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4 Things You Should Know About The Senate's Overhaul Of No Child Left Behind

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 21:33
A Senate committee pushed an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act a step closer Thursday, passing a rewritten version called the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.

The vote by the Committee on on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, led by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), gives hope that the Bush-era law, which expired in 2007, will finally be updated. Previous attempts have failed miserably.

Here are four things to know about the committee's Every Child Achieves Act.

1. It Passed Unanimously, With Bipartisan Support

The measure was approved 22-0. Members of both parties praised the vote as a triumph of bipartisanship.

"The committee considered 57 amendments, approved 29, and improved the bipartisan agreement Ranking Member Murray and I reached--but the consensus that the committee found is the same that Senator Murray and I found," Alexander said in a statement. "That consensus is this: Continue the law’s important measurements of academic progress of students but restore to states, school districts, classroom teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement."

“I am very pleased with the bipartisan process in committee, which allowed us to build on and improve the starting point that Chairman Alexander and I agreed to work from," Murray said in a statement. "I am looking forward to working with my colleagues to continue to strengthen and improve this legislation on the Senate floor and as we work toward getting this signed into law."

Other politicians took to Twitter to express their support.

Proud of the #ESEA reforms we unanimously voted for today to help all our kids get the best possible #education: http://t.co/ZFo9WxdJHz

— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) April 16, 2015

Today we put politics aside to get closer to fulfilling the 50yr old promise of #ESEA: Every child has the opportunity to achieve.

— Sen. Tammy Baldwin (@SenatorBaldwin) April 16, 2015

2. It Would Continue No Child Left Behind's Emphasis On Standardized Tests

The No Child Left Behind Act relied on high-stakes testing, with consequences for poor scores. The Every Child Achieves Act continues this emphasis, requiring states to give students standardized math and English exams in grades three through eight, and once in grades nine through 12.

While No Child Left Behind had strict consequences for low-performing schools, Every Child Achieves would give states flexibility to decide how to hold schools' accountable for low scores.

3. The Secretary Of Education Supports It

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that he applauds the committee's leaders and members "on the important steps taken this week."

However, the bill still isn't perfect, according to Duncan. "We join with numerous civil rights and business groups in urging that further significant improvements be made to the bill to create the law that America’s children deserve," he said.

When the bill was introduced last week, a statement from the Obama administration called it "an important step."

4. It Still Has A Long Way To Go

Before it can become law, the Every Child Achieves Act must pass the full Senate and House and be signed by the president. The future of the House version, called the Student Success Act, is uncertain. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the bill in February, but it hasn't come to a vote on the House floor.

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Martin O'Malley Goes After Hillary Clinton For Leading By 'Polls,' Not 'Principles'

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 20:21
WASHINGTON -- Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) went after Hillary Clinton Thursday, accusing her of changing policy positions based on polls rather than her convictions. It's the first time the prospective Democratic presidential candidate has attacked Clinton since she announced her presidential bid Sunday.

"I’m glad Secretary Clinton’s come around to the right positions on these issues," said O'Malley, referring to same-sex marriage and immigration. O'Malley spoke to reporters at Harvard University, where he gave a speech on the economy.

"I believe that we are best as a party when we lead with our principles and not according to the polls," O'Malley added. "And every election is about the future. And leadership is about making the right decision, and the best decision before sometimes it becomes entirely popular."

On Thursday, the Clinton campaign told The Huffington Post that Clinton supports "state policies to provide driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants."

That position tripped up Clinton in the 2008 campaign. Clinton -- then the U.S. senator from New York -- was asked during a debate whether she backed the efforts of her home-state governor to pass a bill authorizing those licenses. She first argued they "made sense," but then said she opposed such legislation. Two weeks later, Clinton reaffirmed that she did not support licenses for undocumented immigrants. But the damage was done, and she was hit for being too calculating in her responses.

Clinton also made news on same-sex marriage this week, another area where she's been criticized for being unclear. On Wednesday, she told the Washington Blade that she would like to see the Supreme Court affirm a constitutional right to marriage equality.

Last year, in an interview with NPR, however, she left many with the impression that she wouldn't support such a ruling and said a state-by-state approach is best.

"So, for me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states," Clinton said. "And in many of the conversations that I and my colleagues and supporters had, I fully endorse the efforts by activists who work state by state, and in fact that is what is working."

As governor, O'Malley championed issues like marriage equality, death penalty repeal and gun control, and he's been touting his progressive credentials ahead of a potential presidential bid.

"I believe marriage is a human right, not a state right," O'Malley said Thursday. "I’m glad she’s come around to that position as well. I believe that we do our country a disservice when we make it harder for new American immigrants to be able to abide by the rules of the road and obtain drivers licenses. And I’m glad she’s come around to that position now too."

O'Malley took a dig at Clinton on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, after her comments about marriage equality, although he didn't mention her by name.

The dignity of every person tells us that the right to marry is not a state right, it is a human right. VIDEO: https://t.co/23tYQBrOpD

— Martin O'Malley (@GovernorOMalley) April 15, 2015

The Clinton campaign declined to comment on O'Malley's remarks.

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Education Department Nears Deal With Student Loan Giant Navient Over Cheating Troops

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 20:00
The U.S. Department of Education is nearing a deal with Navient Corp., the student loan giant formerly known as Sallie Mae, over allegations the company cheated active-duty troops on federal student loans, a department official said Thursday.

The agreement likely would end the Education Department's much-delayed and heavily-criticized probe into whether the nation’s largest student loan specialist -- a major government contractor -- broke the law that caps interest rates and provides other special financial protections for active-duty members of the military.

Thomas Skelly, the department’s acting chief financial officer, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday that the Education Department was “finalizing” an agreement with Navient that would be completed by May 1.

Denise Horn, an Education Department spokeswoman, declined further comment. Patricia Christel, a Navient spokeswoman, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

For a department that has been called a lapdog in holding its contractors accountable -- especially one that’s been called out by President Barack Obama over its customer service -- the settlement risks inflaming Democrats and student advocates who have badgered the Education Department to take a tougher line against corporate wrongdoing.

“I continue to be deeply concerned about the allegations that a student loan servicer knowingly overcharged service members while they were on active duty,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who along with other Senate Democrats has made student debt central in their economic and political agenda. “This is an issue I’m going to continue to be focused on to make sure our men and women in uniform are treated fairly [and] can continue their education without the fear of predatory practices.”

The Education Department’s investigation followed a May deal with the government in which Navient settled federal accusations that it had intentionally overcharged about 60,000 active-duty troops on federal and private student loans over nearly a decade. The company, which neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing, agreed to pay $60 million to troops as part of its settlement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Department of Justice.

Despite the Justice Department’s detailed complaint, which followed a referral by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Education Secretary Arne Duncan later announced a “thorough” review to determine whether the company indeed overcharged troops.

Duncan’s department was unaware of the alleged wrongdoing while it was occurring, federal officials have said. The Education Department was unaware that federal banking regulators planned to publicly accuse the company of violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act until after Navient warned its investors.

The results of the Education Department review were due in September 2014. But after an initial investigation by department employees cleared the company of wrongdoing, the department paid about $95,000 to hire Ernst & Young to further investigate Navient's compliance with the servicemembers law, federal records show.

Last month, the American Legion, the influential veterans organization, accused the Education Department of favoring its loan contractors over service members. “The department seems to be doing everything possible to undermine the Justice Department and the CFPB, and they’re doing a hell of a job,” Steve Gonzalez, an assistant director in the Legion’s veterans employment and education division, said at the time.

To mollify potential critics, Duncan said in May that “every option is on the table” including considering whether his department would terminate Navient’s lucrative contract to collect monthly payments on student loans.

A few weeks later, according to Navient, the department quietly extended the company’s contract for an additional five years.

Meanwhile, Navient’s revenues from its loan-servicing contract continue to soar. In the last half of 2014, its revenues increased nearly 10 percent, to $68 million, compared with the first six months of 2014, according to its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Navient would lose about $130 million in annual revenues if the Education Department terminated the company’s loan-servicing contract. Prominent groups, including the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, have urged Duncan to dump Navient.

The Education Department has enjoyed a cozy relationship with Navient and its predecessor company, Sallie Mae. Some company executives formerly held prominent positions at the department.

In 2009, the department's inspector general recommended it recoup some $22 million in alleged overpayments to Navient. As of last month, some six years after the recommendation, that money had yet to be collected.

Horn, the Education Department spokeswoman, didn't respond to an inquiry about the funds.

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Hillary Clinton Plans To Name Tough Wall Street Regulator Campaign CFO: Report

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 19:56
Hillary Clinton is planning to name Gary Gensler, a former top federal financial regulator and strong advocate for strict Wall Street rules, as the chief financial officer of her campaign, according to a Democrat familiar with the decision.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Kicks Off Budget Season

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 19:20
WASHINGTON -- The Senate Intelligence Committee kicked off budget season this week with a slew of appearances from Washington’s top spies. CIA Director John Brennan, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vincent Stewart all made trips up to the Hill this week to talk budget lines.

Lawmakers leaving the briefings said the Senate panel’s meetings were fairly broad. The intelligence leaders touched on a variety of issues, they said, but dollar signs were the hearings’ main focus.

This week’s itinerary signals the beginning stages of the Senate committee’s preparation of the infamous "black budget" checkbook -- the top-secret budget that funds the nation’s intelligence apparatus.

“We’re holding hearings now,” committee member Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said after a briefing with Rogers on Tuesday. “We’re just in the beginning stage.”

Rebecca Watkins, a spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), confirmed that the panel had begun the budget process.

The three agencies that showed up on the Hill this week -- the CIA, DIA and NSA -- have historically been three of the top five beneficiaries of the highly classified finances. The CIA takes up the largest chunk, followed closely by the NSA.

Though the black budget numbers are fiercely guarded within Washington’s spy circles, NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents in the summer of 2013 that provided the first extended public glimpse into that information. Those documents revealed a $52.6 billion dollar price tag for the 2013 fiscal year.

Rogers’ appearance on the Hill Tuesday came just a few weeks before the expiration of the NSA’s authority to collect in bulk Americans’ communication metadata. Those programs, also revealed by Snowden, allow the NSA to sweep up information on Americans’ phone calls in a massive data dragnet.

The Patriot Act provisions that allow for those programs will expire in June, unless Congress renews them. Despite the impending deadline, lawmakers have been relatively quiet on NSA issues, leaving some off-Hill reform advocates to wonder if reformists in Congress are truly prepared to fight the provisions’ reauthorization.

Representatives from the NSA have reportedly been lobbying lawmakers to keep the program in the agency's wheelhouse, with new NSA reform proposals potentially coming as early as next week.

The intelligence community has signaled a willingness to compromise on reform efforts. For example, Nick Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Intelligence Committee in February that the intelligence community would be willing to let telecommunications companies hold on to the data instead of the government.

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Rick Santorum Wouldn't Attend A Gay Wedding

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 19:08
If you're part of a gay couple getting married, don't bother inviting former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to your wedding.

Santorum, who is considering a presidential run in 2016, said on Thursday that if he were invited to the wedding of a gay loved one, he wouldn't attend.

"I just felt like as a person of my faith that would be something that would be a violation of my faith. I would love them and support them, but I would not participate in that ceremony," Santorum said during an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Thursday.

Santorum's answer was different from that of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who said on Wednesday that he "of course" would attend the wedding of a gay person he was close to.

"If it's somebody who I love who's in my life, I don't necessarily have to agree with their decisions or decisions they've made to continue to love them and participate in important events," Rubio, who launched his presidential campaign on Monday, told Fusion's Jorge Ramos. "Ultimately, how you treat a person that you care for and love is different from what your opinion is, or what your faith teaches marriage should be."

Rubio added that states, not courts, should decide whether or not gay marriage should be legal.

Both Rubio and Santorum gave a clearer answer than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who declined to say on Thursday whether he would attend a gay wedding.

"I will tell you, I haven’t faced that circumstance. I have not had a loved one go to a, have a gay wedding," Cruz told Hewitt on Thursday. "I’m a Christian, and the Scripture commands us to love everyone, and to love everyone, and all of us are sinners. But the legal question, I’m a Constitutionalist. And under the Constitution, from the beginning of this country, marriage has been a question for the states. It has been a question for elected legislatures in each of the 50 states."

Cruz added that the media portrays conservatives who are against gay marriage as people who hate gay people, while he sees gay marriage as a legal question. That question, Cruz also said, should be resolved by state legislatures, not the courts.

Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether state bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional. The court is expected to issue a ruling in June.

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GoSol is crowdfunding a scalable and cost-effective solar solution

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Thu, 2015-04-16 17:20
This optimistic initiative aims to kick off a global wave of solar entrepreneurship with free construction guides for building high-powered solar concentrators with local materials.

Smartphones could become crowdsourced earthquake detectors

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Thu, 2015-04-16 08:55
The gadgets could act as a low-cost early warning system in high risk areas.

Provision Protecting LGBT Passengers From Discrimination Removed From Oklahoma Uber Bill

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 03:34
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A bill that sets up a regulatory framework in Oklahoma for ridesharing programs such as Uber and Lyft passed the state Senate on Wednesday, but not before a provision protecting gay and transgender passengers from discrimination was removed.

The version of the "Oklahoma Transportation Network Company Services Act" that passed the Republican-controlled Senate on a 35-11 vote defines such companies as those that use a digital network or software application to connect passengers and drivers. The House-passed version of the bill included language that prohibited the companies from discriminating against customers based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But Sen. Jason Smalley said he rewrote the bill to eliminate that language and allow private businesses to establish their own policies regarding discrimination.

"I believe if a private business owner wants to serve or not serve an individual, they have that purview right now," said Smalley, a Republican.

The new version of the bill faced fierce criticism from Sen. John Sparks, a Norman Democrat who tried unsuccessfully to amend the measure requiring any driver who wishes to discriminate against a customer based on sexual orientation or gender identity to post notice of such intent in a visible place on his or her vehicle and on the company's website.

"Why should you be able to discriminate?" Sparks said. "We're talking about a level of civil conduct in the marketplace. Society has figured out that when you enter the marketplace, you should have an expectation of being treated fairly."

Uber and Lyft, among the most popular ridesharing programs, already have policies in place that prohibit discrimination against customers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Uber's policy is to serve every neighborhood, every driver and every person who needs a ride," company spokeswoman Jennifer Mullin said. The company will continue to enforce its current terms of service, "which make clear that discrimination in any form is not tolerated and will result in removal from the platform," she said.

Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom of Oklahoma, said in a statement that the group does not "understand why a member of the Oklahoma Legislature wants to remove protections for (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Oklahomans from a bill that is specific to an industry that already protects them, in their corporate policies. Oklahomans do not believe in discrimination, and it is time for ideological law makers to quit trying to distract from the real problems of our state by attacking the LGBT community."



House Bill 1614: http://bit.ly/1NLH7fD

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NASA's New Horizons Snaps First Full-Color Image Of Pluto As It Rapidly Approaches The Dwarf Planet

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 01:44
This is the first full-color image ever taken of Pluto:

The image -- which shows the dwarf planet and its largest moon, Charon (lower left) -- was snapped on April 9 by NASA’s New Horizons, a space probe which is fast nearing Pluto.

Taken from a distance of about 71 million miles, the image reveals "tantalizing glimpses of [the Pluto] system," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, per Space.com.

The first spacecraft in history to visit Pluto, New Horizons was launched in January 2006. As Reuters notes, it’s currently about three months away from a “close encounter” with the celestial body.

The probe, said to be the fastest spacecraft ever launched, will pass about 7,750 miles from Pluto’s surface on July 14. It will not put itself into orbit around the dwarf planet, but will instead make observations as it flies by.

"Scientific literature is filled with papers on the characteristics of Pluto and its moons from ground based and Earth orbiting space observations, but we’ve never studied Pluto up close and personal,” said NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld, per a news release this week. “In an unprecedented flyby this July, our knowledge of what the Pluto system is really like will expand exponentially and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries."

Learn more about NASA’s New Horizons mission here.

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Tea Party Patriot James Webb Says He May Vote For Hillary Clinton

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-16 00:53
A Tea Party conservative may be about to do what many in his movement consider unthinkable: vote for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

"I asked myself, ‘Which party has helped me out the most in the last, I don’t know, 15 years, 20?’ And it was the Democrats," James Webb, a 51-year-old charter member of his local Tea Party Patriots said in a video blog posted on YouTube. "If it wasn’t for Obama and that Obamacare, I would still be working.”

Webb said the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, has allowed him to stop working without having to worry about paying high premiums for health insurance.

"I don’t trust the Republicans anymore because they’re wanting to repeal the Obamacare," Webb said in the clip. "And I don’t want them to do that, man, because then I’ll have to go to work again. My life’s already planned out.”

On the other hand, Webb may be "exhibit A" of why some Tea Partiers dislike the Affordable Care Act because in other videos on his "Hot Lead retired" channel, he boasts about how Obamacare has allowed him to retire at the age of 50.

"Since Obama changed the rules, I took advantage of it and I quit my job and I got on Obamacare because I'm not going to work my ass off and pay higher taxes and pay higher insurance premiums just so I can pay for somebody else's health insurance while they're sitting on their ass at their house," Webb said. "So if anybody's going to be sitting on their ass at the house and getting their insurance paid for it's going to be my ass."

Webb has also written in the comments that he still believes Obamacare violates the Constitution, but "I made it work in my favor."

He's worried that if a Republican repeals the Affordable Care Act, he may have to go back to work. And as a result, he said he may vote for Clinton in next year's election.

"I voted for a Republican for 32 years. I'm a charter member of my Tea Party Patriot chapter. I'm also a veteran of the U.S. Army under Reagan," Webb said. "But things have changed. Unless the Republicans change with it, I'm probably going to have to swing my vote over to Hillary."

Webb's YouTube channel has been active since 2007, has more than 750 subscribers and more than 1 million total views. It's described as "a gun channel about having fun and Shooting all types of weapons from semi to full auto and other fun stuff that hillbilly's do." Many of the clips are about guns, but Webb also posts rants about gay characters on "The Walking Dead," what he called "crazy-ass Ferguson protestors" and "annoying vegans and global warming."

(h/t Mediaite)

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Hillary Clinton's Wall Street Backers: We Get It

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:44
Hillary Clinton sounded like a woman on a mission after her long drive into the heartland: “There’s something wrong,” she told Iowans on Tuesday, when “hedge fund managers pay lower taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80 when I was driving here over the last two days.”

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New Hampshire Young Republicans Engulfed In Early Blast Of 2016 Drama

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:03
CONCORD, N.H. -- The annual meeting of the New Hampshire Young Republicans Federation is not the kind of event that typically generates much interest outside the group’s membership.

This year, however, it is the site of a brewing conflict between young conservative activists on one side and the New Hampshire Republican Party and a top hire for Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign on the other. In the backdrop is the state party's first major 2016 cattle call, a two-day event featuring over a dozen declared and prospective candidates set to take place this weekend.

The controversy began on April 4 -- the last day that anyone hoping to become a new voting member of the New Hampshire Young Republicans could pay the $25 dues to the group’s treasurer. Only dues-paying members are allowed to vote in the group’s biennial elections, set for this coming Saturday, in which two candidates will vie for the position of chairman.

Traditionally, the Young Republicans group has not exercised much influence over the state presidential primary. But it is not without some power, as its chairman gets a seat on the state GOP's executive committee, a board filled with influential New Hampshire Republicans that can exert influence on the 2016 campaign.

The deadline for dues doesn't typically produce any drama. But this year, outgoing New Hampshire Young Republicans Chairman Molly Sanborn informed the group’s three-person credentialing committee that she had received applications from 70 new members just before the deadline. For a group that had until then included a total of just 59 dues-paying members, it appeared to be a strange and sudden surge of interest. If accepted, these new members would be allowed to vote in Saturday’s election.

But the real source of intrigue lies in where much of the new dues money came from. Veteran New Hampshire GOP operative David Chesley contributed a personal check for over $1,000, according to several Young Republicans members -- enough to cover the costs for 41 of the 70 new applicants.

Chesley currently serves as political director and senior adviser to the New Hampshire Republican Party. But following the state GOP’s 2016 confab in Nashua this weekend, he is slated to join Paul’s presidential campaign as the Kentucky senator’s New Hampshire political director.

Worried that the last-minute push to add so many new members was an attempt by a state GOP official/Paul ally to take over their organization, the Young Republicans credentialing committee declared the new applicants invalid. The committee said that the group’s treasurer, Adam Lord, had not seen evidence that the required dues had arrived before the 4 p.m. cutoff time on April 4.

Lord did not respond to phone and email inquiries on Wednesday. But text messages exchanged on Monday, April 6, between him and Bob Burns -- one of the two candidates vying for New Hampshire Young Republicans chairman -- indicate that Lord had not received the Chesley check from Sanborn two days past the deadline.

“If they were not received by the organization then they don’t count as votes,” Lord assured Burns in one text, obtained by The Huffington Post. “lol why is she holding out on getting us info?”

Similarly, on Tuesday, April 7, Lord sent a text indicating that he still had not received Chesley’s big check or any confirmation of when it was submitted.

Were that the end of the matter, the likelihood of drama this weekend would be minimal. New voting members would not flood into the New Hampshire Young Republicans, and the group would hold its election without much attention. But Burns has expressed concern that under pressure from the state GOP, the group will instead welcome all of the new applicants and, in the process, tip the scales against him in the chairmanship contest.

Burns has twice run unsuccessfully for the New Hampshire state Executive Council -- which, along with the governor, administers state government -- and is regarded skeptically within the state GOP. In an interview with The Huffington Post, he alleged that top-level New Hampshire GOP officials were spearheading an effort to prevent him from winning the Young Republicans chairmanship.

“Legitimately, in the 10 years I’ve been involved with the [New Hampshire Young Republicans] and five conventions, I’d say the average number of people who show up is 20 people,” Burns said. “So to have an employee of a presidential campaign to magnanimously show up with a check for over $1,000 and a list of names we’ve never seen before, it’s strange as heck.”

Such allegations rarely burst into public view. That Burns’ charge is going public just days before the party's presidential wannabes descend on the state underscores the dysfunction and petty score-settling that has become rife within New Hampshire Republican circles. It also previews the kind of aggressive under-the-radar politicking that is likely to occur in the coming months as the most wide-open GOP presidential primary in memory kicks into high gear.

An aide to the Paul camp declined to comment about the situation other than to note that Chesley is not yet on the campaign’s payroll.

Sanborn, the outgoing New Hampshire Young Republicans chairman, said in an interview that her willingness to accept the new voting members was entirely above board. She also noted that other group officials had covered the dues of new members, though she acknowledged that none had spent anything approaching the more than $1,000 that Chesley contributed.

“Some people paid other people’s dues, just to get it in by the deadline, you know, because everyone’s busy and running around,” Sanborn said. “And it happened. There’s no involvement with the Rand Paul campaign at all. ... David Chesley didn’t do anything different than I’d say four or five other people.”

Sanborn also noted that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), not Paul, is the only presidential candidate slated to speak at the Young Republicans convention on Saturday, bolstering the case that the conflict is more about internal New Hampshire politics than it is presidential-level scheming.

If the wave of new members do end up being accepted, the likely beneficiary would be state Rep. Joe Sweeney, a 21-year-old student at the University of New Hampshire who is the other candidate running for chairman. Sweeney denied strongly that he was being used as a pawn by either the Paul campaign or the state GOP and said that there wasn’t anything untoward about the last-minute membership surge.

“There was sort of a crunch in time,” Sweeney said. “There wasn’t well communication as to when they were able to sign up, so I think that caused the sort of big push in membership.”

At this stage, no one involved knows just what will happen when the New Hampshire Young Republicans convene their meeting in Nashua at the same site as the New Hampshire GOP's #FITN Republican Leadership Conference. (FITN stands for "first in the nation," a reference to the state's presidential primary.)

Burns predicted “a shit show.”

The plot thickened on Wednesday when the state GOP, at Chairman Jennifer Horn’s direction, inserted itself directly into the controversy.

In a letter on his legal stationery, Mark Derby, a Concord-based attorney who also serves as treasurer of the Merrimack County GOP, wrote that he had been asked by Horn “to review the events leading up to this weekend’s [New Hampshire Young Republicans Federation] Annual Meeting." He added that “it appears that there may be some material irregularities” with respect to the credentialing deadline and that resolving those irregularities would be “entirely up to the NHYRF.”

The letter continued, “However, because the NHYRF Chair sits on the NHRSC [an acronym for the state GOP] Executive Committee, please be on notice that material procedural irregularities or defects in the election process may prevent the NHRSC Executive Committee from seating a NHYRF Chair elected under such circumstances, and the NHRSC reserves the right to do so.”

Read the full letter here.

The implication of Derby’s letter seems clear: The New Hampshire Young Republicans Federation should allow the disputed new members to vote in Saturday’s election -- a move that would almost certainly lead to a Sweeney victory -- or else risk losing its seat at the grownups' table, which comes with some real power and stature within the state GOP hierarchy.

Phone calls and emails on Wednesday to Derby, Chesley and Horn all went unreturned.

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Ted Cruz Raises $4 Million In His First Week Running For President

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:01
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised more than $4 million in the first week of his presidential campaign, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday.

Cruz announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on March 23. He is the first declared presidential candidate to file a campaign finance report.

The one-week haul came from a relatively even distribution of donors making the maximum contribution and those giving small amounts. Cruz raised $1.8 million from donors giving less than $200, and $1.5 million from those giving $2,700 or more. The first term Texas senator transferred $250,000 from his Senate campaign account to his presidential campaign.

The maximum a single donor can give is $2,700 per election, or $5,400 for both the primary and general election. Those contributions exceeding the $2,700 designated for the primary election can only be used if Cruz wins the Republican nomination. He has raised $566,000 in funds that only can be used if he bests the Republican field.

Among Cruz’s donors are heavyweights with a history of making massive super PAC contributions. Many of these are wealthy figures in Texas and may not be solidly behind the Cruz candidacy, but are giving out of state loyalty.

Houston Texans owner Robert McNair, who has given $6.7 million to super PACs in the last two elections, and his family members have all maxed out to the Cruz campaign. Investor John Childs is also a maximum donor to Cruz. He has donated $6.6 million to super PACs since 2011. Robert Rowling, the owner of Gold's Gym, among other businesses, is also a Cruz donor. Rowling has made more than $4 million in super PAC donations over the same time period.

Cruz also counts Randy Kendrick, the wife of Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, as a major donor. Kendrick is a member of the billionaire Koch brothers’ donor network.

These donors may be able to help fund the four super PACs Cruz supporters have launched for his campaign. He is already reported to have the backing of hedge fund titan Bob Mercer.

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Hillary Clinton Backs Worker Protests For Higher Minimum Wage

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 22:05
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted her support of low-wage workers who demonstrated across the country and demanded a $15 minimum wage on Wednesday.

Clinton, who has highlighted income inequality as an issue she wants to focus on since launching her presidential campaign on Sunday, said that workers shouldn't have to march in the streets for living wages.

Every American deserves a fair shot at success. Fast food & child care workers shouldn't have to march in streets for living wages. -H

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 16, 2015

The widespread demonstrations on Wednesday for higher wages were part of an effort to turn the campaign for higher wages into a larger social justice movement. Tens of thousands of people in more than 200 cities around the country took to the streets to call for a boost in wages, many walking out of their jobs.

On Tuesday, The New York Times noted while Clinton has endorsed raising the minimum wage, she has been vague on how quickly she wants to raise it and exactly how high it should be.

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New York Senate Leader Dean Skelos And Son Under Federal Investigation: Report

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 21:09
Federal prosecutors have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury considering a case against the leader of the New York State Senate, Dean G. Skelos of Long Island, and his son, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

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Cutting Through the Noisy TPP Debate

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 21:09
By Peter A. Petri and Michael G. Plummer

Note: This commentary first appeared in The Honolulu Star Advertiser on April 12, 2015.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, negotiations are in their final phase and the policy debate is in full swing. Unfortunately, it's shaping up as a debate about trees, not forests; it ignores the central goal of the TPP: to renew the Asia-Pacific trading system and firm up America's role in it.

World trade rules have not changed since 1994 -- not since the rise of the internet, China and ubiquitous global production chains -- and so trade has become very contentious and its growth has slowed. The TPP is controversial because it addresses varied obstacles to trade and investment -- not just tariffs, but many conflicting regulations and standards (or lack of them, in the case of labor and the environment) in 12 countries at various stages of economic development.

It's "Catch 22": Because trade rules are so hard to change, the TPP has to take on many issues at once. This invites an onslaught of criticism, from corporations and unions to the activists of the right and left. In fact, the provisions of the TPP -- results of long, painstaking negotiations -- will simply not be as extreme or consequential as those opponents will claim.

What is really at stake? For the past four years, we have studied the TPP closely with a data-intensive, state-of-the-art economic model. We have published many detailed results, but three conclusions stand out:

1. The TPP will not have early, large effects in the United States. More than 90 percent of our economic activity involves markets and jobs minimally related to trade, and the TPP will apply best practices that are mostly already in place here. Changes will be gradual -- some stretching to 10 years or more -- giving companies, workers and countries time to adjust.

2. The agreement will generate significant, if not dramatic, increases in U.S. living standards over time. It will stimulate America's most competitive sectors and help them gain a stronger foothold in production chains centered in Asia. For example, the TPP's investment and intellectual property provisions will make sure that American computer technologies, robots, medical devices, medicines and music have access to and are safe from piracy in dynamic markets.

U.S. real incomes should increase by $77 billion per year by 2025. The benefits will extend across the economy through higher wages and lower prices. We do not calculate an increase in the number of people at work -- our economy cannot add jobs permanently once it reaches full employment -- but by 2025, around 650,000 more people should be working in export-related jobs that pay as much as 18 percent more than jobs in import-competing industries.

3. Ultimately, the TPP should stimulate further deals with Europe and other Asian and Latin American countries, establishing its updated rules as a global benchmark. In this case, benefits to the United States and the world would be multiplied by a factor of three.

The TPP will not cure all of our economic ills. With or without it, America's prosperity depends on investments in innovation, infrastructure, workers and education for data-hungry services and manufacturing. These investments will make the gains from the TPP larger and address fundamental problems like wage growth and inequality. And we have to make sure that people who face difficult changes -- due to technological advances, trade policy and other forces -- are generously supported in making adjustments.

The TPP debate should be confident and forward-looking, befitting America's enormous assets and recovering economic engine. The TPP offers significant economic benefits and an historic opportunity to deepen U.S. ties with the Asia-Pacific, the world's most dynamic economic region.

Peter A. Petri is the Carl J. Shapiro Professor of International Finance at Brandeis University, and a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the East-West Center. Michael G. Plummer is Director of Johns Hopkins SAIS Europe and also an East-West Center Senior Fellow.

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Federal Authorities Investigating Chicago Public Schools Contract

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 20:40
Federal authorities are investigating whether Chicago Public Schools improperly awarded a contract to a training academy that formerly employed the head of the school system, Catalyst Chicago reported on Wednesday.

The investigation focuses on a $20.5 million no-bid contract awarded to a development academy for principals and other school officials by CPS in 2013. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, whom the Chicago Tribune reported has not been accused of wrongdoing, worked at the academy before being hired by CPS in 2012.

Catalyst Chicago noted that the no-bid contract raised questions in 2013 because of its size.

"No-bid contracts should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances that demand highly specific skills in a short time frame,” Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, told Catalyst Chicago in 2013. “It's too early to say if this one qualifies. But Catalyst has raised enough other questions to merit a review by the CPS inspector general."

The CPS inspector general did in fact open an investigation into the contract, but declined to comment to Catalyst on whether that investigation was still ongoing.

The Tribune reported that CPS is considering appointing an interim CPS CEO while the investigation was ongoing.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during a press conference on Wednesday that he was not sure exactly what the focus of the investigation was. When asked whether he still had confidence in Byrd-Bennett, whom he appointed in 2012, Emanuel said that he couldn't comment until he had more information on the investigation, according to the Tribune.

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Is the Marijuana Vote Up for Grabs?

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 20:38

There are very few political issues today which have not already become firmly entrenched along the same basic party lines that all our other political issues hew towards. In most cases, it's a matter of "Democrats believe X, while Republicans insist on Y." On one issue, though, there is a sizeable (and growing) bloc of voters who are not only cross-partisan but also so committed they could be called "single-issue voters." I'm speaking of the marijuana vote. And it could be up for grabs next year.

Being for marijuana reform has become an all-or-nothing thing these days. It used to be that the pro-reform people would eagerly accept tiny incremental changes. That is no longer true, because voters across America now have the examples of four states and the District of Columbia where recreational marijuana is legal for adults to use as they see fit. In none of these jurisdictions has the sky actually fallen, it now almost goes without saying. Much like the shift in the gay rights movement from demanding civil unions to accepting nothing less than full marriage equality, in 2016 the shift among pro-marijuana voters is also going to be profound, because legalization is now an achievable reality for them to fight for. Medical marijuana is a weak and unsatisfactory substitute nowadays, in other words.

Nobody yet knows how many states will have ballot initiatives in 2016 concerning marijuana. In some states, this might mean just allowing medicinal marijuana or decriminalization, but in a significant number it is going to mean the citizens will be voting on full recreational legalization for adults. There could be only a handful of such ballot initiatives, or the number could reach double digits. If even half of them pass, the legal landscape for marijuana reform is going to look a lot better.

Support for legalization has been rising, and is now reliably over 50 percent nationwide. The numbers break down to some extent along geographic and partisan lines (more Democrats and Independents are pro-reform than Republicans), but the most interesting thing is how the issue breaks down along age lines. Young voters are overwhelmingly for marijuana reform. The problem is, young voters are a pretty fickle bunch. When they get excited about an election, they can indeed turn out to vote in droves (Obama, 2008), but when they are not excited about an election, they can stay home (2014). For them, getting to vote for legalization on their ballot definitely qualifies as an excitement factor. But again, even the pro-marijuana vote is not entirely partisan. Barack Obama won Colorado when it voted for legalization, but the legalization measure got more votes than Obama did.

In some states, this likely won't matter much. California, for instance, is likely going to vote on legalization in 2016, but the state leans so far Democratic that its Electoral College vote is probably not ever going to be in question. But that's not true everywhere, and even in states where legalization (or even medical marijuana) is not on the ballot, some voters will be influenced by what stance politicians take on the issue. And a battleground state may become more competitive in the presidential race if it also has a legalization measure on the same ballot.

Chris Christie made news today for taking an uncompromisingly harsh stance on marijuana reform. He accurately pointed out that almost all the reforms achieved under the Obama administration are temporary and discretionary. As president, Christie has thrown a marker down that he would instead crack down on any state daring to defy federal law, and would not tolerate the situation as it now stands in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and D.C. It would be a massive reversal of the gains made at the Justice Department over all of Obama's term. The D.E.A. and federal prosecutors would be fully unleashed upon all the weed stores and dispensaries. Call it the "total war" position.

Now, Christie's not even officially in the 2016 presidential race. He may not even run. But if he does (and even if he doesn't, if the media picks up on the issue) he's staked out the most "law-and-order" position possible. The other Republicans will be confronted with this, and have to either offer support for Christie's position or explain what they'd do differently. As I said, it's not really all that partisan issue for many, and it certainly isn't a Tea Party issue (that I'm aware of), so the Republican candidates might feel freer to be more creative in the positions they take. Rand Paul may occupy the position ideologically farthest from Christie's, but that certainly doesn't preclude other Republicans from making a "states' rights" argument of their own. So far, not every Republican has taken a clear stand on the issues of medical marijuana and full legalization, so it'll be interesting to see the full spectrum of opinions from them.

It will also be interesting to watch Democratic politicians struggle with the issue. Most are quite likely going to attempt either some mealy-mouthed support or perhaps some vague and nebulous language. The Democratic Party as a whole may be awfully timid and offer no leadership at all on the issue. Democrats have an institutional memory of how effectively the whole "soft on crime" charge worked against them politically, back in the 1980s and 1990s. Democrats are now roughly in the position they were on gay marriage back in 2008 -- they knew which side of history was likely to be successful, but they were also terrified of political blowback for getting out in front of the issue too soon.

What will Hillary Clinton do on marijuana reform? This is an interesting question, one I have no real answer for yet. For that matter, I have no idea how bold or cautious a campaign she's going to run in general. If she chooses the overly-cautious route (in other words: "avoid offending anybody too much"), then I could easily see her retreating to, at best, halfhearted support. Clinton will likely be pinned down on the issue by having to answer whether she supports -- and would continue, as president -- the actions Barack Obama and Eric Holder have already taken towards ending the federal War On Weed. She may hedge support for full legalization with some version of the "let's let the states truly be laboratories of democracy, and let's see how the experiment works out" reasoning. Whether this will be good enough or not for the marijuana vote remains to be seen.

Marijuana voters, in the recent past, would have been overjoyed at hearing a candidate define the position that Barack Obama has taken: leave the states alone, let their experiments stand or fall on their own. But while that may have been enough previously, now the prospect of full legalization is a real possibility. To truly motivate the marijuana voter, nothing short of expressing support for state legalization and for perhaps descheduling marijuana and adding it to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In other words, ending the D.E.A.'s involvement entirely, and changing federal law to allow the states to do whatever their citizens want.

The marijuana vote can be highly motivated (my required pun for marijuana articles, I suppose...). By this, I mean a whole bunch of first-time voters can come out of the woodwork when marijuana is up for a vote. Many of these voters are otherwise politically apathetic, and regularly don't vote because they don't see any point in doing so. They are not ideologically set in concrete on other political issues -- marijuana reform truly does cut across many of the common demographic divides in American politics. But this cuts both ways, too. It is a "gateway" issue for many of these voters (especially the "single-issue" ones), and they will not vote for any politician -- of either party -- who doesn't champion the issue themselves.

This likely will only come into play if the Republican nominee is not following Chris Christie's lead, and instead expressing support for state experiments at the federal level. This could mean Rand Paul, or it could mean another Republican sounding reasonable on the issue (again, it fits into the conservative "states' rights" argument perfectly). This could pressure Hillary Clinton to clarify her position, and she'd have to choose between: rejecting Obama's approach and tacking closer to Christie, supporting Obama's approach but not advocating any further change or wholeheartedly supporting ending the federal War On Weed. If she chooses the Christie route, it would mean she'd be to the right of the Republican nominee, an odd place for a Democrat to be. If she choose the middle route, there wouldn't be any significant difference between her and her Republican opponent. So the only way to really get out in front of the issue would be the last one -- actually addressing the ridiculousness of the Schedule I designation of marijuana in federal law.

If the prospect of the Republican being out in front of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats on the issue of federal marijuana reform seems farfetched, consider that even such staunch conservatives as Rick Perry have offered some support for filing marijuana under the "states' rights" label. In fact, the most likely outcome is where the two candidates don't radically differ on the issue, and both are generally supportive of the Obama "hands off" policy, while being more timid on changing federal law any time soon. But this may be the last election where politicians will be able to dodge the issue in such a fashion.

If five or six states successfully vote for full legalization in 2016, then the dam will have absolutely burst and we're never going back to the way things were, ever again. Either Hillary Clinton or some Republican president will have to adjust to the new reality of having 10 or more states openly defying federal law. That's going to require more than just what Obama and Holder have so far done. To put it another way, the issue may become unavoidable in the next president's first term in office.

Chris Christie has weighed in, so to speak. He's taken an absolutist position. It will be interesting to see how the other presidential aspirants now react. There is an emerging demographic on the American political scene. The marijuana vote is truly up for grabs. A lot of young people might just vote for a Rand Paul or another Republican who fights to be the most opposite from Christie's position. It's an opportunity for both the Republicans and the Democrats, depending on who decides to get out in front and show some real leadership on the issue.


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Lawmakers Declare 'No Confidence' In DEA Chief Michele Leonhart After Tales Of DEA Sex Parties

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-15 20:33
A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers said Wednesday that they have no confidence in Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart. The statement comes a day after a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on allegations that DEA agents attended cartel-funded sex parties in Colombia.

“After over a decade of serving in top leadership positions at DEA, Administrator Leonhart has been woefully unable to change or positively influence the pervasive 'good old boy' culture that exists throughout the agency," read the statement from 22 members of the Oversight Committee, including Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

"From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position," the statement goes on. "Ms. Leonhart has lost the confidence of this Committee to initiate the necessary reforms to restore the reputation of a vital agency.”

In March, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released a startling report on how several federal law enforcement agencies have handled allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. It said that seven DEA agents had admitted to attending parties with prostitutes dating back to 2001.

"Although some of the DEA agents participating in these parties denied it, the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds," the report states.

One agent held at least two parties at his residence at which prostitutes were present. Another agent told investigators that “if an agent stated he did not know if the dancers/strippers who attended parties were prostitutes, they would be lying.” A cooperating witness remembered securing prostitutes for at least 15 to 20 parties for agents. He would then stay at the parties and "provide protection for the agents' weapons and personal belongings."

One of the agents involved has retired. Six others were disciplined for their actions, albeit only with suspensions for up to 10 days. None of the agents was fired, and some had even been promoted between the time the incidents occurred and the time they were fully investigated.

In the hearings on Tuesday, Leonhart said that she was disappointed the punishments weren't more severe and that civil service laws restricted the discipline she could dole out.

Critics of the DEA praised the statement from the House committee.

“There’s simply no excuse for the outrageous behavior of the DEA’s so-called leadership,” said Neill Franklin, executive director of the reform group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a Maryland police veteran, in a statement. “Leonhart just helps us add to the list of reasons of why we need to rethink our entire approach to drug policy.”

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