Republicans who want to imagine that they can campaign against Obamacare and win every swing seat that is in the offering in 2014 will try to suggest that GOP nominee David Jolly’s win in Florida’s 13th Congressional District proves their point.
But that’s a stretch.
Jolly did campaign as a critic of the Affordable Care Act. And his Democratic foe, cautiously-centrist former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, did offer a nuanced defense of the reform initiative—along with a more robust argument on behalf of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
But Jolly did not take a Democratic seat.
He kept a Republican seat.
And just barely.
Jolly’s winning percentage of 48.5 was almost ten points below the 2012 number for the Republican he was running to replace, veteran Congressman Bill Young, who passed away last October. It was more than fifteen points below Young’s finish in the Republican wave year of 2010.
And Jolly’s victory did not come cheap.
Jolly’s campaign raised and spent $1.3 million—barely half the total for Sink, whose background in the financial sector and in politics, as a former gubenatorial candidate, gave her some early advantages. As the campaign played out in February and early March, the polls suggested that Sink might secure an upset
Then Republican-allied national groups rushed to Jolly’s rescue
According to an analysis by Center for Public Integrity:
• The National Republican Congressional Committee poured $2.2 million into the district.
• The US Chamber of Commerce came through with $1.2 million.
• The American Action Network, a group with close ties to the national GOP establishment, ponied up $470,000.
• Karl Rove’s American Crossroads project was good for $470,000.
The Florida Republican Party and other Republican-allied and conservative groups pumped hundreds of thousands of additional dollars into the district.
To be sure, outside groups that favored Sink spent heavily on the race. But Jolly had the advantage. Roughly $5 million in outside money aided the Republican caus, as compared with roughly $3.7 million from groups that were friendly to the Democrat, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
The spending spree brought Jolly across the line by 3,456 votes Tuesday night. But that’s hardly a dramatic accomplishment, considering that the Republican nominee ran as a fifth-generation Floridian with deep roots in the district and a claim on Young’s legacy—as the former general counsel for the congressman.
Jolly was also running in a swing district where, while it had grown more Democratic, Republicans remained highly viable -- especially in non-presidential elections. Much is made of the fact that the 13th backed Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in 2012. But Obama ran behind his national percentage in the Florida district and Romney ran ahead of his. By the presidential measure, the district is more Republican than the country. And, while Bill Young was personally popular, his long winning streak served as a reminder of the district’s historic Republican lean in congressional elections.
In the best of circumstances, Sink might well have won. But no one seriously suggests that 2014 is a "best of circumstances" year for Democrats.
So Jolly was set up for a win Tuesday night. And he closed the deal.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden was quick to peddle the predictable talking point, arguing within minutes of the completion of the count that Sink was “ultimately brought down because of her unwavering support for Obamacare, and that should be a loud warning for other Democrats running coast to coast,”
That's a tortured conclusion given the Jolly’s far-worse-than-usual finish for a Republican.
This victory was not a sweeping “referendum on Obamacare” win. If anything, the closeness of the result in a race where the choice was clearly defined calls into question the power of opposition to the Affordable Care Act as a definitional issue for the Republicans.
Does that mean that the Democrats should see some kind of silver lining in the results? No.
Democrats need to recognize some hard realities that the Florida race illustrate—and that they might yet be able to counter.
Off-year elections, particularly in the second term of a presidency, don’t often go well for the party of the president. Franklin Roosevelt’s Democrats took a pounding in 1938, Dwight Eisenhower’s Republicans took a pounding in 1958, Ronald Republicans lost the Senate in 1986, George Bush’s Republicans lost the House and Senate in 2006.
Democrats remain vulnerable in Senate races, as Democratic incumbents who were elected with Barack Obama in 2008 are up for re-election this year and they won’t enjoy the benefits of presidential-level turnout. Democratic House candidates will be similarly disadvantaged, meaning that what seemed like swing districts in 2012 could be much tougher turf in 2014.
To get a sense of how must the ground can shift in a non-presidential year, consider this: In 2012, 329,347 votes were cast in the 13th district. In yesterday;s election, around 180,000 votes were cast.
Which brings us back to the money issue.
Sink raised a lot of money early, and she got substantial support from national Democrats and their allies. That’s the nature of special elections. And Sink, with her centrist politics, her background in the financial-services industry and as the 2010 Democratic nominee for governor of Florida, was especially well-positioned to raise the funds that were available for her campaign. This allowed the Democrat to hold her own through the race.
But it will be hard for Democrats to recreate this combination in every other swing district and every other swing state. There are no guarantees that they will have the money that is necessary to maintain sufficient volume for their message in the cacophony that is coming. In an exceptionally-expensive special election race—where spending by all sides topped $12 million—Democrats could not match the outside spending of the Republicans. And it won’t get any easier this fall. Multiply that $12 million spent in one Florida race times the number of House districts where Democrat incumbents and challengers could be in close contests, and then add in the massively more expensive Senate races, and every indication is that this will be the most expensive non-presidential election cycle in American history.
The Florida result won't lead to a dialing down of the spending by either side. If anything, it makes an intense election cycle even more intense. The Republicans and their allies know they just scraped by in Florida. But they also know that money made the win possible. That’s going to inspire more fund-raising, and more spending, by the national groups that swooped into Florida in the last weeks before the special election. And there's a lot more money to be collected from the billionaires and millionaires who are the source for so many of the outside groups.
Democrats are not going to be beat by Obamacare this year. But they could be beat by money—especially the sort outside money that flows so freely in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.
What Florida should tell Democrats is that they must worry less about Obamacare and more about the issues on which they might generate increased turnout among their base voters -- especially young people. Sink did not, in any sense, run a populist campaign; indeed, her final message was a soft appeal for bipartisanship that sounded nice enough but that had the feel of a candidate trying to appeal to a small number of swing voters rather than a candidate trying to expand the electorate. Democrats who are looking to the fall are going to need an edge, and a base-building appeal if they hope to tip the balance in swing districts, let alone dislodge Republican incumbents in districts gerrymandered to their advantage.
In other words, Democrats must bring more issues to the forefront in order to heighten the level of contradiction. They need an even more intense emphasis on protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But House Democrats, in particular, should keep picking new fights on unemployment benefits, living wages and income inequality. And they should start talking a lot more about student-loan debt, access to higher education and youth unemployment and under-employment. That’s the right thing to do. It’s also necessary—because Democrats are going to need an issue advantage and some populist power if they hope to counter the kind of money that secured Tuesday’s victory for David Jolly.
Eric Schmidt is the chairman of Google. Last year, he raked in compensation totaling over $100 million from the company, adding to his net worth of over $8 billion. According to The New York Times, Schmidt owns “a Gulfstream V, a 195-foot yacht and multiple homes across the country including a new $22 million Hollywood mansion.”
One is strengthening the safety net for the less well-off. I am definitely with him there. The United States is one of the richest societies the world has ever known, but it has a remarkably ungenerous welfare state. So, so far we’re good. The war on poverty worked, and it would work even better if programs like food stamps, Medicaid and the EITC were expanded.
Schmidt’s second idea involves devoting more resources to education in the science and technology fields. This may be a good idea, but there is no evidence that it will decrease inequality. The education policies that would probably do the most to fight inequality would be enacting universal pre-K and making college more affordable by making public colleges tuition-free and increasing financial aid for students. Studies have found that early childhood education programs lead to greatly enhanced employment and education outcomes for poor children. The high cost of college is putting the brakes on social mobility by preventing many talented students from acquiring an education. Research shows that low-income students with high test scores are less likely to graduate from college than low-scoring rich kids.
Finally, we come to Schmidt’s third recommendation, which is for the government to give more support to start-ups. As Slate’s Jordan Weissmann’s notes, part of what he means by this “support” is more deregulation in areas like energy and telecommunications. But as scholars of deregulation such as Thomas O. McGarity have pointed out, the deregulatory mania we’ve seen since the 1970s has been one of the engines of inequality in the US economy. It’s led to rent-seeking bonanzas that have vastly enriched and empowered the one percent at the expense of everyone else.
Indeed, when his interlocutor pressed him on this third point, Schmidt could hardly be any clearer about his ideological bent:
The solution to this displacement, according to Schmidt, is to foster conditions that encourage the creation of fast-growing startups that generate lots of jobs, or “gazelles.” Those conditions include better education, looser immigration laws, and deregulation in strictly-controlled areas like energy and telecommunications. When Levy noted that fast-growing “gazelles” seem to lead to more inequality, at least in the case of the 50-employee WhatsApp which was acquired by Facebook for a reported $19 billion, Schmidt brushed aside the apparent contradiction. “Let us celebrate capitalism,” he said, opening his arms. “$19 billion for 50 people? Good for them.”
Touting $19 billion for fifty people as a cure-all for inequality? I thought Tom Perkins’s “Kristallnact” letter was the ultimate in 1 percenter absurdity this year, but really, that comment is the one that has earned the billionaire chutzpah prize.
And of course, as is often the case, what’s most revealing of all are the things Schmidt is not saying. He breathed not a word, for example, about increasing the minimum wage, building stronger labor unions, or enacting macroeconomic policies that promote a full employment economy.
The most telling silence, however, involved policies that require that anything in the way of sacrifice from Schmidt and his 1 percenter buddies. As researchers such as Thomas Piketty have documented, economic inequality is a phenomenon being driven largely by the top 1 percent of the income distribution. As such, policies designed to control it need to be targeted at the rich. Piketty suggests a wealth tax and a return to top marginal tax rates of 80 percent or more. Other economists advocate restricting 1 percenters’ rent-seeking opportunities by re-regulating the financial sector and reforming intellectual property laws and corporate governance.
You won’t hear any of those kinds of proposals coming out of Schmidt’s mouth, though. Instead, he’s asking for additional giveaways to the tech sector from Uncle Sam. Indeed, he’s even publicly boasted that he is “very proud” of Google’s massive tax avoidance schemes. Google funneled about 80 percent of its pre-tax profits to an off-shore bank account in 2011.
Eric Schmidt may sound like just another variation of a “greed is good” Republican. But here’s the depressing thing: the dude is a major Democratic donor who’s been an adviser to President Obama. Obama even considered him for commerce secretary.
Schmidt’s politics seem very much akin to Robert Rubin’s: leaving the economic privileges of the powerful unchecked, while penciling in a little welfare capitalism for the poor. Yes, this is preferable than the likes of Tom Perkins. But is a party dominated by the “cool billionaires” like Schmidt and Rubin the best the Democrats can offer?
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A gripping battle between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee broke into public view Tuesday morning, as Senator Dianne Feinstein openly accused the CIA of spying on congressional staffers as they investigated the agency’s illegal detention and interrogation programs under President George W. Bush.
Feinstein’s allegations raise grave questions about how the executive branch interprets constitutional separation of powers, along with raising serious concerns about the integrity of congressional oversight of US intelligence agencies. And lurking in the background is the country’s dirty history of torture following the September 11 terror attacks, which top officials—including those appointed by President Obama—seem determined to brush into the dustbin of history.
In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, which you can read here, Feinstein explained how the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she chairs, has come to believe that the CIA infiltrated Senate computers in order to see what investigators had learned about the Bush-era torture programs. She also described the removal of crucial documents from those computers by the CIA.
How We Got Here
The backstory is crucial here, and the issues of congressional oversight and constitutional separation of powers echo throughout.
In 2002, the Bush administration authorized the CIA to begin detaining terror suspects and subjecting them to “enhanced interrogation techniques”—measures that most people now recognize with the less sanitary word: torture.
For years, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were unaware of this program, save the chair and vice chair. The full committee was abruptly informed of the program by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden in September 2006, only hours before President Bush announced the existence of the program to the public. About a year later, The New York Times reported that the CIA was destroying videotapes of the first “enhanced” interrogations conducted by the agency.
By then, Democrats had taken control of the Senate and demanded answers. Hayden explained to the committee that the videotapes had to be destroyed, but that the CIA possessed paper records and operational cables that were “a more than adequate representation” of what was on the video tapes. He allowed committee investigators to review those documents, which they did over a period of years, culminating in 2009.
What they found was “chilling,” in the words of Feinstein this morning—the interrogations were “far different and far more harsh” than what the CIA had been admitting. Feinstein then wanted a full review of the program by Senate Intelligence Committee, which it approved by a 14-1 vote.
Initially, as she noted this morning, Feinstein wanted the CIA to turn over all relevant documents to the committee in their usual offices, as had been done in the past. Then—CIA Director Leon Panetta, who had been appointed by Barack Obama and confirmed just a month earlier, had other ideas.
Panetta wanted the review to take place at a secure CIA facility in Northern Virginia—something that would seem to undermine an independent congressional review. But, as Feinstein outlined in her speech Tuesday, an agreement was reached with agency officials in which the Senate review would take place on secure computers, but at the CIA facility:
Per an exchange of letters in 2009, then-Vice Chairman Bond, then-Director Panetta, and I agreed in an exchange of letters that the CIA was to provide a “stand-alone computer system” with a “network drive” “segregated from CIA networks” for the committee that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA—who would “not be permitted to” “share information from the system with other [CIA] personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee.”
It’s important to understand that this computer system in effect belonged to Congress, which was conducting crucial oversight of the executive branch as protected by the Constitution. It was this computer system that Feinstein alleges was infiltrated by the CIA.
The CIA began transferring hundreds of thousands, and then millions, of documents related to the enhanced interrogation program to these Senate computers. But it didn’t take long for problems to arise. In 2010, Senate investigators realized that the CIA had removed over 900 files it had initially transferred to them—something Feinstein revealed for the first time Tuesday morning during her speech on the Senate floor.
At first the CIA claimed no files had been removed, then blamed it on the private contractors who were helping the agency vet the documents, and then ultimately blamed it on an order from the White House. The administration denied giving any such order and brokered a peace between Feinstein and the CIA, which included a CIA apology.
But soon a far more severe breach arose.
The Internal Panetta Review
Let’s skip ahead a little bit first, and then get to the other, more crucial breach. In December 2012, the Intelligence Committee completed its 6,300-page review of the Bush administration’s torture programs. The public has not seen this report, as it remains classified, but it has been described as “searing” and highly critical of the CIA and the Bush administration. The CIA has reviewed the report and agrees with some of it, but disagrees strongly with other parts—generally the most damning ones.
But that public stance directly conflicts internal agency analysis. Over the course of the committee investigation, staffers discovered what has been come to be known as the internal “Panetta review.” This was essentially a report ordered by Panetta examining the documents that were being turned over to Congress, in an effort to get a grip on what exactly was being revealed. The committee has a partial version of this review on its computers, Feinstein said, as well as a printed-out, redacted hard copy in a secure location inside the Hart Senate Office building.
By all accounts, the Panetta review is damning. The public first learned of it in December, when Senator Mark Udall referenced it in an open confirmation hearing for CIA General Counsel Dianne Krass. “It appears that [the CIA’s internal detention and interrogation program review], which was initiated by former Director Panetta, is consistent with the Intelligence committee’s report, but amazingly it conflicts with the official CIA response,” Udall said during the hearing.
Feinstein also described the Panetta review this morning as quite critical of the CIA programs, and described “analysis and acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing.”
Naturally the Panetta review is a monumentally important document that appears to undermine—in the CIA’s own words—the agency’s public dismissals of the most serious criticisms of Bush-era torture. It is this document that Feinstein alleged Tuesday morning was taken from Senate computers by the CIA.
Here’s what Feinstein described Tuesday morning:
At some time after the committee staff identified and reviewed the Internal Panetta Review documents, access to the vast majority of them was removed by the CIA. We believe this happened in 2010 but we have no way of knowing the specifics. Nor do we know why the documents were removed. The staff was focused on reviewing the tens of thousands of new documents that continued to arrive on a regular basis. […]
Shortly [after Udall’s comments], on January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search”—that was John Brennan’s word—of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the ”stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.
According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.
Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.
A short time later, CIA Director John Brennan was interviewed at a Council on Foreign Relations event by NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell. He denied “spying” on the Senate, though closely examined, his language does not directly contradict what Feinstein alleged on the Senate floor only hours earlier.
“We weren’t trying to block anything,” Brennan said. “The matter is being dealt with in an appropriate way, being look at by the right authorities, and the facts will come out,” he added. “But let me assure you the CIA was in no way spying on [the committee] or the Senate.” He also denied “hacking.” Depending on how one defines spying and hacking, it’s possible Brennan was still allowing for the existence of the “search” that Feinstein alleges Brennan himself disclosed to her.
If what Feinstein alleges is true, it essentially amounts to a constitutional crisis. And she said as much during her speech, describing “a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence community.”
“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function,” Feinstein said. “Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”
There’s also the issue of intimidation. The media reports that have been bubbling up recently around this issue have suggested that Senate investigators illegally obtained the Panetta review—some even raised the specter of hacking by the Senate investigators. The CIA went so far as to file a crime report with the Department of Justice, accusing Senate staffers of illegally obtaining the Panetta review.
Tuesday morning, Feinstein strenuously denied the review was illegally obtained, and asserted it was included in the 6.2 million files turned over by the CIA and describing at length why Senate lawyers felt it was a lawful document for the committee to possess.
And, in a remarkable statement, Feinstein accused the CIA of intimidation by filing the crime report. “[T]here is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime. I view the acting general counsel’s referral [to DoJ] as a potential effort to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly.”
Feinstein went on to note one fairly amazing fact. The (acting) general counsel she referred to, who filed the complaint with DoJ, was a lawyer in the CIA’s counterterrorism center beginning in 2004. That means he was directly involved in legal justifications for the torture program.
“And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff,” she noted gravely. “The same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers—including the acting general counsel himself—provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.”
There are several crucial questions going forward.
(1) What else did the CIA do to conduct surveillance on the committee? Feinstein included an interesting aside in her speech. “Let me note: because the CIA has refused to answer the questions in my January 23 letter, and the CIA inspector general review is ongoing, I have limited information about exactly what the CIA did in conducting its search.” This seems to strongly suggest the CIA took other measures to conduct surveillance on Congress besides broaching the committee computer system.
What may these have been? There are a couple possibilities, though we should stress this is pure speculation.
During her speech, Feinstein went to great lengths to describe how the committee also had a physical copy of portions of the Panetta review secured inside the Hart Senate Office Building. She stressed that the documents were properly redacted and transported, and described how access to them is controlled.
Is it possible the CIA gained access to that room to see what the committee possessed in hard-copy form? Again, we should stress Feinstein does not allege this, and that she also said the copy “remains” in Hart. But it would be reasonable to think that if the CIA went to such lengths to see what the committee had in electronic form, it might want to see the physical copies as well. While hacking versus a breaking-and-entering intrusion into a physical space is a distinction without any real difference in a legal sense, a physical CIA break-in of Senate offices would no doubt crank up the temperature of this imbroglio by several degrees.
Also: remember that earlier this year, in response to a question from Senator Bernie Sanders, the National Security Agency did not expressly deny spying on Congress. The NSA may just have been being careful with its language, reasoning that since bulk data collection exists, perhaps members of Congress were caught up in it. But the question remains: if the CIA felt justified spying on Senate computers, may it have listened in on phone calls as well?
(2) Will Obama respond, and what will he say? Feinstein’s grave concerns were echoed Tuesday morning by Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This is not just about getting to the truth of the CIA’s shameful use of torture. This is also about the core founding principle of the separation of powers, and the future of this institution and its oversight role,” Leahy said in a statement. “The Senate is bigger than any one Senator. Senators come and go, but the Senate endures. The members of the Senate must stand up in defense of this institution, the Constitution, and the values upon which this nation was founded.”
So we have the respective chairs of the Senate Intelligence and Senate Judiciary Committees publicly accusing the executive branch—which is controlled by their own party—of stepping across a very serious constitutional line. It cannot be stressed enough that this is a serious crisis.
Can President Obama, himself a constitutional law scholar, avoid comment? If not, what will he say?
For the moment, the White House is saying nothing. Press Secretary Jay Carney gave very little in the way of answers or opinions Tuesday afternoon during his daily briefing, and declined to even characterize Obama as “concerned.” Carney also expressed the president’s “great confidence” in Brennan and the intelligence community.
(3) Will the Senate Intelligence report on Bush-era torture ultimately be declassified? Underlying this constitutional crisis is a desire by many at the CIA to sweep the Bush-era torture abuses under the rug. That logically would be the clear motivating factor in seizing the Panetta review from Senate investigators.
And Brennan wasn’t afraid to keep pushing that approach—even during the same Tuesday interview with NBC’s Mitchell in which he denied “spying” on the Senate. Brennan also said that the CIA’s history of detention and interrogation should be “put behind us.” (It should be noted, of course, that there is strong circumstantial evidence that Brennan himself was complicit in the illegal torture program when he served in the Bush administration.)
In the wake of her revelations on Tuesday, Feinstein renewed her desire to declassify the Senate report. “We’re not going to stop. I intend to move to have the findings, conclusions and the executive summary of the report sent to the president for declassification and release to the American people,” she said, and suggested the findings will shock the public. “If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.”
Obama has long said he supports declassification, and it seems it will happen soon. Tuesday, Feinstein was already moving to hold a committee vote on declassification. Committee Republicans will likely oppose it, but independent Senator Angus King, the swing vote, told reporters he is inclined to vote for declassification.
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The Russian seizure of Crimea—and let’s face it: it’s a done deal—is not a good thing for world peace and stable international relations. By this weekend, when the provocative referendum takes place (under Russian military occupation, of course, and contrary to Ukraine’s constitution), Vladimir Putin will have a fig leaf of democratic support for his Crimea operation. But it will lead to howls of outrage from neoconservatives, hawks and pro-NATO advocates inside the United States. As a result, it will be exceedingly difficult for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to engage in creative diplomacy with Russia on issues including Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.
But does that mean that the United States should call for a revolution in Russia? Bring Ukraine into NATO? Step up military exercises all across Eastern Europe? Take steps to permanently isolate Russia’s economy? No, of course not. But that’s what the hawks are calling for.
Inside the White House, Obama may be thinking: Okay, let Putin have his gosh-darned Crimea, and let’s get on with it. But he can’t, and won’t, ever say anything like that. As time goes on, Obama will be buffeted by his ever-present right-wing critics over Ukraine, and those critics will use every opportunity to propose and defend a long list of aggressive steps that the United States can take in response—steps that, while they’ll do nothing to reverse Putin’s indefensible Ukraine policy, are laundry-list items that they want anyway. And given Obama’s all-too-frequent willingness to meet his critics halfway, they just might get them.
Among Republicans, the libertarians and so-called “realists” have cut Obama some slack. Robert Gates, the discredited former CIA chieftain who was picked as secretary of defense by George W. Bush and then inexplicably retained by Obama, told a shocked Fox News host, Chris Wallace, that Crimea is “gone”:
“You think Crimea’s gone?” “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked.
“I do,” Gates replied. “I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hand.”
He’s no doubt right about that. Henry Kissinger, the über-realist (and butcher of Vietnam) suggested in an even-toned op-ed in The Washington Post that rather than fight over Ukraine, the United States and Russia ought to see the country “as a bridge between them,” and he said that Obama and Putin shouldn’t “compete in posturing.”
And the Pauls, father and son (Ron and Rand) have pretty much written off Ukraine and told their fellow Republicans—provided that the GOP still considers the Pauls to be members in good standing with the GOP—to lay off Ukraine. According to Daddy Paul, who no doubt would rather go about the business of getting rid of the income tax and abolishing Medicare and Social Security, Americans are “sick and tired of the U.S. government getting involved in every crisis that arises.” (His column was entitled: “Leave Ukraine alone!”) For good measure, appearing on the propagandistic Russian outlet RT, Paul said that it was “global bankers” who want the United States to get involved in Ukraine. And Paul fils, the senator from Kentucky, commented intelligently, in an interview with The Washington Post: “Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time and I don’t think that is a good idea.”
But then: guess what? Under pressure from hawks, who don’t like the Pauls’ libertarian/isolationist POV, Rand Paul decided that, oops, we really do need to punish Putin, big time. In a Time magazine op-ed, Paul said:
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a gross violation of that nation’s sovereignty and an affront to the international community. His continuing occupation of Ukraine is completely unacceptable, and Russia’s President should be isolated for his actions.… Putin must be punished for violating the Budapest Memorandum, and Russia must learn that the U.S. will isolate it if it insists on acting like a rogue nation.
And then, wow! Paul backed every single measure proposed by hawks to “punish” Putin, including tough economic sanctions, reinstating the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, imposing bans on visas for Russian officials, expelling Russia from the G-8 and more.
Sounds like “tweaking” to me!
Of course, the pressure from the hawks on someone like Paul is effective because Rand Paul wants to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, the chances of which are less than the chance that Putin will give Crimea as a gift to Poland. But Obama, too, is under pressure from hawks, and it isn’t at all clear that he won’t listen. Not that Obama will use the military against Putin, but he might give the hawks a few of the items on their laundry list.
And the hawks are lining up. Besides Paul, other would-be candidates for the GOP presidential nomination have weighed in, too, including Rob Portman and Bobby Jindal. Writing in Forbes, Portman, not generally regarded as a foreign policy expert, issued a call for strengthening and expanding NATO, including in Ukraine:
Increased training exercises with our NATO allies will improve interoperability between our forces and reassure them of our commitment. In addition, we should ensure that NATO’s doors remain open to all who qualify for membership; NATO should stand with countries that choose a democratic path and whose forces serve alongside NATO troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
An editorial in The Wall Street Journal suggests that the battle of Ukraine be carried directly into Russia itself. “Kiev’s best revenge would be to become an inspiration for Russia’s freedom fighters,” it says, citing the visit to Kiev by the former Russian oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Said the editorial:
The former Yukos oil tycoon, who spent a decade in Mr. Putin’s prisons for trying to create political competition in Russia, has spoken little in public since his December release. So it was all the more remarkable that he chose Kiev’s revolutionary square for his coming out party. “Glory to the people of a new and democratic Ukraine!” he began. Before he could go on, the crowd chanted “Russia, rise up!”
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens says:
Vladimir Putin isn’t playing by Mr. Obama’s idea of 21st-century rules. The right response to a Russian power play is a power play of our own. Ballistic missile defenses on NATO’s eastern flank would be a good place to start.
In USA Today, Paula Dobriansky and David Rivkin say:
While going to war with Russia over Ukraine is unthinkable, the U.S., Britain, France and Germany should at least mitigate the damage to the cause of non-proliferation and international law by imposing the most robust set of economic, financial and diplomatic sanctions on Moscow.
You can’t swing a dead cat in Washington without knocking over another advocate for getting tough with Putin. They include Charles Krauthammer, the ubiquitous Fred Hiatt and Eric Edelman, who, writing in The Weekly Standard, wants NATO to get involved in boosting Ukraine, and who concludes with this sweeping call for remilitarizing the United States and NATO:
A…necessary step is to strengthen NATO’s deterrent posture and ability to reassure allies. Reinforcing the NATO air policing mission in the Baltics is a good beginning, but this will also require a thorough reconsideration by the alliance of the self-abnegating undertakings it assumed at the time of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997. The alliance should consider whether and how it wants to position ground combat forces on the territory of the former Warsaw Pact states that now are members of NATO. It should also reconsider the so-called three no’s—no intention, no plan, no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of the new NATO members. Bringing NATO military power closer to the borders of Russia would impose a real cost on the Russian military and might cause nationalists who support Putin’s current course to reconsider. All of this would need to be accompanied by a large increase in the defense budget, much like the one Jimmy Carter obtained after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. A jolt to the budget—at least to the levels proposed by Secretary Gates in 2011—would signal an end to the relative decline in U.S. military power over the past four years that, in Secretary Hagel’s words, has meant that “we are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can no longer be taken for granted.” That would send a powerful and unwelcome message to those in both Moscow and Beijing who are betting on the end of the unipolar world.
Let’s hope that Obama was too busy with his appearance on “Between Two Ferns” to have paid attention to Edelman.
Read Next: Tom Tomorrow sketches the Ukraine crisis from a neocon perspective.
More than 100 immigrant detainees at Northwest Detention Center in Washington state entered the fifth day of a hunger strike Tuesday and have been threatened with force-feeding by prison guards, Seattle’s NPR affiliate reports.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s hunger strike protocol instructs prison officials to place inmates who do not eat for seventy-two hours under medical evaluation. ICE could then seek a court order for involuntary feeding if deemed medically necessary. Approximately 130 detainees were refusing to eat as of lunch Monday.
Sandy Restrepo, a lawyer representing some of the striking inmates, told KUOW that guards have threatened to force-feed detainees with nasal tubes if they continue refusing to eat. The UN Human Rights Office has called nasal force-feeding torture under international law.
Guards have also isolated about twenty-five strike leaders, instructing them not to move. Restrepo told KUOW, Seattle’s NPR affiliate, “They all needed to be laying down. They weren’t even allowed to speak to each other.”
The strike began Friday, with 750 inmates demanding better food and treatment, as well as an increase in pay for prison jobs. They also are asking for an end to deportations, which have reached a record high under the Obama administration.
Northwest Detention Center is privately run by GEO Group, and holds nearly 1,300 immigrant detainees for ICE.
This article was originally published as part of a weekly series in the student-run Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
On April 24 of last year, more than 100 workers died in a factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was one of the most deadly factory disasters in history, and one of three that happened in Bangladesh last year alone. “That was the event that really drew the world’s attention and started workers in Bangladesh demanding that something change. And they gained a lot of support around the world for that.”
Junior Olivia Abrecht got involved with Student Action with Workers, a group that works in solidarity with workers connected to UNC, her freshman year. “Worker’s rights had always been something that I was passionate about.” After the factory disaster last April, Student Action with Workers began raising awareness of the problem around campus, as a large amount of UNC apparel is produced in Bangladeshi factories. The group also met various times with the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee, a group comprised of representatives from around campus that makes recommendations to the chancellor pertaining to UNC’s licensees.
“[The committee] has assured us that they will be making a recommendation to the chancellor by the end of spring break.” This recommendation should lead to a commitment to ensure no workers are killed in factories that produce UNC apparel. Abrecht is hopeful the committee will support a move to require all UNC licensees to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would require safer building standards in factories and give workers more rights.
“I think there’s significant support on the committee to require that our licensees sign the accord. [Many] members on the committee feel that this not only is something that [UNC] should do because it’s a human rights issue and it’s going save people lives—they also think it’s a really good decision because UNC doesn’t want to have there be a factory disaster in Bangladesh where UNC shirts are found. That’s not good for the University.” Student Action with Workers has heard accounts of Bangladeshi workers being beaten if they raise concerns about their safety.
“At the end of the day, you want to be able to be proud of the University you go to and you want to be able to wear a Carolina sweatshirt. There is a person who made it who should be able to speak up for him or herself.”
Read Next: Nation interns pick the week’s most interesting reads.
Most probably knew Joe McGinniss, who died yesterday at the age of 71, as the author of Fatal Vision, on the Jeffrey McDonald murder case (or his recent battle with Errol Morris over that). Or from the controversial Janet Malcolm book about his reporting on McDonald. Others never heard of McGinniss until he moved next door to Sarah Palin a few years ago, got slammed by Republicans, and wrote about it anyway.
But for me he will always be the guy who penned the astoundingly influential The Selling of the President, about the new world of “mad men” execs selling Richard Nixon to the world in 1968. Young Roger Ailes, then a producer for Mike Douglas’s daytime talk show, played a key role. This was a world barely probed in Theodore White’s “Making of a President” bestsellers in 1960, 1964 and 1968.
The McGinniss book, which I read in college, influenced all campaign coverage that followed, including my own two books exploring the real birth of that “selling”—to defeat Upton Sinclair in his race for California governor in 1934, and to get Nixon into the US Senate in 1950.
McGinniss revealed on Facebook several months back that he might be in the final months of a fight with prostate cancer, and now he has lost that fight.
It’s worth perusing his The Selling of the President for, among other aspects, it’s coverage of Ailes. Here’s one excerpt:
Paul Keyes sat in the chair that had been brought out for Richard Nixon. “It’s too loose. It’s got to have a solid back to it.” “Okay, I’ll take care of that,” Roger Ailes said, and he went slowly back to the control room and called the set designer and told him they needed another chair. The designer protested. “Do you want him to tip over?” Ailes said. “The back is loose. Do you want him to lean back and go over on his ass?” The designer suggested using an orange chair he had brought out earlier. “Goddamn it, no, we’re not going to use an orange chair. We’ve been through that … I said we’re not going to use an orange chair … well, fuck it, then. Forget it. I’ll get the goddamn chair.” He put down the phone and turned to Dolores Hardie, the assistant.
“Get Bob Dwan to get a goddamn chair. I told that creepy bastard of a designer as soon as he brought it out that we weren’t going to use an orange chair.”
It was four o’clock in the afternoon. Frank Shakespeare was worried about the studio getting too hot.
“Make sure you’ve got that handkerchief soaked in witch hazel,” Roger Ailes told someone. “I can’t do that sincerity bit with the camera if he’s sweating.”
Ailes then said, “This is the beginning of a whole new concept. This is it. This is the way they’ll be elected forevermore. The next guys up will have to be performers.”
McGinniss had actually met Ailes in 1967, when Joe was a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer. They remained friendly and this got him in the door at the Nixon campaign, which made Joe’s career. Here’s McGinniss in 2011 reflecting:
If Roger and I have ever agreed about anything having to do with politics or policy, I sure can’t remember it. From Richard Nixon to Rupert Murdoch, I think everyone he’s ever worked for has harmed this country in some way. I also think Fox News is an excrescence. And Roger knows that. Mutual candor is one aspect of our friendship. Roger’s terrific sense of humor is another: he is one of the funniest people I know. I don’t think I’ve spent five minutes in his company, privately, without laughing out loud at least three times at things he’s said.
Read Next: William Deresiewicz on the unflinching fiction of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
During an appearance yesterday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Mayor Bill de Blasio gave the strongest indication yet that he could live without the tax on high-earning city residents he wanted to impose to pay for universal pre-K. If Gov. Cuomo's plan to pay for pre-K out of existing state revenue offered enough money, it'd be acceptable, de Blasio said—although he was quick to add that he still disliked the uncertainty of having to get the program funded each year through the state budget process.
Caveats and all, this was a significant move on the mayor's part. Throughout the campaign and the transition, de Blasio made a point of not even entertaining questions about a Plan B, as in, "If the state doesn't pass the tax hike, what's your Plan B to pay for pre-K?" De Blasio's boilerplate retort was a brief explanation of why it's bad strategy to bargain against yourself. Now, albeit rather tepidly, he's signaled there's more than one way to slice the UPK apple.
Many smart people think the mayor should have done this a long time ago. Just this weekend, I ran into a City Council member in a pizza shop. "He could have taken the governor's money and claimed victory," the member said, shaking his head. Weeks ago, the smartest person I know emailed me: "If Bill had quickly taken Andrew's deal, some of the tabloid s--t he's taking now wouldn't have happened."
De Blasio's reputation as a shrewd political player is hailed by both friends and foes. Friends see it as the asset that allowed de Blasio to rise from afterthought to presumptive mayor in a matter of weeks last summer. Detractors say de Blasio deals in strategy more than in soul—that expediency trumps principle too often. Whatever interpretation you subscribe to, it would be ironic if the master strategist blew the game planning around his signature policy.
But I'm not convinced that he did.
The argument for taking Cuomo's offer of a "blank check" from state coffers is that it represented a huge concession by the governor during an election year and was probably the best de Blasio was going to get. Pushing further—in hopes of getting the dedicated income-tax surcharge—risked creating a rift between City Hall and the governor's office and wasting the mayor's political capital to no apparent end. Taking the UPK deal would also allow de Blasio to spend that capital on other priorities like Vision Zero and hiking the minimum wage. And it would give city policymakers that much more time to plot out the massive task of getting UPK up and running in the city.
But don't forget that Cuomo, at least initially, didn't offer an alternative way to pay for de Blasio's UPK plan; instead, he offered a way to pay for a smaller plan without raising taxes. Cuomo's budget message mentioned dollar figures that were well shy of what de Blasio needed for the city, let alone what would be required statewide. Cuomo then offered the "blank check," but de Blasio was right to point out that the state has made—and later welched on—such promises in the past. What's more, in late January and early February, de Blasio seemed to have the momentum. Cuomo had gone from lukewarm support of UPK to full embrace. Was it that hard to believe that the gov might move farther, especially given the fluid factionalism in the state Senate? I dunno.
>Compare the downsides of the two approaches. If de Blasio takes Cuomo's deal, then that's all he gets. If de Blasio pushes for more, maybe be gets more, or maybe he doesn't, but it's unlikely that he loses what the governor has already put on the table. Under almost any conceivable scenario there's a UPK program statewide next year, and there's no denying that's because de Blasio gave the issue some political luster, so the mayor can still claim a victory.
At worst the mayor looks a little foolish for playing Icarus to Cuomo's sun, but so what? Mayor Bloomberg lost some big fights in Albany (West Side Stadium, congestion pricing) but was still able to prevail on others. The losses—especially on congestion pricing—only reinforced Bloomberg's reputation as an independent thinker.
Indeed, when you read about de Blasio's missteps—and he's made some—and his sagging poll numbers, it's important to remember that he is taking flak this month in part because he's keeping his campaign promises: to end free charter school co-locations that were harmful and to seek a tax on rich people to pay for universal pre-K. I'm not saying that alone justifies the strategy, or excuses fumbles like Chancellor Farina's unfortunate "they're on their own," but it's just worth noting as somewhat unusual. Talk to turned-off voters about what turned them off, and more than likely they'll say it's politicians who break their word. So far, that's one complaint that won't stick against de Blasio.
Read Next: De Blasio and Cuomo spar over charter schools.
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
Pity poor Shaun McCutcheon.
McCutcheon is the Alabama businessman suing the Federal Election Commission for abridging his First Amendment right to free speech—that is, if we define free speech as McCutcheon’s right to donate upward of $123,200 in a single election cycle. He claims eliminating federal limits on an individual’s aggregate campaign contributions is “about practicing democracy and being free.” To underscore his love of freedom, McCutcheon wrote checks to 15 Republican candidates in the symbolic sum of $1,776.
The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission any day now. Given the Roberts court’s track record, the biggest campaign-finance decision since Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is likely to blow another gigantic hole in the fabric of our democracy.
Such a ruling will fuel popular outrage and increase pressure for fundamental reforms such as disclosure and public financing. Already, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) have introduced a constitutional amendment allowing campaign spending limits. This would finally supercede the Supreme Court’s infamous 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, which equated money with speechand effectively turned our elections into auctions.
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.