By Dartagnan in the Daily Kos
The media’s telescopic gaze following the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia last week was, true to form, pointing in exactly the wrong direction. Scalia’s death prompted a breathless flood of pundit analysis focused on whether the Republican Party is violating Senate protocol or the Constitution itself by refusing to vote on the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice in President Obama’s final year in office. Much chatter was devoted to rehashing the deliberate obstruction this president has had to cope with. While undoubtedly true, this misses the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter so much what Republicans’ “excuse” is—or even whether it violates the clear intent of the Constitution—it does.
What really matters is why they’re doing it, and who it serves. The answer to that question leads straight to their donor base. Although it scarcely bears repeating, the Republican Senate and (to an even greater extent) the Republican House of Representatives now exists to serve the economic interests of a tiny group of very, very wealthy people, people who now stand to either gain or lose hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars spent complying with environmental, finance and labor laws and regulations, depending on who replaces Scalia. That is what this fight is all about. For the GOP and the billionaires who pull their strings, much ballyhooed rhetoric about abortion, affirmative action, union rights and voting rights are all subsidiary to this main event.
The two most prominent members of this tiny group of people are Charles and David Koch:
“In this election cycle… the Kochs have publicly stated that they and their compatriots will spend $889 million, more than either the Republican or Democratic parties spent last time around. According to a recent analysis in Politico, their privatized political network is backed by a group of several hundred extremely rich fellow donors who often meet at off-the-record conclaves organized by the Kochs at desert resorts. It has at least 1,200 full-time staffers in 107 offices nationwide, or three and a half times as many as the Republican National Committee. They may be the most important unelected political figures in American history.”
Read more at the Daily Kos
Seen from the ground in Syria, the positions staked out by Republican politicians are crazy. And that’s because they have no real alternative to Obama’s policies.
By Patrick Hilsman
As we come to the end of a year of terror—actually, of horror—and we enter a year of terrible campaigning by some horrible candidates for the presidency of the United States, one might wish the Republican frontrunners would step back from the path of religious zealotry, racist paranoia, and torture envy. But … no.
As the debates in mid-December and the sparring since have showed us, they are detached from many realities, but especially the reality on the ground in Syria, which I have been covering firsthand with frequent trips there since 2012.
So, now, back in the United States, I watch in consternation the nauseating spin about Radical Islam, carpet bombing, waterboarding, surveillance of everyone, blaming refugees. The Republican “strategies” for dealing with the so-called Islamic State sound like a laundry list of the monumental failures from the 9/11 decade.
Was it “political correctness” that knocked down the twin towers and kidnapped and tortured my friends? No, it was something much more sinister, and something much more sophisticated than these candidates seem to realize, or to be.
There is a reason, of course, for them to deflect questions about military tactics against ISIS. There are no easy answers, and even the difficult options are severely limited. No realistic proposal for tackling the jihadi group will play well with primary voters and all of the candidates know it. Presumably, this is why the Republican candidates have taken the discussion into the realm of paranoid fantasy and insinuation, where they seem much more comfortable.
Read more at The Daily Beast
By Cecilia Hyunjung Mo
During the recent No Labels-hosted Problem Solver Convention in New Hampshire, things got a little uncomfortable.
When Joseph Choe, an Asian American college student, stood up to ask a question about South Korea, Donald Trump cut him off and wondered aloud: “Are you from South Korea?”
Choe responded, “I’m not. I was born in Texas, raised in Colorado.” His answer prompted laughter from the audience, and nothing more than a shrug from the GOP presidential candidate.
Although Trump probably did not intend to offend, this interaction likely reminded Choe and other Asian American voters that being Asian often translates to being perceived by fellow Americans as a foreigner.
However innocuous Trump’s question may seem, this is exactly the sort of exchange that could, in part, be pushing Asian Americans – the highest-income, most-educated, and fastest-growing segment of the United States – toward the Democratic Party by landslide margins.
In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama won 73 percent of the Asian American vote. That exceeded his support among traditional Democratic Party constituencies like Hispanics (71 percent) and women (55 percent).
Read more at The Washington Post
And just guess who it is that Asian American voters overwhelmingly favor?
By Dana E. Abizaid
With much of the US press focused on the daily images of barbarity coming out the lands occupied by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the brutal practices of the real Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, receive scant attention. The reasons for this are as sickening as they are obvious: a major oil supplier to the West and a nation that casts itself as the mortal enemy of Shia Iran has been courted and coddled by the US since the end of WWII to keep domestic gas prices low.
The United States maintains a special relationship with the Saudi Dynasty that contradicts every ideal America stands for. Nobody should hold his breath waiting for the US media or government to finally and thoroughly expose the draconian policies of the desert kingdom, but President Obama does have the opportunity in one case to pressure the Saudis into granting amnesty to Ali-Mohammad al-Nimr and thereby earn a small part of his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In a recent interview with the Guardian, al-Nimr’s mother pleaded that Obama has the power to “interfere and rescue my son.”
The Saudi government convicted al-Nimr – 17 at the time – of possessing firearms while protesting for Shia rights in 2012. But it is clear that is not the only reason the young man is sentenced to be beheaded and crucified. His uncle is the prominent dissident Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr who has also been sentenced to death for criticizing the Saudi State.
If the United States is ever to devise and implement an effective Middle East policy a reevaluation of its relationship with Saudi Arabia will be essential. Standing up for al-Nimr is vital in this regard. By pressuring the Saudis to pardon al-Nimr, Obama can win three immediate victories important to this reevaluation. First, he could portray himself as a seeker of justice in the spirit of his Nobel. Second, he could win some goodwill amongst those Shia the Saudis have repressed for generations. Lastly, his actions could open a dialogue in the US media that might educate the American public to crimes that are committed with its tacit support.
Since the US media and government rarely reprimand the Saudis, the American people have little understanding of the grave human rights abuses that take place daily in the kingdom. According to Amnesty International, the Saudis executed 102 people in the first six months of 2015. Death by sword beheading – often public – is the preferred punishment for adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft (basically, not having radical Sunni Wahhabi beliefs). Children and the mentally handicapped do not escape the sword.
Read more at CounterPunch
Dana E. Abizaid teaches European History at the Istanbul International Community School.
Image via The White House
By Krystal Ball
We reported last week that the confirmation of Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s surgeon general nominee, was in danger because Murthy has advocated gun safety and linked public health to gun violence. Our reporting now appears to be coming true: According to the New York Times, Dr. Murthy’s nomination is unlikely to come up before November if it goes forward at all.
That the National Rifle Association is poised to scuttle the president’s choice for surgeon general is both depressing and absurd.
Murthy’s nomination passed out of the Senate Health Committee with the unanimous support of the committee’s Democrats and even one Republican – Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk. Since then, Murthy has faced increasing opposition from pro-gun senators, right wing media outlets and the NRA. Their stated opposition stems from a letter Murthy signed as a founder of Doctors for America where he advocated gun safety measures including an assault weapons ban, limits on ammunition sales, and mandatory gun safety training. Dr. Murthy has also opposed bans on doctors discussing gun safety in the home with patients.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a likely 2016 presidential contender, has been particularly forceful in his opposition. Paul penned a letter to Majority leader Harry Reid stating that Murthy “has disqualified himself from being surgeon general because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans’ right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign.”
The NRA has also written a letter strongly opposing the Murthy nomination and announced it would score the confirmation vote. This means a vote for Murthy would count against lawmakers’ pro-gun ratings, placing maximum pressure on vulnerable red state Democrats.
Read more at msnbc.com
There are still quite a few politicians who claim, just a matter of course, that in the Obama era, the United States runs “a trillion-dollar deficit every year.” It’s clearly time for them to update their talking points.
Closing the books on a fiscal year in which the federal budget deficit fell more sharply than in any year since the end of World War II, the Treasury Department reported on Thursday that the deficit for 2013 dropped to $680 billion, from about $1.1 trillion the previous year.
In nominal terms, that is the smallest deficit since 2008, and signals the end of a five-year stretch beginning with the onset of the recession when the country’s fiscal gap came in at more than $1 trillion each year. As a share of the nation’s economy, the budget deficit fell to about 4.1 percent, from a high of more than 10 percent during the depths of the Great Recession.
The sharp reduction in the deficit last year was boosted in large part by increased government revenue. At the start of the year, the wealthiest taxpayers began paying slightly higher taxes – a policy Republicans said would slow the economy and cause lower federal receipts. We now know GOP policymakers had it backwards: “The Treasury said revenue climbed $324 billion, to $2.8 trillion, from 2012 to 2013. That is growth of around 12.9 percent, reflecting both higher income tax rates and the strengthening economy.”
But congressional Republicans – the folks who had no qualms about rising deficits during the Bush/Cheney era – continue to insist deficit reduction must take priority over pressing national needs. Yesterday, GOP senators went so far as to block a bill on expanded veterans’ benefits, partly out of fears the proposal might increase the deficit a little.
Read more at The MaddowBlog
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
– United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
The death of Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone attack on November 1 is a dramatic reminder that US President Barack Obama remains determined to use drones to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan despite all the criticism his policy has generated. It works.
The reaction inside Pakistan is a revealing insight into the struggle under way in the country between those who want to fight terror and those who want to appease it. The US’s already dysfunctional relationship with Pakistan has taken another hit as well.
According to one count, the US has used the drones in 378 lethal strikes since 2004. Obama has ordered 327 of them in the four and half years he has been in the Oval Office. According to Pakistan’s Defence Ministry, these have killed 2,160 terrorists and only 67 civilians. These have been remarkably effective in putting al-Qaeda in Pakistan on the defensive.
The Wanted Man
Mehsud worked closely with al-Qaeda in December 2009 to use a Jordanian al-Qaeda triple agent, Humam Khalil al Balawi, to get into a CIA forward operating base on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Balawi blew himself up, killing seven CIA officers, two women and five men, as well as a Jordanian intelligence officer. It was one of the worst days in the agency’s history. Mehsud appeared sitting with Balawi in a martyrdom video released by the Taliban after the attack.
Mehsud was also involved in a plot to attack Time Square in New York City in May 2010 using a car bomb. A Pakistani American, Faysal Shahzad, was trained by Mehsud and al-Qaeda to build the bomb. Another video was released with Mehsud and Shahzad.
Fortunately, an alert hotdog vendor, a Muslim, spotted the vehicle emitting smoke and alerted the NYPD before it exploded. The NYPD later told me that had it gone off as planned, the results would have been catastrophic.
But most of Mehsud’s victims in his violent life were not Americans; by far the majority were his fellow Pakistanis. The Pakistan Taliban has murdered thousands of innocent Pakistanis in the last decade. It has fought a bitter and dangerous war against the Pakistani state and army. Its terror has helped to turn Karachi into a lawless mega city. It tried to murder young Malala Yousafzai and has warned it will kill her if she ever returns to Pakistan. Dozens of other young Pakistani children have been murdered by Mehsud’s followers.
Read more at The Brookings Institution