p><p>Behind Republican warnings about the solvency of Social Security -- and their enduring desire to privatize -- are major financial interests that would like to seize the system's revenue streams for their own profit.</p><p>Greed is always in fashion, of course. But working Americans see no reason to privatize Social Security, when its administrative costs amount to well under 1 percent of its revenues. They know that the Wall Street geniuses who almost sank the world economy eight years ago would charge far more than one percent, while imposing enormous risks on everyone but themselves.</p><p>So thanks, but -- most emphatically -- no thanks. As we mark this anniversary, most surveys show negligible support for privatizing Social Security or reducing its benefits; indeed, there is growing public support for proposals to expand and improve the system.</p><p>Yet polls also show many young Americans worrying that the system may not be sufficiently robust to pay full benefits by the time they reach retirement age. The latest report of the Social Security trustees, issued last month, suggested that the system's trust fund could be exhausted by 2034.</p><p>Even then, the system's revenues are projected to pay at least 75 percent of the benefits owed. But that wouldn't be good enough when benefits are already too low -- and there are several simple ways to fix Social Security's finances so that nobody need worry. Long before the trust fund runs out of money, Congress can follow the example Ronald Reagan set in 1983 by raising the payroll tax rate -- or mandate more progressive policy changes, such as lifting the cap on earnings subject to the tax and broadening the tax base.</p><p>Declaring the nation's "ironclad commitment" to Social Security, Reagan -- who had once opposed the system as a symptom of socialism -- also expanded its base by bringing government employees into the system. Today, real immigration reform, which the Republicans also oppose in nativist lockstep, would create a stronger future foundation for all retirees and disabled workers.</p><p>So whenever would-be presidents start braying about the need to pare, prune or privatize this country's most effective government program, remember this: Saving Social Security for future generations -- even with higher payroll taxes -- is far more popular than any of them ever will be.</p><p>The best financial decision any future beneficiary can make is to vote accordingly.</p> Sat, 15 Aug 2015 09:05:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1040961 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics social security Why Are Republicans Exempt from the Media's Email Hysteria? http://believedwww.alternet.org/why-are-republicans-exempt-medias-email-hysteria <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Is there a double standard?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/781c1833fee1a5f08b607d0be64e0d432cb29dcc.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>It is almost eerie how closely Hillary Clinton's current email scandal parallels the beginnings of the Whitewater fiasco that ensnared her and her husband almost 20 years ago. Both began with tendentious, inaccurate stories published by The New York Times; both relied upon highly exaggerated suspicions of wrongdoing; both were seized upon by Republican partisans whose own records were altogether worse; and both resulted in shrill explosions of outrage among reporters who couldn't be bothered to learn actual facts.</p><p>Fortunately for Secretary Clinton, she won't be subjected to investigation by less-than-independent counsel like Kenneth Starr — and the likelihood that the email flap will damage her nascent presidential campaign seems very small, according to the latest polling data.</p><p>Yet the reaction of the Washington media to these allegations renews the same old questions about press fairness to the Clintons, and how the media treats them in contrast with other politicians. In this instance, the behavior of Republican officials whose use of private email accounts closely resembles what Secretary Clinton did at the State Department has been largely ignored — even though some of those officials might also seek the presidency. </p><p>Jeb Bush released a large volume of emails from the personal — i.e., non-government — email account that he used as Florida governor, and praised his own transparency with typical extravagance. The problem is that those emails represent only 10 percent of those he wrote. The rest he has withheld, without any public review under Florida open records laws. When Scott Walker served as Milwaukee county executive, before he was elected Wisconsin governor, he and his staff used a secret email system for illegal campaign work, which emerged as part of an investigation that ultimately sent one of his aides to prison (another was immunized by prosecutors). Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has used a personal email account for government business, as has Texas Governor Rick Perry. So have Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and various Congress members who have been heard to spout about Clinton's emails, such as Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz.</p><p>Hypocritical as they may seem, none of those examples compare with the truly monumental email scandal of the Bush years, when millions of emails went missing from White House servers — and many more were never archived on those servers, as required since 1978 by the Presidential Records Act, because dozens of Bush White House staff were using private email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee.</p><p>Notably, those RNC email clients included top Bush adviser Karl Rove, who used committee accounts for an estimated 95 percent of his electronic messaging, and by his staff. </p><p>Among many other dubious activities, Rove aide Susan Ralston used her private RNC email to discuss Interior Department appointments with the office of crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who wanted to influence the department on behalf of gambling interests. She told Abramoff's associate that "it is better not to put this stuff in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc. ..." While Rove was forced to surrender some emails involving his notorious exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame, he retained the capacity to delete thousands of emails. </p><p>Various investigations and lawsuits eventually uncovered the astonishing breadth of the Bush White House email fiasco, such as the "recycling" of back-up tapes for all of its archived emails between Inauguration Day 2001 and sometime in 2003. This meant, for instance, messages pertaining to the 9/11 terrorist attack went missing of course — along with whatever Rove and his aides might have communicated on that topic, or weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or countless other topics of public concern. </p><p>And former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose office was also involved in both the Plame and WMD scandals, admitted recently that he used private emails in office — but that he turned over and retained none of them — zero. By contrast, Clinton has turned over tens of thousands of her emails to the department.</p><p>Thanks to a federal lawsuit filed by two nonprofit watchdog groups, the National Security Archive at George Washington University and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a small proportion of the missing Bush White House emails were eventually restored — but only when the Obama administration finally settled the case in 2009. Those strict Obama rules for preserving emails (which Clinton stands accused of ignoring) resulted directly from the new administration's determination to avoid the mess engendered by the deceptive and unlawful preservation practices of the Bush White House.</p><p>So if Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account is so shocking to the Beltway media, why did they barely notice (and care even less) when millions of emails disappeared during the Bush years? </p><p>The current hysteria may reflect the intense press prejudice against Clinton that several well-placed Washington journalists confessed during a brief moment of introspection following the disgraceful coverage of her 2008 campaign. And it should serve to warn voters that what Gene Lyons famously called "the Clinton rules" — which encouraged all varieties of inaccuracy, bias journalistic failure in the 1990s — simply never went away.</p>  Sat, 14 Mar 2015 09:46:00 -0700 Joe Conason, Creators.com 1033269 at http://believedwww.alternet.org hillary On Gas Tax Increase, Obama Is Wrong—and (Some) Republicans Are Right http://believedwww.alternet.org/economy/gas-tax-increase-obama-wrong-and-some-republicans-are-right <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Why is the president aligning himself with the Tea Party on this topic?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/7ddaa2ea004fe8d1fb0a7090c27838db09dc2f11_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>It doesn't happen often, but Washington is now debating an important issue on which the United States Chamber of Commerce, Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., Fox News pundit Charles Krauthammer, and a growing posse of assorted right-wingers are right -- and President Barack Obama is wrong.</p><p>        Those voices on the right, along with many on the left, are urging consideration of an increase in the federal gasoline tax, sorely needed both to maintain America's transportation infrastructure and to reduce greenhouse gases. Yet for reasons best known to him alone, the president is resisting that excellent idea.<br />        As every sentient American adult knows, the price of gasoline at the pump has fallen precipitously in recent months. Filling a 20-gallon tank today costs about $30 less than buying the same volume of gas cost last summer. To raise the federal gas tax by 15 cents per gallon would only recoup 10 percent of that consumer bonanza -- and would bring tax revenues roughly in line with inflation since the last time an increase passed in 1993.<br />        Since then, of course, America's roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems have continued to decay, without sufficient funding or will to keep them in decent condition. Congressional revulsion at raising taxes, thanks to the mania enforced by Grover Norquist at the misnamed Americans for Tax Reform, has left the Highway Trust Fund on the brink of bankruptcy since last year. A modest gas tax increase would begin to solve the problem, at least for the transportation sector. (The rest of the nation's infrastructure -- everything from airports and dams to state universities, public buildings and water mains -- is falling apart, too, but that will require bigger solutions.)<br />        Were we inclined, as a nation, to consider what we owe both our ancestors and our descendants, Washington would have embarked on a program of national reconstruction years ago, to take advantage of negligible interest rates, an idled labor force and under-utilized capital. No comparable opportunity to rebuild cheaply and efficiently, while creating the kinds of jobs that support families, has existed since the Great Depression. And much of what we now take (and use) for granted was built in those years, and in the early postwar decades, when public works were widely seen as a public good.<br />        But the ideologues that now dominate our politics under the rubric of "conservative" are not in the business of conserving anything -- not our natural resources, not our environment and certainly not our infrastructure. Their frothing opposition to government and taxation has actively encouraged decay. Today, the radicals represented by the tea party and Americans for Prosperity (another misnomer) will seek to block even a very modest gas tax increase, as they are doing on the state level in Iowa -- without any plausible proposal for essential infrastructure repair.<br />        Ask for their alternative solution to financing infrastructure, and the geniuses at the Heritage Foundation, for instance, demand an end to transit spending and a cut in construction wages. Others on the right simply mumble about "reducing waste." What they don't propose is a plausible, equitable, sustainable way to rebuild.<br />        These people shouldn't call themselves the tea party. With their strange urge to ruin the transportation systems that made this the strongest country in the world, they're more like a Termite Party. Termite is also the proper term for Republicans in the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner brags that he has never, ever voted to increase the gas tax. (After all, it doesn't fund golf courses or tanning beds.)<br />        The limits to such madness may be on the horizon, however. When a right-wing stalwart like Inhofe -- a noted climate denier and stooge of the oil industry -- acknowledges that a gas tax increase may be inevitable, then sanity could break out, even on Capitol Hill.<br />        For President Obama to situate himself among irrational opponents of an increase is perplexing. Perhaps if enough Republicans and corporate leaders insist on a gas tax hike, he will abandon that position and join their ranks. And then at last, the "bipartisan" approach he still cherishes, against so much evidence, might produce something of value to this country.</p> Sat, 07 Feb 2015 08:27:00 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1031509 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy Economy Environment News & Politics The Right Wing 2016: Obama's America gasoline taxes low gas prices Why the Torturers Will Get Away With It http://believedwww.alternet.org/why-torturers-will-get-away-it <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Lawbreakers will not be prosecuted over their grave offenses. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_86219128-edited_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>With the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the use of torture by the CIA after 9/11, the final defense of the indefensible by its perpetrators, advocates and publicists is falling apart before our eyes.</p><p>Not only did "enhanced interrogation," the Nazi euphemism adopted by the Bush-Cheney administration, include methods outlawed and prosecuted by our country for more than a century, such as waterboarding -- and not only did those "activities," as Dick Cheney called them, violate American law, the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and the conventions on torture -- but also we now know with great certainty that the CIA executed this secret program with horrific incompetence and that it produced nothing of significant value.</p><p>Indeed, the SSCI report concludes -- contrary to the boasting of Cheney and many others -- that torture was proved "not an effective means of gathering intelligence," let alone saving millions of Americans from jihadi plots, and actually "complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions." The overseers of the torture program, themselves of dubious competence, were unable even to assess the impact or effectiveness of their orders.</p><p>As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, the CIA itself has admitted, in its otherwise aggressive response to the SSCI, that it lacked the "structure, expertise, and methodologies" to "systematically evaluate the effectiveness" of its "covert actions." The CIA didn't know what it was doing. But it was doing grave damage to itself and to us.</p><p>Unavoidably, the SSCI report dwells on the details of these true nightmares, revealing facts that anyone would regret learning: the "rectal rehydration" of detainees by shoving food up the wrong way, with the infliction of excruciating pain; the "black sites" where detainees were held for months in total darkness, with loud music constantly playing and only a bucket for their waste; the cells where detainees suffered such freezing temperatures that at least one died of hypothermia overnight; the beatings, the near drownings, the constant infliction of pain and hunger and threats of rape and murder.</p><p>According to the report, some episodes of interrogation were so blatantly sadistic and so obviously criminal that the men who witnessed them actually wept. More than one officer broke down and fled, through retirement or transfer, while the White House and the Pentagon continued to lie about the extent -- and the supposed necessity -- of these unprecedented crimes. Those lies were designed to prevent investigations or oversight from revealing the horrific facts that are now emerging.</p><p>Yet despite a long and ongoing cover-up -- and notwithstanding the specific revelations highlighted in the report -- the basic outline has been known since 2009, when portions of the CIA inspector general's report on torture were released by the Obama Justice Department.</p><p>Back then, the spy agency's own investigation -- in the words of a Bush appointee and torture enthusiast -- found it "difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks." In other words, the CIA could never prove any instance when the sole justification for these gross violations of U.S. and international law -- breaking up a plot targeting American lives -- had been fulfilled since 9/11. And unsurprisingly, that is still the case.</p><p>The searing issue we now confront, as a society governed by law, is that these lawbreakers will not be prosecuted or even required to testify publicly about their grave offenses. The Obama administration is apparently willing to expose their lawlessness but unable to do anything to punish it. Even the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, has abandoned any hope of prosecutions, noting that the torturers have in effect been pardoned. Romero has urged President Obama to make those pardons official -- which would at least stamp the actions of the torturers and their accomplices as crimes.</p><p>What we have needed for years -- but evidently will never get -- is a truth and reconciliation process that might have granted freedom from prosecution to witnesses who testified publicly, honestly and completely about the crimes of that mercifully departed era. Instead, those miscreants will escape accountability altogether -- except in the pages of history, where the SSCI report will indict them over and over again.</p> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 10:11:00 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1028478 at http://believedwww.alternet.org torture cia 9/11 report george bush dick cheney senate Now's the Time to Fix Our Pipelines for Jobs, Health and Safety http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/nows-time-fix-our-pipelines-jobs-health-and-safety <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Amid the Keystone debate, what America needs is a commitment to repair the &quot;leaks and seeps&quot; that have made the old network of pipelines a hazard. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_141093514-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>With the Keystone XL pipeline stalled again, now perhaps we can look ahead and consider more promising ways to rebuild our energy system, creating many more jobs than that controversial project ever would. No matter where we look, the far larger issue that still confronts Americans is decaying infrastructure -- which emphatically includes the enormous web of oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the continental United States in every direction.</p><p>When TransCanada CEO Russ Girling touted Keystone as an engine of employment on ABC News' "This Week" last Sunday, he insisted that its construction would create 42,000 jobs. Not only would his venture create those 42,000 "direct and indirect" jobs, boasted Girling, but also those positions would be "ongoing and enduring" rather than temporary like most construction jobs; he cited a State Department study that drew no such conclusions. A company spokesman later tempered Girling's pronouncements, more or less acknowledging that they had been grossly exaggerated. The number of permanent jobs after the construction would top out at about 50. With or without Keystone, the national economy already produces about 42,000 jobs every week, so it just wouldn't matter much.</p><p>Yet even if Keystone would actually result in tens of thousands of permanent jobs, its expected impact on the environment, health and safety raised grave questions about whether it should be permitted to proceed. But there are pipeline projects of unquestioned value that could create far more jobs for many more years than any of Keystone's promoters ever contemplated.</p><p>Rather than a new pipeline for the dirtiest tar-sands fuel, what America needs is a commitment to repair the "leaks and seeps" that have made the old network of pipelines a continuing danger to health and safety, air and water -- as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted in a 2013 interview with The National Memo. The labor chief estimates that a serious program of repair to degraded oil and gas facilities would mean at least 125,000 jobs a year -- three times as many as Keystone -- and they would continue for decades.</p><p>In that brief remark, Trumka alluded to an important point: With more than 2.5 million miles of corroding underground pipes, often made of steel or cast iron laid decades ago, the likelihood of deadly and potentially catastrophic accidents increases every year. Fuel and fumes that escape old pipelines every day, along with occasional large spills of petroleum products, pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well.</p><p>Using pipelines to transport natural gas and hazardous liquid fuels is generally safer than the alternatives of road and rail, but when pipeline accidents happen, they can be devastating -- as we have learned in recent years from the tragic explosions in San Bruno, California, which killed eight people and razed dozens of homes, and in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which killed five people and destroyed 50 buildings.</p><p>Officials in Michigan are concerned about the condition of 61-year-old pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet -- and where, if the pipelines failed, a ruinous oil spill could leave the Great Lakes in the same ruinous condition as the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And New York officials worry every day about the perilous state of the city's gas mains, aging and decrepit, which exploded in East Harlem last March, killing and injuring dozens of people and causing millions in property damage.</p><p>An investigation by reporters at ProPublica, a nonprofit news service, revealed that over the past three decades, pipeline accidents have accounted for more than 500 deaths, more than 4,000 injuries and almost $7 billion in property damage -- numbers that will swell in the years ahead unless repairs and inspections are stepped up drastically. At the moment, replacing only the most dangerously corroded pipes in New York's Con Edison system is estimated to require $10 billion and 30 years of construction.</p><p>The upside of this looming threat is that confronting it would create hundreds of thousands of permanent, high-paying jobs while preserving the environment and improving public safety and health. Like so much of the incredible infrastructure left to us by previous generations, the pipelines need to be maintained, modernized or mothballed for the sake of the future. Politicians and their paymasters may prefer to look the other way, but it is a responsibility we cannot escape.</p><p> </p> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 08:45:00 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1027364 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics keystone xl pipeline oil environment The Real Lessons of the Ebola Crisis http://believedwww.alternet.org/world/real-lessons-ebola-crisis <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">But will budget-slashing conservatives learn them?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/ebola_0.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Even if Africa's Ebola emergency never mutates into a global catastrophe, those of us who live in the world's most fortunate country ought to consider what this fearsome virus can teach us. The lessons are quite obvious at this point -- and contain implications that are political in the most urgent sense.<br />        The tea party mania for shrinking federal budgets and rejecting international organizations -- both of which are bedrock policy among the current Republican leadership -- is not only bad for our national prestige but also exceptionally dangerous to our health. At the insistence of House leaders, whose answer to every problem has been cutting government and reducing taxes, the United States has steadily starved the budgets of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.<br />        The disturbing consequence is that in both this country and the world, humanity lacks the full arsenal of weapons needed to combat Ebola and other potentially devastating outbreaks of tropical disease.<br />        Politicians who identify themselves as "conservative" have failed in their duty to conserve the nation's public health infrastructure, built over decades of hard scientific work with many millions of taxpayer dollars, precisely to cope with an emergency such as Ebola. Instead, they have proposed budgets that would decimate every federal agency that protects us, including the CDC. And the budget deal that they enacted, which depends on sequestration, has led to severe, ham-handed cutbacks in the programs that protect us.<br />        Testifying in Congress a few weeks ago, Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said sequestration has inflicted "a significant impact. It has both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way eroded our ability to respond ... to these emerging threats." He said the cuts have been "particularly damaging" to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he directs -- and which is responsible, he noted, for "responding on the dime to an emerging infectious disease threat."<br />        Specifically, sequestration forced the NIH to shave its budget by $1.55 billion, or 5 percent, in 2013, according to Mother Jones magazine. That may not sound like a lot -- and it is nothing in terms of closing deficits -- but it can be ruinous during an emergency when an agency is suddenly scrambling for every dollar.<br />        The CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases -- meaning those that can be transmitted between species -- also suffered severe cuts. The center lost $13 million last year, according to Beth Bell, its director, who pleaded with Congress to increase funding sharply.<br />        Sequestration took a similar toll on U.S. spending for international aid -- a budget category that American voters tend to assume is roughly 20 times more than the measly 1 percent or so that it actually represents. The tea party mentality that wildly exaggerates how much we spend abroad is just as ignorant about the importance and usefulness of that spending.<br />        "If even modest investments had been made to build up a public health infrastructure in West Africa previously, the current Ebola epidemic could have been detected earlier, and it could have been identified and contained," testified Bell. But the sequester cut global health programs by $411 million and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversees most of our foreign aid, by $289 million.<br />        The World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations that forms the front line of disease defense in Africa, has likewise suffered massive budget reductions, at the very moment when its services may be most needed. In 2010, the United States paid $280 million toward the WHO's operating costs; by 2013, that contribution was cut by nearly a quarter, to $215 million. But much of that money is earmarked for specific programs, when what the WHO needs in an emergency such as Ebola is unrestricted funding.<br />        Cutting funds to the WHO surely thrilled congressional Republicans, tea party leaders and everyone else in this country who expresses irrational hostility toward the U.N. But that was a very perilous way to gratify our country's isolationist faction, which evidently cannot understand that this is one planet -- and that the fates of its peoples are inseparably joined.<br />        If we want to improve our security, if we want our children to live in safety, it is long past time to rid Washington of the partisan enemies of strong, competent government and international cooperation. We don't yet know the full cost of their mindless actions, but if we are unlucky, it could be incalculable.</p><p> </p> Wed, 08 Oct 2014 11:23:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1022363 at http://believedwww.alternet.org World News & Politics World Ebola Joe Conason center for disease control Anthony Fauci National Institutes of Health who Americans' Faulty Memory: Polls Show Majority Like GOP's Discredited War Policies http://believedwww.alternet.org/americans-faulty-memory-polls-show-majority-gops-discredited-war-policies <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Republicans have long styled themselves as the tough-guy &quot;daddy party&quot; and bamboozled much of the public with that image.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/media_cheney4000.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>If the latest polls are accurate, most voters believe that Republican politicians deserve greater trust on matters of national security. At a moment when Americans feel threatened by rising terrorist movements and authoritarian regimes, that finding is politically salient -- and proves that amnesia is the most durable affliction of our democracy.</p><p>Every year around this time, ever since 2001, we promise never to forget the victims of 9/11, the courage of the first responders and the sacrifice of the troops sent to avenge them all. Our poignant recollections seem to be faulty, however, obliterating the hardest truths about that terrible event, as well as the long aftermath that continues to this day. The result, attested to by those polls, is that Republicans escape responsibility for the derelictions and bad decisions of their party's leaders at crucial moments in the recent past.</p><p>Not long after the 9/11 attacks occurred, the Republican noise machine instantly began blaring a message of blame aimed at former President Bill Clinton, insisting that he had ignored the threat posed by al-Qaida during his White House tenure. That accusation was wholly false, but discovering the truly culpable wasn't easy -- because President George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, worked hard to prevent a full investigation by the 9/11 Commission.</p><p>In due course, that probe revealed how Bush and Cheney had ignored clear warnings -- from Clinton himself, from counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke and finally from the CIA on Aug. 6, 2001 -- that al-Qaida was preparing to strike the homeland. Preoccupied by their tax cuts and their plans for an invasion of Iraq, they had done nothing.</p><p>The country and the world rallied around Bush as he declared war on the Taliban and sent U.S. and NATO troops into Afghanistan. But thanks to the incompetence of Bush, Cheney and their military command, not only did Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar escape and remain at large for years but also the entire effort eventually collapsed into futility, with no plausible goal or exit strategy. It soon became clear that the Bush White House and Defense Department had other fish to fry, over a few borders in Baghdad.</p><p>Even the most forgetful citizens probably recall how Bush, Cheney, their national security advisers and their allies in Congress misled the nation into war against Iraq, falsely alarming us about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.</p><p>They may even recall how those great Republican statesmen pursued the invasion, lawlessly and without adequate preparation or clear objectives, costing thousands upon thousands of Iraqi and American lives and trillions of dollars. Their actions led to horrific human rights and Geneva Conventions violations; they embarrassed the United States and enhanced the regional influence of the ayatollahs in Iran.</p><p>And now, of course, the current dismal situation in Iraq -- unfairly blamed on President Barack Obama -- is a direct consequence of the war, the American occupation and the divisive sectarian government installed in Baghdad by the Bush administration, which also disbanded the Iraqi army and all of Iraq's government institutions. Without the destruction inflicted on that country -- especially on its Sunni population -- by Bush and Cheney, there would be no burgeoning Islamic State today.</p><p>Disremembering all of those unpleasant facts, voters may well consider the Republican Party better able to manage foreign and defense policy. After all, Republicans have long styled themselves as the tough-guy "daddy party" and bamboozled much of the public with that image. What remains to be seen is how much more of their brilliant stewardship this country and the world can survive.</p> Thu, 18 Sep 2014 17:00:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1019889 at http://believedwww.alternet.org republicans national security george bush dick cheney The Poisonous Racism Driving Violence in Ferguson and the Rest of America http://believedwww.alternet.org/poisonous-racism-driving-violence-ferguson-and-rest-america <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Many cities and towns confront the same problems of poverty, alienation and inequality as metropolitan St. Louis -- or even worse.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/ff8ac01948fb9bddbb5b9cd18feefa4a1b091548.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The past week's unfolding tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, with its militarized and overwhelmingly white police force confronting angry and hopeless African-Americans, is not a story unique to that place or this moment. Many cities and towns in this country confront the same problems of poverty, alienation and inequality as metropolitan St. Louis -- or even worse.</p><p>But beneath the familiar narrative, there is a deeper history that reflects the unfinished agenda of race relations -- and the persistence of poisonous prejudice that has never been fully cleansed from the American mainstream.</p><p>For decades, Missouri has spawned or attracted many of the nation's most virulent racists, including neo-Nazis and the remnants of the once-powerful Ku Klux Klan. Associated with violent criminality and crackpot religious extremism, these fringe groups could never wield much influence in the post-civil rights era. Beyond those marginalized outfits, however, exists another white supremacist group whose leaders have long enjoyed the patronage of right-wing Republican politicians.</p><p>The Council of Conservative Citizens, headquartered in St. Louis, is a living legacy of Southern "white resistance" to desegregation, with historical roots in the so-called citizens councils that sprang up during the 1950s as a "respectable" adjunct to the Klan. Its website currently proclaims that the CCC is "the only serious nationwide activist group that sticks up for white rights!" What that means, more specifically, is promoting hatred of blacks, Jews, gays and lesbians, and Latino immigrants while extolling the virtues of the "Southern way of life," the Confederacy and even slavery.</p><p>The group's website goes on to brag that the CCC is the only group promoting "white rights" whose meetings regularly feature "numerous elected officials, important authors, talk-show hosts, active pastors, and other important people" as speakers.</p><p>Although that boast may be exaggerated, it isn't hollow. Founded in 1985 by the ax handle-wielding Georgia segregationist Lester Maddox and a group of white activists, the CCC remained obscure to most Americans until 1998, when media exposure of its ties to prominent congressional Republicans led to the resignation of Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi as majority leader. Six years later, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group monitoring racist activity in the United States, reported that the CCC had hosted as many as 38 federal, state and local officials at its meetings (all of them Republicans, except one Democrat) -- despite a warning from the Republican National Committee against associating with the hate group.</p><p>Over the years, the CCC's friends in high places included such figures as former Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, who shared much of the CCC agenda as governor, when he opposed "forced desegregation" of St. Louis schools -- along with the CCC members who served on the city's school board. When President George W. Bush appointed Ashcroft as U.S. attorney general, the CCC openly celebrated, declaring in its newsletter, "Our Ship Has Come In."</p><p>Recently, far fewer Republican officials have been willing to associate in public with the CCC's racist leaders. Then again, however, Ashcroft himself tended to meet secretly with those same bigots while outwardly shunning them. When asked about his connections with the group during his confirmation hearings in 2001, he swore that he had no inkling of its racist and anti-Semitic propaganda -- a very implausible excuse, given the CCC's prominence in St. Louis while he served as governor.</p><p>Despite the CCC's presence, Missouri is home to many fine and decent people, of course -- but malignant traces of the group and the racial animus it represents have spread far beyond the state's borders. The most obvious example is Rush Limbaugh, the "conservative" cultural phenomenon who grew up south of St. Louis -- in Cape Girardeau, Missouri -- and who has earned a reputation as a racial agitator over many years on talk radio, where he began by doing mocking bits in "black" dialect.</p><p>In 1998, the talk jock defended Lott when other conservatives were demanding his resignation over the politician's CCC connection. Today Limbaugh echoes the CCC line on the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, which suggests coldly that the unarmed teenager deserved his fate because he may have been a suspect in shoplifting or smoked marijuana. Why would a young man's life be worth less than a box of cigars? Back in Rush's home state, the answer is all too obvious.</p> Wed, 20 Aug 2014 09:31:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1016223 at http://believedwww.alternet.org ferguson missouri shooting michael brown racism prejudice Council of Conservative Citizens From Clinton to Obama: Why GOP Impeachment Fever Is Now So Predictable http://believedwww.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/clinton-obama-why-gop-impeachment-fever-now-so-predictable <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The same forces trying to ruin Obama schemed to remove Bill Clinton from office.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/607f53ee64f054810efee71839aa6a12b5b90980.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Making predictions is a perilous practice for any political journalist. Too often, the would-be seers turn out to be dead wrong -- as can be attested to by George Will, Michael Barone, Larry Kudlow and the humiliated boy genius of Fox News, all of whom projected a big victory for Mitt Romney in 2012.</p><p>Yet there is at least one future event that could be safely forecast years ago, almost as soon as President Barack Obama entered the White House: a movement among House Republicans to impeach the president.</p><p>In the conventional wisdom that chronically afflicts Washington, all the current muttering about impeachment is merely a theatrical display for the GOP's wingnut base -- as Democrats use the same threat to stir emotions (and donations) among Obama loyalists. Such complacent analysis misreads not only the mood and character of the Republican Party's dominant tea party wing but the recent history of impeachment as a political instrument of the far right.</p><p>The same forces that have sought to ruin Obama from the beginning were hatching schemes to remove former President Bill Clinton from office long before the unveiling of his reckless indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. Back then, the talk of impeachment among zealots who schemed against Clinton, ranging from Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and disgraced former Attorney General Edwin Meese to an assortment of back-bench members of Congress and religious hucksters, could be easily brushed aside. Today, many of the survivors among that old cast of characters are peddling "Impeach Obama" bumper stickers -- notably including Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily, which features an "Impeachment Store" online.</p><p>Claims that Clinton had committed a high crime or misdemeanor worthy of impeachment under the Constitution dated as far back as 1994, the year after his inauguration, when the teamwork of determined right-wing activists and incompetent mainstream reporters ginned up a series of phony scandals. At secret meetings, the leadership of ultra-right organizations, such as the Council for National Policy, persuaded themselves that Hillary Clinton was about to be indicted (for something) and that Bill Clinton could soon be impeached (for anything).</p><p>The itch to impeach Clinton gathered momentum in 1997, not long after his re-election, a Democratic victory that did not impress his right-wing enemies. As with Obama, they wanted to undo his presidency, not because he had committed a supposed constitutional offense but simply because his "liberal, globalist, socialist" politics offended their sense of morality. Of course, they feel the same way about Obama today. Indeed, from the perspective of the insurrectionary tea party Republicans and other self-styled "patriots," elections hardly matter at all, unless their candidate wins. To them, a Democratic president lacks legitimacy by definition.</p><p>For a pungent whiff of irony, remember that electing Obama in 2008 was supposed to preserve us from another decade of political trench warfare, instigated by those polarizing Clintons. Electing Hillary Clinton would lead America back into the partisan psychodrama of the '90s, or so the Washington pundits warned us; better to choose that nice, inspirational, bipartisan-sounding senator from Illinois, they advised.</p><p>And how did that work out for us? Scarcely through any fault of Obama, the result has been no different from the scary projections of a divisive Clinton presidency: legislative gridlock, economic brinksmanship, kooky conspiracy theories and now congressional lawsuits accompanied by loud talk of impeachment. Clinton and Obama are just names for the object of hate, against whom any slanderous, mendacious and vacuous attack can be mounted.</p><p>That was why gullible rubes once bought hundreds of thousands of videotapes accusing the Clintons of murder -- and why the same kind of suckers bought into the race-baiting "birther" insinuations about Obama. It is why a top House Republican will lie blatantly on television about the Supreme Court's dozen rebukes of this president's alleged constitutional overreach -- when most of those cases involved former President George W. Bush.</p><p>In temperament and ideology, the tea party Republicans who run the House aren't much different from the Newt Gingrich gang that went after Bill Clinton. They don't care whether Obama won the election in a near landslide -- or that seeking to remove him would be very dangerous for our country and the world. If their party wins control of the Senate in November, then the reactionary impulse to impeach may well become irresistible.</p> Fri, 01 Aug 2014 11:46:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1013813 at http://believedwww.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing bill clinton barack obama impeachment republicans monica lewinsky Here's What Happened to One State After its Republican Governor Implemented an Extreme Tax Cutting "Experiment" http://believedwww.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/heres-what-happened-one-state-after-its-republican-governor-implemented-extreme <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">This is what&#039;s going on in Kansas after a statewide tax cut. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/brownback.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>When Louis Brandeis wrote in 1932 that a "single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country," he was suggesting that state innovations might advance reform on the federal level. The progressive Supreme Court justice surely wasn't imagining anything quite like Brownbackistan.</p><p>Under Gov. Sam Brownback, however, the old Brandeis metaphor is especially apt for Kansas, where a highly publicized "experiment" in extreme tax cutting has just blown up the entire laboratory. As Kansans peer through the still-smoking ruins, they evidently don't much like what they see.</p><p>What makes the Brownback blowup feel so familiar is that the same experiment was mounted more than three decades ago, on the federal level, under the rubric of Reaganomics -- by some of the same people. It crashed miserably then, too. But the Republican right has a special knack for dressing up old mischief as fresh policy. To put this one over, Brownback has enjoyed heavy support from the Koch brothers -- chief financial backers of the ultra-right tea party -- whose industrial empire is headquartered in Kansas.</p><p>The statewide tax cut that Brownback pushed through the legislature in 2012 certainly benefited the most wealthy Kansans -- people just like the Kochs -- while inflicting higher taxes on middle-income and working-class families through sales and property tax increases. Proceeding with the expert advice of Arthur Laffer, author of the "supply-side" theory underlying the Ronald Reagan tax cuts, the gung-ho governor promised that these regressive changes would promote rapid economic growth. He predicted that his plan would produce 23,000 new jobs and over $2 billion in new disposable income for Kansans. Their tax payments were supposed to offset the loss of nearly 8 percent of state revenues.</p><p>But the results have yet to justify the hype. Today, the fruits of Brownback's experiment include a state budget deficit of nearly $340 million this year; a decision by Moody's to lower the rating on Kansas bonds; a growing gap in education funding at every level, from kindergarten through college; a ruinous reduction in state and local workforces across the state; and a future that promises even larger deficits and service cutbacks to come.</p><p>Advocates of the Brownback cuts -- who are much more likely to be found in New York and Washington think tanks than in Kansas itself -- insist that with patience, the governor's vindication will come. Noting that the tax cuts took effect less than two years ago, they say that with time will come the jobs and revenues that Kansans expected. But over the past several months, as most states have added jobs, their state has fallen behind.</p><p>The Kansas City Star, the leading newspaper in the state, recently analyzed federal employment data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- and published an editorial comparing Kansas with other states in seasonally adjusted, nonfarm total job growth. The bottom line was not encouraging. From January 2011 through June 30, 2014, job growth for Kansas at 3.5 percent was lower than its four neighbors, other Midwestern states, and even "extremely high income tax" New York, not to mention the national average of 6.1 percent. "Kansas has had one of the nation's poorest rates of employment growth during Brownback's time in office," noted the Star editorial, "including since the first tax cuts took effect in 2013." Moreover, the state actually had fewer jobs at the end of June than it did seven months ago.</p><p>As a creature of the Koch machine, Brownback naturally blames this embarrassing data on President Barack Obama, the devilish socialist in Washington. But polls show that whatever Kansans may think of the president, they aren't so easily bamboozled by such arguments anymore. Their opinion of the governor is declining almost as quickly as the state's revenues -- and in some polls, he is trailing the lesser-known Democrat, Paul Davis, who bravely challenged him this year. Even some prominent Republicans recently declared they would rather elect Davis than continue the destruction that Brownback is inflicting on their state.</p><p>Nationally, the Republican Party still promotes Brownback as an innovator with expertise in growing the economy. The Koch brothers will deluge their home state in dark money and tea party propaganda before they let him fall. But if the voters boot him in November, this latest experiment in extremism will be ranked as an explosive failure.</p> Sat, 26 Jul 2014 12:09:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1012956 at http://believedwww.alternet.org The Right Wing News & Politics The Right Wing kansas sam brownback tax cut koch brothers tea party Borderline Behavior: GOP Demands Action, Blocks Solutions, and Always Complains http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/borderline-behavior-gop-demands-action-blocks-solutions-and-always-complains <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Republicans have become the party of perpetual whining.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/752f8726b526174b5ef9a49fdf4c45b42b5f4739.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Listening to Republicans in Washington (and Texas and Arizona) scream about the "crisis" of migrant children arriving from Central America on our southern border, it is puzzling to realize they don't actually want to do anything to solve the problem. Nor do these hysterical politicians -- led by that down-home diva Rick Perry, the governor of Texas -- want to let President Barack Obama do anything, either.</p><p>Except that they insist the president absolutely must visit the border, in person, preferably with a thousand members of the National Guard (who could join the Border Patrol and local police in accepting the children as they surrender). Strangely enough, these Republicans, along with a few Texas Democrats, seem to believe this is the most important action Obama could undertake.</p><p>Understandably, the president is skeptical. "This isn't theater," he responded tartly. "This is a problem. I'm not interested in photo ops. I'm interested in solving a problem." As he knows, this episode is only the latest in a long sequence of similar clown shows, with Republicans citing ridiculous reasons to delay or prevent government action. His irritation is fully justified.</p><p>But perhaps Obama should have gone down to the border anyway, stood in the blazing sunlight with the dim governor for as long as Perry wished -- and allowed the television cameras to show that their presence had accomplished exactly nothing. Of course, if Obama showed up at the border, the Republicans assuredly would criticize him for wasting time on a photo op. They have become the party of perpetual whining.</p><p>When they aren't bleating about Obama, they're concocting weird theories about his secret plans to destroy America. Only last week, Perry coyly hinted -- although he said he didn't want to be "conspiratorial" -- that the White House must be "in on" the border crossings, because migrant kids couldn't have showed up en masse without "a highly coordinated effort." Later, he tried to persuade CNN's Kate Bolduan that he didn't really mean what his idiotic words said -- an explanation everyone has heard from him before.</p><p>While Perry has taken the lead, he isn't the only elected official whose mouth spews absurdities on this subject. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., offered a policy approach that would please any simpleton, when he explained why the president's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding looks far too big to him. "I've gone online and have taken a look on Orbitz and taken a look at what does it cost to fly people to El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras. You have fares as low as $207. There's nonstop flights at $450. You take those numbers and it costs somewhere between $11 million and $30 million to return people in a very humane fashion," he opined.</p><p>Evidently nobody informed the Wisconsin senator about the myriad other costs involved in rounding up and caring for these terrified children, who are entitled to a court hearing and other consideration under an anti-trafficking law signed by former President George W. Bush. Anyone who wants to expedite their removal -- a disturbingly inhumane and unnecessary policy -- must first provide more courts, judges and lawyers. And anyone who wants a decent policy, which includes action against the drug warlords who are threatening and killing these innocents, must be prepared to spend more than the cost of an Orbitz ticket.</p><p>Some Republicans, notably Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are urging the president to include their pet projects, such as electronic verification requirements for employers and at border crossings, in his spending bill. And many GOP lawmakers, having demanded action on the border issue from Obama, are equally adamant that the funding must be "offset" by cuts in other programs.</p><p>None of these geniuses appears to realize all their barking, carping and moaning are frustrating the president's attempt to address the "crisis" that is agitating them so fiercely. Or more likely, they know exactly what they're doing -- and the point, as usual, is to embarrass Obama.</p><p>But not every Republican talks total nonsense about the border and immigration. Alfonso Aguilar, who headed the Office of Citizenship under Bush, recently wrote: "Contrary to the narrative of some opportunistic politicians and pundits, this unfortunate situation is not the result of the Obama administration failing to enforce the law. In reality, most would-be-migrants believe that crossing the border has become much more difficult, and in the last decade, the U.S. government has greatly strengthened border security and interior enforcement."</p><p>Meanwhile, the majority of Americans is increasingly repulsed by the primitive nativism and partisan opportunism of Republican leaders on immigration. Democrats, independents and even many rank-and-file Republicans want a more decent and constructive policy. Ultimately, voters must grasp that the GOP is the greatest single obstacle to every vital reform. That day cannot come too soon.</p> Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:48:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1011282 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics gop republicans barack obama As Iraq Implodes, Hawks Still Have No Plan -- Except 'Blame Obama' http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/iraq-implodes-hawks-still-have-no-plan-except-blame-obama <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Republicans as usual are barking at the president, ignoring their part in the mess from a decade ago.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/85162aec015da71da03d81a6971cd93db88b6de8.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Divided between neoconservative ultra-hawks and libertarian isolationists, today's Republican Party is hardly a steady influence on American foreign policy. But there is one thing that can be reliably expected from every right-wing faction in Washington: Whenever disaster threatens, they eagerly cast blame on President Barack Obama -- and utter any falsehood that may be used to castigate him.</p><p>As the failed state of Iraq strains under attack from a jihadist force -- the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- all the usual suspects are popping up on the Senate floor to denounce the president. Ignoring more than a decade of miserable history in which most of them played ignominious parts, these politicians now claim that if only the president had listened to them, the current disaster would have been averted somehow.</p><p>"Lindsey Graham and John McCain were right," said the Arizona senator, praising himself and his South Carolina sidekick. "Our failure to leave forces on Iraq is why Sen. Graham and I predicted this would happen."</p><p>Nobody with a functioning memory can take such arguments seriously.</p><p>By the time our troops left Iraq at the end of 2011, the war had inflicted such immense damage on our military and our communities that Americans were in no mood for further misadventures. Not since Vietnam had a ruinous policy come so close to breaking America's armed forces. The fiscal damage was equally serious -- trillions of dollars in current and future costs, mostly borrowed from China. The American people wanted out.</p><p>Even if we had wanted to stay, the Iraqis no longer desired our presence -- as they had made absolutely clear in their electoral choices and their subsequent negotiations with both the Bush and Obama administrations over keeping U.S. troops in Iraq. It was President George W. Bush who signed the status-of-forces agreement in December 2008 that set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2012 for the departure of all U.S. forces -- unless the Iraqis negotiated and ratified a new deal to maintain our troops there.</p><p>No such deal was ever made, however, because the Iraqi people wanted our troops out, even the tiny force of roughly 3,000 advisers Obama hoped to provide. The president was left with no choice, because the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to grant legal immunity from prosecution to any U.S. troops. Imagine what McCain and Graham would have said had Obama decided to leave American officers and troops vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment by local Iraqi warlords -- especially when such an incident inevitably would have occurred.</p><p>So when Republican senators leap up and start barking about Obama's refusal to leave troops on the ground, they either don't remember what actually happened or -- sadly but more likely -- hope to deceive this country's amnesia-addled voters.</p><p>Neither McCain nor any of the other trash-talking statesmen on the Republican side have much useful advice to offer the president. They say we shouldn't have pulled our troops out, but they sure don't want to send them back in. Drop some bombs on the jihadist camps, they suggest -- knowing very well that won't do much to clean up this horrific mess.</p><p>Still they insist on talking about Iraq, loudly and constantly, as if someone else created the mess and they have the answers. They need to be reminded just as loudly that it is <em>their</em> mess, and they still have no idea what to do.</p><p>Americans should try to remember how this happened -- even if the disgraced figures who promoted the invasion of Iraq will never accept responsibility for squandering trillions of American dollars, thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives for what could most charitably be called a massive, irreparable blunder. Never mind the nonsense about the weapons of mass destruction -- which nobody has yet found there, by the way. Absolutely none of the predictions about Iraq by the neocons in and around the Bush administration proved accurate. None of their strategies provided real development or security. And all of their grand schemes for regional stability and democracy simply crumbled.</p><p>Instead of serving as a sturdy bulwark against extremism, the Shia-dominated government of Iraq immediately allied itself with the neighboring mullah regime in Iran. The curse of sectarian warfare, famously dismissed by William Kristol as a chimera, has exploded into a continuous catastrophic reality that threatens regional security and may create a fresh haven for terrorism.</p><p>It is hard not to wonder why anyone still listens to McCain, Kristol and company -- especially on this grave issue. But if they insist on serving up blame, let them step up first to accept their overwhelming share.</p> Fri, 13 Jun 2014 11:16:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 1002651 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics World iraq republicans barack obama How Monica Lewinsky Deserves to Be Remembered http://believedwww.alternet.org/culture/how-monica-lewinsky-deserves-be-remembered <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">At the moment of crisis, Lewinsky behaved more courageously than anyone could reasonably have expected.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/monica.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Monica Lewinsky must be satisfied to learn that with a few stylish photographs and a few innocuous paragraphs, she can still discombobulate Maureen Dowd, Lynne Cheney and a swarm of demented figures in American politics and media. Few could resist the chance to reminisce about the tapes, the blue dress, the cigars, the salacious Starr Report and the drama of impeachment.</p><p>But this familiar frenzy resembled nostalgia more than news. To make Lewinsky's sudden reappearance seem fresh and startling, everyone pretended she had never spoken out during all these 15 years, despite her many television and print interviews and her 1999 book with Andrew Morton, in which she has expressed most of the meditations reiterated in the pages of Vanity Fair.</p><p>Explaining herself, Lewinsky offers some reflections on the death of Tyler Clementi, the bullied gay Rutgers student who committed suicide, and on the dark culture of Internet bullying. She wants to do something useful. She rejects victimhood, declaring that her relationship with Bill Clinton was "consensual," although regrettable -- all of which makes her far less useful as a political prop for the likes of Sen. Rand Paul.</p><p>Yet notwithstanding the hysteria she provokes in Joe Scarborough and other outraged luminaries, the story of Lewinsky has nothing to do with illicit sex -- and everything to do with the nihilist temperament of the modern Republican Party.  If we are heading back toward the bad old days of scandal and impeachment, as now seems inevitable, then it is vital to put our returned heroine in her true context.</p><p>Yes, our heroine -- and that is not meant sardonically. For at the moment of crisis, when Linda Tripp treacherously exposed her, Lewinsky behaved more courageously and nobly than anyone could reasonably have expected.</p><p>By that time, after nearly five years investigating Whitewater, Travelgate, Troopergate and all the myriad pseudo-scandals, the Office of the Independent Counsel was utterly unable to make a serious case against either Bill or Hillary Clinton. Handpicked to pursue the Clintons by conservative judges, who had overlooked his lack of prosecutorial experience in favor of his ambition and ideological zeal, Kenneth Starr found himself on the verge of humiliating failure. Despite spending tens of millions of dollars, his staff of lawyers, investigators and FBI agents had nothing -- until a group of right-wing lawyers plotting against the White House served up Tripp, her secret tapes and her hapless, love-struck young "friend," Monica.</p><p>In the face of Tripp's perfidy and the bullying of Starr's prosecutors, who threatened her and her family with long prison sentences, Lewinsky stood fast. She asked to speak with a lawyer and with her mother. She wouldn't wear a body wire into the Oval Office, as they demanded, to tape an incriminating conversation with the president. And she likewise refused to sign any statement that implicated Clinton in crimes of obstruction that he had not committed.</p><p>Lewinsky's stubborn courage helped to protect the nation from a determined, fanatical, lavishly financed gang of conspirators, operating under the color of law, who aimed to depose a popular, successful, elected president. Had she buckled under the frightening pressure applied by Starr's thuggish prosecutors, Clinton's presidency might have ended on that fateful afternoon.</p><p>Whatever her reasons -- persistent loyalty to a man she had loved or plain indignation at the betrayal of her confidence and the invasion of her privacy -- Lewinsky did the right thing. Despite the mistakes of judgment that both she and Bill Clinton have repeatedly acknowledged, that is how history will judge her.</p><p>So forget the cigars and the dress and all the ephemera of gossip that preoccupy tiny minds. Instead remember the distraught young woman who stood up against a sinister and dangerous abuse of power.</p> Sat, 10 May 2014 10:53:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 991179 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Culture Culture Gender Media monica lewinsky bill clinton linda tripp Justice Bought? Justice Kennedy's Lobbyist Roots Might Explain His Vote on McCutcheon http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/justice-bought-justice-kennedys-lobbyist-roots-might-explain-his-vote-mccutcheon <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The court&#039;s &#039;swing vote&#039; swings the wrong way on campaign finance reform cases.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/kennedy.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>For a large and bipartisan majority of Americans, the increasing power of money in politics is deeply troubling. But not for the conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court, whose members appear to regard the dollar's domination of democracy as an inevitable consequence of constitutional freedom -- and anyway, not a matter of grave concern. Expressed in their decisions on campaign finance, which continued last week to dismantle decades of reform in the McCutcheon case, the court's right wing sees little risk of corruption and little need to regulate the flamboyant spending of billionaires.<br />        Based on the behavior of certain conservative justices, such as Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito -- who flout the rules that govern partisan behavior among lower-court judges -- it is easy to regard their rulings as partisan cynicism. But there is also an element of willful naivete when the conservatives claim, for instance, that influence-seeking donations will be exposed by the instant transparency of publication on the Internet. Any reporter who has covered elections can attest that there are dozens of ways for wealthy donors to avoid public scrutiny until it is much too late to matter.<br />        But if right-wingers like Scalia and Thomas are simply pursuing ideological objectives, what about Anthony Kennedy, the Ronald Reagan appointee from California who is sometimes viewed as a moderating influence and a "swing vote"? On the issue of campaign finance, Kennedy has marched along with the majority, seeming just as fervent in his urge to destroy every regulation and protection against the "malefactors of great wealth" erected since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.<br />        It was Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, which dismissed the notion that corruption will arise from unlimited political campaign contributions because all such money will be disclosed. "Citizens can see whether elected officials are 'in the pocket' of so-called moneyed interests ... and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way," he wrote. "This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages."<br />        Yet if any Supreme Court justice knows how ridiculous that sounds, it must be Kennedy -- whose own background as a corporate lobbyist and son of a lobbyist has been forgotten in nearly three decades since his Senate confirmation in 1987.<br />        Yes, Kennedy was a respected appellate court judge before Reagan appointed him to the high court. But before that, he grew up and then worked as an attorney in Sacramento, Calif., where his father became a "legendary" lobbyist in a state capital renowned as "freewheeling" (a polite term that means "routinely corrupt"). His father, Anthony "Bud" Kennedy, was a backslapping, hard-drinking partner in a powerful lobbying law firm run by one Arthur "Artie" Samish, "the "secret boss of California" who finally went to prison on tax charges in the mid-1950s, while young Tony was studying to enter law school. Samish liked to brag that he had amassed more power than anyone else in the state, including the governor, that he could buy any legislator with "a baked potato, a bottle, or a broad," and that he could "unelect" any lawmaker who didn't vote his way.<br />        The major clients of Samish and Kennedy were racing, entertainment and liquor interests, notably Schenley Industries, then owned and run by J. Edgar Hoover's mobbed-up pal Lewis Rosenstiel. When Bud Kennedy died suddenly in 1963, young Tony was only two years out of law school. But he went into the family business and inherited his late father's clientele.<br />        While Kennedy always insisted that lobbying was only a "sideline" in his law practice, his billings were substantial -- the equivalent of hundreds of thousands or more in today's dollars. In 1974, he pushed through a bill for Capitol Records that saved the company (and cost the state) millions in sales taxes.<br />        How did he do it? The same way that special interests work their will today -- by doling out huge wads of cash to lawmakers on behalf of his clients. The single largest recipient of Kennedy lobbying largesse, according to the Los Angeles Times, was a legislator who introduced a bill to benefit the opticians lobby that Kennedy himself had drafted (it passed). He gave that guy alone about $6,500 in campaign contributions over six years, or roughly $40,000 in today's dollars.<br />        So if anybody on the court knows how the political and legislative process is greased in this country, that would be Justice Kennedy. After all, he was reared in the game. And it shouldn't deceive anyone when he sounds as if he doesn't understand how things work or who wins in that perverse process -- and how everyone else loses.</p> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:46:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 978985 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics The Right Wing Justice Anthony Kennedy supreme court McCutcheon v. FEC campaign finance reform Are Politicians who Cut Food Stamps and Deny Health Access Truly 'Pro-Life'? http://believedwww.alternet.org/civil-liberties/are-politicians-who-cut-food-stamps-and-deny-health-access-truly-pro-life <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Those most vocally opposed to reproductive rights are also most likely to cut assistance to poor families.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/wendydavis_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>When Wendy Davis proclaimed that she is "pro-life" — a description long since appropriated by conservatives opposed to abortion rights -- the right-wing media practically exploded with indignation. How could she dare to say that? But having won national fame when she filibustered nearly 12 hours against a law designed to shutter Lone Star State abortion clinics, the Texas state senator with the pink shoes doesn't hesitate to provoke outrage among the righteous.</p><p>Speaking to a crowd at the University of Texas in Brownsville last Tuesday, Davis, now running for governor as a Democrat, made a deceptively simple but profound declaration: "I am pro-life. I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry their children's future and their ability to provide for that."</p><p>Her argument directly pierced to the contradiction within the right's "pro-life" sloganeering. So far the feeble answer from the right is that Davis must be "lying" because nobody who supports a woman's right to choose is pro-life.</p><p>But that response is merely a repetition that seeks to evade her deeper philosophical thrust. Whatever anyone may think about abortion, the persistent question for self-styled pro-lifers is why they tend to insist on making life so much more difficult for so many children who have entered the world. The same Republicans — and they are nearly all Republicans — most vocally opposed to reproductive rights are also most likely to cut assistance to poor families, infants and children at every opportunity, from the moment of birth long into adolescence and beyond.</p><p>The imperiled Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is only the latest instance of this drearily familiar anti-life syndrome. This week, more than 48 million Americans, including 22 million children, saw their food stamp benefits cut as a temporary enhancement of the program expired. That was worse than bad enough. But next year, if the Republicans have their way, the government would cut $40 billion from the program over the next 10 years — immediately depriving 4 million people of food assistance and then another 3 million every year.</p><p>Supposedly, the excuse for this cruel scheme is to encourage able-bodied adults to work, even though jobs continue to be scarce. But what about the children who will go hungry, thanks to the budget advanced by the "pro-life" House leadership?</p><p>Incidentally, these are the same "pro-lifers" who will do almost anything to frustrate the long-sought national objective of universal health insurance. On that issue, one of their favorite complaints is that expanding health care to all will increase the availability of family planning, including abortion. But what of the tens of thousands of Americans who die every year because they lack insurance? Saving their lives is evidently not a "pro-life" priority.</p><p>Wendy Davis is right, but perhaps she didn't go far enough. You see, the other self-serving sobriquet appropriated by the right is "pro-family," a code term for opponents of reproductive rights, marriage equality, and other progressive policies that actually empower families of all kinds. Again, these same politicians tend to disparage not only Obamacare, but also extended unemployment insurance, Social Security's old age and disability assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, student loans, tuition assistance, family leave, the earned income tax credit, and the entire panoply of successful government programs that help to keep real working families from disintegrating under economic, social, and medical stress.</p><p><span style="font-size: 12px;">In fact, Davis might reasonably question whether the minions of the religious right and the tea party are even truly "anti-abortion," although they have long since tried to escape that category. It is true that right-wingers have tried incessantly (and unsuccessfully) to outlaw abortion. But today they often seek to restrict contraception and effective sex education as well, even though preventing unwanted pregnancies is the most obvious way to reduce the number of abortions.</span></p><p><span style="font-size: 12px;">How would conservatives behave if they honestly wanted to save the family — as House Republicans will now claim when they kill the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, banning workplace bias against lesbians and gays? They might begin by reconsidering their ideological project of dismantling federal programs, long supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, that help families maintain stability, care for each other, maintain healthy children, and advance in each generation.</span></p><p>The real enemies of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for American families are those who seek to polarize incomes, destroy the social safety net, and impose misery on women and children in the name of religious morality.</p> Fri, 08 Nov 2013 10:12:00 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 921549 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties Personal Health wendy davis pro life abortion pregnancy food stamps health hunger poverty Hypocrites! Corporate Leaders Bemoan the Default Crisis Created by Tea Partiers They Funded http://believedwww.alternet.org/economy/hypocrites-corporate-leaders-bemoan-default-crisis-created-tea-partiers-they-funded <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Now big-wigs are begging these yo-yos not to crash the economy.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/ceo.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>America's great minds of business and finance have reached a consensus on the government shutdown and worse, the prospect of a debt default: While the latter is worse, both are bad. Those same great minds are well aware how the shutdown came to pass and why default still looms on the horizon, whether next week, next month, or next year.</p><p>Yes, the frightened corporate leaders surely know how this happened -- because their money funded the tea party candidates and organizations responsible for the crisis.</p><p>Consider Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a tea party freshman whose outspoken stupidity on a default's potential benefits, such as an improved U.S. credit rating, has provided a bit of dark humor in these dark days. Yoho, a large-animal veterinarian, announced months ago that he would never vote to raise the debt ceiling.</p><p>Like most Republican candidates, he had no problem raising contributions from business interests, notably including contractors, insurance companies, manufacturers and agricultural processors. All of which presumably share the horror of default expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But no doubt Yoho parroted the usual right-wing cliches about taxes, regulation, labor, and health care, so all the business guys wrote a check without caring that Yoho is an ignorant yobbo.</p><p>Or consider Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., who came to embody the idiocy of the shutdown when he declared "we're not going to be disrespected" by the White House but couldn't articulate precisely what Republicans needed in order to reopen the government and avoid default. Another low-wattage tea party newcomer, Stutzman likewise raised plenty of money from commercial banks, real estate firms, insurance companies and various manufacturers. Why do these executives write checks to elect someone like him?<br />       </p><p>Then there are the tea party leaders in the upper chamber, including such adornments of democracy as Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and of course Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Johnson says there needn't be a debt default, no matter what Congress does, while Cruz, the "Defund Obamacare" mastermind, is more culpable than any other single legislator for the paralysis gripping Washington and the country. Johnson's top donors include an investment firm called Fiduciary Management Inc., ironically enough, as well as Northwestern Mutual, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Mass Mutual Life Insurance, and naturally, Koch Industries (which now claims, disingenuously, that it doesn't favor the Cruz shutdown strategy or a debt default).<br />       </p><p>As for Cruz, guess who paid for his campaign? Very close to the top of the list of donors for the despised Texan is none other than Goldman Sachs -- whose chairman Lloyd Blankfein showed up at the White House a few days ago to bemoan the catastrophic threat of default. Not only did Blankfein and his fellow bankers warn of what might happen if America breaches its full faith and credit, but he even hinted that the fault lies with Republican hostage takers. Which is only partially right, because Blankfein and his fellow financiers need to look in the mirror, too. Cruz also got a big check from Berkshire Hathaway, corporate home of the venerated Wall Street sage Warren Buffett, who just compared the impact of default to "a nuclear bomb." If that nuke wipes out the markets, Berkshire's investment in Cruz will have lit the fuse.<br />       </p><p>If any of these business leaders honestly cared about fiscal responsibility and economic growth -- let alone the constant threat of shutdowns and defaults -- they could step up to warn the Republicans that the money won't be there anymore unless they cease and desist from such assaults on democracy. They have more than enough money and power to end this crisis -- and make sure it never happens again -- but they seem to lack the necessary character and courage.</p> Fri, 11 Oct 2013 12:09:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 908979 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy Economy News & Politics The Right Wing lloyd blankfein tea party political donations ted cruz Meet the Senate's Powerful and Progressive Policy Wonk, Ron Wyden http://believedwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/meet-senates-powerful-and-progressive-policy-wonk-ron-wyden <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">His habitual reaching across the partisan chasm has generated controversy, notably when he floated a Medicare reform plan with House Budget chair Paul Ryan.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/ronwyden.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Having served in Congress for more than three decades -- and in the upper chamber since 1996 -- Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden has established a reputation as one of the Senate's more serious and diligent members. Over the years on Capitol Hill, he has watched the Republican Party veer constantly further rightward, and yet he continues to believe against all evidence that bipartisan legislative cooperation is possible -- even likely. His habitual reaching across the partisan chasm has generated much controversy, notably when he floated a Medicare reform plan with House Budget chair Paul Ryan.</p><p>Meanwhile, Wyden has also accumulated considerable seniority, despite his youthful demeanor (and a new baby at home). With the announced retirement of Democratic Senator of Montana Max Baucus, Wyden is set to replace him as chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee in the next Congress (assuming that Democrats retain control of the Senate). Recently he spoke with The National Memo about the budget, tax reform, health care and other matters of concern to the Finance committee.</p><p>Among Wyden's enduring charms is his political optimism. Dismal as Washington's budget debate may be, he perceives an opportunity in the sequester. "At a time when people are talking about hammering (programs like) Meals on Wheels, this critically important program for the most vulnerable seniors as a part of this sequestration process, I think this highlights how important it is to start looking at our real priorities ... Before you cut Meals on Wheels, you ought to be looking at rolling back some of these really offensive, outlandish, special interest tax perks.</p><p>"What I and others are hoping is that we can shift the debate away from ... sequestration and talk about what are really core values and particularly core progressive values. ... This is the time when we ought to put values front and center in terms of making sure people understand what our real priorities are, and whether it's tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas or kind of special interest goodies tucked into the tax code. I think that's something you're going to finally see emerge as the heart of this budget debate."</p><p>Wyden now says he would like to take the budget fight to the House, whose Republican leaders long complained that the Senate hadn't passed a budget. "The House has passed a budget, the Senate has passed a budget," he noted. "We think our values are much more in line with the American people than what the House is talking about. And the House, after having insisted for literally years on what's called regular order, and passing bills, and having conference committees, now they don't want to do it. ... It's time to have an actual budget conference where people can see in broad daylight some of the differences that are so important to the country."</p><p>Asked how he maintains his faith in bipartisanship, Wyden mentions more than once his Republican colleague from Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski, with whom he seeks common ground on issues ranging from clean energy to campaign finance. "She and I produced the first bipartisan campaign finance reform bill in the Senate in a decade. ... What it's about is making sure that before an election, in real time, the American voter knows where money is being raised, and where it is going to; and particularly we blow the whistle on the so-called social welfare organizations, which are really kind of political operations masquerading as social welfare organizations that get tax breaks -- and make it clear that that kind of approach is not going to get in, effect, subsidized by the tax code." But he acknowledges that he and Murkowski cannot currently persuade enough Republicans to vote for a bill to bring transparency and honesty to outfits like Karl Rove's American Crossroads.</p><p>Wyden has studied and proposed tax reform for years -- and if Baucus fails to pass a reform bill before retiring, he will face that daunting objective as Finance chair. He says that his model is the 1986 Reagan tax reform bill. "We're spending more than a trillion dollars on these special interest tax breaks, these tax expenditures, and what you ought to do is get rid of them in order to broaden the tax base, and keep progressivity. ... You know, we Democrats really look at these special interest tax breaks, hotwired by these very powerful lobbies. We want to get rid of them. Republicans say, 'Look, we want to have a tax code that is more efficient, we want to encourage growth.' That kind of approach was advanced in 1986 by a big group of liberals and a conservative Republican president.</p><p>In the 1986 bill, Wyden says, "there should have been a provision to make it tougher for lobbyists to try to unravel (the reforms) after they got enacted. And frankly this time ... once we really do have tax reform that helps to grow the economy and create more opportunities for the middle class, let's make sure that we do what wasn't done in 1986, and that's make it tougher for the lobbyists to unravel it." He promises to protect the "middle-class deductions" for mortgage payments, health insurance, savings and charitable contributions -- and he says that rather than being "revenue neutral," as Republicans insist, progressive tax reform will inevitably raise revenues.</p><p>Wyden's version of tax reform will grow the economy "because it puts more money into the hands of middle-class people." Among other benefits for average taxpayers, he would triple the standard deduction.</p><p>Of his abortive Medicare initiative with Ryan, he says that it "provided a way to protect the Medicare guarantee" while holding costs down. But the right wing in the House scuttled that plan, and Wyden dropped his brief partnership with Wisconsin's famed Ayn Rand disciple. Now he intends to focus on chronic care for the elderly, which consumes roughly 70 percent of the Medicare budget and drives higher costs even though treatment is often ineffective.</p><p>"So many seniors have these multiple health care conditions, and what we're doing now is so fragmented, and so poorly focused, that we ought to really step back and try to think through what's the best way to efficiently get good quality care to those who need it most. Right now those are the individuals who are the sickest, they are the most expensive to care for, and they arguably get some of the worst care, and that's going to be the reform area that I focus on next."</p><p>What he vows, despite constant threats from his Republican colleagues, is to defend Obamacare, despite their concerns about its implementation. "But the bottom line here is, and this needs to be said loud and clear to the far right that wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and allow the insurance companies to go out and clobber the people with pre-existing conditions ... I don't want to turn back the clock and go back to the days when the health care system in America was just for the healthy and the wealthy."</p> Thu, 16 May 2013 11:00:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 841344 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics Economy News & Politics Personal Health congress capitol hill democrat ron wyden bipartisanism paul ryan house budget medicare national memo budget tax reform senate finance committee montana max baucus senate Surprise! Surprise! Twenty Years of the Family and Medical Leave Act Helps Families ...and Business http://believedwww.alternet.org/surprise-surprise-twenty-years-family-and-medical-leave-act-helps-families-and-business <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">But will far right and Clarence Thomas&#039; wife believe the Department of Labor&#039;s Study?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/family_leave.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>When Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act on Feb. 5, 1993 almost exactly 20 years ago as the first legislative act of his presidency, its establishment as law marked a progressive victory after nearly a decade of ferocious opposition by corporate lobbyists, Republican legislators, conservative media and right-wing pundits.</p><div>Leading the opposition was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose spokeswoman Virginia Lamp denounced the act as "a dangerous precedent." (She would eventually marry Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and move on to employment with the Koch brothers.) With the honorable exception of the Catholic Church and a number of moderate Republicans in Congress, the self-proclaimed "pro-family" forces in American political life eagerly aided and abetted the Chamber's attempt to kill the act. Mandating a federal right to unpaid leave, even if restricted to certain workers in larger businesses, would place the nation on a slippery path toward European socialism, or worse, according to the Chamber and its Republican allies and impose untold damage on business.</div><div>But now we know, as with so many other warnings from the far right about the supposedly ruinous consequences of social progress, how the actual results have differed from those predictions. And with two decades of experience, it is clear that the difference has been dramatic.</div><div>Put simply, the act's protections have proved vital for millions of families across the country, whether in times of joy or hardship. Debra Ness, the president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, which drafted the original bill and assembled the victorious coalition that supported it, estimates that the law has been used over 100 million times "by women who needed medical care during difficult pregnancies, fathers who took time to care for children fighting cancer, adult sons and daughters caring for frail parents, and workers taking time to recover from their own serious illnesses." The latest Department of Labor survey of employees and employers indicates that up to 14 million employees took leave in 2011.</div><div>Released this week to coincide with the act's anniversary, that study not only demonstrates how vital it is to American families but how beneficial it has been for the national workforce and economy. Indeed, rather than imposing an insufferable burden on business, the act has enhanced productivity and profit as well as protecting children, the ill and the elderly.</div><div>According to the DOL study -- which was subcontracted to Abt Associates, one of the country's oldest and most respected private consulting firms -- most employers have not found compliance particularly burdensome.  Only 1 percent of the covered worksites told Abt that they had "great difficulty" in administering leave and 14 percent reported "some difficulty." Fewer than 10 percent of worksites reported any negative effects on productivity, morale, absenteeism, turnover or "business profitability." Some larger worksites had more problems, but overall, the vast majority reported that the act had posed no serious issues.</div><div>Most impressively, for every worksite that reported a negative impact on productivity, there were nearly three that said the impact has been positive; and for every worksite that reported a negative impact on profitability, there were nearly five that said the impact has been positive.</div><div>Encouraging as those statistics may be, they highlight a less encouraging fact -- namely that America remains far behind other advanced industrial nations in the social benefits and protections provided to its working families. The United States is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that lacks a national paid parental leave policy.</div><div>In a global study conducted by researchers at Harvard and McGill universities, the results revealed that all advanced countries and many developing nations -- 169 out of 173 studied -- offer guaranteed leave with income to women following childbirth; and 98 of these countries offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave. (The three other nations offering no paid leave whatsoever were Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.) The researchers found 66 countries that provide fathers with either paid paternity leave or a right to paid parental leave, with 31 countries offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave.</div><div>Aside from important changes providing leave to military families, initially left without coverage under the act, Congress has made no significant improvements in expanding coverage to workplaces with fewer than 50 employees -- or in extending any protection to the growing millions of temporary and part-time workers who remain without any coverage.</div><div>The national experience over the years since Clinton put down his signing pen offers two clear lessons for Americans. First, we still have far to go in providing real support for families and children, especially when compared with similar countries; and second, we need not believe the warnings of economic doom that emanate from the right over any attempt to improve those conditions, such as Obamacare. All the hot air emitted in opposition to the Family and Medical Leave Act has long since evaporated, and all the hotheads who opposed it have long since moved on to new obsessions. But nobody should forget how wrong they were -- and who really stood up for family values.</div><div> To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at <a href="http://www.creators.com">www.creators.com</a>.</div><div>COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM</div><div> </div> Wed, 06 Feb 2013 09:21:00 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 790160 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics news politics economy What Is Romney Hiding in His Tax Records? http://believedwww.alternet.org/election-2012/what-romney-hiding-his-tax-records <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Harry Reid has provoked outrage by talking about Mitt Romney&#039;s taxes, but it&#039;s Romney who deserves the criticisms. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/taxreturns.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Harry Reid has provoked outrage among liberals as well as conservatives, who seem to believe he has violated propriety by repeating gossip about Mitt Romney's taxes. The Senate leader says someone connected with Romney told him that the Republican candidate paid no income taxes for a period of 10 years. Offended by Reid's audacity, commentators on the right have indicted him for "McCarthyism," while others on the left have accused him of inventing the whole story.</p><p>Evidently the chief complaint against Reid -- aside from aggressiveness unbecoming a Democrat -- is that he cited "an extremely credible source" who he has so far declined to name. Some journalists have gone so far as to suggest that Reid must be lying because he won't identify the source.</p><p>Despite all this righteous tut-tutting among the great and the good, in newspapers and magazines as well as on television, Reid's critics simply have no way of knowing whether he is telling the truth or not. From the beginning, Reid himself admitted forthrightly that he has no way of being absolutely certain whether what he was told is factual or not, although he believes the person who said it was being truthful.</p><p>Many of Reid's critics work for news outlets that rely on unnamed sources every day, of course, publishing assertions that range from the mundane to the outlandish. It is hard to see why an unnamed source quoted by a daily newspaper or a monthly magazine -- or hidden behind a screen in a TV studio -- is more credible than a person whispering in the ear of a United States Senator.</p><p>Indeed, several of the news outlets now barking at Reid have suffered their own episodes of scandalous embarrassment owing to the exposure of invented sources and quotes (see Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, etc. etc. etc.). Yet they nevertheless continue to publish quotes from such unnamed individuals. After all, where else would Reid have learned that this is acceptable conduct?</p><p>Meanwhile, Romney's response is to demand that Reid "put up or shut up" -- that is, reveal the name of his source. But that would prove nothing. As Reid has pointed out, only the former Bain executive can demonstrate conclusively that suspicions about his tax history are unfounded. Although the irritated Romney retorts that he has "paid a lot of taxes," his denial won't suffice as proof either. He could have paid hefty real estate taxes on his various homes and sales taxes on his purchases of cars, car elevators, powerboats, and other luxury goods, among other levies, while paying little or no federal income tax.</p><p>Obviously, it would be simple for Romney to disprove Reid's statement, which is unlike McCarthyite accusations that involve someone's personal associations or state of mind. The necessary evidence is not only within Romney's possession but is also material that candidates in his position normally release to the public and that the public expects to see. It is material that he previously surrendered to Senator John McCain's campaign staff in 2008, when they were vetting him for a possible vice presidential nomination. (For now, they are conspicuously silent on the Reid controversy.)</p><p>There is a legal doctrine that applies to Romney's current behavior, as Indiana attorney John Sullivan points out -- and it doesn't place the burden of proof on Reid:</p><p>At law, if a person in control of evidence refuses to produce the evidence, then the jury is instructed that there is a presumption that the evidence would be against the party failing to produce. It is called the "Missing Evidence" instruction.      </p><p>The missing evidence is in Romney's grasp, yet he insists that he will never produce it. Does anyone need instruction from a judge to make the correct inference?</p> Wed, 08 Aug 2012 15:21:00 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 689706 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Election 2016 Election 2016 Investigations News & Politics The Right Wing harry reid romney taxes mccarthyism Missing Evidence GOP Hypocrisy: Rick Perry Consultant Outed as Gay, Even As Perry Keeps Gay-Bashing http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/153465/gop_hypocrisy%3A_rick_perry_consultant_outed_as_gay%2C_even_as_perry_keeps_gay-bashing <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The swinging closet door of the Republican Party has been flung open again. Who else will be found inside?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>If these are the last weeks of Rick Perry’s ridiculous presidential campaign, his desperation is turning him into a nasty clown indeed. By publicly attacking the gays and lesbians who have chosen to serve their country in uniform, the Texas governor seems to have gained ground in Iowa. But at what cost did he win a few points that still leave him well below the top tier? His pollster and consultant Tony Fabrizio has been “outed,” rightly or wrongly—and worse still, the swinging closet door of the Republican Party has been flung open again. Who else will be found inside?</p> <p>From the days of the Cold War, when reigning mischief-maker Roy Cohn was bedding boys and denouncing gays as “sissies,” through the hidden homosexual history that leads from Marvin Liebman, co-founder of the National Review to Arthur Finkelstein, the ad man behind the ‘80s conservative revival, to the defection of former “hit man” David Brock, to Ken Mehlman, the Bush-era party chairman who didn’t dare (until recently) to speak of his own true nature, and even Karl Rove, who ran gay-baiting campaigns despite his own father’s orientation, Republicans have repeatedly watched their own intellectual and political leaders embarrassed by what emerges from that capacious closet.</p> <p>In Fabrizio’s case, he was pushed out by GOProud, an organization of right-leaning gays, when its leader, Jimmy DeSalvia, complained on a message board about the latest Perry ad, which says there’s “something wrong” in America when gays can serve “openly” in the military but children cannot pray in public schools.</p> <p>“I’ve just about had it with faggots who line their pockets with checks from anti-gay homophobes while throwing the rest of us under the bus,” wrote DeSalvia on a public message board, specifying as follows: “I’m talking about Rick Perry’s pollster/strategist.” Although DeSalvia was quickly denounced for “outing” by his own board of directors, the damage had been done. A longtime friend of Fabrizio, speaking on background to The National Memo, said he was unaware of the consultant’s alleged proclivities: “Tony has been a friend of mine for 30-plus years. I know he worked for the pro-marriage equality side in Florida when a constitutional amendment was on the ballot,” said the friend. “I find it surprising, but as a libertarian, I don’t care what he does in his free time.”</p> <p>Fair enough, although the straight supporters of GOProud, including Ann Coulter, never seem to have much to say when a politician like Perry openly attacks gays and lesbians to court evangelical voters. That is the reason that the Republican closet door keeps swinging open, with ugly and sometimes chaotic consequences. The “secrets” aren’t really secret—and every time a Republican politician attempts to use bigotry for political gain, the risk of outing is always there.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. </div></div></div> Fri, 16 Dec 2011 07:00:01 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 668845 at http://believedwww.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing gays gop Taboo in Today's GOP? Realism and Compassion http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/153205/taboo_in_today%27s_gop_realism_and_compassion <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A Republican who dares to utter a few words of compassion or realism is likely to prove unacceptable to the base of that party.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Tasteless and questionable as it was for CNN to "co-sponsor" a Republican presidential debate with a pair of right-wing Washington think-tanks, at least the branding was accurate. There among the honored interlocutors were the authors of dismal failure and national disgrace in the Bush era, such as Paul Wolfowitz and David Addington, whose presence helpfully reminds us that to elect a Republican risks a presidency that will make the same gross moral and strategic errors, or worse. Listening to them talk about Iran, a nation that unlike Iraq or the Taliban is a real military power, it was clear that we will certainly edge closer to another war with almost any Republican in power.</p> <p>What the debate also revealed again is that a Republican who dares to utter a few words of compassion or realism is likely to prove unacceptable to the base of that party.</p> <p>Coming off his proposal to repeal child labor laws, so that schools can force 9-year-olds to do the work of "unionized janitors," it was surprising to hear Newt Gingrich appeal to human decency in resolving the immigration issue. But so he did, sensibly noting that deporting 11 million or more undocumented residents of the United States would be not only impractical but viciously cruel. It would mean ripping apart families that have lived here peacefully for generations.</p> <p>"I'm prepared to take the heat," said the former speaker, rather courageously, for insisting that the law should be enforced "with humanity" -- and his opponents, notably Mitt Romney, brought that heat to a boil, attacking Gingrich for supposedly supporting "amnesty," perennial buzzword of the anti-immigrant movement.</p> <p>Actually, Gingrich doesn't back amnesty per se -- which usually indicates a "path to citizenship" -- but his position is close enough to mean trouble from the GOP's large nativist constituency. He prefers a selective service system for immigration, which would bring individual cases before boards of local citizens to decide whether any particular illegal immigrant should be deported or permitted to remain permanently, in a legal status that would be less than citizenship. As far as the immigrant-bashers are concerned, that's amnesty, and the hell with it.</p> <p>What was dishonest in Romney's response, however (especially coming from a man who hired illegal landscapers himself, presumably because they were cheap) is that he never said how he would deal with the estimated 11 million or 12 million undocumented workers who are here today. The former Massachusetts governor, who helped drive thousands of jobs overseas in search of cheap labor as a financier and consultant, spoke enthusiastically of all the brainy immigrants he'd like to bring in legally -- and of the necessity of "securing the border," another tiresome platitude that is heard far more often than how it will be achieved. (The unspoken truth is that illegal immigration has dropped precipitously, deportations are up, and the American economy would benefit from more, not less, immigration of all kinds.)</p> <p>Yet for all his promises to "enforce the law," Romney never bothered to explain how he will deport 11 million or more, as a practical and humane policy. Nobody who knows much about the issue believes that it can be done. But what we know about Romney -- and the rest of the Republicans, who rarely pass up a chance to denounce organized labor -- is that they prefer a low-wage workforce unable to assert any rights. If the undocumented were suddenly able to speak out and act without fear, they would also be able to join unions, demand higher wages and health benefits, and refuse to be used against native-born workers.</p> <p>If Gingrich takes the heat for his few words in defense of immigrant families, he was not the only Republican on stage to say something wise that will be used against him. Ron Paul sagely warned, as he has done many times before, that the "war on terror" and the "war on drugs" are flawed concepts that endanger constitutional liberty. Yet he also showed why libertarian ideologues like him are unfit to represent American ideals, when he claimed that all the money spent on foreign aid is wasted -- in response to a question from Wolfowitz that specifically referred to the highly successful Bush administration program of HIV/AIDS assistance to poor nations. That discussion offered Rick Santorum a chance to shine, by denouncing the notion that Congress should "zero out" such foreign assistance programs, and to proclaim proudly that he had promoted the Bush AIDS programs in the Senate. No doubt he, too, will will have to take the heat -- for acknowledging that American leadership cannot be based on military or economic power alone, and that as Jon Huntsman dared to say, America needs friends and allies in a changing world.</p> <p>In the era of tea party jingoism, there is precious little space for that traditional Republican outlook -- and plenty of room for smooth panderers like Romney.<br />  </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at <a href="http://www.creators.com">www.creators.com</a>. COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM </div></div></div> Thu, 24 Nov 2011 04:00:01 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 668573 at http://believedwww.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing debate gop primary newt Should We Worry About Mitt Romney's Mormon Faith? http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/152820/should_we_worry_about_mitt_romney%27s_mormon_faith <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Baptist conservatives and atheists like Bill Maher are slamming Mormons and their faith. But is there any real reason to be troubled by Romney&#039;s religion?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Recent expressions of political and religious prejudice against Mormons and the Church of Latter-Day Saints have offered Mitt Romney a chance to play the bullied underdog -- and to explain, as he did with clarity and dignity during the Vegas debate, the meaning of the constitutional prohibition against any religious test for public office.</p> <p>That won't discourage Baptist conservatives or atheist entertainers like Bill Maher from making fun of Mormons and their faith, whose history and tenets certainly sound strange to outsiders.</p> <p>But is there any real reason to be troubled by Romney's religion? What does the career of the former Massachusetts governor tell us about the ideology of the LDS church -- and what his personal beliefs may portend if he becomes the first Mormon in the Oval Office?</p> <p>The complaint from the religious right -- which has promiscuously allied itself with Mormon leaders to oppose reproductive and gay rights (and civil rights in an earlier era) -- is that the LDS church does not conform to the tenets of Christianity as they see it. Pastor Robert Jeffress, the man whose anti-Mormon crusading has now taken him onto late-night television and the opinion pages of The Washington Post, says he prefers a "committed Christian," but doesn't say why or what that precisely means.</p> <p>Mormons may not share all of the tenets of Baptist or Methodist Christianity, but neither do Catholics or Episcopalians, yet fundamentalist evangelicals like Jeffress don't seem to worry much about their role in public life. On issues that implicate morality, sexuality and family, the Mormons are equally "conservative" and consider themselves to be Christians, too. They officially abandoned polygamy many years ago -- and they seem to succeed more consistently in adhering to what they preach than many of their more orthodox brethren, if surveys of divorce, addiction and teen pregnancy are accurate.</p> <p>Those conservative principles, along with a history of extremist positions adopted by the Mormon hierarchy, have encouraged the perception of the LDS church as an ideological bulwark of the far right. Mormon leaders long encouraged associations with fringe elements in American politics, such as the John Birch Society, which still wields influence in the tea party movement today. And the ultra-craziness of Glenn Beck, himself a Mormon and a promoter of wacky LDS political theorists, has not improved the church's political profile.</p> <p>In practice, however, the Mormons welcome or at least permit a much broader spectrum of political and ideological affiliations within their ranks, even among the elected officials who share their faith. The highest-ranking Mormon in public office today, for instance, is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a liberal Democrat demonized by the tea party and the Republicans, who spent millions trying to defeat him last year.</p> <p>The best example of Mormonism's political flexibility, of course, is Romney's own career (and that of his father, the late Michigan governor who was hardly a hardliner), which veered from the most liberal Republicanism to the harsh conservatism he currently espouses.</p> <p>As an LDS bishop in Boston two decades ago, he staunchly opposed abortion; then a few years later, Romney became pro-choice when he ran for the Senate against Democrat Ted Kennedy; and then shifted again when he began to aspire to his party's presidential nomination. Along the way, he designed and legislated a health care program that ensures coverage to almost every citizen of Massachusetts, and now repudiates that program (more or less) as an invention of Bay State Democrats.</p> <p>The Romney family traces its lineage to the roots of the LDS movement, and today Mitt Romney stands at the pinnacle of wealth and influence in his church. His shape-shifting politics prove that however conservative most Mormons may be, they resemble every other American religious group in tolerating a wide assortment of political views within their ranks -- especially among politicians who succeed in achieving power. There are many reasons for concern about Romney's character -- including his hollow dissembling -- but religion is not among them.</p> <p>Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at <a href="http://www.creators.com">www.creators.com</a>.<br /> COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Fri, 21 Oct 2011 04:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 668200 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Belief Belief mitt romney mormon lds How Rick Perry's Attempt to Privatize Medicaid Wasted Millions While Enriching Lobbyists and Hedge Funds http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/152344/how_rick_perry%27s_attempt_to_privatize_medicaid_wasted_millions_while_enriching_lobbyists_and_hedge_funds <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Perry&#039;s plan to let private firms run Medicaid wasted more than money and time, as paperwork vanished and patients suffered.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Both as governor of Texas and as the leading Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry has established himself as a harsh critic of federal programs -- and, in particular, as a "state's rights" advocate who accuses Washington of gross ineptitude and waste in providing services such as health care for the poor and elderly.</p> <p>In his 2010 book "Fed Up" and in his campaign speeches, Perry has often asserted that the states, simply left to do the job without federal interference, could perform far better. The theme is highly popular, like Perry himself, in tea party circles.</p> <p>"It is through states that the American people get the job done every day," he wrote in his book, "often in spite of a deeply flawed bureaucratic federal government." Late last year, when he proposed that Texas drop out of Medicaid altogether, he said: "We know how to deliver healthcare to more people in a less expensive way than what the federal government does. I need more states to stand up and say we don't want your strings attached. We don't want you down here telling us how to run our business."</p> <p>If only Texas could operate wholly independently of federal rules, he insisted, "you will see more people in the state of Texas who will have more coverage and frankly we'll save money at the end of the day, as will the federal government."</p> <p>Although Perry was forced to abandon that scheme when a state report showed that leaving Medicaid would cost Texas billions (and leave even more Texans uninsured), he still claims that the federal government should stop trying to make sure that more Americans have health care, and that programs run solely by the states would be more efficient.</p> <p>But lately the facts about Perry's own record as governor have begun to emerge -- and they don't support his argument. Over the past several weeks, a Dallas TV station has exposed the "golden teeth" Medicaid scandal in Texas, now under investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Perry appointees who run Medicaid have allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to be misspent on orthodontic braces for children who don't need them -- with huge profits for private dental clinics owned by Wall Street hedge funds.</p> <p>Nor is that the only aspect of Perry's record that belies his boasting. One of the most embarrassing episodes during his first two terms as governor involved a plan to let private firms run Medicaid, replacing state employees. The privatization plan was an "innovation" that was supposed to save money. What it accomplished instead was to earn enormous sums for contractors like Deloitte Touche and Accenture (along with their Texas lobbyists), while costing taxpayers still more hundreds of millions of dollars -- and all without achieving its most basic objectives.</p> <p>Four years after the plan was implemented in 2003, the Austin American-Statesman published a thorough report on its results, and what the newspaper found was a project "in shambles." The state had been forced to cancel its contract with the Accenture group and continue to use state employees to perform necessary work on an outdated computer system, exactly the same as before Perry's privatization scheme began. How much had this great innovation cost the state? Approximately $500 million, not including the amount spent using the old system, at roughly $1 million a month.</p> <p>Unfortunately this fiasco wasted more than money and time, as paperwork vanished and patients suffered. As the Statesman reported, it may well have cost a 14-year-old boy named Devante Johnson his life. Left without health insurance for several months because of the Texas Medicaid enrollment bureaucracy, the Houston boy could not get treatment in time to save him from the kidney cancer that eventually killed him in March 2007.</p> <p>While it isn't clear yet whether his administration's Medicaid operations were corrupt or incompetent or both, none of this has fazed Perry at all. He went on to reappoint the Texas health and human services commissioner who oversaw the entire mess -- and then to run for president himself, as the populist who will "reform" Social Security, Medicare and, of course, Medicaid.</p> <p>Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at<a target="_blank" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 204); " href="http://www.creators.com/">www.creators.com</a>.</p> <p>COPYRIGHT 2011<a target="_blank" style="color: rgb(0, 0, 204); " href="http://creators.com/">CREATORS.COM</a></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Thu, 08 Sep 2011 11:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 667663 at http://believedwww.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing medicaid perry private Meet the Shady Dallas Mega-Billionaire Industrialist Pouring Money into Rick Perry's Coffers http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/152216/meet_the_shady_dallas_mega-billionaire_industrialist_pouring_money_into_rick_perry%27s_coffers <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Most Americans have never heard of Harold Simmons, despite his fantastic wealth, because he wisely keeps his head low.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Like so many Republican officials of the tea party persuasion, Rick Perry despises the Environmental Protection Agency—a feeling he has expressed repeatedly in speeches, lawsuits, legislation and even a book titled “Fed Up!” Perhaps that is only natural for the governor of Texas, a “dirty energy” state where the protection of air, water and human health rank well below the defense of oil company profits for most politicians.</p> <p>But Perry has at least one other reason for smacking down those bureaucrats so eagerly. When environmental regulators do their job properly, that can mean serious trouble for Perry’s largest political donors.</p> <p>The outstanding example is Harold Simmons, a Dallas mega-billionaire industrialist who has donated well over a million dollars to Perry’s campaign committees recently. With Perry’s eager assistance—and despite warnings from Texas environmental officials—Simmons has gotten approval to build an enormous radioactive waste dump on top of a crucial underground water supply.</p> <p>“We first had to change the law to where a private company can own a license, and we did that,” Simmons boasted in 2006, after the Texas Legislature and the governor rubber-stamped initial legislation and approvals for the project. “Then we got another law passed that said (the state) can only issue one license. Of course, we were the only ones that applied.”</p> <p>Most Americans have never heard of Simmons, despite his fantastic wealth, because he wisely keeps his head low, generally refusing press interviews and avoiding media coverage. Last year, a local monthly in his hometown published the headline “Dallas’ Evil Genius” over a scathing and fascinating investigative profile that examined not only the peculiar history of litigation between Simmons and his children (who no longer speak to him), but his political machinations, corporate raiding and continuing corporate penchant for pollution.</p> <p>In D magazine, reporter Laray Polk explained how Simmons and a company he owns—innocuously named Waste Control Systems—manipulated state and federal law to allow him to build a nuclear-waste disposal site in West Texas. But construction has been delayed for years in part because the site appears to overlay the Oglalla Aquifer, an underground water supply that serves 1.9 million people in nine states, raising obvious concerns over radioactive contamination. In the Simmons profile and subsequent posts on the Investigative Fund website last year, Polk explored the controversy over the proposed WCS facility, including strong objections by staff analysts at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who found evidence that atomic waste might indeed leach into a huge pool of drinking water.<br /> Now reporters for The Los Angeles Times have revived, advanced and updated the WCS story with much additional detail, including interviews with the Texas environmental officials who oversaw the approval process for the facility. For a period last summer, that process appeared to have been slowed down to allow serious consideration of the scientific data collected by the commission’s staff.</p> <p>In other words, the regulators were trying to do their job, which meant expensive delays and perhaps an eventual ruling against the nuclear waste site. That would have protected the Oglalla Aquifer and cost Simmons hundreds of millions in lost investment and profit. But then Perry’s appointees on the commission voted by two to one to issue licenses for the WCS site.</p> <p>This year, officials on another Texas commission appointed by Perry—who oversee low-level radioactive waste in the state—voted to allow the WCS site to accept nuclear waste from 34 other states in a highly controversial decision later ratified by the state Legislature and signed by Perry himself. Not long after that, according to The Los Angeles Times’ report, Simmons gave $100,000 to Americans for Rick Perry, an “independent” committee supporting his presidential candidacy. (Back in 2004, Simmons was a major contributor to another “independent” political committee, the notorious Swift Boat Veterans group that distorted Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s war record in a series of TV ads.)</p> <p>According to a spokesman for WCS, the Texas governor’s happy and lucrative relationship with Simmons did nothing to help the company except to turn the billionaire into “an easy target. ... It made the state redouble its efforts to be thorough.” But the Texas officials who opposed the approval on principle have since quit their jobs with the state. As one of them told the L.A. Times reporters, “This is a stunningly horrible public policy to grant a license to this company for that site ... . Something had to happen to overcome the quite blatant shortcoming of that application. ... The only thing I know in Texas that has the potential to do that is money in politics.”</p> <p>As for the Texas official (and Perry appointee) who overruled his own scientists and approved the deal, he left state government, too—to work as a lobbyist for Simmons. He says that no undue influence led to the favorable outcome for his new employer.</p> <p>Texas must be the only place on earth where anyone would believe that.</p> <p>Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com.</p> <p>© 2011 Creators.com<br />  </p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Mon, 29 Aug 2011 11:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 667545 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics perry dallas harold simmons What Obama Should Learn From Wisconsin http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/152094/what_obama_should_learn_from_wisconsin <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">With Wisconsin&#039;s epic state senate recall battle now over, the results carry a clear message that ought to resonate all the way to Washington.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>With Wisconsin's epic state senate recall battle now over, the results carry a clear message that ought to resonate all the way to Washington -- and especially the Obama White House. The essence of politics in America today, for Democrats at least, is to understand and communicate the political nature of the opposition.</p> <p>Having suffered a bad beating last November, the Wisconsin Democrats and their allies have succeeded in building a strong movement that fights back explicitly against the right-wing policies of Gov. Scott Walker's Republican Party.</p> <p>Last week, they won two out of six recall campaigns mounted against GOP state senators, which was widely interpreted as a defeat or at best a draw. But on Tuesday, they won all three recall efforts against Democrats, giving them an overall series victory, and cutting deeply into perceived support for the Walker agenda.</p> <p>A third seat would have been turned over from the Republicans to Democrats, but for a thousand votes or so in a single senate district -- or but for a profusion of ballot-counting irregularities that alleged benefited Republicans in a single big county.</p> <p>To hear the Republicans and their supporters crowing, you wouldn't know they had held onto control of the state Senate by only a single vote. So it is clear that the governor remains vulnerable to recall himself -- which must be why he now sounds more like the bipartisan, reasonable, constructive Republican, the very scarce kind that President Obama has pursued so long and so fruitlessly.</p> <p>On the day after his party forfeited two state Senate seats -- matching the total number of elected officials recalled in Wisconsin's entire history -- Walker told reporters that he realized voters "want us to do more working together" and that he would henceforth focus on "jobs" (with no mention of his previous union-busting initiatives).</p> <p>Surely he is also concerned with his own plummeting poll numbers, which show a profound sense of buyer's remorse among Wisconsin independent voters, as well as the continued determination of the state's progressives and unions to remove him from power. And if the results of the recall elections of the past two weeks have encouraged him to reconsider the confrontational attitude he displayed during his first six months in office, so much the better.</p> <p>But what do the Wisconsin results mean to President Obama, whose gauzy dream of a "post-partisan" era in Washington have been so bitterly dashed by the rise of the tea party? In a battleground state that could go either way next year -- and that went sharply rightward last year -- the progressive Democratic mobilization over the past six months has been nothing short of remarkable.</p> <p>Consider that Wisconsin has only seen 20 or so recall elections over the past century, and that of those elections only two have previously resulted in the recall of an incumbent. Consider that incumbents generally have a powerful advantage in any election, especially an off-year recall. Consider further that only a few months ago, the Republicans used their majority to pass a highly restrictive voter ID bill that probably suppressed the vote of Democratic-leaning constituencies, including low-income families, elderly Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries, ethnic minorities and students.And finally consider the lukewarm attitude of the Obama White House toward the Wisconsin struggle, despite the president's past vow to "walk the picket line" in defense of workers' rights. Although the Obama political operation was reported to be lending help to the Democratic recall effort, there wasn't much visible support from the president or his surrogates.</p> <p>Perhaps it would have been inappropriate for the president to involve himself directly in a campaign against state officials. But whether he ought to have spoken out or not, there are still two profound lessons for him in this outcome.</p> <p>The first lesson is that bipartisanship seems to be encouraged among Republicans these days only when they suspect that voters may be sick of their extremism. Just as Walker is now worried about his future, so is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has suddenly realized that he prefers cooperation to confrontation over collective bargaining -- evidently because he fears the results of a potential repeal referendum on the issue in November.</p> <p>The second lesson is that there is only one way to instill such fear among Republicans, in Wisconsin or Washington: By demonstrating the will to push back, as hard as necessary, on behalf of the principles Democrats have always promised to uphold.</p> <p>That is what the Republicans do with great consistency on behalf of their own ideology, however extreme or unpopular. That is what inspired the Democrats who have fought them to a standstill in Wisconsin. And that is what could still save Obama's presidency.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at <a href="http://www.creators.com">www.creators.com</a>. </div></div></div> Thu, 18 Aug 2011 10:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 667415 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics obama wisconsin conason Will Obama Finally Play Hardball In Debt Ceiling Standoff? http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/151645/will_obama_finally_play_hardball_in_debt_ceiling_standoff <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Reports say that President Obama is finally losing patience with Republican games over the debt ceiling--even while Republicans fight among themselves.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>At long last, President Obama seems to have run out of patience with the truculent Republicans who have rejected all of his overtures for a budget deal -- just as Moody's and other economic authorities again warned of the potentially catastrophic consequences of a debt default.</p> <p>On Wednesday afternoon, Obama finally stood up at the bargaining table and walked out of the stalemated budget talks, telling House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., that he will "take this to the American people" unless the Republicans showed a real inclination to compromise. Exactly what the president meant by that remark is not yet clear, but some leading Republicans have now realized that pandering to their party's hard-line base could have serious consequences for them as well as for the country.</p> <p>Political schizophrenia broke out among the Republicans on Capitol Hill even as Obama confronted them in the White House. In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed a near-complete surrender, with a three-step maneuver that would allow the debt ceiling to rise while still permitting the Republicans to pretend that they disapprove.</p> <p>Seeking to justify this panicky abandonment of his own tough-sounding rhetoric a week ago, McConnell told right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham that blowing the Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline could lead to the same political result as the government shutdowns of the Clinton era -- only perhaps worse.</p> <p>A faithful servant of big money, McConnell appears to have realized that a Treasury default -- unprecedented in our history -- could cause permanent damage not only to the nation's credit and the world economy, but might well ruin the Republican Party, too.</p> <p>Noting that President Clinton easily won re-election the year after he faced down a Republican caucus in a budget debate that led to two government shutdowns, McConnell predicted that Obama "will say Republicans are making the economy worse. ... It is an argument that he could have a good chance of winning, and all of a sudden we have co-ownership of the economy. That is a very bad position going into the election." Letting America default is a bad idea, he said, because it "destroys the GOP brand."</p> <p>In other words, American voters might blame Republican candidates for a worsened recession, caused by their ideological obsession and partisan selfishness. Voters might finally express their disgust with Republican legislators who worry more about the mindless raving of Michele Bachmann than the expert opinion of Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman who outlined the consequences of default in Congress on Wednesday. As outlined by Bernanke, whose own Republican credentials are impeccable, the ominous storyline should not be difficult to follow even for the average politician.</p> <p>Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee that default would cast grave doubt on the value of the Treasury bond, which "is viewed as the safest and most liquid security in the world, and the notion it would become suddenly unreliable and illiquid would throw shockwaves through the entire global financial system."</p> <p>While Bachmann may disparage such warnings as "scare tactics," the threat that default portends for everyone from grandmothers depending on Social Security checks to the struggling economies of Europe and Japan is real. Indeed, its effects are already being felt.</p> <p>Where the president's mounting frustration will lead remains to be seen. What did he mean when he told the Republicans not to "call my bluff"? Although Obama, the constitutional law professor, would prefer not to invoke a controversial 14th Amendment power to overrule Congress and raise the debt by fiat, he can now cite McConnell (and many other conservatives) in his defense.      Should the Republicans in the House someday seek to impeach him over such a move, he could honestly reply that he was responding to a clear and present danger to the nation and the world -- and that the leaders of their own party in the Senate had agreed with him.</p> <p>Americans who broadly oppose default, and who overwhelmingly favor increasing taxes on the rich to avoid it, might well be persuaded by that argument.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Thu, 14 Jul 2011 20:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 666971 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Economy economy obama mcconnell boehner deficit cantor debt ceiling default Playing With Default: Republicans Are Risking Economic Disaster by Bickering Over the Debt Ceiling http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/151247/playing_with_default%3A_republicans_are_risking_economic_disaster_by_bickering_over_the_debt_ceiling <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A default on U.S. debt could drive the global economy into a recession worse than that from which we have been slowly emerging.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The current puppet play in Congress—where Republicans sponsored a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling only because they wanted to vote it down—would be funny, if only they weren’t risking economic disaster. Unfortunately they’re not joking, as they push the country closer and closer to a potentially ruinous default.</p> <p>If the showdown over debt and spending between the House majority and the White House isn’t resolved before the first week of August, the federal government will no longer be able to send out Social Security checks, run Veterans Administration hospitals, pay Medicare costs or operate the national park system, to mention just a few significant items. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed without pay, and millions of seniors would stop spending money, slamming an economy that already seems stalled.</p> <p>But the consequences of that unprecedented situation would reverberate around the world, as nearly every expert—from the top bond trader, Mohamed El-Rian, to former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan—has warned.</p> <p>Because both the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasury notes are so important to world trade and investment, a default on U.S. debt could drive the global economy into a recession worse than that from which we have been slowly emerging. The same experts have warned against the Republicans’ insistence on forcing more budget cuts before they will pass a higher debt ceiling.</p> <p>Indeed, Greenspan is so concerned with the prospect of a debt default, either now or in the future, that he had advocated increasing taxes to the same level as before the George W. Bush tax cuts. Congress must approve a higher debt ceiling, said the conservative fiscal guru—or risk catastrophe if the United States does not meet its obligations. The brinksmanship that had led to the current impasse in Washington, he told CNBC, is “an extraordinarily dangerous problem for this country.”</p> <p>Why is it so perilous for Republicans and their tea party backers to push toward default? The rating firm Moody’s, following a similar warning weeks ago from Standard &amp; Poor’s, is threatening to downgrade U.S. Treasury securities if an agreement isn’t reached within the coming month. Such a historic event would be much worse than embarrassing—and the Moody’s analysts now believe that a default is increasingly likely.</p> <p>“Although we fully expected political wrangling prior to an increase in the statutory debt limit,” said a statement issued by the ratings firm, “the degree of entrenchment into conflicting positions has exceeded expectations.”</p> <p>Political polarization over the debt limit “has increased the odds of a short-lived default,” it said, meaning that Moody’s doesn’t believe even the Republicans would permit the default to continue. But the nasty reverberations of even a brief default could last far longer, with sharply rising interest rates, crashing stock prices, a plunging dollar, and yet another blow to America’s prestige and power.</p> <p>Most economists also believe that the Republican insistence on cutting spending in a slowing recovery is simply wrong because it will reduce demand and cost jobs. The party’s congressional leaders have yet to explain how they will boost the economy by throwing yet more people off federal and contractor payrolls, which will further depress the housing market, as well.</p> <p>Remember that these are the same geniuses who opposed the auto bailout two years ago—which has now proved not only to have saved hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of jobs, but at a very low cost. Somehow they seemed to believe that Europe and China should build cars while we let our auto industry wither.</p> <p>While cutting spending and restraining the debt sound appealing, they must be done with great care. The Republican claim that there will be no harm in approaching default, or actually defaulting, is ridiculous to anyone who actually understands how markets work—and the damage they can sometimes wreak. <br />  </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Wed, 08 Jun 2011 09:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 666598 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy Economy debt ceiling default Government Shutdown: Will Reckless GOP Minority Get Its Way? http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/150472/government_shutdown%3A_will_reckless_gop_minority_get_its_way <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Republicans&#039; demands clearly have so little to do with real fiscal and economic responsibility -- and so much to do with satisfying the most extreme elements in their base.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Scarcely any news story induces sleep as swiftly and surely as congressional budget negotiations -- a topic that features politicians bickering loudly over huge dollar amounts that lack meaning for most people, while their public posturing reflects little of what is actually going on in the back channels.</p> <p>But it is also the story of a Republican minority within a minority that is getting its way because nobody else in Washington is reckless enough to promote a government shutdown.</p> <p>Reckless is the proper way to describe the Republican position, because their demands clearly have so little to do with real fiscal and economic responsibility -- and so much to do with satisfying the most extreme elements in their base.</p> <p>How much does zeroing out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or Planned Parenthood accomplish in terms of budgetary restraint for the future? Why is slashing the Environmental Protection Agency budget (at a time when the EPA is preoccupied with protecting us from Japanese radiation) promoted as a top fiscal priority? And what makes the Republicans insist that they must win those specific cuts in order to reach an overall budget agreement -- even after the Democrats have come so far toward their numbers?</p> <p>As Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has demonstrated -- with startling graphs that can be found on his organization's website at <a target="_blank" href="http://www.cbpp.org/">www.cbpp.org</a> -- the Democratic position on cutting this year's budget has shifted markedly toward meeting Republican numbers over the past several weeks.</p> <p>Since last December, when the Republicans reneged on last year's budget deal and threatened a Senate filibuster, they have kept increasing the pressure for greater cuts -- and the Democrats have repeatedly sought to reach a compromise despite their misgivings about slashing federal spending in a stalled economy.</p> <p>Indeed, at the moment, President Obama seems to be willing to accept additional cuts of $23 billion in his own proposed 2011 budget. That would mean overall cuts of $74 billion, which as Greenstein notes is precisely the amount that House Republican leaders agreed to pass in early February. But the Republicans have escalated their demands significantly over the past two months, reflecting the Tea Party slogan of "no compromise" with the president and the Democrats.</p> <p>It is safe to assume that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell want to make a budget deal, insofar as they have tried to do so over the past several months. But unlike their Democratic counterparts, the Republicans rarely stint in pushing toward their ideological goals, regardless of the potential problems that their intransigence may create. This partisan habit, developed over the past decade or so, is now putting the country's future in danger.</p> <p>In this instance, Boehner, who certainly knows better than to risk a shutdown, is being propelled by freshman members who are even more right-wing than he is (and by his ambitious second, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor). But Boehner also knows that the right flank of his party will be almost impossible to satisfy - which is why a shutdown remains a real risk.</p> <p>So how risky is shutting down the government? Mark Zandi, the respected Moody's Analytics economist who advised the McCain-Palin presidential campaign two years ago, says that closing down the government for two weeks or more could sufficiently undermine consumer confidence to send the economy back into recession. The last shutdown, during the winter of 1995, lasted for nearly three weeks.</p> <p>No doubt Zandi is right to worry -- and a shutdown might well do even more lasting damage to our economic prospects. But withdrawing tens of billions in federal dollars right now is certain to do grave harm to the economy, as well. Preventing the worst by capitulating to the tea party may be almost as damaging to the country as a shutdown itself. And of course the ideologues won't be satisfied anyway.</p> <p>To find out more about Joe <span class="il">Conason</span>, visit the Creators Syndicate website at <a target="_blank" href="http://www.creators.com/">www.creators.com</a>.</p> <p>COPYRIGHT 2011 <a target="_blank" href="http://creators.com/">CREATORS.COM</a></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Fri, 01 Apr 2011 11:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, AlterNet 665822 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy Economy republicans gop government shutdown Rep. Peter King's Anti-Muslim Hearings Revealed Just One Thing -- He's Bad at His Job http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/150202/rep._peter_king%27s_anti-muslim_hearings_revealed_just_one_thing_--_he%27s_bad_at_his_job <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The hearings had been anything more than a gross waste of taxpayers&#039; money and public attention, and a strategic blunder in the nation&#039;s counter-terrorist effort.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Despite the dubious credentials of Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., as an opponent of terrorism, owing to his years fronting for the Irish Republican Army, his controversial hearings on the "Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response" might still have proved useful. Had they included testimony from real experts, officials who are responsible for counter-terrorism and actual leaders from the Muslim community, the proceedings could have revealed fresh and important information.</p> <p>That is, after all, the traditional purpose of congressional oversight hearings such as these, which are supposed to monitor the performance of federal agencies and highlight serious problems. Predictably, however, this particular show turned out to be almost fact-free and laden with emotion -- including long and pointless speeches by Homeland Security Committee members insisting that the whole exercise was not nearly as pointless as it seemed.</p> <p>Yet it was hard to believe, in the end, that the hearings had been anything more than a gross waste of taxpayers' money and public attention -- and a strategic blunder in the nation's counter-terrorist effort.</p> <p>Figuring out how to reduce the appeal of Islamist ideology among the world's young Muslims, whether here or abroad, is a subject worthy of careful examination. Determining how best to integrate America's Muslim communities into our national life and our law enforcement systems should also be explored in ways that do not exacerbate fears or exclusion. But the tone of King's remarks leading up to the hearings did little to advance those goals -- and instead set them back.</p> <p>The obvious reason is that King himself had reached a firm conclusion about the alleged shortcomings of American Muslims much earlier -- and said so repeatedly. He accused Muslim leaders of failing to cooperate with law enforcement and of refusing to speak up for moderation and nonviolence within their own community. And he described himself as personally disillusioned with Muslims living in his district on Long Island.</p> <p>But whatever King's experiences may have been, they are scarcely relevant to the larger questions that are now his responsibility to help answer. How big a threat is "home-grown" Islamic radicalism? How are we to address it most effectively? And what should be the role of the Muslim community? Suggesting that the entire community is to blame -- and thus further alienating young Muslims from society and government -- can only make the problem worse.</p> <p>No city faces a more substantial and continuous threat from violent extremism than New York -- and no city has more successfully thwarted terrorist plots, well over a dozen so far since 9/11. The expert witness that King ought to have called is Ray Kelly, the city's police commissioner, whose attitudes and actions contrast starkly with King's.</p> <p>Over the past decade, Kelly has built a counter-terrorism capability within the NYPD that relies upon strong relationships with Muslim leaders and a growing corps of Arabic-speaking and Muslim officers. Kelly himself spends an extraordinary amount of his time in the city's ethnic communities, notably including the Arabic and Muslim communities. He is reaching out, not pushing away.</p> <p>The overwhelming majority of Muslims in America -- as King himself admits -- are law-abiding and patriotic, with no attraction to jihadist violence. Stigmatizing them and their faith may win airtime for King and draw cameras to his committee, but it does nothing to advance the security of the United States.</p> <p>So we learned little from these hearings, except perhaps for one thing: The Homeland Security chairman is not up to the profound responsibilities of his job.</p> <p>To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at <a href="http://www.creators.com/" target="_blank">www.creators.com</a>.<br /> COPYRIGHT 2011 <a href="http://creators.com/" target="_blank">CREATORS.COM</a></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Thu, 10 Mar 2011 21:00:01 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 665563 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy Economy king muslim hearings Why Are Some Pundits and Politicans Hell-Bent on Underminig Social Security, in Spite of Its Success and Strength? http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/149967/why_are_some_pundits_and_politicans_hell-bent_on_underminig_social_security%2C_in_spite_of_its_success_and_strength <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A rhetorical deception -- confusing Medicare/ Medicaid with Social Security, which is far more solvent -- is perpetrated countless times every day in nearly every media outlet.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Among the mysteries of modern politics in America is why so many of our leading pundits and politicians persistently seek to undermine Social Security, that enduring and successful emblem of active government. In the current atmosphere of budgetary panic, self-proclaimed "centrists" are joining with ideologues of the right in yet another campaign against the program -- and yet again they are misinforming the public about its purposes, costs and prospects.</p> <p>Among the puzzling aspects of the crusade against Social Security is the zeal that animates its enemies, as if the present and future recipients of those monthly checks were somehow fattening themselves at the expense of future generations. Whatever drives these well-fed but poorly informed commentators, it isn't the facts.</p> <p>First, let's remember that Social Security actually provides support at a very modest level. Last year, the average retirement benefit was $1,170 a month, or about $14,000 a year, with the average disabled worker or widow receiving slightly less. (It would be wonderfully educational for the cable talkers and newspaper editorialists to live on that amount for a few months -- they would not only lose weight but gain empathy.)</p> <p>Remember, too, that despite our status as the largest and most productive economy in the world, Social Security is among the least generous retirement programs among all the developed nations. As a percentage of the average worker's pre-retirement wages, the benefit has been declining for years and will continue to fall without any further cutbacks.</p> <p>The check that used to replace 39 percent of worklife income will replace only 31 percent by 2031. Compare that with the average wage replacement in the nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- which was roughly 61 percent last year.</p> <p>More important than those comparative statistics is the fact that the great majority of Social Security beneficiaries have no other cushion for their retirement -- not because they were lazy or improvident, but because their wages were simply too low to permit much savings, let alone investment.</p> <p>The foes of Social Security insist that they have no desire to force the elderly to eat cat food or go homeless -- as they did in the years before the program existed. But we must cut drastically, they cry, because we can simply no longer afford the "entitlements" that we have bestowed so lavishly upon the old and the poor.</p> <p>Whenever someone starts to talk about "entitlements," keep in mind that they are either trying to bamboozle or they've been bamboozled themselves. Under that category, most commentators mix up Medicaid and Medicare -- two programs that are indeed endangered by rising health care costs -- with Social Security, which will be solvent until at least 2037 and can easily be made solvent for decades to come with minor changes. This is a rhetorical deception perpetrated countless times every day in nearly every media outlet.</p> <p>The actuarial experts whose job is to monitor Social Security's fortunes have long assured us that small and gradual rises in the tax revenues that support Social Security, accompanied by small and gradual shifts in benefits over the coming years, will solve whatever fiscal challenges the program may eventually confront. There is no reason to panic, and there is certainly no reason to consider wholesale changes in benefits.</p> <p>Well, there is a reason, but only if your real aim is to destroy the system and replace it with something less useful but more profitable. Wall Street and its servants on Capitol Hill have lusted after Social Security's revenues for many years. And they regard the current uproar over the budget as a fresh opportunity to get their hands on a trillion-dollar bonanza. Given their record in recent years, it is all too easy to imagine how badly that would work out for everybody -- except them, of course.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Thu, 17 Feb 2011 13:00:01 -0800 Joe Conason, AlterNet 665347 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Economy News & Politics Media Economy The Right Wing social security Corporate Campaign Contributions Make Us All Sick - Literally! http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/140947/corporate_campaign_contributions_make_us_all_sick_-_literally%21 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Whenever Democratic politicians are confronted with this conflict between the public interest and their private fund-raising, they choose the latter.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p></p><p style="font-size: small;">If Congress fails to enact health care reform this year—or if it enacts a sham reform designed to bail out corporate medicine while excluding the “public option”—then the public will rightly blame Democrats, who have no excuse for failure except their own cowardice and corruption. The punishment inflicted by angry voters is likely to be reduced majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives—or even the restoration of Republican rule on Capitol Hill.</p><p style="font-size: small;">Many of those now talking down President Obama’s health care initiative were in Washington back in 1994 when Bill Clinton’s proposals to achieve universal coverage were killed by members of the president’s own party. The Democrats lost control of Congress that November in a historic repudiation, largely because of public disillusionment with their policy failures.</p><p style="font-size: small;">Nearly every poll now shows the American people demanding change in the health care system, with majorities favoring universal coverage and, in many surveys, a government plan that competes with private insurance. But powerful Democratic politicians, especially in the Senate, are pretending not to hear. They adopt all sorts of positions, from bluntly opposing any substantive change this year to promoting bogus alternatives. They claim to be trying to help Obama gather the votes he will need, or to assist him in attracting Republican votes. They insist that the country can’t afford universal care, or that the public option won’t pass (before debate has even begun).</p><p style="font-size: small;">Indeed, many of the most intransigent Democrats don’t bother to make actual arguments to support their position. Nor do they seem to worry that Democratic voters and the party’s main constituencies overwhelmingly support the public option and universal coverage.</p><p style="font-size: small;">Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has simply stated, through her flack, that she refuses to support a public option. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has tried to fashion a plan that will entice Republicans, warns that the public option is a step toward single-payer health care—not much of an objection to a model that serves people in every other industrialized country with lower costs and superior outcomes. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., feebly protests that her state’s mismanagement by a Republican governor must stall the progress of the rest of the country. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., says he has a better plan involving regional cooperatives, which would be unable to effectively compete with the insurance behemoths or bargain with pharmaceutical giants.</p><p style="font-size: small;">The excuses sound different, but all of these lawmakers have something in common—namely, their abject dependence on campaign contributions from the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations fighting against real reform. Consider Landrieu, a senator from a very poor state whose working-class constituents badly need universal coverage (and many of whom now depend on Medicare, a popular government program). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog outfit, she has received nearly $1.7 million from corporate medical interests, including hospitals, insurance companies, nursing homes and drug firms, during her political career.</p><p style="font-size: small;">The same kind of depressing figures can be found in the campaign filings of many of the Democrats now posing as obstacles to reform, notably including Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who has distinguished himself in the most appalling way. The Montana Standard, a news outlet in his home state, found that Baucus has received more campaign money from health and insurance industry donors than any other member of Congress. “In the past six years,” the Standard found, “nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by the Montana senator and his political-action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical-supply firms, health-service companies and other health professionals.”</p><p style="font-size: small;">Whenever Democratic politicians are confronted with this conflict between the public interest and their private fund-raising, they take offense at the implied insult. They protest, as a spokesman for Sen. Landrieu did, that they make policy decisions based on what is best for the people of their states, “not campaign contributions.” But when health reform fails, or turns into a trough for their contributors, who will believe them? And who will vote for them?</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Sat, 27 Jun 2009 03:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, Truthdig 656422 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Personal Health Personal Health lobbyists corporate democrats baucus public option The Illusion of Progress in Iraq http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/62784/the_illusion_of_progress_in_iraq <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Despite the big charts and the blustering fanfare, neither Petraeus nor Ambassador Crocker could convincingly claim that the military escalation in Iraq is achieving its goals.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Following two days of carefully staged theatrics on Capitol Hill and cable television, the essential facts about Iraq remain unchanged. Despite the big charts and the blustering fanfare highlighted by Fox News, neither Gen. David H. Petraeus nor Ambassador Ryan Crocker could convincingly claim that the American military escalation in Iraq is achieving its original goals.<br /><br />Having assured us last spring that we would learn by September whether the so-called "surge" is a success according to those benchmarks, the general and the diplomat now ask us to disregard the original measures, look elsewhere for wisps of hope, and give the Bush plan still another six months.<br /><br />By then, of course, there will not be enough troops available to continue the escalation. While Petraeus sought to portray the eventual withdrawal of several brigades as the result of "success," the truth is that the Army, Marines and National Guard will soon reach the breaking point.<br /><br />Meanwhile, our soldiers and Marines remain mired in a slow-moving civil war whose casualties can be measured not only in the dead and wounded but in the dispossessed, by the hundreds of thousands. Where the Pentagon claims that measurable violence has diminished, especially in Baghdad, the underlying reason is often that either Shia or Sunni families have been forced to flee by death squads or militias.<br /><br />Rather than confront the dismal facts on the ground, both Petraeus and Crocker predictably emphasized a more uplifting assessment from recent developments in Anbar Province. The ambassador had no choice but to confess his deep "frustration" over the Iraqi government's daily failures, yet professed to find hope in the Anbar experience and the Iraqi government's response.<br /><br />American commanders have exploited a rupture between Anbar's local Sunni tribal leaders and their former friends from al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. During the past few years, the insurgent sheiks have become increasingly disillusioned with the jihadis, many of whom are foreigners, over their proclivity for carrying off young women for forced marriages, killing young men who display insufficient zeal for Islamist extremism, and generally becoming a lethal nuisance.<br /><br />As long ago as last January, during his Senate confirmation hearings, Petraeus first noted that the tribal leaders had shifted their allegiance against al-Qaida. At the time he said, "Right now there appears to be a trend in the positive direction where sheiks are stepping up and they do want to be affiliated with and supported by the U.S. Marines and Army forces who are in Anbar Province." Open warfare between the jihadists and the sheiks happily coincided with the arrival of additional U.S. forces in Iraq over the following months. The general cleverly dispatched 4,000 of those troops to Anbar, and proceeded to take credit for a trend he knew was already under way.<br /><br />Crocker's role in the political exploitation of that coincidence was to cajole the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad into pretending to be delighted with the new alliance between the Sunni sheiks and the U.S. Army. The honest response of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his ministers to this development was closer to pure horror, and a threat to transfer his own party's loyalties even more firmly to Iran.<br /><br />Regardless of these unsettling nuances, Crocker made the very most of the Anbar situation in his House testimony on Monday. Confessing that he didn't expect the Baghdad government to fulfill the benchmarks set forth last winter as the reasons for the surge, he swiftly turned to those hopeful glimmers from west of the capital.<br /><br />"I frankly do not expect that we are going to see rapid progress through these benchmarks," admitted the ambassador. "It is important to remind ourselves that the benchmarks are not an end to themselves; they are a means to national reconciliation. And I think it is very important that we maintain a sense of tactical flexibility and encourage the Iraqis to do the same, to seize opportunities to advance national reconciliation when they arise, as we have seen in Anbar and as we have seen in the government's response to Anbar, through distributing additional budget resources to this province and bringing in its young men into security forces. So while I would certainly share disappointment that progress has been slow on legislative benchmarks, that, to my mind, does not mean there has been no progress toward reconciliation. There has been."<br /><br />In other words, we must forget about all the agreed benchmarks, gaze instead upon a contrived tableau of reconciliation in a single province, and pretend to see progress. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Mon, 17 Sep 2007 04:00:01 -0700 Joe Conason, Truthdig 641474 at http://believedwww.alternet.org War on Iraq World ForeignPolicy bush iraq surge petraeus ryan crocker oval office It Can Happen Here http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/48246/it_can_happen_here <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In light of the series of laws passed in Congress and precedents set by the Bush administration, people have good reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in America.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>The following is excerpted from Joe Conason's new book, "<a href="http://alternet.bookswelike.net/isbn/0312356056">It Can Happen Here</a>" (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007).</i><br /><br />Can it happen here? Is it happening here already? That depends, as a recent president might have said, on what the meaning of "it" is.<br /><br />To Sinclair Lewis, who sardonically titled his 1935 dystopian novel "It Can't Happen Here," "it" plainly meant an American version of the totalitarian dictatorships that had seized power in Germany and Italy. Married at the time to the pioneering reporter Dorothy Thompson, who had been expelled from Berlin by the Nazis a year earlier and quickly became one of America's most outspoken critics of fascism, Lewis was acutely aware of the domestic and foreign threats to American freedom. So often did he and Thompson discuss the crisis in Europe and the implications of Europe's fate for the Depression-wracked United States that, according to his biographer, Mark Schorer, Lewis referred to the entire topic somewhat contemptuously as "it."<br /><br />If "it" denotes the police state American-style as imagined and satirized by Lewis, complete with concentration camps, martial law, and mass executions of strikers and other dissidents, then "it" hasn't happened here and isn't likely to happen anytime soon.<br /><br />For contemporary Americans, however, "it" could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule. That is why Lewis's darkly funny but grim fable of an authoritarian coup achieved through a democratic election still resonates today -- along with all the eerie parallels between what he imagined then and what we live with now.<br /><br />For the first time since the resignation of Richard M. Nixon more than three decades ago, Americans have had reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in our own country. Today we live in a state of tension between the enjoyment of traditional freedoms, including the protections afforded to speech and person by the Bill of Rights, and the disturbing realization that those freedoms have been undermined and may be abrogated at any moment.<br /><br />Such foreboding, which would have been dismissed as paranoia not so long ago, has been intensified by the unfolding crisis of political legitimacy in the capital. George W. Bush has repeatedly asserted and exercised authority that he does not possess under the Constitution he swore to uphold. He has announced that he intends to continue exercising power according to his claim of a mandate that erases the separation and balancing of power among the branches of government, frees him from any real obligation to obey laws passed by Congress, and permits him to ignore any provisions of the Bill of Rights that may prove inconvenient.<br /><br />Whether his fellow Americans understand exactly what Bush is doing or not, his six years in office have created intense public anxiety. Much of that anxiety can be attributed to fear of terrorism, which Bush has exacerbated to suit his own purposes -- as well as to increasing concern that the world is threatened by global warming, pandemic diseases, economic insecurity, nuclear proliferation, and other perils with which this presidency cannot begin to cope.<br /><br />As the midterm election showed, more and more Americans realize that something has gone far wrong at the highest levels of government and politics -- that Washington's one-party regime had created a daily spectacle of stunning incompetence and dishonesty. Pollsters have found large majorities of voters worrying that the country is on the wrong track. At this writing, two of every three voters give that answer, and they are not just anxious but furious. Almost half are willing to endorse the censure of the president.<br /><br />Suspicion and alienation extend beyond the usual disgruntled Democrats to independents and even a significant minority of Republicans. A surprisingly large segment of the electorate is willing to contemplate the possibility of impeaching the president, unappetizing though that prospect should be to anyone who can recall the destructive impeachment of Bush's predecessor.<br /><br />The reasons for popular disenchantment with the Republican regime are well known -- from the misbegotten, horrifically mismanaged war in Iraqto the heartless mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. In both instances, growing anger over the damage done to the national interest and the loss of life and treasure has been exacerbated by evidence of bad faith -- by lies, cronyism, and corruption.<br /><br />Everyone knows -- although not everyone necessarily wishes to acknowledge -- that the Bush administration misled the American people about the true purposes and likely costs of invading Iraq. It invented a mortal threat to the nation in order to justify illegal aggression. It has repeatedly sought, from the beginning, to exploit the state of war for partisan advantage and presidential image management. It has wasted billions of dollars, and probably tens of billions, on Pentagon contractors with patronage connections to the Republican Party.<br /><br />Everyone knows, too, that the administration dissembled about the events leading up to the destruction of New Orleans. Its negligence and obliviousness in the wake of the storm were shocking, as was its attempt to conceal its errors. It has yet to explain why a person with few discernible qualifications, other than his status as a crony and business associate of his predecessor, was directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency. By elevating ethically dubious, inexperienced, and ineffectual management the administration compromised a critical agency that had functioned brilliantly during the Clinton administration.<br /><br />To date, however, we do not know the full dimensions of the scandals behind Iraq and Katrina, because the Republican leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives abdicated the traditional congressional duties of oversight and investigation. It is due to their dereliction that neither the president nor any of his associates have seemed even mildly chastened in the wake of catastrophe. With a single party monopolizing power yet evading responsibility, there was nobody with the constitutional power to hold the White House accountable.<br /><br />Bolstered by political impunity, especially in a time of war, perhaps any group of politicians would be tempted to abuse power. But this party and these politicians, unchecked by normal democratic constraints, proved to be particularly dangerous. The name for what is wrong with them -- the threat embedded within the Bush administration, the Republican congressional leadership, and the current leaders of the Republican Party -- is authoritarianism.<br /><br />The most obvious symptoms can be observed in the regime's style, which features an almost casual contempt for democratic and lawful norms; an expanding appetite for executive control at the expense of constitutional balances; a reckless impulse to corrupt national institutions with partisan ideology; and an ugly tendency to smear dissent as disloyalty. The most troubling effects are matters of substance, including the suspension of traditional legal rights for certain citizens; the imposition of secrecy and the inhibition of the free flow of information; the extension of domestic spying without legal sanction or warrant; the promotion of torture and other barbaric practices, in defiance of American and international law; and the collusion of government and party with corporate interests and religious fundamentalists.<br /><br />What worries many Americans even more is that the authoritarians can excuse their excesses as the necessary response to an enemy that every American knows to be real. For the past five years, the Republican leadership has argued that the attacks of September 11, 2001 -- and the continuing threat from jihadist groups such as al Qaeda -- demand permanent changes in American government, society, and foreign policy. Are those changes essential to preserve our survival -- or merely useful for unscrupulous politicians who still hope to achieve permanent domination by their own narrowly ideological party? Not only liberals and leftists, but centrists, libertarians, and conservatives, of every party and no party, have come to distrust the answers given by those in power.<br /><br />The most salient dissent to be heard in recent years, and especially since Bush's reelection in 2004, has been voiced not by the liberals and moderates who never trusted the Republican leadership, but by conservatives who once did.<br /><br />Former Republican congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, who served as one of the managers of the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives, has joined the American Civil Liberties Union he once detested. In the measures taken by the Bush administration and approved by his former colleagues, Barr sees the potential for "a totalitarian type regime."<br /><br />Paul Craig Roberts, a longtime contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a former Treasury official under Reagan, perceives the "main components of a police state" in the Bush administration's declaration of plenary powers to deny fundamental rights to suspected terrorists. Bruce Fein, who served as associate attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department, believes that the Bush White House is "a clear and present danger to the rule of law," and that the president "cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses." Syndicated columnist George Will accuses the administration of pursuing a "monarchical doctrine" in its assertion of extraordinary war powers.<br /><br />In the 2006 midterm election, disenchanted conservatives joined with liberals and centrists to deliver a stinging rebuke to the regime by overturning Republican domination in both houses of Congress. For the first time since 1994, Democrats control the Senate and the House of Representatives. But the Democratic majority in the upper chamber is as narrow as possible, depending on the whims of Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a Republican-leaning Democrat elected on an independent ballot line, who has supported the White House on the occupation of Iraq, abuse of prisoners of war, domestic spying, the suspension of habeas corpus, military tribunals, far-right judicial nominations, and other critical constitutional issues. Nor is Lieberman alone among the Senate Democrats in his supine acquiescence to the abuses of the White House.<br /><br />Even if the Democrats had won a stronger majority in the Senate, it would be naive to expect that a single election victory could mend the damage inflicted on America's constitutional fabric during the past six years. While the Bush administration has enjoyed an extraordinary immunity from Congressional oversight until now, the deepest implication of its actions and statements, as explored in the pages that follow, is that neither legislators nor courts can thwart the will of the unitary executive. When Congress challenges that presidential claim, as inevitably it will, then what seems almost certain to follow is not "bipartisanship" but confrontation. The election of 2006 was not an end but another beginning.<br /><br />The question that we face in the era of terror alerts, religious fundamentalism, and endless warfare is whether we are still the brave nation preserved and rebuilt by the generation of Sinclair Lewis -- or whether our courage, and our luck, have finally run out. America is not yet on the verge of fascism, but democracy is again in danger. The striking resemblance between Buzz Windrip [the demagogic villain of Lewis's novel] and George W. Bush and the similarity of the political forces behind them is more than a literary curiosity. It is a warning on yellowed pages from those to whom we owe everything.<br /><br /><i>From "<a href="http://alternet.bookswelike.net/isbn/0312356056">It Can Happen Here</a>" by Joe Conason. Copyright (c) 2007 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press.</i> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Joe Conason is a columnist for the <i>New York Observer</i> and <i>Salon</i> and author of <i><a href="http://alternet.bookswelike.net/isbn/0312356056">It Can Happen Here</a></i> (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007). </div></div></div> Thu, 22 Feb 2007 21:00:01 -0800 Joe Conason, Thomas Dunne Books 638315 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties democracy united states totalitarian dictatorship Ashcroft&#146;s Failures Deserve a Hearing http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/13380/ashcroft%26%23146%3Bs_failures_deserve_a_hearing <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Ashcroft has rewarded his own errors with greatly expanded power to conduct surveillance on the rest of us. (Visit the &lt;a href=&quot;http://www.extremeashcroft.com&quot; target=&quot;_alternet&quot;&gt;Extreme Ashcroft&lt;/a&gt; Web site and let your feelings be known!)</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->There may come a time to boot Robert Mueller III as F.B.I. director, if Congressional and other investigations eventually prove that his removal is warranted. For now, he is in the difficult position of both defending and reforming an agency left in exceptionally poor condition by Louis Freeh, the former director whose amazing immunity from public criticism soon seems likely to end. Although the current director is responsible for the bureaucratic butt-covering since last September’s disaster, he doesn’t deserve blame for the interagency bungling that occurred before his watch began.<br /><br />Yet in Washington’s ritualistic bloodletting style, Mr. Mueller is plainly being set up for sacrifice. The Wall Street Journal editorial page calls upon him to resign; right-wing pundit Robert Novak reports that "he is becoming a candidate for the first head to roll." This is premature and patently unfair--and ill-advised at a time when national law enforcement is already in turmoil.<br /><br />Mr. Mueller may well deserve harsh scrutiny, but there are other Bush appointees who merit such scrutiny even more, and who should likewise be interrogated sharply by Congress and the press. At the top of the list is Mr. Mueller’s immediate superior, Attorney General John Ashcroft, who may well be the single most culpable official still in government.<br /><br />The very least that can be said for Mr. Freeh, after all, is that like other Clinton administration officials held over to serve the new President, he demonstrated deep concern about a probable terrorist attack on American soil. According to most accounts of the months and years preceding Sept. 11, those other worriers included C.I.A. director George Tenet and counterterrorist chief Richard Clarke, whose warnings created no sense of urgency as the White House pursued such irrelevant obsessions as missile defense.<br /><br />From what we know of Mr. Ashcroft’s conduct since he assumed office last year, he shrugged off the terrorist threat in favor of his own small-time agenda. He wanted to prosecute people in California who provide marijuana to cancer patients. He wanted to prosecute doctors in Oregon who assist the suicides of terminally ill patients. He wanted to prosecute pornographers.<br /><br />No doubt he wanted to stop terrorists, too, but that particular item got priority only when he appeared before Congress or made speeches--not when he allocated funds or issued directives within the Justice Department. He can’t say he wasn’t warned. As Newsweek reported two weeks ago, Mr. Freeh tried to convince him that additional resources and action were needed to fight terrorism during a conference at the F.B.I. facility in Quantico, Va., but Mr. Ashcroft brushed him off.<br /><br />Those who are now demanding the head of Mr. Mueller should go back and reread The New York Times’ stunning Feb. 28 story about Mr. Ashcroft’s first budget, which was submitted to the White House the day before the Twin Towers fell. (At that point, the F.B.I. director had been in office for less than a week.)<br /><br />As of Sept. 10, 2001, the Attorney General’s final budget request for the coming fiscal year asked to increase spending on 68 programs, "none of which directly involved counterterrorism." He had rejected the F.B.I.’s request for funding to hire hundreds of new field agents, translators and intelligence analysts to improve the bureau’s capacity to detect foreign terror threats. Moreover, among his proposed cuts was a reduction of $65 million in a Clinton program that made grants to state and local authorities for radios, decontamination garb and other counterterror preparedness measures.<br /><br />A former F.B.I. official told The Times back in February that it was Mr. Ashcroft’s attitude that "really undermined a lot of effort to change the culture and change the mindset" of the bureau. It should be recalled, too, that during the crucial months leading up to the Al Qaeda attack, Mr. Freeh had quit and Mr. Mueller had not yet arrived. In a real sense, Mr. Ashcroft was in charge of domestic security while warnings were ignored or misplaced and opportunities to prevent tragedy were lost.<br /><br />Now the Attorney General has rewarded his own errors, and those of the agencies under his command, with greatly expanded power to conduct surveillance on the rest of us. Although there’s no reason to believe that the 1976 restrictions on domestic political spying hindered the apprehension of the Al Qaeda killers, such curtailments of civil liberty are what Mr. Ashcroft prescribes for the problem he formerly ignored. In a bureaucracy that was already inundated with information that couldn’t be sorted into the categories of useful and useless, he proposes to collect still more.<br /><br />Last year, Mr. Ashcroft challenged the patriotism of anyone who dared question his incursions on traditional freedoms, and his critics quickly backed down. Now it is he who should be challenged, to explain his past approach to terrorism and to justify his present assaults on liberty. And he should not be allowed to hide his answers behind closed doors. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Wed, 12 Jun 2002 21:00:00 -0700 Joe Conason, New York Observer 596970 at http://believedwww.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties The Rigged Missile Defense Test http://believedwww.alternet.org/story/11258/the_rigged_missile_defense_test <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The target destroyed in the &quot;successful&quot; defense shield test contained a satellite beacon that made it easier to detect. Why has the media mostly ignored the story?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->The Pentagon and the Bush administration are determined to sell the American people a national missile defense system that will probably increase tensions with allies and adversaries and will surely cost more than $100 billion. Their latest marketing exercise took place on the evening of July 14, when a "kill vehicle" launched from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific smashed into a rocket sent up from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.<br /><br />Precisely according to plan, the target was instantly vaporized on impact -- and along with it, or so the Pentagon's uniformed salesmen hoped, the perennial concern that missile defense won't work. With the cooperation of major news organizations and conservative pundits, that test provided an enormous propaganda boost to the Bush proposal, which conveniently enough had been brought up to Capitol Hill by Defense Department officials just two days earlier.<br /><br />There was only one thing that all the happy salesmen forgot to mention about their latest test drive. The rocket fired from Vandenberg was carrying a global positioning satellite beacon that guided the kill vehicle toward it. In other words, it would be fair to say that the $100 million test was rigged.<br /><br />No wonder, then, that Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, the Air Force officer who oversees the NMD program, told the Washington Post on the eve of the test that he was "quietly confident" about the outcome. The general knew about the GPS beacon, while the reporters didn't.<br /><br />This rather significant aspect of the July 14 mission remained hidden in the fine print until a few days ago, when the Pentagon confirmed the role of the GPS device to a reporter for Defense Week magazine. But of course most Americans still don't know why the test functioned so smoothly, because the Defense Week scoop was either buried or ignored by the mainstream media, which had so obediently celebrated the technological breakthrough two weeks earlier.<br /><br />And as Kadish later acknowledged, each of the previous three tests -- two of which failed anyway -- had also involved the use of a guidance beacon. (To longtime observers of the missile-defense effort, this latest news recalled the notorious "Star Wars" scandal, when investigators discovered that a target had been secretly heated to ensure that it would be picked up by the interceptor's infrared sensor.)<br /><br />Reuters was among the few news organizations that bothered to cover the Defense Week story. The wire service quoted a Pentagon official who "conceded that real warheads in an attack would not carry such helpful beacons." Probably not, although we can always hope that the Iranians or the North Koreans or the Chinese will attach to each incoming nuke a loudspeaker that screams "come and get me!"<br /><br />Unfortunately, weapons experts agree that even the most primitive enemy missiles are more likely to carry a very different kind of accessory, namely, decoys designed to fool the computerized sensors aboard the kill vehicle.<br /><br />While the missile launched from Vandenberg on July 14 did spit out a single Mylar balloon as a symbolic decoy, that scarcely challenged the kill vehicle's capacity to select the correct target -- particularly because there was no GPS beacon on that shiny balloon. In real warfare, an incoming missile is expected to deploy multiple decoys of varying shapes and sizes to lure the kill vehicle astray. Past tests have indicated that these simple fakes work far more reliably than the complex technology designed to detect them.<br /><br />Eventually, the truth about the inherent problems of national missile defense may emerge in congressional hearings. But meanwhile, the Pentagon and the Bush White House mean to stifle any dissent about the capabilities of their favorite toy. They have repeatedly sought to reclassify documents that show that the system doesn't function as advertised. And within the past few weeks, they have blatantly attempted to intimidate Theodore Postol, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is the country's leading critic of missile defense.<br /><br />In early July, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Defense Department officials asked MIT to confiscate the reclassified report from Postol and to "investigate [his] actions." At first MIT president Charles Vest, no doubt worried about millions of dollars in defense research grants to his university, moved to comply with that request. Only when Postol protested publicly did MIT back down.<br /><br />Bogus tests and bullied critics are the hallmarks of a defense establishment that fears facts. With billions in contracts at stake and bellicose ideologues in power, the salesmen for national missile defense must conceal the many defects in their dangerous product. And the press corps, reverting to the bad habits of the Cold War, has done little so far to penetrate the Pentagon's propaganda.<br /><br />So when the next "successful" missile-defense test is announced with fanfare and fireworks, don't necessarily believe what you hear. You are the buyers targeted by this massive sales effort -- and you should most certainly beware.<br /><br /><i>Joe Conason writes about political issues for Salon, where this article originally appeared.</i> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Mon, 30 Jul 2001 21:00:00 -0700 Joe Conason, Salon 587955 at http://believedwww.alternet.org News & Politics