Pleasant Valley Winery

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Keep on Steppin’, Mr. President

Obama needs to keep acting alone when GOP won't

Robert Borosage

Instead of suing for peace, the president would be wise to keep on steppin’. President Obama has already shown the way not only on immigration but with the historic agreement on climate with the Chinese (scorned as a “war on coal” by Senate leader Mitch McConnell) and his firm support for net neutrality. Writing in The Nation before the immigration action, publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel urged the president to “double down,” and act boldly, both to make some progress and to frame debates that the country must have. The president has, as he said, has his pen and his phone, as well as the national microphone. There are many critical areas where action is long overdue. Here are some suggestions: 

Restore the Vote: 3.9 million Americans are disenfranchised from felony convictions – mostly for non-violent drug offenses – even though they have paid their debt to society. A staggering 13 percent of all African-American men are prohibited from voting. Led by Attorney General Eric Holder, the administration has already taken long overdue measures to reduce sentences for drug offenders and to begin offering clemency to those sentenced to ridiculous terms. The president should issue a pardon to all those non-violent offenders who have served their sentences, removing their offense from the books. He should combine this with a call on all states to join in ending disenfranchisement for ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society. America is a nation of second chances. It is hard to believe that disenfranchisement would exist at all were it not for its racially disproportionate effects on people of color.

Reward Good Employers and Their Workers: The president should issue a Good Jobs Executive Order to leverage the $1 trillion in federal procurement to reward good employers. Give procurement preference to employers that pay a living wage, provide good benefits and allow their workers to organize and bargain collectively. Reward employers like Costco rather than Walmart that pays its workers so little that taxpayers are stuck with subsidizing their wages. The president has already acted to lift the minimum wage on federal contract workers. He should take the next step – which Demos estimates could put 21 million on the road to the middle class – and urge Governors and Mayors to follow in his course. At a time of record inequality and a declining middle class, it is long pay time to put government on the side of workers and good employers rather than the exploiters.

Demand Action on Green Jobs: With the China deal on climate, the forthcoming Environmental Protection Agency action on carbon emissions, and his underappreciated fuel efficiency standards, the president has acted against the unsustainable fossil fuel economy. Now he should act boldly to demand action to embrace the jobs and growth that will come from leading the transition to renewable energy and the green industrial revolution. He should make green jobs the centerpiece of his State of the Union address. He should call for action for a bold Tennessee Valley Authority-sized jobs and green energy program for “coal country.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell charges that the president is waging war on coal. The president should make it clear this is a choice between the unsustainable, dying economy of the past and a future that offers good jobs and new opportunities. He should complement this by convening mayors from both coasts to map out steps to meet the already rising seas and increasing superstorms. As Hurricane Sandy demonstrated, our decrepit and decaying infrastructure is in dire need of modernization.

Normalize Relations with Cuba: Foreign policy offers many opportunities for presidential action – cutting the deal with Iran to stem nuclear proliferation, acting boldly with Russia to guarantee Ukraine’s independence and unity and avoid a new Cold War, bringing the nation’s longest war in Afghanistan to an end. But there is no longer-lasting American folly than the failed, half-century long economic boycott and effort to isolate Cuba. The boycott has damaged the Cuban economy, but has bolstered support for the regime. It has damaged relations with our neighbors throughout Latin America, to the point where we are isolating ourselves. Congress has limited the president’s ability simply to end the boycott, but he can act to restore normal diplomatic relations, expand travel opportunities, lift private investment restrictions, and end the cap on remittances from Cuban Americans living in the states. He should hail Cuba for its courageous action against Ebola, and remove it from the State Department’s terrorist list. In April, the Seventh Summit of the America’s has insisted on Cuban attendance. The President should go to that meeting, having acted boldly to end a half century of folly.

Hold At Least One Bankster Accountable: Justice delayed is justice denied, and it is too late to prosecute many of the banksters whose excesses blew up the economy. But the president should use the occasion of Attorney General Eric Holder’s departure to put together a real task force to investigate and prosecute bankers who are recidivists, like those at Standard Chartered whose leaders apparently violated the settlement made with the Justice Department as it was signed. It is apparent that little has changed on Wall Street, and that agreements made with the Justice Department are being ignored in the greed for profit. The Justice Department should put all on notice: Violations of signed settlements will lead to prosecution not of the bank but of the bankers, and fines levied not against shareholders but against bankers’ personal fortunes. Just one perp walk would do much to sober up these serial offenders. 

These represent only some of the actions the president should take. No doubt, they will elicit more outrage, wringing of hands, waving of fists from the Congress and the wingnuts. But as the president has already discovered with the China agreement and immigration orders, action frames the debate – and on these and many other issues, the majority of Americans agree with the president – and the base of his voters will be roused by his courage. Republican control of the Congress insures unending fights to stop bad things from happening. The president should act independently to move good things forward. Keep on steppin’, Mr. President.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Will GOP finally let Benghazi go?

A burnt house and a car are seen inside the US Embassy compound on September 12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. (photo: AFP)
A burnt house and a car are seen inside the US Embassy compound on September 12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. (photo: AFP)

US Congress Report Debunks Benghazi Attack Claims

By Dave Clark, Agence France-Presse

23 November 14
probe by a Congressional committee into the September 11, 2012 attack on a US compound in Benghazi debunked allegations that President Barack Obama's administration fell down on the job.

Since the assault on the US mission in the Libyan city, which left the ambassador and three colleagues dead, the White House, CIA and State Department have been accused of mishandling their response.

But the report released Friday by the House intelligence committee, which is led by some of Obama's fiercest Republican opponents, cleared the administration of all the most serious charges.

One claim investigated was that the Central Intelligence Agency had not provided adequate security for its own agents at an annex near the diplomatic mission, and Washington had failed to send support.

But the report, based on "thousands of hours of detailed investigation" and interviews with both senior officials and agents who had been on the ground found that this had not been the case.

"CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA activities in Benghazi and, without a requirement to do so, ably and bravely assisted the State Department on the night of the attacks," it said.

"Appropriate US personnel made reasonable tactical decision that night, and the committee found no evidence that there was a stand-down order or a denial of available air support.

"The CIA received all military support that was available," it added.

The report did conclude, however, that the State Department diplomatic compound where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed had inadequate security and had needed CIA assistance.

The committee also found that there was "no intelligence failure prior to the attacks" as the US mission was aware of the worsening security situation in Benghazi but not of a specific planned attack.

The 2012 attack, which came on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, was carried out by Libyan militias and extremists, some with Qaeda ties.

But after it was carried out, then US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice blamed the attack on a spontaneous local protest provoked by a privately-made propaganda film that attacked Islam. 

- False reports - 

During a highly charged presidential campaign, Obama's critics accused the administration of denying the Al-Qaeda role in the attack in order to protect the president's counterterrorism record.

But the report concluded that Rice had based her remarks -- which did indeed prove false -- on an intelligence assessment that was believed correct at the time.

The report also tried to put to rest a persistent rumor that began after the attacks that the CIA had been using the Benghazi base to covertly smuggle Libyan weapons to Syrian rebels.

"The eyewitness testimony and thousands of pages of CIA cables and emails that the committee reviewed provide no support for this allegation," it said.

In fact, the report said, the CIA agents at the facility were tracking on local groups smuggling weapons, not collecting them themselves.

The report also said that, while some government agencies were slow to respond to its queries, all eventually cooperated with the inquiry and no CIA personnel were intimidated by the administration.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Search for John Boehner's balls goes on

John Boehner. (photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
John Boehner. (photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

By Charles Pierce, Esquire

hen Eric Cantor was asked to leave his place of employment -- that request came from his constituents -- he neglected to pass along the location of the mason jar in which he buried John Boehner's balls back in 2010. Boehner's search now has become one of those National Treasure movies, where you have to find the location of the clues before you can find the location of the treasure. Apparently, he's come to the spot on the map that reads, "Now that the president has acted on immigration, it's time to sue him over the Affordable Care Act."
The filing of the lawsuit, announced one day after Obama unveiled a series of executive actions on immigration, will not address the president's upcoming moves on deportations and immigration enforcement. Boehner's office said it is also considering legal action on immigration, but added that that would require another House vote. "If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well," the Speaker said in a statement. "The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action."
I have lived through the administration of 12 presidents now. If what this president did Thursday night is "making his own laws," then every one of those 12 presidents have "made their own laws." Richard Nixon made his own law about bombing Cambodia and encouraging burglaries. Ronald Reagan made his own law about negotiating with terrorists and financing murderers in Central America. This is neither the time nor the place for an argument about how Congress steadily deeded its own constitutional powers to the Executive over the last 60 years, and how the current Congress pretends now that it only noticed what Congresses had been doing when the country elected the Blah Democrat a couple of times. But Boehner knows They're Out There Somewhere. The president has acted on immigration so we must sue him over health care. It only makes sense if you have the keys to the map.

House report: No wrongdoing in Benghazi

A vigil for Ambassador John Stevens who was killed in Benghazi. (photo: AP)
A vigil for Ambassador John Stevens who was killed in Benghazi. (photo: AP)

House GOP Report: No wrongdoing by Obama administration in Benghazi.  Latest Republican fishing expedition yields nothing.

By Ken Dilanian, The Associated Press
22 November 14

he CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a Republican-controlled House committee has found. Its report asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration officials.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the two-year investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.

The attacks in Benghazi killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and two CIA contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. A Libyan extremist, Ahmed Abu Khatalla, is facing trial on murder charges after he was captured in Libya and taken to the U.S.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to "stand down" after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

"We spent thousands of hours asking questions, poring over documents, reviewing intelligence assessments, reading cables and emails, and held a total of 20 committee events and hearings," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the committee's chairman, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat, in a joint statement.

"We conducted detailed interviews with senior intelligence officials from Benghazi and Tripoli as well as eight security personnel on the ground in Benghazi that night. Based on the testimony and the documents we reviewed, we concluded that all the CIA officers in Benghazi were heroes. Their actions saved lives," they said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the intelligence panel and the Benghazi select committee, said, "It's my hope that this report will put to rest many of the questions that have been asked and answered yet again, and that the Benghazi Select Committee will accept these findings and instead focus its attention on the State Department's progress in securing our facilities around the world and standing up our fast response capabilities."

Some of the harshest charges have been leveled at Rice, now Obama's national security adviser, who represented the Obama administration on Sunday talk shows the weekend after the attack. Rice repeated talking points that wrongly described a protest over a video deemed offensive to Muslims.

But Rice's comments were based on faulty intelligence from multiple agencies, according to the report. Analysts received 21 reports that a protest occurred in Benghazi, the report said —14 from the Open Source Center, which reviews news reports; one from the CIA; two from the Defense Department; and four from the National Security Agency.

In the years since, some participants in the attack have said they were motivated by the video. The attackers were a mix of extremists and hangers on, the investigation found.

"To this day," the report said, "significant intelligence gaps regarding the identities, affiliations and motivations of the attackers remain."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Obama stymies GOP with immigration move

Legal Scholars: Obama’s Immigration Actions Lawful

President Barack Obama’s announced immigration executive actions are lawful, a group of ten prominent legal scholars wrote in a joint letter shared by the White House with TIME magazine. 

Pushing back on Republicans who have blasted Obama’s action as unconstitutional and unlawful, the signatories include Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, conservative legal scholar Eric Posner, and former Yale Law School Dean and former State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh.

“While we differ among ourselves on many issues relating to Presidential power and immigration policy, we are all of the view that these actions are lawful,” the professors wrote. “They are exercises of prosecutorial discretion that are consistent with governing law and with the policies that Congress has expressed in the statutes that it has enacted.”

The letter reinforces a Justice Department opinion that the president’s actions were lawful. The same memorandum noted that the Office of Legal Counsel believed that extending prosecutorial discretion to prevent deportations of the parents of those granted deferred action in 2012 would not be lawful, providing Obama cover from criticism from advocates who wanted the president to do more.

 Republicans confront own worst enemy on immigration

Ahead of President Obama's prime-time address announcing his plans to take executive action on immigration policy, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) released this message saying Obama actions are not "how our democracy works." (YouTube/John Boehner)
November 20 at 10:32 PM
Just two weeks ago, Republicans handed President Obama a humiliating defeat at the polls, winning full control of Congress. But already, party leaders fear that the conservative uproar over the president’s immigration actions will doom any hopes for a stable period of GOP governance.

The moves announced Thursday night by Obama — which will protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation — have sparked an immediate and widening rebellion among tea party lawmakers that top Republicans are struggling to contain.

Despite expanded powers and some new titles, soon-to-be Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) remain sharply limited in their ability to persuade their most conservative members. The duo has been thrust back into the same cycle of intraparty warfare that has largely defined the GOP during the Obama years and that has hurt the party’s brand among the broader electorate.

“It is the first real challenge for Boehner and McConnell together,” said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), a Boehner ally. “They’d like to wipe the slate clean for when they start up next year, with this situation behind us.”

In his prime-time speech from the East Room of the White House, Obama blamed Republicans for forcing his hand by refusing to approve immigration reform and told them, “Pass a bill.” He also cast the issue in moral terms, quoting Scripture to bolster his case. 

During his speech on immigration reform, President Obama called on illegal immigrants to "come out of the shadows" and "get right with the law." (AP)

But comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to pass a Republican-held Congress, because of partisan hostilities in Washington. Still, GOP leaders badly want to show the country that the party can govern constructively, even if it is not clear whether they can keep their raucous conference united.

McConnell and Boehner, for example, want to approve a long-term spending bill at least through the early part of next year — part of an effort to limit theatrical confrontations with Obama and focus on tax reform and other Republican-friendly issues.

But conservatives inside and outside Congress want to use the budget process as a battleground to wage war against Obama and his immigration program. The proposed gambit raises the specter of another government shutdown, akin to the one that damaged Republicans last year.

The debate is also a test of whether the party can contain the controversial and sometimes offensive comments that have often hindered attempts to bolster support for Republicans among Hispanics. After tea party firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said on Wednesday that protected immigrants would become “illiterate” voters, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) winced.

“Unfortunate, unfair, unnecessary, unwise,” said Graham, who is close to party leaders.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a moderate from the Philadelphia exurbs, said the leadership is asking his colleagues to “not play into the president’s hands.”

“The president wants to see an angry and intemperate response, thinking the Republicans will do something that leads to a shutdown,” Dent said. “Don’t take the bait, and don’t have a hysterical reaction. We can be strong, rational and measured.”

GOP Reaction will be way more damaging than they realize


There are several reasons why Obama’s executive action on immigration has put Republicans in a terrible bind. There’s the fact that conservatives are likely to respond by demanding a hardline position from the party’s 2016 nominee, torpedoing his or her electability. There’s the growing risk that conservative anger will force Republicans to do something epically stupid in the near term, like shut down the government.

Both of these reactions would be damaging. But, in fact, there’s a far deeper kind of damage that conservatives are about to inflict on themselves. It has the potential to set the party back years.

Anyone who’s followed politics during the Obama era has probably noticed that conservatives love to couch their positions in the language of process. So, for example, conservatives rarely admit they want to disenfranchise poor people and African Americans. They talk about the scourge of voter fraud, and the cosmic unfairness of letting ineligible people cast votes. (Never mind that documented cases of voter fraud are about as frequent as space-craft landings on comets.)

Or, take Obamacare. Conservatives rarely make the argument, which many seem to believe, that the program was essentially a pander to key Democratic constituencies, like the sick, the poor, and single women. Now that the program is working beyond expectations, they even shy away from criticizing the sort of risk-pooling that allows the previously uninsured to obtain insurance. Instead, they obsess over any indication that the law was passed through trickery. (See here for why that’s utter nonsense.)

Politically, it’s easy to understand why Republicans argue at the level of methodology, rather than owning up to their underlying beliefs. Saying you think too many black people vote, or that Democrats give too much free stuff to poor people, really isn’t the way to win elections these days. Just ask Mitt Romney, one of the few national politicians who didn’t grasp the need to conceal his actual views on these questions.

But, of course, we all want to believe that we’re acting in good faith. And so the obsession with proceduralism runs much deeper than crass political self-interest.

Take, for instance, the Tea Party’s obsession with the Constitution, which, according to its idiosyncratic reading, prohibits everything from the direct election of senators to the progressive income tax to federal spending on highways. It’s not that Tea Partier’s hate redistribution per se (though they do). It’s that, in their telling, the rules of the game simply forbid it. “I will not vote for a single bill that I can’t justify based on the text and the original understanding of the Constitution,” the Tea Partier Mike Lee announced during his successful Senate campaign. (For that matter, even latter-day defenders of the Confederacy tend to favor procedural argumentsstates' rights!over substantive oneslike, yay slavery!).

What does all this have to do with immigration? Well, it turns out to be the one issue on which the right is least capable of maintaining the pretense that its objections are procedural rather than born of some deeper, darker suspicions.

Intellectually, of course, conservatives understand the importance of sticking to procedural objections even here. They can read polls as well as the rest of us. And the polls say that while Americans overwhelmingly favor the substance of Obama’s preferred immigration reforms, they also oppose enacting the reform by way of executive fiat.

No surprise then that the conservative message machine has gone on at length about the “constitutional crisis” the president is instigating. The right has compared Obama to a monarch (see here and here), a Latin American caudillo, even a conspirator against the Roman Republic. (Ever melodrama much?) The rhetoric gets a little thick. But if you boil it down, the critique is mostly about Obama’s usurpation of power and contempt for democratic norms, not the substance of his policy change. Some Republicans no doubt believe it.

And yet, try as they might to stick to the script, there’s something about dark-skinned foreigners that sends the conservative id into overdrive. Most famously, there’s Iowa Congressman Steve King’s observation last year that for every child brought into the country illegally “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

While King tends to be especially vivid in his lunacy, he’s no outlier. Just yesterday departing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann opined that “the social cost [of Obama’s order] will be profound on the U.S. taxpayermillions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language.” (Not to worry, GOP leadershipKing and Bachmann are graciously slinking off stage. They’re traveling to the Mexican border today to inspect the problem first-hand.)

The problem with drawing these crazy relatives down from the attic isn’t that just that it exposes the GOP’s soothing proceduralism as a sham when it comes to immigration reform. It’s that it exposes the GOP’s proceduralism as a sham more broadly. It simply defies logic to believe that Mexicans (and maybe Muslims, the other minority group Bachmann et al feel comfortable hounding) are the only group of non-white or non-affluent Americans the GOP’s conservative wing disdains. And the longer the immigration debate goes on, the more damage will be done to that fiction.

GOP says stop treating immigrants like humans

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In a sharp Republican rebuke to President Obama’s proposed actions on immigration, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the President, on Thursday night, of “flagrantly treating immigrants like human beings, in clear defiance of the wishes of Congress.”

McConnell was brutal in his assessment of the President’s speech on immigration, blasting him for “eliminating the fear of deportation, which is the great engine of the American economy.”

“Fear is what keeps immigrants working so hard and so fast and so cheap,” McConnell said. “Remove the fear of deportation, and what will immigrants become? Lazy Americans.”

In a dire warning to the President, McConnell said, “If Mr. Obama thinks that, with the stroke of a pen, he can destroy the work ethic of millions of terrified immigrants, he’s in for the fight of his life.”

He added that Obama’s comments about deporting felons were “deeply offensive” to political donors.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Great fun tonight watching GOP go apoplectic

Obama Forces Republicans To Choose: Latinos Or Haters

Bill Scher
On one hand, tonight’s presidential announcement, removing the threat of deportation for up to 5 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America, will be a historic moment cherished especially by immigrant families that no longer will live in fear of being torn apart. Make sure you have a box of tissues handy.

On the other hand, watching Republicans go apoplectic is just going to be fun to watch. Make sure you have a tub of buttered popcorn handy. 

As I wrote in “Trolling The GOP” for Politico Magazine yesterday, the White House rollout of the immigration executive action has been designed to maximize outrage on right, ruining the Republican leadership’s strategy of appearing sober and pragmatic as they are forced to grapple with renewed calls for government shutdown and other childish retaliatory measures.

Yesterday, as word spread of the imminent announcement, Operation Epic Troll was doing its job. Sen. Ted Cruz laid a strategy for sending poison pills to Obama’s desk and then try to blame him for the inevitable shutdown, proving he’s a one-trick pony. Sen. Tom Coburn is talking about the possibility of mass riots. Rep. Michelle Bachmann railed to The Washington Post that “illiterate foreign nationals … we all know that many, in all likelihood, will vote,” and added that was Obama’s intention: “He’s looking at new voters for 2016…. People do vote without being a citizen.”

Just two weeks ago, rational Republicans thought they had a model of success to elevate in Sen.-elect Cory Gardner, who ran as an immigration moderate and performed well with Latino voters. Now Republican voices of petulance and bigotry are dominant, and if they remain so, Republican chances to compete in higher-turnout presidential years dims yet again.

Obama’s executive order will do what legislation could not: force Republicans to choose between reaching out to the growing Latino community or clinging to the anti-immigrant deadweight in their traditional base.

The chaos about to erupt on the right won’t be pretty, but it will be enormously entertaining. I have three words to say in conclusion: nom nom nom.