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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.19.15

05/19/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* The investigation in Waco continues: "Among the many unanswered questions surrounding the deadly shootout between cops and Texas biker gangs is who fired the fatal shots."
 
* Afghanistan: "A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car outside a key government building in central Kabul on Tuesday afternoon, killing at least five people, wounding scores of others and spreading even more fear in the already rattled Afghan capital."
 
* $15: "The Los Angeles City Council tentatively agreed Tuesday to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour, joining a trend sweeping cities across the country as elected leaders seek to address stagnating pay for workers on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder."
 
* Nigeria: "Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria."
 
* Bees matter: "President Obama is intervening on the bee's behalf as its habitat dwindles. On Tuesday, the Obama administration will announce the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a bureaucratic title for a plan to save the bee, other small winged animals and their breeding grounds."
 
* Espionage: "The Obama administration on Tuesday announced the arrest of a Chinese professor and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens in what it contended was a decade-long scheme to steal microelectronics designs from Silicon Valley companies."
 
* Stunning allegations: "Let the donor beware: A federal lawsuit alleges four cancer charities have scammed consumers out of more than $187 million."
Herman Cain addresses the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 9, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Herman Cain list warns of Obama-created apocalypse

05/19/15 04:54PM

Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain, arguably more than any three presidential candidates in recent memory, quickly learned how to turn their failed campaigns into lucrative business opportunities.
 
Each of the three created large mailing lists, filled with supportive Republicans. Each of them monetized those lists successfully. And each have used their list to partner with some highly dubious enterprises.
 
Time reports today, for example, on Herman Cain's list sending out a new message about President Obama secretly leading the United States toward the apocalypse.
The email was a sponsored message from Nathan Shepard, who identifies himself on his website as a "Bible scholar" who "decided that he must become a survival expert, train and prepare for the worst disaster in human history."
 
Shepard says that the United States is actually Babylon in the Book of Revelation, and "the end times" the prophets foretold will come for America in January 2017. He says America will be destroyed by Vladimir Putin's Russia in World War III.
Good to know.
 
Cain's sponsor, in this case, wants to sell you a $60 survival pack, which you'll evidently need once the Obama-inspired apocalypse ends the world. As the Time report added, those on Herman Cain's mailing list have also received messages from someone selling a "brain protection kit" of supplements designed to prevent Alzheimer's triggers.
 
Gingrich's list has been used in similar ways, as has Huckebee's. Of course, of the three, only Huckabee is actually a presidential candidate this year, making his sketchy online operation that much uglier.
Barack Obama, John Boehner

Boehner still can't get his act together on ISIS

05/19/15 04:16PM

It's been nine months since President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East. It's been five months since the president publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission. It's been four months since Obama used his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act. It's been three months since the White House, at Congress' insistence, provided draft legislative language to lawmakers.
 
But as The Hill reported this afternoon, House Republicans -- who support the administration's military offensive -- still aren't prepared to do any actual work.
President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.
 
"The president's request for Authorization of Use of Military Force calls for less authority than he has today. Given the fight that we're in, it's irresponsible," Boehner told reporters after huddling with his rank-and-file members. Boehner said the president should withdraw the AUMF and "start over."
It's important to understand the nuances of Boehner's whining on this issue. For quite a while, the Speaker said the legislative branch wouldn't even try to authorize the war unless the executive branch did lawmakers' work for them -- Congress simply would not write its own bill, Boehner said, so it was up to the president to do the legislative work for the legislators.
 
Obama eventually agreed to write a bill for those whose job it is to write bills, only to discover that Congress doesn't like his bill. The sensible, mature next move seems fairly obvious: if lawmakers don't like the resolution the White House wrote, Congress can try writing its own version, agreed upon by lawmakers, and then voted on by lawmakers.
 
As of this morning, however, Boehner says he doesn't want to. He wants the president to imagine what might make Republicans happy, then write another draft, at which point GOP leaders will let the West Wing know whether or not Congress is satisfied. If Boehner disapproves, presumably it'd be up to Obama to come up with a third.
 
This is quickly becoming a national embarrassment.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

GOP senator might trust Ayatollah over Obama

05/19/15 02:31PM

About a month ago, Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei publicly disagreed with the U.S. interpretation of the recently negotiated nuclear framework. The White House didn't much care, seeing it as meaningless posturing for a domestic audience, but Republicans took a very different tack.
 
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, questioned the Obama administration's reliability, even when compared to the Ayatollah's. Asked specifically if he considered the Iran supreme leader's version of the truth more believable than Secretary of State John Kerry's, McCain added, "I don't know.... I don't know who's more believable."
 
BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski reports today on another Republican senator pushing a similar line.
Sen. Ron Johnson, the Homeland Security Committee chairman, says when it comes to a nuclear deal with Iran, he's "not so sure" he trusts President Obama over the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
 
"Now, a President who was awarded the 2013 Politifact Lie of the Year, if you like your healthcare plan you can keep it, period. If you like your doctor you can keep it, period. They lied boldfaced to the American public repeatedly with Obamacare," the Wisconsin senator said at a recent town hall in Cerdarburg, Wisconsin.
 
"I don't know, I hate to admit it, but in terms of this framework, do I trust President Obama, or do I trust the Ayatollah? In terms of what the framework actually says? I'm not so sure I'm trusting President Obama on this."
Even for congressional Republicans, this is reaching new levels of inanity.
In this Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, Mo. (Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP)

Two great conspiracy theories in one

05/19/15 12:34PM

We've grown accustomed to dealing with the occasional conspiracy theory from the far-right -- nearly all of which deal with President Obama in some way -- but this month offers not one, but two gems.
 
The first, of course, is the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theory, in which the right continues to fear a military invasion of Texas and the imposition of martial law, though this is really only a routine training exercise. The second popped up yesterday, when the White House announced plans to curtail the militarization of local law enforcement, which conservative media is condemning as Obama's plan to "disarm" the police.
 
But it takes talent to combine two great conspiracy theories in one. TPM reports today:
Michele Hickford, the editor-in-chief of former Rep. Allen West's (R-FL) website, noted the timing of the President's order and the military exercise, which some people believe is a cover for the implementation of martial law, in a blog post published Monday.
 
"With the upcoming 'Jade Helm' military exercises planned throughout the southwest this July in civilian areas, some folks are concerned the federal government has grander plans than simply a practice session," Hickford wrote. "'Federalizing the police' seems to come up in conversation – particularly since the Obama administration has been so uncomfortable with local law enforcement actually doing its job (quelling violent riots, looting and mayhem) in recent months."
The piece added that the administration hasn't cited any "specific incidences [sic]" in which law enforcement using military weapons against civilians has been a problem.
 
I'm almost impressed with the creativity required to come up with an argument like this.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.19.15

05/19/15 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's Primary Day in Kentucky, where the Republicans' gubernatorial primary is likely to be a very close three-way contest. The leading candidates are state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner, and failed U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin.
 
* An advocacy group called the American Future Project is airing a campaign ad in Iowa this week in support of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), stressing his support for right-to-discriminate laws. It is, however, a fairly modest TV ad buy, said to be "five figures."
 
* Campaigning in a state proud of its "Live Free or Die" motto, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told a New Hampshire audience yesterday that Republicans should ignore "civil liberties extremists" and embrace domestic surveillance tactics. "[Y]ou can't enjoy your civil liberties if you're in a coffin," Christie said.
 
* Christie also flip-flopped yesterday on whether the government should create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Despite having endorsed the idea in 2010, the Republican governor told Fox News yesterday he now sees it as "an extreme way to go."
 
* Jeb Bush refused to say yesterday whether he would commit U.S. troops to military action in Iraq, saying he "can't answer" that because he's technically not a presidential candidate yet.
 
* At an event in Iowa yesterday, Hillary Clinton addressed the possibility of Supreme Court vacancies, saying, "I will do everything I can to appoint Supreme Court justices who protect the right to vote and do not protect the right of billionaires to buy elections."
Citizens tour the Arizona Capitol grounds in Phoenix in this Dec. 14, 2004 file photo.

Balancing budgets on the backs of the poor

05/19/15 11:20AM

Like many states, Arizona has a budget shortfall it's struggling to close. And like many states, Arizona has a Republican-run government, filled with conservative policymakers that do not believe in raising taxes on anyone, at any time, by any amount, for any reason.
 
As the Associated Press reported yesterday, that generally means targeting the most vulnerable.
Facing a $1 billion budget deficit, Arizona's Republican-led Legislature has reduced the lifetime limit for welfare recipients to the shortest window in the nation.
 
Low-income families on welfare will now have their benefits cut off after just 12 months. As a result, the Arizona Department of Economic Security will drop at least 1,600 families -- including more than 2,700 children -- from the state's federally funded welfare program on July 1, 2016.
To be sure, other states have caps on the number of years a working-age American can rely on public assistance, but Arizona is the first to shrink that eligibility to a lifetime limit of just one year.
 
The AP piece quoted  welfare policy analyst Liz Schott, who noted that cutting off assistance to the most vulnerable may offer short-term budget relief for policymakers, but these same struggling people will "likely show up in other ways that will cost taxpayers, from emergency rooms to shelters to the criminal justice system."
 
Of course, it's not just Arizona. In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage (R) "wants to kick poor people off food stamps and welfare if they have drug-related felony convictions and also to expand a recently enacted drug testing program." In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has prohibited "welfare recipients from spending their benefits at certain types of businesses, including liquor stores, fortune tellers, swimming pools and cruise ships."
 
The pattern isn't subtle: states looking for budget solutions find it easy to go after the poor.
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 3, 2015 the New Hampshire Statehouse is seen in Concord, N.H.

House GOP congressman faces resignation pressure

05/19/15 10:40AM

It's safe to say Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) did not have a good day yesterday. Rocked by a campaign-finance scandal, the Republican congressman faced calls for his resignation from U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, state Senate President Chuck Morse, state House Speaker Shawn Jasper, and Executive Councilor Chris Sununu. All four of these officials are Republicans.
 
New Hampshire's WMUR reported overnight, however, that Guinta's state party, as a whole, is not yet ready to call for his ouster.
The state Republican Party's Executive Committee on Monday night declined to call for U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta's resignation over his well-publicized campaign finance issues, saying that he is ultimately accountable to his constituents.
 
Guinta telephoned into the meeting of the party's top officials while his chief of staff, Jay Ruais, was in the room for the closed door session.... The specific question of calling on Guinta to resign was not presented for a vote, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
The party committee, by majority vote, endorsed a statement that concluded Guinta is "accountable to his constituents ... and has assured us he will continue to be available to answer their questions."
 
Answering any questions would be a step forward for the GOP congressman. Roll Call reported last night that it pressed Guinta yesterday for a defense, but he had very little to say:
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence pauses while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Md.

Indiana's Pence to seek re-election, skipping White House race

05/19/15 10:00AM

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) clearly thought about running for president this year. Indeed, it was just last month that the far-right Hoosier traveled to Las Vegas in the hopes of impressing GOP mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. There was ample chatter about Pence's national ambitions, and the Republican governor did nothing to downplay the scuttlebutt.
 
All the while, however, Pence seemed all too aware that he'd have to make a choice soon: the Indiana Republican would have to choose between a White House campaign and a gubernatorial re-election bid. As of last night, the governor appears to have settled on the latter. The Indianapolis Star reported:
Any speculation that Gov. Mike Pence would pass on a re-election bid following a highly contentious start to 2015 was extinguished Monday.
 
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Cardwell issued a statement on the party's website saying the 55-year-old governor would formally announce that he'd be seeking re-election in 2016 during the INDGOP's Spring Dinner in June.
Local scuttlebutt suggests Pence has his eyes on the 2020 presidential race, which would likely only be an option if his party loses next year. (As the Star recently put it, "Even Pence's mother has suggested he should wait until 2020 to seek the White House.")
 
Make no mistake, however, about the circumstances surrounding the governor's ambitions: for much of the spring, Pence seemed likely to run for president, right up until the fiasco surrounding his "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" touched off a national debate over right-to-discriminate proposals. Had the debacle not occurred, today's news might well have been quite different.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 29, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Bernie Sanders makes the pitch for free college tuition

05/19/15 09:20AM

Even Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) most ardent supporters would probably concede, albeit grudgingly, that he faces very long odds in the 2016 presidential race. So why run? Because there's value in having a national platform for bold, progressive ideas that might otherwise be ignored.
 
Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday, for example, on Sanders' new plan to make public college tuition-free in the United States.
The plan will provide tuition-free higher education to students at four-year colleges, the statement said, and is modeled after the way many European nations handle the costs of college.
 
"Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people," Sanders said in the statement. "They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same."
That point about overseas examples is no small detail. The more the United States invests in an educated workforce, the greater our competitiveness on the international stage. There's no better way to guarantee America's role as a 21st-century superpower than lowering the barriers to higher education.
 
And if major economies like Germany can make tuition at public colleges free, there's no reason the United States can't, too. So what's the next step?
Potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, N.H. April 18, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The one thing holding Jindal back

05/19/15 08:40AM

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has made no secret of his presidential ambitions, and as msnbc's Kasie Hunt reported yesterday, the two-term Republican took a formal step towards a national campaign by forming an exploratory committee.
Speaking about the committee launch, Gov. Jindal said: "For some time now, my wife Supriya and I have been thinking and praying about whether to run for the Presidency of our great nation. We'll make a final decision in June, after the legislative session in Louisiana ends.
 
"If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction.  Not a course correction, but a dramatically different path."
Of course, when Jindal promises a "dramatically different path," he almost certainly means it. In fact, he told Louisiana voters largely the same thing eight years ago, and they believed him.

They were not, however, pleased with the results. As Jindal himself told a New Hampshire audience last month, "I'm here to tell you, my popularity has certainly dropped at least 15 to 20 points" after he implemented his governing agenda.
 
In other words, the governor promised voters he'd pursue a conservative policy agenda, and once he delivered on that promise, the conservative residents of his red state in the Deep South discovered they hated his policies.
 
Jindal 2016?

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