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Bennet Kelley

Profile Information

Name: Bennet Kelley
Gender: Male
Hometown: Providence, RI
Home country: USA
Current location: Santa Monica, CA
Member since: Wed May 24, 2006, 11:57 AM
Number of posts: 130

About Me

Bennet Kelley is an award winning columnist, a political commentator, radio host and the former Co-Founder and National Co-Chair of the Democratic National Committee\'s Saxophone Club (its young professional fund raising and outreach arm during the Clinton years). He also is the founder of the Internet Law Center in Santa Monica and a past co-chair of the California Bar Cyberspace Committee. Since 2011, Bennet has been host of Cyber Law and Business Report which airs Wednesdays at 10AM Pacific on WebmasterRadio.fm. In winning two Southern California Journalism Awards for his writing for Huffington Post and the Santa Monica Daily Press, judges praised his work as \"an entertaining and compelling mix of bite, intelligence and humor,\" \"exceptionally piercing,\" and for not being \"afraid to tell it the way he sees it\" . For more information go tohttp://www.BennetKelley.com.

Journal Archives

Responding to the Tea Party's Secession By Other Means

Responding to the Tea Party's Secession By Other Means

In considering the root of the current divide that has led to the government shut down, I am reminded of a 1994 visit I made to a German refugee center where immigrants from the former Soviet bloc with some minimal German ancestry could claim their German citizenship. This was a privilege that was not extended to the Italians, Turks and other immigrants who had came in and rebuilt Germany after the war. At this time, Europe was seeing a resurgence of xenophobic right wing parties (such as the National Front in France) as part of a backlash against increased immigration.

It occurred to me at that time that one major advantage that the United States has over other countries is that we define American not by ethnic characteristics but by our shared beliefs. I anticipated that Germany and other Western European countries could face turmoil in the coming decades as they struggled with what it meant to be "German" or "French", while in the United States we would be standing tall as one nation, indivisible throughout.

As the current government shutdown approaches its third week, it is clear that this is no longer the case. A recent Pew survey shows a surge in partisan polarization in the past decade fueled largely by a sharp turn to the right by Republicans with dramatic drops in support for a labor unions (down 17%), a social safety net (down 28%) and environmental regulation (down 39%). Other recent polls show the GOP taking more extreme ideological positions that ignores all evidence to the contrary.

For example, polls show Republicans believe:

(i) the theory of evolution is wrong (68%);
(ii) President Obama was born in another country (64%);
(iii) global warming is a hoax (58%);
(iv) ACORN, which folded in 2010, stole the 2012 election for Obama (49%); and
(v) Obama is the anti-Christ (20%).

As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein write in It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, the Republican Party has become

ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

To this very point, fifty-seven percent (57%) of Republicans think President Obama should be impeached (presumably for the high crime of whooping their behind in consecutive elections), while twenty-five percent (25%) of Republicans stated that they would like their state to secede following Obama's reelection. It is worth nothing that a significant portion of the Republican's Dixie base remains ambivalent about the last secession, with a plurality of Mississippi Republicans still wishing that the South had won the war and believing that interracial marriages should be illegal.

Having failed at the ballot box and been unsuccessful in their 40-plus attempts to repeal Obamacare, Republicans are now openly engaged in sabotage through a legislative coup attempt which Bill Moyers' calls "secession by other means."

The question then turns to how do we avert another Fort Sumter? Just as General Grant's victory at Vicksburg gave the Americans control over the Mississippi River and divided the Confederacy in two, Democrats must reach out to reasonable Republicans to find a solution that strengthens their hand at the expense of the tea party radicals. Both will want to avoid the United States defaulting on its obligations and both have an interest in ensuring that the result is seen as a defeat for the tea party.

Republicans should heed the words of their first President, Abraham Lincoln, who warned

we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. . . . The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.

The tragedy, however, is that responsible Republicans may be too few in number or lack the courage to take on their bomb-throwing colleagues, leaving the nation trapped in gridlock until elections thirteen months away.

Should that happen, President Obama should stand before Congress and call out this insurrection for what it is and tell the Tea Party they cannot wear both the blue and the grey. He should appeal to the American people to unite based upon values we agree upon, with the most important one being majority not minority rule and that no party or faction can hold the American people hostage.
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Sun Oct 13, 2013, 07:16 PM (4 replies)

The Road to Shut Down 2013: From the Clinton Wars to the New Confederates

The Road to Shut Down '13:
From the Clinton Wars to the New Confederates

The 2013 shut down of the government by Tea Party Republicans is not an event that just spontaneously sprung up this year, but rather is the result of over twenty years of actions each building on the next that made this conflict predictable if not inevitable.

Great conflicts require formidable adversaries. Yet from 1968 to 1988, Republicans had a virtual lock on the White House winning on average by 52.7% - 43.0%, with the sole exception being Jimmy Carter's narrow victory following Watergate. Then came William Jefferson Clinton who was able to beat President Bush in a three-way race with only 43 percent of the vote.

The Republicans recognized right away the threat posed by a successful New Democrat and they were determined at the outset to challenge his legitimacy and to obstruct wherever possible. House Speaker Gingrich, who once said that Clinton supporters were "the enemy of normal Americans," believed that they had to fight the Democrats "with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars" -- and he delivered.

Clinton Not My President

President Clinton told Joel Klein that:

After I got here and started dealing with them, I realized that the Republicans had been in power since Nixon . . . They figured there’d never be another Democratic President. . . . So they just never saw me as a legitimate person.

Prominent Republicans such as Representative Dick Armey and Senate candidate Oliver North openly declared Clinton was not their President. Klein himself wrote in The Natural:

From the beginning of his presidency, there was indeed the sense – radiating from the Gingrich wing of the Republican Party . . . that the new President was a usurper who had managed to hoodwink the American public. He was to be opposed at every turn, by any means necessary, and, if possible, destroyed.

Devolution on Health Care

With today's reflexive rants that Obamacare is part of a godless, socialist plot, forgotten are the origins of the Clinton and Obama proposals. The Clinton plan was spurred in part by a push by the Business Roundtable for universal coverage since health care costs were becoming a competitive burden. Items such as the individual mandate came from the conservative Heritage Foundation's proposal entitled "A National Health System for America."

Republicans initially sought to push a compromise proposal, the "Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993," which also included an individual mandate. Introduced by Senator Chafee (R-RI), the bill had 18 Republican co-sponsors including conservative Senators Bennett (R-UT), Grassley (R-IA) and Hatch (R-UT) who would later lead the charge against Obamacare.

As Jacob Weisberg explains in Slate, it was at this point we witnessed the death of the Responsible Republicans. Former Vice President Quayle aide William Kristol wrote a memo to Republican leadership stressing that "the Clinton proposal is also a serious political threat to the Republican Party" and therefore Republicans must "adopt an aggressive and uncompromising counterstrategy designed to delegitimize the proposal".

As a result the Republicans abandoned all compromise proposals, health care reform died and Republicans were rewarded for their efforts by taking control of both houses of Congress following the 1994 election. Weisberg notes that it was the embrace of Kristol's recommendation that

marks the pivotal moment when Republicans shifted from fundamentally responsible partners in governing the country to uncompromising, hyperpartisan antagonists on all issues.

The Clinton Wars

Newt Gingrich became the leader of what conservative columnist George Will described as “ideologically intoxicated” Republicans who believe that “Democrats are not merely mistaken but sinful” or as one Republican conceded to Elizabeth Drew, simply feel that “they were totally right and the other side was totally wrong.” Gingrich’s disciples embraced his attack philosophy as they shared his belief that “the Earth must be scorched and sown with salt before the Heavenly City can be built."

Gingrich and his crusaders marched right into the first partisan shutdown of the government, as Republicans shut down the government for 28 days in late 1995 and early 1996. Gingrich sought to justify breaking off discussions after allegedly being snubbed on Air Force One the flight home from he funeral of assassinated Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, but it backfired after the White House produced a photograph contradicting him and the New York Daily News capturing and cementing national sentiment with its famous "Cry Baby" headline. The shut down ended with Republicans taking a hit in the polls and Bill Clinton cruising to reelection.

Clinton's reelection, however, only intensified the Republicans efforts to destroy him and the Lewinsky scandal gave them that opportunity. Once again, Republicans overreached and pushed for impeachment despite overwhelming public opposition, paying a steep political price in becoming the first party out of power since 1822 to lose seats in a mid-term election. The polls were clear and the voters had spoken, yet when they returned for the post-election lame duck session, Gingrich pushed forward with impeachment nonetheless, explaining he did simply "because we can."

Gingrich stepped down as Speaker and resigned from Congress as a result of his 1998 electoral failure, while Clinton prevailed in the impeachment trial and finished his term with a 66 percent approval rating.

Act II: Prevent Another Successful Democratic Presidency

In 2004, a young Senate candidate named Barack Obama electrified the Democratic Convention with a keynote speech that spoke to an increasingly divided nation:

For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people. . . . It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.

That notion would be tested in January 2009 when that young man became the 44th President and the first African American to hold the office. From the start, Republicans would deploy the same methods - challenge the President's legitimacy and obstructionism - but with greater ferocity and open disregard for majority rule.

Minority Rule

When President Obama took office in 2009, the economy was still in tailspin. President Obama pushed for a stimulus to prevent what some called The Great Depression 2.0 that included the largest tax cut in history. Nearly 200 Republicans had supported the Bush stimulus only months earlier, but under President Obama only three did (with one of switching parties thereafter). The message coming from leadership was they will not let Obama succeed on anything.

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell used the filibuster to gum up what was once the world's greatest deliberative body such that (i) less than half of Obama's judicial nominees have been confirmed (compared to 93 percent for Reagan); (ii) some regulatory boards are unable to obtain a quorum to act since Republicans will not confirm appointed commissioners; and (iii) approximately 70 percent of major legislation is now subject to some form of filibuster thus changing the structure of government from majority rule to minority veto.

Republicans, who had been silent while the Bush administration burned through a surplus and added $5 trillion to the deficit through tax cuts, Medicare expansion and two wars without paying for them, became overnight fiscal hawks. In 2011 they threatened to block an increase in the debt ceiling (thereby raising the specter of a government default) with the result being a downgrading of U.S. debt that will cost U.S. taxpayers $18.9 billion over ten years (and the amount is approximately a quarter of the amount needed to repair structurally deficient bridges across the country -- something to think about the next time a bridge collapses). In addition, while Republicans attempt to use these deadlines to portray Obama as some reckless spender. he actually has cut the annual budget deficit in half!]

Obamacare and the New Confederates

The biggest battle of all, however, has been over health care. The market-based proposal that the Republicans offered as an alternative to Hillary-care, became "socialism" once it morphed into Obamacare. Republicans were unsuccessful in preventing its passage in 2010 and their legal challenge was subsequently rejected by the Supreme Court. In 2008, former Massachusetts Governor Romney (who had implemented a similar program in Massachusetts) vowed that he would repeal Obamacare as his first act as President only to lose decisively to Obama.

Yet Republicans' madness over Obamacare knows no bounds. After 42 votes to repeal Obamacare got them nowhere, Republicans now are willing to hold the nation hostage just to kill or simply delay the program. Republicans attempt to shift the blame to Obama by complaining he will not negotiate, but why should he when there are sufficient votes to pass a clean continuing resolution in the House but Speaker Boehner is blocking the vote and negotiating would only encourage future efforts at brinkmanship?

The Grand Rapids Press, which endorsed Mitt Romney, condemned "irresponsible GOP zealots" for the shut down. The paper added:

If Obamacare is the "train wreck" opponents claim it will be, voters soon will have the opportunity to choose leaders with better ideas, at the mid-term elections in 2014 and the presidential election in 2016. That’s called democracy.

It is not just Obamacare but also democracy itself that is under attack by the GOP zealots. In his brilliant and prescient 1995 piece American Weimar, Steve Erickson explained that

istory is clear that democracy cannot long navigate a sea of national rage. Untempered by rationale and open-mindedness, fury eventually consumes democracy rather than nourishes it, because it overwhelms our tolerance, our willingness to be reasonably informed, our determination to hold ourselves accountable for what we decide. Most important, it overwhelms our basic faith in democracy itself .

That is what is happening in America today. Tea Party representatives and their members still refuse to accept their defeat in 2012. The voters were simply wrong. To paraphrase Erickson who wrote with respect to the Republican's refusal to accept Clinton, "in essence, the Right argues that a democracy that produces an presidency invalidates itself" and they are free to ignore it.

That is what they have done. Rather than recalibrate their message to win wider support, Republicans have demonstrated their disdain for the voters by (i) seeking to revive Jim Crow voter suppression laws to prevent future Democratic victories and (ii) now shutting down the government.

Colbert King calls them the New Confederacy, explaining they are

as churlish toward President Obama as the Old Confederacy was to Lincoln, it has accomplished what its predecessor could not: It has shut down the federal government, and without even firing a weapon . . . .Its members are as extreme as their ideological forebears. It matters not to them, as it didn’t to the Old Confederacy, whether they ultimately go down in flames.

The New Confederacy is costing the American economy $1.6 billion a week and may soon threaten our national security as law enforcement personnel are furloughed.

For five years the Republicans have waged war against majority rule, triggering Time Magazine's poignant cover. As this crisis continues, it is time for the Republicans to decide whether they will behave as responsible members of the loyal opposition or whether they are simply saboteurs. More importantly, it is time for all Americans - Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike - to make note of their choice and hold them accountable.

It is my hope that this crisis will end promptly and that the Republicans pay dearly for their actions so no future Congress even contemplates holding the American people hostage again.
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Sun Oct 6, 2013, 04:46 AM (3 replies)

The Roberts’ Court's Shelby County Power Play Could Backfire

There is an interesting exchange from Joe Klein's "The Natural," a mini-memoir of the Clinton era, in which a Republican Senator confesses to President Clinton that Republicans "don't believe in Government very much, but we love power." That is a good starting point for understanding the judicial activism of the Roberts Court and its decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidating portions of the Voting Rights Act.

Four years earlier, Chief Justice Roberts engineered the Court's Citizens United decision, pushing it from a narrow decision that was consistent with prior election law jurisprudence to instead, in the words of former Senator Russ Feingold, "roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president."

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 in reaction to "Bloody Sunday" when voting rights marchers were blocked and clubbed by the state police on Selma, Alabama's Edmund Pettus Bridge. The Act requires jurisdictions having a history of voting discrimination to submit election law changes for preclearance review by the Justice Department pursuant to authority granted Congress under the 15th amendment (providing that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race").

Congress reauthorized the Act in 1982 and again in 2006, following 21 hearings and a legislative record that exceeded 15,000 pages. Among the findings was that between the 1982 reauthorization and 2006, the number of Justice Department pre-clearance objections jumped 180 percent, with the nature of the restrictions being more subtle but still driven by the intent to restrict minority voting power. The 2006 reauthorization was approved by the House 390-33 and Senate 98-0, with Shelby County, Alabama's two senators and congressman each voting in favor.

In 2010, Shelby County filed a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act, claiming that the preclearance procedure was unconstitutional, an argument rejected by the District Court and Court of Appeals. Three days after President Obama won reelection in large part due to a huge turnout among African Americans, the Roberts' Court decided to hear this case.

In writing for the majority, Roberts seemed to forget his own admonition from only a year ago that courts "must presume an Act of Congress is constitutional unless the lack of constitutional authority ... is clearly demonstrated" and that a "heavy burden rests on those who would attack the judgment of the representatives of the people."

Roberts offered no such deference, glossing over (i) Congressional findings from the 2006 reauthorization; (ii) the fact that a number of Republican controlled states, including eight of eleven states in the former Confederacy, passed new voting restrictions since the 2010 election having the effect of reducing minority vote; (iii) the outcry over Florida Governor Scott's substantially curtailing voting hours and machines in 2012, creating lines lasting several hours in minority districts; or (iv) the Republican Party's willingness to consider further voting restrictions following President Obama's reelection.

With respect to Alabama in particular, Roberts ignored a 2010 FBI sting in which members of the Alabama legislature were caught on tape referring to African-Americans as "aboriginals" and announcing their intention to suppress their vote.

Instead, Roberts supplanted Congressional findings with his own view that increased black voter registration and turnout were a sign that the law was working so as to not require pre-clearance, when the success he cited no doubt was achieved as a result of the presence and exercise of pre-clearance procedures.

In doing so, Roberts gave Republicans reeling from a shrinking base a lifeline. The lifeline, however, may turn out to be a noose, since if Republicans block an attempt to amend the Voting Rights Act it could cement perceptions that the party (and even the Roberts court) is too extreme.

Secondly, minority voters understand what is really going on here. I was part of the Obama legal protection effort in Florida during the last election and recall going to a polling station in Miramar to encourage voters to remain in line for almost four hours, only to find little coaxing was needed. They knew why they were in line and like their forefathers in Selma, who responded to Bloody Sunday by returning to the same bridge days later, they were not "going to let anybody turn them around."

Roberts' Shelby County power play may only make them more determined to fight for their right to vote. It is a tragedy, however, that as we approach the 50th anniversary of Selma, the Chief Justice is comfortable with an American where they still have to.
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Sun Jun 30, 2013, 09:06 AM (38 replies)

Why I'm Not Voting for Eric Garcetti for Mayor Los Angeles

I have known Eric Garcetti since before he was first elected to City Council when we were involved in the west coast launch of a young progressive group called Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century. It may comes as a surprise to some, however, that I am not voting for him in the Mayoral runoff against Wendy Gruel.

My decision is not because I view Eric as a "wonky idealist" as the LA Weekly dismissively calls him. There is no question that when we first me, he was a university professor and uber-wonk, but this was in the twilight of the Clinton years when it was still hip to be a wonk.

The reality is, however, that when the people of Echo Park, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Little Armenia and the rest of the 13th District elected Eric over former mayoral candidate Mike Woo in 2001 (and reelected him twice), they did not elect the wonk but the neighbor who knocked on their doors and listened to them.

Few of us thought Eric would win at first, but he did. That's called having vision and courage, qualities not easily found in politics. When the new city councilman decided to use one of the city's electric cars for transportation long before the emergence of hybrid chic, we chuckled at Eric's quirky idealism but that is what leading by example is all about.

What is so wrong with idealism anyway? It inspires and motivates people to get involved and do great things. Isn't that what is sorely needed in Los Angeles today?

My choice also has nothing to do with the fact that Eric does not have business experience or has not held elective office outside of the City Council like City Comptroller Wendy Gruel. I seem to recall that Mayor James Hahn also was a City Comptroller, so the office is hardly a harbinger of success as Mayor.

Having also studied urban planning as Eric did, I have found that the great American mayors, like Baltimore's William Donald Schaefer, were not just technocrats who cared about every little detail but individuals who wore their love of their city on their sleeve. Twelve years of walking the neighborhoods of Los Angeles has transformed Eric from the wonkish professor into an evangelist for the City of Angels. Those of us in the tech community, for example, applaud Eric for his enthusiasm for the emerging Silicon Beach tech hub, promotion of the "T-expo" corridor and using mobile apps to connect with constituents.

My choice also has nothing to do with the concern that Eric may be destined for greater things and that the Mayor's office may be just a launch pad to the Governor's mansion or even Washington. I too believe that Eric is one of the party's rising stars because of his vision, leadership and passion but these are the same qualities that would make him a great Mayor. Any concern about his future ambition should be tempered by the reality that his political future would be tied to how well he performed in serving his hometown.

The reason I am not voting for Eric is more fundamental. I live in neighboring Santa Monica and not Los Angeles and (are you reading this Ann Coulter) it would be illegal for me to vote in a race where I am not a resident.

But if you live in Los Angeles, I hope you will vote for one of the most promising candidates of this generation and a true leader who is ready to make Los Angeles the American city to watch - Eric Garcetti.
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Mon Apr 29, 2013, 03:13 AM (0 replies)

Ten Things to Remember About the Iraq War

The tenth anniversary of one the nation's longest and most controversial wars has been a very subdued affair which may be highly appropriate considering that the war only ended on December 31, 2011. We may wish to forget that moment ten years ago when President Bush addressed us from the Oval Office as he unleashed "Shock and Awe" on the Iraqi people, since few expected that what would unfold would be such an epic calamity.

Yet remember we must. On this first post-war milestone anniversary, we should remember the following:

1. The Vets

More than 1.5 million Americans served in Iraq, which is slightly less than one in every 200 Americans. It placed a heavy strain on the volunteer army who had to face multiple deployments but recruitment levels kept pace except for the peak period of the war. As outgoing Defense Secretary Gates noted, such a prolonged war that was borne by only a few has served to widen the disconnect that separates the military from the wider society they have sworn to protect.

2. The Human Price

Over the course of nearly 9 years of war: 4,474 American soldiers were killed; 32,226 injured; and as many as 450,000 vets are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (based on VA reports that 30% of vets treated have PTSD). Each of them had or have names, families and potential that a simple number can never convey or even begin to capture.

3. The Iraqi Price

The Brookings Institute estimates that 115,676 Iraqi civilians were killed during the war. The war also has caused a brain drain as 40 percent of Iraqi professionals were among the millions who left the country. Before the invasion there were 34,000 Iraqi physicians of which 12,000 left after the invasion and another 2,000 were killed. Iraqi's standard of living has not returned to pre-war levels with fifty percent (50%) living in slum conditions as compared to only 17 percent in 2000.

4. The Economic Price

The Iraq War operations and reconstruction efforts cost approximately $1.7 trillion; adding veterans' health care and interest to the total and it could reach $6 trillion over a period of several decades. Iraq War spending accounts for approximately 25 percent of our present federal budget deficit.

What could that money had done if spent elsewhere? According to Gender Values: The Costs of War, by Susan Feiner:

When the nation spends one billion dollars on the military, 11,600 jobs are created. If that billion dollars was spent instead on education 29,100 jobs would be created. And if it were spent on health care almost 20,000 jobs would be created.

This is money that could have been used to fix our deteriorating infrastructure, provide health care and made education affordable for middle class Americans with plenty to spare.

5. Bush Lied

In 2008, the Center for Public Integrity releasedIraq: The War Card (Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War) which reviewed the statements of President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan and found at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001 that

were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses. On at least 532 separate occasions . . . Bush and stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both.

As publisher of BushLies.net, I documented hundreds of lies about the war and then lies about the lies. In Worse Than Watergate, John Dean charged that under the Bush-Cheney administration “it appears that mendacity has become public policy." Nowhere was this more true than with Iraq.

6. Billions in Fraud

A Congressional report found that contract fraud and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for as much as $60 billion or $1 for every $3.50 spent on contractors. This includes $30 billion on no-bid contracts given to companies such as Dick Cheney's Halliburton. A government audit found that 98 percent of Iraq War contractors failed to comply with government fraud regulations.

This was all part of the Bush administration's

opening the government trough for corporate looting; doubling the amount spent on government contracts to $412 billion and tripling the amount spent on no-bid or limited competition contracts. This resulted in over $1 trillion in contracts marked by significant fraud, waste or abuse not to mention the $8.8 billion in cash that simply disappeared in Iraq. The most infamous looter, Halliburton received over $130 billion in contracts under Bush and overcharged the government $100 million for a single day's work.

7. Abu Ghraib

We were told that we went to Iraq as liberators and yet here we were using Saddam's own torture chamber to torture Iraqi citizens. Americans were repulsed by the images that emerged and were rightfully outraged.

What is worse is not that Abu Ghraib was an isolated instance of abuses that occur during war-time, but that the United States had embraced torture. President Bush wanted Americans to believe that no other president has waged war against evil regimes or confronted this issue before. The reality is, however, that in each of the greatest challenges of American history, our leaders have chosen to follow the course of the founding fathers who, as historian David Fischer notes, believed that they had to beat the British “in a way that was consistent with the values".

That is why Washington directed his troops to “(t)reat (British prisoners) with humanity” and Lincoln instituted a written code of conduct for the Union Army prohibiting “the intentional infliction of any suffering, or disgrace.”
John McCain, himself a victim of torture, said it plainly:

has nothing to do with al Qaeda, it has everything to do with America.

8. It Happened Here

This is not the tale of some misadventures of a third-world tyrant nor is it like the Vietnam era, when Presidents Johnson and Nixon escalated or began new wars without Congressional authority. Our Iraq misadventure was overwhelmingly approved by Congress as the authorization of the use of force in Iraq passed the House 297-133 and Senate 77-23. Even worse, the post-Watergate media was reluctant to challenge Bush on the Iraq claims and some even were complicit in promoting the Bush administration's disinformation.

We should never forget that our government had been taken over by a bunch of ideologues and petty fools barking madly about "Freedom Fries" and "Freedom Toast".

9. Greeted Like Liberators

Days before the war, Vice President Cheney stated

Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

It sums up the Bush administration's hubris and should echo in the ears of any leader contemplating foreign adventures. Cheney was half right, however, as President Bush discovered during his farewell tour of Iraq when an Iraqi greeted his "liberator" by throwing a shoe at his head.

10. The Powell Doctrine is Alive and Well

As the war dragged on, President Bush lamented how those evil Iraqi's had tricked us by letting us "win" before we knew what we were going to do. Bush called this a "catastrophic success", but in reality it is just another leader learning the lessons of the Powell Doctrine (and in particular the requirement that any military adventure have a clear exit strategy) the hard way. Tragically, one of those leaders was Powell himself whose command performance before the United Nations made it all possible.

Powell has since referred to his United Nations performance as a "blot" and a low point, which may be how we all should remember the nearly nine years that was the Iraq War.

Bennet Kelley is an award-winning columnist, radio host and internet lawyer.
For more information visit bennetkelley.com.

Posted by Bennet Kelley | Tue Mar 19, 2013, 11:14 PM (6 replies)

Republicans Are Losing the Post Election

Republicans Are Losing the Post Election

For a political party, there is nothing good about losing an election. At the same time, there is little utility in the second kick of a mule, so how a party responds to a loss can be as important as how it waged the election in the first place.

In 1980, the Democrats lost the White House and the Senate in a stinging defeat in which an incumbent Democratic President carried only six states, was trounced among independents and nearly lost the union vote. In the period after that defeat, the party's emerging leaders such as Senators Bill Bradley, Gary Hart and Paul Tsongas, stepped forward to attempt to articulate a Democratic approach to a post-Great Society and post-Vietnam America.

This would eventually pave the path towards the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and the Democrats winning the popular vote in five of the last six elections. The first step on the path towards reclaiming the White House, however, was an acknowledgement of defeat and a recognition that the party had to recast itself towards a new electorate.

Republicans entered the 2012 election season hoping to replicate the 1980 result, with the electorate tossing President Obama and rejecting his economic program amidst similar hard times. Having failed miserably during the election, including handing near certain Senate victories to the Democrats in Indiana and Missouri, the Republicans are faring even worse post-election.

Far from acknowledging the judgment of the electorate, the Republicans instead have rejected it and appear eager for their next date with the mule.

After four years of denying that race was a driving factor as they seethed and babbled about the evil simultaneous fascist and communist dictator occupying the White House, rank and file Republicans responded to President Obama's overwhelming victory by spewing racist rants throughout social media.

The mask had fallen and Republicans were not the least bit embarrassed or apologetic. Their nominee, Mitt Romney, bitterly claimed that his bid for the Presidency for white America had been undermined by the President's hand-outs to minorities.

When former Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke last month of a "dark vein of intolerance" in the GOP, it apparently had little effect on his party as was evident by freshman Congressman Steve Stockman's (R-TX) extending an invitation to the virulently racist and openly seditious Ted Nugent to sit in the House gallery during the President's State of the Union Address.

Did anyone in party leadership or anyone of note even voice a hint of disapproval for Stockman's offensive gesture? Of course, not. In fact, Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly says that Nugent's "straight talk" is "what the Republican party needed."

No Republican is stepping forward to offer a 21st century vision for the party, which seems driven only by its own petulant anti-Obama tantrums and not the interests of the country. As Daniel Larison in the American Conservative notes, whether it is calls for forcing a government shut down to its most recent stunt in filibustering the nomination of fellow-Republican Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, the Republicans

are making sure that all of the moderates, independents, and realists that they have alienated over the last ten years will keep running away from them.

That is exactly what is happening, as the Republicans' standing in the polls continues to plummet, with a 72 percent disapproval rating in the most recent poll. This is unlikely to change anytime soon as the Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate are afraid of being challenged by the party's lunatic fringe.

The only substantive change the Republicans have put forth since President Obama's reelection have been for further efforts at voter suppression and proposals to alter the apportionment of electoral college votes by Republican states won by the President. So rather than make a compelling case as to why voters should entrust the country into their hands, the chest-beating, flag-waving party of so-called patriotic constitutionalists will simply try to steal it instead.

It is the same tone we heard on election night. Republicans continue to insist that it is the American people, not them that is wrong. As long as they cling to this belief and obstruct the will of people, the Republicans will continue on a dangerous path towards political extinction.
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Sun Feb 17, 2013, 09:47 AM (22 replies)

Return of the Kamikaze Congress

Return of the Kamikaze Congress

The Miami Herald responded to House Republicans' intransigence by noting "

artisanship and precipice met in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, and the Republican majority leapt into the abyss." Similarly, the Detroit Free Press explained that the vote was a victory only for "blind zeal and base politics."

Neither editorial, however, mentioned Speaker Boehner by name since these editorials were from 1998 when the Republicans came back to Washington following an electoral rebuke and voted to impeach President Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal. The last Washington Post pre-election poll showed 71 percent opposed impeachment, but the House went ahead anyway, as Speaker Newt Gingrich famously said, "because we can."

That was the moment that ideological extremism metastasized within the party so that dogma drowned out ideas and talking points trumped reason. Since then Republicans have only grown more intransigent with disastrous effects. They have clung to sound bytes regardless of facts or reason. "Tax cuts pay for themselves." "Government cannot create jobs." "Global Warming is a hoax." "Guns don't kill people."

The current "fiscal cliff" debate centers on allowing tax rates to return to relatively historically low levels in place during the Clinton boom years, before enactment and extensions of the Bush tax cuts. The Bush tax cuts were promised to create millions of jobs and pay for themselves but instead yielded few jobs and today (along with the concomitant decision to put the costs of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on the government credit card) accounts for half of our debt.

Faced with a choice between the path of reason and the road to ruin, Republicans cling to ruin rather than adapt. That is the difference between ideas and talking points. Ideas evolve with new information, while talking points are static.

As a result, polls now show a majority of Americans believe that the Republican Party is simply too extreme -- including one in five Republicans. The first Kamikaze Congress faced similar disapproval over the impeachment vote but it was wildly popular among Republicans.

The sands may be shifting for current Republicans, as a majority of Republicans now believe that Obama has won a mandate to raise taxes. At the same time, this is the same party that nearly half believe the presidential election was stolen by ACORN and 44 percent either want their state to secede or aren't sure if they want their state to stay part of the Union. As long as these are the Republicans that turn out at town meetings and party functions and/or are a major source of their funding, the party is unlikely to yield.

This is especially true as long as their leadership will not even entertain the notion of compromise because they are afraid of the base. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has the worst in-state approval rating of any member of the Senate and was sufficiently spooked by the primary defeat of long-serving Senator Richard Lugar in neighboring Indiana to a Tea Party challenger that he has hired Tea Party Senator Rand Paul's campaign strategist for his 2014 reelection fight. Speaker Boehner also fears a leadership fight after his failed "Plan B." As a result, neither leader can be expected to exercise any real leadership and convince their caucus to compromise. With McConnell up for reelection and Republicans retaining control of the House in the new Congress, these types of false crises and brinkmanship are certain to continue -- at least until Republicans begin to face primary challenges from the center.

While many in recent years have raised the difficult question of how to remove the corrupting influence of money from politics, maybe a more realistic and timely question may be how to return reason to politics. Until then, Republicans likely will continue to illustrate Oscar Wilde's maxim that

Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Sat Dec 29, 2012, 06:46 PM (0 replies)

Obama's Second Term and Pre-Post Racial America

Obama's Second Term and Pre-Post Racial America

From the elation of a historic night in Grant Park to the ebullient but frozen National Mall that watched the nation’s first black president take office, there was a great hope of the birth of a new era. A country whose constitution and history have been scarred by race seemed to be entering a post-racial era.

That belief was quickly shattered as the Tea Party backlash took shape, but we were admonished not to make too much of the overt and coded racial message emanating from the movement. In 2009, I was the token Democrat on a conservative talk radio show and repeatedly asked to discuss this troubling development. When I went on vacation they were happy to address it with a show “Democrats playing the race card.”

This tension between Democrats seeing percolating racism and Republicans dismissing it as “playing the race card” or merely the acts of only a handful of people played itself out over the last four years. As the election approached, we saw Republicans enact voter suppression efforts in state after state, with some advocates openly admitting the measures were designed to suppress minority voting and to elect Mitt Romney.

I saw first hand people waiting in line to vote for hours and hours in Florida. They knew the long lines was intentional which only made them that much more determined. It dawned me on that just over the border was Selma, Georgia (where in 1965 voting rights activists were attacked by police as they attempted to march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in what is now known as “Bloody Sunday” and which led to passage of the Voting Rights Act) and how sad it was that African-Americans still had to fight for their right to vote in America today. President Obama and the Justice Department are looking into what can be done to fix our broken voting system and ensure that what happened in Florida never happens again. This must be done!

On election night and the days that followed, however, the thin curtain that had veiled many racist sentiments fell as we saw a torrent of racist messages throughout social media. A Republican Facebook “friend” and fifth-generation Texan declared that the “America in which I grew up is gone. We are now left with an electorate who will continue to exist on what the government will give them.” The Texan asked all Obama supporters to un-friend him as he complained that it was up to Republicans to save the country from the fiscal cliff since “the majority of Obama's supporters have no idea what we're talking about--nor do they care.” Yes, after it all it was White Republicans’ superior understanding of economics that led them to disregard the conclusion of even their own economists that tax cuts for the rich do not pay for themselves and pursue two wars without attempting to pay for them.

While in 2008 there was hope that America had evolved, what we saw election night and immediately thereafter was a defiant white America lashing out as it realized it was outnumbered and would always be from now on. Governor Romney echoed their belief with his assessment that his bid for Presidency of White America was stolen by government handouts to minorities and youth. It was a telling moment, for the candidate who was thought to have no convictions whatsoever, revealed his true belief and demonstrated how out of touch he was.

As President Obama begins his second term, the overt racism we saw following the election will again recede into the shadows but its intensity is unlikely to subside. It will not remain in the shadows for long as the next four years will include the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the Birmingham Church Bombing, Selma and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act that followed.

Moving forward we at least know that what we perceived as percolating racism is real and something we ignore at our peril. We will not eradicate racism over these next four years, but as we approach the historic Jubilee celebrations of the civil rights era we owe it all those who sacrificed in the fight to ensure that the celebration is a victory in what they fought for and not a reminder of progress yet to be gained. For if it is the latter, however, let us all go to Selma in 2015 and get the job done.
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Sat Dec 29, 2012, 06:37 PM (1 replies)

Romney, Marxism and GOP Dog Food

Romney, Marxism and GOP Dog Food

There is a long-standing strain in conservative thought that America is essentially a conservative country that has been led astray and duped by the “liberal media” and Hollywood. The most recent articulation of this view is in books like “Obama Zombies” and documentaries like “The Obama Deception,” that contend that the election of Barack Obama was the result of a brainwashed electorate.

If that were the case, then one would think conservatives would relish the few hours of live televised debates as their only chance to reach voters unfiltered by the black magic of the liberal media. One would expect this to be the moment when they make an impassioned plea for conservative principles.

So when Mitt Romney took the stage in Denver to debate President Obama, this should have been the moment when the former Governor made the conservative case for his agenda. Instead, Romney turned to Marx – Groucho not Karl – and adopted the “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” approach to questions about his agenda.

Romney could not run fast enough from the details of his plan which all facts to the contrary suddenly did not (a) have a $5 trillion tax cut proposal; (b) which reduced taxes for the wealthiest; (c) raised taxes on the middle class; and (d) exploded the deficit. Nope, not his plan, we must be thinking of some other guy running for President.

In debating health care with the President, this was not the moment when he planted the flag for free market solutions but rather he claimed to have a plan that competed with Obamacare and even covered preexisting conditions (which his staff later conceded was untrue).

This was nothing new, as George W. Bush took the same tact when debating Al Gore in 2000, contending that his tax plan primarily benefited lower brackets and assuring voters that that he would use half of the surplus towards Social Security. This could not have been farther from the truth.

As President, Bush continued this same pattern, leading a number of bloggers such as myself to catalog with astonishment the hundreds of lies emanating from Pennsylvania Avenue. As John Dean would explain in his book “Worse than Watergate”, the Bush administration had elevated mendacity to public policy with all major initiatives cloaked in deception.

After his reelection Bush tried to "cash in" the political capital he believed he had accumulated to achieve a longtime conservative dream – privatizing Social Security. Once the proposal was subject to the cold sun of public scrutiny, the major policy initiative of Bush’s second term died a quick death despite a nationwide campaign by the President.

Far from being embraced by this fictional conservative nation, the Bush administration and Republicans instead faced a public backlash. In the aftermath, one Republican Congressman conceded that the Republican brand was “in the trash can” and that if it were a dog food it would be taken off the shelf. Recent polling suggests that this view remains unchanged.

The Republicans know they cannot win on the strength of their ideas, but rather must rely on hijacking the democratic process. “Hijacking” no doubt is a strong word, but what do you call purging thousands of legitimate voters from the voting rolls and erecting barriers to combat “voter fraud” that they admit never occurred? What do you call holding the country hostage over the debt ceiling extension last summer or their blocking every Obama initiative (even ones they agreed with at one time) through abuse of the filibuster?

What do you call using millions in unregulated campaign funds to sell the American people dog food by telling them it’s something else? That is precisely what happened in Denver, as Governor Romney rebranded his entire platform.

Romney lacked the courage to push his party to adopt an agenda which the country could embrace, so now he must convince the country that his agenda is not really dog food but a taco supreme. In doing so, it is clear that Romney understands one important point that the conservative zombie theorists refuse to recognize– as long as the Republican Party continues to push their extremist dog food, the American public are never going to say “yo quiero GOP.”
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Sun Oct 14, 2012, 04:09 PM (0 replies)

Romney and the Calamitous Republicans

Romney and the Calamitous Republicans

The media is abuzz over what appears to be the implosion of the Romney campaign, with leading Republicans offering scathing "pre-eulogies" such as Peggy Noonan's statement that the Romney campaign is a "rolling calamity". Such a focus on the individual candidate's tactical ineptitude obscures the larger point that the Republican Party is just as calamitous on a substantive level as their agenda is openly adverse to the principles upon which this country was founded.

Let us start with Governor Romney's latest disaster - his "47 Percent" remark in which he divided up the electorate into two main groups. The first, whom he does not worry about, are what he views as government dependents that primarily support the President, while the second consists of taxpayer stakeholders who he believes primarily support him. It is ironic that when President Clinton succinctly sums up the Democrats position these past four years he receives universal acclaim, but when Romney does the same for the Republicans he is disowned.

This "47 Percent" philosophy is significant in the way it manifests itself in Republican thought and strategy. As the party of the "stakeholder class, Republicans increasingly view themselves as the only rightful holders of the reins of power. This strain of thinking is at the root of the strategy of Congressional Republicans to, in essence, become the political equivalent of a guerilla movement and obstruct President Obama at every turn (even for proposals Republicans once supported). It also has fostered, in an institution that depends on compromise to function, an outright rejection of deviation from dogma regardless of whether it is to accommodate such difficult things as facts or to substantially achieve their own objectives.

In his farewell address, President Washington reminded the citizens that respect for the authority of the new government was a fundamental part of liberty. He also warned that:

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle the delegated will of the nation.

The ugly seed that Washington feared has blossomed in the dark recesses of Congress, with the Republicans likely to set a record this Congress for filibustering (most recently blocking a jobs bill for veterans) and refusing to act on judicial nominations despite the judicial branch's declaring a "vacancy crisis".

The most shameful and calamitous aspect of this mindset is in the rash of new voter suppression laws pushed by Republican governors and state legislatures. Nowhere is this more blatant than in Pennsylvania which adopted a voter ID law drafted by Republican Daryl Metcalfe ostensibly to combat voter fraud that could prevent over nine percent of registered voters from voting. Since its passage, Pennsylvania has conceded that there is no evidence of voter fraud, while the House Republican leader told a partisan audience the measure was intended to help Romney win Pennsylvania.

After the "47 Percent" story broke, Metcalfe said that if the government dependent class is "too lazy to get up and . . . get the ID they need. . . the state can't fix that." Metcalfe simply ignores the fact that many of those affected are elderly, disabled or poor who lack access to transportation or who cannot afford the fees involved for supporting documentation which can range from $10 to $345.

Metcalfe apparently believes that the other 47 percent does not deserve the vote. This is the mindset that has driven Republicans in Pennsylvania and 15 other states since 2008 to impose voter identification requirements or adopt other measures such as questionable voter purges, eliminating early voting the Sunday before the election when many African-American churches bus citizens to the polls and making voter registration more difficult.

It is telling when distinguished journalist and Nixon biographer Elizabeth Drew finds this open campaign of voter suppression to be "more menacing" than Watergate. Indeed, it is shocking that only two generations after the murder of Freedom Riders in Philadelphia, Mississippi and the enactment of the Voting Rights Act that followed that such actions could be taken without outrage or political consequence.

So while Republicans lament their nominee's frequent self-inflicted wounds, the true calamity in this race is that a political party has adopted a strategy that involves a refusal to govern and a frustration of the will of the majority. This strategy is an open assault on the principles of national unity and majority rule upon which this nation was founded and a growing cancer which the American people can no longer abide.
Posted by Bennet Kelley | Mon Sep 24, 2012, 01:13 PM (2 replies)
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