Opinion

The Great Debate

from Stories I’d like to see:

More questions for Snowden and the GOP establishment takes on the 2016 primaries

Accused government whistleblower Snowden is seen on a screen as he speaks via videoconference with members of the Committee on legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg

1. Snowden questions NBC missed:

In his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams last week, Edward Snowden tried to bolster his credentials this way: “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word -- in that I lived and worked undercover, overseas, pretending to work in a job … and even being assigned a name that was not mine …. Now, the government might deny these things. They might frame it in certain ways, and say, ‘Oh, well, you know, he's a low-level analyst.’”

In that segment -- and as best I can tell from watching what I think were all the segments of Brian Williams’ interview -- three words never came up: Booz Allen Hamilton.

Booz Allen Hamilton is the government contractor that Snowden supposedly worked for. As Talking Points Memo reported a year ago in this article, in the video in which Snowden introduced himself to the world following publication of his initial leaks, he said: "My name is Ed Snowden, I'm 29 years old, I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for [the] NSA, in Hawaii.”

The same Talking Points article quoted Snowden and his collaborator Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, as saying that the only direct employment he had for any spy agencies was as a “security guard” at an National Security Agency facility in Maryland and as someone “working on IT security” for the CIA in Geneva.

Was he lying to the world and to Greenwald then, or to Williams now?  Someone ought to follow up on the contradictions that Williams missed.

Why this shutdown isn’t like 1995

The political battlefield of the current government shutdown looks a lot like the last big shutdown of 1995. But major changes within the Republican Party in Congress — a weaker leadership, the demise of moderates and two decades of gerrymandering — could make this year’s endgame far harder.

Then as now, a rebellious Republican Congress used a budget bill to set up a deliberate confrontation with a Democratic president over spending priorities. GOP militants and radicals in the House – today’s wing nuts — bet that gridlock, disarray and the embarrassment of a shutdown would force the White House to give in.

Then, as now, the president defied the Republican brinksmanship and took the political risk of a government shutdown rather than bowing to the GOP’s surrender terms. Former President Bill Clinton enjoyed the sport of sparring with Congress and President Barack Obama, after giving in so many times in the past three years, has finally decided to dig in his heels.

Boehner resurrects the antebellum South

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is now in Williamsburg, Virginia, meeting with his House Republican conference at their annual retreat. The GOP House members have likely gotten over the initial shock of the November elections – in which President Barack Obama won more than 51 percent of the vote and the Democratic majority swelled in the Senate.

Though the Republicans lost House seats and their candidates collected more than a million fewer votes than their Democratic rivals, the GOP retained a majority in the House of Representatives. This consolation prize has allowed Boehner to claim that House Republicans have a mandate every bit as compelling as that earned by the president. Conservative champions Grover Norquist and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) echoed this claim.

“It’s very wrong to suggest that only the president has a mandate,” asserted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who knows from congressional mandates. “The House Republicans also have a mandate, and it’s a much more conservative mandate than the president’s.”

What is American exceptionalism?

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, although they spend a lot of time these days at one another’s throat, appeared on the night of the South Carolina primary to agree on at least one thing: Each believes in “American exceptionalism,” and, they say, Barack Obama does not. Gingrich has already devoted an entire book to the topic, and in an interview with my colleague David Rohde, a top foreign policy adviser to Romney made it clear that American exceptionalism is a theme that Romney intends to stress throughout the campaign.

It’s easy to see that these candidates view their own ideas about American exceptionalism as a strong opportunity to contrast themselves with the incumbent. It’s harder, though, after sifting through the various ways the term is used, to establish what it actually means. Far from being a simple concept that one can easily endorse or reject, American exceptionalism is a loose skein that uneasily unites many different strands of thought, faith and ideology.

Like so much in the discussion of American history, the phrase is often traced to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. But that doesn’t explain much, because when de Tocqueville wrote that “the position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional,” he was referring primarily to the development of a practical — as opposed to literary or artistic — worldview, stemming from the American landscape and the lack of an aristocracy. More to the point, Gingrich seeks to ground the term in the American Revolution: “The ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and the unique American identity that arose from an American civilization that honored them, form what we call today ‘American Exceptionalism’,” he wrote in A Nation Like No Other, published last year. But that explanation, too, is inadequate; after all, the authors of the Declaration of Independence went out of their way to universalize the values underpinning the American experience (“when, in the course of human events…”), not to cleave that experience off from the rest of the world.

Gingrich’s anger management

By Michael A. Cohen

The views expressed are his own.

WINDHAM, N.H.—Newt Gingrich is flying high these days – on top of national Republican polls and currently leading in three of the first four Republican primary and caucus states. He hasn’t been this relevant in American politics since Bill Clinton sat in the White House and Titanic was the biggest movie in America. But while the new Newt is clearly enjoying himself, seeing him on the campaign trail brings back familiar glimpses of the old Newt, defined far more by his acid tongue than he was by his policy acumen.

On Monday night, Gingrich took his frontrunner status on the road to New Hampshire, where he spoke at a packed town hall in Windham to crowds that were as ecstatic for him as they would have been for Leo and Kate. More than a thousand Republican partisans were there to greet him. What they got was the sort of grandiose ideas and red-meat political attacks against liberals – and in particular President Obama – that have been the hallmark of Gingrich’s political career, the key to his recent political rise, and perhaps his best hope for winning the Republican nomination. In a year in which Republican voters are angry with Obama and angry with Washington, all the GOP wannabes are cultivating conservative ire – but no one quite does it as effectively and as gleefully as Newt.

For Gingrich then, New Hampshire is a win-win state. The state is generally seen as Mitt Romney’s fail-safe; the place where he must—and should be able to—win in order to keep his election hopes alive. Moreover, the state GOP tends to be less socially conservative than their Iowa brethren; more attuned, it seems, to a Romney rather than Newt candidacy. Nonetheless, Gingrich’s numbers in New Hampshire are beginning to tick up, becoming Romney’s top rival and within shouting distance of first place. If he loses, the world won’t come to an end – and if he wins it could be the killer blow to Romney’s campaign. All the more reason, it seems, for Gingrich to play up his frontrunner credentials and critique Romney.

Campaign cash finds its way to the courtroom

By Adam Skaggs and Bert Brandenburg
The opinions expressed are their own.

Attacks on judges who “legislate from the bench” are commonplace in conservative politics, but the current crop of Republican presidential contenders has taken attacking the judiciary to a new level.  New frontrunner Newt Gingrich is the most outspoken — promising that if elected, he would impeach judges, abolish judgeships, and ignore court rulings he doesn’t like.

Gingrich’s plans violate basic constitutional norms and would set off a constitutional crisis.  But, ultimately, they ring hollow:  however effective in motivating the Republican base, the attacks on the courts are not credible policy proposals.

Outside the realm of presidential politics, however, there is a looming — and very serious — threat to our justice system.  Despite all the attention focused on money in politics, few Americans know how much campaign cash is pouring into courts of law, and how it threatens to undermine equal justice for all.

Gingrich’s laborious plan to save the youth of America

By Eric Edmonds

The opinions expressed are his own.


Republican Presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich continues to insist that child labor laws in the U.S. are “truly stupid,” that the poor lack good work habits, and that the former would solve the latter. He hasn’t mentioned any specific policy changes, yet it’s clear that he doesn’t like the way things are done now, and that that he thinks America would be better off if kids worked more. If only the economics agreed.

Gingrich hasn’t been clear about what exactly he wants, but he seems to be advocating two complementary policies. First, he would like to see a reduction in the minimum age of employment. While campaigning in Cambridge, he said, “You go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between 9 and 14 years of age.” Second, he wants to put poor children to work in their schools, because “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits for working and have nobody around them who work.” Granted, if there really is no proclivity to work, it’s not clear how he will actually get these children to start working.

Nevertheless, let’s imagine Gingrich gets his wish. What would be the practical consequences of a reduction in the minimum age of employment in the U.S.? Most likely, nothing good.

All of Washington lives in Newt’s swamp

By Jack Abramoff
The opinions expressed are his own.

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich romanced the Tea Party activists, who demand that the corrupt swamp of Washington be drained. His intrepid spokesman, R.C. Hammond, had a more arduous task: convincing the world that the former Speaker was not swimming in that same swamp. As facts emerged revealing that Gingrich took almost $2 million in “consulting” fees from the beleaguered Freddie Mac, Hammond delivered proof that the Gingrich operation was master of the inside-the-Washington-beltway game. Spinning Gingrich’s perfidious (yet legal) trip through the infamous revolving door to post public service riches, Hammond posited that taking millions in consulting fees was actually a positive: since Newt now understood “why the system is broken,” he now knew “how it could be fixed.” In other words, now that he had participated in legal corruption, he was more qualified to be our President.

By that metric, I should be announcing my cabinet choices any day now. After all, in 2004, my lobbying activities became the basis for the biggest corruption scandal to hit Washington since Watergate. Gingrich’s candidacy may or may not survive these revelations, but there is a bigger issue to consider than whether this late-night-talk show hosts’ dream politician makes it to the Oval Office.

America is sick of its political leaders raking in millions of dollars in fees from special interests. At a time when the average American can barely afford enough gasoline to get to work, our politicians are converting their elected positions into major paydays. Newt is not the first and won’t be the last to do this. He just has the bad luck to be surging in the polls. But the problem with this latest round of “shoot the leading Republican candidate” is that it deflects attention from the need to change the system. Every time one of these “gotcha” attacks becomes personal, it loses its capacity to engender real reform.

Does Gingrich actually want to be President?

Newt Gingrich, May 13, 2011

By Ben Adler

The opinions expressed are his own.

There is a well-established template for a politician who has ascended to the pinnacle of national politics, tumbled off of it, and wants to return to run for president. You get out of Washington. You occupy yourself in private or charitable endeavors, maybe write anodyne books and studiously avoid making controversial proclamations that might come back to haunt you.

Richard Nixon, after losing his 1960 presidential bid and his ill-advised 1962 run for Governor of California followed this script and was elected in 1968. But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who recently announced his candidacy for president, hasn’t merely detoured from this path in recent years, he’s gone completely in the other direction. In fact, everything he has done since he was Speaker suggests he never planned to run for president, and he hasn’t made the appropriate preparations.

After Gingrich famously miscalculated and cost his party seats in the 1998 midterms by impeaching Bill Clinton for a brief episode of philandering, Gingrich left his own wife — who had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — for his mistress. That was his first mistake; well, actually his second, since he had previously left his first wife while she was in the hospital with cancer for his second wife. (Gingrich’s personal history was the subject of a devastating profile in Esquire last year.)

Refuting healthcare myths

David Magnus– David Magnus, Phd, is the director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. The views expressed are his own. –

The public discussion of healthcare reform has been full of so many lies and myths that it is less a policy debate than bad theater.

Critics of reform (conservatives hoping to score political points and oppose Obama on anything; free market ideologues; those with threatened financial interests) have stooped to absurdity in their public pronouncements. One publication declared that severely disabled physicist Stephen Hawking would never get life saving medicine in a national health system, ignoring that Hawking is British—virtually all of his life saving treatments were done through their National Health Service.

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