John Kerry

The Press vs. HRC (Habitually Peeved)

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, June 14, 2015. (Detail of photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Failed Republican congressional candidate Charles S. Faddis is apparently a former CIA officer with no real talent for observation.

It wasn’t until much later in the day that the pneumonia diagnosis was released by the campaign. But, even that information doesn’t completely answer all questions. Clinton and her supporters have dismissed such questions about her health and her stamina as the stuff of conspiracy theorists for years. That cover story may have just gone up in smoke.

One of the under-… er … ah … underappreciated? undernoticed? underdiscussesd? … ―you know, skip underwhatnot; how about seemingly necessarily utterly ignored?―aspects of the 2016 cycle is the overturning of political norms in general. While we all marvel at Donald Trump’s political incontinence, it is easy enough to miss.

Steve Benen considered a question of transparency:

The criticisms of the campaign’s handling of this matter have merit. Clinton and her team learned of the pneumonia diagnosis on Friday, and rather than sharing that information, they kept it under wraps. Had the Democratic candidate not been seen struggling in New York yesterday, it’s hard to say when, if ever, the campaign would have disclosed the infection.

Indeed, keep in mind that Clinton travels with pool reporters who cover her every move in public. Journalists were understandably peeved yesterday when Clinton and her team left yesterday morning’s event yesterday, leaving these reporters behind without explanation.

Trump, however, is so secretive, he’s the first presidential nominee in recent memory not to travel with any pool reporters at all.

We must bear in mind that part of the reason it is understandable that the Clinton press corps―which, being the press, already loathes her generally out of habit after a quarter-century of hounding her for the sake of right-wing conspiracy theories―is peeved at being left behind without explanation is that, being the press, they are accustomed to being handed the story in easily regurgitated bites. But for actually being noticed, the campaign would not have disclosed the infection, and there is exactly nothing extraordinary about this, regardless of the press corps’ hissy fits.

Nigh on a quarter century after the national media’s hate affair with the Clinton family began, it’s weird to think that the Fourth Estate needs to report around what the rest of us can see quite clearly: Much of what we are to consider the strange way the Clintons deal with the press has to do with the press itself; the appearance of statements calculated to a strange, unreal for representing an average, line of best fit is just about the only way to navigate the not entirely arbitraryα obstacle course established by when and how the press decides what is or not its jobβ. In the end, it seems odd that the press should pretend to be peeved that Hillary Clinton’s political operation isn’t going out of their way to fawn over reporters.

We might, then, turn to an actual doctor, such as Jen Gunter, who summarized:

Mrs. Clinton felt faint. It was dealt with appropriately. It looked dramatic, but it’s ok.

And so is she.

The crude joke to express Mr. Faddis’ argument is that a blind man will, if he throws enough darts, eventually hit the bull’s eye. After a quarter century, it’s likely that someone might suggest something about someone else’s health, and that other happen to be ill. All told, Mr. Faddis’ credulity suggests he was as bad a CIA agent as he was a Republican congressional candidate.

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α That is to say, petulant, self-centered, and vicious.

β As the estimable Jim Lehrer once answered the question of fact-checking during an interview, “I would never do that. That’s not my function to do that.” Or, as Rob Corddry explained over a decade ago: “Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.”

Image note: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, June 14, 2015. (Detail of photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “Clinton camp ‘could have done better’ disclosing pneumonia”. msnbc. 12 September 2016.

Corddry Rob and Jon Stewart. “Kerry Controversy”. The Daily Show. 23 August 2004.

Cox Barrett, Liz. “Jim Lehrer on Billy Bob, Reports of Rain and Stenography As Journalism”. Columbia Journalism Review. 2 June 2006.

Faddis, Charles S. “Hillary: The pneumonia diagnosis doesn’t answer everything”. The Hill. 12 September 2016.

Gunter, Jen. “Yes, Hillary almost fainted: I’m a doctor and it’s really OK”. The Hill. 12 September 2016.

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The Marco Rubio Show (Gaffe Rig)

Marco Rubio: A New American Century

There are so many places to go and bizarre spectacles to see, but for the moment these paragraphs from Steve Benen ought to be devastating:

Rubio, a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, is basing much of his campaign on his alleged expertise on international affairs. The far-right Floridian would love nothing more than to be seen as the candidate who has a “deep understanding” of “the threats that the world is facing.”

But Rubio has run into Trump-like problems of his own. Just last week, in a big speech on foreign policy, the GOP senator told an embarrassing whopper about military preparedness, touching on an issue Rubio should have understood far better.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)In June, Rubio was asked about his approach towards Iraq. Told that his policy sounds like nation-building, the senator responded, “Well, it’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.”

Just this year, Rubio has flubbed the details of Iran’s Green Revolution. His criticisms on the Obama administration’s approach towards Israel were quickly discredited as nonsense. His statements of nuclear diplomacy were practically gibberish.

In the spring, Rubio had a memorable confrontation with Secretary of State John Kerry, which was a debacle – the senator stumbled badly on several key details, and Kerry made him look pretty foolish.

Soon after, Rhonda Swan, a Florida-based journalist, wrote that the Republican senator “should be embarrassed.” Swan added, “By his own standard that the next president have a ‘clear view of what’s happening in the world’ and a ‘practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs,’ Rubio fails the test.”

What’s more, as readers may recall, when Rubio has tried to articulate a substantive vision, he’s relied a little too heavily on shallow, bumper-sticker-style sloganeering, rather than actual policy measures. Rubio declared “our strategy” on national security should mirror Liam Neeson’s catchphrase in the film “Taken”: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

Soon after, the candidate’s team unveiled the “Rubio Doctrine”, described by Charles Pierce as “three banalities strung together in such a way as to sound profound and to say nothing.”

And yet the narrative leads with Donald Trump.

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A Meandering Consideration of Absolutism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, 3 March 2015.  (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“Maybe it’s an unfortunate hallmark of contemporary conservative thought?”

Steve Benen

Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan offers an interesting consideration:

It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

SlateIf current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists—mainly AIPAC—are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu—and for Israel—had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been.

There is, of course, much more to Kaplan’s consideration, including the implications of current Congressional momentum and the widening gap between the credibility of favoring and opposing arguments. Toward the latter, he notes, “Most criticisms of the deal actually have nothing to do with the deal”, and that’s about as least unfavorable as his critique of the criticism gets.

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The Jeb Bush Show (Seriously Inadequate)

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush waits for his introduction at the Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, 7 March 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Consider, please, that while Donald Trump managed to get into a stupid fight with Rick Perry and win, this is actually about Jeb Bush:

Almost immediately after Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) military service, Republican officials denounced the criticism in a specific way. “There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably,” the Republican National Committee said in an official statement.

The problem, of course, is that Republicans appear to apply that principle selectively. In 2004, John Kerry faced ridiculous lies about his heroic military service, and at the time, GOP leaders saw great political value in smearing a decorated war veteran.

Take Jeb Bush, for example. In January 2005, the day before his brother’s second inaugural, the Florida governor wrote a letter to the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ringleader, expressing his appreciation for the smear campaign. Celebrating the “Swifties,” as Jeb Bush called them, the Republican wrote to retired Col. Bud Day, “Please let them know that I am personally appreciative of their service to our nation. As someone who truly understands the risk of standing up for something, I simply cannot express in words how much I value their willingness to stand up against John Kerry.”

In this case, “stand up to” was apparently a euphemism for “tell lies about.”

(Benen)

And while we might refer to the former Florida governor by his derisive title as the Serious Clown, the question remains as to why anybody thought Mr. Bush was a serious candidate. Maybe he needs another do-over.

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The Donald Trump Show (Artless)

Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul Donald Trump, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, 18 July 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Among the challenges presented by the mere proposition that anyone should take the Donald Trump Show seriously are, first, that such considerations should be necessary, and also that as such spectacular pretenses of scandal swirl around the Consummate Clown’s candidacy, few will attend these aspects:

For a variety of pundits, this effectively marked the end of Trump’s campaign – it was the ultimate flame out, the argument goes, for a narcissistic candidate who simply can’t control his impulses.

And those assumptions may very well prove to be true, but I wouldn’t bet on it just yet.

Keep in mind, right-wing hostility towards McCain is quite common, despite his conservative voting record, so Trump’s classless rhetoric may not necessarily be a deal-breaker with the GOP base. Indeed, at the Iowa event, after Trump made his remarks, he left the stage to a standing ovation – if the party activists in attendance were offended by what they heard, they didn’t show it.

We’ll have to wait for the next round of polling, but it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that Trump has burst his own balloon.

As for the larger context, I remain eager to hear Republicans explain the selectivity of their outrage. When Donald Trump relies on racism to advance his ambitions, GOP officials tolerate his antics, but when Trump criticizes John McCain, that’s a bridge too far? By what standard is that acceptable?

For that matter, if Republican leaders want to argue that attacks on Americans’ military service are simply beyond the pale, perhaps party officials can take this opportunity to apologize to John Kerry, who was smeared by Swiftboat lies in the 2004 cycle – lies that were celebrated at the time by 2016 candidates like Jeb Bush and Rick Perry – and who saw the spectacle at the Republican National Convention of party activists mocking Purple Hearts. While they’re it, Republicans can express some regret for related smears directed at former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.).

(Benen)

Perhaps this is Donald Trump’s greatest service to the Republican Party. That it will hurt is its own question. For while some might rush to Mr. Trump’s aid and suggest he has some sort of point, be it about Mexicans or McCain or whatever, it is also important to take note of why so many conservatives would rather take a middling path.

It is easy enough to suggest Mr. Trump’s candidacy represents the height of Republican anti-intellectualism, but that would only be to date, in any case. And there is much talk this cycle about the FOX News debate, which is virtually accepted as winnowing the field from seventeen candidates to ten according to national polling in such a manner they might as well simply draw lots; and it does seem true that instead of playing to state-level concerns as we have traditionally seen, candidates are passing on those issues and aiming to make headlines in order to boost national polling numbers. And while far too few make the note about the fact that these are conservatives shifting poiltical power within their ranks from state to national considerations, perhaps it is because that sparkling gem is actually beside the point. That is to say, enjoy it, but such incongruity can wait for another day; there are more important issues afoot.

The real problem for Republicans is that Mr. Trump’s reckless rhetoric is nothing more than an ill-expressed distillation of American conservatism. The arrogant, vicious bigotry is unwieldy even in its most artful expressions, and much like an old saying, it might be hard to define art affirmatively, but its absence is clear about Mr. Trump.

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Image note: Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul Donald Trump, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, 18 July 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Benen, Steve. “Trump has no regrets after smearing McCain’s service”. msnbc. 18 July 2015.

An Important Moment

President Barack Obama.

We might take a moment to offer our congratulations to President Obama, his administration, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the negotiating partners of the P5+1, who announced today that they have achieved a tentative framework regarding the future of the Iranian nuclear program.

ReutersIran and world powers reached a framework agreement on Thursday on curbing Iran’s nuclear program for at least a decade, a step toward a comprehensive accord that could end 12 years of brinkmanship, threats and confrontation.

The tentative agreement, after eight days of marathon talks in Switzerland, clears the way for talks on the future settlement that should allay Western fears that Iran was seeking to build an atomic bomb and in return lift economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The framework is contingent on reaching an agreement by June 30 and all sanctions on Iran remain in place until a final deal is reached.

(Charbonneau and Nebehay)

To the other, we should not pretend such naïveté as to expect that the hard part is done. If reaching a framework proved so difficult, we can only wonder what challenges will frustrate the next deadline, 30 June.

And, yes, in the moment it is perfectly acceptable to tell the #GOP47 to go screw. That warmongering conservatives are disappointed, or, who knows, even outraged by the thought of a peaceful, diplomatic resolution is their own damn problem, and ought to stay that way.

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Charbonneau, Louis and Stephanie Nebehay. “Iran, world powers reach initial deal on reining in Tehran’s nuclear program”. Reuters. 2 April 2015.

Republican Governance

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, heads to the Senate floor for a vote on July 9, 2014. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This is how it goes:

At the recent CPAC gathering, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a likely Republican presidential candidate, seemed to stumble on one of the basic facts of the Middle East. “The reason Obama hasn’t put in place a military strategy to defeat ISIS is because he doesn’t want to upset Iran,” the Florida Republican said.

"@JohnKerry takes @marcorubio to school ok Iran nuke talks not linked to Iran ISIS war strategy at foreign relations session" (Andrea Mitchell/@mitchellreports, 11 March 2015, via Twitter)The senator seemed confused. In reality, President Obama has put an anti-ISIS military strategy in place, and that’s fine with Iran, since Iran and ISIS are enemies.

I’d hoped that Rubio just misspoke, or had been briefed poorly but an aide, but apparently not―at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this afternoon, the far-right Floridian continued to push this strange theory, pressing Secretary of State John Kerry on the point. “I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so they don’t walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you’re working on,” Rubio said. “Tell me why I’m wrong.”

And so, Kerry told him why he’s wrong.

(Benen)

The emerging theme of Republican congressional governance seems to be a downward spiral. And yes, this one just tumbles from there.

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Image note: Top―Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, heads to the Senate floor for a vote on July 9, 2014. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) Right―Tweet from Andrea Mitchell of msnbc, 11 March 2015: “@JohnKerry takes @marcorubio to school ok Iran nuke talks not linked to Iran ISIS war strategy at foreign relations session”.

Benen, Steve. “Kerry teaches Rubio the basics about the Middle East”. msnbc. 11 March 2015.

Bibi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu salutes an AIPAC policy conference in March, 2012.  (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ouch.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to a potential nuclear deal with Iran, calling it as wrongheaded as the prime minister’s backing of the Iraq War.

“Israel is safer today with the added time we have given and the stoppage of the advances in the nuclear program than they were before we got that agreement, which by the way the prime minister opposed,” Kerry said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “He was wrong” ....

.... “The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush,” Kerry replied. “We all know what happened with that decision.”

(Thompson)

No, I mean, like, really. Ouch.

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Image note: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu salutes an AIPAC policy conference in March, 2012. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Thompson, Catherine. “Kerry Blasts Netanyahu: He’s ‘Wrong’ On Iran Deal Like He Was On Iraq War”. Talking Points Memo. 25 February 2015.

Some Good News from the State Department

Celebrate:

Seal of the U.S. Department of StateI could not be more proud to announce Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.

We looked far and wide to find the right American official for this important assignment. Randy’s a leader. He’s a motivator. But most importantly for this effort, he’s got vision. Wherever he’s served – from Nepal to New Zealand, from Uganda to Bangladesh, from Egypt to South Africa, and most recently as Consul General in Amsterdam – Randy has excelled. He’s a voice of clarity and conviction on human rights. And I’m confident that Randy’s leadership as our new Special Envoy will significantly advance efforts underway to move towards a world free from violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.

Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally – the heart and conscience of our diplomacy. That’s why we’re working to overturn laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct in countries around the world. It’s why we’re building our capacity to respond rapidly to violence against LGBT persons, and it’s why we’re working with governments, civil society, and the private sector through the Global Equality Fund to support programs advancing the human rights of LGBT persons worldwide.

Too often, in too many countries, LGBT persons are threatened, jailed, and prosecuted because of who they are or who they love. Too many governments have proposed or enacted laws that aim to curb freedom of expression, association, religion, and peaceful protest. More than 75 countries still criminalize consensual same-sex activity.

At the same time, and often with our help, governments and other institutions, including those representing all religions, are taking steps to reaffirm the universal human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. So while this fight is not yet won, this is no time to get discouraged. It’s time to stay active. It’s time to assert the equality and dignity of all persons, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. And with Randy helping to lead our efforts, I am confident that’s exactly what we can and will do.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Not all the news coming out of the Beltway is bad.

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Kerry, John. “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons”. U.S. Department of State. 23 February 2015.

A Geopolitical Public Relations Clusterbumble

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 9, 2014, before the Senate Foreign Relations hearing on "Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against IS." (Molly Riley/AP)

Sometimes there isn’t a joke to make. That is, we can’t even say the secret is out because it never really was a secret. Rather, it is a quiet gratification within the spectrum of grim news coming at us from all sides, and once again Americans are sort of late to the party:

Secretary of State John Kerry is a distinguished diplomat with impeccable manners — but that doesn’t mean he’s above lobbing a well-placed insult when it comes to enemies of the United States.

Kerry made clear earlier this week that he is committed to referring to the Islamic State as “Daesh,” a name that the group considers so degrading that it has threatened to kill anyone under Islamic State rule who uses it. The Islamic State’s opponents in the Muslim world have already embraced the name.

So, to the one, yes, as Akbar Shahid Ahmed explains for Huffington Post, them’s fightin’ words. Which is why others have dispensed with the whole ISIS/ISIL question. That is to say, really, this isn’t quite the same as when the Tea Party referred to themselves as “teabaggers”, but there is a similar aspect insofar as Daa’ish has apparently done this to themselves.

“Daesh” is an acronym for the Arabic phrase meaning the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (though the last word can also be translated as “Damascus” or “Levant”), and it is thought to offend the extremist group because it sounds similar to an Arabic word for crushing something underfoot.

Daesh in Arabic “sounds like something monstrous. … It’s a way of stigmatizing [the Islamic State], making it something ugly,” Joseph Bahout, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Huffington Post.

Appearing Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss a new congressional authorization of military force, Kerry said the Obama administration sought an authorization “specifically against the terrorist group known as ISIL, though in the region is it called Daesh, and specifically because they believe very deeply it is not a state and it does not represent Islam.”

So, yeah. Keep up. This is about as much as we’re going to get for humor in war.

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Ahmed, Akbar Shahid. “Bye-Bye ‘ISIL’? John Kerry Calling ISIS By Arabic Term It Hates”. The Huffington Post. 11 December 2014.