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Eye chart; letters read 'DR RAND PAUL FOR PRESIDENT'
In his announcement speech on Monday, ophthalmologist turned GOP White House hopeful Rand Paul recounted his pro bono work performing eye surgeries in Guatemala. But in a speech that emphasized his medical background and commitment to "liberty" as his calling cards, Senator Paul made little mention of the Obamacare program he has long promised to repeal. That omission was probably for the best. After all, as he has made clear in the past, Dr. Paul's prescription for millions of previously uninsured Americans is to choose "freedom," just like those who shop for cosmetic surgery like Lasik.

But in his response to President Obama's State of the Union address in January, the junior senater from Kentucky offered his diagnosis of the American health system and offered his own prescription to cure it:

Obamacare, at its core, takes away a patient's right to choose. Under Obamacare, patients are prohibited from choosing their doctor or their insurance...

Everyone knows our health care system needed reforming, but it was the wrong prescription to choose more government instead of more consumer choice and competition.

Obamacare restricts freedom and must be repealed!

I was asked recently how we would fix our healthcare system. I replied, "Let's try freedom again. It worked for over 200 years!"

Continue reading about Rand Paul's freedom cure below.
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The New York Times on Sunday featured a fascinating interview with President Obama conducted by columnist Tom Friedman. In the U.S., most analysts focused on the president's salesmanship of the just-concluded Iran nuclear deal and the "Obama Doctrine" behind it. But in Israel, left and right alike zeroed on President Obama's pledge that "if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there." Zeroed in, that is, with good reason. After all, despite their close ties, the United States has never offered Israel a formal security guarantee. And as it turns out, many conservatives against the Iran deal in both countries nevertheless probably wouldn't support a mutual defense pact.

In the Friedman interview, the president went well beyond his usual "we've got your back." Instead, his language suggested an American commitment on a par with that given to NATO allies or Japan. Acknowledging that Iran poses a qualitatively different threat to Israel than the United States, Obama declared:

Obviously, Israel is in a different situation, he added. "Now, what you might hear from Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, which I respect, is the notion, 'Look, Israel is more vulnerable. We don't have the luxury of testing these propositions the way you do,' and I completely understand that. And further, I completely understand Israel's belief that given the tragic history of the Jewish people, they can't be dependent solely on us for their own security. But what I would say to them is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure that they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks, but what I'm willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them. And that, I think, should be ... sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table." [Emphasis mine.]
If this is more than just rhetoric, Obama's promise is, as Vice President Joe Biden might say, a "big f**king deal." To put it in some historical context, recall President Kennedy's response to the October 1962 revelations of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Head below the fold for more on this story.

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Sun Apr 05, 2015 at 06:28 PM PDT

'Screams from My Father' by Ted Cruz

by Jon Perr

Just in time for Easter, Republican White House hopeful Ted Cruz (R-TX) has declared his ticket for 2016 will be the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Of course, the players in his Trinity have been updated. In his announcement address at Liberty University two weeks ago, Senator Cruz recounted his father's "come to Jesus" tale. And in his first campaign ad released on Friday, it is the epiphany of Pastor Rafael Cruz his son puts at the center of his—and the nation's—story:
"Were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the house. God's blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation. Over and over again when we faced impossible odds, the American people rose to the challenge. This is our fight, and that is why I'm running for president of the United States."
Unfortunately for Cruz, in conservative circles filial piety isn't an advantage, but an albatross. After all, the right wing made Barack Obama's Kenyan father—a man he hardly knew—the key to understanding "The Roots of Obama's Rage." But if the likes of Dinesh D'Souza and Newt Gingrich are going to claim Obama's supposed "inherited rage" and "anti-colonial worldview" were handed down by Obama senior, Rafael Cruz represents a huge problem. The former Castro ally turned immigrant and Born-Again Christian has all the zealotry of the convert combined with a zero-sum, us-versus-them Cold War mentality. For father and son, that sound and fury signifies something, none of it good for wide swaths of the American population.

As it turns out, the preaching of Rafael Cruz provides a window into the soul of his son. In July 2013, CBN host David Brody asked Rafael about the meteoric rise of his son, suggesting it was "a thing of God." The elder Cruz agreed, explaining that his Ted was indeed the anointed one:

Continue reading below about "Screams from My Father" by Ted Cruz.

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If being a neocon means never having to say you're sorry, then being an accessory to a world-historical mistake must grant you some kind of magical immunity. So it would seem after reading Bush administration stenographer Judith Miller's revisionist history on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. In mea non culpa "The Iraq War and Stubborn Myths," Miller repackages the same bogus argument Bush apologist and federal judge Laurence Silberman ("The Dangerous Lie That 'Bush Lied'") published in the same pages less than two months ago.

Unfortunately for Miller and the co-chairman of Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, Silberman long ago admitted his commission "ducked" on the question of how Team Bush used—and misused—of pre-war intelligence. Worse still, a mountain of subsequent analyses did not duck, instead cataloguing numerous cases where Team Bush lied about what it knew—and what it did not know—about Iraq and its WMD program.

Of course, you'd never know that reading Miller's WSJ double-down diatribe:

There was no shortage of mistakes about Iraq, and I made my share of them. The newsworthy claims of some of my prewar WMD stories were wrong. But so is the enduring, pernicious accusation that the Bush administration fabricated WMD intelligence to take the country to war. Before the 2003 invasion, President Bush and other senior officials cited the intelligence community's incorrect conclusions about Saddam's WMD capabilities and, on occasion, went beyond them. But relying on the mistakes of others and errors of judgment are not the same as lying. ...

The 2005 commission led by former Democratic Sen. Charles Robb and conservative Republican Judge Laurence Silberman called the estimates "dead wrong," blaming what it called a "major" failure on the intelligence community's "inability to collect good information ... serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather, and a failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions." A year earlier, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence denounced such failures as the product of "group think," rooted in a fear of underestimating grave threats to national security in the wake of 9/11.

Having just marked the 12 year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it's worth remembering how that war was sold to the American people beginning in the fall of 2002.

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If nothing else, you have to give Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence credit for going big. In April 2007, Pence defended Big War, comparing his heavily guarded tour of Baghdad to visiting "any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime." Four years later, then Rep. Pence took on Big Debt, declaring of the government, "Shut it down." That same spring of 2011, Congressman Pence branded Planned Parenthood "Big Abortion," and called for the total defunding of Title X funding that provide contraception, cancer screening and other medical services for six million women annually.

But with his crusade against Big Gay to preserve the controversial Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act he just signed, Governor Mike Pence has once again turned to the Big Lie. His repeated protests that "the law is not a 'license to discriminate'" are belied by its authors' claims that it would do just that. Just as damning is Pence's fabrication that the Hoosier Hate law "simply mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993." As Garrett Epps helpfully documented in The Atlantic, Indiana's unique SB 101 is far broader than the federal RFRA law, the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby and the 20 other state "religious freedom" laws:

[I]t has been carefully written to make clear that 1) businesses can use it against 2) civil-rights suits brought by individuals.
That's right. Any for-profit business can use RFRA as a defense against a discrimination action brought by any individual. The government need not be a party to the suit. And in Indiana, a state without civil rights protections for gay Americans, that license to discriminate is very real.

Nevertheless, supporters like Indiana University law professor Daniel Conkle insist that "despite all the rhetoric—the bill has little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom."

The bill would establish a general legal standard, the "compelling interest" test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. ...

In any event, most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination. The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a "license to discriminate," and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.

If so, what "valuable guidance" would the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act provide to Hoosier state courts in these hypothetical cases below the fold?
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Sun Mar 29, 2015 at 01:00 PM PDT

The Iran Regime Change Act of 2015

by Jon Perr

When it comes to the Iranian nuclear program, the United States is rapidly approaching a point of no return. The P5+1 talks are coming down to the wire even as the participants express cautious optimism that a deal could be inked as soon as Sunday. But if the negotiations in Geneva fail or if their opponents in Congress succeed in blowing them up, leaders of both U.S. political parties will have to quickly come up with a plan B to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear device.

To put it another way, all those who have sought to sabotage an agreement will have to put up or shut up. The Congressional Republicans who invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to torpedo the Iranian talks, the 47 GOP Senators who wrote the leadership of the Islamic Republic threatening to block sanctions relief for Tehran, the 367 House members who penned a similar letter to President Obama, the bipartisan supporters of the Corker-Menendez bill and virtually the entire 2016 Republican presidential field will have to put their money where their mouths are.

And the amount of that money could be as much as $2 trillion over a decade. Thousands of U.S servicemen and women, as well as American civilians, could be the casualties of a conflict that might well spread beyond the region. To ensure that Iran can never develop nuclear weapons, that's the possible price tag in blood and treasure for an American invasion and occupation of Iran that would require "a commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."

Perhaps President Obama's foes on both sides of the aisle would like to bring that package up for a vote in Congress. Call it the "Iran Regime Change Act of 2015."

Of course, you'd never know about any of these risks listening to those who casually chant, "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."

Continue reading below:

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Indiana Governor Mike Pence is not the first Republican to use the First Amendment as a weapon to deny equal rights for some Americans. And Pence won’t be the last conservative caught in the blowback from civil rights groups, corporate leaders and even some Christian churches. That’s because as marriage equality continues to win in the courts of law and public opinion, conservatives are turning the First Amendment's freedom of religion protections into a cudgel to beat back others’ speech and behavior they find offensive.

Governor Pence signed Indiana’s new Religious Freedom’s Restoration Act not only “because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” but because “many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”  Pence has plenty of company among the 2016 Republican White House hopefuls. While Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has warned, “Religious liberty has never been more under attack,” his Louisiana rival Bobby Jindal declared, “Make no mistake," Jindal said, "The war over religious liberty is the war over free speech and without the first there is no such thing as the second.”  But it was front-runner Jeb Bush who gave the game away in expressing his opinion about same-sex marriage:

“I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue - including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”
Unfortunately, Bush’s posture, which one Republican strategist described as “a new way to talk to about same-sex marriage,” is little different than the religious liberty justifications segregationists used to defend Jim Crow and its bans on interracial marriage. Just as important, the new wave of GOP legislation to enable discrimination against LGBT Americans is a perversion of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Ironically, the federal RFRA law was the congressional response to a ruling by Justice Antonin Scalia in the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith.

Continue reading more on this story below.

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Mon Mar 23, 2015 at 11:44 AM PDT

Imagining Ted Cruz as president

by Jon Perr

On Monday, Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for President at Liberty University. In the wake of that address in which Cruz used the term “imagine” over 40 times, Ezra Klein of Vox asked readers to “imagine Ted Cruz as President.”

Back in July 2013, I did just that. Here, then, is a look back at “The Great Nullification Crisis of 2017.”

------------------------------

For most Americans now living, those long-ago events were as unthinkable as they were forgotten. In Little Rock, Arkansas (1957), Oxford, Mississippi (1962), and Tuscaloosa, Alabama (1963), Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy dispatched federal troops to enforce the law of the land in the face of local segregationist officials proclaiming "states' rights" as their rallying cry.

And yet, little more than two generations later, a new, even more shocking nullification crisis exploded across the United States. In places like Burlington, Vermont, and Boulder, Colorado, in Concord, Massachusetts, and Concord, California, and in Portland, Oregon, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, American troops were deployed to stamp out the nascent rebellion of American citizens and renegade state politicians protesting Washington's violations of their most basic notions of reproductive rights, personal privacy and tax fairness. This is the story of the failed civil uprising and taxpayer revolt that constituted the Great Nullification Crisis of 2017.

Brief but bloody, the simmering federal-state conflict that boiled over that hot summer began with the previous fall's election of Republican President Ted Cruz and Vice President Susana Martinez. But its real roots lay in 18 states' passage of the Vote Integrity for Legitimate Elections (VILE) Act by the spring of 2016. As the New York Times described the legislation which swept Republican (and mostly southern) state houses between 2013 and 2015:

Made possible by the Roberts' Court 2013 Shelby County ruling, VILE bills have rapidly proliferated in the states formerly subject to Department of Justice pre-clearance. The most draconian voting legislation since the era of Jim Crow, VILE requires voters to present photo identification cards, cards which can often only be obtained in limited locations statewide and with the presentation of a driver's license or birth certificate.

Other provisions of the Vote Integrity for Legitimate Elections Acts limit early voting and ban weekend voting altogether. Absentee ballots must be delivered in person by each voter him or herself. And while outlawing same-day registration, VILE also imposes a $10,000 fine and jail time on civic groups and partisan organizations for each voter registered in error.

Experts like Rosanne Parks of the League of Women Voters worry that voter registration and turnout "will plummet" as a result, especially among minorities and the poor. For them, Parks warned, "Legal remedies in federal courts will come too late. The damage will already be done."

Which is exactly what happened. Despite losing the popular vote by over 1.5 million ballots to Democrats Martin O'Malley and Brian Schweitzer, the Republican ticket of freshman Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and two-term New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez captured the Electoral College by a 291 to 247 margin. Gaining 11 points among Hispanics compared to Mitt Romney's dismal 2012 performance certainly helped. But it was the dramatically reduced turnout by African-American, Latino and lower income voters that enabled Cruz to carry Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. An estimated two million Americans were kept from the polls in those states alone. (Democrats called their absence "vote suppression"; Republicans called it "disinterest.")

More about President Cruz and the spring of 2017 below the fold.

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Sun Mar 22, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

Blockheads

by Jon Perr

This week, House and Senate Republicans unveiled their respective budget resolutions for fiscal year 2016. As a quick glance at the documents shows, what is old is new again for the GOP. Each claims to balance the budget within 10 years. Despite the national debt’s share of GDP forecast to remain stable over the next decade, the House Budget Committee plan delivered by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) claims to slash $5.5 trillion in federal spending during the same time frame, while Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi’s proposal cuts $5.1 trillion. Each GOP-controlled chamber promises to repeal Obamacare and yet still offers no alternative to replace it.

But in these Republican budget outlines chocked full of magic asterisks, mystery savings, savage cuts to the social safety net, and a laundry list of policies to be determined later, one favorite conservative gimmick—block grants—may be the cruelest of them all. Gutting Medicaid spending and divvying up what remains among the states won’t mean new flexibility to tailor their own programs to “to most efficiently and effectively serve low-income families in their communities.” Instead, the states will eliminate health coverage for tens of millions of their residents, including many who had government insurance before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.

More below the fold.

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Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin created quite the uproar when he condemned Senate Republicans for sending Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch to "the back of the bus." But Durbin didn't need to reach all the way back to Rosa Parks in 1955 to denounce the GOP's grotesque obstructionism.  The story of Judge Michael Mukasey in 2007 is the perfect comparison to make that case. After all, despite his refusal to repudiate--or even acknowledge--President Bush's illegal regime of detainee torture, Mukasey was confirmed as AG by the new Democratic-controlled Senate in 53 days.

But at day 134 of the Loretta Lynch waiting game, the second-ranking Senate Republican says he feels "zero" pressure to bring her vote to the floor. But on November 6, 2007, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) felt differently when a Republican sat in the Oval Office:

Judge Mukasey's nomination has been delayed now for almost seven weeks. It is imperative that the President has his national security team at full strength and the unnecessary delay of Judge Mukasey's nomination has prevented that. He deserves an immediate up-or-down vote by the full Senate.
Long before the GOP used the human trafficking bill as the latest roadblock to Lynch's confirmation, Cornyn declared both that he wouldn't vote for her and why. "Her testimony, expressing support for the president's unconstitutional executive action [on immigration enforcement] and her support for a number of the president's other policies, make it impossible for me to vote for her nomination." But when the nominee belonged to President Bush and the issue was waterboarding, Senator Cornyn demanded an immediate up or down vote.

In September 2007, then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the op-ed pages of The Hill to pressure Democrats to confirm the successor to the hapless Albert Gonzales:

For the past several months, our Democratic colleagues have asked for a new attorney general. They have spoken at length about the importance of the Justice Department, and the urgent need to install new leadership there as soon as possible. Democrats said they want someone with "integrity" and "experience" who "respects the rule of law," and who can "hit the ground running"...

Now is the chance for our Democratic colleagues to prove they meant what they said. If they were serious when they cried out for new leadership at the Justice Department, they will follow Senate precedent and evaluate Judge Mukasey based on his record of service, not their own political agenda.

The Democrats' agenda, one shared by some Republicans like Lindsey Graham (R-SC), was to end American violation of U.S. and international law over waterboarding and other so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques." But Mukasey refused to say during his confirmation hearings whether waterboarding was torture ("If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional"), even Graham was disgusted:

Continue reading below.

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House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 15, 2013.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3F1C1
Monday, March 23, isn't just the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act. The day also marks five years since then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised the GOP response would "'repeal and replace,' 'repeal and replace.'"  But with the possibility that a Supreme Court ruling in the King v. Burwell case could soon end health insurance subsidies for millions of Americans in the 36 states that chose to use the federal exchange, the GOP still has no replacement.

That makes Paul Ryan's message to the affected states not to establish their own exchanges doubly ironic. After five years of GOP failure to live up to its "repeal and replace" pledge, why should they trust Ryan's promise of a new Republican healthcare plan by June 20? Just as cynical, the Obamacare exchange model the House Ways and Means Committee chairman continues to criticize is essential to the Medicare voucher scheme Paul Ryan has been pushing for years.

Of course, you'd never know that from Ryan's recent public statements. As the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, "Rep. Paul Ryan urged state lawmakers to resist setting up state insurance exchanges if the Supreme Court rules that key parts of the Affordable Care Act can only continue if they do so."

Continue reading about Ryan's secret love for Obamacare exchanges, below.

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Whatever happens in Tuesday's elections in Israel, Americans will have learned two valuable lessons. For starters, when it mattered most on U.S. policy toward Iran, Republicans supported a foreign leader over the president of the United States. Just as important, when that leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, declares, "Israel has no better friend than the U.S and the U.S. has no better friend than Israel," he's telling a half-truth. As the record shows, even as Bibi escalates his demands for diplomatic cover and military assistance from the United States, his government blocks American objectives at every turn. He is America's friend without benefits.

Consider, for example, the immediate aftermath of Netanyahu's unprecedented March 3 speech to Congress. Less than 24 hours after using the global stage the GOP provided him to sabotage the international negotiations to limit the Iranian nuclear program, Bibi made a new request of Washington: hundreds of millions of dollars in American funding for new missile defense systems to counter Iran:

A Republican congressional source told CNN that the Israelis are asking lawmakers to approve more than $300 million in additional U.S. funding for missile defense systems, above the $155 million the Pentagon is already requesting from Congress.

For the first time, the source said, Israel is asking the U.S. for procurement funding for the Arrow 3 missile, designed to counter longer-range Iranian ballistic missiles, and the David's Sling missile defense system, for shorter-range Iranian weapons.

That ask comes even as the Pentagon faces tighter budgets at home and, as a U.S. national security adviser recently put it, "Last year, we provided Israel with the largest package of security assistance ever."

But that's not the only favor the nuclear-armed Israel made even as its government pushes the U.S. toward military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Continue reading below.

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