Forced Clarity

It’s the Summer of Trump and the Republican Party, what’s left of it, seems to have no idea for dealing with the phenomenon that is The Donald. He’s running as one of them, but on his own dime – he’s absurdly rich – and he seems to have no particular policy positions – and he says the damnedest things. John McCain isn’t much of a war hero? The Republican Party has been selling that to the American public for a generation, and that was the fallback position in 2008 when McCain stepped in it again. Hey, he’s a war hero! Donald Trump says no – he likes war heroes that weren’t captured early and spent the whole war in a prison cell. And as much as the Republican Party would like to win at least a bit of the Hispanic vote just one time, Donald Trump opened his campaign by saying that everyone knows that those who slip across our border from Mexico are rapists and murders and drug dealers. He casually suggested we should have invaded Mexico, not Iraq. Not only was the Mexican government offended, and the Mexican people – Donald Trump piñatas continue to sell out down there – the Republican Party saw the Hispanic vote slipping away, again.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, convincingly, there was the Reince Priebus autopsy – offered after their guy lost almost all the Hispanic and black vote, and lost the women’s vote and the vote of the young, and the vote of anyone with even a year or two of college, by wide margins, and after the Republicans didn’t win back the Senate when two or three of their Tea Party candidates imploded. It was time for outreach to minorities, and women, and the young and maybe even gays. The Republicans were going to reach out and become inclusive and we’d have two evenly-matched political parties again. There’d be no more angry old white men sneering at anyone unlike them, and sneering at science too. There’d be no more rich white guys sneering at anyone who wasn’t a millionaire just like them – they’d tone it down. The National Republican Congressional Committee had already been training incumbents on how to interact with women voters – there’s a nice way to tell them they can’t be trusted with moral choices like abortion, or any choices about their own body, and how their accepting less pay than a man for the same work is really good for the economy, so they ought to do their part. The presumption was that America was basically a conservative country, and everyone actually agreed with them on all the big issues of the day. They just had to explain themselves better, and with new voter-ID laws and voter restrictions in the many states they controlled, at the state level where such things are determined, they could make it very hard for blacks and the poor and the needy elderly to ever vote again.

That left the Hispanics. What had Romney done wrong? It was that Republican presidential debate on Monday, January 23, 2012, at the University of South Florida in Tampa:

In Monday night’s Republican presidential debate out of Florida, Mitt Romney described his plan for reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.: “self-deportation.”

The former Massachusetts governor was responding to a question about his immigration position by Adam Smith, the political editor at “The Tampa Bay Times,” who said he was “confused” about his stance on deportation.

“Governor Romney, there is one thing I’m confused about. You say you don’t want to go and round up people and deport them, but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries and then apply for citizenship. So, if you don’t deport them, how do you send them home?” Smith asked.

Romney said “we’re not going to round people up” but rather, financially struggling undocumented immigrants would choose to return to their home countries of their own volition.

“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” he said. “And so we’re not going to round people up.”

Romney was threading the needle here. He wasn’t going to deport them. He wasn’t a nasty, angry person, fed up with them all. We could just make their lives so miserable they’d give up and go home. That was more humane and more practical.

To be fair, Mitt Romney was only talking about limiting their job opportunities, but that’s not what people heard. He did want to harass a class of people. The Hispanic vote was gone, but it wasn’t just Mitt Romney. Four months earlier, at a debate sponsored by the “tea party” folks, Rick Perry was booed over a Texas law that gives in-state college tuition to children of illegal immigrants – “We were clearly sending a message to young people that, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you. We are going to allow you to be contributing members of the state of Texas and not be a drain on the system.”

The audience was having none of that. The whole nation saw that. Hispanic voters saw that, but it wasn’t just the anger at Rick Perry. Two years earlier it had been Arizona SB 1070 – the new law that made it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying the required federal documents, on his or her person, at all times. Republican Governor Janet Brewer and her Republican legislature had pushed that through. All state law enforcement officers were required to attempt to determine any shady looking person’s immigration status, when there was even the slightest reasonable suspicion that the individual was an illegal immigrant. You could tell by looking at them. The police could stop anyone and demand their papers. The paragraph on intent in the legislation said it embodied an “attrition through enforcement” doctrine. That may be where Mitt Romney got the idea.

The Supreme Court soon shot down almost all of this law’s provisions, but the damage was done. Even the NFL had said there’d never be another Super Bowl in Arizona. As for baseball, it would have been cool of the state police had arrested and detained the hot Hispanic stars of visiting ball clubs, holding them until these guys could produce certified copies of the right papers. The Diamondbacks might have won a few more games – but the whole thing was over before it started. Only the bad aftertaste remained.

That was the problem. Romney won only twenty-seven percent of the Hispanic votes – down from John McCain’s thirty-one percent in 2008 – down from George W. Bush’s forty-four percent in 2004 – the best the party had ever done with these people. They bought that guy’s compassionate conservatism line, but maybe it wasn’t a line:

From his first days as governor, Bush signaled that Mexico was not the enemy. He invited the governors of the five Mexican states closest to Texas to his inauguration and in his speech that day welcomed them, saying, “Friends bring out the best in each other. May our friendship bring much good to both our countries.”

The Texas GOP actively recruited Latinos into the party ranks. Continued outreach – emphasizing inclusion and respect for Latinos – helped the party achieve dominance in a state in which Latinos now approach 40% of the population.

No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994. As for Bush, he was reelected president in 2004 with one of the highest vote percentages among Latinos ever achieved by a Republican.

That explains what Rick Perry was doing in that 2011 Tea Party Debate. He was Governor of Texas. He was a Republican. He was doing what his Republican predecessor had done, and they booed him.

The party had changed. In 2010, the party had welcomed in those “tea party” folks and now they had their say. Republicans discovered that it wasn’t their party anymore. Citizens Untied had unleased the funds of a handful of libertarian billionaires with their own specific agendas, and they could outspend the party’s carefully amassed campaign funds, ten to one, with one check that was chump-change to them. The Republican Party was just one more tool to arrange things the way they wanted them arranged. The Republican Party everyone knew was gone. Donald Trump, the Tea Party Billionaire, was inevitable.

This is a good thing. He will force the issues, and specifically the immigration-reform issues. There will be no more Mitt Romney half-measures like self-deportation. In an interview with CNN Trump went all the way, explicitly pledging to carry out the mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants, every damned one of them:

Trump said Wednesday, in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, that as president he would deport all undocumented immigrants and then allow the “good ones” to reenter the country through an “expedited process” and live in the U.S. legally, though not as citizens.

“Legal status,” Trump suggested. “We got to move ’em out, we’re going to move ’em back in if they’re really good people.”…

Trump would not say how he would locate, round up and deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants he says must go. Instead, he deflected, saying that while it may be a task too tall for politicians, it isn’t for a business mogul like himself.

“Politicians aren’t going to find them because they have no clue. We will find them, we will get them out,” Trump said. “It’s feasible if you know how to manage. Politicians don’t know how to manage.”

And when asked about whether he would deport undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, Trump fumbled and said, unsure, that “it’s a tough situation” and “it depends.”

Okay, not every damned one of them, but close enough, and he’d move a few of them back in “if they’re really good people” – so here his experience producing beauty pageants – Miss USA and Miss Universe (but not Miss America) – would be useful too. He’s got this covered on both ends. But first you deport them all.

Ed Kilgore laughs at him:

Yeah, sure: it’s just a management problem, and any tycoon worth his salt can figure out a way via universal hourly traffic stops and police raids on workplaces and maybe house-to-house searches to “find them,” and then it’s just a matter of setting up a few thousand transit camps and deploying a few hundreds of thousands of cattle cars to round ’em up and “get them out.”

It’s not like that:

Estimates of the cost of mass deportation of the undocumented start at about $265 billion and range on up from there; one key variable is whether a sufficiently terroristic atmosphere would encourage some of these people to “self-deport,” as Mitt Romney surmised. Trump might even claim some of these folk will self-deport to get a prime place in the line to reenter the country as a permanent helot class if they pass muster. In any event, it would indeed make this country a very different place.

But this does offer other Republicans and chance to say where they really stand:

Now that Trump’s forced this issue right out in the open, it’s time for us all to ask him and other Republicans who won’t endorse a path to legalization exactly how much they are willing to spend in money and in lost civil liberties to implement their plans. No sense weaseling around and dog-whistling this issue any more.

That’s a challenge, and Greg Sargent actually sees that as useful:

One wonders how large a Cattle Car Caucus there really is in Congress. Republicans have voted to roll back Obama’s executive actions shielding millions from deportations, but many have premised their opposition on legalistic and separation-of-powers grounds, which is a legitimate case to make (the courts may side with it), even if one disagrees with it. But broadly speaking, Republicans who oppose legalization have not been meaningfully pressed on the full implications of that opposition, i.e., do they believe all of the undocumented should be removed? If so, how do we go about doing this? If not, do we just leave them in the shadows, and why would that be better for the country than legalization with penalties would be?

And on that score, Ed is right to hope that Trump has now forced this issue out into the open. Indeed, one hopes that the moderators of the upcoming GOP debate will see an opportunity in Trump’s cattle car musings: why not ask all the GOP candidates whether they agree with him? And if not, where do they stand on the 11 million exactly? Remember, Mitt Romney’s big “self-deportation” moment came at a GOP primary debate. So perhaps the moderators will see an opportunity here to make a similarly newsy splash.

It seems that Donald Trump may have actually done the party some good:

A discussion of this topic could prove very valuable. It’s a discussion you’d think conservatives would want, too. It’s certainly possible you could see Ted Cruz and Trump use such a discussion to try to knock Jeb Bush down a few pegs. Both Cruz and Trump favor legal immigration, and perhaps they could continue advocating for that while insisting that the rule of law requires removal of all illegal immigrants. But it’s not at all clear how many GOP candidates would agree with Trump here.

What about Scott Walker? He has previously supported comprehensive immigration reform but has since moved to the right on the issue, and he has also said undocumented immigrants need to return to their “country of origin and then get in line.” So he may demur and say he supports legal status, once the border is secured. What about Marco Rubio, who championed the Senate bill, but is now in the border-security-first camp? Maybe somewhere to the left of that…

And Jeb Bush? Well, given that he has already called on fellow Republicans to allow that most illegal immigrants face a morally complex plight – and that they have something positive to contribute to American life – this could perhaps provide him an occasion to stage the grand confrontation with Trump that some Republicans think is inevitable.

It would also be really interesting to see how GOP primary voters react to such a discussion. One recent poll showed that 63 percent of Republicans want the focus of immigration policy to be not on legalization, but on “stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S.” and “deporting those already here.” That finding may have been inflated by the border security component of this question wording; a discussion of these issues could help flesh out where Republican voters really are on them.

We all want to know, and Hispanic voters certainly want to know, so, finally, clarification is possible:

The point is that eventually, we’ll need to hear from all the GOP candidates as to what they would do about the 11 million – beyond vaguely supporting legal status, but only after some future point at which we’ve attained a Platonic ideal of border security. Trump may have just made it more likely that this moment will come sooner, rather than later. One can hope, anyway.

Trump just made that hope possible. Salon’s Simon Maloy isn’t so sure:

A couple of weeks ago Univision released a poll that should have sent a piercing shiver of dread through the heart of every Republican who cares about the party’s long-term electoral health. The Spanish-language media outlet asked Latino voters whom they’d support in hypothetical match-ups between the leading Republican presidential candidates and Hillary Clinton, and the GOP’s best-performing candidate – Jeb Bush – did no better among Latinos than Mitt Romney did in 2012. The poll was a grim reminder that the GOP’s fits-and-starts attempts at “rebranding” have not succeeded at measurably improving its standing among one of the fastest growing electoral demographics in the country.

The flip side to the GOP’s problem with appealing to Latino voters is the rather intractable hostility its base shows toward undocumented immigrants… a new poll from CNN finds a huge gap between Republicans and the rest of the country when it comes to immigration policy. By a wide margin, 56-42, Americans believe the “focus” of U.S. immigration policy should be finding a way to provide some form of legal status for undocumented immigrants in the country. Republicans, however, believe by a 63-34 margin that the lawmakers should be “developing a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here.” It’s a bit of a dodgy question, given that it lumps together two different outcomes – reduced flow of immigrants and mass deportation – into one policy preference. But other polling shows “a majority of Republicans does not think the undocumented should be allowed to live and work here even if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.”

Nothing has changed:

Back in early 2014, CNN asked this same question and observed a similar result – Democrats and Independents strongly favored legalization, while Republicans backed decreased immigration and increased deportation 62-34. Several months later, at the height of the summer 2014 border crisis when the country’s attention was focused on the many thousands of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing over the southern border, CNN put another poll out in the field. Perhaps not surprisingly, it found that Republican opposition to immigration/support for deportation spiked – 76 percent of Republicans favored the hardline position on immigration, compared to just 23 percent who favored legalization. So not only is the GOP’s baseline for opposition to immigration reform high, they also have a large number of voters who can be pushed into opposition when an immigration-related controversy is dominating the headlines.

That’s significant in that it will necessarily restrict what sort of legislation the party can propose and get passed.

That’s the real issue here:

The nativists in Congress capitalized on anti-immigrant sentiment during the 2014 border crisis to completely hijack the GOP’s immigration policy and drive it hard to the right. If you’ll recall, the House GOP tried to pass legislation expediting the deportation of those unaccompanied minors, but the leadership was stymied by conservatives who also wanted to defund the president’s executive actions protecting undocumented kids brought into the country as minors. The leadership caved to the hardliners, and the House passed a bill that would have exposed as many people as possible to deportation, in keeping with the overwhelming preference of the Republican base.

That same cadre of immigration hardliners tipped the Republican-controlled Congress into a losing fight over Homeland Security funding earlier this year. Then they sabotaged another border security bill, arguing that it didn’t do enough to deport immigrants already in the country. The only legislation that would stand any chance of passage in the current environment is the most draconian “border security” measure you can think of, and even then there will be lawmakers complaining that “securing the border” is just a prelude to the dreaded “amnesty.”

That’s a serious problem this time around:

The immigration agenda of Republicans in Congress – which is aggressively anti-immigrant and thoroughly unrealistic in its goals and implementation – lines up pretty well with the expectations of Republican base voters. 2016 GOP candidates will be under intense pressure to speak the language of the base on immigration, especially if something like last summer’s border crisis causes immigration to flare up as an issue during the primaries. Doing so will help perpetuate the party’s decline with Latino voters and alienate the other large segments of the electorate that favor a more moderate approach to immigration. There is no good option, which explains why some candidates are trying – and failing – to play both sides.

That didn’t work for Romney in 2012, and now Donald Trump has forced the issue. This is going to be interesting. That fellow is useful after all. Now we’ll know what each of the others thinks should actually be done. That’s all anyone wanted to know in the first place.

Posted in Deport Them All, Donald Trump, Immigration Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sixty Odd Days

The sixty-day siege began in the middle of July:

President Obama eagerly took on critics of the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday, inviting question after question on an agreement he suggested that many of his political adversaries had not even read.

Mr. Obama used a formal East Room news conference to begin what White House officials said would be an aggressive effort by the president and his top advisers over the next 60 days to combat critics in both parties and to sell the Iran deal to members of Congress, the public and allies in the region.

While Mr. Obama is expected to win enough votes to sustain a veto of any legislation rejecting the deal, his goal over the next two months is to persuade enough Democrats to support the accord so that he can paint opponents as driven by politics rather than diplomacy.

Everyone knows how this turns out. Even the Republicans know. The Republicans have enough votes in the House and Senate to pass their legislation that formally disapproves of this deal. The deal with Iran is not an actual treaty – it’s a set of agreements between Iran and the United States, and five other nations – an understanding of who will do what, when – so there’s nothing to ratify, nothing that would then become law, defining what we must or must not do. Congress can only say they disapprove. That’s it – but Obama agreed the United States will pull out of all the agreements if the Republicans have enough votes to override his veto of their legislation saying the United States should not have even started to talk to the Iranians in the first place. The Republicans don’t have enough votes for that. They never will. At the end of these sixty days the deal will stand. Obama will end up where he started, holding onto what he had in the first place.

This is political siege warfare – you win if you end up where you started, holding onto what you had in the first place. In between, you wait, there are sudden attacks, then you wait some more, there are more sudden attacks, and then you wait some more. There is no victory. There is only survival, after a whole lot of talk. It’s rather boring, actually.

Mike Huckabee tried to fix that:

Mike Huckabee is not backing away from his strident criticism of President Barack Obama and the Iranian nuclear deal – even as his fellow Republican presidential candidates distance themselves from his remarks.

A day after making an explicit comparison to the Holocaust in denouncing the agreement, the former Arkansas governor continued to make his case on Twitter.

In an earlier interview with Breitbart News published Saturday, Huckabee said that Obama is “naive” in trusting Iran to uphold its part of the deal. “By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Obama is Hitler. He wants to exterminate the Jews. How else can you read this? Huckabee simply had the courage to say this, but he got slapped down – every Jewish group in the world told him to knock it off, and polls show that American Jews favor the Iran deal at a twenty percent higher rate than the rest of us. Huckabee has since been saying that Real Jews agree with him. Someone should ask this ordained Baptist minister who these folks are and where they’re hiding – but it doesn’t matter. Mike Huckabee is who he is – an excitable fellow – and he needs to steal some thunder from Donald Trump. Fox News has set the rules for which folks get to participate in the first Republican presidential debate – the top ten in the polls they choose – and Mike Huckabee might not make the cut. He needs to be noticed – by someone, anyone. The Iran deal may be a done deal. His getting on stage with the big boys, rather than being relegated to the kids’ table – Fox News’ secondary “candidates forum” for the losers and weirdos – is not a done deal yet. He has work to do.

This done deal is, however, generating all sorts of odd talk:

The actors Morgan Freeman, Jack Black and Natasha Lyonne have leant their support to Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran.

The stars feature in a new video designed to help persuade legislators to get the agreement through Congress when it goes to the vote in September. Alongside them are an eclectic mix of camera-friendly experts including ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame, Queen Noor of Jordan and retired US Ambassador Thomas R Pickering, who urge Americans to support the agreement lest they wind up “super dead”.

Morgan Freeman has played God in a number of movies. Jack Black was the voice of that lovable Kung Fu Panda. Natasha Lyonne was brilliant in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You and But I’m a Cheerleader – a cult favorite – but this is very odd:

As Freeman explains, “the agreement on the table is the best way to insure that Iran doesn’t build a fucking bomb” before going on to suggest “the alternative is war”. The actor has been a prominent supporter of Barack Obama, voicing campaign ads and giving substantial donations.

Lyonne, who starred in American Pie and recently returned to the public eye with a part in Orange is the New Black, chips in with: “Do me a favour, OK, don’t let some hot-headed member of Congress screw this up”, while Black adds “playing politics with our national security isn’t all that funny”.

Valerie Plame and Queen Noor of Jordan agree – watch the video and you’ll see – but something strange is going on in our politics. On the other hand, anything with the open and direct and gorgeous and smart as a whip Natasha Lyonne in it is a delight. It’s just that what she has to say about Iran might be irrelevant. And the Kung Fu Panda has spoken?

On the other hand there’s this:

The Clarion Project is hoping to convince US Congress to vote no on the Iran deal by enlisting the help of the American public. …

In March, the non-governmental organization unveiled the first video in its series of seven short films warning about the dangers of the Iran deal. Ever since world powers signed the nuclear agreement on July 14, the NGO has shifted its gears to focus on the vote in the US Congress to urge politicians to vote ‘no’ on US approval of the deal.

Here we go again:

Ryan Mauro, the Clarion Project’s national security adviser, spoke with The Jerusalem Post to discuss the videos, each of which is in a distinct style. Some satirize the deal with cartoons, others invoke Adolf Hitler and past failed peace agreements, while another one envisions a dystopian future where the US has sunk into chaos and rioting because of a nuclear battle in the Middle East.

These aren’t sly, and the most watched video in the series is Super Power Poker – Live from Iran, an insulting cartoon depicting a poker match between Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, President Barack Obama, looking like a pimp, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman. It’s rather awful. This whole thing isn’t a badly-drawn fifties cartoon either.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Steve Benen reports this:

The Senate Armed Services Committee held its own hearing today on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, which regrettably went about as well as the other congressional hearings on the issue. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican presidential candidate and one of his party’s most unyielding hawks, got especially animated during an exchange with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter:

GRAHAM: Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?

CARTER: No, the United States…

GRAHAM: We win!

Yeah, we do, but Benen adds this:

The senator seemed pleased with himself, though this doesn’t exactly help the Republican cause. For proponents of the agreement, the concern has long been that GOP lawmakers want to kill the diplomatic deal because they want a military confrontation with Iran. Republicans usually make a point to deny this, instead saying they prefer a “better” diplomatic solution.

Graham, however, is less subtle – his line of questioning suggested the United States would win a war, which makes war an appealing alternative.

The administration’s cabinet secretaries seemed visibly irritated with Graham’s grandstanding, and they didn’t make much of an effort to debate the South Carolina senator…

Why bother? Kevin Drum adds this:

So there you have it: (a) the Ayatollah unquestionably wants to destroy Israel and attack America, and (b) there is no doubt America would win this war. This sounds like mighty poor strategic thinking on the Ayatollah’s part to me, since presumably he knows as much as Lindsey Graham about the relative military strength of Iran and the United States. But I guess his pesky religious views compel him to commit national suicide anyway.

This is as nuts as those videos:

Now, you might be skeptical that Graham knows the Ayatollah as well as he thinks he does, or knows his religious views in any depth either. But even if we give him the benefit of the doubt on that score, his apparent view of things still doesn’t make sense. If the Ayatollah is as committed to war as Graham thinks, why would he bother with this deal in the first place? According to conservatives (I’m not sure what the CIA thinks these days), Iran is currently less than a year from being able to build a nuclear bomb. So why not just build a few and start the war? It can’t be because the sanctions matter. If war is inevitable thanks to the Ayatollah’s religious views, but America is going to win the war by reducing Iran to a glassy plain, then who cares about a few more years of sanctions? Most Iranians are going to be dead a few hours after the war starts anyway.

So… it’s all still mysterious. Conservatives don’t like the deal Obama negotiated. Fine. But we can’t go back to the status quo. If we pull out of the deal, economic sanctions will decay pretty quickly and Iran will have lots of additional money and be a year away from building a bomb. The only other alternative is war. Graham is more open about this than most conservatives, but even he realizes he has to be cagey about it. He can’t quite come out and just say that we should go to war with Iran before they build a bomb. So instead he tosses in an oddly pointless question about who would win a war between Iran and America. Why? Some kind of dog whistle, I guess. Those with ears to hear understand what it means: Graham wants to see cruise missiles flying. The rest of us are left scratching our chins.

Drum finds all of this getting weirder and weirder:

The deal on the table, imperfect as it might be, doesn’t restrict American freedom of action at all. Plus it has a pretty stringent inspection regime and would prevent Iran from building a bomb for at least ten years – probably longer. That’s better than what we have now. So why not go ahead and sign the deal and then use the next ten years to figure out what to do next? What’s the downside?

I can’t really think of one except that it makes a shooting war less likely over the next decade. I call that a feature. I guess Graham and his crowd call it a bug.

The General had to straighten these people out:

While the nuclear agreement with Iran will not stop it from funding organizations the United States considers to be terrorist groups, the pact reduces the chances of a near-term military conflict between the two countries, the top American military leader, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, told Congress on Wednesday. …

General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the nuclear deal did not prevent the United States from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that Tehran is cheating on the agreement. But if it sticks to the terms of the pact, such a strike – with attendant retaliation – is far less likely, he said.

In his trademark to-the-point style, General Dempsey answered a barrage of questions from Republican senators that appeared intended to make him criticize the pact. The general – appearing alongside Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew – neither praised nor condemned the nuclear agreement.

Instead, he gave an assessment of both the potential and the limitations of the pact. “If followed, the deal addresses one critical and the most dangerous point of friction with the Iranian regime,” General Dempsey said. “But as I’ve stated repeatedly, there are at least five other malign activities which give us and our regional partners concern,” including the pursuit of ballistic missile technology, weapons trafficking, the use of surrogates and proxies, the use of naval mines, and undersea activity.

Ah, they thought they had him, but they didn’t:

When Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, accused General Dempsey of “damning” the pact “with faint praise,” the general was again brief.

“First, Senator, I would ask you not to characterize my statement as tepid, nor enthusiastic, but rather pragmatic,” he said. “Relieving the risk of a nuclear conflict with Iran diplomatically is superior than trying to do that militarily.”

They seemed surprised that a general would say that, but they managed to do their thing anyway:

When Mr. Kerry, who along with Mr. Moniz negotiated the agreement, spoke, the hearing at times got antagonistic.

Toward the end, Mr. Kerry and Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, got into a heated exchange over whether Mr. Kerry should apologize to families of American military forces who were killed in Iraq by Shiite forces using weaponry provided by Iran.

Mr. Cruz, a presidential candidate, misquoted Mr. Kerry, saying the secretary of state had apologized to those families. Mr. Kerry corrected him, and Mr. Cruz then pressed Mr. Kerry about why he had not apologized to them.

Yeah, it was weird, and meanwhile, down the street:

At the White House, the Democratic lawmakers were given Champagne and soft drinks and were briefly entertained by a piano player before filing into the East Room around 4:30 p.m. to hear the president give an intensive 30-minute seminar on the details of the Iran agreement. Several cabinet members were in the audience.

The president promised that he would explain the details of the agreement to everyone in the room for as long as anyone wished, and he said he would get more detailed answers from others if any were needed.

“He is leaving no doubt that this is his top priority,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. “I’ve never seen anything like it, except maybe during the Affordable Care Act debate in 2010.”

The president’s message, lawmakers said, was the same as he has given elsewhere: While not perfect, the deal is better than any alternative.

Despite the abrupt end to the meeting, many in the room were persuaded, Ms. Schakowsky said.

“I feel very confident that we will have sufficient votes to sustain a veto,” she said.

This really is a done deal, and the Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus points out that there is no real alternative:

The simplest option – and the one least likely to succeed – has come from Marco Rubio: escalate U.S. sanctions until Iran cries uncle.

“The only option we have is to re-impose the American sanctions,” the Florida Republican said on CBS last week. “Give Iran a very clear choice: You can have an economy or you can have a weapons program, but you will not be able to have both.”

The problem is, U.S. economic sanctions alone have never compelled another country to surrender. And there’s little chance Obama or his successor could persuade the world’s other economic powers to join in sanctions if the United States walked away from the current deal.

And there’s this:

Some conservatives have proposed a slightly more sophisticated option: ask Iran and the other five countries in the negotiations to reopen the talks.

“The alternative is for Congress to reject this deal and demand a better deal, to send our negotiators back to the table with both tougher sanctions and [threats of] military force,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a television interview.

“Arms control agreements are renegotiated all the time,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “You just go back and say: We couldn’t get a bipartisan consensus. At that point, the Europeans and Russia and China have to decide whether to go back to the table too.”

That, however, is not as easy as it sounds.

“Do you think the ayatollah is going to come back to the table if Congress refuses this, and negotiate again?” Kerry asked. “I mean, please. I would be embarrassed to try.”

Kerry called it a “unicorn arrangement” – “a fantasy, pure and simple” – because international willingness to impose sanctions would erode, reducing U.S. leverage on Iran.

There is that:

Even Takeyh, who favors this course, believes sanctions would weaken. “Yes, there will be leakage,” he said. “China may want to buy oil from Iran. India will want to reopen trade. It will mostly happen in Asia. But at least Iran won’t get access to the biggest markets.”

If the U.S. could keep Europe in line, he argued, Iran would come back to the table. That’s a big if, a European diplomat told me; French and German business delegations have already visited Tehran to look for new trading opportunities.

And then there’s military action against Iran:

Few of Obama’s critics promote that option, in part because U.S. military officials say it wouldn’t end Iran’s nuclear research but merely set it back two or three years. Also, it could start a major war.

But one forthright proponent of airstrikes is John R. Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

“If the real objective is stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, preemptive military action is now inescapable… Some critics of Obama’s plan advocate scuttling the deal and increasing economic sanctions against Iran instead. They are dreaming.… There will be no other, better deal.”

That argument oddly puts Bolton in the same absolutist camp – rhetorically, anyway – as Kerry: If the deal doesn’t succeed, the most likely outcome is war.

And that’s it:

There are other alternatives. But none of them are easy, none are cost-free and none are guaranteed to work. If Obama’s deal with Iran is something of a gamble, his critics’ proposed alternatives are gambles too, and their outcomes would be even less certain.

Wasn’t that what Natasha Lyonne was saying? This is going to be a strange sixty days, ending where everyone knows it was going to end anyway. At least the YouTube videos are amusing.

Posted in Iran Nuclear Deal | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Spy Walks

There was no Dead Poets Society. That was just a movie – but there were those years teaching English at a prep school in upstate New York – close enough. That did, however, have to end. There’s simply a time to move on, and in June, 1981, after giving the commencement address at that final graduation, it was off to the real world, to Southern California, and a new career of sorts. That new career seemed to be in aerospace. Not really – the position was in Training and Organizational Development – not that different than teaching and coaching. It’s just that odd things were going on, on campus. These guys were building satellites, communication satellites everyone could talk about, and military satellites no one was allowed to mention. Two buildings over, they were building fire-control radar for jet fighters and bombers. Down the road they were building guidance systems for all of our nuclear missiles. They were probably doing lots of other stuff no one knew about, and this was a cultural shock. The James Bond movies with all the gizmos, and the inevitable shadowy evil genius who grabbed some nuclear weapons or something even worse, were one thing. This was the real thing – and then there was the matter of obtaining a security clearance.

“Confidential” isn’t much of a clearance – about ten steps below “Secret” and a hundred steps below “Top Secret” – but the mysterious men in dark suits showed up to talk to friends and neighbors and all the rest. Then there were the security briefings – how NOT to be recruited by agents of a foreign government – who to talk to if felt like you were being recruited by an agent of a foreign government, not just a neighbor being mildly curious about how things were going that week.

That was odd. What if you don’t know anything? The government got it. They dropped those “Confidential” clearances a few years later. They’d been wasting a lot of time and money – but this was the peak of the Cold War. Reagan had been nattering away for a few years about the Evil Empire. They’d just been being careful. Then they decided to be smart. All of us low-level human resources people really didn’t matter at all – but for a time we did.

That wasn’t the only dislocation. There was the second marriage to the much younger tall-young-blond-former-model. Divorced men, in their mid-thirties, who move to California, do such things – that’s normal – but that came with a new father-in-law, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, with a big office in the Pentagon and all that. These things happen too, and the visits to the Pentagon were surreal – small talk with admirals and generals. It had to be small talk. They couldn’t say anything about anything to someone who worked for a defense contractor. Someone who worked for a defense contractor shouldn’t say anything about anything to them. Baseball and the weather were safe. Frank Carlucci, a weaselly little man who was secretary of defense at the time, just smiled – he had all the power in the room. It was a bit unnerving. These guys were doing all they could to arm Saddam Hussein, probably sending him anthrax, so he could take care of Iran for us. These guys were probably doing lots of stuff. No one would ever know.

No one was supposed to know. The government runs on secrets. There are wheels within wheels and multiple levels of security clearances, and even then there are “need to know” restrictions no matter how high your clearance. That’s how things get done. You just have to trust these guys. They know the current good guys from the current bad guys, at the moment, before things reverse again – and they take care of those bad guys, in silence most of the time. You don’t have the proper clearance or the “need to know” to understand. Make small talk. That’ll do.

That seemed fine in 1985, but on November 21, 1985, Jonathan Pollard and his wife tried to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and were refused by the Israeli guards there. FBI agents arrested Pollard as soon as he set foot off embassy property. Pollard had been spying for Israel – he sold them all sorts of highly classified stuff that the Reagan administration wanted to keep to itself, and much of it had nothing to do with Israel at all. All sorts of systems and methods and agents had been compromised. And then we caught the bad guy, who had been spying for our closest ally, who was spying on us.

No one knew what to make of this at the time. Was Israel our enemy now? Hasn’t every American president before Obama done exactly what Israel wanted and agreed with Israel on all issues, at least before Obama?

No, not really. Dan Murphy takes us back to those days:

Barack Obama isn’t the only American president to chafe at an Israeli prime minister trying to go behind his back to the US Congress on foreign policy. In September 1981, President Ronald Reagan welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin – who founded the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu now leads – to Washington, at a time that he was seeking approval of the sale of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Begin was furious about it, saying it would irreparably harm Israel’s security and launching a full-court lobbying effort in Washington to upend the sale. “We can only repeat our position that it will endanger very seriously the security of Israel,” Begin said after touching down in the US.

Reagan writes in his autobiography of meeting Begin on that trip, and of the Israeli’s objections to the AWACS deal. Reagan told Begin that the US thought the deal wouldn’t harm Israel’s security, and might open a deal to a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, much like the one recently signed with Egypt.

Murphy quotes Reagan on how that went:

Although I felt that our relationship had gotten off to a good start and that I had Begin’s confidence that we would do whatever it took to ensure the safety of Israel, I learned that almost immediately after he left the White House, Begin went to Capitol Hill and began lobbying very hard against me, the administration, and the AWACS sale – after he had told me he wouldn’t do that.

I didn’t like having representatives of a foreign country – any foreign country – trying to interfere in what I regarded as our domestic political process and the setting of our foreign policy. I told the State Department to let Begin know I didn’t like it and that he was jeopardizing the close relationship or our countries unless he backed off. Privately, I felt he’d broken his word and I was angry about it.

Of course he was, and Murphy adds this:

The bad taste this episode left probably contributed to Reagan’s cutting off of supplies of cluster-bombs to Israel the next year, and to the decision in early 1992 by Reagan’s vice president and successor, George H. W. Bush, to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel until the country agreed to freeze settlement expansion, something Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to that July, though settlement expansion continued.

As for Reagan, he went public:

On Oct. 1, an angry Reagan told a press conference that “it is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy.” When asked if that meant Israel, he responded. “Well… or anyone else…”

Israel ended up spying on us. We caught the American citizen they had turned. We sentenced him to life in prison, and then things got interesting:

Until 1998 Israel’s official position was that Pollard worked for an unauthorized rogue operation, and was never an Israeli agent.

In 1988 a three-way exchange was proposed, wherein Pollard and his wife would be released and deported to Israel, Israel would release Soviet spy Marcus Klingberg, and the Soviet Union would exercise its influence with Syria and Iran to release American hostages held there by Syrian- and Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups.

In 1990 Israel reportedly considered offering to release Yosef Amit, an Israeli military intelligence officer serving a 12-year sentence for spying for the United States and another NATO power, in exchange for Pollard. Sources conflict on the outcome: According to one, Amit made it known that he had no wish to be exchanged. By another account, Israeli officials nixed the idea, fearing that it would only stoke more anger in the United States…

In 1995 Israel attempted to orchestrate another three-way exchange, this time involving American spies imprisoned in Russia. Israel would release Klingberg, the Russians would release U.S. agents who had remained in prison since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the United States would then free Pollard.

In May 1998, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally admitted that Pollard was an Israeli agent, and that he had been handled by high-ranking officials of the Israeli Bureau for Scientific Relations. The Israeli government paid for the services of at least two of Pollard’s trial attorneys – Richard A. Hibey and Hamilton Philip Fox III – and continues to petition for his release. During campaigning leading up to the 1999 Israeli general election, Netanyahu and his challenger Ehud Barak exchanged barbs in the media over which had been more supportive of Pollard. In 2002 Netanyahu visited Pollard in prison. In 2007 he pledged that, if re-elected Prime Minister, he would bring about Pollard’s release.

Netanyahu got what he wanted:

In July 2014, after Jonathan J. Pollard had served 29 years of a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israel, his hopes for freedom were thwarted when a federal panel denied his request for parole.

But that hearing set in motion an intense scramble by lawyers for Mr. Pollard to ensure a different result a year later, when he would be eligible for parole after serving 30 years. They wrote letters, cited statistics and introduced evidence that their client met two legal standards for parole: that he had behaved well in prison, and that he posed no threat of returning to a life of espionage.

On Tuesday, the effort finally succeeded, as the United States Parole Commission announced that Mr. Pollard, 60, met the legal standards and would be released just before Thanksgiving. Mr. Pollard, one of the country’s most notorious spies, will walk out of federal prison in Butner, N.C., on Nov. 20.

Something is going on here, or it isn’t:

Mr. Pollard’s lawyers and American officials insisted Tuesday that the parole decision was not an effort to ease friction between Mr. Netanyahu and President Obama over the agreement that world powers reached this month with Iran to curb its nuclear program. Mr. Netanyahu has said the deal will lead Iran to construct a nuclear weapon.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who testified before Congress on Tuesday on the Iran deal, told reporters after the hearing that there was no connection between Mr. Pollard’s parole and the agreement. “I haven’t even had a conversation about it,” he said.

Longtime observers of the Iran negotiations said it would have been a mistake for Mr. Obama to try to connect Mr. Pollard’s release to the nuclear deal, especially since the fate of four Americans who are being held prisoner in Iran is not addressed by the agreement.

“Any perception that an Israeli spy was released as a result of the Iran deal and not the Americans in Iranian jails would have been a PR disaster,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations. “Netanyahu would have had to protest even harder against the agreement to make sure nobody thought he was being bought off.”

But this guy has been a pawn before:

In 2014, before the parole commission rejected Mr. Pollard’s request that year, Obama administration officials reportedly discussed the possibility of releasing him as a way to avert a collapse in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Officials said at the time that Mr. Kerry considered the possibility that the early release of Mr. Pollard might coax additional concessions from Mr. Netanyahu in the peace talks. Among the sticking points was whether Israel would release Palestinian prisoners.

The peace talks eventually broke down, leaving the parole commission as Mr. Pollard’s only real hope for freedom.

Well, he is getting his freedom now although Ilene Prusher reports that no one is happy:

The week after the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program was signed in Vienna, Defense Secretary Ashton Carton visited Israel to speak about strengthening security cooperation between the two countries. The visit came amid reports that the Obama administration would offer some kind of package to soften the blow of a deal that Israel adamantly opposes, along with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. But Israeli officials said they weren’t prepared to discuss additional aid or “compensation,” and would instead focus on lobbying Congress not to pass the deal.

Whether coincidental or conceived, the timing of Pollard’s release is being read by many here as a sort of peace offering.

“As far as Israel’s leaders are concerned, the timing of the announcement unavoidably gives the liberation of Pollard the feel of a consolation prize – and a poor one at that,” writes Allison Kaplan Sommer, a columnist for Israel’s Haaretz news site. “The move feels like a power play rather than any kind of grand gesture – an effort to dissuade Israel and its American supporters from applying maximum political pressure on the Iran deal out of gratitude – or even fear that the release could somehow be disrupted.”

There are wheels within wheels:

It would probably be an exaggeration to say that Pollard will receive a hero’s welcome if and when he arrives in Israel, as the spy scandal is viewed by the Israeli public as an embarrassment caused by senior intelligence officers who recruited Pollard to steal top secret American material. But many Israelis believe that Pollard’s sentence was unduly harsh, and they note that no other American was ever given a life sentence for passing classified information to a US ally.

Regardless, Netanyahu will likely be given credit by Israelis for having helped win Pollard’s freedom, a goal that successive Israeli prime ministers have sworn themselves dedicated to achieving but failed. “I have consistently raised the issue of his release in my meetings and conversations with the leadership of successive US administrations,” Netanyahu said late Tuesday. “We are looking forward to his release.”

According to Israel’s state-run radio, Netanyahu was due to meet Wednesday with Effi Lahav, the head of the campaign to free Pollard, and Esther Pollard, who married the spy after his conviction.

“Obviously she’s thrilled, and Jonathan is thrilled for her,” Eliot Lauer, one of Pollard’s lawyers, told TIME. “She has led the campaign for many, many years, to keep up the case in the public eye, and it’s a wonderful thing that they’ll be together.”

One makes the best of these things, but Ronen Bergman, a senior political and military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, doesn’t think that’s Israel:

The use of Mr. Pollard as a carrot reveals that Obama administration officials grasp the importance of the prisoner to the Israeli public. They also understand that there would be no better move than freeing Mr. Pollard to sweeten the bitter pill of the Iran deal that Israelis are being asked to swallow.

On the other hand, the way the Israeli leadership and the public have reacted to Mr. Pollard’s 30-year imprisonment is an excellent example of their profound misunderstanding of American values and thinking.

Go back in time:

“I couldn’t resist the temptation,” Rafi Eitan, who recruited Mr. Pollard, told me in 2006. “We’re talking about material that was of such high quality, so accurate and so important to the security of the state. My appetite for getting more and more of it got the better of me.”

Perhaps one can understand the motivation of Mr. Eitan, one of Israel’s top spies who devoted his whole life to obtaining information. But it’s far more difficult to understand the thinking of those who worked above him, including the former prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres and especially Yitzhak Rabin, who had served as ambassador to Washington. They knew very well that Israel was running a spy at the heart of the country’s closest ally, and failed to stop it.

Mr. Eitan took responsibility by resigning; his superiors did not. And this unfortunate episode continues to cause grave damage to relations between the two countries to this day.

That’s the profound misunderstanding of American values and thinking. We don’t like our friends spying on us, or back in the day, and this year, telling us our president’s a fool and Congress out to neuter him, if they love Israel – because sometimes you have to choose which country is more important, and which is really “your” country. The Israelis have been playing the game since the eighties. Trust Menachem Begin or Ronald Reagan – choose. Trust Benjamin Netanyahu or Barack Obama – choose. Admire this clever spy or be outraged that your closest ally is spying on you – choose. Those are the choices? Bergman seems to think Israel should stop such nonsense before we walk away.

And this wasn’t a clever spy:

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that a person like Mr. Pollard was ever recruited to sensitive positions in either country. At school, Mr. Pollard used to fantasize to his friends that he was a Mossad spy. He was accepted into American intelligence and promoted, despite documented instances of lying, cheating, flagrant security breaches and problematic psychological diagnoses. While employed in naval intelligence, Mr. Pollard and his first wife, Ann, took part in drug-fueled parties and became embroiled in debt.

Mr. Pollard first offered his services to the Mossad, which was apprehensive about him. He also tried non-Israeli actors, until he finally lit upon Lakam, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s military and nuclear espionage arm, which made him an agent despite his problematic character. Mr. Pollard acted irresponsibly, stealing suitcases full of naval intelligence documents indiscriminately, some of which didn’t pertain to Israel. It was clear he would eventually be caught.

The Israelis who employed Mr. Pollard also failed to take into account the risk he posed to the American Jewish community, which was subsequently suspected of disloyalty. Documents from the CIA reveal that the agency viewed Mr. Pollard as an American Jew who had translated his support for Israel into two alternatives: immigrate to Israel or spy for it. For years afterward, the Pollard affair made it difficult for Jews in the United States government to get security clearances for sensitive jobs.

And that’s not the half of it:

When the case blew up, the Israelis did the opposite of what was needed to placate the furious American administration – they continued lying and concealing essential facts from the FBI investigators who came to Tel Aviv. These lies were easily discovered and caused further damage.

Moderate elements in Israel wanted to end the affair quietly. A Public Committee for Mr. Pollard was set up, through which the state channeled large amounts of money to top-flight lawyers who tried to improve his jail conditions and secure an eventual pardon. In order to achieve this, Mr. Pollard needed to keep a low profile, admit his wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. But this measured approach was trampled by certain cabinet ministers and right-wing Knesset members who began to make pilgrimages to Mr. Pollard’s jail cell. …

The Israeli government even issued Mr. Pollard an Israeli identity card and published a public admission that he spied for Israel – the opposite of what should have been done to speed his release.

The Israelis don’t get it:

If Israelis celebrate his release and possible “homecoming” there must be a responsible adult in Israel who understands how turning a spy into a returning hero will be interpreted in Washington. Israelis must realize, even if 30 years too late, that Americans see Mr. Pollard as a traitor of the worst kind and that celebrating his release will only further harm Israel’s already strained relations with America.

That may be a misreading of things here, at least with the current Republican Party, some of whom can’t decide which flag pin to wear as the next presidential election approaches – the Confederate battle flag or the flag of Israel. They forget a lot of their history. Even Ronald Reagan was fed up with these people. That’s why Jonathan Pollard was in jail in the first place – even if no one at the time knew what the hell was going on. Those with the right security clearances knew. That’s how the world works. Some people get to know things. Others don’t. The eighties were an education. But don’t tell anyone. It’s classified.

Posted in Israel and America, Jonathan Pollard | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Road Taken

Life is full of regrets, or at least wistful speculation. There’s that fork in the road. Choose one way or the other, but know that once you move on, there’s no going back – and you must move on. But one way forward seems well-trodden. The other no one seems to have used. Go the way everyone before you seems to have gone? Take the road less-travelled? Which will it be? Robert Frost wrote a famous poem about this – where the narrator took the road “less traveled by” and “that made all the difference” with its hints of independence and self-actualization and self-respect and all the rest. That’s fine, but that’s a poem. Choosing, at eighteen, to run off and join the circus, or a rock band, doesn’t work out well for most people. There’s usually a reason people don’t take that other road. Bad things happen down that road.

Frost, of course, was tapping into that rebellious American attitude where we long to do whatever the hell we want to do – damn the consequences – and say whatever we want to say, no matter what anyone else thinks. That’s freedom, right? I can wave my Confederate flag in your black face and sneer. I can say Jesus hates you because you’re gay. You can call me a fascist pig. The rules of polite discourse are for fools – or for those folks that took that other road that Robert Frost mentioned. Real Americans let it rip – they’re loud, crude, and rude, and they don’t give a damn about your precious feelings. Political correctness isn’t American in the slightest. Screw that. If you’re offended, you ought to be offended. You should probably be taken out back and shot.

No one actually lives their life like that – people tend to avoid loud quarrelsome jerks with a chip on their shoulder so you’ll be pretty lonely – but if you’re running for office, this is not a bad pose to assume. Become the truth-teller who says it like it is and doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. This has worked wonders for Donald Trump, who doesn’t give a damn about the precious feelings of Hispanic-Americans. He says they all love him anyway – those who aren’t rapists or murderers or drug dealers. They don’t want any more Mexicans showing up here either. They know he’s right about those nasty and dangerous folks who slip across our border.

Donald Trump may be wrong about that, but that hasn’t stopped Mike Huckabee from striking a similar pose:

Mike Huckabee is not backing away from his strident criticism of President Barack Obama and the Iranian nuclear deal – even as his fellow Republican presidential candidates distance themselves from his remarks.

A day after making an explicit comparison to the Holocaust in denouncing the agreement, the former Arkansas governor continued to make his case on Twitter.

In an earlier interview with Breitbart News published Saturday, Huckabee said that Obama is “naive” in trusting Iran to uphold its part of the deal. “By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Obama is Hitler. He wants to exterminate the Jews. How else can you read this? Huckabee simply had the courage to say this. He took that other road, but he got slapped down:

The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism, immediately denounced Huckabee’s language.

“Whatever one’s views of the nuclear agreement with Iran – and we have been critical of it, noting that there are serious unanswered questions that need to be addressed – comments such as those by Mike Huckabee suggesting the president is leading Israel to another Holocaust are completely out of line and unacceptable,” ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “To hear Mr. Huckabee invoke the Holocaust when America is Israel’s greatest ally and when Israel is a strong nation capable of defending itself is disheartening.”

But Huckabee didn’t back down.

“Tell Congress to do their constitutional duty & reject the Obama-Kerry #IranDeal,” he tweeted on Sunday, along with a graphic repeating his controversial comments.

He couldn’t back down. That would be politically correct, and that wouldn’t be American at all. Huckabee may not be rich, but he’s as much as a truth-teller as Trump, and he has his has way of saying things, even if it offends others. This item notes that in 2007, the ADL asked Huckabee to stop referring to the “holocaust of liberalized abortion” – and he didn’t stop. That’s why he beat John McCain in the primaries and beat Barack Obama in the general election. No, wait…

This didn’t go well:

Speaking before reporters in Ethiopia on Monday, Obama called the remark part of a pattern of comments “that would be considered ridiculous if it wasn’t so sad.”

“Maybe it’s just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines,” he added.

When asked whether or not Donald Trump finds with Huckabee’s rhetoric offensive, Michael Cohen, the executive vice president of Trump’s campaign, told CNN, “I don’t think so.”

“I’m not offended by the words, and I lost 90 percent of my family at that point,” Cohen, who is Jewish, added.

In short, the Trump camp agrees that Obama is, functionally, Hitler, and Huckabee had his say too:

“What’s ‘ridiculous and sad’ is that President Obama does not take Iran’s repeated threats seriously. For decades, Iranian leaders have pledged to ‘destroy,’ annihilate,’ and ‘wipe Israel off the map’ with a ‘big Holocaust,'” the Republican candidate said.

“‘Never again’ will be the policy of my administration and I will stand with our ally Israel to prevent the terrorists in Tehran from achieving their own stated goal of another Holocaust,” he added.

Huckabee later sent the same message to supporters in a fundraising appeal.

Of course he did, but others saw a loud quarrelsome jerk with a chip on his shoulder:

Speaking at an event for pastors in the Orlando area, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the Iran deal “horrific,” but added that “we need to tone down the rhetoric, for sure.”

Acknowledging that he respects Huckabee, Bush said using “that kind of language” is “just wrong.”

“This is not the way we’re going to win elections. That’s not how we’re going to solve problems,” he added.

And on the other side:

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton called Huckabee’s comments “offensive” and over the line.

“Comments like these are offensive and have no place in our political dialogue. I am disappointed and I am really offended personally,” Clinton said at an event in Des Moines, Iowa. “I know Governor Huckabee. I have a cordial relationship with him. He served as governor of Arkansas. But I find this kind of inflammatory rhetoric totally unacceptable.”

Huckabee fired back: “You finally come out of hiding to attack me for defending Israel?” he tweeted. “What’s ‘unacceptable’ is a mushroom cloud over Israel.”

Say what? Huckabee certainly has taken the road less-travelled here – even American Jews are offended – but perhaps there’s something else going on. He wants to show his party how to win the Jewish vote, something they probably haven’t done since the Hoover administration. Obama is Hitler, leading the Jews to the gas chambers. Republicans are their saviors. This should work, except these people aren’t cooperating:

GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee says President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the deal’s preeminent opponent – but according to a rare national survey conducted in the wake of the agreement, a plurality of American Jews support the new Iran nuclear deal.

The LA Jewish Journal survey released Thursday found that 48 percent of Jews support the deal while 28 percent oppose it and 25 percent hadn’t heard enough to form an opinion. The survey described key parts of the deal, which lifts major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.

Jewish support for the deal was 20 percentage points higher than for Americans overall, according to a side-by-side poll of the general public. A separate question found 54 percent of Jews saying Congress should approve the deal, while 35 percent want Congress to block it.

They want the deal more than everyone else, and there are lots of ways to see this, but this may be a case of this deal being better than no deal at all, and war. Also, Benjamin Netanyahu is generally seen, here, as a loud quarrelsome jerk. And then there’s Rabbi David Wolpe directly addressing Huckabee:

I have made my opposition to the deal well-known, but when a former Mossad chief, as well as various other Israeli intelligence professionals, support the deal, along with about half of all American Jews, do we need to imply that those who negotiated it are the SS? No one with a strong argument has to reach for rhetorical nuclear weapons.

Don’t go down that road, please? Give us an argument.

That’s not what Republican do now. Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s campaign for president way back when, reminds us how saying what they feel like saying and doing what they feel like doing, of taking the wrong fork in the road, has tripped them up:

On the question of immigration, The Republican Party is at a crossroads. The party could take the Jeb Bush approach. “The way I look at this,” Bush said last year, “is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families – the dad who loved their children – was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table…. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.”

Or the party could imitate Donald Trump, who exploded into the presidential race with these inflammatory words: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He then added: “And some, I assume, are good people.”

We’ve been here before:

In 1994, two future GOP presidential hopefuls, Pete Wilson of California and George W. Bush of Texas, formed near-opposite relationships with the Latino community. Their fates, and the fates of their state parties, should tell the national GOP everything it needs to know about how best to handle immigration.


Twenty-one years ago, California was a swing state that leaned GOP. It had voted Republican in six of the last seven presidential elections and sent two of the last six presidents, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, to the White House. Wilson’s 1994 reelection marked the fourth straight time the GOP won the governor’s mansion.

Now California is overwhelmingly Democratic. What happened? Among other factors, Wilson made the unfortunate decision to support Proposition 187.

Today no Republican holds elected statewide office in California, and Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 majority over Republicans in both the state Senate and the Assembly.

Proposition 187 was what changed things:

The so-called Save Our State, or SOS, initiative prohibited immigrants in the U.S. illegally from using healthcare and public education in California, effectively denying these services to hundreds of thousands of their children. Anti-immigrant activists spun divisive slogans like “Deport Them All” and “Send Them Home,” while Wilson and the California Republican Party strongly endorsed Proposition 187. Those who stood on the other side were called traitors. When the coauthor of Proposition 187 said at a rally that “you are the posse, and SOS is the rope,” the entanglement of GOP support for 187 with racially intolerant rhetoric was complete.

Proposition 187 passed, but a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional. As Mexico’s president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, decried the law as xenophobic, Wilson and his fellow Republicans doubled down and appealed the court’s decision. Although they ultimately failed to enact the law, they did succeed in driving a lasting wedge between the GOP and California’s Latino community.

Latino participation in California’s elections increased dramatically, and Republicans found it harder and harder to attract their votes. … Today no Republican holds elected statewide office in California, and Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 majority over Republicans in both the state Senate and the Assembly. Since Proposition 187, the state has never voted Republican for president. And Wilson’s campaign for the White House in 1996 lasted barely more than a month.

And then there’s Texas:

In 1994, the Texas Democratic Party was thriving. Two of the last three governors – Mark White and Ann Richards – were Democrats. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, a Texan, had run on the national Democratic ticket for vice president in 1988 and was serving as U.S. Treasury secretary. George W. Bush had narrowly defeated incumbent Richards, but Democrats had been reelected to the offices of lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and state treasurer.

Bush had the answer:

When it came to illegal immigration, Bush opposed “the spirit of 187″ for Texas, saying he felt that “every child ought to be educated regardless of the status of their parents.”

From his first days as governor, Bush signaled that Mexico was not the enemy. He invited the governors of the five Mexican states closest to Texas to his inauguration and in his speech that day welcomed them, saying, “Friends bring out the best in each other. May our friendship bring much good to both our countries.”

The Texas GOP actively recruited Latinos into the party ranks. Continued outreach – emphasizing inclusion and respect for Latinos – helped the party achieve dominance in a state in which Latinos now approach 40% of the population.

No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994. As for Bush, he was reelected president in 2004 with one of the highest vote percentages among Latinos ever achieved by a Republican.

No more need be said. On November 8, 1994, Prop 187 passed easily but the whole thing was damned ugly – “Deport Them All” was shouted a lot. And there’s been no Republican Party here for years, and, as Greg Sargent reports, here we go again:

This new poll finding, courtesy of CNN, is not all that surprising, but it is very illuminating of the demographic challenges the GOP faces right now: A big majority of Republicans believes that the government’s main focus on immigration should be not just on stopping the flow of illegal immigrants, but also on deporting those already here.

The question was this:

What should be the main focus of the U.S. government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration – developing a plan that would allow illegal immigrants who have jobs to become legal U.S. residents, or developing a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here?

Sargent summarizes the results:

By 56-42, Americans support developing a plan to legalize undocumented immigrants over stopping their flow and deporting those already here – Independents agree by 58-39, and moderates by 59-40. But Republicans favor stopping the flow of undocumenteds and deporting those already here by 63-34. So do conservatives, by 55-43. “Those already here,” of course, amount to some 11 million people.

Now, it’s certainly possible that GOP support for deportation is inflated somewhat by the inclusion of securing the border on that side of the question. But even when the question is framed a bit less starkly, as a recent Post/ABC News poll did, a majority of Republicans does not think the undocumented should be allowed to live and work here even if they pay a fine and meet other requirements. This should not obscure the fact that a substantial number of Republicans are, in fact, open to legalization; it’s just that more of them apparently aren’t.

And as such, what the CNN numbers again confirm is that there is a deep and intractable divide between the two parties on what to do about the undocumented population. This fundamental underlying difference matters far more than Donald Trump’s vicious rhetoric, which (assuming he doesn’t run as a third party candidate) will likely prove ephemeral.

This could be Prop 187 all over again – deport them all. Why not be blunt, no matter whose precious feelings are hurt? Ed Kilgore addresses that:

There’s a tendency among progressives not to dwell on this, because we hope there’s enough sentiment within the GOP to outweigh or bring around the nativists. But at the same time, explaining the president’s use of prosecutorial discretion to give many of the undocumented relief doesn’t really make sense unless you understand Congress is refusing either to set its own priorities, or to legalize most of the undocumented, or to provide the resources to enforce the laws strictly as they claim to want. Truth is I suspect a majority of Republicans actually favor the lazy path of “self-deportation” – making life for the undocumented so miserable that they leave on their own—but Mitt Romney showed that approach was a political loser. Additionally, that’s a legally as well as morally dubious proposition.

So I think it’s important for progressives to get right up in the grill of conservative opponents of any path to legalization for the eleven million and ask them: Where’s the money to deport these people? Where are the appropriations for the cattle cars? Isn’t there a transportation bill on the floor of the House? Get with it or stop complaining about what Obama’s doing in the absence of any congressional policy.

There’s truth-telling, and then there’s bullshit, and then there’s John Kasich:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a message for presidential candidates: “Grow up.”

In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, the 2016 hopeful suggested that presidential candidates typically make “ridiculous” promises and focus less on solutions than on running “just to get elected.”

“If we’re running for these offices just to get elected, I mean, we’re not running for class president,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “We’re running to be the commander-in-chief and the leader of the United States of America. Grow up.”

“I’m not going to just make statements just to make them,” he added.

John Kasich came to the same fork in the road the other Republicans came to. They went one way. He went the other – and he won’t have a chance to win the nomination of a political party that gives us that rebellious American attitude where you do whatever the hell you want to do – damn the consequences – and say whatever you want to say, no matter what anyone else thinks. That’s freedom, right? Real Americans let it rip – they’re loud, crude, and rude, and they don’t give a damn about your precious feelings.

Everyone loves that, right? That’s the road “less traveled by” – the road of independence and self-actualization and self-respect and all the rest – but there’s a reason people don’t take that other road. Losers travel that road.

Posted in Deport Them All, Immigration Reform, Iran Nuclear Deal, Mike Huckabee | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reliving the Thirties

When times are tough people look for someone who will make things all better, someone who will knock a few heads together and get things done, not like useless fools now in power, who got us into this mess – and there were no times tougher than the thirties. The Great Depression was a worldwide depression, and there weren’t a lot of strong leaders around – but there were a few. The word was that, say what you will about Mussolini, at least, over there, the trains ran on time. That wasn’t quite true – not that it mattered. The idea was that even if he was an awful man, Mussolini cut through the crap and got things done. Italy was recovering from the Great Depression. We were not. He was a strong leader.

Charles Lindbergh felt the same way about Hitler. After the kidnapping and murder of their son, he and his wife moved to Europe for a time, and Lindbergh attended a few Nazi rallies. These folks had their act together, and as one of the many isolationists here at the time, he saw no reason we should go fight them:

Upon Lindbergh’s return to the States, he agitated for neutrality with Germany, and testified before Congress in opposition to the Lend-Lease policy, which offered cash and military aid to countries friendly to the United States in their war effort against the Axis powers. His public denunciation of “the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt Administration” – as instigators of American intervention in the war – as well as comments that smacked of anti-Semitism – lost him the support of other isolationists. When, in 1941, President Roosevelt denounced Lindbergh publicly, the aviator resigned from the Air Corps Reserve.

We eventually forgave him. Jimmy Stewart played him in a movie – but the thirties had been like that. People were enamored with the idea of a strong leader who would cut through all the crap and get something done – anything – even if that leader was a murderous psychopath like Hitler or a buffoon like Mussolini. Times were tough. It took years, but mostly another World War, to straighten out all of this. Mussolini should have been laughed off the world stage. Many expected that, but Mussolini was impervious to his own buffoonery.

ThinkProgress reports that so is Donald Trump:

After his now-famous comments deriding the war record of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) last weekend, Donald Trump was supposed to be toast. NBC’s First Read asked if this was a “tipping point.” “Trump GOP Candidacy Blows Up” … a Weekly Standard headline. “DON VOYAGE: Trump is toast after insult,” proclaimed the front page of the New York Post. “Trump is toast,” the conservative magazine Commentary put it simply.

He’s “not running a real campaign,” according to Rick Wilson, and in fact, “the Donald Trump candidacy is almost over.” The Huffington Post re-categorized Trump news into their entertainment section.

“Trump will continue to be loud and defiant,” ABC’s Rick Klein said, “but he will cease being relevant long before votes are cast.” Mitt Romney tweeted, “The difference between Sen. John McCain and Donald Trump: Trump shot himself down.”

“It’s still a great question how this Republican nomination race will sort out once this Trump nonsense ends,” wrote National Journal’s Charlie Cook. The establishment reaction to Trump’s McCain comments “will probably mark the moment when Trump’s candidacy went from boom to bust,” according to the New York Times.

They were all wrong:

Trump continues to surge in the polls, with a CNN-ORC poll finding he continues to lead the field nationwide at 18 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 15 percent and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 10 percent. The rest of the field was in single digits. Beyond the 18 percent giving him their support, well over half of white evangelicals, conservatives, and Tea Party supporters want him to remain in the race. Trump has now led five out of the last five national polls.

One NBC News-Marist poll found that Trump led the GOP field in New Hampshire with 21 percent support – Bush followed with 14 percent and Walker at 12 percent. The other 14 candidates were in the single digits.

Another poll in Iowa showed Trump almost tied with Walker’s lead position there – 17 percent for Trump and 19 for Walker. Bush trailed at 12 percent and the rest of the field in single digits. The Iowa poll was conducted before and after Trump’s comments about McCain – in New Hampshire his support and favorability rating dropped after the comments while in Iowa they actually increased.

This item also mentions that a survey of early-state GOP “insiders” conducted by Politico found that three-quarters of respondents thought Trump had peaked – so everyone was wrong – and everyone made adjustments:

Some candidates have lashed out at Trump while others have taken a “well if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee recently said Trump was “fascinating” and “sort of unfiltered in a way that’s refreshing.” In fact, Huckabee said, perhaps Huckabee was Trump before Trump was Trump. “I’ll be honest with you, a lot of the things that he’s saying, those are things that, in many ways, I’ve been saying those for eight years.”

For his part, Trump explains his surge as being larger than himself.

“This is more than me,” he said on CNN. “This is a movement going on. People are tired of these incompetent politicians in Washington who can’t get anything done.”

That sounds familiar, but Amber Phillips in the Washington Post says this may not be a big deal:

Republicans are in the midst of a primary battle with an unprecedented number of candidates (16!) and no clear leader. In fact, the 2016 Republican field is the most fractured in recent memory. Nasty primary battles are never a great time for any party. On top of all that, Republicans are dealing with Trumpmania.

The real estate magnate’s improbable and inescapable presidential campaign has clearly tapped into a small but fervent anti-Washington sentiment (a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found about 14 percent of the population supports Trump’s run for president).

But for obvious reasons, Trump is incredibly divisive: That same poll found 61 percent of Americans would never, ever consider voting for Trump under any circumstances.

Trump is going nowhere, but David Atkins isn’t so sure:

Phillips’ argument strikes me as a case of wishful thinking with precious little evidence behind it. Yes, the Republican Party has become too extreme for the general public; yes, Donald Trump and Tea Party candidates only have the support of the angriest conservative voters in the country; yes, primary battles are difficult.

But none of those facts, singly or collectively, signals that Republicans are dismayed at their own party because it has gotten too extreme. Rather, the enormous burst of base support for Donald Trump is simply yet another piece in a long trail of evidence from the ouster of Eric Cantor to the formation of the Tea Party itself that the Republican base feels that its establishment wing isn’t nearly extreme enough.

That seems to be the situation:

Fervently nativist Republicans, having found in Trump a voice that actually speaks for them and represents their interests, have grown disgusted with the establishment Republicans whom they regard as in hock to what they call the “cheap labor” big business crowd. It may have escaped the notice of most pundits, but even before Trump’s candidacy many base Republicans were already seething at the party’s corporate-friendly, anti-American-jobs stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership…

As usual, there’s just no reason to believe the conventional wisdom here. Republicans probably aren’t upset with their own party because it has become too extreme and too much like Donald Trump. In all likelihood it’s the other way around.

Atkins also adds this:

Witness the spectacle of Mike Huckabee this morning claiming that the negotiated deal with Iran would constitute President Obama marching “Israelis to the door of the oven.” Even by modern Republican standards that sort of rhetoric is a bridge too far. But it’s the sort of thing a Republican presidential aspirant has to say these days to get attention and support from the Republican base.

Or consider Rick Perry today, whose brilliant solution to mass shootings is for us to all “take our guns to the movie theaters.” As if the proper response to suicidal mass murderers using guns as the easiest, deadliest and most readily available tool to inflict mayhem is to arm every man, woman and child in the hope that the shooter dies slightly more quickly in the crossfire of a dark auditorium. Even as other moviegoers settle their disputes over cell phone texting with deadly gun violence.

Under normal circumstances these sorts of statements would be a death knell for presidential candidates. But these are not normal times. The Republican Party is locked into an autocatalytic cycle of increasing and self-reinforcing extremism.

There’s a reason for that. Tough times, like the thirties:

The blue-collar white males who make up the GOP base are struggling more and more as business-friendly trickle-down economic policies continue to rob them of their economic security – but their inherent racism, sexism and distrust of government leads them to inherently reject reasonable liberal solutions in the fear that someone they don’t like might get a “handout” with their tax dollars. Hardcore political Republican partisans are slowly realizing that they no longer hold a silent majority in the country if they ever did, that every passing year demographic change makes their electoral prospects increasingly difficult, and that only a combination of gerrymandering, small-state-favoritism and accidental geographic political self-selection allows them to hold onto the House and Senate for now. And conservatives of all stripes can feel the ground shift underneath them irrevocably as liberals continue to win battles on social issues even as unfiltered left-leaning economic populism becomes increasingly mainstream.

Unwilling and unable to moderate their positions, the Republican base has assumed a pose of irredentist defiance, an insurgent war against perceived liberal orthodoxy in which the loudest, most aggressive warrior becomes their favorite son. It is this insurgent stance that informs their hardline views on guns: many of them see a day coming when their nativist, secessionist political insurgency may become an active military insurgency, and they intend to be armed to the teeth in the event that they deem it necessary. The GOP electorate isn’t choosing a potential president: they’re choosing a rebel leader. The Republican base doesn’t intend to go down compromising. They intend to go down fighting.

That’s why Donald Trump is so popular. That’s why the Republican Party’s brand is weak even among conservatives – because it’s too extreme for everyone else, but not extreme enough for them.

Jeffrey Tucker in Newsweek makes the obvious connection:

I just heard Trump speak live. The speech lasted an hour, and my jaw was on the floor most of the time. I’ve never before witnessed such a brazen display of nativist jingoism, along with a complete disregard for economic reality. It was an awesome experience, a perfect repudiation of all good sense and intellectual sobriety.

Yes, he is against the establishment, against existing conventions. It also serves as an important reminder: As bad as the status quo is, things could be worse. Trump is dedicated to taking us there.

His speech was like an interwar séance of once-powerful dictators who inspired multitudes, drove countries into the ground and died grim deaths.

All it takes is “failed economies, cultural upheaval and social instability” and someone “stoking the fires of bourgeois resentment” and you get Trump, and something else:

Since World War II, the ideology he represents has usually lived in dark corners, and we don’t even have a name for it anymore. The right name, the correct name, the historically accurate name, is fascism. I don’t use that word as an insult only. It is accurate.

Though hardly anyone talks about it today, we really should. It is still real. It exists. It is distinct. It is not going away. Trump has tapped into it, absorbing unto his own political ambitions every conceivable resentment (race, class, sex, religion, economic) and promising a new order of things under his mighty hand.

You would have to be hopelessly ignorant of modern history not to see the outlines and where they end up. I want to laugh about what he said, like reading a comic-book version of Franco, Mussolini or Hitler.

But this isn’t a comic book:

Of course, race baiting is essential to the ideology, and there was plenty of that. When a Hispanic man asked a question, Trump interrupted him and asked if he had been sent by the Mexican government. He took it a step further, dividing blacks from Hispanics by inviting a black man to the microphone to tell how his own son was killed by an illegal immigrant.

Because Trump is the only one who speaks this way, he can count on support from the darkest elements of American life. He doesn’t need to actually advocate racial homogeneity, call for whites-only signs to be hung at immigration control or push for expulsion or extermination of undesirables. Because such views are verboten, he has the field alone, and he can count on the support of those who think that way by making the right noises.

But he’s really about business. He’s rich – really rich. That settles matters:

What do capitalists on his level do? They beat the competition. What does he believe he should do as president? Beat the competition, which means other countries, which means wage a trade war. If you listen to him, you would suppose that the United States is in some sort of massive, epochal struggle for supremacy with China, India, Malaysia and pretty much everyone else in the world.

It takes a bit to figure out what this could mean. He speaks of the United States as if it were one thing, one single firm – a business. “We” are in competition with “them,” as if the country was IBM competing against Samsung, Apple or Dell. “We” are not 300 million people pursuing unique dreams and ideas, with special tastes or interests, cooperating with people around the world to build prosperity. “We” are doing one thing, and that is being part of one business.

In effect, he believes that he is running to be the CEO of the country – not just of the government… In this capacity, he believes that he will make deals with other countries that cause the United States to come out on top, whatever that could mean. He conjures up visions of himself or one of his associates sitting across the table from some Indian or Chinese leader and making wild demands that they will buy such and such amount of product, or else “we” won’t buy “their” product. He fantasizes about placing phone calls to “Saudi Arabia,” the country, and telling “it” what he thinks about oil prices.

Maybe it is a comic book after all, but not a funny one:

These people are all the same. They purport to be populists, while loathing the decisions people actually make in the marketplace (such as buying Chinese goods or hiring Mexican employees).

Oh, how they love the people, and how they hate the establishment. They defy all civic conventions. Their ideology is somehow organic to the nation, not a wacky import like socialism. They promise a new era based on pride, strength, heroism, triumph. They have an obsession with the problem of trade and mercantilist belligerence at the only solution. They have zero conception of the social order as a complex and extended ordering of individual plans, one that functions through freedom.

This is a dark history, and I seriously doubt that Trump himself is aware of it. Instead, he just makes it up as he goes along, speaking from his gut, just like Uncle Harry at Thanksgiving dinner, just like two guys at the bar during last call.

Still, Tucker is hopeful:

My own prediction is that the political exotica he represents will not last. It’s a moment in time. The thousands who attend his rallies and scream their heads off will head home and return to enjoying movies, smartphones and mobile apps from all over the world, partaking in the highest standard of living experienced in the whole of human history, granted courtesy of the global market economy in which no one rules. We will not go back.

Salon’s Conor Lynch isn’t so sure about that:

The thing is that his style – full of race baiting, xenophobia and belligerent nationalism – is not unique to Trump; he is simply the most blatant and vocal about it. There’s a reason he’s leading in the GOP polls: the party’s base likes what he’s saying. The people are angry about illegal immigrants murdering white women (anyone who has followed Bill O’Reilly over the past week knows what I’m talking about), homosexuals destroying the tradition of marriage, and so on. Much like fascism reacted to modernity and social progress in the early 20th century, right-wingers are reacting angrily to social progress of the new century. (Of course, there has been no economic progress, which is why the left is also angry.)

So is the GOP becoming the new fascist party? That might be an exaggeration, but it does share many similar features, and Trump, with his demagogic style, is simply exposing how very similar the passions of the GOP base are to the passions of fascism of the early 20th century.

That may seem farfetched, but here’s Lynch’s argument:

Overall, however, the GOP has a pretty straightforward idea of its platform. Like fascism, tradition is holy – the tradition of marriage, family values, Christian ideals. Controversy over the confederate flag has also been based largely on tradition – a tradition that the South cannot give up. Another similarity is its belligerence. After news of the Iran deal agreement came out last week, the GOP faithful were outraged that America would actually practice diplomacy with an Islamic country in the Middle East. … The GOP alternative would indeed be military force, as it has been many times before. …

Beyond these values, the GOP tends to preach and practice intolerance, xenophobia, nationalism and anti-democratic values (i.e., voter suppression). In many ways, the GOP is anti-enlightenment, and embraces passion over reason. The dangerous denial of climate change and other scientific facts seems to come out of the corrupt alliance of anti-intellectual traditionalism and corporate influence (i.e., oil and gas).

And that completes the argument:

Giovanni Gentile, the “philosopher of fascism” and ghostwriter for Mussolini, said of the definition of fascism in the Encyclopedia of Italiana: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” This definition may very well fit the GOP ideology: a kind of corporate fascism, where large corporations have the ultimate power; where the politicians spew a hateful, intolerant ideology based on “traditional” values, on a platform funded by corporate interests, elected by the people to serve those very corporate interests; and deny environmental degradation because it would be unprofitable for the funders to do anything about it, using the anti-intellectual hostility to convince the people that it is nothing more than a left-wing conspiracy.

Donald Trump is no doubt a wealthy buffoon – but he is a buffoon who understands the underlying passions of the GOP base. Fascist leaders also understood these passions, and knew how to exploit them for political gain. These passions may seem irrational, but they should not be underestimated.

This is serious stuff, but there is the buffoonery:

As Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign lurches from one controversy to another, the real estate mogul on Friday gained the support of a widely-recognized celebrity with experience in international diplomacy: NBA Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman.

Rodman tweeted his support to his “great” friend’s campaign for the White House.

“@realDonaldTrump has been a great friend for many years. We don’t need another politician; we need a businessman like Mr. Trump! Trump 2016,” the tweet reads.

The context:

Rodman made his reality TV debut on Trump’s NBC show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” in 2013, but their friendship extended outside the boardroom after he famously played diplomat that year by visiting North Korea and meeting with dictator Kim Jong Un.

Back then, Trump praised Rodman’s trip, calling the basketball player “smart.”

“Dennis is not a stupid guy. He’s smart in many ways; he’s very street-wise,” he told Fox News.

“You look at the world – the world is blowing up around us. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have,” Trump added.

There were Rodman’s trips to North Korea – he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and later said Kim was “a friend for life” and suggested that President Obama “pick up the phone and call” Kim since the two leaders were basketball fans. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have?

One does think of the thirties, or actually the decade before, when a young Ernest Hemingway was a European stringer for The Toronto Daily Star. On January 27, 1923, the Star published his “Mussolini: Biggest Bluff in Europe” containing this:

The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press. Everybody came. We all crowded into the room. Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering dictator. Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to give. And he remained absorbed in his book. Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents. As we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up from the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration…

I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary – held upside down.

Things haven’t changed since then. The parallels are a bit unnerving.

Posted in Donald Trump, Fascism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Changing Lanes

There used to be a crosswalk near a park in South Pasadena that generated a lot of income for the city. A few days a week a patrol car would be parked nearby, and one of the local cops, dressed as a civilian, would stand on the curb, and as a likely looking car slowed for the crosswalk, and the driver looked each way to see if anyone was about to cross the street, that cop would just stand there – and as the car moved on, he’d simply put one foot in the street at the very last moment. That parked patrol car was on your bumper in an instant. You’d get an expensive ticket for failing to yield to a pedestrian at a crosswalk, and the locals knew this and avoided that stretch of road. Others, once they understood what was going on, would play games with that cop on the sidewalk. They’d come to a complete stop. The cop would stand still. They’d inch forward just a bit. The cop would move to step into the crosswalk – then the driver would hit the brakes and stop cold – the cop would pull his foot back – the driver would inch forward again, the cop would move his foot forward again, then the driver would stop cold again, and the cop would pull his foot back again. By this time you were both grinning – but you were going to get the ticket anyway. At least you could make the guy dance – but you were going to get the ticket anyway.

Everyone knows the cops always win. You pay the fine and move on. You certainly don’t get out of your car and get in the cop’s face – you might end up dead. You submit to the inevitable. Life is like that. Move on – but of course you’ll harbor a bit of rage. The trick is to swallow your rage, all of it, from every hour of every day, and to die peacefully in your sleep before the sheer mass of it makes you explode. If you’re driving through Waller County, Texas, and a cop, in a hurry flashes his lights and you move over to let him by, and he suddenly pulls you over for failing to use your turn signal to signal a lane change, you sit meekly, hands on the wheel where he can see them, making no sudden moves, and let him write you up. You thank him. Don’t thank him and he won’t like your attitude. Then you’ll really be in trouble. Everyone knows this.

Sandra Bland didn’t know this – she was pulled over in Waller County, Texas, on July 10, 2015, for failing to use her turn signal when she moved right to get out of that cop’s way – the same sort of trap those guys in South Pasadena set up long ago. Force people to get out of the way. Ticket those who don’t use their turn signal. But Sandra Bland, a twenty-eight-year old black woman, who had been a bit of a civil rights activist in Chicago, and a part of the Black Lives Matter campaign, thought this was bullshit – and said so – and she wouldn’t put out her cigarette. State trooper Brian Encinia didn’t like her attitude. He told her to get out of the car. She refused. He said he’d “light her up” with his Taser – so she ended up outside her car, on the ground, with his knee in her back. Encinia slammed her head in the ground a few times – it’s all on the dash-cam tape – but she was charged with assaulting a public servant. They took her to the county jail and placed her in a cell alone, because she was a “high risk” to others.

On Monday, July 13, 2015, they found Sandra Bland dead in her cell. Police said that she had hanged herself – their own autopsy eventually showed that, maybe. Results from a second, independent autopsy are pending. Texas and the FBI announced a joint investigation. Something odd was going on here. The Waller County district attorney’s office said that her death would be investigated as a possible murder – but a motion-activated camera outside her cell showed no recording in the hallway for ninety minutes before they found her dead. There’s not much to go on, other than she had an attitude. Encinia was placed on administrative duties for failing to follow proper traffic-stop procedures. Sandra Bland is still dead.

Heather Parton takes it from there:

The arrest and resultant death of Sandra Bland in Texas after a petty traffic stop has justifiably caught the imagination of the American public. The video of this young woman’s treatment at the hands of police – by all indications for failing to be verbally submissive – is terrifying. National reporters are shocked, and wondering just how something like this could happen in the good old USA.

But those of us who follow these stories all the time know very well that this sort of altercation happens every day in America and often results in tasering, physical violence and worse, as police officers demand total deference in both word and deed in their presence.

When citizens attempt to assert their rights, argue with officers or demand justification for being taken into custody, cops move to immediately establish their dominance and often physically force the citizen to comply, regardless of the pettiness of the alleged crime.

She then cites this:

If you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you.


That’s from an Op-Ed by a former police officer and current criminal justice professor by the name of Sunil Dutta. His argument is, of course, complete nonsense. Yes, on a practical level, knowing what we know about how police behave in this country, one would be wise to just try to get out of any dealings with a cop alive. Here’s a stop that ended with the police breaking a window and tasering a black male passenger inside the car while his kids screamed in the backseat. Here’s one in which the police thought a bike-riding black man (who happened to be a firefighter) was “throwing signs” at them. (He was just waving hello.) In the end, he got lucky. They only threatened to Taser him.

But I sure hope all those nice white conservatives who back this police behavior don’t have the misapprehension that the same thing couldn’t happen to them. This stop ended in violence between a police officer and a young white dad who was just disputing what the sign on the highway said. Here’s one with an elderly white woman who mouthed off to the cop when he stopped her for speeding. This one has disturbing parallels with the recent Walter Scott murder in South Carolina – a police officer shot a Taser in the back of a handcuffed suspect who was fleeing the scene. As with most Taser victims, she went down very hard and later died from the head injuries.

And there’s this:

A mentally ill woman who died after a stun gun was used on her at the Fairfax County jail in February was restrained with handcuffs behind her back, leg shackles and a mask when a sheriff’s deputy shocked her four times, incident reports obtained by The Washington Post show.

Natasha McKenna initially cooperated with deputies, placed her hands through her cell door food slot and agreed to be handcuffed, the reports show. But McKenna, whose deteriorating mental state had caused Fairfax to seek help for her, then began trying to fight her way out of the cuffs, repeatedly screaming, “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!” the reports show.

Then, six members of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, dressed in white full-body biohazard suits and gas masks, arrived and placed a wildly struggling 130-pound McKenna into full restraints, their reports state. But when McKenna wouldn’t bend her knees so she could be placed into a wheeled restraint chair, a lieutenant delivered four 50,000-volt shocks from the Taser, enabling the other deputies to strap her into the chair, the reports show.

Parton notes that these are just the incidents that make it to videotape, bit it’s more than that:

This happens far more often to African-Americans, who are also stopped more often and taken into custody more often on bogus charges. But it can happen to anyone, even a privileged white male who naturally thinks that it’s okay to argue and otherwise interact with a cop because: rights. Well, we all have rights, in theory. In practice, in the presence of a police officer we have none.

That’s just the way it is:

The events of the last year, starting with Ferguson, have brought into sharp focus what some of us have been observing for years, and African-Americans and other people of color have been experiencing forever. Law enforcement in this country is dysfunctional. The Black Lives Matter movement and the national attention it has brought to the issue has finally awakened the press, the political establishment and, perhaps most important, the law enforcement community. But change isn’t going to come easily.

And there is the matter of who should change:

It’s stressful to be stopped by a cop, and we don’t always behave with perfect control when we feel we’re being treated unjustly. When we have mental and physical problems, we aren’t always able to properly follow orders. And yet it’s the citizens who are being told they must behave with perfect emotional control, lest they provoke the anger of officers, who are supposed to be professionals.

Well, forget that:

When police adopted the “broken windows” strategy of citing people for lane changes without signaling and the like, they lost focus on teaching de-escalation methods. They also lost interest in professionalism, patience and psychology as necessary tools in the police arsenal. In fact, they came to believe they only need loud voices, Tasers and guns (maybe in a pinch some body armor, Humvees and some tear gas). They certainly lost sight of the common sense understanding that authoritarian tactics are anathema to a free society.

Police officers have tough jobs, nobody disputes that. Our streets are flooded with guns, which police officers’ fiercest defenders don’t seem to care about. But to paraphrase “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, that’s what the great benefits, early retirement and generous pensions are for! They deserve everything they earn and more. But the fact that the job is tough does not mean they are entitled to make citizens grovel before them and offer them unquestioning obeisance.

In fact, it’s the other way around. It’s people like Sandra Bland who are entitled to their rights, which are guaranteed under the Constitution. None of us should have to give them up simply because we’re in the presence of an officer of the law. It was to protect us from exactly that sort of abuse that the founders wrote down the Bill of Rights in the first place.

The Bill of Rights, you say? Mark Joseph Stern looks into that:

The rules of Bland’s stop are dictated by the Fourth Amendment, which bars “unreasonable searches and seizures.” A traffic stop qualifies as a “seizure” of the person, so an officer can’t pull you over unless he has reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime. Here, Trooper Brian Encinia clearly had reasonable suspicion that Bland committed an offense: She changed lanes without a signal, in violation of Texas traffic law. Leaving aside the question of whether Encinia effectively forced Bland to change lanes (which she alleges in the video), the footage demonstrates that the trooper acted within the law when pulling her over.

Score one for the cops:

After detaining Bland, Encinia asked her to put out her cigarette, and Bland refused. Some outlets are reporting that Encinia arrested Bland for this refusal. But there is another reasonable interpretation of the exchange: Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette; Bland refused, on the grounds that she was in her own car; so Encinia asked her to exit her car in order to remove her excuse for continuing to smoke.

This interpretation keeps Encinia on the right side of the law. The trooper had every right to ask Bland to step out of her car: The Supreme Court has held that during a routine traffic stop, officers may ask drivers to exit their cars for the sake of safety, the idea being that an officer can more easily monitor someone who’s standing face to face than someone who’s inside a car. (In this light, it seems that Encinia probably had the right from the very beginning of the stop to expect Bland to comply with minor requests – like putting out a cigarette – that facilitated his ability to safely observe her during their interaction.) Encinia’s affidavit about the arrest says his order was made so that he could “conduct a safe traffic investigation,” which is legal.

Score two for the cops, but only two after Bland refuses Encinia’s request:

Encinia says gruffly, “Get out of the car, or I will remove you.” What was a mere detention up to this point has now almost certainly become an arrest. There is no bright-line rule to differentiate between a detention and an arrest. But the fact that Bland obviously could not voluntarily leave the encounter likely means it qualified as an arrest.

Did Encinia actually have the right to arrest Bland? Yes. The Supreme Court has found that officers may arrest people for committing the most minor of crimes, including commonplace traffic violations. And by verbally refusing to comply with Encinia’s detention, Bland resisted arrest under Texas law, thereby committing a misdemeanor. (Even if Encinia’s initial stop and detention were illegal, that wouldn’t matter: The Texas statute that bars resisting arrest declares that “it is no defense” that “the arrest or search was unlawful.”) Both of these offenses would justify Bland’s arrest. Finally, Encinia is right that he has given Bland a “lawful order”: Again, under Supreme Court precedent, he had the right to pull Bland over; to ask her to leave the car; and to formally arrest her.

But this is where Encinia’s actions veer from the lawful to the questionable – and then to the probably illegal. By leaning into Bland’s car and seemingly attempting to yank her out, Encinia initiated the use of force to “seize” her (in Fourth Amendment terms). Here, the case law is clear: The Fourth Amendment requires that the use of force during a seizure must be “objectively reasonable” and not “excessive.” To gauge reasonable force, courts weigh the severity of the alleged crime; whether the suspect poses an immediate safety risk; and whether the suspect is resisting or evading arrest.

That’s where this all falls apart:

As Bland repeatedly notes, her alleged crime (a failure to signal) is astonishingly minor. Moreover, Bland does not appear to pose any kind of real safety risk to Encinia or to others. Bland does verbally resist arrest, but at no point does she attempt to flee. In light of her behavior, Encinia’s actions seem objectively unreasonable. He violently grabs Bland, aims his stun gun at her, and threatens to “light [her] up,” then roughly pulls her out of her vehicle. Although part of the encounter occurs off camera, Bland verbally accuses Encinia of slamming her head into the ground.

Encinia claims he subdued Bland after she kicked him, but both the alleged kick and head-slamming occurred off-camera. If Encinia is correct, a court will have to carefully weigh the situation using all evidence available. Encinia certainly had a right to subdue Bland if she kicked him. But his response may have been so brutal as to still qualify as an excessive use of force. Bland, of course, is now dead.

There is that, but Ben Mathis-Lilley gets to the heart of the matter:

It seems clear from the video that Encinia’s actions, not to mention his initial verbal escalation of the situation, happened in large part because he took offense at what he perceived as Bland’s disrespectful attitude – what is known in legal circles as “contempt of cop” – rather than any belief that she presented an imminent threat to anyone’s safety.

In 2010, Christy Lopez, the Department of Justice official who led the federal investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri, police department after Michael Brown’s death, wrote a paper on the subject of “contempt of cop” arrests. (Lopez’s Ferguson investigation found that officers in Ferguson had a habit of making unjustified and abusive arrests.) Lopez opens her report by noting that disagreeing with, criticizing or otherwise being verbally difficult with a police officer is behavior protected by the First Amendment. Legally, you should be able to say anything you want to an officer, or even make an obscene gesture toward the police, without fearing punishment. Practically, though, Lopez writes, “there is abundant evidence that police overuse disorderly conduct and similar statutes to arrest people who ‘disrespect’ them or express disagreement with their actions.”

Lopez observes that since arrested suspects in “contempt of cop” cases often did very little if anything that was illegal, many of those arrests end in dropped charges and lawsuits.

And of course there are examples:

A 16-year-old in Portland, Oregon, was acquitted of charges against him in March after a judge found that police had beaten him for no reason other than he had used profanity when responding to an officer who had clapped at him to get his attention.
In 2014, the New York Post reported that only 6 percent of cases (in an unspecified time period) in which resisting arrest was the most serious charge against a suspect resulted in convictions in New York City.
An ongoing Washington, D.C., lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs accuses police of making bogus arrests under a statute that prevents “incommoding,” or blocking a sidewalk—a statute that itself was put into place after an official 2010 report found that the city’s vague disorderly conduct laws were facilitating improper “contempt of cop” arrests.
A D.C. woman won nearly $100,000 in a lawsuit in 2011 after police arrested her when she made a derisive comment toward them at a 7-Eleven.
Charges were famously dropped against Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009 after he was charged with disorderly conduct following an interaction with a police officer that began when a break-in was reported at Gates’ own home.
A 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer report found that nearly half of cases in the city in which the sole arresting charge was “obstructing a public officer” were ultimately dropped. (Half of the people arrested for obstruction were black; Seattle is eight percent black overall.)

And so it goes:

As the Seattle and Gates items suggest, the targets of “contempt of cop” arrests are often nonwhite. When you consider that black drivers may also be disproportionately subject to “investigatory stops,” in which minor motor vehicle violations are used as pretexts for searches and interrogations – and that Bland herself was stopped only for failing to signal a lane change – Sandra Bland’s experience in Waller County might even be considered typical…

And that attitude is real:

CNN contributor and former NYPD detective Harry Houck argued on Tuesday that a Texas woman would not have died in police custody if she had not been “arrogant from the very beginning.”…

“An officer does have the choice to bring anyone out of the vehicle when he stops them for his own safety,” Houck told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday. “The whole thing here is that she was very arrogant from the beginning, very dismissive of the officer, alright?”

CNN political contributor Marc Lamont Hill pointed out that Bland did not have a legal responsibility to “kiss the officer’s butt.”

“She has a right to be irritated,” Hill said. “A lot of us get irritated when we get pulled over. This officer comes to her and says, ‘Is there something wrong? You seem like you have an attitude.’ He’s trying to pick a fight with her.”

“Sometimes police officers act as if you’re not completely kowtowing and deferential, that somehow you’re violating a law,” he continued. “This is a perfect example of how vulnerable black women are in public spaces to law enforcement.”

Houck interrupted: “Even if he de-escalated that whole situation, she would have kept coming at that officer the way she did.”

“I don’t think he baited her at all. She just wanted to be uncooperative,” Houck continued. “She had a problem with the officer, she had a problem with being stopped, she didn’t like the fact that she was being stopped. Her whole arrogant attitude.”

“I refused to legitimize police violence against people by telling them that if they behave differently, maybe they won’t die,” Hill insisted. “Harry said maybe you won’t end up on the ground. Yes, there are strategies we can use to survive. But the fact that we live in a world where we have to deploy strategies not to be murdered or killed or assaulted by police unlawfully is absurd.”

“What Harry is calling arrogance, I’m calling dignity,” Hill declared. “Black people have a right to assert their dignity in public. And just because it doesn’t cohere with what police want doesn’t mean they are being arrogant or dismissive.”

“There’s no indication that this is racial at all,” Houck shot back. “None whatsoever.”

“This happens to white women all the time,” Hill quipped sarcastically.

And so on and so forth – but the cops always win. You submit to the inevitable. Life is like that. Move on – and of course you’ll harbor a bit of rage. The trick is to swallow your rage, all of it, and hope to die peacefully in your sleep before the sheer mass of it makes you explode. But it may be too late for that now. There will be an explosion soon.

Posted in Contempt-of-Cop, Sandra Bland | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frayed Affiliations

Americans have always held that all men are created equal, with a qualifier. Talent and good looks and intelligence are certainly not distributed equally at birth. Some people are born into money. Some are born in Altoona. The idea we posited, jumping on the Enlightenment bandwagon, was that all men are born with certain inalienable rights – to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone has those rights. That’s the way all men are equal, the only way. There are natural-born fools – but in terms of the law, and all the ways society agrees to operate, everyone has the same rights – sort of. We’re still working out the details. Check back later on gays and unarmed young black men.

This was a fine idea, and had nothing to do with human nature. We become who we are by differentiating ourselves from all others. Equality was death or at least meaningless existence – so what you did with your life was who you were. If you weren’t a great writer or a captain of industry, you could be the best father anyone could imagine, and so on. Equality in terms of basic rights was one thing. Real life was another. You weren’t like “those others” at all.

This was hard work, so most people settled for affiliations that differentiated them from all others – clubs, associations, religious denominations, political parties and all the rest. That was a shortcut to being unique and wonderful. You were one with those who were unique and wonderful – but postwar consumerism offered an even better differentiation. By the late fifties you were what you drove. General Motors had you covered, with four different lines that were actually the same car – the same chassis and mechanics, but with different bodies bolted on top. If you drove a Chevrolet, you were a working-class guy doing just fine. If you drove an Oldsmobile you were a manager of some sort, but not the boss – you were different – you’d moved up. If you drove a Buick you were the boss, or a doctor or lawyer. If you drove a Cadillac, you were the owner and you bought yourself the very best, out of pocket change. It was the same car. The socioeconomic affiliations were different. General Motors made a lot of money.

Those days are over. The sixties counterculture crowd shrugged. Those folks drove beat-up old VW vans or anything ironic, and now, with the rise of Uber, and Google developing self-driving cars, which will probably be owned and operated by municipalities, who will need or even want their own a car? There will have to be other socioeconomic affiliations that work against the notion of soul-crushing equality, and there were for a time. In the late seventies and early eighties you weren’t what you were, you were who you wore. There were big designer labels on everything, which publicly proclaimed your socioeconomic affiliation – “Gucci” was infinitely cool, “Nike” was brain-dead defiant – but the most ironic of these was the wildly popular Members Only jacket – “When you put it on, something happens.”

Yeah, you become a jerk. Anyone could buy one. Millions did. An entire generation had lost its sense of irony – but by 1985 things were changing. That year there was that glorious scene in Back to the Future – Marty wakes up back in 1955 in bed, with a big lump on his head, and sitting next to him is the sweet young thing (his mother, actually, as this is a time-travel story) who keeps calling him Calvin, Calvin Klein. It’s the purple underwear. That trend was over. Folks would just have to find another way to publicly proclaim their socioeconomic affiliation – their unique level of cool.

Luckily, there’s always that one fallback that always works – political affiliation, by party – and that’s where things have been odd for Republicans. They know they’ve not been cool in quite a while. After Romney lost in 2012, there was the Reince Priebus autopsy – offered after Romney lost almost all the Hispanic and black vote, and lost the women’s vote and the vote of the young, and the vote of anyone with even a year or two of college, by wide margins, and after the Republicans didn’t win back the Senate when two or three of their Tea Party candidates imploded. It was time for outreach to minorities, and women, and the young and maybe even gays.

It sounded so hopeful – the Republicans were going to reach out and become inclusive and we’d have two evenly-matched political parties again, espousing their competing philosophies without demonizing anyone at all. There’d be no more angry old white men sneering at anyone unlike them, and sneering at science too. There’d be no more rich white guys sneering at anyone who wasn’t a millionaire just like them – or they’d tone it down, trying to be a bit more sympathetic to the total losers out there. And there’d be no more old men talking about “legitimate rape” and how women’s bodies really work. In fact, the National Republican Congressional Committee had already been training incumbents on how best to interact with women voters – there’s a nice way to tell them they can’t be trusted with moral choices like abortion, or any choices about their own body, and how their accepting less pay than a man for the same work is really good for the economy, so they ought to do their part.

The presumption was that America was basically a conservative country, and everyone actually agreed with them on all the big issues of the day. There was that natural socioeconomic affiliation. They just had to explain themselves better, but that wasn’t going to be easy. It’s hard to show respect when you explain your views, that minorities and women and gays are lesser people, and that wealth is the only reliable indicator of moral worth, and that all science is bunk and you’re a fool if you believe any of it. Sure, respectfully say the new Pope is a Marxist who hates everything America stands for, because he seems to think vast wealth is a moral trap, and respectfully call him a fool for being willing to accept the idea that gays and atheists and even true Marxists are good people, good people with what he considers the wrong views, but good people nonetheless. Be respectful of him when you explain that this guy just doesn’t understand Christianity at all.

Needless to say, this didn’t go well. After a few months no one mentioned this autopsy ever again. The effort shifted to making sure certain people found it very difficult to vote. The Republicans retook the Senate and increased their already massive majority in the House. The presidency was something for later. Now it’s time to see if, after eight years in the wilderness, they can retake the White House, and that’s where the difficulties begin, given the new Pew poll:

The Republican Party’s image has grown more negative over the first half of this year. Currently, 32% have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, while 60% have an unfavorable view. Favorable views of the GOP have fallen nine percentage points since January. The Democratic Party continues to have mixed ratings (48% favorable, 47% unfavorable).

The Democratic Party has often held an edge over the GOP in favorability in recent years, but its advantage had narrowed following the Republicans’ midterm victory last fall. Today, the gap is as wide as it has been in more than two years.

They’re just not cool:

Neither party has an edge in perceptions about which could better manage the federal government: 40% say the Republican Party, while an identical percentage prefers the Democrats. … On issues, the Democratic Party holds double-digit advantages as better able to handle the environment (by a margin of 53% to 27%), abortion and contraception policies (50% to 31%), education (46% to 34%) and health care (46% to 36%). The Republican Party has wide leads for better reflecting people’s views on gun control (48% to 36%) and dealing with the terrorist threat at home (44% to 34%).

And there’s this:

Recent Pew Research Center surveys have found signs of dissatisfaction with the GOP among Republicans. In May, just 41% of Republicans said they approved of the job performance of the leaders of the GOP-led Congress. In 2011, after Republicans had won control of the House, 60% of Republicans approved of the job being done by their party’s leaders in Congress. The current survey finds that positive views of the GOP among Republicans have declined 18 percentage points since January, from 86% to 68%. Independents also view the Republican Party less favorably; 29% today, compared with 37% six months ago.

The brand is damaged and the affiliations have frayed, and there’s this:

Five months ago Republicans were seen by more Americans as the party better able to handle foreign policy (48% said Republicans, 35% Democrats); today, the public is equally likely to say Republicans (38%) as Democrats (41%) could better handle foreign policy. And while the GOP maintains a 10-point advantage as the party better able to address the terrorist threat at home (44% vs. 34%), that edge has narrowed since earlier this year.

Daniel Larison at the American Conservative can explain this:

The party’s numbers on foreign policy have started slumping during the same period in which Republican candidates for president have been going out of their way to emphasize their foreign policy views. My guess is that the party benefited in 2014 and early 2015 from the continuing spate of bad news stories from overseas that reflected badly on administration policies, but more recently as the many Republican candidates have been holding forth on the kind of foreign policy they would conduct those gains have evaporated. This suggests that Republicans really shouldn’t want 2016 to be an election with a heavy emphasis on foreign policy issues, and if these issues do play a large role in the election it is going to work against them.

In short, things got better, not worse, so just shut up:

Despite substantial and in some cases well-deserved dissatisfaction with Obama’s foreign policy record, most Americans are still understandably wary of trusting the GOP on foreign policy given the previous administration’s record and the aggressive hawkishness of its presidential candidates. There may be many Americans that perceive Obama as being insufficiently “tough” in his foreign policy, but that doesn’t mean that there is much enthusiasm for a party pushing a hardline agenda, either. The more that the Republican candidates advertise their hardline views on Iran, Cuba, or anything else, the harder it will be to win over the public to their side.

And there are other things that don’t help either. Jeb Bush appeared at a New Hampshire event sponsored by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and managed to say this:

The left needs to join the conversation, but they haven’t. I mean, when [Rep. Paul Ryan] came up with, one of his proposals as it relates to Medicare, the first thing I saw was a TV ad of a guy that looked just like Paul Ryan … that was pushing an elderly person off the cliff in a wheelchair. That’s their response.

And I think we need to be vigilant about this and persuade people that our, when your volunteers go door to door, and they talk to people, people understand this. They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.

Yes, he went there. He wants to “phase out” Medicare, and Steve Benen suggests he’s wrong on both politics and policy:

The Florida Republican is convinced that “people understand” the need to get rid of Medicare. He’s mistaken. Given the polling from the last several years, what people understand is that Medicare is a popular and successful program, and a pillar of modern American life.

Previous attempts to “phase out” the program have met with widespread public scorn and if Jeb Bush believes he can “persuade people” to get rid of Medicare, he’s likely to be disappointed.

As for the policy, there’s no point in denying that the Medicare system faces long-term fiscal challenges, but to argue, as Jeb Bush does, that Democrats have ignored the conversation is plainly incorrect. On the contrary, while Republicans fight to eliminate the Medicare program, Democrats have had great success in strengthening Medicare finances and extending its fiscal health for many years to come.

The secret, apparently, was passing the Affordable Care Act.

Before “Obamacare” was passed, Medicare was projected to face a serious fiscal shortfall in 2017. As of yesterday, Medicare trustees now believe the system is fiscally secure through 2030.

Kevin Drum explains that trustee’s report:

Ten years ago, Medicare was a runaway freight train. Spending was projected to increase indefinitely, rising to 13 percent of GDP by 2080. This year, spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090.

Six percent! That’s half what we thought a mere decade ago. If that isn’t spectacular, I don’t know what is.


Obviously, all of these projections come with caveats because no one can say with certainty what will happen in the future, but the projections are encouraging – and far more heartening than they were before the ACA passed. But Jeb Bush is under the impression that Medicare is, without a doubt, doomed, so we might as well get rid of the program now and see what Paul Ryan has in store for seniors in his far-right bag of tricks.

Kevin Drum also speaks to this:

Republicans have been talking for years about “reforming” Social Security. Usually this involves privatizing it in some way, which they insist that people will love. In fact, they’ll love it so much that, um, Republicans don’t dare suggest that their reforms should apply to current recipients – or to people who are within even a decade of retiring. Why exempt these folks? There’s a lot of blah-blah-blah when you ask, but the real reason is that these people vote, and they actually pay attention to Social Security. They know perfectly well that the current system is a better deal for them. It’s only younger workers, who don’t pay as much attention and have been brainwashed – by conservatives – into believing that Social Security will never pay them a dime anyway, who give this nonsense the time of day. Even if the GOP’s reformed version of Social Security is a lousy deal, anything is better than nothing. Right? But I’ve never really heard this argument about Medicare. Until now.

But the argument is nonsense:

Boom! If we don’t gut Medicare, they’ll have nothing. When they turn 65 they’ll be out on the street dying, with no one to help them. Why? Because Democrats let the system go bankrupt. Wouldn’t it be much better to offer them some crappy, rationed system instead? At least it’s something, after all.

Jesus. You’d think we were Greece. Oh wait – these guys do think that Democrats are turning us into Greece. So I guess it makes a kind of sense.

In any case, Jeb sure picked the wrong time to make this pitch. Just yesterday we got the latest projections for Social Security and Medicare. If they’re correct, the cost of both programs will top out at a combined 12 percent of GDP by the middle of the century and then flatten out. That’s about 3 percent of GDP more than we’re spending now.

So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can’t afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would – what? I don’t even know what the story is here. Turn us into Greece? Require us to tax millionaires so highly they all give up and go Galt? Deprive Wall Street of lots of pension income they can use to blow up the world again?

Drum is not impressed:

This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That’s it. That will keep Social Security and Medicare in good shape. Why is it so hard for people to get that?

It’s so hard for people to get this, or for these people to get this, because this is about affiliation, about being special. They are Republicans – fiscally responsible, no matter who gets hurt, even if what they’re proposing isn’t even necessary. And they don’t make deals with bad guys over in the Middle East – they humiliate them until they give in, or they wipe them out. And they stand around, smug, in their Members Only jackets. But no one wears those anymore.

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