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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.24.15

08/24/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* There's still nothing concrete to report, but there's increasing chatter about Vice President Biden's interest in the presidential race. Among other things, he had a private meeting with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over the weekend, for reasons unknown.
 
* Ben Carson was asked yesterday whether he'd consider running as Donald Trump's V.P. nominee. He didn't rule it out, telling CNN, "All things are possible, but it is much too early to begin such conversations."
 
* Chris Christie's new campaign ad suggests President Obama bears responsibility for heroin abuses. The confused governor may not understand this, but in reality, the "heroin epidemic actually began nearly two decades before Obama took office."
 
* On a related note, Christie campaigned at the Iowa State Fair the other day, but his soap-box appearance was interrupted by protesters angered over the governor veto "of a controversial pig crate bill."
 
* A University of Texas survey of GOP voters in the Lone Star State shows Donald Trump in the statewide lead with 24% support. He's followed by Texas' Ted Cruz, who's second with 16%. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is tied for seventh place with just 4%.
 
* With Sen. David Vitter (R) still the frontrunner in Louisiana's 2015 gubernatorial race, the race to replace him is taking shape. Rep. John Fleming (R) has long made clear he's running, and now Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy (D) is gearing up to run as well.
Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker greets guests at The Family Leadership Summit at Stephens Auditorium on July 18, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Walker on Black Lives Matter: 'Who knows who that is?'

08/24/15 11:28AM

A few presidential candidates have met with activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton's discussion last week. Any chance Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) might be willing to do the same?
 
As the Capital Times in Madison reported the other day, the GOP presidential candidate seems reluctant, and to bolster his case, Walker compared Black Lives Matter's decentralized structure to the Tea Party.
"I'm going to meet with voters ... Who knows who that is?" Walker said in response to a Daily Mail reporter in New Hampshire who asked whether he would meet with the representatives of the group. "I'm going to talk to American voters, period. It's the same way as saying, you're going to meet with the tea party. Who is the tea party? There's hundreds of thousands of people out there."
 
Asked again whether he would sit down with representatives of the movement if they requested a meeting, Walker said, "That's a ridiculous question. I'm going to talk to voters. That's just a ridiculous question."
To clarify, when Walker said, "Who knows who that is?" he wasn't saying he's unaware of the movement. Rather, the governor is arguing, accurately, that Black Lives Matter has no hierarchical structure. There's no official, or even semi-official, "leader" of the movement, so it's not as if a campaign can simply pick up the phone and arrange a meeting with Black Lives Matter's top representatives.
 
I don't even have a problem with the analogy, per se. The Tea Party "movement," if one wants to call it that, is also loosely organized. Like Occupy and BLM, it has prominent activists associated with a cause, but there's no formality to the leadership structure. There's no executive director or chairperson of the board.
 
But there's a flaw in Walker's defense. The Republican candidate thinks it's "ridiculous" to even ask if he's prepared to sit down with Black Lives Matter activists, because it's decentralized like the Tea Party.
 
If Walker genuinely believed that, however, why has the governor made such an effort to cozy up to the Tea Party?
William Kristol

Kristol floats Justice Alito for 2016 GOP nomination

08/24/15 10:47AM

Before the presidential campaign began in earnest, one of the more common phrases associated with the Republican field was "deep bench." The sports metaphor, repeated ad nauseum, was intended to convey a specific point about GOP politics: the far-right party is stacked with presidential-level talent, cultivated over several years.
 
According to the narrative, the result is the largest and most impressive presidential field in at least a generation, featuring 10 governors and four high-profile U.S. senators.
 
Oddly enough, no one seems to be talking about the party's "deep bench" anymore. At least for now, the dominant Republican candidate is a former reality-show host, who enjoys big leads in the polls. He's followed by an uninspiring and painfully rusty former governor, who happens to be the brother and son of unsuccessful presidents, and a retired neurosurgeon who has a bad habit of comparing the United States to Nazi Germany.
 
It's led to an unexpected dynamic: despite 17 Republicans vying for the Republican nomination, some in the party have begun to ask whether there might be better choices out there. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol published this new column over the weekend:
Shouldn't Republicans be open to doing what Democrats are now considering? That is: Welcoming into the race, even drafting into the race if need be, one or two new and potentially superior candidates? After all, if a new candidate or new candidates didn't take off, the party would be no worse off, and someone from the current field would prevail. If the October surprise candidate caught fire, it would be all the better for the GOP--whether he ultimately prevailed or forced one of the existing candidates to up his game.
 
Who could such a mysterious dark horse be?
Don't worry, Kristol, one of the Beltway's highest-profile media Republicans, has some suggestions.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., prepares to address the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference which featured speeches by conservative politicians at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, June 18, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Kentucky GOP gives Rand Paul a break

08/24/15 10:07AM

If you missed Friday's show, you may not know that Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign very nearly faced an insurmountable obstacle over the weekend -- one which might have brought his national ambitions to a sudden halt.
 
Fortunately for the Republican senator, his state party did him a favor. Unfortunately for the candidate, his troubles are just beginning.
 
A little background is in order. State law in Kentucky, like many other states, prevents candidates from seeking more than one office at the same time in the same cycle. For Paul, that's a problem -- he's running in 2016 for the White House and for re-election to the Senate. The Republican lawmaker asked the state legislature to change the law, so he could pursue both without giving up either, but lawmakers politely refused.
 
All of which led to an important state GOP meeting over the weekend. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported on the results:
It wasn't unanimous, but Kentucky Republicans voted Saturday to hold a presidential preference caucus next year, helping U.S. Sen. Rand Paul get around a state law prohibiting a candidate from appearing on the same ballot twice.
 
But the approval of a caucus is conditional on whether Paul has transferred $250,000 to an account controlled by the Republican Party of Kentucky before Sept. 18. If the money is not there, the party will automatically revert to a primary.
We've all heard about attempts to buy an election. This offers a literal example of the phenomenon. The Republican Party of Kentucky didn't want to foot the bill for a March 2016 caucus, just to satisfy the long-shot ambitions of Rand Paul, so the senator is prepared to write a check to the state GOP to help cover the costs.
 
He added Saturday that Team Paul will transfer the money "when it's ready."
 
In terms of the mechanics, assuming the senator follows through on his financial commitment, Rand Paul has apparently found a way to circumvent state law and run for both offices. Kentucky will still hold a presidential primary, but Paul won't compete in it. Instead, he'll run in a special caucus -- designed and paid for by Rand Paul -- that he's very likely win.
 
He'll probably lose the race for the GOP presidential nomination soon after, at which point the senator will shift his focus back to his re-election bid.
 
So, problem solved?
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hugs a U.S. flag as he takes the stage for a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., Aug. 19, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

On immigration, 'management' is not an answer

08/24/15 09:20AM

When presidential candidates are asked to explain their positions on key issues with details, but they have no idea what to say, they tend to rely on some go-to nouns. Ask Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) about his foreign policy, for example, and he'll talk a great deal about "strength."
 
What does that mean in practical terms? It means he'll be "strong." Which will translate into what kind of policy, exactly? One based on "strengthiness," obviously.
 
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has a similar habit, but for him the word is "leadership." Every problem, no matter how daunting, can be addressed with a president who is a leading leader who's ready to lead through leadership. How inspiring.
 
But to fully appreciate this dynamic in action, consider what happened on ABC yesterday morning, when George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump how he intends to round up and pay for the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants -- a number the Republican candidate said might be as high as 30 million.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So if there's no idea, how are you going to round them all up? Where are you going to get the money, where are you going to get the forces? Exactly how are you going to do it? What are the specifics here?
 
TRUMP: George, it's called management. And the first thing we have to do is secure the border. But it's called management.
The host pressed further, prompting the GOP candidate to again say, "It's management." The more Stephanopoulos pressed for any kind of policy detail, the more Trump responded, "George, I'm telling you, it's called management."
 
Dismissing his 2016 rivals, the Republican added, "They don't know management."
 
In all, during a fairly brief telephone interview, Trump used the word "management" six times, and in each instance, it was in response to a question  about the lack of substantive details in the candidate's mass-deportation plan.
 
It was like watching a kid trying to convince a teacher he did his homework, despite the fact that he clearly did not.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum, Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

'Mr. Unintimidated' struggles to keep his story straight

08/24/15 08:40AM

Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker appeared at the Iowa State Fair last week, where he was confronted by protesters. One, in particular, drew the Wisconsin governor's attention. "I am not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else out there," Walker declared.
 
It's an important part of the candidate's pitch: plenty of Americans may not be comfortable with his far-right vision, but the governor will not back down in the face of pressure. To drive the point home, Walker titled his recent book, "Unintimidated."
 
There's nothing wrong with the message. There may, however, be something wrong with the messenger.
 
Walker's record on immigration can charitably be described as "erratic." He's overhauled his entire approach to the issue more than once, contradicting himself along the way, and the governor's position tends to change based on the audience he's speaking to at the time. Last week, the GOP candidate's troubles became more acute when the debate shifted to birthright citizenship.
 
For example, on Monday, the Wisconsin governor told MSNBC's Kasie Hunt that he opposes the constitutional principle. To my ear, it was unambiguous -- Hunt asked," Do you think that birthright citizenship should be ended?" He replied, "Well, like I said, Harry Reid said it's not right for this country, I think that's something we should, yeah, absolutely going forward." Clarifying further, Hunt asked again, "We should end birthright citizenship?" "Yeah, to me it's about enforcing the laws in this country," he answered.
 
On Friday, Mr. Unintimidated retreated, telling John Harwood that he refuses to take a position on the issue altogether.
 
All of which led to Sunday, when Walker took this third position in six days during an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. It took several attempts, but eventually viewers heard the candidate's answer:
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're not seeking to repeal or alter the Fourteenth Amendment.
 
WALKER: No. My point is any discussion that goes beyond securing the border and enforcing the laws are things that should be a red flag to voters out there....
So, he went from "absolutely" wanting to change birthright citizenship, to refusing to talk about it, to saying he doesn't want to change the policy after all.
Jeb Bush promotional poster. (Screen grab courtesy of NBC)

Jeb Bush's left hand causes quite a stir

08/24/15 08:00AM

When Jeb Bush's super PAC sent out a direct-mail piece to thousands of Iowa Republicans, it was largely ignored at the national level. But In recent days, a question emerged: what's with his left hand?
The Jeb Bush super PAC Right to Rise sent a mailer to more than 85,000 Iowa voters, but something is a bit off in the photo of the group’s favorite 2016 presidential nominee. [...]
 
Liberal news blog ThinkProgress accused the group of superimposing the GOP nominee’s head onto the body of a black man, while TIME pointed out the background in the picture is actually a stock photo of Cedar Rapids.
It wasn't long before the Republican candidate's rivals started to notice. “Jeb Bush has a Photoshopped photo for an ad which gives him a black left hand and much different looking body," Donald Trump mocked. "Jeb just can’t get it right!”
 
The trouble may be easy to miss, at least at first, but the image from the front of the mailer appears above. Pay particular attention to the former governor's left hand, towards the bottom middle.
 
While something appears off, the allegations don't seem quite right, either. If Team Jeb intended to superimpose the candidate's head onto someone else's body, why change the skin tone of one hand and not the other?
John Oliver (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

This Week in God, 8.22.15

08/22/15 08:53AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the ongoing success of American televangelists, and HBO's John Oliver shining a light on the system that allows TV preachers to create incredibly lucrative enterprises.
 
In a segment on Oliver's "Last Week Tonight," the host reminded his audience that televangelists may not have the notoriety they had a generation ago, but they're still receiving millions from followers. Much of the TV preachers' fundraising operations still rely on a system known as the "prosperity gospel," which as Oliver explained, "argues that wealth is a sign of God's favor, and donations will result in wealth coming back to you."
 
As a result, donors, some of whom are sick and economically vulnerable, are encouraged to part with scarce resources, giving their money to televangelists in the form of "seeds," which people are told they'll be able to "harvest" for greater wealth in the future.
 
And as offensive as that may be to many, what stood out as especially important from a political and policymaking perspective is the existing tax system that makes it easy for televangelists to create such vast, wealthy empires. From Vox's report on the "Last Week Tonight" segment:
"And yet, not only is everything you've seen so far legal, but the money people donate in response to it is tax-free," Oliver said. "If you're registered as a religious nonprofit or especially a church, you are given broad exemptions over taxation and regulation."
 
Not only does the IRS not strictly define churches, but the agency makes no attempt to evaluate the content of any church's doctrine to see if it's religious -- as long as the beliefs are genuine and not illegal -- before giving it tax-exempt status. And that benefit can go to everything these churches own, even their owners' huge mansions.
 
The IRS also rarely holds these churches accountable, according to a 2015 Government Accountability Office report. In fiscal year 2014, they audited one church. In fiscal year 2013, they audited two.
This led Oliver to -- I'm not kidding -- set up his own ministry. "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption" has a website that is every bit as funny as you might expect.
 
The IRS has a 14-point guideline to help determine if an institution is an actual church under the law -- there is no literal definition, which is part of the underlying concern -- but it's "disturbingly easy," as Oliver put it, for institutions to get approval through the guidelines, since churches don't have to pass all 14 points. A tax lawyer advised Oliver that "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption" could meet a worship standard, for example, by having his audience "silently meditate on the nature of fraudulent churches."
 
Oliver's faux ministry, by the way, also registered as a non-profit corporation in Texas -- a state Oliver does not live in, and has never lived in, though for legal purposes, that does not matter.
 
The point, of course, is that any system that is so susceptible to fraud and abuse -- in which there are no consequences -- is in need of reforms. It was a hilarious segment, but there's no reason policymakers should just laugh and move on. Responsible tax laws and proper enforcement can prevent abuses and protect vulnerable Americans from exploitation.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
2nd Lt. Michael V. Janowski, 1st Lt. Shaye L. Haver

Yet another incredible story out of Ranger School

08/21/15 05:38PM

On last night's show, we played a portion of the press conference held by the newest class of the elite Army Rangers, the first class ever to include female graduates. One part was especially striking: 2nd Lt. Michael Janowski recounted a grueling training march through the Georgia mountains. As the 320 gunner in his unit, he was carrying a particularly heavy load. The only Ranger who stepped up to help, to help carry that weight was his female "Ranger buddy," 1st Lt. Shaye Haver. Janowski went on to say, "She literally saved me. I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now if it weren't for Shaye."

Ranger Janowski also mentioned something else: that he had "med-ed" out of Ranger School twice before. That's because Janowski was battling cancer. The second time, it was flown-blown stage IV testicular cancer. His brother has written an incredible blog post about Janowski's journey -- and the pretty awe-inspiring resolve it took to earn his Ranger tab today. It's really worth reading in full. 

Janowski was just one of the 96 candidates who earned the Ranger insignia today during a graduation ceremony in Fort Benning, Georgia.

And let me tell you... even Ranger graduation is cool. Some highlights below (spoiler alert: it includes a commando crawl… across a tightwire!):

read more

Friday's Mini-Report, 8.21.15

08/21/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* ISIS: "The Obama administration says the No. 2 leader of the Islamic State militant group is dead, killed in a U.S. military air strike in Iraq earlier this week. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price says Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali was traveling in a vehicle near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when he was killed Tuesday."
 
* France: "A gunman opened fire on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday afternoon, wounding at least three people before he was apprehended, police officials told NBC News." According to some initial accounts, the gunman was taken down by two Americans on the train.
 
* Correction: "U.S. stocks closed deep in the red on Friday as global growth concerns accelerated selling pressure to push the Dow and Nasdaq into correction territory. The major averages had their biggest trade volume day of the year and posted their worst week in four years."
 
* Washington wildfires: "Under smoke-filled skies the sickly yellow color of a fading bruise, Gov. Jay Inslee called the current conditions 'an unprecedented cataclysm in our state. There are 390,000 acres burning. Last year was bad with 250,000 acres.'"
 
* An important endorsement: "President Barack Obama's controversial nuclear deal with Iran received an important boost on Friday from Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who announced he would support the agreement. The endorsement makes Nadler the only Jewish New Yorker in Congress to approve of the deal, which is being seen as a win for Obama."
 
* Korean Peninsula: "After years of calm -- or relative calm, at least -- on the heavily militarized border between North and South Korea, both sides were back on alert Friday. The unlikely cause: Loudspeakers."

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