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Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks a campaign rally on Nov. 3, 2014, in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Investigation of scandal-plagued Maine gov moves forward

07/02/15 08:00AM

Facing the very real possibility of impeachment, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) learned yesterday that state lawmakers are moving forward with their investigation into the alleged misuse of public resources. The Portland Press Herald reported:
The Legislature's watchdog committee voted unanimously Wednesday to investigate Gov. Paul LePage's threat to withhold state funds from a school for at-risk children unless it withdrew a job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.
The probe will focus on whether changes were made in the flow of state funding to Good Will-Hinckley, a private school in Fairfield, and the effects of the Republican governor's threat on the school's hiring process with Eves.
To briefly recap, a Maine charter school recently hired state House Speaker Mark Eves (D). LePage, a fierce opponent of Democratic legislators, threatened the school -- either fire Eves at LePage's demand or the governor would cut off the school's state funding.  In effect, LePage played the role of a mobster saying, "It's a nice school you have there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."
The school, left with no options, reluctantly acquiesced. The problem, of course, is that governors are not supposed to use state resources to punish people they don't like. That, by any fair measure, is an impeachable offense.
For his part, LePage, an often-clownish Tea Partier, does not deny the allegations. As of yesterday, however, he is arguing that the state legislative committee examining the scandal lacks the authority to investigate him.

Bernie is gaining and other headlines

07/02/15 07:59AM

Bernie Sanders gains on Hillary Clinton in Iowa. (Bloomberg Politics)

White House gears up for domestic policy offensive. (Wall Street Journal)

Emails show Hillary Clinton exchanges with foreign lobbyist. (Politico)

After court ruling, gay veterans get marriage benefits they were denied. (Washington Post)

At least 5,000 evacuated following Tennessee train derailment, fire. (USA Today)

The time President Obama sang the Davy Crockett theme song. (Time)

'Maria' is leaving 'Sesame Street.' (Washington Post)

read more

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.1.15

07/01/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Greece's twists and turns: "An unexpected new effort by Greece to compromise with its creditors on a bailout package prompted a cool response from most of the rest of Europe on Wednesday as efforts to find a way out of the financial crisis confronting Athens remained chaotic."
* Egypt: "Militants linked with the Islamic State unleashed a wave of coordinated attacks on security checkpoints in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, the latest strike in a global surge in violence by the group's sympathizers and one that threatened to push Egypt into a wider conflict with the jihadists."
* Investigations continue: "Six predominately black churches have gone up in flames in the last ten days -- some likely due to arson, others accidents -- in a rash of fires coming at a time when the country is already on edge over the safety and vulnerability of its places of worship."
* Rule of law: "A federal judge has issued an order directed at all probate judges in the state -- who are responsible for issuing marriage licenses -- that they can no longer decline to issue licenses to gay couples."
* Crunch time: "When the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, lands in Tehran on Thursday for a hastily scheduled meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's top national security officials, it will be part of a behind-the-scenes effort to resolve two of the biggest obstacles to a nuclear deal: Whether to force Iran to reveal any evidence about suspected design work on nuclear weapons, and how to assure that inspectors can get inside the country's most secret nuclear sites."
* A potentially huge probe: "The Justice Department is investigating whether some of America's biggest airlines have colluded to keep airfares high, officials familiar with the matter said Wednesday. Justice Department spokesperson Emily Pierce confirmed the probe, saying investigators are looking into 'possible unlawful coordination by some airlines,' but would not confirm which carriers."
* Stuck in the past: "Republican lawmakers on Wednesday skewered President Obama's announcement that the U.S. and Cuba have agreed to reopen embassies in each other's capitals -- with several vowing to block the confirmation of any U.S. ambassador to the communist country."
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Still waiting for that GOP alternative to Obamacare

07/01/15 04:59PM

At least on the surface, congressional Republicans were optimistic of a Supreme Court victory in King v. Burwell. For months, GOP lawmakers talked openly and repeatedly about the prospect of taking a sledgehammer to the Affordable Care Act, stripping millions of families of their health care benefits. It was only a matter of time before conservative justices delivered.
What's more, Republican leaders tried to be reassuring, insisting there was no reason for the public to panic -- the GOP's alternative to "Obamacare" would be even better than the effective reform law. Once the Supreme Court gutted the U.S. system, Republicans would, they claimed, rush in with their superior solution. Indeed, some prominent, far-right lawmakers urged governors to ignore obvious fixes and instead wait for the GOP's remedy to be available.
Last week, of course, the high court disappointed Republicans and rejected the ridiculous lawsuit. But I'm still curious about that GOP alternative that was waiting in the wings. Wasn't it all set to go? Where is it? Can we see it?
National Journal reported the other day:
For months, Republicans have been crafting a post-King v. Burwell strategy, confident the Court would rule in their favor and strike down the law's insurance subsidies in 34 states using the federal insurance marketplace.
Of course, we've been hearing talk about Republicans "crafting" their own health-care package for many years now, meeting behind closed doors for a half-decade, trying to find an ideologically satisfying proposal to rival President Obama's signature domestic achievement. At least so far, they've come up with exactly nothing.
The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they're finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to fail quietly every time.
But this year was supposed to different. This year, Republicans assumed the Supreme Court would function as an extension of the congressional GOP and help take benefits from more than 6 million American consumers. This year, Republicans simply wouldn't have a choice -- they'd have to step up with a policy of their own, because the court would force their hands.
Marijuana plants are displayed. (Photo by Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

Marijuana possession, but not sales, now legal in Oregon

07/01/15 03:54PM

It was just a few years ago that marijuana was illegal everywhere in the United States, without exception. The policy landscape has changed quite a bit since.
Voters in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington, for example, voted to legalize marijuana in recent years, and their state-based experiments have been allowed to proceed because the Obama administration extended its approval.
Meanwhile, a similar -- but not identical -- change is underway in Oregon, effective today. The Oregonian reported this morning:
As of today, if you are 21 or older, you can legally possess and grow cannabis in Oregon. That's right, a pretty historic day.
If you want to mark the day by buying some pot to consume, you're out of luck. For now, people can only share or give away marijuana and starter plants so you'll have to hit up a generous friend, though a bill allowing recreational marijuana sales at dispensaries in the fall is making its way through the Oregon Legislature.
Got that? You can possess marijuana (in limited quantities). You can grow marijuana. You can even smoke marijuana. You just can't buy marijuana.
Oregon does have one exception, however, in the form of pot dispensaries that provide medical marijuana to qualifying patients. For everyone else who wants pot, however, it's time to either start gardening or turning to generous friends.
President Barack Obama arrives to speak in the Rose Garden of the White House July 1, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

U.S. re-establishes diplomatic ties to Cuba

07/01/15 12:47PM

The White House's Rose Garden, located just outside the Oval Office, has played host to quite a bit of history lately. On Thursday, President Obama delivered a brief address in the Rose Garden to highlight the Supreme Court's ruling in support of the Affordable Care Act. A day later, he returned to the same location to celebrate national marriage equality.
And this morning, there was Obama speaking again from the Rose Garden, and once again making history. NBC News reported:
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba have struck a deal to open embassies in each other's capitals and re-establish diplomatic relations between them for the first time in half a century. [...]
This formal step follows Obama's call to normalize relations and economic ties between the two countries after decades of Cold War hostilities. In another major move, the U.S. said in May it was removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana," Obama said this morning. "Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas."
This isn't to say the United States and Cuba are suddenly buddies -- Obama emphasized that we'll "continue to have some very serious differences" -- but that the failed policy of the last half-century is no more.
The president said this morning, "Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba, despite good intentions, increasingly had the opposite effect -- cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere. The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don't have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn't working, we can -- and will -- change."
Anticipating Republican complaints, Obama added, "Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation. But it's long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn't work. It hasn't worked for 50 years. It shuts America out of Cuba's future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people."