| July 23, 2014
Ryan Budget Depends on Obamacare Subsidies GOP Wants Courts to Strike Down
When two appeals courts issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on whether Obamacare's health insurance subsidies apply to the 34 states that chose to let the federal government run their exchanges, Republicans were quick to pounce on the one decision they liked. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the DC Circuit's decision a "repudiation of Obamacare" which "should shield citizens from Obamacare's insidious penalties, mandates, and subsidies." House Speaker John Boehner concurred, insisting that the ruling constituted "further proof that President Obama's health care law is completely unworkable."
Of course, what is completely unworkable is any Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act. After four years of failing to put forward their own plan, Boehner's pledge Tuesday that "Republicans remain committed to repealing the law and replacing it with solutions that will lower health care costs" is laughable on its face. And as it turns out, the Paul Ryan budget that 95 percent of Congressional Republicans voted for three years in a row depends on every single dollar Uncle Sam now raises to fund subsidies in all 50 states.
In June 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare's individual mandate, arguing that Internal Revenue Service under the government's taxation power could collect penalties from Americans in all 50 states who failed to obtain health insurance as required by the ACA. For the Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare's coverage provisions as part of the Ryan House GOP budget, it's a good thing he did. As I explained when Ted Crux and his allies sought to shut down the federal government last fall if Obamacare wasn't repealed and defunded:
While repealing Obamacare, slashing Medicaid funding by a third and leaving roughly 38 million more people uninsured, the Ryan budget still runs up trillions in new red ink thanks to its massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy. Paul Ryan's blueprint does not, as Republicans claim, balance in 10 year because it does not identify a single tax break it will close to fill the gaping hole left by almost $5 trillion in tax cuts. And yet, the Ryan plan still assumes every single dollar in revenue generated to fund the Affordable Care Act. The $716 billion in savings from Medicare providers, the capital gains and Medicare payroll tax surcharges for households earning over $250,000 a year and other new revenue raisers are all still in there.
In the spring of 2013, Ezra Klein summed up" Paul Ryan's love-hate relationship with Obamacare" this way:
Every Ryan budget since the passage of Obamacare has assumed the repeal of Obamacare. Kinda. Ryan's version of repeal means getting rid of all the parts that spend money to give people health insurance but keeping the tax increases and the Medicare cuts that pays for that health insurance, as without those policies, it is very, very difficult for Ryan to hit his deficit-reduction targets.
Not difficult, but impossible. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office repeatedly forecast, Obamacare reduces the U.S. national debt precisely because its savings and new revenues exceed the cost of the Medicaid expansion and health insurance subsidies that the New England Journal of Medicine found enabled 20 million Americans to get coverage. And without those revenues, the budget Paul Ryan and his math-challenged Republican colleagues in the House and Senate backed utterly falls apart. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, called out his Republicans for precisely that hoax:
[House Republicans] have to explain to the American people how they voted for a budget that includes all of the Medicare savings from ObamaCare, that includes the same level of revenue generated from ObamaCare and, in fact, would not even balance in 10 years, if not for the Affordable Care Act.
For its part, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the IRS tax credits paid to 4.7 million residents of the 34 states which chose to use the federal exchange, saying that a rule issued by the Internal Revenue Service was "a permissible exercise of the agency's discretion." Most observers believe the full DC Circuit will ultimately reach the same conclusion that "it is therefore clear that widely available tax credits are essential to fulfilling the Act's primary goals and that Congress was aware of their importance when drafting the bill."
If the Supreme Court were to ultimately rule otherwise, Chief Justice Roberts would have to argue that residents in states with a federally-run exchange still must purchase insurance or pay penalties if they do not. That won't go down well with the millions of newly and very happily insured (including Republican voters) who would lose their subsidies and likely their coverage. And Republicans like Ted Cruz succeeded in repealing Obamacare "root and branch," they'd have to come up with a trillion dollars in new revenue over the next decade.
To quote John Boehner, that sounds completely unworkable.
| July 22, 2014
CUFI Summit Shows Why Jewish Americans Vote Democratic
Last week, the Pew Research Center released the largely predictable findings of a survey measuring how Americans feel about the nation's various religious faiths. While adherents unsurprisingly gave their co-religionists high marks, one factoid stood out. White evangelical Protestants love the Jews, giving them an impressive 69 on Pew's 100 degree thermometer. Alas, that love goes unrequited: "Despite evangelicals' warm feelings toward Jews, Jews tend to give evangelicals a much cooler rating (34 on average)."
If you're looking for answers why, the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) summit now underway in Washington is a good place to start. There, religious right extremists whose domestic policies Jewish Americans overwhelmingly oppose are rallying in support of the proposition that God gave all of the land of Israel to the Jews, a position that a majority of Jewish Americans reject.
Founded by Pastor John Hagee, CUFI for years has featured American politicians, leaders of major American Jewish organizations and Israeli ambassadors only too eager to mobilize evangelical's backing and cash for Eretz Israel. Their mission? According to the organization's "Israel Pledge:"
We believe that the Jewish people have a right to live in their ancient land of Israel, and that the modern State of Israel is the fulfillment of this historic right.
That historic right was God's gift to the Jews, His Chosen people.
Unfortunately for John Hagee, Gary Bauer, Senator Lindsey Graham, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and the rest of the crowd gathered in Washington this week, most Jewish Americans do not share that belief.
After all, surveys show that while 44 percent of Americans--and only 40 percent of American Jews--believe Israel was given by God to the Jewish people, among Israeli Jews the share identifying themselves as God's Chosen People reaches 70 percent. As it turns out, far and away the group most dedicated to the proposition that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people is American white evangelical Protestants. And their End Times story doesn't end well for Jews anywhere.
In its October 2013 analysis, the Pew Research Center reported that at a whopping 82 percent, "A majority of white evangelicals believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people, compared with 40 percent of American Jews who believe the same." But just as jaw-dropping as the fact that white evangelical are twice as likely as American Jews (40 percent), and five times more like than "Jews of no religion" (16 percent) are the implication for U.S. policy:
White evangelical Protestants also are more likely than Jews to favor stronger U.S. support of Israel. Among Jews, 54% say American support of the Jewish state is "about right," while 31% say the U.S. is not supportive enough. By contrast, more white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (46%) than say support is about right (31%).
White evangelical Protestants are less optimistic than Jews about the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution to conflict in the region. When asked if there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, six-in-ten American Jews (61%) say yes, while one-third say no. Among white evangelical Protestants, 42% say Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully, while 50% say this is not possible.
Not possible and for many evangelicals, not desirable. After all, in their eschatology, the conversion of some Jews--and the slaughter of the rest--at Armageddon is part and parcel to the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the Second Coming of Christ.
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. As the controversial head of the Christians United for Israel, Pastor John 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."
With friends like that, Israel doesn't need enemies. And with Republicans like that, it's no wonder American Jews continue to overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
Other recent surveys of American Jews confirm what the exit polls tell us every four years: the Jewish electorate that is perhaps the single most liberal voting bloc in the United States. A poll conducted two years ago by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University revealed why the Jewish community continues to reliably vote for Democrats, "election cycle after election cycle":
The poll, which has a four percent margin of error, also found high support among Jews not just for social causes they have long championed including gay marriage (68 percent support) and access to legal abortion (63 percent favor), but on economic issues such as taxation. Sixty-five percent said they support raising income tax for those who earn above $200,000 a year and 62 percent said they thought the power of financial institutions pose a threat to the United States.
The survey also found that 73 percent of those polled favored the government requiring private health insurance to cover birth control.
As Haaretz noted in reporting on the survey, "Israel related issues seem to have little effect on Jewish voters' decision in choosing between Obama and Romney." That finding echoed the results of an April 2012 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization:
A majority of 51% pointed to the economy as the issue most important to their vote, followed by gaps between rich and poor (15%), health care (10%) and the federal deficit (7%). Only 4% of Jewish voters said Israel was the most important issue for them when deciding who should get their vote. Even when asked to name their second-most-important issue, Jewish voters gave the issue of Israel only marginal importance.
The data would suggest that the Republicans' focus on attacking both Obama's record on Israel and his troubled relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was having little, if any, traction.
Which turned out to be exactly right. In 2012, Mitt Romney as predicted won evangelicals by a staggering 59 points. Yet despite the campaign of right-wing demagoguery, Barack Obama crushed Romney by 69 to 30 percent among Jewish voters. (Four years earlier, Obama swamped McCain by 78 to 21.) Even with President Obama's slumping poll numbers, 55 percent of Jewish Americans approve of his performance, a figure virtually unchanged since 2010. And with the recent primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia, this fall's midterm elections could bring the number of Jewish Republicans in the House to--wait for it--zero.
That dismal reality has led some of the GOP faithful to lash out. Breitbart columnist Ben Shapiro called the Obama administration "obviously anti-Israel" and, despite its large number of Jewish staff and advisors, "borderline Jew-hating." In March, Michele Bachmann lamented to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council that the American Jewish community "sold out Israel."
Of course, Jewish voters did no such thing. Looking at the likes of Michele Bachmann and Christians United for Israel, they couldn't help be reminded that with friends like these, American Jews don't need enemies.
The Pro-Tax Evasion, Pro-Deficits GOP Strikes Again
After months of their much-hyped but still unproven charges of partisan skullduggery at the Internal Revenue Service, House Republicans this week took an axe to the IRS budget. The cost of the GOP vendetta is massive. Cutting the agency's funding for the fifth consecutive year, the House in a 228-to-195 vote slashed the overall IRS budget by 13 percent and its enforcement division by almost a quarter. For his part, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) boasted about his role in punishing the IRS by reducing its funding to just $9.8 billion in fiscal year 2015, down from $13.4 billion five years earlier:
I am ecstatic that the House of Representatives supported my efforts today to pass a vitally important amendment which will save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Rep. Gosar may be thrilled, but no one else should be. Like his GOP allies around the country, he has the math exactly backwards. If it became law, the House budgetary temper tantrum wouldn't just undermine customer service even as the agency has expanded responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank law. By severely limiting the ability of the IRS to audit, identify and prosecute tax cheats, Republicans will once again cost the United States Treasury billions more in lost revenue. And if you feel like you've seen this movie before, that's because you have.
As it turns out, the unified House GOP caucus was only delivering on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus' April promise that "we're done playing footsie here with the IRS" over its supposed scandals. But the real scandal is that Republicans and their conservative amen corner have for decades been doing something much worse to the IRS.
After their successful 1990s crusade to gut the Internal Revenue Service, the GOP is once again slashing its budget, demonizing its employees and even questioning the legitimacy of its mission. With its funding cut by Congress for five years in a row, the agency now has 10 percent fewer agents and officers than five years ago and fewer agents auditing returns than at any time since at least the 1980s. Even as congressional Republicans have blocked Obama administration efforts to end inversions that enable American corporations to move overseas to avoid paying taxes, the Government Accountability Office reported an epidemic of tax dodging by small businesses. The result is that the tax gap--the difference between what the American people and U.S. businesses owe the federal government and what they actually pay--has mushroomed to an estimated $500 billion from $195 billion in 1998. To put that in context, that's roughly equal to the entire projected federal budget deficit for this year.
Before looking at the frightening numbers behind today's sad state of the IRS, it's important to recount the history of how the GOP became, as Jonathan Cohn aptly put it, the "pro-deficits, pro-tax evasion" party.
For starters, the GOP's best and brightest have ridiculed the very notion that the richest Americans can even be asked to pay higher taxes. "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally," South Carolina Sen.Lindsey Graham declared in defense of Mitt Romney in 2012, adding:
It's a game we play. Every American tries to find the way to get the most deductions they can. I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game.
A game, that is, that will be won by the well-to-do, since apparently they are the only ones financially qualified to play it. In rejecting a small increase in gilded class tax rates, President George W. Bush summed up the rules by explaining that "the really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway." Supply-side snake oil salesman Arthur Laffer agreed:
You really can't collect much money from upper-income people. They know how to get around taxes.
Their task is made even easier if the Republican Party convinces a wide swath of the American public that the Internal Revenue Service is, as Maine Governor Paul LePage claimed, "the new Gestapo," which is "headed in the direction of killing a lot of people." As it turns out, LePage was only regurgitating 20-year-old GOP talking points.
As David Cay Johnston explained in his 2003 classic, Perfectly Legal, the GOP during the Clinton administration waged an all-out war on the IRS, turning the priorities for auditing Americans upside-down. Then as now, GOP spinmeister Frank Luntz framed the issue for his Republican allies: "Which would you prefer: having your wallet or purse stolen or being audited by the IRS?" As Sen. William Roth's Finance Committee held hearings in 1997 and 1998, Mississippi's Trent Lott decried the IRS' "Gestapo-like tactics" while Alaska's Frank Murkowski protested, "You don't need to send in armed personnel in flak jackets." Former Sen.Don Nickles of Oklahoma simply raged, "The IRS is out of control!" Congress went on to pass and Bill Clinton to sign the IRS Reform and Restructuring Act in 1998.
Even as then-IRS Director Charles Rossotti warned Congress about an epidemic of tax cheating, Sen. Phil Gramm in May 1998 denounced the agency. Peddling myths of jack-booted IRS agents tormenting American taxpayers, Gramm called on Rossotti to fire his 50 worst employees. Gramm concluded:
I have no confidence in the Internal Revenue Service of this country. You do not have a good system. This agency has too much unchecked power.
As the New York Times recounted that spring, the plan to gut the IRS advocated by Phil Gramm and his allies was a popular political gambit, but almost certain to create incentives for tax evasion:
Mr. Gramm spoke at length of how he had ''no confidence'' in the I.R.S., remarks that were in sharp contrast to those of every other senator, who emphasized that the majority of I.R.S. workers were honest and most taxpayers law-abiding.
A variety of tax experts have said in recent weeks that attacks on the I.R.S., which polls show are a potent device to win votes and contributions for Republicans, give comfort to tax cheats and discourage honest taxpayers.
Which, of course, is exactly what happened. IRS staffing was slashed and audits of the wealthy dropped precipitously. As Johnston explained:
In 1999, for the first time, the poor were more likely than the rich to have their tax returns audited. The overall rate for people making less than $25,000 a year was 1.36%, compared with 1.15% of returns by those making $100,000 or more...Over the previous 11 years audit rates for the poor had increased by a third, while falling 90 percent for the top tier of Americans.
By 2006, as the New York Times reported, "Over the last five years, officials at both the I.R.S. and the Treasury have told Congress that cheating among the highest-income Americans is a major and growing problem." As former Reagan administration official Bruce Bartlett explained in 2012, "As the I.R.S. data show, noncompliance increased between 2001 and 2006, a period in which a substantial number of tax cuts were enacted." All told, according to the IRS estimates, the tax gap for 2006--that is, revenue lost to evasion, fraud and underreporting--reached $385 billion. That's $95 billion more than in 2001 and almost double the $195 billion Rossotti warned Congress about in 1998.
By 2010, other projections put the tax gap as high as $500 billion a year, a sum equal to about 15 percent of the entire federal budget.
Nevertheless, the Republican anti-IRS drumbeat continued unabated. Even with 20,000 fewer total employees than in 1992, Bartlett lamented, "Republicans have been treating the IRS like a political punching bag for years, cutting its personnel and restricting its ability to do its job." Like a punching bag, even when IRS workers were killed for just doing their jobs.
Declaring, "Well Mr. Big Brother IRS Man, let's try something different, take my pound of flesh and sleep well," disgruntled taxpayer Joseph Stack in February 2010 flew a small airplane into the IRS office in Austin, Texas. His suicide attack killed IRS employee and Vietnam veteran Vernon Hunter. But instead of producing universal revulsion, some Republicans in Congress essentially blamed the victim. As Rep. Steve King (R-IA) put it:
It's sad the incident in Texas happened, but by the same token, it's an agency that is unnecessary and when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the IRS, it's going to be a happy day for America.
(Three years later, Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz echoed that line, announcing, ""We ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax, where the average American can fill out our taxes on a postcard.")
Newly elected Massachusetts Republican Sen.Scott Brown similarly seemed to show King's sympathy for the devil:
I don't know if it's related, but I can just sense not only in my election, but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated. They want transparency, they want their elected officials to be accountable and open and talk about the things that are affecting their daily lives. So I'm not sure that there's a connection, I certainly hope not. But we need to do things better.
One person who had been doing things better was President Barack Obama. In his first two years in office, Obama's administration began to level the playing field for the IRS versus the tax cheats. The agency finally reversed its decade-long bias for the wealthy. The agency offered the carrot and stick of an amnesty program and prosecution for Americans hiding unreported offshore bank accounts. A new whistleblower program also began to pay dividends: in 2011, the IRS paid an accountant $4.5 million for tipping off the agency that his employer was cheating the American people out of $20 million owed in taxes. As the AP reported in December 2009, in its efforts to recover some of the nearly half-trillion dollars in revenue lost to cheating, the IRS was less likely to audit those earning below $200,000 a year:
IRS enforcement numbers, released Tuesday, show that returns under that amount have a 1 percent chance of getting audited.
Returns showing income of $200,000 and above have a nearly 3 percent audit chance. The percentage jumps to more than 6 percent for returns showing earnings of $1 million or more...
The number of audits jumped 11 percent from 2008 to 2009 for returns with earnings of $200,000 or more, but rose 30 percent for returns showing earnings of $1 million or more. For those under $200,000 the number of audits remained steady.
But just four short years later, the progress has started coming undone, thanks to a new wave of Republican attacks on the IRS budget. As the Washington Post reported last week, "As millions of Americans race to meet Tuesday's tax deadline, their chances of getting audited are lower than they have been in years." And as National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen acknowledged with great regret, customer service has suffered greatly.
How bad have things gotten? Forty percent of calls to the IRS for help will go answered. The 60 percent they do get through have to wait 25 minutes on average, compared to just 10 minutes in 2010. In 2014, the agency provided in-person help to only 5.6 million people, compared to 6.5 million the year before. As Fierce Government explained in February, there is no secret as to why:
Fiscal 2014 IRS appropriations are $11.29 billion - almost a billion less than it was in 2010 and the fourth year in a row funding has declined, Koskinen told the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on financial services and general government.
The IRS budget has been cut by 7 percent total over the last four years, he said, despite a 4 percent rise in total tax filings.
Cut, despite the testimony by Koskinen and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that for each additional dollar invested in the IRS, the agency will deliver $6 in new revenue. (Cut, too, despite the Republicans' endless repeated mantra that the United States is becoming like Greece, where tax noncompliance is essentially a national pastime.) As Koskinen summed up the impact of the cumulative effects of the House GOP's $600 million cut in 2011 and the 2013 budget sequester:
"If you gave us the $500 million of our sequester funds (slashed under automatic spending cuts) we would have given you back $2 to $3 billion more, and people shrug and move on," he said. The agency now employs 10,000 fewer people and receives $900 million less in federal funds than it did four years ago.
The last time the IRS analyzed the tax gap based in 2006 data, the agency concluded that the nation's 114 million households had to pay the equivalent of a "noncompliance surtax" of nearly $3,400 each. But with the taxpayer population now at 141.2 million, economist Benjamin Harris of the Brookings Institution estimated the total tax gap could range from $410 billion to $500 billion. "You could go a long way toward solving our budget mess by closing the tax gap," Harris said. "But the problem is, it's not easily closed."
Especially if, as Republicans demand, you don't even try.
As Bartlett notes, "Information reporting and withholding are the I.R.S.'s principal lines of defense against tax cheating," especially by small businesses, yet "previous efforts by Congress to do so have been met with huge political resistance." But those policy moves aren't as counterproductive as cutting the agency's ability to enforce the law at all. As Ezra Klein pointed out when House Republicans first slashed the IRS budget in 2011:
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.
Especially if you're a House Republican trying to make hay over a supposed scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service's handling of 501c(4) political groups. As The Hill reported in July 10, 2013:
House Republicans are going on offense against the Internal Revenue Service with measures to slash the agency's spending and reform what they say has become a culture of abuse.
The House Appropriations Committee released a measure on Tuesday that would roll back the IRS budget by $3 billion -- a cut of roughly a quarter -- in direct response to the agency's targeting of tax-exempt groups.
Such a step, which even Charles Krauthammer called "silly and small," would make Uncle Sam's tax gap dramatically worse. But for today's GOP, that's no problem. As IRS chief Koskinen recently warned Congress, "I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not."
And that's the real scandal.
(This piece first appeared at Dailykos.)
| July 21, 2014
Hamas Rule in Gaza? President Bush Built That
With the body count growing daily in Gaza, the conservative commentariat has predictably circled the wagons around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud government. "Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity," Charles Krauthammer declared this week and repeating Bibi's mantra about his Hamas enemies. "We're using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they're using their civilians to protect their missiles." On Sunday, National Review editor Rich Lowry echoed that point, blaming Hamas for the deaths of four boys obliterated on a Gaza beach by Israeli bombs.
Conveniently missing from their right-wing revisionist history, however, is any mention of how Hamas terrorists came to dominate Gaza in the first place. To borrow a favorite phrase from Republicans, President George W. Bush built that.
In April 2008, David Rose neatly summarized "the Gaza bombshell" in Vanity Fair:
After failing to anticipate Hamas's victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, the author reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.
Following the death of Yasser Arafat, Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005. That March, Lowry rejoiced in the pain of liberals President Bush had supposedly proven wrong with his democracy agenda, while Krauthammer in "Three Cheers for the Bush Doctrine" crowed that "free Palestinian elections producing a moderate leadership" proved that "America made the right decision to invade Iraq."
Alas, within two years of Israel's exit from Gaza Hamas was firmly in control. And much of the blame goes to President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for pushing prematurely for parliamentary elections and then--when they didn't like the outcome--a bungled coup that left Hamas triumphant and in total control.
Warned that Fatah wasn't ready for elections in which Palestinians fed up with years of Arafat's corruption and cronyism might punish Abbas' party, President Bush said he "wanted to give Palestinians the chance to choose new leaders, ones who were not 'compromised by terror.'" But in January 2006, that's exactly what Bush got, as Hamas won 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament. As the New York Times reported at the time:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Sunday that the United States had failed to understand the depth of hostility among Palestinians toward their longtime leaders. The hostility led to an election victory by the militant group Hamas that has reduced to tatters crucial assumptions underlying American policies and hopes in the Middle East.
"I've asked why nobody saw it coming," Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."
(That may explain why her State Department web site omitted any mention of the January 2006 Palestinian elections in its "Middle East Peace Chronology.")
"Everyone blamed everyone else," one Department of Defense official lamented. "We sat there in the Pentagon and said, 'Who the fuck recommended this?' " Four years later in 2010, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State For Near Eastern Affairs Liz Cheney (above) acknowledged Bush and Rice's catastrophe with Palestinian voters, "I don't think they were ready for it. I don't think we should have pushed it."
With Hamas now in the Palestinian government, Bush and his team scrambled to come up with a plan B. As former Clinton and Obama Middle East negotiator Martin Indyk explained in January 2006, "The conceptual failure that contributed to disaster was the president's belief that democracy and elections solve everything." So, as Rose documented in 2008, President Bush decided to solve Hamas problem the old-fashioned way: through covert action.
Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America's behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)
But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.
Many called the operation "Iran-Contra 2.0" and not just because of the involvement its pardoned architect, Elliott Abrams. With Congress united against providing arms to the Palestinian Authority, Bush and Rice turned to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to provide Dahlan's forces with weapons.
But by July 2007, the entire scheme blew up in Bush's face. As David Wurmser, who a month after the Gaza coup resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, later explained:
Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of "engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory." He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand. "It looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen," Wurmser says.
The botched plan has rendered the dream of Middle East peace more remote than ever, but what really galls neocons such as Wurmser is the hypocrisy it exposed. "There is a stunning disconnect between the president's call for Middle East democracy and this policy," he says. "It directly contradicts it."
Of course, the likes of Charles Krauthammer, Rich Lowry and David Brooks contradict it, too. Brooks, who in 2005 trumpeted "how thoroughly the Bush agenda is dominating the globe," by 2013 announced he would be "defending the coup" by the Egyptian military against the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood. As for Krauthammer, there is only one villain responsible for the carnage in Gaza:
It's to the Israelis' credit that amid all this madness they haven't lost their moral scruples. Or their nerve. Those outside the region have the minimum obligation, therefore, to expose the madness and speak the truth. Rarely has it been so blindingly clear.
Of course, the moral calculus of 47 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and seven of blockading Gaza isn't so black and white. As for Hamas' conversion of Gaza into a 139 square mile launch pad for rockets, the history of its stranglehold is "blindingly clear."
George W. Bush helped build that.
| July 19, 2014
Darrell Issa's Hatch Act
Judging from the flood of articles with titles like "Has Darrell Issa gone rogue?" and "When Darrell Issa goes 'rogue'," the grand inquisitor of the Obama administration may have finally gone too far even for his Republican colleagues. Having lost the spotlight on the GOP's fishing expeditions on Benghazi and the IRS, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman has resorted to scheduling duplicate testimony and inventing new charges out of whole cloth. And his latest slander--baselessly accusing the White House White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach of violations of the Hatch Act--may be his most pathetic yet. After all, in 2007 it was Rep. Issa who mounted a staunch defense of Lurita Doan, the embattled Bush GSA chief who later resigned after U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) concluded she had violated the Hatch Act's prohibitions on partisan political activity by government employees.
On Wednesday, Chairman Issa ended his committee hearing without testimony from the scheduled witnesses. But that abrupt end had less to do with the White House's defiance of a subpoena for Davis Simas, the director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, than with the conclusion provided in the written statement of U.S. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner. As the Washington Post reported:
Issa has complained that the White House opened its political-affairs wing without consulting the Office of Special Counsel, which helps enforce the Hatch Act.
U.S. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner submitted written testimony that said the political office appeared to be adhering to OSC guidance, based on how officials have described its function.
"To the extent that OPSO's activities are limited to those described in the White House correspondence, OPSO appears to be operating in a manner that is consistent with Hatch Act restrictions," Lerner wrote.
But when it came to Bush administration, the watchdog agency documented at great length in 2011, the violations of the Hatch Act came fast and furious. Among the leading rule-breakers was President Bush's pick for the General Services Administration, the federal government's premier contracting agency, And when Lurita Doan first came under withering bipartisan criticism in early 2007 for using her office to promote Republican Congressional candidates and awarding no-bid contracts to her friends, it was Darrell Issa who circled the wagons around her.
As Political Correction documented, time and again Issa came to Doan's defense, even going so far as to list her charitable contributions as proof of her virtue. That was hard to do with a straight face, given Doan's pathetic performance in front of his committee then headed by Democrat Henry Waxman (D-CA). As NPR detailed in March 2007:
In her testimony, Doan preferred to emphasize her entrepreneurial efforts. But Democrats were interested in other things: a contract that she tried to award to an old friend; negotiations with Sun Microsystems, in which she became involved; and, more especially, the briefing. In January, Scott Jennings -- the top aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove -- talked to GSA political appointees about the 2006 election results and the Republican goals for 2008.
In one exchange, the lead-off questioner for committee Democrats, Iowa freshman Rep. Bruce Braley, a former trial lawyer, asked Doan, "Would you characterize his presentation as a purely factual presentation about the results of the 2006 election?"
Doan replied, "I'm a little bit embarrassed to admit this, but I can say I honestly don't have a recollection of the presentation at all."
You may have a recollection of that presentation. After all, those slides showing the GOP's top 20 target seats for the 2008 election were made public:
Nevertheless, Darrell Issa, the same man who accused Valerie Plame of perjury, attacked the families of murdered Blackwater employees and accused Congressman Joe Sestak of Hatch Act violations, portrayed Doan as a victim during that March 2007 Oversight Committee hearing:
Republicans stuck up for Doan. Darrell Issa of California noted that she has been running GSA for just eight months: "In your eight months, I think you've probably found what I found in my nearly seven years now: That this is a bureaucracy that will resist you at every point, isn't it?"
Doan's reply: "You're absolutely right."
Doan ultimately resigned from GSA on May 1, 2008 after "the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog agency, conducted its own probe of those claims and concluded that she made the remarks and violated the Hatch Act, which generally prohibits employees of federal agencies from using their positions for political purposes."
For her part, the loyal Bushie Lurita Doan repaid the favor. In October 2008, Doan attacked the man Issa would eventually replace. "Most Americans have grown familiar with your lack of candor, misleading statements, and bitter partisan machinations, and certainly, your report serves as yet another example of the same ol' same ol' from Henry Waxman." And In January 2011, Doan reemerged on the pages of Townhall to praise "Issa's Early Effect":
Congressman Darrell Issa's chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has already had an effect on Democrats in the Obama Administration, even before Issa has hosted a congressional oversight hearing. The announcement of the resignation of Josh Sharfstein, the Deputy Commissioner at Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is likely just the first of many such resignations that will occur as Executive agency leaders in the Obama Administration realize that their misguided policies can't stand up to public scrutiny...
Expect an exodus of other political appointees from other federal agencies as soon as public scrutiny reveals more Obama Administration abuses of public trust. Many Democrats have depended on operating in the dark because they know their policies are indefensible. Liberal Dems who know that their policies cannot be defended are going to leave before Issa's hawk's eye turns on their activities.
As it is turning out, the only exodus underway appears to be from the ranks of Darrell Issa's Republican allies. That's because Darrell Issa and his hawk eye have finally jumped the shark.
| July 18, 2014
"Next Up, Baghdad" McCain Says He Would Have Opposed Iraq War as President
Back in 2010, Arizona Senator John McCain told surprised Americans that "I never considered myself a maverick." Now, the failed 2000 and 2008 GOP White House hopeful is telling an even bigger tall tale about the Iraq war he so vociferously supported. "You'll find this surprising," he told CNN's Jake Tapper about a would-have-been McCain presidency beginning in 2001, "but I think I would've been more reluctant to commit American troops."
Of course, McCain's born-again story on Iraq isn't a surprise, it's an outright lie. After all, even as the United States began military strikes in Afghanistan in the days after 9/11, he was already declaring "very obviously Iraq is the first country" America must attack next. That same October, McCain told Charlie Rose that the anthrax spores used in attacks in the U.S. "may -- and I emphasize may -- have come from Iraq." And in January 2002, fourteen months before the war he advocated against Saddam Hussein was launched, John McCain told American sailors and airmen aboard the USS Roosevelt, "Next up, Baghdad!"
You'd never know any of this watching the Maverick's miraculous performance on CNN:
"If presented with that same evidence today, I would vote the same way," McCain said of his vote to deploy troops in the country. "I respected and trusted the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. But it's obvious now, in retrospect, that Saddam Hussein - although he had used weapons of mass destruction - did not have the inventory that we seem to have evidence of. Which now looking back on it, with the benefit of hindsight, (the evidence) was very flimsy."
If he had been president, McCain said, "I think I would have challenged the evidence with greater scrutiny. I think that with my background with the military and knowledge of national security with these issues that I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time."
Of course, there is zero evidence to support any of McCain's revisionist history. He was not only an early cheerleader for the Iraq but, as the New York Times noted in August 2008:
He lauded the war planners he would later criticize, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. (Mr. McCain even volunteered that he would have given the same job to Mr. Cheney.)
And to be sure, John McCain swallowed every Bush administration talking point about Iraq, and has regurgitated them ever since.
Consider McCain's statements during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in January 2002, Senator McCain declared, "Next up, Baghdad!" That followed by three months McCain's baseless claim that the anthrax attacks that fall could have been the work of Saddam Hussein:
"I think we're doing fine [in Afghanistan]...I think we'll do fine. The second phase - if I could just make one, very quickly - the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don't have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may - and I emphasize may - have come from Iraq."
Or may not have come from Iraq. In any event, McCain insisted, the United States would make short work of Saddam's forces. As the Bush administration was making its case for war by warning of "the smoking gun that could come on the form of a mushroom cloud," McCain in the September 2002 assured Americans that "I am very certain that this military engagement will not be very difficult" because "I cannot believe that there is an Iraqi soldier who is going to be willing to die for Saddam Hussein." (As for Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress leader who joined President Bush for the 2003 State of the Union Address only to later be linked to Iran, McCain declared, "He's a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart.") It's no wonder McCain told MSNBC's Christ Matthews on March 12, 2003 that American forces would "absolutely, absolutely" be greeted as liberators, a claim he repeated two weeks later:
"There's no doubt in my mind that we will prevail and there's no doubt in my mind, once these people are gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators."
As it turned out, not so much. The victory John McCain predicted in January 2003 would be "rapid, within about three weeks" did not come to pass. Two months after the invasion, he crowed that "we won a massive victory in a few weeks, and we did so with very limited loss of American and allied lives." As for the "Mission Accomplished" banner draped behind President Bush during his victory speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, McCain pushed back against those arguing the conflict was not over. As he responded to Neil Cavuto of Fox News on June 11, 2003, "Well, then why was there a banner that said mission accomplished on the aircraft carrier?"
"I have said a long time that reconstruction of Iraq would be a long, long, difficult process, but the conflict -- the major conflict is over, the regime change has been accomplished, and it's very appropriate."
Appropriate, that is, to mark the end of a just--and justifiable--war. One month before President Bush initiated his campaign of "shock and awe," McCain warned that Iraq had the "definitive footprints of germ, chemical and nuclear programs." On June 11, 2003, he was firm in his belief that Saddam's non-existent WMD would turn up:
"I remain confident that we will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
But as the chaos and carnage of the Sunni insurgency spun out of control, John McCain began singing a different tune. With just weeks, he reversed his March 7, 2004 proclamation that "I'm confident we're on the right course." Instead, he pointed out in April, "Things go wrong in war. Mistakes happen." His confident pre-war prediction ("I think we could go in with much smaller numbers than we had to do in the past. But any military man worth his salt is going to have to prepare for any contingency, but I don't believe it's going to be nearly the size and scope that it was in 1991.") was gone, replaced in April 2004 by:
"I was there last August. I came back after talking with many, many people, and I was convinced we didn't have enough boots on the ground."
Despite the mounting U.S. casualties, McCain insisted that the victory he already declared won was just around the corner:
"I think we missed an opportunity during the first six months or so of our occupation of Iraq." (April 16, 2004.)
"We're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months." (November 12, 2006.)
"My friends, the war will be over soon, the war for all intents and purposes although the insurgency will go on for years and years and years." (February 25, 2008.)
On that last point, John McCain was partially right. The sectarian conflict in Iraq that the U.S. helped temper by buying (or more accurately, renting) Sunni tribal leaders has exploded once again and shows no signs of being extinguished any time soon. And now, he insists, it all could have avoided by permanently deploying the U.S. troops President McCain would never have sent there.