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Republicans Keep Admitting Everything They Said About Obama Was a Lie

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, appearing on Fox News Sunday, repeated the official administration line that Democrats had to choose between legislation and investigation. Chris Wallace reminded Mulvaney that he had supported a Republican Congress that had engaged in continuous investigations of the White House, reopening probes to chase conspiracy theories even after they had been conclusively debunked.

This prompted Mulvaney to make an interesting confession. The Republican Congress never wanted to pass laws in the first place:

WALLACE: You were there, of what the Republicans did to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on Benghazi, on Fast and Furious. And they got some things done despite the fact that these were aggressive partisan investigations.

MULVANEY: Well, we didn’t get very much done. Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that when the tea party wave, of which I was one, got here in 2011, the last thing we were interested in was giving President Obama legislative successes.

When somebody says “I’ll be the first to admit,” it’s usually an idiom, suggesting they are not trying to hide a fact that is widely known and frequently confessed. But in this case the sentence construction makes more sense if read literally. Mulvaney may actually be the first person to admit that congressional Republicans did not want to give Obama any legislative successes at all.

Mitch McConnell boasted that he pressured Republicans to refuse to compromise with any of the Obama administration’s priorities in his first two years (“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals. Because we thought — correctly, I think — that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan.”).

Yet after Republicans won control of Congress on the shoulders of a tea party wave of debt hysteria in 2010, a conventional wisdom took hold that President Obama needed to get Republicans to make a deal. Most outside observers conceded that the congressional GOP might not be the easiest negotiating counterparty. Still, Obama was widely held to bear a share of the blame for his inability to get Republicans to make a deal. He didn’t play enough golf with them, or drink enough with them, or “lead.” The idea that Obama could and should force Republicans to make deals with him was pure conventional wisdom for years on end.

As a high-profile link between the Obama-era Republican Congress and the Trump administration, Mulvaney has retrospectively clarified a lot of points people refused to understand at the time. Mulvaney casually confessed last week that nobody cares about the deficit. Mulvaney of course spent the Obama era claiming to care about the deficit a lot — so much, indeed, that he was willing to shut down the government or even default on the national debt in order to reduce it. The debt hysteria was manufactured to cover a different agenda. Republicans wanted to force Obama to reduce popular domestic spending programs so they could cut taxes for the affluent. But since neither cutting retirement programs nor reducing taxes for the rich are popular goals, Republicans framed their policy as “deficit reduction,” and the debt-scold community and most of the mainstream news media took this framing at face value.

That’s one reason why Obama couldn’t make a deficit deal with Republicans: They didn’t care about the deficit. Also, as Mulvaney now casually concedes, they didn’t want to give him any accomplishments at all, so even if Obama offered a deal they could live with, they would have opposed it rather than allow him to claim legislative success. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2019 at 3:00 pm

Three entertaining charts: How to Lie With Statistics, Manufacturing Edition

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2019 at 11:23 am

Did CIA Director Gina Haspel run a black site at Guantánamo?

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I certainly would not be surprised. She seems totally comfortable with torturing suspects (aka extreme interrogation techniques). Carol Rosenberg reports for McClatchy:

An attorney for the accused architect of the Sept. 11 attacks told a judge in a secret session last year that CIA Director Gina Haspel ran a secret agency outpost at Guantánamo, an apparent reference to a post-9/11 black site, according to a recently declassified transcript.

The claim by Rita Radostitz, a lawyer for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, appears in one paragraph of a partially redacted transcript of a secret hearing held at Guantánamo on Nov. 16. Defense lawyers were arguing, in a motion that ultimately failed, that Haspel’s role at the prison precludes the possibility of a fair trial for the men accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks who were also held for years in covert CIA prisons.

Neither the public nor the accused was allowed to attend the hearing but, following an intelligence review, the Pentagon released portions of its transcript on a war court website.

Haspel reportedly ran a CIA black site in Thailand where two terror suspects were waterboarded, probably before her arrival there. The unverified statement that she had a similar assignment at the terror-detention center at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would reveal a never-before disclosed chapter of the spy chief’s clandestine career.

The CIA declined to comment on the claim.

But in the transcript of a discussion about CIA torture and restrictions on the lawyers for the alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Radostitz notes that prosecutors claim they are “not trying to cover up the torture … But the one thing that they’re not willing to talk about is the names of the people involved in the torture.” Then, after a large censored section, she says, “it makes it impossible for people at Guantánamo, who may have seen her when she was here as chief of base, to identify her and talk about it.”

Chief of base is a CIA term for the officer in charge of a secret foreign outpost. A 2014 Senate study of the CIA’s network of secret overseas prisons, called black sites, said the CIA had two such secret prisons at Guantánamo in 2003 and 2004 — apart from the Pentagon’s Guantánamo prison known as Camp Delta. While the military prison commanders’ names were disclosed, those who served as CIA chief of base were not.

The CIA sent the alleged 9/11 conspirators and other “high-value detainees” to military detention at Guantánamo in September 2006 after the captives spent three or four years in secret spy agency custody. But at least one 9/11 defendant, Ramzi bin al Shibh, was earlier held at Guantánamo, according to the public portion of the 6,200-page Senate Intelligence Committee study of the CIA’s overseas prison program, known as the torture report.

It says the agency operated two black sites there — code named Maroon and Indigo — from September 2003 to April 2004 then spirited them away for fear their captives might be entitled to attorneys.

Former CIA counterterrorism officer John Kiriakou told McClatchy that he was offered theGuantánamo chief of base position in late 2002 or early 2003 — and declined. “Nobody wanted the job,” he said. So they resorted to sending people on temporary duty assignments ranging from six weeks to nine months, he said.

“If it was during one of those periods when they couldn’t find somebody to fill the billet it would’ve made sense that she would’ve been there a short period of time,” Kiriakou said, describing a Gitmo stint as essentially a ticket punch for some agents associated with the black site program. “So when I read it, although I was surprised by it, I kind of believed it.”

Former CIA analyst Gail Helt, now a professor of Security and Intelligence Studies at King University in Tennessee, said there’s been “a lot of shadiness” with the way the spy agency has spoken about Haspel’s agency career.

An official CIA timeline of Haspel’s 33-year career notes that the agency won’t disclose 30 short-term, temporary duty assignments she held over the course of her career, suggesting they were covert. “Was one of those at Guantánamo for a couple of months?,” said Helt. “I don’t have personal knowledge of that, and couldn’t discuss it if I did. But it doesn’t surprise me.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2019 at 6:54 pm

Trump can be a harsh critic (of others)

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2018 at 11:15 am

For eight years, Michelle Obama watched every word. In her memoir, she’s done with that.

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Connie Schultz has a good book review in the Washington Post:

As first lady, every word Michelle Obama uttered and every action she took received advance scrutiny for signs of potential damage to her husband’s presidency. Now, freed of the constraints of the White House, she is ready to tell it as she sees it. Her new memoir crackles with blunt, often searing observations about politics, race and gender in America. Its title, “Becoming,” reflects her journey from modest beginnings on the South Side of Chicago to an incessant spotlight on the world stage.
Though her life has been full and large, Obama is still figuring out who she wants to be. For the first time in two decades, she is allowing herself to explore her own ambitions separate from the rest of her family. She writes that her little girls, Malia and Sasha, are now “young women with plans and voices of their own.” Her husband is “catching his own breath” after eight years as president. “And here I am,” she writes, “in this new place, with a lot I want to say.”
“Becoming” is a political spouse’s memoir like no other, and I say that as the author of one. Obama doesn’t waste time naming every person who helped to elect her husband. This is her book, not his. She also cites, by name and deed, some of those who offended her. This is not an act of revenge but rather a clear sign that she is unwilling to pretend none of that mattered. Good for her.
Life in the public glare has left Obama’s distaste for politics as strong as ever. “I’ll say it here directly: I have no intention of running for office, ever,” she writes. “I’ve never been a fan of politics, and my experience over the last ten years has done little to change that.”
During those 10 years, though, she learned a lot about herself and her marriage, and about America. She admits to insecurities and missteps. She acknowledges her many firsts as a black woman, and this fuels a sense of urgency in her writing. She wants to ensure that other black women get the chances she’s had.
But it hasn’t been easy. “Since stepping reluctantly into public life, I’ve been held up as the most powerful woman in the world and taken down as an ‘angry black woman,’ ” she writes in the preface. Those three words — angry black woman — make her want to ask her detractors “which part of that phrase matters to them the most — is it ‘angry’ or ‘black’ or ‘woman’?”
The insincerity and indecency of politics at times left her hurt and furious. “I’ve smiled for photos with people who call my husband horrible names on national television, but still want a framed keepsake for their mantel,” she writes. “I’ve heard about the swampy parts of the internet that question everything about me, right down to whether I’m a woman or a man. A sitting U.S. congressman has made fun of my butt. . . . Mostly, I’ve tried to laugh this stuff off.”
At its heart, this memoir is a story about a smart and talented woman who grew up never doubting how much she was loved and will never forget her working-class roots. She is, first and foremost, the daughter of Fraser and Marian Robinson, who taught her and her older brother, Craig, that education and self-discipline were the path to a meaningful life. She devotes roughly the first third of her book to her childhood in their cramped apartment in 1960s South Side Chicago.
Her parents’ ambitions for their children set Michelle and Craig apart early from some of the other black children in their lives, including relatives. When she was about 10, Michelle was playing with a few cousins when one of them gave her a “sideways look and said, just a touch hotly, ‘How come you talk like a white girl?’ ”
Obama was mortified. “But I knew what she was getting at. There was no denying it,” she writes. “I did speak differently than some of my relatives, and so did Craig. Our parents had drilled into us the importance of using proper diction, of saying ‘going’ instead of ‘goin’ ’ and ‘isn’t’ instead of ‘ain’t.’ . . . The idea was we were to transcend, to get ourselves further.”
In high school, a counselor discouraged her from applying to Princeton, where Craig was already a student. She ignored the advice and was accepted. Only 9 percent of her freshman class was black. This was a first for her. She writes movingly about “that everyday drain of being in a deep minority” and the pressure she felt to prove to herself, and to others, that she “belonged at Princeton, as much as anybody.”
There are many tender moments in this memoir, many centered on her father, whose health steadily declined from multiple sclerosis until his death at 55 in 1991. She describes how it hurt him to struggle against his encroaching disability, and she takes pains to show us the man separate from his disease. He fussed over his car and “loved any excuse to drive,” she writes. As a child, in the days before seatbelts, she would move forward in the back seat and rest her face next to her father’s in front so “we’d have the exact same view.”
She was with her father just hours before he died and struggled for months with her grief. By then, Barack was in her life. “On many evenings,” she writes, “when I still got weepy over the loss of my dad, Barack was now there to curl himself around me and kiss the top of my head.”
Nothing, she admits, could have prepared her for the likes of Barack Obama, who initially struck her as “oddly free from doubt, though at first glance it was hard to understand why.” She started out as his law firm adviser during his student internship, and soon he became “a wind that threatened to unsettle everything.”
She is candid about their ongoing differences: She is a perfectionist and a planner who leaves little to chance. He is an optimist who “sees his opportunities as endless, who doesn’t waste time or energy questioning whether they will ever dry up.” It was his nature to “get dinged up and stay shiny, like an old copper pot.”
She loved his confidence, but early in their relationship, she worried about what his relentless striving might do to her dreams. “I was deeply, delightfully in love with a guy whose forceful intellect and ambition could possibly end up swallowing mine,” she writes. “I did need to quickly anchor myself on two feet.”
He was a good counterforce to her fear of uncertainty. Barack, she writes, taught her how to “swerve,” offering “the lone voice telling me to just go for it, to erase the worries and go toward whatever I thought would make me happy.”
As both have acknowledged, their marriage has seen its challenges, starting when they had initial trouble starting a family. Her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, which she describes as “lonely, painful, and demoralizing almost on a cellular level.” They went to a fertility doctor, who eventually recommended in vitro fertilization. Barack’s session at the Illinois legislature started at the same time that she, for weeks, gave herself daily injections.
“It was maybe then that I felt a first flicker of resentment involving politics and Barack’s unshakable commitment to the work,” she writes. “Or maybe I was just feeling the acute burden of being female. Either way, he was gone and I was here, carrying the responsibility. . . . He was doting and invested, my husband, doing what he could do. He read all the IVF literature and would talk to me all night about it, but his only actual duty was to show up at the doctor’s office and provide some sperm.”
While Michelle knew that none of it was Barack’s fault, she still bristled at the built-in inequality. “For any woman who lives by the mantra that equality is important, this can be a little confusing,” she writes. “It was me who’d alter everything, putting my passions and career dreams on hold, to fulfill this piece of our dream. I found myself in a small moment of reckoning. Did I want it? Yes, I wanted it so much. And with this, I hoisted the needle and sank it into my flesh.”
Barack Obama has been publicly candid about their marital tension when their daughters were young and he was a busy state senator so frequently on the road. Michelle describes her life at that time as a “working full-time mother with a half-time spouse.” Her husband’s “overloaded schedule was starting to really grate” on her, and his disregard for punctuality was “a straight-up aggravation.” His ambition, she feared, “would end up stream-rolling our every need.”
Couples counseling helped. Michelle found ways to be happy without Barack leaving politics, and she was mindful of setting examples for her daughters. “I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us.”
Always the reluctant political spouse, she made clear that if he didn’t win his U.S. Senate seat in 2004, he was done with politics. When he decided to run for president, she admits: “He wanted it and I didn’t.” Ultimately, she agreed because “I believed that Barack could be a great president.”
After Barack prevailed in 2008, Michelle eventually found her way as first lady, and she writes at length about her advocacy for military families and girls, and her campaign against childhood obesity. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2018 at 5:10 pm

Mohammed bin Salman Is the Next Saddam Hussein

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The US has a bad habit of aligning itself with dictators and authoritarian rulers, quite a few of whom it has helped to power. Ryan Costello and Sina Toossi write in Foreign Policy:

In the 1980s, the United States embraced a brutal Middle Eastern tyrant simply because he opposed Iran. Washington should not repeat the same mistake today.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly shocked over the backlash to his government’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In a recent phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, according to the Wall Street Journal, his confusion over official Washington’s furor “turned into rage,” as he spoke of feeling “betrayed by the West” and threatened to “look elsewhere” for foreign partners.

Saudi Arabia’s indignation at the United States would not be the first time an autocratic U.S. ally in the Middle East has assumed it could act with virtual impunity due to its alignment with Washington in countering Iran. Indeed, the Saudi prince’s meteoric rise to power bears striking similarities to that of a past U.S. ally-turned-nemesis whose brutality was initially overlooked by his Washington patrons: former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Years before Saddam became Washington’s chief foe, he enjoyed significant support from the United States and other Western countries. This ended after he decided to invade Kuwait in 1990. However, the lead-up to that conflict and Washington’s earlier patronage of Saddam provide instructive lessons for U.S. regional policy today and the major risks of not responding forcefully to the assassination of Khashoggi.

Mohammed bin Salman’s gradual and brutal consolidation of power, marked by the detention and torture of his domestic rivals, evokes the “nation-changing assault on dissent within Iraq’s ruling party in 1979 by a young President Saddam Hussein,” Toby Dodge, a consulting senior fellow for the Middle East at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Bloomberg last year. “The concentration of power in one youthful, ambitious and unpredictable pair of hands is worrying now as it was then.” Washington’s steadfast support of Saddam during the 1980s not only enabled his rampage against his own people and neighboring countries, but also eventually threatened U.S. security interests.

The U.S. relationship with Saddam Hussein began in 1963, when, according to the former National Security Council official Roger Morris, the CIA under President John F. Kennedy “carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein” a coup to overthrow the government of Gen. Abdel Karim Kassem, who had five years earlier toppled Iraq’s pro-American monarchy.

However, U.S. ties with Saddam truly began to solidify in February 1982, when the Reagan administration removed Iraq from the State Department’s terrorism list, paving the way for providing military assistance to Iraq. This occurred roughly 17 months after Saddam’s invasion of Iran, while Iraqi forces were occupying the oil-rich southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan that Iraq sought to annex. In December 1983, President Ronald Reagan dispatched Donald Rumsfeld as a presidential envoy to meet Saddam and set the stage for normalizing U.S.-Iraqi relations. U.S. support for Saddam during the war would grow to include, according to the Washington Post, “large-scale intelligence sharing, supply of cluster bombs through a Chilean front company, and facilitating Iraq’s acquisition of chemical and biological precursors.”

Saddam’s devastating use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War, both against Iranian military and civilian targets and on his own people, did not deter U.S. support. Rumsfeld’s meeting with Saddam took place despite Washington possessing firm evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons use beginning in 1983. Prior to Rumsfeld’s trip, on Nov. 1, 1983, senior State Department official Jonathan Howe had toldSecretary of State George Shultz of intelligence reports showing that Iraq was resorting to “almost daily use of CW [chemical weapons]” against the Iranians.

While Iran received some weaponry from the United States through the Iran-Contra affair, Washington tipped the scales much further in favor of Saddam. When intelligence showed Iran mounting a major offensive in early 1988 that threatened to break through Iraqi lines, Reagan wrote to his secretary of defense: “An Iranian victory is unacceptable.” Toward the end of the war, “U.S. intelligence was flowing freely to Hussein’s military,” according to a 2013 article in Foreign Policy, despite U.S. officials being “fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons.”

According to declassified CIA documents, two-thirds of all Iraqi chemical weapons deployed during the war were used in the last 18 months of the conflict, when U.S.-Iraqi cooperation peaked. This included the March 1988 genocidal chemical weapons attackon the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja, which led to the deaths of as many as 5,000 civilians. Ironically, this attack would later be used by the George W. Bush administration in 2003 as part of its pretext for invading Iraq to eliminate the country’s by then nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

A few months after the Halabja attack, in September 1988, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy wrotein a memo on the chemical weapons question that “the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is … important to our long-term political and economic objectives.” Today, the Trump administration is echoing this language when discussing the U.S.-Saudi relationship, despite Saudi Arabia’s killing of Khashoggi and its devastating assault on Yemen, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently proclaiming that Saudi Arabia is “an important strategic alliance of the United States” and that “the Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us.”

It was no surprise, then, that on the eve of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Saddam felt he had unconditional backing from the United States. This impression was reinforced by Saddam’s meeting with then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie on July 25, 1990, a week before his invasion of Kuwait. During their fateful encounter, according to a diplomatic cable summarizing the meeting, Glaspie stressed “President [George H.W.] Bush’s desire for friendship” and that “the president had instructed her to broaden and deepen our relations with Iraq.” When Saddam raised the issue of Kuwait, which he had been relentlessly threatening, Glaspie stated that the United States took “no position on these Arab affairs.”

To this day, academic experts such as the Harvard University professor and FPcolumnist Stephen M. Walt contend that “the United States did unwittinglygive a green light to Saddam” to invade Kuwait—much as he invaded Iran—without a strong response from the United States. Walt adds that, contrary to some perceptions, Glaspie was “following the instructions she had been given” and that “she was doing what the Bush administration wanted at this crucial meeting.” U.S. diplomatic cables from Glaspie’s era also reveal, according to Germany’s Der Spiegel, that “Glaspie and her predecessor painted the regime in an extremely favorable light from the very outset, overlooked Saddam’s widely-known crimes, and were so influenced by mutual enmity for Iran as to be negligently uncritical.”

The United States was wrong to back Saddam simply because he opposed Iran, a mistake that has haunted it for decades. Not only were more than 500,000 U.S. troops required to dislodge Saddam from Kuwait, resultingin 382 U.S. military casualties, but it also placed the U.S. government on a warpath that resulted in the 2003 toppling of Saddam, an event that beyond its humanitarian and financial costs for the Iraqi and American people led to the rise of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and inextricably altered the regional balance of power in favor of Iran—whose largely Shiite allies have assumed power in Baghdad by way of democratic elections.

Today, the Trump administration’s reflexive support of Mohammed bin Salman is heading in the same direction as Washington’s ill-fated support of Saddam Hussein. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s important.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2018 at 7:23 am

Michael Lewis: The Big Short author on how Trump is gambling with nuclear disaster

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I just started reading The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis’s new book, and I found this interview about how he came to write the book quite interesting. Alex Blasdel writes in the Guardian:

Government positions left empty, cronyism, anti-government ideology – everything about Trump’s administration makes America more vulnerable to risk…

Michael Lewis began thinking about his new book, The Fifth Risk, in late 2016 or early 2017 during the weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration. He was bedridden after surgery and was “laying there going crazy about Trump,” he recalls. Lewis had just published his latest bestseller, The Undoing Project, about two Israeli psychologists, the Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who studied how people grapple with risk. “One of the insights that dropped out of some of their experiments was: people don’t,” Lewis says. “When you change something that has a one in a million chance of happening to a one in ten thousand chance, people don’t feel that.”

One way to think about the US government, Lewis realised, was as a manager of big risks – from military conflict, to financial collapse, to natural disaster. As risk-manager-in-chief, Trump now had the frightening ability to boost the odds of catastrophe from, say, one in a million to one in ten thousand “over a vast portfolio of risks”. “People sense an unease,” Lewis continues, “but nobody quite puts it that way.”

Continue reading.

See also: The 4 Most Alarming Revelations From Michael Lewis’ New Trump Tell-All ‘The Fifth Risk’

Written by LeisureGuy

2 October 2018 at 10:16 am

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