Category: Politics

Liars, Damned Liars, and Republicans

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks scrutinizing the farce that is the Benghazi investigation. Conservatives’ central preoccupation is that Hillary Clinton may have lied to the public, ascribing the attack to a spontaneous protest over a video, when she knew it was planned. Of course Hillary Clinton never told the public that the attack proceeded from a protest over a video. The big lie that we’ve uncovered is the fact that the GOP has pursued the current congressional investigation into Benghazi – the eighth such inquiry – primarily to harm Clinton’s presidential campaign – not to discover whatever “truth” managed to escape detection by seven previous congressional investigations.

Real liars are readily found among the GOP’s miserable field of presidential candidates. Ben Carson is presently dealing with two whoppers, one old and one new. In his self-aggrandizing memoir, he claims he was accepted into West Point. We’ve now learned that that was an utter lie – that he never even applied to the school. But we might regard that as the lesser of two lies he’s recently been called on. CNBC took him to task during the debate over the fact that his tax plan would put the US back into trillion-dollar deficits. In Carson’s defense, we leave open the possibility that he isnt a liar, but a math illiterate instead.

Then we have Marco Rubio’s tax plan, which Rubio pitches as a boon to low and middle-income workers. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, the richest 1% of Americans would get six time more tax relief than the poorest 20 percent. In fact, the poorest 20% would receive just 6% of the plan’s total tax relief – while the richest 20% would rake in nearly two-thirds. And Rubio has yet to explain his exploits with Florida GOP credit cards.

Donald Trump famously slandered Mexican immigrants, implying that the bulk of them are criminals. But the Wall Street Journal reported on several studies that bear on this issue. They begin with a threshold observation: that in the past 25 years, as the undocumented immigrant population has tripled, crime rates have fallen by nearly half. Looking at the US prison population, we find that immigrants’ incarceration rate is 63% lower than that of native-born Americans. Among young men, immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador all have especially low incarceration rates. Looking just at California, which has by far the largest population of undocumented immigrants, we find that people born outside the US comprise 35% of all Californians, but just 17% of California’s prisoners.

Then there’s Chris Christie. In the second GOP debate, Christie said, “I was appointed United States attorney on Sept. 10, 2001″ – and made much hay on how the world dramatically changed the very next day. However Christie wasnt even nominated until Dec. 7th, 2001 – and wasnt sworn into office until January 17th, 2002. This doesnt change the fact of his hands-on participation in the war on terror – but the truth makes for a less dramatic narrative – which may be why Christie lied to embellish it.

Remarkably, Carson, Trump and Rubio have all done okay despite their campaigns’ troubled relationship with the truth; Christie’s is tanking for other reasons. This tells us something that we’ve long suspected about the conservative electorate, and their own tenuous relationship with reality. Conservatives have an airtight approach to dealing with information that conflicts with their belief system: they ignore it. This, in fact, is the real secret to maintaining any belief system, no matter the new facts that arrive, nor how the world changes. Lies are as essential to conservatism as facts are to the rest of us.


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A Tale of Two Intelligence Failures

The GOP hopes that by repeating the same lie again and again, people will come to believe it. And some have. But Hillary Clinton never asserted that the attack on Benghazi occurred spontaneously out of a protest over a video. Her comments immediately after the attack condemned the use of violence to further religion, and specifically condemned those who would justify such violence as a response to an offensive video. It would have been difficult for her to avoid any mention whatsoever of the video, given that the official CIA assessment of the attack on Benghazi embraced the protest theory, and did so for nearly two weeks after the attack.

On Sept. 16th 2012, five days after the attack, Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, made the Sunday morning talkshow rounds. Relying on the best and latest CIA intel, she advanced the theory that the Benghazi attack may have begun as a protest over a video. For three years the GOP has tried to conflate Clinton’s comments with Rice’s, insisting that the protest story was a cover-up dreamed up by Democrats to help President Obama in his reelection bid.

We hearken back to Colin Powell’s testimony before the UN, in which he assured the world that he knew that Iraq had WMD. He even had satellite imagery to back his story. On February 5, 2003, Powell told the world,

My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence…. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more…. Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons…. We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction; he’s determined to make more.

No one has ever suggested that Powell lied. (Whether he was lied to remains an open issue.) He seems to have been a well-meaning public servant, who had the bad luck – or poor judgment – to rely on faulty intel for the most important public statement of his career.

The United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigated the intelligence failure that led the US to erroneously believe that Iraq possessed WMD, and scrutinized Powell’s speech specifically. The Committee concluded in its report that “[m]uch of the information provided or cleared by the CIA for inclusion in Secretary Powell’s speech was overstated, misleading, or incorrect.” Powell has since disavowed his UN speech.

That investigation – into how the Bush Duh administration managed to invade the one country in Bush Duh’s “axis of evil” that did not have a WMD program – lasted slightly more than a year. That’s about the same amount of time taken by the Senate Watergate Committee, which culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. By comparison, this eighth (!) investigation into Benghazi is still rolling after nearly 18 months – and that’s on top of the seven previous congressional investigations.

The seventh congressional investigation into Benghazi, undertaken by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, looked into and discovered the source of the protest story – and found that it began in the CIA. For nearly two weeks after the attack, the official CIA assessment held that the attack on Benghazi emerged spontaneously from a protest over a video. Though that initial assessment proved to be incorrect, it was nonetheless based on numerous sources. The CIA shaped Susan Rice’s talking points, and no doubt the Secretary of State was privy to their assessment too.

Colin Powell and Susan Rice – and to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton – have all been the victims of intelligence failures on the part of the CIA. Coming after seven previous Congressional investigations, the current inquiry is no more than a political smear campaign, operated by the GOP, and paid for by taxpayers. That opinion is supported by public statements from high-ranking GOP officials, including former speaker John Boehner, one-time speaker aspirant Kevin McCarthy, GOP congressman Richard Hanna, and former Benghazi investigator Major Bradley F. Podliska. Benghazi was a tragedy – but it has been exhaustively investigated. What continues today is the GOP’s exploitation of that tragedy for political gain.


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scroll down in the NYT article above to find this nugget:

Senior Republican officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing confidential conversations, said that Mr. Boehner had long been suspicious of the administration’s handling of the attacks and that Mrs. Clinton’s emails gave him a way to keep the issue alive and to cause political problems for her campaign.



Benghazi: From Scandal to Farce

This past Sunday, Bob Woodward made the talkshow rounds and, doing his level best to impersonate a reasonable person, he expressed a nuanced opinion of the eighth (!) congressional investigation into Benghazi. Woodward accepted the GOP’s position that there are “legitimate questions,” subject to the Democrat’s qualifier that there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. He said,

You have inconsistencies. This is a tragedy, and it should be investigated…. But there’s no crime here on [Hillary Clinton’s] part. And to try to criminalize it and suggest, as some people have said, ‘Oh, she’ll be in jail.’ There’s no evidence of a crime. There is evidence of inconsistency. I mean, my God, this is our business, our lives — people saying one thing privately and saying something different publicly.

The only problem with Woodward’s position is that there are no “inconsistencies” between the public and private statements of Hillary Clinton on the subject of Benghazi. Woodward’s fault is common among journalists: the fact that are two sides to any given story does not mean that both merit repeating.

Hillary Clinton’s public statements immediately after the attack on Benghazi continued the themes of a statement given just hours before the attack, by the US Embassy in Cairo, while it was dealing with a large protest over a video on the internet about the prophet Muhammad, which many Muslims found offensive:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions…. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

Clearly, the embassy was trying to defuse the situation, by expressing sympathy for people who had been offended. Secretary Clinton’s public statement later that same day, after the attack on Benghazi, picks up on the same themes:

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

as does her public statement the day after the attack:

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet. America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear – there is no justification for this, none. Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith.

Before and after the Benghazi attack, the State Department and Secretary Clinton remained remarkably consistent: (1) recognizing the right to free speech; (2) but condemning the use of that speech to denigrate religion; (3) while reserving their strongest condemnation for those who commit acts of violence in the name of religion.

We have since learned that there was no protest at Benghazi, and that the attack was pre-planned and carried out by Islamist militants. Clinton suspected as much, writing just hours after the attack, in a private email to family members, that the attack was carried out by an “al-Qaeda-like group.” She also told Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil the following day, “We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack—not a protest.”

The GOP has tried to turn this into a scandal – claiming that Clinton and others were publicly pushing the theory that the attack on Benghazi was a spontaneous protest over a video, in order to provide political cover for President Obama in the heat of his reelection campaign. They say that Clinton dishonestly espoused the spontaneous protest theory in public, revealing in private communications that she knew that the attack was planned beforehand, and carried out by Islamist militants – that it had nothing to do with the video.

But Clinton never asserted – publicly or privately – that the Benghazi attack developed spontaneously out of a protest over a video. She merely observed the fact that “Some… sought to justify…” the attack on Benghazi as a response to the video. That remark doesnt even bear upon who was behind the attacks, or what precipitated them – it merely condemns a particular reaction to the attack: those who would “justify” violence in the furtherance of religion.

Whence the notion that the Benghazi attack arose spontaneously out of a protest over a video? Was it cooked up in a back room of the State Department or the White House? Nope. The seventh (!) congressional investigation into Benghazi, undertaken by the House Intelligence Committee, asked this very question, and they found that the protest story originated in the CIA. For nearly two weeks after it happened, the CIA’s official assessment of the attack on Benghazi held that it emerged spontaneously from a protest over a video. While that theory ultimately proved incorrect, it was backed by a significant amount of intelligence.

The Field Guide’s analysis continues next week.


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Conservatism: the Movement of Stupid

As president, he issued the executive order that established the Environmental Protection Agency. He supported and ultimately signed the Clean Air Act into law. He oversaw the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He was a longtime advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and the civil rights movement, including affirmative action. He launched the “war on cancer,” and tried to pass a law that would have mandated employers to provide health insurance to their employees. Following up on a campaign promise, he dramatically drew down US ground forces in Indochina, and ultimately ended the draft. Meet Richard Nixon – whose liberal creds compare well with any president since.

Next consider Jimmy Carter’s record. He oversaw deregulation of aviation, trucking, rail, communications and finance. He reestablished the selective service, the precursor to the draft, while increasing military spending. And he appointed Paul Volcker to head the Fed, whose brand of conservatism has been the model for every Fed chair since, prioritizing the control of inflation over the maximization of employment.

Jimmy Carter, to be fair, was quite liberal in many important ways, initiating or improving numerous programs to help the poor, children, workers and women. And like every recent democratic president, Carter’s term in office was a period of fiscal restraint, with annual deficits never rising above 3% of GDP, and the overall debt, as a fraction of GDP, smaller when he left office than when he entered. (One of Carter’s earliest political missteps was a confrontation with Congress over pork-barrel spending.)

Many forget that Carter came to office – and left – as a southern moderate with a conservative bent, not dissimilar to Bill Clinton. While he had many pet programs to help the disadvantaged, he generally sought to reduce the presence of government in everyday life, as evidenced above all by the fact that he left behind a US government that was slightly smaller than the one he inherited from Gerald Ford.

Many also forget that Nixon’s domestic policies were almost uniformly liberal. While it is often remarked that Reagan would be rejected by today’s GOP for being insufficiently conservative, it is rarely appreciated that Nixon would today stand to the left of many democrats. So it was that the postwar era was a sort of golden age for America, when the DNC and GOP were both dominated by liberals, with conservatism enjoying no more than a regional popularity in a few isolated backwaters.

Above all, one must appreciate that, like LBJ and JFK, Nixon and Carter were each exceptional men. Nixon was renowned for a discerning mind; Carter’s brilliance has only become more apparent in the most spectacular post-presidential career in modern times. Not coincidentally, all were liberals, certainly by today’s standards.

It says much about American politics that, in just 20 years, the nation went from having a nuclear engineer for president (Carter), to one who could not even pronounce the word nuclear (Bush Duh), while enduring two terms of a GE spokesmodel in between. This is not a coincidence. Reagan’s legacy is the dumbing-down of presidential politics, if not the presidency itself – paving the way for a deluge of Quayles, Bush Duhs, Palins, Santorums, Bachmanns, and other lightweights who lack the mental acuity to be Washington DC’s sewer commissioner, much less pretend to the oval office. Conservatism is and has ever been the movement of stupid, for stupid, and by stupid, as exemplified by the exceptionally low quality of candidates it offers for national office, including the presidency.


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The Benghazi Scandal: Now Under GOP Ownership

The GOP intended Benghazi to be the big scandal that would tear down Hillary Clinton. Benghazi is still hurled about by conservatives seeking to invoke the belief that Democrats are dishonest, soft on security and naive in international dealings. But now Benghazi is fast becoming a byword for the GOP’s incompetence in governing, and their preference for posturing and obstructionism in place of policy making and problem solving.

House majority leader Kevin McCarthy’s public statement – that congressional investigations into Benghazi are deemed successful because they have negatively impacted Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers – should come as a shock to no one. And now a whistleblower has emerged, claiming that the GOP was directing investigative efforts almost exclusively at Clinton. Major Bradley Podliska told CNN that he was dismissed for seeking the truth of the matter, not going along with the witch hunt. Podliska, an Air Force Reserve intelligence officer, is a self-described libertarian who plans to vote for the GOP nominee in 2016.

The nominal purpose of the investigation was to gain insights on making American diplomats safer. When McCarthy revealed that it was really about slinging mud at Hillary Clinton – with taxpayers footing the nearly five million dollar bill – he collapsed under the burden of simultaneously managing reality, along with the GOP lie to conceal it. And now McCarthy is out of the running for Speaker – for speaking the truth!

Consider the extent to which we’ve reduced expectations for the GOP-controlled Congress. As one might praise a puppy who succeeds in watering a square of newspaper, Americans today are encouraged when Congress narrowly avoids government shutdowns, or keeps the nation from defaulting on its debts. No one expects them to address the major issues of the day. Immigration? Banking reform? Tax reform? Entitlements? Gun control? The GOP cant even select a House Speaker – one can hardly expect them to actually govern.

The difference in substance between GOP and DNC presidential debates is striking. Democrats offer specific, workable solutions to real-world issues. The Affordable Care Act is just one example of Democratic legislation, which has since succeeded in reducing the budget deficit, slowing the growth of healthcare costs to the lowest rate ever recorded, while insuring millions more than ever before, with the economy and employment growing all along the way.

By comparison, when GOP presidential candidates are asked about how they would improve the economy, they trot out the same tax cuts for the wealthy that drove the country deeply into debt when similar policies were enacted in the distant and recent past. When asked about their solution for health care, they tell you to pay through the nose, go to the ER, and accept impoverishment and early death – though never in so few words. Gun control? Stuff happens. Global warming? Far better would it be to evacuate Florida than to tax wealthy GOP patrons job creators. Simply put: the GOP has a problem with reality.

Just as McCarthy strained to separate the real world from GOP-scripted fictions, so the real Benghazi is breaking through the facade. It is the story of a tragedy, exploited for political gain, by a party that has lost its ability to govern, for whom leadership is all about the maintenance of fictions, not the identification of issues and the elaboration of solutions.


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Stupid Originalist Tricks

Why should liberals expend energy bashing conservatives – when conservatives do the job so much better? This week, the Field Guide takes aim at “originalism,” to again demonstrate that conservatism, at its roots, has no principles. It is not a political philosophy – it’s just a bunch of crap packed together by historical accident, and held together through a firm commitment to not thinking it to death.

Originalism, nominally, holds that the US Constitution should be interpreted the way the people who wrote it and-or ratified it would have interpreted it. Take the 14th amendment’s birthright citizenship clause:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Hard to imagine how anyone who ever complained about judicial activism could suggest that the 14th amendment means anything but what it says: if you are born in the US, you are a US citizen. But it hasnt prevented conservatives from claiming that the US-born children of illegal aliens are exempt from the 14th amendment’s plain meaning.

Their argument seizes on the “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” requirement, somehow asserting that illegal aliens are not subject to US jurisdiction. Anyone who knows a little bit about law should know what the consequence of that would be. It would mean that illegal aliens could not be tried for any crime, nor compelled to appear for civil disputes either. They would have the same immunity as do diplomats (the actual, intended targets of the jurisdiction requirement), who can be expelled from the country, but cannot be brought to court to answer for their misdeeds. If that sounds crazy, wait – there’s more.

At the time of the 14th amendment’s ratification, the US had never had an illegal alien. The borders were open, and had been since colonial times. Anyone could emigrate to the US – and, under the common law, their children automatically became citizens. How could the writers and ratifiers of the 14th amendment possibly have intended an exception for a class of people that didnt exist!?

Moving on to the next stupid originalist trick: If you saw the GOP debate, you may have caught Marco Rubio advancing the loopiest anti-abortion argument to date. Per Rubio, the 5th amendment’s due process clause,

No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….

applies to fetuses and embryos. And so we dont need state or federal anti-abortion statutes – abortion is already illegal under the US Constitution – we just need five justices to say so.

We happen to know that Rubio is an originalist, because after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, (legalizing gay marriage nationwide), Rubio said,

It must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.

So did the 5th amendment, “as written and originally understood”, really include fetuses and embryos as “persons” – and outlaw abortion from way back in 1791?

To answer that question, it helps to know that abortion was legal in all 13 states at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted – as it had been in all 13 colonies previously – as it had been for several hundred years under the common law. And so Rubio will have to find some other pretext for his political beliefs. Or he can simply abandon originalism, and interpret the Constitution according to some other style. We at the Field Guide are betting that he does neither – self-contradiction, after-all, is the conservative way.


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The Iran Deal and its Malcontents

The deal with Iran will very likely be a fundamental part of US foreign policy and world geopolitics for many years to come. And it seems to be a pretty good deal. The point of departure for any analysis is that sanctions alone would never have stopped Iran from building a bomb. Sanctions didnt stop North Korea, who only built their bomb after Bush Duh killed the Agreed Framework, which was secured by Clinton, in favor of a sanctions-only approach. This is why trading sanctions for inspections is the right move. The overarching US goal was to make that trade on the best possible terms. It’s a big improvement over the status quo.

Opponents to the deal rarely offer specifics on what they believe to be lacking. The naked assertion that “negotiators could have done better” could have been posited in the aftermath of any deal. And it’s worth noting that almost no one who makes that criticism goes on to explain why they think a better deal could have been had. Many supporters of the deal have expressed surprise that Iran conceded so much.

Critics fall into a few camps. By far the largest entirely avoid specifics – they oppose the deal because they oppose it, and we might dismiss their viewpoint for its arationality. Next are the miscreants who decry a 24-day waiting period for inspections. There is no such waiting period – this misrepresentation has been likened to the “death panel” lie that the right peddled in its attempt to discredit Obamacare.

One small group of critics suggest that the US should have first strengthened sanctions, and then negotiated a better deal from a stronger position. It’s an interesting point, but unconvincing. The US depends on many nations to partner with on sanctions to make them effective – doing so takes a very long time, and it’s not clear that the effort would have succeeded. Meanwhile, Iran would have continued work on its nuclear program.

There’s a very small group that takes issue with some of the deal’s specifics. Senator Lindsay Graham, for example, has complained that the number of centrifuges should have been reduced more. However the reduction that was obtained pushes out Iran’s nuclear timetable (to obtain a critical mass of fissile uranium) from two months to one year. Senator Chuck Schumer complains that the deal only runs for ten years – without explaining why he thinks that the sanctions regime would have prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon within ten years. Many, including the present Israeli Prime Minister, have asserted that under the status quo, Iran would develop a weapon in just one or two years.

A basis for concern seemed to emerge when the AP reported a secret side agreement to the larger deal, called “separate arrangement II” or sometimes “the Parchin agreement.” Ostensibly, it’s a draft of an agreement between the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran, granting to Iran the authority to conduct its own inspections of certain military sites. Upon closer scrutiny, the AP story seems to have been written to generate a maximum of controversy over a largely trivial set of facts.

The agreement purports to cover only a one-time inspection of a very minor site. The inspection has to be signed off on by the IAEA for Iran to get relief from sanctions. The stakes on this inspection are very low for the US, but very high for Iran. The head of the IAEA came out with a public statement dismissing the AP story as a misrepresentation, and asserting that the inspections regimes it has secured with Iran are consistent with long-established IAEA practices. In sum, the AP story is a red herring, calculated to inspire fear in people who dont have the facts.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Iran deal include 36 top US military leaders, who state bluntly in their open letter, “There is no better option to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon”; and 29 scientists, including six Nobel laureates, who attest to the deal’s efficacy; as well as five other heads of state, who were partners of the US to the negotiations, and are parties to the deal.

The Iran deal is a huge diplomatic coup for the Obama administration, and has been enthusiastically embraced in other countries as the West’s best opportunity to avoid war, and as a vast improvement over the status quo. Coverage of the deal continues next week, when the Field Guide takes up its substance, politics and geopolitics.


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24-day waiting period debunked:

AP story on the Parchin side agreement debunked:

critiquing the critics:

the ays:

the AP story:

spectacular analysis: