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Against Drumbeat of War With ISIS, Chris Murphy Delivers Healthy Dose of Skepticism

Olivier Knox has a report this morning in which he interviewed Connecticut’s Democratic Senator Chris Murphy about potential Congressional authorization for use of force against ISIS. Before we get to Murphy’s tremendous response, it’s worth taking a look at the incredibly wide range of fronts on which the drums are beating for a war with ISIS.

Consider this:

Furthermore, Gen. Dempsey has warned that ISIS cannot be defeated only in Iraq. He asserted, “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”

In fact the very existence of terrorists from over 50 countries means that we must be thinking in terms of a global campaign to eradicate the virus of Islamic Extremism and the spirit of terrorism and barbarism that it is fostering. This is fully as grave a threat to our survival as was Nazism or communism. With appropriate strategies and consistent policies executed energetically we can defeat and eliminate the Islamic State and its various allied factions.

ISIS and its worldwide terrorist allies have become the focus of evil in the modern world.

Who said that? John McCain? No. Lindsey Graham? No. Maybe Bill Kristol? No. Those are the words of zombie Ronald Reagan, appearing in a CNN column earlier this week penned by Newt Gingrich. The column carries the winsome title “What would Reagan do?“, and it presents the speech Reagan would have given in response to the beheading of James Foley by ISIS. Well, the speech Reagan would have given if only he were alive and still president, that is.

For the war mongers on the right, ISIS has quickly become the “focus of evil in the modern world”, and the enthusiasm with which they are urging full on war with ISIS is dizzying. Yesterday, I noted that John McCain’s beloved “moderate” Free Syrian Army also is guilty of beheading victims and posting photos on social media, but of course the hand-wringing over Foley’s beheading never allows for the fact that those we are being urged to arm against ISIS are guilty of many of the same crimes against humanity which are said to be fueling our desire to attack ISIS.

Yesterday, Marcy touched on the confusion surrounding the news that ISIS waterboarded Foley and other prisoners, since the US also has waterboarded prisoners in recent history.

So they guys we are supposed to arm against ISIS commit the same crimes as ISIS and ISIS is now copying US crimes, too, but somehow we are supposed to see ISIS as “the focus of evil in the modern world”.

But wait, there’s more!

We have to be upset, the New York Times warns us this morning, because there is now a flow of US citizens into the ranks of ISIS. And, as if that weren’t enough to get the bubba crowd worked up, ISIS wants our womenfolk: Read more

And They’re Off! 4 GOPers Make Bid for 2016 Over Mitt’s Still-Warm Body

I’m not really sure why the pundits are wasting time deciding whether Nate Silver is a wizard or a washed out baseball junky. There’s another fairly clear sign that insiders believe Obama will win this election: the number of 2016 GOP contenders who are shifting into campaign mode.

Chris Christie can be forgiven for boosting up Obama’s image as President the last week of the campaign. After all it makes him look Presidential. More importantly, it’ll ensure NJ gets lots of quick federal attention. (Though it did remind me that Christie used his coming out party at Mitt’s RNC to talk about Chris Christie.)

Jeb! was a bit more circumspect, spending a Mitt campaign appearance bitching that Obama blames his brother for … things his brother did.

“His entire strategy is to blame others — starting with my brother, of course,” Bush said during a campaign rally for Mitt Romney in Coral Gables, Fla. “Basically, he blames every possible thing rather than having the humility to be able to reach out and to find common ground.”

But the most amusing bid for the 2016 front-runner position comes from Paul Ryan’s unnamed backers (though Governor Kasich is quoted by name) inventing reasons why Ryan wouldn’t fulfill the other position he’s running for (Congressman)–including that his newfound popularity would fracture the Republican caucus or that Democrats would make him cast difficult votes. So, these anonymous advisors say, Ryan should instead write a book or become a Professor or lobby or think tank.

Anything for an opportunity to make public use of PowerPoint.

That is why some of Ryan’s biggest boosters are considering whether it wouldn’t be better for Ryan to resign from the House. He could write a book — “saving America” is a theme often bandied about — or teach at a university.

After all, on the campaign trail, Ryan is as much lecturer as campaigner. Aides routinely set up giant video screens so Ryan can use visual aids to walk audiences through the minutiae of budget politics. Graphs and charts are as common as yard signs and American flags at some events, with Ryan settling into his role as explainer in chief.

Yet curiously, those aides mention a 2016 Presidential bid at least 4 [Update–oops! 5] times in the article.

…future President Ryan?

…biding his time until a presidential run of his own.

a leading White House contender in 2016…

…forcing him to take sides on measures that could come back to haunt him during a presidential bid.

Ryan’s allies aren’t ruling out a bid for the top spot for their friend.

5 mentions of the next Presidential cycle, about a guy who’s on the ticket for this cycle.

And finally there’s this “accidental” email sent by Newt’s people:

“The truth is, the next election has already been decided. Obama is going to win. It’s nearly impossible to beat an incumbent president,” advertiser Porter Stansberry wrote in the email to Gingrich supporters. “What’s actually at stake right now is whether or not he will have a third-term.”

You gotta get an early start, I guess, if you’ll be 73 when you run again.

It’s all rather ghoulish, this campaigning to take over Mitt’s position as the party’s standard bearer before the race has even been called.

I don’t feel all that bad for Mitt, though. After all, he has participated in the weird custom of posthumously baptizing people, basically converting people after they’re dead. Republicans, apparently, follow the opposite strategy, burying you while you’re still technically alive.

Do Republicans Wish They Retroactively Had Let Newt Sustain His Bain Attacks?

Two soundbites from the Sunday shows have made a big stink: Mitt Romney’s former Bain partner, Ed Conard, admitting that Mitt was legally CEO of Bain until 2002. And GOP fixer Ed Gillespie, distancing Mitt from the outsourcing Bain did by insisting Mitt had “retroactively retired” before all the bad stuff happened but while (Conard confirmed) he was legally CEO.

All that’s on top of the fact that Mitt was profiting mightily from this vulture capitalism and siphoning the money to his offshore havens in Bermuda and Cayman Islands, which we’re not yet really talking about.

More telling, though, is the list of Republicans now calling on Mitt to release more his tax returns:

  • Columnist Bill Kristol
  • AL Governor Robert Bentley
  • Lobbyist and former MS Governor Haley Barbour
  • Columnist George Will
  • Strategist Matt Dowd
  • Strategist Ana Navarro
  • Strategist John Weaver

Now, none of these people–with the possible exception of Barbour–are big insiders who have any leverage over Mitt. Moreover, I can’t think of any way that any of them would definitely know the content of Mitt’s tax returns.

But what if they do? What if they know or suspect that those tax returns would expose not just Mitt’s role in Bain (including how much they paid him in salary in 2001 and 2002 to do, Mitt claims, absolutely nothing), but how much money he siphoned away to tax havens so as to avoid paying his fair share to the country he now wants to lead? What if they know the tax returns will doom his campaign, and want to force him to release them now, while they can still replace him with Chris Christie or someone else? (To be fair, with such a diverse mix of GOPers, I suspect they’ve got different motives for their comments, including–some of them–good faith belief releasing the forms would be best.)

Which makes me think back to the week in January when the GOP had the chance to fully expose what Mitt did at Bain–with the video Newt’s SuperPAC released above–but backed off that chance. (h/t ZachBeauchamp for finding a working copy)

Newt released the video on January 7. By January 10, Newt accused Mitt of undermining capitalism. But then, on January 11, he reversed himself, claiming he overstepped and asking his SuperPAC to edit the video, using the same claims of inaccuracy advanced by fact checkers that have foundered on the obvious facts included in SEC filings now. But by January 17, he was calling on Mitt to release his tax returns. Newt won the South Carolina primary on January 21. On January 24, Mitt released a single tax return, showing he paid very little in taxes and had tax shelters in Switzerland (now closed), Bermuda, and Cayman Islands, but revealing nothing about what he did in the key years in 2001 and 2002. Since Mitt won the nomination, Newt has even warned Democrats not to attack Mitt on the same terrible Bain record he himself did.

I sort of get the feeling Newt knows what’s in Mitt’s tax returns. Indeed, I’ve seen oblique tweets from a few Republicans this weekend saying “I told you so” and paying off debts, leading me to believe more than a few Republicans tried to warn their party that this Bain thing would blow up and are now being vindicated.

Read more

Four of Seven Dwarves: Consistent, Courage, Resolute, Cheerful

“Consistent” (Paul), “Courage” (Santorum?!), “Resolute” (Willard), “Cheerful” (Newt)

Those are the one word answers the GOP candidates gave CNN’s John King to explain themselves.

All I could think of where the seven dwarves remaining. (Bachmann? Crazy. Perry? Dummy. Cain? Slutty.)

That said, I’m not sure what service men and women think of Santorum claiming credit, presumably for his socially restrictive policies while never serving, is all that courageous. And Willard? “Resolute”? I guess that’s Mormon for “multiple choice,” right?

These people are clearly all too delusional to have their finger on the nuclear button.

Vagina’s Revenge: MI’s Women Changing their Mind about Rick Santorum

Go figure. Us womenfolk don’t like people to tell us what to do with our bodies.

PPP poll, February 13:

PPP Poll, February 19:

And here’s an interesting detail from the February 19 poll: MI’s Catholics don’t like their fellow Catholic, Rick Santorum (or, for that matter, Catholic convert Newt Gingrich):

Weaning Ourselves Off War in the Middle East? Or Preparing for Israel’s War?

Gary Sick speculates that all the seeming confusion in the Obama Administration’s policy on Iran may be an attempt to create political space to shift our policy on Iran. After laying out some Leon Panetta flip-flops in December and the latest scientist assassination and the “False Flag” response, he describes Obama’s political problem with trying to shift relations with Iran.

The Obama administration has three problems with the Iran issue.

First, it is an election year, and the Congress is determined to impose total sanctions against Iran’s petroleum sector. In a sense, this is the ultimate stage of the sanctions process. For 16 years, the United States and its allies have piled more and more sanctions on Iran for the avowed purpose of getting Iran to change course on its nuclear program. It didn’t work. When the sanctions started, Iran had zero centrifuges. Sixteen years and many sanctions later, Iran has about 8,000 operational centrifuges and a substantial stock of low enriched uranium.

In this process of ever-accelerating sanctions, we have arrived at a point where sanctions begin to blur into actual warfare. If the sanctions succeed in their purpose of cutting off nearly all oil exports from Iran, that is the equivalent of a blockade of Iran’s oil ports, an act of war.

It was always said that the failure of sanctions would leave nothing but war as an option. It was not always appreciated that, at a certain level, sanctions and warfare would converge. With the latest sanctions rider on the Defense Authorization Bill, reluctantly signed into law by President Obama, the Congress has maneuvered the executive branch into a tacit declaration of war.

Second, it is my judgment that the Obama administration has looked hard at the potential effects of getting dragged into a war with Iran and has decided that a return to the negotiating track is essential.

But third, the Netanyahu government distrusts the diplomatic track. Israel signals as strongly as possible that it is prepared to strike unilaterally if necessary; and it uses those threats as leverage to keep the situation at a constant crisis pitch, while pressing for the most extreme sanctions. Israel’s influence is not to be underestimated, particularly in an election year and with an Israeli prime minister who makes no attempt to conceal his disdain for President Obama.

As illuminating as I think Sick’s speculation to be, even there the story is muddled. He links to Jim Lobe’s post describing that an Israeli-US joint defense operation planned for March has been delayed. The CNN story reporting that suggests the US postponed the operations just before Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey visited Israel. But as Laura Rozen reported, Israel, not the US, postponed the exercise.

A major U.S.-Israeli missile defense exercise that had been planned to take place in the spring has been postponed due to a request by the Israeli Defense Ministry, American and Israeli officials told Yahoo News Sunday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a request to the Pentagon last month that the planned joint exercise be postponed, a U.S. official told Yahoo News Sunday.

“It was Barak,” the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Read more

Obama’s Re-elect Strategy: Vote for Me, or Newt Will Have Authority to Indefinitely Detain You

Ken Gude, writing for the Democratic Party’s house think tank, offers a thoroughly disgusting defense of Obama signing the Defense Authorization and its detainee provisions. In his first paragraph, he asserts that the detainee provisions don’t establish indefinite military detention.

Let me put this simply: The detainee provisions in the bill do not establish indefinite military detention authority for anyone captured in the United States.

Of course, that says nothing about what the provisions do for the existing system of military detention that has already been established.

Just a few paragraphs later, Gude affirms the primacy of presidential discretion over things like indefinite detention, suggesting there is nothing Congress could do to limit or guide whatever authority was granted by the (doesn’t Congress pass these things?) Authorization to Use Military Force.

Any military detention authority contained in the AUMF occurs as an incident of the necessary and appropriate use of military force. Any such use of force is at the exclusive discretion of the president, subject of course to constitutional and international law constraints.

But don’t worry about this breathtaking assertion of unlimited presidential authority, Gude suggests, because Obama’s not a big military detention fan.

The Obama administration in word and deed has made it very clear that the president does not believe it necessary or appropriate to use military detention authority in the United States. Both Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Faisal al-Shazaad were arrested after attempting mass casualty terrorist attacks inside the United States. In both instances, conservatives called for putting them in military detention, but in both instances, the Obama administration chose to use the criminal justice system.

There are just two problems with this (setting aside the grand claim that nothing can impinge on Presidential discretion on these matters).

First, we are less than one year from a Presidential election. In 389 days we’ll have another Presidential inauguration, whether of Obama again or someone else; Newt Gingrich currently leads GOP polls. It is absolutely irresponsible for Gude to assert that the codification of authority that Obama will sign into law doesn’t raise the specter of how other Presidents will use that authority.

Yes, a future president may interpret that authority differently, but that is both a fight for another day and one that will not hinge on the 2012 NDAA. So let’s put away both the rhetoric and the fear that the U.S. military will be detaining U.S. citizens captured in the United States.

I can only take this irresponsible claim to mean that it is a core part of Obama’s re-elect strategy to make sure a President who doesn’t embrace indefinite military detention of American citizens–as Newt would likely do–gets re-elected.

Then there’s the even bigger problem with Gude’s argument.

Sure, Obama’s not a fan of indefinite military detention. Sure, in key cases he chose to use the civilian legal system–and used it well.

But Obama is a fan of targeted killings.

And, as Charlie Savage has reported, the legal justification the Administration invented for killing an American citizen in a premeditated drone stike consists of largely the same legal justification at issue in the NDAA detainee provisions.

  • The 2001 AUMF, which purportedly definined who our enemies are (though the NDAA more logically includes AQAP in its scope than the 2001 AUMF)
  • Hamdi, which held the President could hold an American citizen in military detention under the 2001 AUMF
  • Ex Parte Quirin, which held that an American citizen who had joined the enemy’s forces could be tried in a military commission
  • Scott v. Harris (and Tennesee v. Garner), which held that authorities could use deadly force in the course of attempting to detain American citizens if that person posed an imminent threat of injury or death to others

In other words, Obama relied on substantially the same legal argument supporters of the NDAA detainee provisions made to argue that indefinite detention of American citizens was legal, with the addition of Scott v. Harris to turn the use of deadly force into an unfortunate side-effect of attempted detention.

And, oh, if you’re not an imminent threat but happen to be sitting next to the guy the government has determined is one? Duck.

The example of Anwar al-Awlaki–which Gude deftly chooses to ignore–not only shows that Obama fully endorses precisely the arguments made by the defenders of the indefinite detention provisions. But that he is willing to use the authority granted under the provisions to kill, rather than detain, American citizens.

Maybe using Obama’s beliefs about his detention authority really aren’t such a good election strategy after all.

Ron Paul Shits in the Saint Ronnie Punch Bowl

At around 9:30 last night, I tweeted something I tweet everytime I watch an episode of the GOP Presidential Candidate Survivor show:

Once again, we’ve gotten to that point of the GOP Debate I hate where Ron Paul starts to sound sane.

Then, about 10 minutes later, Paul said this:

Are you all willing to condemn Ronald Reagan, for exchanging weapons for hostages out of Iran? We all know that was done.

Thunk.

And then Santorum, proving he’s the stupidest of a really dumb presidential field, tried to answer.

Santorum: Iran was a sovereign country, not a terrorist organization, number one.

Paul: Oh they’re our good friends now.

Santorum: They’re not our good friends but they’re a sovereign country. Just like the Palestinian Authority is not the good friends of Israel.

So in one fell swoop, Santorum effectively sanctioned anything Iran did–such as plotting to kill a diplomat in our country–because they’re a sovereign country, misstated that the PA, rather than Hamas, negotiated the prisoner exchange, and suggested that the PA is a sovereign country.

And then Paul went on to note that the detainees at Gitmo are “all suspects, you haven’t convicted them of anything,” to boos from the crowd.

I’ll admit it. Ron Paul was, racism and corporatism notwithstanding, utterly sane in these few minutes. In fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a politician lay bare the stupidity of our political class like this.

(FWIW, Newt went on to sheepishly confirm that it was true, to which Paul responded with the most impish grin.)

Newt’s Singeing Statement

Newt Gingrich, in a role that was probably cast years ago, now calls on Obama to be impeached because he refuses to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who plans within two weeks to announce if he will run for president, said today that if President Obama doesn’t change his mind and order his Justice Department to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, Republicans in Congress should strike back and even consider impeachment proceedings.

“I believe the House Republicans next week should pass a resolution instructing the president to enforce the law and to obey his own constitutional oath, and they should say if he fails to do so that they will zero out [defund] the office of attorney general and take other steps as necessary until the president agrees to do his job,” said Gingrich. “His job is to enforce the rule of law and for us to start replacing the rule of law with the rule of Obama is a very dangerous precedent.”

Mind you, Newt seems to misunderstand what’s going on. After all, Obama will continue to enforce DOMA. What he won’t do is defend a law he believes to be unconstitutional; but he’ll let a court decide whether he’s right or not.

Which makes what Obama did far far less abusive (in all senses of the word) than what George W Bush did with his long catalog of signing statements. Perhaps Bush’s most famous was his signing statement to the Detainee Treatment Act.

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks. Further, in light of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2001 in Alexander v. Sandoval, and noting that the text and structure of Title X do not create a private right of action to enforce Title X, the executive branch shall construe Title X not to create a private right of action. Finally, given the decision of the Congress reflected in subsections 1005(e) and 1005(h) that the amendments made to section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, shall apply to past, present, and future actions, including applications for writs of habeas corpus, described in that section, and noting that section 1005 does not confer any constitutional right upon an alien detained abroad as an enemy combatant, the executive branch shall construe section 1005 to preclude the Federal courts from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over any existing or future action, including applications for writs of habeas corpus, described in section 1005. [my emphasis]

Not long after the DTA went into effect, Stephen Bradbury wrote his ridiculous Appendix M opinion allowing DOD to use any techniques they wanted to claim were included in that Appendix and later refused to share it with Congress.

But my personal favorite is the one he signed on the Defense Appropriation Bill in 2003, after Congress defunded data mining programs directed at Americans.

Sections 8082, 8091, 8117, and 8131 of the Act make clear that the classified annex accompanies but is not incorporated as a part of the Act, and therefore the classified annex does not meet the bicameralism and presentment requirements specified by the Constitution for the making of a law. Accordingly, the executive branch shall construe the classified annex references in sections 8082, 8091, 8117, and 8131 as advisory in effect. My Administration continues to discourage any efforts to enact secret law as part of defense funding legislation and encourages instead appropriate use of classified annexes to committee reports and joint statements of managers that accompany the final legislation.

As this timeline makes clear, it appears to have been an attempt to avoid having the data mining prohibition apply to the illegal wiretap program that was used, among other things, to wiretap protected conversations between defendants and their lawyers. Even after Jim Comey et al refused to reauthorize the program with its next approval (leading up to the hospital confrontation), Bush authorized it to continue anyway.

Of course, Newt didn’t make a peep when Bush issued signing statements followed by executive branch assertions of authority (his March 10, 2004 reauthorization of the illegal wiretap program and Bradbury’s memo) designed to thwart Congressional efforts to shut down specific programs.

But now that Obama has stepped back to allow the courts to decide whether a legally married gay man can extend his federal benefits to his spouse–even while continuing to enforce DOMA–Newt considers such executive branch tactics an impeachable offense.

Once again, torture and domestic surveillance are acceptable abuses of executive authority for Republicans. But a blowjob or a loving marriage requires impeachment.