| February 25, 2015
IRS Audits Plunge as Agency Budget Plummets
Last year, IRS chief John Koskinen warned about the impact of his agency's shriveling budget. "I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically," he lamented, "why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not." That was before Congressional Republicans slashed its funding for the fifth straight year. Now, one year after the numbers of Internal Revenue Service agents examining returns fell to levels not seen since the 1980's, the audit rate for individuals has plunged to its lowest in a decade.
That's the word from USA Today, which documented at growing crisis at IRS in the wake of the GOP's second gutting of the agency in as many decades.
The audit rate, the percentage of individuals' tax returns IRS revenue agents examined either in person or via correspondence, fell to 0.86% last year, the data show. That represents the lowest rate since at least fiscal year 2005.
After rising steadily from 2005-10, the number of IRS audits for individual taxpayers fell 21.4% during the succeeding five years, the data show.
The IRS audited slightly more than 1.2 million individuals last year, down more than 162,000 from 2013, and a drop of nearly 339,000 from 2010.
Audits fell in virtually every individual category and across income levels, even as the number of individual tax returns filed rose in all but two of the past nine years, the data show.
The diminishing ability of Uncle Sam's tax collector to enforce the law is just the latest entirely predictable symptom of the GOP's devastating cuts. In 2014, only 53 percent of taxpayers calling the agency for help were projected to even get through, while wait times were forecast to grow to 34 minutes. This year, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson warned, "the IRS may end up answering as few as 43 percent of the telephone calls it gets." After warning in December that his skeletal budget would lead to worker furloughs and delayed refunds, Koskinen announced last month that due to budget cuts, people who file paper tax returns could wait an extra week for their refund -- "or possibly longer."
Of course, the ultimate result of the GOP's crusade against the IRS is that revenue collected by the U.S. Treasury will necessarily go down and annual budget deficits go up. With estimates that each dollar of additional funding for the IRS brings in between six and 10 dollars in extra collections, it's no wonder Jonathan Chait aptly labeled the Republicans the "the pro-deficits, pro-tax evasion party." Or, as Ezra Klein put it five years ago:
Converting dollar bills into $10 bills is an excellent way to pay off your credit card. Except, it seems, if you're a House Republican.
But for now, Republicans accusing the IRS of "partisan witch hunts" show no sign of restoring funding for an agency whose budget is now below 2008 levels. In the meantime, Olson warned, "Unless we are able to correct this, very bad things will happen to taxpayers."
| February 24, 2015
Remember French President Chirac's Address to Congress on Iraq?
The Associated Press on Friday reported on the latest developments in the "increasingly nasty grudge match" between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama over the Israeli Prime Minister's March 3 speech to Congress designed to sabotage American negotiations with Iran. But the real issue with the GOP's invitation to the Likud leader isn't about a clash of personalities. No, for Americans the stakes involve nothing less than war or peace, and who--the President of the United States or a foreign leader linked at the hip with one U.S. political party--should make that decision.
Nevertheless, back in 2002 the roles were reversed. French President Jacques Chirac addressed both Houses of Congress to warn against launching "an unnecessary war" on Iraq that would "inevitably open a Pandora's box from which the United States and the world would have no escape."
The path to that now-forgotten speech was twisting and painful. As the momentum built towards an American invasion of Iraq throughout that summer and fall, Minnesota Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone pleaded with the Bush administration to meet in Washington with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Bush, who on October 7 warned that "we cannot wait for the final proof--the smoking gun--that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud," refused. Within four days, both the House and Senate voted overwhelming to authorize the looming invasion of Iraq.
But two weeks later, Wellstone was dead, killed along with his wife in an airplane crash during his reelection campaign in Minnesota. Despite his own "yes" vote on the Iraq AUMF, a heartbroken Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) chose to honor his friend's memory by belatedly granting Wellstone's request. So on December 6, 2002, just as America was marking the anniversary of the unprovoked Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, French President Jacques Chirac made a final plea to halt the march towards a new preventive war, this time in Iraq.
Speaking to a packed House chamber, Chirac began by proclaiming, "I would like to start by saying that personally, I'm very attached to the United States. It's a country that I love, that I admire, that I respect, naturally, and it's a country that I know rather well." But after explaining that he had lived in the U.S. on several occasions ("I studied there; I worked there as a soda jerk and a forklift driver; I was a chauffeur; I was a journalist"), the French President then spoke of the two nations' intertwined destinies and enduring relationship:
But that's not the reason I was the first foreign leader to come to America after September 11, 2001 to declare "total solidarity" with the American people. As the President of the French Republican, it was my sacred duty to reassure the United States that "America's First Ally" will always come to its defense.
During the times of ultimate peril, each of our nations has depended on the other for its very survival. Lafayette and the French navy helped make American independence a reality in 1783. In time, Jefferson's Declaration didn't just inspire liberté, égalité, fraternité in France, but in the hearts and minds of people around the world. And when our freedom was in the greatest danger in two world wars, Americans fought and died by the tens of thousands at places like Chateau Thierry and Pointe du Hoc to ensure that liberty and democracy would not vanish from the earth. The French people will never forget these sacrifices. Simply, the bonds between the France and the United States are unshakeable, unbreakable and eternal.
President Chirac was greeting with a thunderous standing ovation. But the applause soon stopped when his speech continued. "It is precisely because of that shared commitment to our mutual security, to our common values, and to upholding international norms that I beseech America to show patience and restraint." Calling the looming invasion of Iraq "unwarranted" and "unjustifiable," a grim-faced Chirac warned it could well be remembered as "a world-historical mistake."
I don't need to tell you that I condemn the regime in Iraq, naturally, for all the reasons we know, for all the dangers that it puts on the region and the tragedy it constitutes for the Iraqi people who are being held hostage by it. Saddam Hussein is especially dangerous to his own people.
But Iraq does not today present an immediate threat warranting an immediate war. Unilateral American action to destroy Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction and topple Saddam would not represent the "pre-emption of terrorism," but a preventive war without modern precedent.
Time, the French President insisted, was on America's side. International law was not.
I'll be very frank with you. As I've already told President Bush, I have great reservations about this doctrine. As soon as one nation claims the right to take preventive action, other countries will naturally do the same. And what would you say in the entirely hypothetical event that China wanted to take pre-emptive action against Taiwan, saying that Taiwan was a threat to it? How would the Americans, the Europeans and others react? Or what if India decided to take preventive action against Pakistan, or vice versa?
The discomfort on both sides of the aisle was palpable. And with good reason; less than two months before, a massive, bipartisan majority in Congress had voted to authorize military force against Saddam on the very grounds Jacques Chirac rejected outright. But for the Bush administration and its supporters on Capitol Hill that day, the worst was yet to come:
I am totally against unilateralism in the modern world. I believe that the modern world must be coherent and consequently, if a military action is to be undertaken, it must be the responsibility of the international community, via a decision by the Security Council. Now, the Security Council has decided that Iraq must not have weapons of mass destruction; it did not say that a regime change was necessary there. So if the objective is to prevent Iraq from having weapons of mass destruction, we have to go along with what the United Nations has done, that is, impose the return of inspectors in Iraq without restrictions or preconditions...If it refuses, then it's up to the Security Council to deliberate and decide what must be done and notably whether a military operation should be undertaken or not.
To act outside the authority of the United Nations, to prefer the use of force to compliance with the law, would incur a heavy responsibility.
Chirac's first mention of the United Nation prompted hissing. When he finished that last sentence, boos could be heard, as well as one representative's shout of "you lie."
But Chirac still wasn't done. "If you invade Iraq, you will quickly win a military victory in the narrowest conventional sense." However, he warned, getting into Iraq will be much easier than getting out of it.
There are those in the present administration and in these chambers who have boasted that "we will be greeted as liberators" by the Iraqi people. They are wrong. No people on earth would react with anything other than fear, hatred and feelings of violation upon the occupation of their country. And in the case of Iraq, decades of bottled up sectarian tension will explode when the iron hand of Saddam is removed.
One prominent American columnist recently dismissed as "pop psychology" the notion that somehow the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime." He went to boast, "There's almost no evidence of that at all; Iraq's always been very secular."
That view is simply wrong. It does not comport with history. It does not comport with the dynamics in the region. When you Defense Secretary voice his concern that "US could fail to manage post-Saddam Hussein Iraq successfully, with the result that it could fracture into two or three pieces, to the detriment of the Middle East and the benefit of Iran," he was nearer the truth.
I say these things not from some misguided sense of pacifism, but from the painful past of my nation. In Lebanon, in Syria and most of all in Algeria, France learned that religious and tribal divisions combined with national liberation sentiment could only be quelled--and only temporarily--with extreme violence. Ultimately, France resorted to torture and brutality that shocks the conscience and haunts us to this day.
And still we lost.
Chirac concluded by reminding Congress that America had always been a "beacon of freedom" to the world. But to act so precipitously and without broad support from the international community, would put "the power of the idea of America" at risk:
And to say America must do this because "God told me to end tyranny in Iraq" or because Saddam's reign and terrorism in the Middle East show "Gog and Magog at work" will only make matters infinitely worse for both of our nations. The resulting wave of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world will translate into a storm of anti-Westernism that will affect France.
Chirac concluded his remarks with a spirited "Vive la France, Vive Les Etats-Unis" that was met with near total silence. But outside, the reaction was fast and furious. While a handful of liberal Democrats said it was "important to hear" from a "patriot" representing "our oldest ally," Republicans were apoplectic. House Speaker Dennis Hastert called the "shameful episode" an "insult to the President of the United States." Rep. Paul Ryan went even further, calling the Democrats' "embrace of a foreign leader" designed to "undermine President Bush's foreign policy and American national security" nothing short of "treachery." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mocked what he described Chirac's "cries of 'henny penny, the sky is falling' as typical of "Old Europe." As for John McCain, he shrugged off Chirac's visit by joking, "The Lord said the poor will always be with us. The French will always be with us, too.""
As for the American people, they ate their "Freedom Fries," laughed at the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" and went off to war.
Note: None of the above actually happened, for the simple reason that neither the late Paul Wellstone nor his Democratic colleagues would ever have imagined providing a foreign leader with a Congressional stage to wage war against the sitting President of the United States. But on March 3, that is precisely what the Republican Party will do when it gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the opportunity to not just insult President Obama, but to give war with Iran a chance.
Note that the remarks attributed to former French President Chirac are fabricated. In some cases, actual statements from Chirac's speeches, statements and interviews have been interwoven in the bogus text of the mythical Congressional address which never occurred.
| February 23, 2015
The Othering of the President
Back in October 2008, then Republican presidential candidate John McCain had one of the finest moments of his career. When angry Minnesota town hall questioners claimed Democrat Barack Obama was "an Arab" who could not be trusted, Senator McCain was quick to respond. After first lecturing the crowd that "I have to tell you, Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain made clear he was having none of their hate-mongering :
"No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab]."
Sadly, that was probably the last time a major Republican figure publicly and emphatically denounced his party's transparent attempts to portray Barack Obama as "the other," a somehow dangerous and demonic figure skulking outside the pale of American society. Six years into his presidency, President Obama still routinely faces slanders calling his faith, his citizenship and even his patriotism into question. And with their silence, GOP presidential candidates and Congressional leaders past and present are complicit in the conservative campaign to cater to what RFK aptly called "the dark side of the American character."
This week, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani offered just the latest case in point. Giuliani, the 2007 GOP White House front runner who would fall 1,156 delegates short of the 1,191 needed to secure the nomination, had this to say at a Wall Street event also attended by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:
"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
But given the chance to repudiate Rudy's slur, Walker decided to punt. The current leader of the GOP pack for 2016 instead proclaimed:
"The mayor can speak for himself. I'm not going to comment on what the President thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well.
"I'll tell you, I love America," he continued. "There are plenty of people, Democrat, Republican, independent, and in between who love this country. I think we should talk about ways we love this country and that we feel passionately about America."
Of course, what Walker is really passionate about is winning over the hard-core conservatives who dominate the early Republican primary states. Targeting the same audience, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on Thursday followed suit in throwing some red meat to the reddest of red staters:
"Gov. Jindal Refuses to Condemn Mayor Giuliani."
Leave aside for the moment that going back to his debut on the national stage in 2004, Senator, candidate and President Obama has repeatedly declared "that my story is part of the larger American story" and "that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible." Obama has often spoken with pride of his Kansas grandmother who worked on the B-29 assembly lines while his grandfather "signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the G.I. Bill." That's why during his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, nominee Obama delivered this tribute to his Republican opponent even as he announced, "I've got news for you, John McCain: We all put our country first":
Let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and our respect...
The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.
Four years later on Election Night, President Obama would offer a similar--if much less deserved--honor to the man he had just vanquished by six million votes, Mitt Romney:
We may have battled fiercely, but it's only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight.
Obama's magnanimity in victory stood in sharp contrast to Romney's smallness throughout the campaign. After all, Governor Romney, his wife and even their sons had taken turns pandering to those Republicans who considered the first black President neither an American nor a man.
It wasn't just Romney surrogates like John Sununu wishing "wish this president would learn how to be an American." On July 17, 2012, Mitt got in on the act, too, telling listeners that "his course is extraordinarily foreign." Two days later, Romney repeated the charge in response to the growing outcry about his mystery tax returns, shockingly low tax rate and private equity parasitism:
"This idea of criticizing and attacking success, of demonizing those in all walks of life who have been successful, is so foreign to us we simply can't understand it."
When Governor Romney wasn't accusing the President of the United States of being "extraordinarily foreign," he was providing aid and comfort to conservative fabulists claiming they could prove it. After all, Mitt Romney didn't just refuse to repudiate his Obama birth certificate fraud Donald Trump. Truth be damned, Romney suggested, instead arguing that cobbling together a majority--any majority--was what his candidacy was all about:
"You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in," Romney said. "But I need to get 50.1% or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."
No doubt, many of the people Trump claimed "are screaming, 'Please don't give that up'" attended Romney's "Dine with the Donald" fundraiser. And if they missed that shindig, they might have joined Trump and Romney at the New York City birthday bash for Mitt's wife, Ann.
As Election Day 2012 approached, the Romney clan began parroting Rush Limbaugh's talking points about the "little boy" and "man-child", the "Halfrican-American" Barack Obama. As with a fish, the rot starts at the head. Confronted earlier this month with President Obama's accurate statement about the $5 trillion, 10-year cost of the GOP ticket's tax plan, Mitt Romney countered:
"I've got 5 boys. I'm used to people saying the same thing over and over again hoping it becomes true."
Like father, like son, Josh Romney ascribed his dad's win in the first debate with Obama to the fact that as a father "he learned how to debate an obstinate child." Ann Romney, too, got in on the act. The same Mrs. Romney who has been telling women voters they "need to wake up" and Hispanics to "get past your biases" had some choice words to describe the President's response to her husband's primetime dissembling:
"it's sort of like someone that's, you know, in the sandbox that like lost the game and they're just going to kick sand in someone's face and say, 'you liar.' I mean, it's like they lost, and so now they just are going to say, OK, the game, we didn't like the game. So to me, it's poor sportsmanship."
As it turns out, those good sports of the Romney family--the same five sons Mitt said "are showing support for our nation" by "helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president"--also liked to play with the Birther lies vomited forth by the likes of Limbaugh, Trump and campaign traveling companion Jerome Corsi. When Tagg Romney wasn't joking about "taking a swing" at President Obama, his brother Matt got laughs from New Hampshire Republicans when he brushed off requests for his father's secret tax returns this way:
"I heard someone suggest the other day that as soon as President Obama releases his grades and birth certificate ...then maybe he'll do it."
While he later apologized on Twitter ("my bad"), there was no need for Matt to say sorry to dad. After all, in August 2012 Mitt Romney himself told an audience in Michigan:
"Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born," the GOP hopeful told the crowd. "Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born at Harper Hospital. No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate, they know that this is the place that we were born and raised."
That's right. Three and a half years after Barack Obama took the oath of office and more than a year after he released his long-form birth certificate, the GOP nominee was still casually trafficking in racist appeals to the Republicans' xenophobic right.
But it wasn't just man who sought the White House who helped breathe life into the foulest lies propagated by the Tea Party. The GOP's leadership on Capitol Hill refused to put an end to the smears as well.
On January 23, 2011, the new House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told Meet the Press host David Gregory he would not speak out against those "who think that his birth certificate is inauthentic."
GREGORY: Will you call that what it is, which is crazy talk?
CANTOR: [laughs] David, you know, a lot of that has been an issue sort of generated by not only the media but others in the country. Most Americans really are beyond that and they want us to focus --
GREGORY: Is somebody who brings that up engaging in crazy talk?
CANTOR: David I don't think it's nice to call anyone crazy, OK?
While Cantor ultimately acknowledged, "I think the president is a citizen of the United States," his boss John Boehner (R-OH) followed the same formula. Three weeks later, the new Speaker of the House told David Gregory, "I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian, I'll take him at his word." But when Gregory pushed him to accept the "responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance," Boehner repeatedly refused.
David, it's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people...Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can't -- it's not my job to tell them.
With their abdication, Boehner, Cantor, Romney and their ilk enabled con men like Dinesh D'Souza to make very lucrative careers out of telling the people what to think. The adulterer and convicted felon has written books and produced movies like The Roots of Obama's Rage and America 2016 which comically argue that "that Obama is best understood through the lens of anti-colonialism, in particular Kenya's struggle against British imperialism." D'Souza's sophistry didn't just become a Newt Gingrich talking point; Florida Republicans want it to become required viewing in Sunshine State schools. (D'Souza won more fans on the right this week when he tweeted of the "vulgar man" in the Oval Office, "YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO...")
Thanks to the Republicans' skullduggery, what a large slice of the American public believes just happens to be false. Almost four years after the Obama birth certificate release, more people think the President is extraordinarily and literally foreign. As NJ.com explained a new FDU/PublicMind poll on January 8, 2015, "Nearly one in five Americans say they don't believe President Obama was born in the United States":
More than a third of Republicans asked (34 percent) and 22 percent of independents say that it's "definitely" or "probably" true that the president isn't a citizen. Thirty percent of Fox News Channel viewers also said they feel that way with another nine percent unsure.
But that's not the only Obama myth that Republicans have been able to keep alive by their sins of commission--and omission. When 2014 polling showed strong support for the President from American Muslims, the Drudge Report and others among the usual suspects trumpeted the information. But among the conservative faithful, the whisper campaign about Barack Hussein Obama wasn't necessary. As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake gleefully explained ("Obama, long mistaken for a Muslim, has huge following among U.S. Muslims"), they were already convinced:
Misinformed voters -- not to mention conspiracy theorists -- have long believed that President Obama is a Muslim rather than a Christian. That number has reached as high as nearly one-fifth of all Americans and 30 percent of conservatives.
He's not. But he is hugely popular among the U.S. Muslim community.
As it turns out, those figures are little different than survey results from six years ago. As I pointed out in 2009 ("10 Lessons for Tea Baggers"):
An April survey by the Pew Research Center showed that 11% of Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, a figure largely unchanged since its polling started in March 2008. Yet 17% of Republicans and 19% of white evangelicals (74% of whom voted for John McCain) insist the President is an adherent of Islam, despite his repeated pronouncements and decades of church attendance to the contrary.
In the intervening years, Republicans have only helped fan the fire. In 2014, Republican White House wannabe Rand Paul appeared at an event with failed Virginia lieutenant governor candidate, E.W. Jackson. Jackson, as you may recall, claimed that President Obama "has Muslim sensibilities." In October 2013, Sarah Palin and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) appeared at a Tea Party rally in which Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch declared:
"I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up."
In the months since, those sentiments have been echoed by Paul's fellow presidential contenders including Cruz and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. On Thursday, Cruz denounced the President as "an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists." In the wake of Obama's remarks at the recent National Prayer Breakfast, Huckabee was blunter still:
"Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he's against the Jews in Israel," Huckabee said. "The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community."
Meanwhile, the right-wing American Thinker this week concluded Barack Obama must be a Muslim because one photograph supposedly showed him "flashing the one-finger affirmation of Islamic faith to dozens of African delegates."
And so it goes.
For his part, President Obama has had fun at the expense of the very people who try to tar him as an alien, a foreigner, a suspicious and covert follower of Islam and, yes, an African-American. At the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in May 2009, Obama joked that John Boehner is also "a person of color, although not a color that appears in the natural world." In 2013, he jabbed his foes again:
"I'm also hard at work on plans for the Obama library. Some have suggested that we put it in my birthplace but I'd rather keep it in the United States."
At the same event the next year, the President acknowledged with a smile, "I'm not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be."
Characteristically, over the six years of his presidency, he didn't get mad; he got even. In the face of Republicans who wanted to "let Detroit go bankrupt," President Obama rescued the American auto industry and with it one million U.S. jobs. In the wake of the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression, Obama and his Democratic Party saved the U.S. economy despite the Republican austerians in Washington and the states who tried to kill it. He put the first Hispanic Justice on the Supreme Court, pushed comprehensive immigration reform and put his support behind marriage equality for all Americans. Oh, and one other thing. Barack Obama enabled some 19 million Americans to obtain health insurance even as the growth in premiums and total national spending on health care slowed to their lowest levels in years.
Sounds like a man who loves his country and its people to me.
| February 19, 2015
Israel Will Not Warn U.S. in Advance of Iran Strikes
As the AP and the New York Times have reported, Obama administration officials have acknowledged that the United States is not sharing all of the details of the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. That reticence is well-justified. As the Washington Post recently reported on the leaks coming from the Netanyahu government, on January 31, "an unnamed senior Israeli official had told Channel 10 TV news that the United States was ready to allow more than 7,000 centrifuges and had 'agreed to 80 percent of Iran's demands.'" As one American official responded to the Israel cherry-picking, "What they don't tell you is that we only let them have that many centrifuges if they ship most of their fuel out of the country."
Given Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's all-out effort to undermine a deal that could prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons short of war, it's no wonder State Department spokesperson had to explain the American response to the Israeli subterfuge:
"I think it's safe to say that not everything you're hearing from the Israeli government is an accurate reflection of the details of the talks. There's a selective sharing of information."
What is surprising is that the Netanyahu government would complain about "empty" briefings from the U.S. and statements like that from former national security adviser General Gen. Yaakov Amidror, "It makes us question in Israel, are they open with us or are they trying to hide from us?" After all, the Netanyahu government has made it clear for years that he will not warn the U.S. in advance of Israeli military strikes against Iran. And that attack, one made much more likely should Bibi's sabotage succeed, could leave U.S. forces and American interests in the region unprepared for the Iranian retaliation that would certainly follow.
Word that Israel would not give Washington a heads-up about a decision to unilaterally hit Iranian nuclear facilities first became public in 2011. That November, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey acknowledged the differences between Israeli and U.S. expectations over sanctions as well as differences in perspective about the future course of events. As Reuters reported:
Asked directly whether Israel would alert the United States ahead of time if it chose to go forward with military action, Dempsey replied flatly: "I don't know."
Dempsey's revelation came just days after the Netanyahu government refused to give the Obama administration assurances it will first notify the U.S. of its intentions. In an October 2011 meeting with Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, American Defense Secretary Leon Panetta came away empty handed:
Continue reading at Dailykos.
| February 18, 2015
For CUFI and ISIS, It Was the Best of Times, It Was the End of Times
With the carnage in Syria, the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq and the beheadings, these are not good times in the Middle East. Unless, that is, you believe we're living in the End of Times. And you very well might, if you're a member of the Islamic State (ISIS) or a supporter of Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
Those are the conclusions from new assessments of two of the dueling millenarian visions now animating decisions of war and peace in the Middle East. And in both cases, things don't end well for the Jews.
Writing in The Atlantic ("What ISIS Really Wants"), Graeme Wood argues that the ISIS conquests in Iraq and Syria aren't merely the attempt of Sunni extremists to establish a new Islamic caliphate. Self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and many of his followers are in this until the End:
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, "the Prophetic methodology," which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn't actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We'll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State's intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
As Wood describes it, "The Islamic State awaits the army of "Rome," whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse." That, CNN analyst Peter Bergen similarly concludes, explains "why does ISIS keep making enemies." Jews, Shiites, Muslim political leaders and, of course, Christians are all apostates who must be put to the sword.
[F]or ISIS, the Dabiq prophecy is deadly serious. Members of ISIS believe that they are the vanguard fighting a religious war, which Allah has determined will be won by the forces of true Islam...
ISIS members devoutly believe that they are fighting in a cosmic war in which they are on the side of good, which allows them to kill anyone they perceive to be standing in their way with no compunction. This is, of course, a serious delusion, but serious it is.
Meanwhile, back in the United States another serious delusion--Christian Zionism--is encouraging its own version of an End Times bloodbath in the region. And as Sarah Posner reports in Religion Dispatches, many Israelis are just now beginning to understand that with friends like Christians United for Israel (CUFI), they don't need enemies.
This week, the Israeli think tank Molad released a new report on the Faustian bargain between American Christian Zionists and Israelis leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Posner summed up the findings from Molad researcher Liat Schlesinger, what the Israeli press calls "Christians who love Israel" have an agenda that doesn't end well for the Jewish State:
The term Christian Zionist, said Schlesinger, "is very confusing" to Israelis. "What we're showing in the report is they're not Zionists if they wish for the destruction of the Israeli state. Zionism is one thing and their religious motive is something else."
The narrative is familiar to Americans who follow religion, politics, and the Middle East: Christian Zionists support Israel. When in Washington, they will frame this support--frequently described as biblically mandated love--in political and policy terms, such as opposing a nuclear deal with Iran or negotiations with the Palestinians. (Or, more recently, supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming speech to a joint session of Congress.) But at church, on religious television, in books, and at religious conferences, this love for Israel and Jews is unabashedly presented as biblical prophecy come to life, culminating in the return of Christ and the conversion or elimination of Jews.
The real world importance of those who see the conversion of 144,000 Jews and the slaughter of the rest at Armageddon shouldn't be underestimated. After all, while Americans oppose by nearly 2 to 1 Bibi Netanyahu's invitation to deliver an unprecedented address to Congress, one group is always with the Likud leader. Pastor John Hagee, founder and president of Christians United for Israel, warned that God will destroy America for failing to adequately support Netanyahu. As Right Wing Watch reported earlier this month:
"I am a student of world history," Hagee said, "and you can wrap up world history in 25 words or less and here it is: the nations that blessed Israel prospered and the nations that cursed Israel were destroyed by the hand of God"...
America will face the same fate, Hagee warned, because God "is watching what America does as it responds to Israel. If America turns its back on Israel, God will turn his back on America. And that's a fact. It's proven by history."
And why is CUFI having its two million members flood Congressional email in boxes with demands that their representative s attend Netanyahu's March 3 speech on the Iranian nuclear program? As Hagee explained in 2006:
"The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West ... a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."
(That the mullahs in Tehran promote their own Shiite End Times vision of the return of the "Twelfth Imam," the Mahdi who will reemerge from his "occultation" in order to liberate the world from evil doesn't help matters.)
That's right. CUFI needs Israel's Jews to serve as biblical cannon fodder to usher in the new millennium of Jesus Christ. As I detailed previously, Republican presidential hopefuls past and present cloak their eschatology in a less frightening guise:
For Christian Zionists like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) ("Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist"), Gov. Rick Perry ("As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel") and Mike Huckabee ("no such thing as a Palestinian"), Israel serves merely as a means to an end. In that telling, it is a divinely required stepping-stone to the End Times conversion (and much larger slaughter) of the Jews that will accompany the Second Coming of Christ. And that has a real impact on foreign policy.
While 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain renounced Pastor Hagee's endorsement after the CUFI leader's descriptions of the Catholic Church as a "false cult" and "the whore of Babylon" became public, Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed his support for years. Adopting the position of "take the support, hold the conversion," Bibi has been a regular at CUFI events in Washington and in Israel.
And what has the man Prime Minister Netanyahu described as "my friend" been up to lately? Pushing the movie version of his latest tale of the Apocalypse, Four Blood Moons:
"Four Blood Moons" combines scripture, science, history and big-screen live action spanning centuries, including previous similar lunar occurrences and the earth-shaking changes around them. It also examines our four blood-moon cycle-and its possible meaning for Israel, the Middle East and the world.
An array of historians, religious scholars and commentators appear in "Four Blood Moons" and offer their insight-filmmaker, speaker and author Dinesh D'Souza; radio host and author Dennis Prager; and noted author and historian David Barton to name just a few.
And it's all coming to a theater near you for a one night special event on March 23, "three days after a total solar eclipse is expected to occur and days before a total lunar eclipse."
In the months ahead, we'll doubtless hear more about the clashing fundamentalisms and contradictory End Times visions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the likes of John Hagee. But while the two may not agree on the role Jesus Christ will play at the End (as Wood explains, "Just as [the anti-Messiah] Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus--the second-most-revered prophet in Islam--will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.") But for the Jews, their last chapters end in pretty much the same way. Badly.
| February 17, 2015
Obamacare Critics Ignore Bush's Medicare Outreach to Churches
On Monday, Republican opposition to Obamacare went from the ridiculous to the sublimely ridiculous. After the right-wing Weekly Standard protested the Department of Health and Human Services' outreach activities to churches, Fox News host Steve Doocy complained that the HHS enrollment flyers, bulletins and enrollment events constituted a "violation of the separation of church and state." But those protests aren't just comical on their face. As it turns out, the Bush administration used exactly the same tactic to encourage seniors to sign up for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. And one of the reasons we know this because President Bush and his Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt told us so.
As I've documented elsewhere ("What's the Difference between a Medicare Navigator and an Obamacare Navigator?"), the Affordable Care Act uses virtually same program of "navigators"--that is, partnerships with hospitals, universities, churches and non-profits groups to help American enroll in a health insurance plan--Medicare Part D depended on beginning in 2004. (As it turns out, Medicare has been pouring millions of dollars into State Health Insurance Partners--or SHIPS--since 1990.) In a July 2013 Washington Post op-ed ("To Implement Obamacare the Right Way, Look to Bush's Medicare Reform"), former HHS Secretary Leavitt explained why that was a good idea:
Before the program was implemented, only 21 percent of seniors had a favorable opinion of it, and 66 percent didn't understand what the reform would mean for them. So we spent 18 months devising and implementing a campaign to explain the prescription drug benefit, prepare seniors as well as partners -- such as community groups, churches, pharmacies, insurance plans and state and local governments -- and then sign people up. A national bus tour supported each phase. The summer before enrollment (the same period that the ACA is in now) we logged more than 600,000 miles and visited 48 states. As secretary, I made 119 stops in 98 cities. I learned that with a program like the ACA, you can't count on Washington to sell it. You have to reach people where they live, work, pray and play. [Emphasis mine.]
Secretary Leavitt practiced what he preached. As he explained during a joint appearance with President Bush on May 9, 2006:
"Last Sunday was 'Sign Up Sunday,' we went to churches all over America saying this is a great way to love your neighbor, or to honor your father and your mother. Help them sign up for the prescription drug plan."
On February 22, 2006, Leavitt held an event and press conference at the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida to "highlight community-based resources that will help educate and enroll seniors and disabled beneficiaries in the new Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage." There, the Pensacola News Journal reported, "Leavitt met with about 200 seniors at the First Baptist Church of Pensacola on Wednesday, arriving from Mobile aboard a big, blue bus called the Medicare Mobile Education Center" and delivered this simple message:
"We wouldn't have 250,000 to 400,000 people a week enrolling if it wasn't a good deal for seniors."
Mark McClellan, then head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and his team repeatedly testified to Congress about the success of the outreach to houses of worship and faith-based institutions. For example, on May 3, 2006, Medicare Today regional coordinator Susan Everett told the House Ways and Means Committee:
In Bridgeport, Connecticut, to name one instance, the parish nurses of Ascension St. Vincent Health Services worked with the State to have computer‑equipped vans at churches to educate and enroll parishioners. This type of effort has been very successful and well received.
On June 14, 2006, McClellan told the committee:
We believe that one-on-one counseling is important for people with Medicare to make confident decisions about their Medicare prescription drug coverage. To develop this grassroots network, CMS reached out to organizations that have contact with people with Medicare on a daily basis. To reach beneficiaries "where they work, live, play, and pray," we sought to involve individuals and institutions such as employers, churches and synagogues, financial advisors and community centers. By expanding beyond our traditional partners such as beneficiary and caregiver groups and CMS' regional office structure, we ensured that people with Medicare could receive necessary education and enrollment assistance at the community level.
What McClellan described was an outreach program President Bush's Medicare Part D drug plan used from the very beginning and the Affordable Care Act uses now. As President Bush boasted in May 2006, "Churches all across the country are reaching out -- synagogues, people from different faiths understand that it makes sense to help their parishioners realize the benefits." The only difference today? Now, a Democrat sits in the Oval Office.
| February 16, 2015
Bush Intervenes with Sunni Sheiks as Iraqi Government Faces Crisis
Even as Islamic State fighters battle Iraqi forces in western Iraq near a base where hundreds of American troops are currently stationed, the government in Baghdad is facing a new crisis. On Friday, Sunni tribal leader Sheik Qasim al-Janabi, his son and six bodyguards were killed by unidentified Shiite militiamen in Baghdad. In the aftermath of the attack, Sunni members of Parliament threatened to withdraw from the unity government led by Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. As it turns out, the tumult came just days after former President George W. Bush personally intervened with a Sunni tribal delegation visiting Washington to back their call for the U.S. to sidestep al-Abadi by directly providing them with weapons and assistance in the fight against ISIS.
As Mark Perry documented in Politico, Bush called Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, the leader of the Sunni Awakening that preceded the 2007 American surge in Iraq, to offer support and advice in pressuring the Obama administration to ship them weapons directly rather than through the Iraqi Ministry of Defense:
Abu Risha, the president of the powerful Anbar Awakening Council, said Bush listened carefully as the sheik explained in a 20-minute conversation that the Anbar tribesmen were unlikely to get any weapons from the Iraqi government, which, as Abu Risha claimed, is notoriously corrupt, beholden to Tehran and more interested in arming Shia militias than Sunni tribesmen. Bush urged Abu Risha to extend his stay and meet with retired Gen. David Petraeus, as well as with Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. According to Abu Risha, Bush pledged that he would "do everything I can" to help him get a hearing in Washington.
If accurate, the story is doubly disturbing. For starters, there is no indication that Bush coordinated with tor informed the Obama administration before making his call. (Perry interviewed no sources from the White House or the State Department, relying instead only members of Abu Risha's delegation and its supporters in the U.S., like retired Marine Col. John Coleman.) More appalling still, the simmering tensions between the Anbar Sunnis and Tehran's allies in Baghdad is largely due to President Bush himself.
After his invasion opened a Pandora's Box of sectarian conflict in Iraq, President Bush made a Faustian bargain to restore some semblance of peace and stability in the country. While backing Bush's hand-picked Shiite strong man Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, the U.S. armed and funded the Sunni tribes in Anbar province whose fighters played a decisive part in rolling back Al Qaeda in Iraq. But Maliki predictably betrayed the Sunni Awakening and its 90,000 Sons of Iraq before American troops left the country. Maliki's crackdown on his Sunni opponents helped pave the way for the ISIS conquests in northwestern Iraq, a development which led the Obama administration to support his ouster and the new Abadi government.
Now, there is little question that defeating the Islamic State in Iraq will require the active support of Abu Risha and his Sunni allies. To date, the Shiite-led Iraqi army has proven itself incapable of defending Sunni cities and towns, places in which the Baghdad government regardless had already alienated the local populations. But while the Obama administration is trying to encourage a rapprochement between the Anbar sheiks and Abadi, Bush, McCain, Graham and their corner apparently have another agenda:
The result of these exchanges--the Bush telephone call and the meetings with Petraeus, McCain and Graham--seemed to confirm for Abu Risha that while the administration was committed to defeating the Islamic State, its opposition to arming the tribes by bypassing the Abadi government reflected its fears that to do so would offend Tehran--and endanger the P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program.
Of course, Iraq's conversion into an Iranian ally was guaranteed the moment U.S. troops first crossed the border back in 2003. The festering sectarian conflict was virtually assured when the Bush administration simultaneously backed the Sunni Awakening and Iran's man in Baghdad, Nouri Al-Maliki. And now, apparently, the arsonist who started the fire is working behind the scenes to put it out.
| February 13, 2015
When Bush Was Bulls**ting Americans on Limiting Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Among the supposed revelations in the new book by former Obama adviser David Axelrod is the claim that the 44th President was "bulls**ting" about his past opposition to marriage equality. While President Obama today claimed otherwise, his deference to political expediency was no mystery to his supporters. For them, his Hamlet act that his views were "evolving" was rightly received with eye-rolling and a shrug.
But complaining about Obama's failure to live up to his own high standards, the Washington Post's Aaron Blake declared, "This is why we're cynical." To put it bluntly, that is bulls**t. Obama's gambit had no impact on the 2008 election. If you want to see a history-changing act of political cynicism, you'll need to go back to Governor George W. Bush in the 2000 election. His stunning--and almost instantly reversed--call for limits on greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide helped the Republican "out-Gore Gore" and end up in the White House.
In his speech in Saginaw, Michigan on September 29, 2000, Governor Bush tried to beef up his "compassionate conservative" credentials by outflanking Vice President Gore from the left:
"As we promote electricity and renewable energy, we will work to make our air cleaner. With the help of Congress, environmental groups and industry, we will require all power plants to meet clean air standards in order to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide within a reasonable period of time. And we will provide market-based incentives, such as emissions trading, to help industry achieve the required reductions."
As it turned out, Bush kept that promise only until he was safely ensconced in the Oval Office.
In March 2001, only 10 days after EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman publicly pledged to fulfill Bush's campaign promise, the White House reversed course. Later that year, Whitman was rolled again over the issue of "new source review" for the nation's older power plants. The EPA's suggested rule changes were rejected by the administration, she said, because the White House "wanted something that would be more pro-industry." (Caught completely off-guard while in climate meetings in Europe, Whitman soon resigned.)
Just days before abandoning the Kyoto climate treaty altogether, President Bush jettisoned his campaign promise to "establish mandatory reduction targets for emissions of four main pollutants" including carbon dioxide. As the New York Times reported on March 13, 2001:
The president outlined his new view in a letter to four Republican senators, whose criticisms of Mr. Bush's initial plan had been among a torrent of protests by conservatives and industry leaders who warned that any effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions could deal a severe blow to the energy industry and to the American economy.
As recently as 10 days ago, Christie Whitman, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, had described Mr. Bush's campaign promise as if it were already policy.
The imprint of Vice President Dick Cheney's office was clear in a White House memo which warned "any specific policy proposals or approaches aimed at addressing global warming must await further scientific inquiry." President Bush parroted that language in his March 2001 letter to the GOP Senators which reversed his plan to regulate CO2 emissions "given the incomplete state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to, global climate change."
To provide a smoke-screen for its support of industry, the Bush administration continued to turn to its magical formula of "scientific uncertainty." Despite the overwhelming worldwide consensus on the urgency and man-made causes of global warming, President Bush in rejecting the Kyoto protocols in June 2001 declared:
"No one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided.
The policy challenge is to act in a serious and sensible way, given the limits of our knowledge. While scientific uncertainties remain, we can begin now to address the factors that contribute to climate change."
Mercifully for the American people, in April 2007 the United States Supreme Court did what President Bush would not, ruling that carbon dioxide should be considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. As the Washington Post noted at the time:
As a result, the court said, the EPA had not only the power but the obligation to regulate the gas.
The occupant of the White House eventually came to the same conclusion. But his name was Barack Obama, not George W. Bush. Obama may have played it cute in fudging what he was against when it came to marriage equality. But Bush pretended he was a strong environmentalist, he was lying his way to the presidency.