The Koch brothers' campaign investments were back in the news yesterday, with the Huffington Post pointing to an annual tax filing posted Tuesday on the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce website, reporting that the "main arm of the political network operated by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch raised $126 million in 2014 and distributed millions to more than 20 other groups active in last year's midterm elections."
By any fair metric, when one political network, operating outside the major parties, can put $126 million to use in a midterm election cycle, the impact is bound to be significant. At the same time, of course, this raises legitimate concerns about a small number of powerful, wealthy donors having far too much influence over who wins elections -- and who doesn't.
Yahoo News sat down with Charles Koch this week and asked him a good question. Pay particular attention to the billionaire's answer.
Q: Campaigns have become so expensive now, Charles. Is there too much money in politics and is it because rich people are putting too much money into politics?
KOCH: No, it's because of corporate welfare. It's -- why are 6 out of the 10 most prosperous counties around Washington, DC? The estimates are there over $5 trillion out of a $15 trillion economy that goes to corporate welfare including a trillion and a half in the tax code. So that's the problem with the money. And so, the more money, the better to change that and get the politics out of people's lives. That's what we're trying to do: put some money in so there's less money in politics.
I listened to this a few times, trying to fully appreciate Koch's argument. Asked about the outsized influence of mega-donors, one of the Koch brothers argued that when he and his network "put some money" into campaign politics, the end result should be "less money in politics."
It seems as if Koch agrees that less money in politics is a worthwhile goal, except when he's the one influencing American elections with his checkbook.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) had a plan. As recently as a month ago, the struggling Republican presidential hopeful told the Washington Post he would "win Iowa," at which point the race would "change" and many of his GOP rivals would "drop out."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced late Tuesday he would suspend his presidential campaign after failing to get traction in the crowded Republican primary field.
In a statement announcing his exit from the race, Jindal said running has “been an honor, but this is not my time.”
Jindal is the third Republican to drop out of the race before voting began, joining Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Jindal's departure shrinks the GOP field to a mere 14 candidates.
Ordinarily when a candidate withdraws, there's some chatter about where his or her support may go, but in the case of the Louisiana governor, there's no real point. National polling showed the governor with support below 1% and Jindal struggled for months to raise money.
Why did the Louisianan struggle to connect? It's rarely just one thing that dooms a candidate, though in Jindal's case, it probably didn't help that he's been an awful and woefully unpopular governor.
But I suspect that wasn't the principal problem for the governor. Consider the bigger picture as it relates to experienced candidates trying to appeal to the rabid GOP base.
President Obama has heard the Republican reactions to Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, and it seems safe to say he's unimpressed.
“When candidates say we shouldn’t admit 3-year old-orphans, that’s political posturing,” Obama said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Manila -- making a veiled reference to GOP candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “When people say we should have a religious test, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted, that’s offensive, and contrary to American values.”
He added, taking another jab: “These are the same folks often times that say they’re so tough that just talking to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or staring down ISIL (ISIS) or using some additional rhetoric will solve the problem -- but apparently they’re scared of widows and 3-year-old orphans.”
Obama added, "At first they were worried about the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they're worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn't sound very tough to me."
And while these comments were no doubt emotionally satisfying for those who've grown tired of watching Republicans try to exploit fear and ignorance to advance their own demagogic agenda, the president's comments were also constructive on a specific front.
"We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don't make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks," Obama said. "I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. They’ve been playing on fear to score political points or to advance their campaigns and it’s irresponsible. It needs to stop because the world is watching."
This wasn't just empty rhetoric. The point about ISIS "recruitment tools" is of particular importance because it offers American political leaders a timely reminder: if you're making things easier for ISIS, you're doing it wrong.
A presidential candidate's personal advisers can occasionally offer insights no one else has. They see White House hopefuls in unguarded and unscripted moments, giving the advisers a unique perspective.
It was of interest in 2012, for example, when Mitt Romney's advisers conceded the campaign had invested so little energy in focusing on national security that even they were "uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.”
But the New York Timesreported late yesterday on an even more striking example. Ben Carson's advisers conceded that "intense tutoring" for the retired right-wing neurosurgeon has so far had "little effect" on the candidate's preparedness on matters of foreign affairs.
“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security, said in an interview. He also said Mr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”
The article highlighted Carson's recent appearance on "Fox News Sunday," where he was asked to identify a country he would reach out to join an anti-ISIS coalition. The Republican candidate, despite multiple opportunities, couldn't name one.
“He’s been briefed on it so many times,” Carson aide Armstrong Williams told the Times. “I guess he just froze.”
Nothing says "presidential preparedness" like "I guess he just froze."
President Barack Obama, speaking at a regional trade summit in the Philippines, criticizes Republican politicians for being afraid of "widows and orphans" and being irresponsibly out of step with America's tradition of compassion for refugees. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, profiles the group "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently," which consists of citizen-journalists documenting atrocities by ISIS and exposes ISIS propaganda lies, sometimes at the expense of their own lives as ISIS has crossed into Turkey to hunt down members and silence them. watch
Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy executive director for advocacy at Human Rights Watch, talks with Richard Engel about the desperate refugee crisis in Europe, the need for American assistance, and the unfounded concerns of the American right. watch
Congressman Seth Moulton, a Marine veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, talks with Richard Engel about the need for long term political planning for Syria to work in conjunction with military efforts to eradicate ISIS. watch
Colonel Jack Jacobs, retired U.S. Army Colonel and medal of honor recipient, talks with Richard Engel about the effectiveness of airstrikes on ISIS in Syria and the realistic scope of a military effort to effectively eliminate ISIS. watch
* Paris: "French authorities are scrambling to find a second fugitive directly involved in the terror attacks in Paris, officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday, in addition to another known accomplice who remains the subject of a global manhunt."
* Germany: "A soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands Tuesday night was abruptly called off before the game could begin because of a 'potential threat to spectators,' police said. Authorities, however, cautioned that no explosives were found and no arrests were made in the latest potential plot putting Europe on edge following Friday's wave of attacks in Paris."
* Now that Russia agrees a Russian charter jet was brought down over Egypt by a bomb, Russian officials said "they were coordinating their military campaign with France in sharply ratcheting up attacks on Syrian territory, especially areas held by the Islamic State, the militant group that has asserted responsibility for destroying the Russian jetliner and for the spree of deadly attacks across Paris on Friday."
* ISIS: "The top U.S. military officer said Tuesday the U.S. had asked allies to take specific steps to increase the pressure against Islamic State in the wake of the Paris terror attacks."
* The latest in a series of identical findings: "After a four month long investigation, the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Washington State has been cleared of any allegations of wrongdoing or illegal activity... Washington now joins the list of many other states where investigations have fallen flat. However, these findings in Washington are particularly meaningful for one major reason: Washington is one of the only two states where the organization currently offers abortion patients the option to donate fetal tissue for medical and scientific research." [Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood, but played no role in this piece and her work has nothing to do with the affiliate in the state of Washington.]
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has had quite a year, but as we were reminded yesterday, the year's not over yet. The conservative jurist reflected on gay-rights decisions while speaking to first-year law students at Georgetown. The New York Timesreported:
“What minorities deserve protection?” he asked. “What? It’s up to me to identify deserving minorities?”
He said those decisions should generally be made by the democratic process rather than by judges. He also allowed that the First Amendment protects political and religious minorities but suggested that there was no principled way for courts to make further distinctions based on the text of the Constitution. “What about pederasts?” he asked. “What about child abusers?”
“This is a deserving minority,” he said sarcastically. “Nobody loves them.”
Just to be clear, Scalia wasn't advocating protections for pedophiles and child abusers.
The high-court justice was, however, drawing a parallel between pedophiles, child abusers, and gay people.
Just in my own personal life, talking to people who have nothing to do with my work, I know folks who've told me in recent days that they're not entirely comfortable with Syrian refugees on American soil. Each of these people tend to look at the world through a center-left lens.
I thought of them reading Kevin Drum's piece this morning, urging liberals to consider the refugee debate from a mainstream perspective -- Republicans are desperate to exploit public fears for political gain, largely because they realize those fears exist.
"Here's the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country," Kevin wrote. "We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees."
I get it. If the United States welcomes 10,000 refugees, and even just 10 of them -- that's 0.1% -- are secret ISIS militants, 10 terrorists can do a lot of harm to a lot of people. The safe move, much of the country assumes, is to not take any chances.
With this in mind, those of us who believe welcoming refugees is the smart and responsible course should approach the debate with the understanding that, for much of the country, the public's perspective is driven primarily by fear.
Knowing how best to overcome fear is tricky, though some facts might help. The typical American may not understand, for example, that the vetting process for refugees is actually strict and lengthy. The average person may not know that one of ISIS's goals is turning the West against refugees, so when we give into fear, we actually help the people we're trying to hurt.
The typical U.S. voter may not know that half of the Syrian refugees brought to American soil have been children. The average person may not realize that the refugees are actually ISIS's victims and it's in our interests to show the world our compassion towards those whose lives have been uprooted by terrorists.
And the typical person probably hasn't seen this piece in The Economist, a center-right magazine, which was published a month ago.
Refugees apply for resettlement at American embassies or through the United Nations. If they pass that first hurdle, they are screened by outposts of the Department of State all over the world. They undergo investigations of their biography and identity; FBI biometric checks of their fingerprints and photographs; in-person interviews by Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings as well as investigations by the National Counter-terrorism Centre and by American and international intelligence agencies. The process may take as long as three years, sometimes longer. No other person entering America is subjected to such a level of scrutiny.
Refugee resettlement is the least likely route for potential terrorists, says Kathleen Newland at the Migration Policy Institute, a think-tank. Of the 745,000 refugees resettled since September 11th, only two Iraqis in Kentucky have been arrested on terrorist charges, for aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq.
That's two men out of 745,000 refugees in the post-9/11 era -- or roughly 0.0003%.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* With only four days remaining in Louisiana's gubernatorial race, the latest statewide poll shows John Bel Edwards (D) holding onto a double-digit lead over Sen. David Vitter (R), 51% to 35%.
* On a related note, Vitter hopes to rescue his struggling campaign by exploiting voters' fears of Syrian refugees, driven from their homes by ISIS.
* Marco Rubio is going after Ted Cruz on a timely issue: Cruz voted to limit the scope of the security state, which Rubio now considers a problem. The fact that the Florida senator is going after Cruz at all suggests Team Rubio is starting to worry about the threat Cruz poses.
* On the campaign trail last week, Rand Paul told a college audience, "[Y]ou don't have a right to a chair, you don’t have a right to shoes, you don’t have a right to pants, you don’t have a right to health care, you don’t have a right to water -- you have a right to be free.” Good to know.
* Facing increasingly long odds, Martin O'Malley's cash-strapped presidential campaign is "reallocating resources to reduce the size of its headquarters staff and focus on the early presidential nominating states, especially Iowa, according to sources."
* Bernie Sanders has unveiled his family-leave plan, which would extend three months of paid leave to new parents. The policy would be paid for through a small payroll tax increase.