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Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) arrives to address a legislative luncheon held as part of the "Road to Majority" conference in Washington, June 18, 2015. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Rand Paul draws parallel between taxes, slavery

07/06/15 03:09PM

It was just a couple of weeks ago that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) unveiled his flat-tax plan, which is a bit of a mess. The Republican presidential hopeful assembled "an all-star team of the kookiest pseudo-economists in the history of the Republican Party" to help him craft a plan, and he came up with a 14.5% federal rate.
In practical terms, Paul is proposing a multi-trillion-dollar tax overhaul that the country couldn't possibly afford. But in ideological terms, the GOP senator's vision on tax policy is arguably even more outrageous.
BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski reported today on remarks Paul delivered last week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
Paul said he believes that "you have to give up some of your liberty to have government," saying he was "for some government."
"I'm for paying some taxes," continued Paul. "But if we tax you at 100% then you've got zero percent liberty. If we tax you at 50% you are half slave, half free. I frankly would like to see you a little freer and a little more money remaining in your communities so you can create jobs. It's a debate we need to have."
Well, maybe. We can have a debate, for example, about the correlation between income-tax cuts and job creation -- which Rand Paul may not understand quite as well as he thinks he does. The senator might want to talk to Sam Brownback in Kansas about whether one leads to the other.
But once presidential candidates start equating taxpayers and slaves, there's a more serious problem.
Governor Chris Christie Announces His Run For Presidency

Chutzpah Watch - Chris Christie edition

07/06/15 01:08PM

In January 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) held a lengthy press conference in which he tried to show at least some contrition. After scoffing at his "Bridgegate" scandal for weeks -- he even told reporters they would have to apologize to members of his team -- the Republican governor was confronted with so much evidence of wrongdoing within the Christie administration that he felt compelled to apologize.
Indeed, at the time, Christie went so far as to describe himself as "embarrassed and humiliated" by the actions of his own team.
A year and a half later, the governor is now a presidential candidate, and he's made the transition from humiliation to self-pity. As he did in May, Christie told Fox News yesterday he wants news organizations to apologize to him over Christie's own scandal.
It's a genuinely bizarre dynamic -- some of Christie's top aides conspired to cripple a community on purpose, abusing their power in the governor's name to a literally criminal degree, and Christie's defense is that he was simply too ignorant to know what was going on around him, creating a scandal that left him "embarrassed and humiliated."
And now he's waiting for journalists to apologize to him, as if Chris Christie were the victim of his own fiasco. The governor appeared on msnbc this morning, and continued to dismiss one of the biggest controversies of his career.
"Nobody cares [about Bridgegate]. They don't care cause here's why. They don't care because there's now been three independent investigations, all of which have said the exact same thing that I said the day after it happened. At some point people just say well after three investigations two of which were run by Democrats ... after a while people just say, 'Okay, I guess he's telling the truth.'"
Continuing to feel sorry for himself, the scandal-plagued governor added, "Instead of just standing up and saying what they should say, which is, 'We're sorry governor, for having jumped to conclusions, we're sorry for not only having accused you, but convicted you,' they say, 'Oh, it's a culture.' ... It wasn't a culture because if it was, there would have been a lot more of these incidents."

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.6.15

07/06/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* It only took two-and-a-half weeks, but Jeb Bush said over the weekend that he was offended by Donald Trump's anti-Mexican rhetoric. "To make these extraordinarily ugly kind of comments is not reflective of the Republican Party," for the former governor said, after ignoring the issue.
* To the delight of the NRSC, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) made it official this morning, kicking off his U.S. Senate campaign in Nevada.
* Ted Cruz announced his fundraising totals overnight, pointing to a $10 million second quarter, which isn't bad given his relatively weak standing in national polls. Cruz's super PAC has also reportedly raised over $37 million, though that's a cumulative total since the start of the year.
* Though it's not the team he intended to run with, Chris Christie has hired a new campaign manager: Ken McKay, a "well-regarded operative who previously has served as chief of staff at the Republican National Committee and as political director of the Republican Governors Association." Maria Comella, a longtime Christie confidante, will serve as his campaign's "chief messaging officer."
* There's no shortage of Nazi-related quotes from this guy: "Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said in February 2012 that "political correctness" has caused Americans to fall 'silent, very much like the people in Nazi Germany were silent.'"
* In New York's 21st district, which the DCCC has its eyes on, retired Army Col. Mike Derrick (D) has announced he'll take on freshman Rep. Elise Stefanik (R) next year. It's one of the state's more competitive districts, which President Obama won twice.
Rep. Trey Gowdy and Rep. Elijah Cummings arrive as the panel holds its first public hearing to investigate the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 17, 2014.

Benghazi committee springs a curious leak

07/06/15 11:20AM

Three weeks ago, Politico published a fairly long, front-page piece with a provocative headline: "Benghazi panel probes Sidney Blumenthal's work for David Brock." At issue, of course, is the House Select Committee on Benghazi, already responsible for one of the longest congressional investigations in congressional history, and its meandering focus.
But the Politico article went further than most, highlighting some news that hadn't been reported elsewhere.
While still secretary of state, Clinton emailed back and forth with Blumenthal about efforts by one of the groups, Media Matters, to neutralize criticism of her handling of the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, sources tell POLITICO.
"Got all this done. Complete refutation on Libya smear," Blumenthal wrote to Clinton in an Oct. 10, 2012, email into which he had pasted links to four Media Matters posts criticizing Fox News and Republicans for politicizing the Benghazi attacks and challenging claims of lax security around the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, according to a source who has reviewed the email exchange. Blumenthal signed off the email to Clinton by suggesting that one of her top aides, Philippe Reines, "can circulate these links," according to the source. Clinton responded: "Thanks, I'm pushing to WH," according to the source.
The emails were not included in documents originally turned over by the State Department.
For the Republican Party's many Benghazi enthusiasts, the report painted a nefarious picture, based on information the State Department had kept under wraps. Indeed, the fact that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded, "Thanks, I'm pushing to WH," raised the prospect of Clinton urging the White House to shape its talking points based on Media Matters' reports -- a revelation that might help explain the GOP-led panel's interest in David Brock.
There was, however, a problem: the Politico report wasn't entirely accurate -- or more to the point, the Politico report was based in part on information leaked to the news outlet that turned out to be untrue.
The U.S. Supreme Court stands in Washington, D.C., June 10, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

The culture-war pivot is harder than it looks

07/06/15 10:40AM

The Supreme Court recently handed the right some very tough defeats, but about a week ago, the New York Times reported on the silver lining for the Republican Party. Many in the GOP believe the court rulings, most notably on marriage equality, offer Republicans a chance to "pivot" away from issues on which the party is "sharply out of step with the American public."
The piece noted some Republican strategists privately characterized the high court decisions as "nothing short of a gift from above." All GOP officials and candidates have to do now is seize the "opening to turn the election toward economic and national security issues."
Of course, it's not altogether clear such a pivot would be an electoral winner for the party -- the public isn't exactly clamoring for tax breaks for millionaires and more wars -- but it would at least give Republicans a better chance at success.
The trouble, of course, is that much of the party has already rejected the premise behind the pivot. The Hill reported over the weekend:
Congressional Republicans are coming under pressure to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage when they return to Washington next week.
Religious organizations aligned with the GOP are concerned the government will punish them for opposing same-sex marriage, and want lawmakers to put in place new protections for people with faith-based objections.
The groups are putting their lobbying energy behind the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would prohibit the government from retaliating against churches, schools and adoption agencies that only recognize heterosexual marriage.
The "First Amendment Defense Act" -- conservatives really do excel in the bill-naming department -- is not just a hypothetical. The legislation has already been introduced in both the House and Senate -- the lead sponsors are Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), respectively -- and it's actually faring quite well. The House version already has 69 co-sponsors (68 Republicans and one Democrat), while the Senate bill has 21 co-sponsors (all 21 are Republicans).
Note, Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham, each of whom are running for president, are among the bill's champions.
Scott Walker speaks during the South Carolina Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina on May 9, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty)

Wisconsin GOP backpedals on scrapping open-records law

07/06/15 10:02AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and his allies in the GOP-led state legislature have taken some pretty brazen steps in recent years, but the recent controversy over the state's open-records law was striking, even for them.
The Badger State is home to one of the more expansive open-records laws in the country, though late Thursday -- shortly before the start of a holiday weekend -- Republican officials went after state policy in ways few saw coming. The Wisconsin State Journal reported:
Legislative Republicans on Thursday passed sweeping changes to the state's open records law that would dramatically curtail the kind of information available to the public about the work that public officials do.
The proposal blocks the public from reviewing nearly all records created by lawmakers, state and local officials or their aides, including electronic communications and the drafting files of legislation.
As TPM's Josh Marshall noted, of particular interest was a provision called a "legislator disclosure privilege," which would have empowered state legislators to withhold official information about their work -- a "privilege" that does not currently exist in any other state.
The Wisconsin State Journal piece added this gem: "Despite voting for the motion, Republican members of the panel all professed not to know who proposed the public-records changes."
Got that? The day before a holiday weekend, during "a late-night session," someone on the legislature's budget committee -- we don't know who -- quietly added a provision to scrap Wisconsin's open-records laws. The budget committee then passed this on a party-line vote, with every Democrat voting against it and every Republican voting for it.
But when asked for an explanation, the GOP members themselves said they had no idea how the policy they voted for ended up in the document.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at a rally in Manchester, N.H., June 17, 2015. (Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

For Republicans, Trump is driving the debate

07/06/15 09:20AM

The initial concern surrounding Donald Trump's presidential campaign was that he would qualify for the debate stage, denying a slot that would otherwise go to a more serious candidate. But yesterday offered a vivid example of the effect Trump is having on the campaign: he's dominating the Republican conversation in ways that do the GOP no favors.
Here, for example, was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday:
"I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration. The Washington cartel doesn't want to address that. The Washington cartel doesn't believe we need to secure the borders. The Washington cartel supports amnesty and I think amnesty is wrong and I salute Donald Trump for focusing on it. He has a colorful way of speaking. It is not the way I speak. But I'm not going to engage in the media game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans."
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) was asked on CNN's "State of the Union" whether Trump's anti-Mexican comments have hurt the Republican Party?
"Well, I say some things very differently. I say every night, I get on my knees and thank God I'm in a country people are trying to break into, rather than one they're trying to break out of."
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R) was asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" for his reaction to Trump. The Pennsylvania Republican said he doesn't agree with Trump, but added:
"I think Donald points to a very important thing, which is we have a serious problem of illegal immigration in this country that is undermining American workers.... So while I don't like verbiage he's used, I like the fact that he is focused on a very important issue for American workers, and particularly illegal immigrants in this country."
This just keeps going. Jeb Bush is talking about Trump. Chris Christie is talking about Trump. Rick Perry is talking about Trump. Mitt Romney is talking about Trump, and he isn't even a candidate.
Not to put too fine a point on the story, but when one person is effectively controlling the political news cycle and dictating one party's conversation, it looks quite a bit like this.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Huckabee takes aim at the 'redefinition of love'

07/06/15 08:40AM

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R) outrage over marriage equality won't fade anytime soon, because in the Republican presidential candidate's mind, the institution of marriage is under some kind of attack. It led Jake Tapper to ask Huckabee a good question yesterday.
"Which do you think threatens to undermine the institution of marriage in this country more," the CNN host asked, "same-sex marriage or the rampant ranks of infidelity and the high divorce rates in this country among straight couples?"
Huckabee didn't answer the question directly, initially saying the question itself is "kind of like asking me which wing of the airplane is the one that's most important, the one on the left, the one on the right?" The oddity of the comparison notwithstanding, the rest of the candidate's reaction offered a surprising twist on the broader debate.
"The whole point of marriage is to create a relationship where two people are committed as life partners. One of the mistakes we have even heard over the course of the same-sex marriage debate is that marriage is all about just love and feeling and sentimentality.
"And, regardless, heterosexual marriage is largely in trouble today because people see it as a selfish means of pleasing self, rather than a committed relationship in which the focus is upon meeting the needs of the partner. And that sense of selfishness and the redefinition of love as to something that is purely sentimental and emotional has been destructive."
I've read this quite a few times, trying to make heads or tails of it, and I still don't know what Huckabee's talking about. Why can't a same-sex couple commit as life partners? If Huckabee believes a life-long relationship needs roots that run deeper than "sentimentality," why in the world would these roots be exclusive to straight couples?
The usual line from the right is that the whole point of marriage is procreation. Huckabee, however, seems to have accidentally switched sides, saying the "whole point of marriage is to create a relationship where two people are committed as life partners."
Yes. Right. Exactly. But isn't that supposed to be my argument, not his?
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks to supporters after announcing that he will run for president in 2016 June 4, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty)

Rick Perry laments ties between GOP, black voters

07/06/15 08:02AM

It didn't get too much attention, but shortly before the holiday weekend got underway, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) delivered remarks at the National Press Club, and it turned out to be one of the more interesting speeches this year from a Republican presidential candidate.
BuzzFeed's report described it as "remarkable," and it's worth appreciating why.
The years of states' rights messaging have squandered the Republican's once close relationship with black voters, especially in the south, Perry said.
"For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found we didn't need it to win. But when we gave up trying to win the support of African Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all," Perry said. "It's time for us once again to reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African Americans."
According to the official transcript, Perry added, "There has been, and there will continue to be an important and a legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing civil rights. Too often, we Republicans, me included, have emphasized our message on the 10th Amendment but not our message on the 14th."
The former governor's candor was certainly a welcome addition to the campaign discourse, and this isn't the kind of rhetoric we heard from Perry in his first bid for national office four years ago. For that matter, any time a prominent far-right candidate acknowledges a legitimate role for the federal government to do much of anything, especially protecting civil rights, it's refreshing.
The trouble with Perry's speech, however, wasn't its intentions. Rather, the problem was the fact that the remarks were incomplete.

Battle flag's last stand and other headlines

07/06/15 08:00AM

Confederate flag's last stand at SC State House. (The State)

Global markets sink after Greece votes 'no' on historic referendum. (USA Today)

U.S.-led coalition unleashes wave of airstrikes on Syrian ISIS stronghold, Raqqa. (AP)

Ohio looks overseas in search for lethal drugs. (AP)

Medicare expected to pay for end-of-life talks. (Politico)

Former AG Eric Holder: U.S. may need to sue to enforce gay marriage ruling. (Wall Street Journal)

Veterans hotline tries to survive without Pentagon funds. (New York Times)

More than 1 million expected at Pope's Mass in South America.

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Week in Geek: The atomic science of fireworks

07/05/15 11:29AM

Every wonder how they make all those gorgeous explosions we all enjoyed yesterday? You guessed it -- SCIENCE.

The color you see is a result of the atoms in the fireworks reaching hot enough temperatures that the electrons inside get so excited they give off energy. This energy is emitted as light, or photons, as a result of the electron "falling" from a higher energy level to a lower one in its orbit around the atomic nucleus. The color of the light we see as a result depends on how far that electron "fell." Scientists characterize this distance using wavelength or frequency.

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A tablet of the Ten Commandments, which is located on the grounds of the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, Texas, is seen in a Tuesday Oct. 12, 2004 photo.

This Week in God, 7.4.15

07/04/15 08:30AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a major court ruling in Oklahoma, where state officials have been told to stop promoting one religion's scared tenets on the Capitol grounds. The Tulsa World reported this week:
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday said the Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol must be removed.
The plaintiffs said its placement at the Capitol constituted the use of public property for the benefit of a system of religion, which is banned by the Oklahoma Constitution.
State law isn't especially ambiguous. Section II-5 of the Oklahoma Constitution says public property can't be used to benefit or support any "sect, church, denomination, or system of religion," either directly or indirectly. When state lawmakers approved a monument to the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments, it was hard to even imagine how this could be legally permissible.
The state Supreme Court issued a 7-2 ruling against the government-endorsed religious display, siding in support of a suit brought by the ACLU of Oklahoma.
The Republican-led state legislature has been a little hysterical since the decision was handed down, and state House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R) said impeachment proceedings against the Supreme Court's majority "will be seriously considered."
Other state lawmakers are calling for repealing the relevant portion of the state Constitution, so that religion and government can be more easily merged together.
Legal controversies surrounding Oklahoma's official endorsement of the Ten Commandments have been percolating for a while, with a variety of other groups -- including Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- seeking equal treatment for their proposed monuments on the Capitol grounds. The argument has long been that Oklahoma can't play favorites -- if Christians can ignore the state Constitution and have a monument for their sacred text, so can everyone else. Either the door is open to everyone or no one.
At least for now, according to the state Supreme Court, the law requires the latter.
Also from the God Machine this week: