Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Who the N.R.A. Really Speaks For


AN angry and exasperated President Obama, speaking to the nation last Thursday after the slaughter in Roseburg, Ore., made one oblique reference to the National Rifle Association, asking gun owners to question whether their “views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.”

It’s a fair question, and not only because the N.R.A. has single-handedly dictated the shape of the debate over guns for decades. Whether they own guns or not, Americans should understand the outsize role the N.R.A. plays, not only in thwarting sensible gun safety laws but also in undermining law enforcement by abetting gun traffickers, criminal gun dealers and criminal gun users.

The N.R.A., which claims some 4.5 million members, often professes to speak for all gun owners — hunters, sportsmen, collectors and ordinary Americans who keep guns for self-defense. But on some issues, most gun owners clearly reject the party line.

In 2012, the Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 87 percent of gun owners supported criminal background or “Brady” checks for all gun purchases. Following the December 2012 massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., another poll showed that 92 percent of Americans supported background checks for all buyers, including those buying on the Internet and at gun shows.

But by April 2013, when the Senate considered a bill to do just that, the N.R.A. campaign to defeat it was in full swing. The N.R.A. tagged the bill as a top priority and made clear that senators who opposed it risked receiving a low N.R.A. rating, which many of its single-issue supporters use in deciding how to vote, or a flood of negative television ads.

Licensed gun dealers slated to run the new background checks would have reaped millions, as thousands of new customers would have been sent to their stores. But like many members of Congress — who cower in fear of the ratings system and negative campaign advertising — the dealers knew not to cross the N.R.A. So the measure went down, with opponents arguing that criminals don’t bother submitting to background checks.

(More here.)

Ted Cruz, Outsider?

By Andrew Rosenthal, NYT
October 5, 2015 2:20 pm

Presidential candidates’ strategies can sometimes be hard to understand, especially when those candidates are not exactly killing it in the polls.

Take Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. According to The Hill, his campaign is currently running on two big ideas (to use that term rather loosely). One is that Mr. Cruz does not actually want to be leading right now. The other is that, despite his membership in the most insider elite group imaginable, the United States Senate, Mr. Cruz is an outsider to Washington.

This is the year, of course, in which pretty much everyone running for the Republican presidential nomination wants to act like an outsider, under the theory that the best thing the country can do right now is to elect a president without any political experience.

Mr. Cruz and his team, according to a spokesman, Rick Tyler, “don’t want to break out” of the pack of Republican candidates right now, which is lucky, since that does not seem to be happening anyway. Offering a garbled comparison between the presidential race and the college basketball March Madness brackets, Mr. Tyler said, “We are moving slow and steady.”

(More here.)

Dick Meyer: Maybe the ‘crazies’ in the House GOP really are crazy

By Dick Meyer, Scripps
Posted: Oct. 03, 2015

Michael Needham is delighted to see John Boehner's back.

Needham is the CEO of Heritage Action for America, the political operations wing of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative Washington think tank.

The Sunday after Speaker Boehner zippity-doo-dah'ed his way out of town, Needham went on Fox News to gloat. He didn't appreciate that Boehner and his ilk called the party's far-right flank a bunch of "crazies." Needham thinks the tea party gang is the party's "base."

"Nancy Pelosi does not talk about her base that way," Needham said. "Barack Obama doesn't think about his base that way."

What a great point! Needham is absolutely right.

John McCain calls the tea party crowd in Congress "wacko birds." Republicans have referred to them as "wing nuts" for years. Boehner called wing-nut poster boy Ted Cruz a "jackass."

Democrats don't call their comrades on the "loony left" names — anymore.

There is, though, another perspective.

Maybe we should take more seriously the claim that the wing nuts really are a bunch of crazies, just like the GOP establishment, sometimes, says they are. Maybe Boehner's fatal error wasn't that he called them mean names, but that he tried to co-opt and negotiate with them. By definition, you really can't deal rationally with crazies.

Depending on how you define your terms, you can make a solid case that, en masse, the tea party wing is politically crazy. Crazy has meanings other than insane. The word came into English from the root "craze," an import from old German that meant "full of cracks or flaws," which actually remains the first definition of "crazy" listed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Crazy as insane came later.

So what would constitute being politically crazy — "full of cracks or flaws," not mentally ill? Here's a simple formula: believing and promoting things that are demonstrably false (or the reverse, denying things that are demonstrably true).

(More here.)

What's your answer, NRA?

Four Facts About Gun Violence That Will Alarm You, Surprise You, and Make You Think

Posted by Ross Pomeroy

The tragically large amount of gun violence in the United States grants researchers a plethora of data to dig into. As a small community in Oregon recovers from yet another mass shooting in the United States, already the 294th this year, let's review a few of scientists' findings about mass shootings and gun violence.

1. Mass shootings may be "contagious." (…)

2. The U.S. firmly leads the developed world in firearm deaths. (…)

3. Survivors of mass shootings are prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (…)

4. Strict gun control laws worked wonders in Australia. (…)

(The entire article is here.)

Russia and Saudi Arabia to Continue Pumping Oil

World’s two biggest oil producers indicate that they won’t crimp production despite price falls

By Georgi Kantchev and Summer Said, WSJ
Updated Oct. 2, 2015 8:42 p.m. ET

Russia and Saudi Arabia—the world’s two biggest oil producers—indicated Friday they weren’t pulling back from huge crude output levels that have helped send prices tumbling.

Russia said it produced oil in September at levels not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union, pumping an average of 10.74 million barrels a day, government data showed on Friday. Oil production increased 0.4% from August.

On the same day, one of the world’s most influential oil ministers—Saudi Arabia’s Ali al-Naimi—said his country would continue investing in oil and gas, saying his country remained committed to energy resource development, according to a Saudi Press Agency report. The world’s largest exporter has ramped up production above 10 million barrels a day for the past few months.

(More here.)

Monday, October 05, 2015

Right To Die Becomes Law In California

Terminally ill Californians can now take their lives into their own hands

Mollie Reilly Deputy Politics Editor, The Huffington Post
Posted: 10/05/2015 03:36 PM EDT

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed California's right-to-die bill into law Monday, allowing terminally ill residents of the nation's most populous state to end their own lives with the aid of their physician.

"The crux of the matter is whether the State of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, no matter how great his pain or suffering," Brown said in a signing statement. "In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death."

Brown continued, "I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn't deny that right to others."

California's End of Life Option Act passed in the state Senate and Assembly last month, marking a huge victory for the "death with dignity" movement. The law will allow terminally ill patients to seek medical aid in ending their lives as long as they have been given six months or less to live by two doctors, provided a written request and two oral requests at least 15 days apart and are deemed mentally capable of making decisions about their own health.

Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have also legalized the practice, while aid-in-dying is currently in dispute in New Mexico's courts.

(More here.)

Enemies of the Sun

Paul Krugman, NYT
OCT. 5, 2015

Does anyone remember the Cheney energy task force? Early in the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney released a report that was widely derided as a document written by and for Big Energy — because it was. The administration fought tooth and nail to keep the process by which the report was produced secret, but the list of people the task force met was eventually leaked, and it was exactly what you’d expect: a who’s who of energy industry executives, with environmental groups getting a chance to make their case only after the work was essentially done.

But here’s the thing: by the standards of today’s Republican Party, the Cheney report was enlightened, even left-leaning. One whole chapter was devoted to conservation, another to renewable energy. By contrast, recent speeches by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — still the most likely Republican presidential nominees — barely address either topic. When it comes to energy policy, the G.O.P. has become fossilized. That is, it’s fossil fuels, and only fossil fuels, all the way.

And that’s a remarkable development, because while it’s true that fracking has led to a boom in U.S. gas and oil production, we’re also living in an era of spectacular progress in wind and solar energy. Why has the right become so hostile to technologies that look more and more like the wave of the future?

Before I try to answer that question, a few facts about renewable energy.

Wind and solar used to have a reputation as hippie-dippy stuff, not part of any serious approach to our energy future, and many people still have that perception. But it’s way out of date. The cost of wind power has dropped sharply – 30 percent in just the past five years, according to the International Energy Agency.

(More here.)

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The ‘open secret’ of abused Hmong child brides goes public in Minnesota lawsuit

By Yanan Wang September 28, WashPost

Everyone knows about these men, but few dare speak out against them, least of all the women who have been harmed. Those who do are swiftly admonished for questioning “the way things have always been” — or worse, confronted with physical retaliation and separated from their families. Death threats are not unusual.

Having grown up among the Hmong in St. Paul, it was in the early 2000s that Sia Her began noticing adolescent girls on the arms of Hmong American men who were 20, 30, sometimes even 40 years their senior. She saw these couples walking around in the community’s market places, where DVDs containing suggestive photos of young Hmong women are sold by the thousands. Though she heard through the grapevine that many of these young wives suffered abuse, Her said, they rarely spoke openly about their experiences.

Now, one Hmong woman is refusing to stay quiet about her allegations. In an unprecedented federal lawsuit first reported by the Star Tribune, Panyia Vang, 22, is seeking $450,000 from the American citizen who allegedly raped and impregnated her before binding her to a traditional Hmong marriage. She has gone fully public, name and all, in the suit, which was originally filed in 2012. And her lawyer, who is now seeking a summary judgement in Vang’s favor, agreed to the use of her name in The Washington Post, which ordinarily does not identify victims of alleged sexual abuse.

When a 14-year-old Vang received an invitation to go to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, she believed she was auditioning for a music video.

(More here.)

Bernie Sanders’s $26 million cash haul is a major problem for Hillary Clinton

By Chris Cillizza October 1, WashPost

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton technically beat Bernie Sanders by $2 million in the chase for campaign cash over the past three months. But that isn't the story — not even close.

Clinton held 58 fundraising events to raise her total; Sanders held seven. As of the end of September, Sanders had brought in 1.3 million total donations from 650,000 individuals since he began running. Clinton's campaign did not release how many total donors she has. And Sanders ended September with $25 million in the bank; Clinton did not release how much money her campaign had on hand.

Read between the lines, and you get this: Sanders is drawing huge amounts of small-dollar donations via the Web. That means two important things: (1) Sanders has been able to concentrate on meeting and greeting potential voters rather than spending his time courting donors, and (2) He has been able to conserve money because he isn't spending cash on lavish events for donors.
Sanders fundraising is remarkable. The # to keep an eye on now is cash on hand. Very possible he has more than HRC. https://t.co/4UxdsLmMda — David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) October 1, 2015
(More here.)

My View: GOP Outrage Machine should look inward

(Note: The following was drafted and submitted before Kevin McCarthy confirmed that the Benghazi hearings were intended to weaken Hillary Clinton.)

by Tom Maertens
Mankato Free Press
Posted: Sunday, October 4, 2015 6:00 am

The Republican Outrage Machine is at it again, feigning high dudgeon over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

If principles were involved, they would have protested over Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Scott Walker using private email servers while in office, as did former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

They would also have investigated the 88 Bush administration officials who used a private email server at the Republican National Committee for official executive branch communications, according to TIME magazine — a violation of the Presidential Records Act.

Karl Rove sent or received 140,000 emails outside of the government system, including emails reportedly ordering the attorney general to fire eight U.S. attorneys for failing to investigate Democrats as ordered.

AP reported that as many as 22 million emails were deleted from the RNC server, which the Bush Administration acknowledged in April 2007. Remember the outrage? No?

Instead, the outrage is over 50,000 personal emails Hillary Clinton said she deleted. Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing in early September, according to Buzzfeed and The Washington Times, that there was “no question” Clinton had the authority to erase messages she thought were personal.

Further, State Department spokesman John Kirby said of Clinton’s private server on CNN, “there was no policy prohibiting the use of a private email account here at the State Department, and that is still a fact.” Law enforcement officials told The New York Times last month that there is no evidence that Hillary Clinton broke the law.

As Fox’s Geraldo Rivera said, “(Clinton’s emails) will be a fake scandal” just “like the fake stand down order in Benghazi.” He could have added that they are part of a pattern, along with the fake Whitewater scandal(s), concocted to discredit the Clintons.

Seven congressional committees and a State Department review board have investigated the 2012 Benghazi attack in which four Americans died, an event Dick Cheney has asserted was the worst disaster in his lifetime. He’s got a selective memory: The attacks of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq happened on his watch. Moreover, Politifact found a total of 39 attacks or attempted attacks on U.S. embassies under George W. Bush, resulting in 87 deaths. There were no investigations.

Both the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the State Department review concluded that there was no “stand down” order for Benghazi rescue forces, according to the Washington Post.

Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy has nonetheless announced that the ninth Benghazi investigation will continue into 2016, despite having gone three months with no hearings, and — according to The Observer — without making any document requests for six months, twelve months in the case of the Pentagon.

Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, once said, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.” That’s the approach used against the Clintons, starting with Whitewater and extending to Benghazi and the private email server.

Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater special prosecutor was not investigating a crime but the Clintons personally. The hunt employed 78 FBI agents and 57 other outside investigators and assistant prosecutors, according to the Washington Post.

What started as the investigation into a dirt-road real estate development in Arkansas ended up consuming six years and $70 million, according to Salon, as Starr pursued the Clintons from one fabricated scandal to another, “travelgate,” “troopergate,” and “filegate,” among them.

Gene Lyons and Joe Conason (The Hunting of the President) documented 17 Republican-instigated investigations of the Clintons by the Congress and Starr.

Samuel Dash, a Watergate prosecutor and then Starr’s counselor in the Office of the Independent Counsel, was quoted by Sidney Blumenthal in “The Clinton Wars,” as saying Starr could have completed his investigation of all the “pseudo-scandals” in two years, because “they had nothing. Zero plus zero plus zero equals zero.”

As Dash predicted, Starr couldn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing by the Clintons in the Whitewater land deal so he investigated Bill Clinton’s sex life instead: that was the sole subject of the “Starr Report,” which recommended impeaching Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Recently Gowdy has taken to fulminating in the media about Clinton’s private emails; this is a sure sign Benghazi is a dry hole.

Yet the Outrage Machine cites the fabricated charges and fake scandals as evidence of Hillary Clinton’s failures. The real outrage here is the extent to which Republicans are willing to misuse government oversight machinery to destroy opponents.

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counterterrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11.

(Original here.)

The Reign of Recycling

OCT. 3, 2015

IF you live in the United States, you probably do some form of recycling. It’s likely that you separate paper from plastic and glass and metal. You rinse the bottles and cans, and you might put food scraps in a container destined for a composting facility. As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it? Are you in fact wasting your time?

In 1996, I wrote a long article for The New York Times Magazine arguing that the recycling process as we carried it out was wasteful. I presented plenty of evidence that recycling was costly and ineffectual, but its defenders said that it was unfair to rush to judgment. Noting that the modern recycling movement had really just begun just a few years earlier, they predicted it would flourish as the industry matured and the public learned how to recycle properly.

So, what’s happened since then? While it’s true that the recycling message has reached more people than ever, when it comes to the bottom line, both economically and environmentally, not much has changed at all.

Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it’s still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill. Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas. The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies. The mood is so gloomy that one industry veteran tried to cheer up her colleagues this summer with an article in a trade journal titled, “Recycling Is Not Dead!”

(More here.)

Spoils for the rulers, terror for the ruled

Life in the ‘Islamic State’

By Kevin Sullivan | Photos by Charles Ommanney, WashPost
October 1, 2015

The white vans come out at dinnertime, bringing hot meals to unmarried Islamic State fighters in the city of Hit in western Iraq.

A team of foreign women, who moved from Europe and throughout the Arab world to join the Islamic State, work in communal kitchens to cook the fighters’ dinners, which are delivered to homes confiscated from people who fled or were killed, according to the city’s former mayor.

The Islamic State has drawn tens of thousands of people from around the world by promising paradise in the Muslim homeland it has established on conquered territory in Syria and Iraq.

But in reality, the militants have created a brutal, two-tiered society, where daily life is starkly different for the occupiers and the occupied, according to interviews with more than three dozen people who are now living in, or have recently fled, the Islamic State.

Foreign fighters and their families are provided free housing, medical care, religious education and even a sort of militant meals-on-wheels service, according to those interviewed. The militants are paid salaries raised largely from taxes and fees levied on the millions of people they control, in an arc of land as big as the United Kingdom.

Those whose cities and towns are held by the Islamic State said they face not only the casual savagery of militants who behead their enemies and make sex slaves out of some minority women but also severe shortages of the basics of daily life.

Many residents have electricity for only an hour or two a day, and some homes go days without running water. Jobs are scarce, so many people can’t afford food prices that have tripled or more. Medical care is poor, most schools are closed, and bans on most travel outside the Islamic State are enforced at gunpoint.

(More here.)

Guns, Campuses and Madness

Frank Bruni, NYT
OCT. 3, 2015

Austin, Tex. — I’M not sure if this meets the exact definition of irony, but it definitely meets the exact definition of insanity:

Across the country, there’s so much concern for college students’ emotional safety that some schools add “trigger warnings” to novels and other texts. But in Texas, there’s so little concern for college students’ physical safety that concealed firearms will be permitted in classrooms at public universities like the state flagship here.

This wasn’t the doing or desire of administrators and faculty at the University of Texas — most of whom, it seems, are horrified — but of conservative Texas lawmakers on a tireless mission to loosen gun restrictions whenever, however and wherever they can.

To be or not to be armed in Shakespeare class? Your choice!

Guns in dorms? Just the ticket for a good night’s sleep!

It gets better, by which I mean more surreal: The law, which was passed four months ago, will take effect on Aug. 1, 2016. That’s 50 years to the day since one of the first and most infamous mass shootings at an American school, the beginning of a bloody tape loop. It happened right here, at the University of Texas at Austin, where an engineering student climbed to the top of the iconic tower in the center of campus and, for an agonizing hour and a half, sprayed the surrounding area with bullets, killing 14 people and injuring more than 30.

(More here.)

Syria's civil war: a brief history

Updated by Zack Beauchamp on October 2, 2015, 10:09 a.m. ET Vox

On the last day of September, Russia officially began bombing targets in Syria. It said it was bombing ISIS — but it was really targeting opposition groups that are fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime (incidentally, they're also fighting ISIS).

This has come after a month in which Syria's war, raging since 2011, was at the center of global attention. The war has included the crisis of 4 million refugees, symbolized by Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed up on the shores of Turkey in early September after his family attempted to make their way to Europe.

The roots of the Syrian civil war go back years before fighting began in 2011. Since it broke out, it has gone through several dramatic changes, each of which has made the geopolitics surrounding the conflict more fraught — and life worse for the Syrian civilians who suffer most.

So what follows is a (relatively brief) guide to the events of the Syrian war, as well as the events that presaged it. The war has killed at least 250,000 and forced over half of the population from its homes, and is still raging. It helps to start the timeline well before 2011, going back to the country's postcolonial roots and the 1976 fighting that one scholar calls the "first round" of today's war.

(More here.)

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Oregon shooting: eight ways to stop gun massacres in the US

Alan Yuhas asks what gun control proposals could be passed in the United States today and what is stopping them being enacted into law

Saturday 3 October 2015 10.13 EDT, The Guardian

The gunman who murdered nine people at an Oregon campus this week had 13 firearms, all of which were purchased legally by shooter Chris Harper Mercer or a member of his family in the last three years.

“This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America,” Barack Obama said in response to the Roseburg shooting on Thursday. “Each time this happens, I am going to say that we can actually do something about it but we’re going to have to change our laws,” the president said.

As the country mourns the lives lost, the gun control questions take center stage again. What gun control proposals could realistically be passed in the United States today, what is stopping them being enacted into law, and what effect it would have on gun violence if they were to be approved? Here are eight possibilities.

1. Close loopholes in background checks for gun sales

The proposal: Close loopholes that allow felons, perpetrators of domestic abuse, or people with a history of dangerous mental illness to purchase weapons.

Currently, federal law includes several loopholes which gun dealers can use to make legal sales without carrying out the due diligence of a background check on the person buying a gun.

(More here.)

How to Defeat Religious Violence

Islamic State’s creed embodies evil in the name of a sacred cause. To defeat it, we must recover the values that can bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together.

By Jonathan Sacks, WSJ
Oct. 2, 2015 11:04 a.m. ET

The West was caught unprepared by the rise of Islamic State, as it was a decade and a half ago by the attacks of al Qaeda and as the Soviet Union was by the determination of the mujahedeen of Afghanistan in the 1980s. These are among the worst failures of political intelligence in modern times, and the consequences have been disastrous.

The unpreparedness was not accidental. It happened because of a blind spot in the secular mind: the inability to see the elemental, world-shaking power of religion when hijacked by politics. Ever since the rise of modern science, intellectuals have been convinced that faith is in intensive care, about to die or at least rendered harmless by exclusion from the public square.

But not all regions of the world have gone through this process. Not all religions have allowed themselves to be excluded from the public square. And when secular revolutions fail, we should know by now that we can expect religious counterrevolutions.

Religion has lately demanded our attention not as a still, small voice but as a whirlwind. If Isaiah’s prophecy that nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares” is to be fulfilled, then the essential task now is to think through the connection between religion and violence.

(More here.)

Path to Speaker’s Gavel Winds Through Gantlet of Far Right’s Demands

OCT. 2, 2015

WASHINGTON — Just a week ago, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California seemed to have a lock on the job that Speaker John A. Boehner said he would relinquish at the end of October.

But now, Mr. McCarthy is facing challenges from his Republican colleagues on two fronts. Many were sharply critical of his suggestion this week that a congressional committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, was politically motivated, and there is deep skepticism among far-right lawmakers who helped unseat Mr. Boehner and wonder if Mr. McCarthy is different enough.

Two other House Republicans, Daniel Webster of Florida and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, are challenging him.

“I do believe that the opportunity to present a principle-based, member-driven process has increased,” said Mr. Webster, who held top leadership positions in the Florida Legislature. “The more opportunities I have to present these ideas, the better off I will be.”

The sudden turn of events underscored the fissures in the Republican House conference, as well as the pressure of outside groups and conservative voters in heavily gerrymandered districts who are fed up with long-serving leaders in Washington.

(More here.)

Friday, October 02, 2015

Vladimir Putin Plunges Into a Caldron: Saving Assad

OCT. 1, 2015

BEIRUT, Lebanon — After two days of attacks directed exclusively against insurgents opposed to the Syrian government, there is little question that Russia is determined to re-establish President Bashar al-Assad as Syria’s leader.

“Russia’s goal is to defend Assad; whoever is against him is a destabilizing factor,” said Aleksei Makarkin, the deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies, in Moscow. “Russia wants Assad to get engaged in a political settlement from a position of strength.”

Yet to restore Mr. Assad to full control of Syria or, for that matter, to stitch Syria back together without putting troops on the ground, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will have to accomplish what no other outside power has dared attempt.

Mr. Putin can achieve a number of short-term goals. By inserting Russian military forces directly into the Syrian battlefield he can seize the initiative from Mr. Assad’s opponents and severely limit the options of the United States and its allies, not to speak of embarrassing President Obama — always a consideration for Mr. Putin.

(More here.)

Voodoo Never Dies

Paul Krugman, NYT
OCT. 2, 2015

So Donald Trump has unveiled his tax plan. It would, it turns out, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

This is in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

For what it’s worth, it looks as if Trump’s plan would make an even bigger hole in the budget than Jeb’s. Jeb justifies his plan by claiming that it would double America’s rate of growth; The Donald, ahem, trumps this by claiming that he would triple the rate of growth. But really, why sweat the details? It’s all voodoo. The interesting question is why every Republican candidate feels compelled to go down this path.

You might think that there was a defensible economic case for the obsession with cutting taxes on the rich. That is, you might think that if you’d spent the past 20 years in a cave (or a conservative think tank). Otherwise, you’d be aware that tax-cut enthusiasts have a remarkable track record: They’ve been wrong about everything, year after year.

Some readers may remember the forecasts of economic doom back in 1993, when Bill Clinton raised the top tax rate. What happened instead was a sustained boom, surpassing the Reagan years by every measure.

(More here.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why Republicans are scared of everything and everyone right now

The world is changing. So is the Republican Party, but not in the same way.

By Daniel W. Drezner September 30 at 9:13 AM

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

In the wake of House Speaker John A. Boehner’s announced resignation from Congress, there’s been a lot of chatter about how the GOP House caucus has changed since the Ohio Republican was first elected. And as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver and The Washington Post’s own Christopher Ingraham demonstrate quite clearly with charts, the data is pretty incontrovertible. As Silver notes, “The most conservative Republicans in the House 25 or 30 years ago would be among the most liberal members now.”

Indeed, the current GOP is the most conservative iteration of the party in the past century.

None of this should be a surprise to regular readers of Spoiler Alerts or The Post. But it’s worth noting that, in many ways, the GOP has moved further to the right at the same time that a lot of other forces are pushing the country and the world in the opposite direction. Which, if you’re a Republican, sounds pretty scary.

(More here.)

The Disturbing Prospect of Trey Gowdy as Majority Leader

By Andrew Rosenthal
September 29, 2015 2:52 pm NYT

The choice House Republicans make to replace John Boehner as speaker will say a lot about how the party is going to handle its current identity crisis. Will it finally take governing seriously, or will it go on using its majority in Congress to shut down the government, hold show votes on health care reform, stymie President Obama and try to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president?

The current conventional wisdom holds that the leading candidate is the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California. Mr. McCarthy, at least, said on Monday that it is time to stop “governing by crisis,” and that he would look for “the most conservative solution I can find.” That might, possibly, hint that he is open to compromise.

His promotion, however, would leave the majority leader spot open. And, as Jennifer Steinhauer reports today, some in the party are hoping to elevate Trey Gowdy to that position.

Mr. Gowdy, of South Carolina, was elected in 2010 and built a reputation sponsoring marginal and often bizarre bits of legislation, like the 2014 bill that would allow the House of Representatives to sue the president of the United States if it did not like the way the president was enforcing the law.

He’s a big supporter of repealing the Affordable Care Act and, of course, of denying federal money to Planned Parenthood.

(More here.)

Syria, Obama and Putin

Thomas L. Friedman, NYT
SEPT. 30, 2015

Your Honor, I rise again in defense of President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria.

Obama has been right in his ambivalence about getting deeply involved in Syria. But he’s never had the courage of his own ambivalence to spell out his reasoning to the American people. He keeps letting himself get pummeled into doing and saying things that his gut tells him won’t work, so he gets the worst of all worlds: His rhetoric exceeds the policy, and the policy doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Republican critics totally lack the wisdom of our own experience. They blithely advocate “fire, ready, aim” in Syria without any reason to believe their approach will work there any better than it did for us in Iraq or Libya. People who don’t know how to fix inner-city Baltimore think they know how to rescue downtown Aleppo — from the air!

Personally, I’ll take the leader who lacks the courage of his own ambivalence over the critics who lack the wisdom of their own experience. But ambivalence is not a license to do nothing. We can do things that make a difference, but only if we look at our enemies and allies in Syria with clear eyes.

For instance, today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

(More here.)

Russia Buildup Seen as Fanning Flames in Syria

SEPT. 29, 2015

WASHINGTON — Russia’s military buildup in Syria will probably prolong the life of the beleaguered government of President Bashar al-Assad, Pentagon officials and foreign policy experts say, but is unlikely to be a major factor in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State, and could further inflame — and lengthen — the conflict.

The arrival of four multipurpose warplanes at an airfield near Latakia, Syria, on Monday brought the number of tactical jets that Moscow has deployed to Syria this month to 32. They further enhanced Russia’s ability to carry out airstrikes that experts say can give Syrian government forces a badly needed boost on the battlefield. Reconnaissance flights by Russian drones in the last week have all been over areas controlled by opponents of Mr. Assad — some backed by the United States and its allies — while avoiding territory controlled by the Islamic State.

If Russia takes the next step of sharing the intelligence with the Syrian government or carrying out airstrikes against those groups, it could easily lead to an escalation in the conflict, frustrating already-dwindling hopes for a diplomatic resolution and prompting Arab governments to increase aid to Syrian rebels.

(More here.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The GOP still has nothing to show for its anti-Planned Parenthood campaign

By Dana Milbank Opinion writer September 29 at 5:34 PM, WashPost

At this point Republicans may wish to consider aborting to protect the health of the party.

They have been going after Planned Parenthood over the past few months like so many Captain Ahabs. They threatened to shut down the government to defund the group. Their insistence on a Planned Parenthood showdown drove House Speaker John Boehner to resign. They’re about to appoint a special committee to investigate Planned Parenthood. The party’s presidential candidates have made Planned Parenthood a central part of the campaign, and House Republicans are manufacturing new legislative vehicles to cut off the group.

And what do they have to show for it?

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds that Americans have a more favorable view of Planned Parenthood than of any other entity tested, including the Republican Party and presidential candidates. The group’s favorable/unfavorable impression, 47 percent to 31 percent, is actually up slightly from July. What’s more, 61 percent oppose eliminating federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Even among the 35 percent who support defunding, only 9 percent favor shutting down the government to do it.

(More here.)

Anarchy in the House


REPUBLICANS aren’t big fans of Karl Marx, but perhaps they should ponder his observation that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. As preposterous presidential candidates dominate the polls and extremists topple congressional leaders, the Republican Party is headed for a replay of the catastrophic Goldwater revolt of the early 1960s. It may be an entertaining spectacle, but it’s dangerous.

The Republican Party has long been divided into comparatively moderate and conservative factions, but historically the conservatives were realists, too. Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, the great conservative leader of the mid-20th century, understood that his side had to make incremental steps toward its goals. It had to devise detailed policy alternatives to Democratic proposals, work with party leadership and build coalitions both within the party and across party lines.

But the early 1960s witnessed an overthrow of Taftian realism. The radicals who coalesced around Senator Barry Goldwater’s insurgent presidential campaign were zealots. They had no interest in developing a governing agenda. Their program consisted mainly of getting rid of the New Deal and every other government effort to promote the general welfare. As Goldwater famously wrote: “My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones.”

(More here.)

Chinese Embrace America’s Culture but Not Its Policies

SEPT. 28, 2015, NYT

BEIJING — Wearing a hoodie emblazoned with an oversize American dollar bill, Zhao Yixiang sells an American brand of skateboards for a living and admires much about the United States, including its raucous rap music and tradition of unfettered expression.

“America is a country full of free speech,” he said at his shop in downtown Beijing. “You can say what you want, go where you want, choose your own lifestyle. I admire that a lot. But on territorial and military issues, we’re pretty far apart.”

“I think a lot of people in my generation think like that,” Mr. Zhao, 26, said. “We really like American culture, but we also like to have a government that doesn’t show weakness abroad.”

As China’s president, Xi Jinping, wrapped up a visit to the United States with a speech at the United Nations on Monday, young Chinese citizens like Mr. Zhao present a quandary for American policy makers, who hope their country’s vast cultural reach offers a beachhead into making opinion here more receptive, if not sympathetic, toward the United States.

In some ways, American cultural influence reaches into China deeper than ever. Despite censorship, restrictions on cultural imports and heavy Internet barriers, American television, films, music and technology are widely and avidly consumed. During his visit, Mr. Xi nodded to that influence, citing American authors, the popular Netflix series “House of Cards” and several Hollywood movies, as well as meeting with prominent business leaders from Silicon Valley.

Yet studies and surveys show that many Chinese citizens, including the young, remain wary of the United States and hostile to Washington’s foreign intentions, especially when China’s territorial claims and rising influence are at stake. China is not unique in that regard, but its increasing prominence makes the contrast between cultural attraction and political distrust especially stark.

“Even when you have cultural soft power and cultural attractiveness, that doesn’t mean that people identify with or support your policies,” said Xie Tao, a professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University who studies public opinion and Chinese-United States relations.

Among his students, he said, “you can sense that the undergraduates identify with American culture — its higher education, basketball, so on.”

“But when you discuss American policy,” he added, “many people — many of the same people — are highly critical.”

(More here.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Putin’s power plays

By Anne Applebaum Columnist September 27 at 7:51 PM, WashPost

It is always tempting, when writing about the Russian president, to lapse into geopolitical waffle. Though the Cold War ended a quarter century ago, we are still accustomed to thinking of Vladimir Putin as a global actor, a representative of eternal Russian interests, the inheritor of czarism/Lenin/Stalin, a man who inhabits a Kissingerian world of state actors who compete against other state actors for control over territory, all of them playing a gigantic game of Risk.

To those wearing this particular set of rose-colored glasses, Putin’s recent foray into Syria makes a certain kind of sense. His amazingly well-timed decision — just before the U.N. General Assembly session! — to send hundreds of Russian soldiers, 28 fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and artillery has been variously described as a bid to re-enter the modern Great Game of the Middle East; to extend Russian influence to the Mediterranean; to shore up the Iranian government; and to displace the United States as a regional leader.

All of which misses the main point. For Putin’s entry into Syria, like almost everything else that he does, is part of his own bid to stay in power. During the first 10 years he was president, Putin’s claim to legitimacy went, in effect, like this: I may not be a democrat, but I give you stability, a rise in economic growth and pensions paid on time. In an era of falling oil prices and economic sanctions, not to mention vast public-sector corruption, that argument no longer works. Russians are demonstrably poorer this year than they were last year, and things look set to get worse. And so his new argument goes, in effect, like this: “I may not be a democrat and the economy may be sinking, but Russia is regaining its place in the world — and besides, the alternative to authoritarianism is not democracy but chaos.”

(More here.)

The Blackmail Caucus, a.k.a. the Republican Party

Paul Krugman, NYT
SEPT. 28, 2015

John Boehner was a terrible, very bad, no good speaker of the House. Under his leadership, Republicans pursued an unprecedented strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism, which did immense damage to the economy and undermined America’s credibility around the world.

Still, things could have been worse. And under his successor they almost surely will be worse. Bad as Mr. Boehner was, he was just a symptom of the underlying malady, the madness that has consumed his party.

For me, Mr. Boehner’s defining moment remains what he said and did as House minority leader in early 2009, when a newly inaugurated President Obama was trying to cope with the disastrous recession that began under his predecessor.

There was and is a strong consensus among economists that a temporary period of deficit spending can help mitigate an economic slump. In 2008 a stimulus plan passed Congress with bipartisan support, and the case for a further stimulus in 2009 was overwhelming. But with a Democrat in the White House, Mr. Boehner demanded that policy go in the opposite direction, declaring that “American families are tightening their belts. But they don’t see government tightening its belt.” And he called for government to “go on a diet.”

This was know-nothing economics, and incredibly irresponsible at a time of crisis; not long ago it would have been hard to imagine a major political figure making such a statement. Did Mr. Boehner actually believe what he was saying? Was he just against anything Mr. Obama was for? Or was he engaged in deliberate sabotage, trying to block measures that would help the economy because a bad economy would be good for Republican electoral prospects?

(More here.)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

She Said What?

Ann Coulter, twit.

By P.J. O'ROURKE, The Weekly Standard
Oct 5, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 04

Toward Ann Coulter I had always taken a “suffer little children to come unto me” attitude. Not that she ever came on to me or anything. It’s just that she’s a kid. She was born in 1961. I’ve got skinny Brooks Brothers neckties in the back of my closet older than that.

Ann Coulter grew up during the “I-was-conservative-after-conservatism-was-cool” era, helping found the Cornell Review in the early 1980s. She’s noisy and she gives me a headache. But kids are, and kids do. I have several.

She’s from Connecticut and is very upset about immigrants. I am willing to lend a sympathetic ear to people from Connecticut who are very upset about immigrants, if they have a tribal casino.

And I forgive her for supporting Donald Trump. Kids do that stuff. My 17-year-old daughter has wheedled the car keys and right now is out probably behaving at least as stupidly.

Other than that I’ve been, I suppose, to the extent I’ve paid attention, on the same political page as Ann Coulter. Well, in the same political book, several chapters further on, under the subhead “Grumpy Old Farts and the Libertarian/Neocon Conundrum.”

Then, during the September 16 Republican presidential candidates’ debate, Ann Coulter twittered or tweeted or whatever the verb form of that waste of time may be.

She is young, scatter-brained, and heedless, but she is not an idiot. She graduated cum laude from Cornell and has a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. But no intelligent hike through the Minotaur’s labyrinth of politics can be made in 140-character baby steps. Especially when you’re walking in clown shoes.

(More here.)

Thousands Enter Syria to Join ISIS Despite Global Efforts

SEPT. 26, 2015

WASHINGTON — Nearly 30,000 foreign recruits have now poured into Syria, many to join the Islamic State, a doubling of volunteers in just the past 12 months and stark evidence that an international effort to tighten borders, share intelligence and enforce antiterrorism laws is not diminishing the ranks of new militant fighters.

Among those who have entered or tried to enter the conflict in Iraq or Syria are more than 250 Americans, up from about 100 a year ago, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials.

President Obama will take stock of the international campaign to counter the Islamic State at the United Nations on Tuesday, a public accounting that comes as American intelligence analysts have been preparing a confidential assessment that concludes that nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Iraq and Syria from more than 100 countries since 2011. A year ago, the same officials estimated that flow to be about 15,000 combatants from 80 countries, mostly to join the Islamic State.

That grim appraisal coincides with the scheduled release on Tuesday of a six-month, bipartisan congressional investigation into terrorist and foreign fighter travel, which concludes that “despite concerted efforts to stem the flow, we have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling overseas to join jihadists.”

(More here.)

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, Faces Criminal Investigation in Switzerland

SEPT. 25, 2015

ZURICH — Sepp Blatter, the longtime president of FIFA, spent much of Friday underground. Starting at 9 a.m., Mr. Blatter and a few dozen other top executives were ensconced in an isolated conference room three levels below ground at FIFA’s headquarters here, discussing pressing issues like budgets, governance reforms and the scheduling of World Cup tournaments. All seemed normal and routine.

When Mr. Blatter surfaced in the early afternoon, however, he was stunned to find a group of officials from the office of Switzerland’s attorney general waiting for him. Over the next few hours, the officials interrogated Mr. Blatter at length. They searched his office, situated five floors above the bunker, on the top floor of the headquarters, and took boxes of documents, then informed Mr. Blatter that he was under criminal investigation.

The investigation centers on “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and suspicion of misappropriation” of funds, according to a statement released by the Swiss authorities, and it has now directly connected Mr. Blatter, world soccer’s top official, to a corruption scandal at the highest level of the sport.

Swiss officials said Friday that they were specifically looking into Mr. Blatter’s suspected approval of a curiously small contract for World Cup television rights and a surprisingly large payment to another top FIFA official. That official, Michel Platini, is the head of European soccer’s governing body and a leading candidate to succeed Mr. Blatter as FIFA president next year.

Under Swiss statutes, both criminal mismanagement and misappropriation can be punished with jail time.

(More here.)

Carly Fiorina Really Was That Bad

Steven Rattner, NYT
SEPT. 25, 2015

HER silver tongue honed by decades in corporate marketing, Carly Fiorina has used two debates, and a steely determination on the campaign trail, to climb near the top of the polls for the Republican nomination.

But Americans should pause on her biggest professional credential for our highest office: a short, disastrous stint atop one of America’s iconic technology companies, Hewlett-Packard.

The clearest measure of her performance — and the report card preferred by Wall Street — is H.P.’s stock price, which dropped by 52 percent during her tenure of almost six years.

Yes, Mrs. Fiorina served during the worst fall in technology shares in history. But she managed to underperform her key competitors; IBM’s shares declined by 27.5 percent and Dell’s fell by 3 percent.

The most ruinous aspect of Mrs. Fiorina’s tenure was her decision to acquire another “old tech” hardware company, Compaq Computer Corporation, instead of moving more heavily into services and software, as IBM did.

The proposed merger — Mrs. Fiorina pronounced that the two companies “fit together like a zipper” — bitterly divided directors and shareholders and was approved with just a 51.4 percent majority, a split I cannot recall seeing elsewhere during my 33-year Wall Street career.

To be fair, Mrs. Fiorina was saddled with a dysfunctional board. But that was well known, so taking the job with that added complexity was her eyes-wide-open choice.

Investors were so down on her that H.P.’s shares jumped by almost 7 percent on the day of her firing. And in ensuing years, she appeared on several “worst C.E.O.” lists, including those of CBS News and USA Today.

(More here.)

Friday, September 25, 2015

China’s President Pledges No Militarization in Disputed Islands

Statement at White House offers few details, leaving some questioning commitment

Satellite imagery released on Friday shows that China has completed a runway on an artificial island in the South China Sea

By Jeremy Page, Carol E. Lee and Gordon Lubold, WSJ
Updated Sept. 25, 2015 6:00 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—China’s President Xi Jinping made a public commitment for the first time on Friday not to “militarize” artificial islands that Beijing has been building in the disputed South China Sea.

But in a news conference with President Barack Obama at the White House, Mr. Xi didn’t expand on the term, leaving it unclear how his commitment would affect China’s activities in the Spratly islands.

New satellite imagery released earlier on Friday showed that China had recently completed a runway on one of its artificial islands, which could allow it to accelerate construction and begin air patrols in the area, according to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.

Mr. Obama had been expected to press Mr. Xi at Friday’s summit to freeze China’s island-building in the Spratlys, which has raised concern in the U.S. and among its allies about Beijing’s military ambitions.

(More here.)

Hurricane Trump

Thomas B. Edsall, NYT
SEPT. 23, 2015

“A political storm is not coming. It is already here,” Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster, wrote last week on the website of his firm, Public Opinion Strategies.

The anger voters feel at corporations and the political class has reached heights not seen since the Great Depression.

However long Donald Trump lasts, the forces that prompted his ascent may be more politically consequential than a mere outburst of discontent from Americans in the early stage of a presidential election would suggest. Trump’s improbable success so far may have the potential to shift politics and the policy agenda.

In Trump, Republican primary voters have picked an unexpected standard-bearer for a protest against money in politics. Counterintuitively, the billionaire provocateur boasts of using campaign contributions to buy politicians: “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”

In the first Republican debate, on Aug. 6, Trump elaborated:
I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.
(More here.)

The Soft Bigotry of Ben Carson

Charles M. Blow, NYT
SEPT. 23, 2015

The Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

At first, he stood by that outrageously prejudiced remark, but after coming under fire from not only Muslim groups but also many conservatives, he soon tried to walk it back, to cushion and to caveat it.

On Monday night, he posted a message on Facebook that included this line: “I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law.”

Then on Tuesday, at a news conference, Carson said, “It has nothing to do with being a Muslim.” He continued: “That was the question that was specifically asked. If the question had been asked about a Christian and they said, ‘Would you support a Christian who supports establishing a theocracy?’ I would have said no.”

Only his original comment was unambiguous: It had everything to do with being a Muslim. And it was bigoted.

(More here.)

Senate Democrats Offer Climate Change Bill Aimed Not at Success Now, but in 2016


WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders on Tuesday introduced a measure intended to signal their support of President Obama’s aggressive climate change agenda to 2016 voters and to the rest of the world.

The Democrats hope that the bill, sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee, will demonstrate a new unity for the party on energy and climate change, and define Democrats’ approach to global warming policy in the coming years.

The measure would establish a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent each year through 2025 — a cut even larger than the target set by the Obama administration — as United States policy.

The bill has no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Congress, but Democrats say they believe that forcefully pushing for climate change policies could help them win control of the Senate in 2016. And if they regain the majority, they will move to enact climate legislation along the lines of the Cantwell bill.

“This is the kind of thing I’d embrace,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is expected to become the Senate Democratic leader after the current leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, retires next year. “A plan that looks something like this is going to be high on the next Congress’s agenda.”

(More here.)