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Benjamin Netanyahu Misrepresents Kerry On Iran

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-03-03 21:38

The following post first appeared on FactCheck.org.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly anticipated speech to Congress contained a curious statement. He claimed Secretary of State John Kerry “confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium by the end of a long-term nuclear agreement that the U.S. is negotiating with Iran. That, Netanyahu warned, could put Iran “weeks away” from an “arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

But that’s not what Kerry said.

In House testimony on Feb. 25, Kerry was asked about reports that the U.S. is seeking a deal that would reduce Iran’s centrifuges from 19,000 to between 6,000 and 7,000. Kerry responded by saying a “peaceful program” can have a lot of centrifuges, and the purpose of the negotiations is to make sure Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

“[I]f you have a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately and not a threat to proliferation, you could have as many as 190,000 or more centrifuges,” Kerry told the committee.

Netanyahu addressed Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner at a time when the U.S. is leading negotiations on a new nuclear agreement with Iran. The U.S. and five other countries in November 2013 reached an accord with Iran called the Joint Plan of Action, or JPA, that was designed to temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program to give negotiators time to work out a long-term agreement on an inspection and verification plan that would allow Iran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program and prevent it from building nuclear weapons. In exchange, the U.S. and its allies have agreed to ease sanctions imposed on Iran’s assets.

The U.S. and Iran have been operating under a March 31 deadline for a long-term pact, and Israel has been highly critical of details of the plan that have emerged so far.

In his speech, Netanyahu warned that Iran could not be trusted and its “quest for nuclear weapons” threatened his country’s survival.

At one point, the Israeli prime minister spoke about Iran’s centrifuges, which are the machines used to enrich uranium. Iran currently has “9,400 operating centrifuges and another 10,000 that are installed but not in operation,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The existing JPA allows Iran only to replace failed centrifuges, and the U.S. has been negotiating a reduction. During negotiations, the target number of proposed centrifuges has changed from 1,300 to 4,000 and most recently to 6,500 or more.

Netanyahu recalled that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in 2014 that Iran needed 190,000 centrifuges. But in doing so Netanyahu misrepresented what Kerry had said about Iran’s centrifuges.

Netanyahu, March 3: Iran’s supreme leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 [discussed in negotiations] or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision. My longtime friend, John Kerry, secretary of state, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires. Now I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy.

Kerry did not confirm “that Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges.

At a Feb. 25 hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida asked Kerry about reports that the deal being negotiated would allow Iran to have 6,000 or 7,000 centrifuges. Deutch asked “why Iran would need that many since currently there is one reactor.”

Kerry, Feb. 25: [T]he purpose of the negotiations we’re in now with Iran is to ensure that their nuclear program is exclusively for civilian purposes. That’s the key here. They can have a civilian peaceful program. So when you get into the number of centrifuges and this and that, if — if you have a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately and not a threat to proliferation, you could have as many as 190,000 or more centrifuges. And there are millions of centrifuges involved, ultimately, power plants that are producing power. So the key here is, is this a peaceful program, and are the measures in place capable of making sure you know it’s peaceful? That’s the standard we’re trying to apply.

Kerry wasn’t saying that “Iran could legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges. He was saying that “a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately” could have 190,000 or more centrifuges.

In fact, when Khamenei said Iran needed 190,000 centrifuges, Kerry at that time said that even 19,000 was too many.

“We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their program is too many, and that we need to deal with the question of enrichment,” Kerry told reporters at a July 15, 2014, press availability. “And so all I will say to you is that we will continue to press.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told us in an email that Kerry’s reference to 190,000 centrifuges at the House hearing wasn’t about Iran or the number of centrifuges that it could possess “under or after a deal.”

“Secretary Kerry was not speaking to what Iran could or would have under or after a deal — he wasn’t talking specifically about Iran at all,” Harf said. “He was arguing that ensuring the nuclear program is peaceful through measures like transparency and monitoring can be as important [as] the number of centrifuges, which can get quite high even in countries that peacefully enrich uranium only to produce electrical power.”

– Eugene Kiely

This Year's CPAC Speakers: Three Generations of Stupid

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-03-03 21:23
Sadly, the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference is over. And while none of the speakers used Super Big Gulps as props this year, the level of stupid reached all new depths. One speaker after another proved that far-right conservatives are more interested in thoughtless applause and bumper-sticker slogans than serious policymaking. For example, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson delivered a speech in which he talked about sexually transmitted diseases. I give you CPAC science, by Phil Robertson:
I mean, I'm reading this stuff from the CDC and it says, 'how many sexual encounters does one have to have to catch a sexually transmitted illness?' It said one. I'm figuring the out the odds on that one. How many seconds does it take to get genital herpes? It said 30 seconds. I'm like, whoa, that's pretty quick.
"Which is awesome for me, because I usually finish in less than 20!"

He didn't really say that last thing.

The only speaker who wasn't as well received was the would-be 2016 Republican nominee Jeb Bush, who was booed on several occasions. A gaggle of attendees went so far as to march out of the auditorium -- one of whom was "a man in Colonial garb who was carrying a yellow 'Don't Tread on Me' flag." Shocker.

This year, whether by design or coincidence, CPAC successfully covered all its bases by featuring dumbstupids spanning three generations. Who were these multi-generational representatives of the increasingly marginalized far-right brand?

Generation X'er Sarah Palin

Just off the heels of her bizarre speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, leading many of us to question whether she was in the last throes of Syphilitic dementia, Palin was invited to deliver the opening night address. Her remarks centered around the troops and war (what else?), but after some predictable yankee-doodle-doofery she segued into a section about the brutal length of a typical Iraq or Afghanistan deployment -- 45 months, compared with a 13-month deployment for Vietnam -- and the toll that such deployments have taken on the troops.

The longer someone's deployed, and then redeployed, well, the more likely they'll suffer PTSD. And about half a million of our returning vets, they suffer some form of it. They suffer disproportionate unemployment numbers. And the average divorce rate, it's around 80 percent. And worse, aw friends, worse, the suicide rate -- the suicide rate among our best and our brightest is 23 a day.

Naturally, she went on to blame Obama and the Veterans Administration for this, when the common denominator here isn't either one. It's two wars and the administration that established those outrageously long deployments. By the way, given the divorce rate, shouldn't the pro-marriage people be a little less gung-ho about rushing to war? It's also worth noting that the Senate Republicans filibustered numerous bills designed to help veterans returning from war. To name a few:

H.R. 466 - Wounded Veteran Job Security Act
H.R. 1168 -- Veterans Retraining Act
H.R. 1171 - Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization
H.R. 1293 -- Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act
S.3457 -- Veterans Jobs Corps Act

Your "support the troops" party, ladies and gentlemen. Later, Palin was treated to a standing ovation when she said, "The only thing standing between the savages and us is the red, white and blue -- the United States military." So, just after blasting the terrible cost and consequences of war (PTSD, divorce rates, suicides) she announced that we ought to send our clearly exhausted military back to war against ISIS (which it is already), and even Boko Haram in Africa. What could possibly go wrong?

Palin continued:
It's said that old men declare wars, and then they send the young ones to fight 'em. So, it's the duty of he who sends them to actually make sure that we can win those wars. And it's our duty to elect an honorable commander-in-chief who is willing to make the same sacrifices he sends others away to make.
I'm pretty sure it was she who just said "honorable" presidents ought to have military or even war-zone experience. This is weird, of course, because none of the early contenders for the GOP presidential nomination have military experience. In addition, Ted Nugent, who's Palin's best friend right now, reportedly smeared feces all over his body in order to get a draft deferment.

Palin went on to note that in the past, our leaders stood up to Nazis and fascists with "moral clarity." You know what those leaders also had at their disposal? Every able-bodied man, 18 years or older. One way to ease the number and length of existing tours would be to reinstitute the draft. Someone should ask Palin if, considering the rate of suicides and divorce, whether she'd be up for supporting it. I think we can predict her response.

Millennial TV host Tomi Lahren

In what was clearly an audition to be the next blonde bobblehead on Fox News Channel, Tomi Lehren (who?) successfully made Palin look like an elder statesman, and I wouldn't be shocked if that was the goal. At 22 years old, Tomi, who until a few months ago probably dotted the "i" in her name with a tiny heart, appeared as a token GOP Millennial. And frankly, if I was a Millennial, I'd be personally offended that CPAC considered her to be explicitly representative of my generation.

Regardless, Tomi's job was to debunk the stereotype that all conservatives are old, rich, white men. So she pointed out that she's none of those things -- except white, of course, and she insisted she had no intention of apologizing for her whiteness (for more remarks like this, check out the Stormfront website).

She wrapped up her speech with a zinger:
So, I think we've gone through this: Old, rich, white males. I want to remind you, let's look at the top three Democrats for 2016. You've got Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden? Old, rich, white, and if the pantsuit fits, male too?
I don't -- huh? Are pantsuits masculine? I think Tomi was going for a "look at how manly those old ladies are" joke, but again, show me a male politician who wears pantsuits. Doy.

Baby Boomer Donald Trump

Proving Tomi's point that conservatives aren't just old, white, rich guys, Trump -- the whitest, old rich guy ever -- was a featured guest over the weekend. Even though Trump has zero political aspirations -- or, at least, zero serious political aspiration -- he somehow keeps getting invited back to CPAC. This time, in addition to delivering a speech, Trump was the subject of a Q&A moderated by Sean Hannity.

At one point, Hannity asked Trump what he would do about Iran's nuclear program and what actions he'd take "to defeat ISIS because I don't hear you saying 'degrade them' (like President you-know-who). I hear you saying 'defeat them.'" His answer might surprise you:
Part of the problem we have, Sean, we have people that are diplomats doing our (negotiating). They know nothing about negotiating. All they know how to do is keep their job. They know nothing about negotiating. If we had the right people, we could solve the ISIS problem and we could solve the Iran problem and a lot more quickly than you'd think.
Did you catch that? President Donald Trump suggested he'd negotiate with ISIS. He'd negotiate with terrorists. And what exactly would Trump offer ISIS in return for ending its crusade? What concessions would he make? Let's hear it. If ISIS is such an existential threat -- worse than the Nazis according to Sarah Palin -- shouldn't Trump tell us more about this magical negotiation tactic that he'd use to end the war with ISIS "more quickly than you'd think?" Of course he won't tell us because it doesn't exist. But it's hilarious that during a convention of far-right conservatives, one of their top-shelf celebrities said we should negotiate with ISIS.

Worse, he also suggested we negotiate with Iran -- the very trespass the congressional Republicans are crapping their cages about, so much so they've invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session where it's assumed he'll scold Obama for, yes, negotiating with Iran.

All told, this is supposed to boost the conservative brand. And it probably did, but only with the far-right choir. I refuse to believe that such nincompoopery works on anyone outside of the CPAC epistemic bubble. So far.

Cross-posted at The Daily Banter.

Click here to listen to the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast.
BobCesca.com Blog with special thanks to Patrick Rooney.

Huge Stakes As Supreme Court Takes Third Crack At Obamacare

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-03-03 21:00
WASHINGTON -- Obamacare faces its strangest challenge yet when the Supreme Court takes up the law for the third time Wednesday, but the oddity of the lawsuit shouldn’t obscure the cataclysm that a loss for President Barack Obama would provoke.

The Supreme Court case is the latest legal effort by political opponents of the Affordable Care Act to ruin Obama’s signature domestic achievement. If successful, the suit would tarnish Obama’s legacy, foment infighting among Republicans, aggravate bitter partisanship between the GOP Congress and the White House, and threaten chaos in the health insurance market. But the worst consequences would fall on the estimated 9.6 million people who would lose their health insurance.

The lawsuit, King v. Burwell, isn’t like the previous two Obamacare cases that came before the Supreme Court. Three years ago, in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate that most Americans obtain health insurance. The Supreme Court last year weakened Obamacare’s birth-control coverage rule in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, a case with religious-freedom implications.

This time, the high court will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit engineered by conservative and libertarian think tanks that claims a handful of words deep within the Affordable Care Act -- “an exchange established by the state” -- makes it illegal for the government to issue tax credits for health insurance in more than 30 states with federal health insurance exchanges.

The plaintiffs’ picayune contention has dire implications for low- and moderate-income people receiving those subsidies in states where the federal government, not the state, created a health insurance exchange under Obamacare. Just 13 states and the District of Columbia are fully operating these marketplaces. The federal government controls 34, and three states that established exchanges later turned over enrollment to federal authorities.

As of last month, 8.8 million people had private health insurance policies obtained via the exchanges in the 37 states using the federal HealthCare.gov system, not counting millions more who used state-based marketplaces. Since sign-ups began in October 2013, the share of customers on federal exchanges receiving tax credits for their coverage has been above 85 percent. The average value of those subsidies is $268 a month, and brings down the average price to $105 for subsidized enrollees, data from the Department of Health and Human Services show.

If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs when justices issue their ruling, expected in June, a majority of the public wants the subsidies restored, one way or another, according to a survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The poll revealed that 64 percent of Americans believe Congress should enact a fix, and 59 percent think their own states should set up health insurance exchanges.

But a fix very well may never come. Congress could have made the Supreme Court hearing unnecessary by passing a simple amendment clarifying the intent of the Affordable Care Act, but has refused to consider one. And the Obama administration maintains there’s nothing it can do on its own to mitigate the disappearance of subsidies.

States could evade the consequences of a high court ruling against the subsidies by establishing health insurance exchanges, but Republicans control at least one branch of government in nearly all of the states that would be affected by this case, and none has taken steps to begin the contentious, time-consuming and costly effort to do so.

In Congress, a viable path for a legislative solution is difficult to envision. Recently, Republicans expressed openness to providing unspecified temporary assistance to those who lose their tax credits. Even that vague promise is couched in a plan to scrap Obamacare and reduce or undo health insurance subsidies down the line, which would jeopardize coverage for more people.

But in the five years since the Affordable Care Act became law, the GOP has failed to agree on any “replacement plan,” and it's highly uncertain leadership would even have the votes to protect the subsidies until Republicans find that consensus, if they ever can. Pressure could build once millions of their constituents find themselves in the lurch, but it will be countered by conservatives satisfied with nothing less than full repeal of Obamacare. And this internal argument would take place while Republicans are in the midst of a hotly contested presidential primary.

Wiping out the subsidies in more than 30 states would deepen the divide between the haves and have nots in the American health care system, and residents in red states, and in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, would bear the brunt.

Regions of America with smaller and shrinking shares of uninsured residents, mostly in the Northeast and on the West Coast, would sustain their progress, while those in mostly Southern states, where fewer people had health insurance before Obamacare, would regress. What’s more, federal taxpayers in generally poorer states without subsidies would underwrite health care for people in mostly richer states and get nothing in return.

Among those who would lose coverage, 62 percent live in Southern states -- mostly governed by Republicans -- 81 percent are employed and 61 percent are white, according to the Urban Institute.

The disruption wouldn’t be limited to people who qualify for health insurance subsidies. It would have profound effects on health insurance markets in the affected states. The Rand Corp. predicts 1.2 million of the 9.6 million who would become uninsured after a Supreme Court ruling against Obamacare aren’t even receiving subsidies.

That's because the parts of the Affordable Care Act requiring health insurance companies to accept customers with pre-existing conditions and the law’s mandates for basic benefits would remain, but the coverage would be unaffordable for a growing number of people over time, forcing them to drop their coverage.

Industry jargon describes the worst-case scenario as a “death spiral.” Those who can afford to pay full price would remain, but sicker people with higher health care costs would be the most likely to do so. Their medical expenses would force insurers to raise rates, making coverage too costly for even more people.

This cycle could continue until the health insurers’ customers are so unhealthy, some companies can’t afford to do business in those states anymore, and pull out, further limiting access to insurance.

Scott Walker Pumps Up Anti-Abortion Cred By Backing 20-Week Ban

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-03-03 20:48
Days after coming under conservative fire for making vaguely pro-choice comments, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) released a letter reaffirming his anti-abortion bona fides and endorsing a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

"In my past four years as governor, we have made substantial progress in the fight for our pro-life values in Wisconsin," the potential GOP presidential candidate wrote Tuesday. "We defunded Planned Parenthood. We prohibited abortion from being covered by health plans in a health exchange. ... As the Wisconsin legislature moves forward in the coming session, further protections for mother and child are likely to come to my desk in the form of a bill to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks. I will sign that bill when it gets to my desk and support similar legislation on the federal level."

The letter takes a much more vigorously conservative tone than Walker did on “Fox News Sunday” this past weekend.

When host Chris Wallace asked if he believed that abortion is ultimately a woman's choice, Walker had responded, "Well, legally that’s what it is under the guidelines that were provided from the Supreme Court."

When asked if he would change the law, he said, “Well, that’s not a change you can make. The Supreme Court ultimately made that.”

Conservative groups jumped in with sharp criticism of Walker's mild answers.

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker just gave what I can safely call the very worst interview on the life issue I have seen from a Republican in recent memory,” Frank Cannon, president of American Principles in Action, said in a press release Monday. “Claiming you are impotent to act on your core principles is neither true nor wise. What about advocating for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks? That’s a law that has already been passed in 12 states, which the Republican National Committee endorses, and which most of Walker’s fellow Republican presidential candidates also support, Jeb Bush included."

Last Sunday wasn't the first time Walker has shied away from taking a firm stance against abortion. During his 2014 re-election campaign, Bloomberg noted, he would not directly answer the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's question about whether he would sign legislation restricting abortion access.

With another hot topic, Walker did a much better job of toeing the Republican line on Sunday. He told Wallace that he has completely changed his views on immigration and now takes a hardline stance against amnesty.

Congrats Young Scientists, You Face The Worst Research Funding In 50 Years

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-03-03 20:38
WASHINGTON -- Young scientists entering biomedical research find themselves in the worst financial environment in a half a century, the head of the National Institutes of Health said Tuesday.

In an appearance before the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Dr. Francis Collins offered a familiar warning to lawmakers considering future appropriations for scientific research. Investments are falling relative to inflation, he said, forcing changes likely to snowball into the future.

“Given international trends,” Collins said, citing a recent article in the medical journal JAMA, “the United States will relinquish its historical international lead in biomedical research in the next decade unless certain measures are undertaken.”

Collins warned that these trends would convince a future generation of researchers that their field was inhospitable. Fewer young scientists would mean fewer scientific discoveries, making it more difficult for companies to profit and for public health authorities to guard against diseases.

“This is the issue that wakes me up at night when I try to contemplate the future of where biomedical research can go in the United States,” Collins said. “They are finding themselves in a situation that is the least supportive of that vision in 50 years. They look ahead of them and see the more senior scientists struggling to keep their labs going and suffering rejection after rejection of grants that previously would have been supportive. And they wonder, 'Do we really want to sign up for that?' And many of them, regrettably, are making the decision to walk away.”

Sobering budgetary assessments are nothing new from Collins, who heads the federal government's main funder of biomedical research. He has been preaching the need for stable NIH budgeting for years, and has amplified those warnings since the spending cuts brought about by sequestration went into effect in 2013. NIH has lost about 22 percent of its purchasing power since 2003. In fiscal 2014, it was appropriated $30.1 billion.

A two-year bipartisan budget agreement brought a temporary reprieve. But that agreement runs out in September.

Collins’ appearance in the House on Tuesday is likely the first prong in a months-long campaign arguing that the days of sequestration shouldn't return. The budget situation for NIH, like every other federal agency, is uncertain come September. Under current law, non-defense discretionary spending would be $493 billion in fiscal 2016, up just $1 billion from fiscal 2015., according to a document put together by House Democrats. Without a change, appropriators will have little discretion to provide more funding. If they did increase the NIH budget, it would come at the harm of other domestic programs.

A recent report by the group United for Medical Research made clear the high stakes of stagnant scientific research funding. Compared with countries that have “made long-term commitments to increase their support of biomedical sciences,” the report said, federal funding cuts are leading to “an erosion of America’s preeminence in biomedicine.”

“China is filing more patents in biomedicine than the U.S. -- not just as a portion of GDP, but absolutely more patents," Collins said. "And the consequences, I think you can imagine, are going to be significant.”

Members of Congress from both parties have tried innovations to funnel funds to NIH. Proposals have included creating an incentive fund to encourage appropriators to make steady financial commitments; a biomedical research private-public bank; to remove the NIH from the discretionary budget; to generate money by penalizing big pharmaceutical companies that break the law; and to certify that the sequester no longer applies to NIH.

None of these have gained significant traction in the new Congress, where some conservative members have criticized NIH for funding quixotic-sounding projects at the expense of critical short-term needs.

Collins wasn’t asked about this critique (though in the past, he has argued that science funding decisions are best made through peer review and that even funny-sounding ideas may bear great fruit). He also didn’t address any new funding proposals during his two-hour appearance on Tuesday morning. Instead, he offered a broad pitch for lawmakers to fund NIH in a way that “that keeps up with inflation, plus a little bit.”

The reception he received underscores the difficulty and frustration of his objective.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) called the hearing “the most popular panel we will see all session long.” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called for a “group hug” among attendees. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said the discussion was “so very exciting” and happily offered enthusiasm for doubling NIH funding, which happened during the Clinton and Bush administrations. And Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) noted that, “the bipartisan nature of this subject with this committee is pretty obvious.”

Then Simpson delivered a bitter pill. Everyone on the committee would like to “substantially increase the research we’re doing,” he said, “if we didn’t have an $18 trillion debt and $500 billion deficit that we are having to deal with at the same time, which makes it more difficult.”

Alabama Supreme Court Blocks Same-Sex Marriage

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-03-03 20:13
The Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered probate judges in the state to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

The ruling adds to the confusion surrounding gay marriage in the state. A federal judge found that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional in January. Some probate judges refused to comply with that ruling and Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore said that probate judges didn't have to follow it.

The conflicting orders prompted Elmore County Probate Judge John E. Enslen to ask for clarification from the Alabama Supreme Court, according to WBRC.

Read the Alabama Supreme Court's full decision here.

Below, more from The Associated Press:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court is ordering the state's probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

The all-Republican court sided with a pair of conservative organizations Tuesday in ruling that the U.S. Constitution doesn't alter the judges' duty to administer state law.

The court says Alabama has defined marriage as between only one man and one woman for about 200 years. And it says a federal court used "sleight of hand" in a case that resulted in most of Alabama allowing gay marriage last month.

The Alabama Policy Institute and the Baptist-run Alabama Citizens Action Program asked the court to halt same-sex unions after a federal judge in Mobile said Alabama laws banning them were unconstitutional.

Feds Admit Stingrays Can Disrupt Cell Service Of Bystanders

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-03-03 04:30
FOR YEARS THE government has kept mum about its use of a powerful phone surveillance technology known as a stingray.

DEA Warns Of Stoned Rabbits If Utah Passes Medical Marijuana

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-03-03 01:39
Where would this country be if Peter Cottontail got cottonmouth?

Matt Fairbanks, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration's "marijuana eradication" team in Utah, testified to a state Senate panel last week, and said rabbits could get addicted to pot, lose their natural instincts and sit around getting high all the time should a bill pass that would allow medical marijuana edibles in the state.

Fairbanks testified in opposition to the bill, and spent some of his testimony splitting hares, according to The Washington Post. He claimed that illegal pot farms could have bad environmental consequences, and said he saw rabbits addicted to weed at illegal grow sites.

"I deal in facts. I deal in science," Fairbanks said at the hearing (48-minute mark).

"One of them refused to leave us, and we took all the marijuana around him, but his natural instincts to run were somehow gone," he added.

Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham wrote that illegal pot grows can indeed harm the environment, but noted that those consequences aren't unique to weed.

Ingraham noted:

Now, regarding rabbits. Some wild animals apparently do develop a taste for bud (and, yes, best to keep it away from your pets). But I don't know that the occasional high rabbit constitutes grounds for keeping marijuana prohibition in place, any more than drunk squirrels are an argument for outlawing alcohol. And let's not even get started on the nationwide epidemic of catnip abuse.

Fairbanks' "marijuana eradication" colleagues were reportedly in the news lately when they mistook okra for marijuana in Georgia and brought in the big guns.

Real-Life Frank Underwoods: Netflix, 'House of Cards' and Third Way

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 21:25
Frank Underwood is known for deceiving people into acting against their own best interests. (We'll miss you, President Walker.) Now we learn that this trait may extend to the series which features him.

There have already been at least two debunkings of the economics behind the fictional president's wacky "America Works" plan. But the greatest deceptions on House of Cards can be found in the misleading arguments, presented as "truth," which suggest that cutting "entitlements" is a necessity and raising taxes isn't even an option.

The fact that Netflix has insisted upon heavy tax breaks for filming the show in Maryland may be coincidental. Here's what's not: We have learned that the series hired a leading "new Democrat" (read, "corporate Democrat") as a consultant for the show's most misleading episode.

The audience loves watching Frank Underwood deceive other characters. It's less likely to appreciate being deceived itself, especially as some real-life Frank Underwoods are launching an attack against the party's populist wing.

The Spoiler

If you're like me, House of Cards has been a binge-watching guilty pleasure, a chance to set aside the burden of idealism for a dark but engaging worldview which is half Machiavelli and half telenovela.

But who knew that the show itself - not the characters, but the show - had a hidden agenda? It's already taken on teachers. Now comes the anti-"entitlement" tirade from Frank Underwood in Episode One of the new season. Frank, despite his evil ways and means, has an ambitious dream, which is introduced during a lengthy scene in which he lectures his staff, and the audience, on some highly misleading "facts."

How did that happen? How did the "AmericaWorks" fictional plot point come to be built on real-world lies?

Here's a clue: Episode One's credits list Jim Kessler as a consultant. Kessler is, as his IMDB biography notes, the co-founder of Third Way. That's a Wall Street-funded, so-called "centrist" Democratic organization with a mission: to promote neoliberal economics and make the world safe (at least financially) for its wealthy patrons.

Third Way has consistently misrepresented the financial condition of Social Security, misdirected the public debate about Medicare, and generally promoted the socially liberal but fiscally conservative worldview of its patrons.

Kessler and co-founder Jon Cowan carefully tiptoed their way through the minefield of public opinion for years, pretending to be technocrats rather than de facto lobbyists for powerful interests. They finally lost their balance last year. When confronted with the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the populist wing of the Democratic Party, they lashed out at Sen. Warren with an intemperate Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Frank's Spin - and the Show's

Frank's a Democrat, like all Third Way members, and his rant is filled with exactly the kind of misinformation and manipulation that we've come to expect from that corporatist crowd. "Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, every entitlement program that is sucking us dry," says Underwood in his rant, "I want it on the table."

"Sucking us dry"? That's economic gibberish.

"We obviously have to get back to some basics," Underwood says in his rant, "remind ourselves of some of the facts that are before us ..." (emphasis ours.)

Underwood continues: "This (the number $32,781, displayed on a flip chart) is what the average senior gets in one year from entitlements ...This money is a job we could be giving to a single mother or a student just out of school. Now at the moment, 44 cents of every tax dollar goes to pay for these programs. By 2030, it'll be over half, 62 cents."

"Entitlements are bankrupting us," he concludes.

Except that they're not. Social Security accounts for 24 percent of the Federal budget, but it is forbidden by law from adding to the overall deficit. What's more, its trust fund is currently holding $2.8 trillion dollars in reserves. The statement is meaningless.

Straw (Man) Polls

Then Frank says his chief of staff has conducted a poll in which seventy-four percent of voters said they agreed with this statement: "Doing what's best for my country means doing some things that I don't like."

"Now, what does that tell us?" Underwood asks. "We have to do the things that people won't like. And even when we do, three out of four of them will go along with us."

This is exactly the kind of poll the real-life corporate crowd loves to conduct - so general as to be meaningless. When asked specific questions, most voters - including Republicans, Dems, and independents - don't want cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Seventy-six percent of self-described Tea Party members objected in one poll. And they'll punish any politician who tries.

Voters want millionaires and billionaires to pay the same payroll tax rate as other Americans (the tax is currently capped at approximately $118,500 per year of income). They want Social Security's benefits increased, which makes sense, since retirement benefits have been decimated in this country and our benefits don't fare well when compared to those of other industrialized nations. And they're willing to step up and pay for these increases with higher taxes, according to a poll from the National Academy for Social Insurance.

That's more than the Third Way's financiers are willing to do.

"Brave" Corporate Politicos

The Third Way crowd loves to present itself as young, bold, and visionary, and their opponents as "special interests." House of Cards sticks to this script by employing an aging political apparatchik as the voice of liberalism.

"The programs that you want to scale back or dismantle are the bedrock of the American dream," says the gray-haired, soft-hearted cliché. "You work hard, you pay your taxes--"

Underwood interrupts. "No, I'm sorry, they were the bedrock of the American dream. But they're not anymore. Certainly not for the 10 million people who are out of work."

In Episode Two, Underwood gives a "bold" speech outlining his plan. It begins:
For too long, we in Washington have been lying to you. We say we're here to serve you, when in fact, we're serving ourselves. And why? We are driven by our own desire to get reelected ...

That's another favored trope: that the corporate politicians are courageous (as if it's brave to serve the wealthy and powerful!), while their opponents are cravenly pandering to the voters - by representing them.

"That ends tonight," says Underwood. "Tonight, I give you the truth."

There's that idea again, that the corporate version of reality is "fact" or "truth." We're told that "the root of the problem" is "entitlements" - a favorite word in the corporate crowd because it has negative connotations. (We've written about that before.)

"Let me be clear," adds Underwood. "You are entitled to nothing ... "  Just like real-life Third Way types, Underwood is trying to cancel our nation's social contract.

Real-Life Frank Underwoods

At least Underwood wants to use the money to create jobs, which is more than most corporate Dems are willing to do. That's a little disturbing: Real-life Third Wayers seem less responsive to the public than a fictional sociopath.

About those real-life Underwoods: You can read about them in an article TheHill.com published this week under the headline "Centrist Dems ready strike against Warren wing." They claim to be truth-tellers too, but the truth is their policies don't work for anyone but the wealthy and privileged.

Their ideas don't work politically, either: Congressional Democrats ran on their platform in 2010 and 2014 and lost big.

What They're Not Telling You

You know what Frank Underwood and his real-life counterparts never mention? Taxes. The payroll tax shift, combined with a financial transaction tax and an increase in the payroll tax rate, could fund an increased Social Security program in perpetuity.

They're trying to make us believe in a false choice instead: between health care and financial security for the elderly and disabled, or jobs and growth for the young. This country has accomplished both before, and can gain - with a balanced program of government investment in growth, higher taxation for the wealthy, regulation of Wall Street (whose gambling got us into our current mess), and sound financial policy.

We could cut our health care costs by as much as 40 percent by doing what other industrialized nations do: negotiating with drug companies, changing physicians' financial incentives, and limiting the role of for-profit medicine.

Then there is the overarching economic problem of extreme and growing inequality. A more equal economy, like the one we saw during the decades of our greatest growth, would address many of these financial problems. That's another "truth" Frank and his creators forgot to mention.

Billions for Boeing

You know what else the "centrists" don't talk about much? Military spending. It produces far few jobs for the buck than spending in other sectors - including health care.

Military spending is 19 percent of the budget, nearly as much as Social Security - and it does come out of general revenues. So why the free pass? As it happens, the defense industry is well-represented in some of the groups fighting to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Netflix itself has pushed aggressively for tax breaks. It has played Underwood-style hardball with the state of Maryland, as Citizens for Tax Justice noted, extracting more than $62 million in tax breaks from a film credit program which only produces 10 cents for every dollar granted in economic benefits.

You can fund a lot of "entitlements" with that kind of money. But, as we were saying, that wouldn't be in a corporation's best interests. As Frank might say, in his smooth Southern drawl: Now isn't that a coincidence?

Sociopathic Politics

Don't turn your back on Frank Underwood. Everybody knows he's a murderous sociopath.But he's portrayed as someone who is capable of telling the political truth because he is a sociopath. Only he can see that our old people are spending us into oblivion, because only he is unafraid to take on the "special interests" and think the unthinkable.

I'd like to think that the producers used a corporate "Third Way" Democrat as a consultant because it suits Frank's character. He's amoral and incapable of empathy, after all, which does arguably make for a good fit. That doesn't seem to be their motivation.

As an audience we're asked to believe that Frank Underwood has been liberated from the petty restrictions of conventional minds and sees the "truth." But it's a lie, packaged as truth and peddled by House of Cards. Why? A wise politician once spoke of a "conspiracy of shared values," and that may be all there is to this story.

Whatever the motivations, it's a deception nonetheless. And since everybody in Washington watches the show, it's a potentially destructive one.

Frank Underwood is a liar, thief, and murderer. Sure, we can all enjoy the show if we want. But let's not join Frank, or Netflix, or House of Cards, as they try to push America's seniors in front of a train.

Hillary Clinton Only Used A Private E-Mail As Secretary Of State, Protecting Messages From Disclosure: Report

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 21:20
WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.

Rep. Aaron Schock To Repay Taxpayer Funds Used For Flight To Football Game

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 21:09
PEORIA – Scrambling to contain the damage for billing taxpayers for a private plane ride to Chicago to attend a Bears game, revealed in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., on Monday wrote a check for $1,237 to repay the U.S. government.

Housing Restrictions For Sex Offenders Unconstitutional, California Court Rules

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 21:06
The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that a state law barring sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park is unconstitutional.

The ruling immediately affects only San Diego County, where the case originated, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, but will “almost certainly apply to other densely populated counties.”

The housing restriction known as Jessica's Law passed by voters in 2003 aimed to create predator-free zones. But it unfairly infringes on registered sex offenders’ personal liberties, Justice Marvin R. Baxter wrote, and has “severely restricted their ability to find housing in compliance with the statute, greatly increased the incidence of homelessness among them, and hindered their access to medical treatment, drug and alcohol dependency services, psychological counseling and other rehabilitative social services available to all parolees.”

Baxter wrote that those problems make it difficult for law enforcement to keep track of sex offenders and bears “no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators.”

The court found that in San Diego County, the 2,000-feet rule meant that less than 3 percent of multi-unit housing was available to offenders. Michael Feer, a clinical social worker formerly employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said that at least half the sex offenders he counseled were homeless.

The court’s ruling bans a blanket restriction, the Los Angeles Times noted. Authorities will still be able to to restrict where offenders live on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, federal law banned anyone in a state database of sex offenders from receiving federal housing subsidies after June 2001.

An appeals court in New York last month ruled that local governments cannot restrict where sex offenders may live, saying only the state has that power.

Susan Rice Delivers Tough Love To AIPAC About Iranian Nuclear Negotiations

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 20:46
WASHINGTON -- Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, buttered up the thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference delegates here Monday evening with Hebrew phrases and warm anecdotes about her visits to Israel.

Then she brought on the tough talk, telling AIPAC delegates that their lobbying activities threaten to blow up ongoing negotiations to limit Iran's nuclear program.

"We cannot let an unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal," Rice said.

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a controversial address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, AIPAC will ask members to support two pieces of legislation -- one triggering new Iran sanctions in the event a nuclear deal can't be reached, the other mandating congressional review if a deal is signed.

Delegates gave Rice a standing ovation when she said, "I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forego its domestic enrichment entirely." But she cut off the applause, saying that barring Iran from developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is not "a viable negotiating position."

"As desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable," Rice said.

The crowd cheered again when Rice said, "I know some may argue that we must impose sanctions and walk away.

"But, my friends, let’s remember that sanctions, unfortunately, have never stopped Iran from advancing its program," she said.

"Here’s what’s likely to happen without a deal: Iran will install and operate advanced centrifuges," Rice continued. "It will rebuild its uranium stockpile and we will lose the unprecedented sanctions and transparency we have today."

Rice said last month that the process that brings Netanyahu to the U.S. this week -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu without notifying the White House -- had "injected a degree of partisanship" into a U.S.-Israel relationship that should transcend politics. She said she thought the process was "destructive to the fabric of the relationship."

Rice said on Monday that she thought Congress had "played a hugely important role" in helping to pass sanctions on the Iranian regime. "They shouldn’t play the spoiler now," Rice said.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, focused her address to AIPAC earlier Monday on the administration's efforts to defend Israel in the international community, with only a brief mention of the negotiations with Iran.

Rice, however, devoted a significant chunk of her speech to reassuring the AIPAC attendees that the U.S. still believed "a bad deal is worse than no deal" and wasn't negotiating for the sake of negotiating.

"We understand the unique concerns of our Israeli friends and partners," Rice said. "As President Obama has repeated many times, we are keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."

Some political observers had speculated Rice would be booed at AIPAC. But the vitriol against her seemed to have eased after American Rabbi Shmuley Boteach placed an ad in The New York Times Saturday claiming Rice has a "soft spot" on genocide, citing her comments from more than two decades ago about the mass murders in Rwanda. The White House and a broad spectrum of Jewish groups, including AIPAC, immediately denounced the ad.

“Ad hominem attacks should have no place in our discourse," AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said.

Rice has had to deliver tough love to Israel supporters before. Israelis and their allies were upset in 2013, when she attributed a faltering of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to continued Israeli settlement construction in areas Palestinians would want as a part of their would-be state.

No Backlash Against Torture

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 20:23
Just before the U.S. Senate released its report at the end of 2014 on the CIA's use of "harsh interrogation" tactics against prisoners, the question was whether or not the report would provoke a public backlash against torture.

The answer is NO.

By a two-to-one margin in an ABC News poll just after the release of the Senate report, Americans said "all in all" the CIA methods were justified. Polls by Pew, CBS News, and YouGov showed agreement, their variations were due to differences in question wording and order. And after the New Year, Pew showed that by a 5 to 3 margin (54 percent - 33 percent), Americans continue to have a favorable view of the CIA.

Why there is no backlash against torture is a question that the public answered primarily with indifference.

First, those "harshly interrogated" by the CIA were either terrorists, suspected terrorists, people suspected of knowing terrorists, or people suspected of knowing about things terrorists might do. Though one in four was mistakenly imprisoned, many American voters are not sympathetic.

Second, none of those harshly interrogated were Americans. One might guess that public reaction would be different if those tortured had been American. But perhaps not. Opinion polls show the public is historically unsympathetic to both criminals and suspected criminals, foreign or domestic.

Third, a substantial number of voters believe torture is effective. This is an intuitive and understandable belief, though it has been disproved over and again, and has been criticized even by successful military interrogators. But beliefs are difficult to change, and this one was not broadly challenged, despite a number of U.S. senators who tried to do so.

The point of much of the Senate report was that CIA's interrogation program was not effective even according to the CIA's own records. Yet key partisan leaders rose to assert that torture works and that important information was extracted by it. They were backed-up by several CIA directors and deputy directors. And in a subsequent Washington Post/ABC News poll, the public by a 5-to-3 ratio agreed the CIA methods had produced "important information."

For many people, if torture is effective, then voters can conclude that it is justified to save lives. If torture is ineffective, the downside is only that some foreign terrorists were tortured.

Instead of sparking a backlash against the CIA's conduct, debate turned to the motives of the senators and whether or not the report was partisan (by a 5 to 4 margin, 47 percent - 36 percent, voters said it was unfair), and whether or not the report was immediately damaging to U.S. interests abroad (it was thought so by a similar 5 to 4 margin, 52 percent - 43 percent). Thus, other questions ripe for debate were not put to the American citizen and received little attention.

Americans did not end up debating whether torture is unjustified if it is ineffective, as one organization did in 2011. As one study shows, the view that torture is both justified and effective is sometimes conflated with feelings of vengeance. Asking whether torture is (un)justified if it is (in)effective would help sort out some of these motivations.

Another question little debated was whether the CIA's interrogation program did more to help the anti-terrorist effort or more to hurt it by damaging America's reputation and standing in the world. Does America cede important moral high-ground in using torture, or is this ethical advantage not important for rallying public support in the future?

Also obscured was the question of whether Americans approve or disapprove of the CIA's outsourcing of torturers to a private business. The CIA had the opportunity to rely on its own people, or to recruit or borrow trained interrogators from the uniformed services and from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Instead, the CIA contracted with a private business led by two psychologists. So while the public debated CIA torture, it largely overlooked the fact that the program was designed, implemented, managed, and evaluated by two private contractors who made over $80 million dollars and had indemnity agreements with the CIA.

Finally, the question of whether or not torture is acceptable for other countries and other organizations was not debated. If these methods are acceptable for America's defense purposes, are they now acceptable for others engaged in defending their citizens? And to what extent is the public concerned that the U.S. has set a precedent that will rebound on American soldiers?

So, no backlash against torture. The American people have spoken -- largely by their silence on the issue. Our speculation might now turn to whether we as pollsters and others as civic leaders failed to ask the public the right questions.

Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken Join Growing List Of Democrats Skipping Netanyahu Speech

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 20:11
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced Monday that they will not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Tuesday address to a joint session of Congress.

One day after President Barack Obama said he would veto any new sanctions against Iran, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu to make his case to Congress against a nuclear deal. Boehner extended the invitation without first consulting the White House, a move seen by some as disrespectful to Obama. The administration has pushed back on the speech, calling Boehner's invite a breach of protocol.

"I strongly support Israel, and I remain deeply concerned about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, which I discussed in detail with Prime Minister Netanyahu when we met in Jerusalem last November," Warren said in a statement, according to the Boston Globe. “It's unfortunate that Speaker Boehner’s actions on the eve of a national election in Israel have made Tuesday’s event more political and less helpful for addressing the critical issue of nuclear nonproliferation and the safety of our most important ally in the Middle East."

In a statement earlier Monday, Franken described the speech as a "partisan spectacle."

"This has unfortunately become a partisan spectacle, both because of the impending Israeli election and because it was done without consulting the administration,” Franken said. "I’d be uncomfortable being part of an event that I don’t believe should be happening. I’m confident that, once this episode is over, we can reaffirm our strong tradition of bipartisan support for Israel."

According to The Hill, more than 50 congressional Democrats have said they are skipping the controversial speech. Among those boycotting are Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Vice President Joe Biden is also missing the speech due to overseas travel.

Obama will not meet with Netanyahu during his time in the U.S. due to his visit's proximity to the mid-March Israeli elections. In a Monday interview with Reuters, Obama said the rift over the prime minister's visit was not personal and will not be "permanently destructive" to U.S.-Israeli ties.

"This is not a personal issue," Obama said. "I think that it is important for every country in its relationship with the United States to recognize that the U.S. has a process of making policy."

Netanyahu also addressed the controversy during a Monday speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

"Our alliance is sound, our friendship is strong," Netanyahu said. "Despite occasional disagreements, the friendship between America and Israel grew stronger and stronger decade after decade, and our friendship will weather the current disagreement as well to grow even stronger in the future. And I'll tell you why: because we share the same dreams, because we pray and hope and aspire for that same world."

The Toughest Job At AIPAC: Selling Iran Diplomacy

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 19:59
WASHINGTON -- Selling nuclear diplomacy with Iran was perhaps the toughest job at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference this year -- second only to shepherding teenage attendees to the AIPAC selfie wall. Still, one gutsy former adviser to President Barack Obama decided to give it a shot -- and soon realized he might have been better off handing out selfie sticks.

As one of the few speakers at the conference to defend the administration's approach to Iran, former top State Department official Robert Einhorn told attendees at a Monday afternoon panel discussion that the deal the U.S. and five other world powers hope to strike with Iran likely won't be ideal for the United States or for Israel. But an agreement, he said, would be the best option for restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Einhorn called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on a nuclear deal that prevents Iran from enriching uranium unrealistic. “I would agree that if you could get this kind of agreement, that would be the best possible negotiating outcome,” he said. “The problem, in my view, is that it’s simply not achievable.

"It’s important that any agreement that emerges from these negotiations not be compared with some ideal, but unattainable agreement," Einhorn added. "It’s important to compare the deal that may emerge with the realistic alternatives." He challenged critics to lay out a better plan for handling Iran’s nuclear program.

That logic didn't sway Jarrow Rogovin, a Los Angeles businessman watching the panel, wearing a conference-provided lanyard indicating he had donated upwards of $36,000 to AIPAC over the last year.

Rogovin told The Huffington Post he believes there is a clear plan superior to the one Einhorn and the Obama administration support: "They absolutely have to be bombed."

"If they're not bombed, they're going to do it," Rogovin added, referring to the use of nuclear weapons. "You go in there, you blow the place completely apart. They're not going to go in there and salvage the uranium. If they dare [retaliate], we can completely take them down."

After blasting Einhorn and criticizing The Huffington Post for being filled with "left-wing Israel-hating fascists," Rogovin said supporters of negotiations with Iran were in "cuckoo-land."

"He's dead-wrong," Rogovin said of Einhorn. "Look, they have a millennial hatred of us. They're out to destroy us."

Despite Rogovin's status as a Chairman's Council attendee, an AIPAC staffer quietly pointed out that Rogovin's views don't necessarily reflect the organization's.

According to Einhorn, a single military strike against Iran could set back the Islamic Republic's nuclear program temporarily, but halting the program entirely would take repeated military strikes. He added that such strikes may threaten the world's ability to monitor Iran's nuclear activity.

“Then [Iran] would say, 'We have a real justification, having been attacked by military force, we’re going to go now for nuclear weapons.' ... They would evict the [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors -- those inspectors are our best window into Iran’s nuclear program," Einhorn said.

While some U.S. lawmakers have proposed additional sanctions for Iran, Einhorn said he doubted financial punishment would make the Iranians more receptive to a deal Netanyahu described. The Iranian public, Einhorn said, views uranium enrichment as a scientific achievement and would oppose anything that revokes this right and results in "a national humiliation."

Rob Bernstein, an AIPAC member from New Jersey, called the discussion "informative," but also expressed skepticism.

Bernstein said he was doubtful about nuclear diplomacy because he had little faith in Iran as a negotiating partner. The Iranians, Bernstein said, may break a deal "because they're not rational." And Obama critics view the administration as too weak to punish Iran for treaty violations.

"We’ve consistently allowed them to increase the number of centrifuges," Bernstein said. "That’s the problem. I mean, I suppose if I had Ronald Reagan telling me that this is a good deal, I might buy it. When I’m listening to Obama and Kerry, it makes my knees quake."

Rogovin said he believes the Iranians are lying and it doesn't matter whether Secretary of State John Kerry, who resumed nuclear talks in Geneva on Monday, recognizes that.

Rogovin added that his top priority is finding a presidential candidate willing to bomb Iran. He said he's not sure who will "have the testosterone" to do so.

Obamacare on the Docket Again

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 18:44

This will be a rather busy week in the political world. We've got the Prime Minister of Israel giving a controversial speech before Congress Tuesday, and then at the end of the week we'll have another round of government shutdown follies, courtesy of the House Republicans. Between these two events, the Supreme Court is going to be busy with a few questions in the political arena. The most prominent of these cases is King v. Burwell, which puts Obamacare back on the docket.

The first time the high court heard a major Obamacare case was in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, back in 2012. At the time, the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare's official name) was upheld by a vote of 5 to 4. This time around will likely be a close decision as well, but neither side should really be counting their chickens in advance of the expected ruling (the court will hear the oral arguments Wednesday, but a decision isn't expected until June, at the latest).

Defenders of Obamacare have two main legal arguments, while opponents have one. This is not determinative in and of itself, of course, because nobody knows which argument is the stronger one at this point. The Obamacare defenders argue first that the totality of the law should be taken into account when interpreting any one tiny piece of it -- the clear intent was that Congress was providing subsidies equally to all Americans, no matter what their state legislatures did. The law must be read in context to the other parts of the law. This is an argument that many conservative justices on the court have used in previous cases, so it's not exactly a partisan argument. The second argument from the Obamacare side is that when the federal government is using either sticks or carrots when dealing with the states in any particular legislation, there must be clear warning given to the states: "Do X, or we will withhold Y amount of federal dollars," for instance. This argument is bolstered by the fact that even Obamacare's opponents in Congress never used the "states on the federal exchange will not get subsidies" line of attack when the bill was being endlessly debated, before it passed. Obamacare opponents only recently discovered this argument, after King V. Burwell was filed. If states without their own exchanges were going to be penalized in such a fashion, why didn't anyone point it out at the time? Again, this line of legal reasoning has been used by conservative justices in other cases.

The opponents of Obamacare have one clear argument, one which Horton the Elephant might have stated as: "It means what it says, and it says what it means." The one sentence in question clearly only refers to exchanges set up by the states, therefore the I.R.S. cannot allow subsidies to be given in any state included in the federal exchange. Period.

Both arguments will be pitched to one man: Chief Justice John Roberts. How the other justices rule is not really much in question (although it's conceivable that Kennedy might surprise some people by voting for Obamacare). Roberts was the deciding vote in the earlier Obamacare case, and Roberts is much more aware of his namesake court's historical legacy. No chief justice wants their name on a legal decision that later will be taught in law schools as a great example of bad law, in other words. This weight on Roberts' shoulders existed in the earlier case, and may have nudged him towards ruling for Obamacare. But if that's true, then it would be hard to see him now essentially reversing himself after allowing Obamacare to move forward. But again, that would be prematurely counting chickens. Neither side is all that sure they're going to win this case, to put it another way.

The impact of gutting Obamacare now would be immeasurably bigger than it was back in 2012, which is something else Roberts could be giving consideration to in his decision. If Obamacare had been eviscerated back in 2012, almost all of its benefits would have remained in the realm of the theoretical. Future benefits would not have appeared. It's a vastly different situation now, however. If the court ruled against the subsidies, it would endanger millions of Americans' health insurance, immediately. Health options would be taken away from people who are now benefiting from them. There would be nothing theoretical at all about the fallout. This is a big change. It's not supposed to matter all that much in the pure and rarefied legalistic heights of the Supreme Court, but it's one more thing that likely is now crossing the mind of John Roberts. Yanking the rug out from under Obamacare in 2012 would have led to a legislative mess, and the denial of a major part of a president's legacy. Doing so now would mean making health insurance unaffordable for tens of millions who currently can afford it, thanks to the subsidies. The disruption factor is a lot higher.

I'm certainly not going to venture a prediction of which way the court will rule, at least not before hearing what happens Wednesday. But even that may not give many clues. Roberts is fully capable of performing a "head fake" and asking tough and pointed questions of one side of the argument -- and then going ahead and ruling for that side anyway. The Supreme Court knows how closely their every utterance during oral arguments is dissected by legal experts, so they can at times play their cards very close to the vest indeed. To put this another way, even after Wednesday's arguments, neither side should count too many chickens too early.

If the court does rule against Obamacare, there are several quick fixes which could take place which would solve the problem almost immediately. Congress could pass a one-sentence bill that says "replace 'by the State' in this one subsection of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with 'by the State or federal government.'" That's all it would take. The entire bill would fit on one piece of paper. Since this is not likely to happen immediately (given the current makeup of Congress), another quick fix would be for every state to set up some sort of middleman arrangement, or just legislatively declare "we hereby declare that our state's official exchange is the federal exchange's webpage which deals with our state." This is, obviously, a riskier quick fix to attempt, since it would likely be challenged in court.

If the court does rule against the subsidies for states on the federal exchange and no quick fix appears, it's going to set up an interesting political dynamic. Most of the states on the federal exchange (but not all of them) are red states run by Republicans. The pressure to cobble together a state-level exchange is going to be fierce, even in the reddest areas of the country. Unfortunately for them, there is no longer federal money available to do so (the federal help only lasted during the initial Obamacare setup period). So it's going to cost the states to set up their own exchanges.

If states refuse to set up their own exchanges, then hundreds of thousands of citizens in each state are going to lose their health insurance. This is a trap the Republicans dug for themselves, really, by making such a stink when all the substandard pre-Obamacare insurance policies ended (when Obamacare exchanges first opened). Republicans took the position that nobody should lose their health insurance at all, ever, and they hit Obama hard on the issue. So how are they going to now explain their glee at the prospect of millions losing their health insurance? That's going to be an interesting political tightrope for them to attempt to walk, that's for sure.

Republicans in Congress, of course, have been saying for five years now that their top priority is to "repeal and replace" Obamacare with something that gets the conservative seal of approval. The problem, however, is that they have been woefully unable to agree among themselves what, precisely, this would look like. They are now scrambling to come up with something (anything!) that would help convince John Roberts to vote against Obamacare. "It won't be that bad," the GOP is signaling Roberts, "because we'll have a bill to fix everything, so there won't be any massive disruption in the marketplace." The sticking point, as it has always been, is that they have no such bill. Amusingly, some prominent Republicans just penned an opinion piece for the Washington Post titled "We Have A Plan For Fixing Health Care," which does nothing more than repeat "we have a plan" over and over again -- without offering up a single detail of what that plan would be, other than some vague language about how they'll somehow magically continue the federal subsidies for the rest of this year (so people don't lose insurance mid-year). That's it. That's the only detail in their entire article. Lots of talk of "freedom" and badmouthing federal bureaucrats, but virtually no actual substance whatsoever. So it certainly doesn't seem likely, after all this time, that the Republican bill to "replace" Obamacare is going to appear any time soon. They can't even agree on a set of bullet points, so how are they going to manage to construct a piece of actual legislation?

Personally, I am hopeful that John Roberts will take into account both his own legacy and the Republicans laughable lack of any other viable plan when deciding which side to rule for. That's just my gut talking, though, I will fully admit. But I truly think that if Roberts had wanted to exterminate Obamacare, he would have done so in the earlier case. There is an easy legal route to ruling for Obamacare, and I think Roberts will take it. I could easily wind up being wrong, however. I'm not going to read too much into any questioning Roberts does this Wednesday, no matter which way it goes, because I think the oral arguments are little more than a dog-and-pony show for the public -- I think the real legal decision-making happens while the justices read over the voluminous case materials instead. While some cases are easier to predict than others (for example, I think marriage equality will be the law of the land everywhere, before summer), the Obamacare case really could go either way. We'll all just have to wait patiently until June to find out, that's about the only thing that can be said with any degree of certainty right now.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Controversial Artist Attacks Obama in New Painting

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 18:42
Jon McNaughton, a conservative artist with a penchant for creating politically charged paintings, has just released his most controversial painting yet...

The painting depicts a smiling President Obama playing golf -- while a fiery, nuclear explosion is clearly visible in the background.

The name of the painting? Obama's Foreign Policy.

In a post to his Facebook followers, McNaughton wrote: "I felt a need to paint a new image to capture the delicate situation we face as Americans." Then, after listing a number of countries in turmoil he adds, "Since Obama has been President he has played over 200 rounds of golf. THIS is not a game."

While McNaughton certainly has a talent for controversy, he may have gone a little too far on this one. Yes, President Obama has played over 200 rounds of golf, but even President Bush said that he shouldn't be criticized for that (and President Eisenhower played over 800 rounds of golf)!

Furthermore, it's unfair to blame one person for all the problems in a particular country (nevermind dozens of countries). President Obama is the President of the United States, not the President of the World. Besides, political issues (at home and abroad) are always far more nuanced and complicated than we'd like to believe. It's hard to make the right choice when millions of other people have differing opinions on what is right.

Still, McNaughton's painting is a strong image that will undoubtedly stoke the fire for conservative critics.

Norway Can Lead in Fighting Climate Change

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 18:31
Early this year, Norway put its toe in the global movement to drop investments in fossil fuel companies. Its sovereign wealth fund (the Fund), at $850 billion the world's largest, divested from 14 coal mining companies, five tar-sands oil producers and a few other companies heavily involved with fossil fuel.

Late last year, an Expert Group appointed by Norway's Finance Ministry released a 71 page report addressing whether the Fund, as a responsible investor sensitive to the global threat of climate change, should exclude fossil fuel companies from its portfolio or exercise its ownership and influence by engaging with those companies.

The Expert Group rejected an "either-or" approach, describing the many ways in which strategies of exclusion and active ownership can contribute to lessening the climate change danger. Indeed, it wisely emphasized the reinforcing value of using both exclusion and active ownership in combination, suggesting that together they "can be larger than the sum of their parts."

In exploring these strategies, the Group ignored concerns of fiduciary duty. This is important. There is nothing exceptional about the Fund's objectives that distinguishes it, in regard to investments, from the vast majority of institutional funds managed by fiduciaries throughout the world, whether as pension funds, endowments of educational institutions, philanthropies or others. This approach to fiduciary duty is remarkably, and refreshingly, different from the defensive one adopted by many fiduciaries in the United States, who have wrapped themselves in the duty of care to avoid confronting the fossil fuel industry by either exclusion or engagement through active ownership.

In acting upon the Expert Group's report, Norway has a problem. Not only is the Fund's immense wealth derived from North Sea oil, the Norwegian Parliament controls Statoil, one of the largest oil companies in the world. These facts pose a dilemma. They also offer Norway a unique opportunity.

In regard to fossil fuel companies directly engaged in extractive activities, it is unrealistic, without dramatic steps, to imagine them being swayed by shareholder arguments to get out of their core business of exploring for, extracting and selling carbon-emitting fuel. The problem goes beyond just the high likelihood of spinning wheels and accomplishing nothing in addressing the urgent need for global action. Indeed, engagement is likely to assist Big Oil and Big Coal in postponing the day when governments limit the burning of fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency reckons that, if governments act to compel adherence to the "carbon budget" necessary to have a chance of holding the planet to only a 2-degree Celsius rise in temperature from pre-industrial levels, it will cause Big Oil and Big Coal to lose about $1 trillion a year. Engagement with institutional investors could give the fossil fuel giants protective cover in stretching out the transition process to renewables for as long as they can. It legitimizes talk over action.

However, Norway could provide exactly the dramatic step needed to make active ownership through engagement a realistic and promising enterprise. The Fund could try engagement with the fossil fuel companies held in its portfolio, but only if first, the government were to align the behavior of Statoil with the demands the Fund would then make on those portfolio companies. Parliament has the power, and Norway is recognized as a global leader in both thought and deed.

There are three fundamental requirements that a fossil fuel company should meet to avoid exclusion from portfolios managed by responsible fiduciaries seeking to acknowledge the global threat of climate change. They are:

  1. Publicly accept the science of climate change, including recognition of the scientifically rooted predictions of damage to the planet and its people if we fail to halt carbon emissions.

  2. Within a reasonable period, cease CAPEX (capital expenditures) in search of more fossil fuel.

  3. Use the company's lobbying forces wherever active in the world publicly and constructively to lobby for (a) elimination of all fossil fuel subsidies, which globally today total some 600 billion a year, (b) imposition of carbon taxes or other means to internalize the costs to the planet of burning fossil fuels, and (c) legislation to reduce carbon emissions to a level, globally, that will not harm the planet.

There may be other demands that investors want to make on fossil fuel companies, but these three are fundamental, fair and can be instituted immediately. Any company accepting them would change from being a global pariah that is increasingly viewed as such throughout the world to become a responsible corporate citizen whose securities need not be excluded from portfolios. Any company rejecting one or more of them would remain a pariah and be excluded.

By instituting these three policies, Statoil would establish itself (and vicariously the Government of Norway and its people) as first among those global leaders seeking to address the most existential threat the world has ever faced. Statoil would become the measure against which all other fossil fuel companies would be tested for inclusion or exclusion from portfolios everywhere.

Of course, this course of action could be costly to Statoil. That would depend on many factors, including the price of oil, the cost of exploration and development, the status of renewables and other alternative sources of energy and the uses to which funds earmarked for CAPEX were put. Measured against the vast positive impact such actions would have in propelling the solution to climate change forward, whatever net costs were incurred would be well worth bearing.

The Federal Reserve Board's Plan to Kill Jobs

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-03-02 18:29
There is an enormous amount of political debate over various pieces of legislation that are supposed to be massive job killers. For example, Republicans lambasted President Obama's increase in taxes on the wealthy back in 2013 as a job killer. They endlessly have condemned the Affordable Care Act as a jobs killer. The same is true of proposals to raise the minimum wage.

While there is great concern in Washington over these and other imaginary job killers, the Federal Reserve Board is openly mapping out an actual job-killing strategy and drawing almost no attention at all for it. The Fed's job-killing strategy centers on its plan to start raising interest rates, which is generally expected to begin at some point this year.

The Fed's plans to raise interest rates are rarely spoken of as hurting employment, but job-killing is really at the center of the story. The rationale for raising interest rates is that inflation could begin to pick up and start to exceed the Fed's current 2.0 percent target, if the Fed doesn't slow the economy with higher interest rates.

Higher interest rates slow the economy by discouraging people from borrowing to buy homes or cars. They will also have some effect in discouraging businesses from investing. With reduced demand from these sectors, businesses will hire fewer workers. This will weaken the labor market, which means workers have less bargaining power. If workers have less bargaining power, they will be less well-situated to get pay increases. And if wages are not rising there will be less inflationary pressure in the economy.

The potential impact of Fed rate hikes on jobs is large. Suppose the Fed raises interest rates enough to shave 0.2 percentage points off the growth rate, say pushing growth for the year down from 2.4 percent to 2.2 percent. If we assume employment growth drops roughly in proportion to GDP growth, this would imply a reduction in the rate of job growth of almost 10 percent. If the economy would have otherwise created 2.4 million jobs over the course of the year, the Fed's rate hikes would have cost the economy more than 200,000 jobs in this scenario.

For comparison purposes, we are having a big fight over the Keystone pipeline. The proponents of the pipeline point to the jobs created by building a pipeline as an important justification, even if the oil being pumped through the pipeline may cause enormous damage to the environment. According to the State Department's analysis, building the pipeline would create 21,000 for two years. This pipeline related jobs gain has been widely touted in the media and is supposed to make it difficult for many members of Congress to go along with President Obama in opposing Keystone.

Yet, the Fed can easily destroy ten times as many jobs with a set of interest rate hikes this year with its actions passing largely unnoticed. In fact, the impact of Fed interest rate hikes on jobs can easily be far larger than this 200,000 number. If the Fed decides that the unemployment rate should not fall below a certain level (5.4 percent is a number is often used), then it could be costing the economy millions of jobs if the economy could actually sustain a considerably lower level of unemployment as it did in the late 1990s.

To be clear, Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues on the Fed's Open Market Committee (FOMC) that determines interest rates are not evil people sitting around figuring out how to ruin the lives of American workers. The Fed has a legal mandate to control inflation, in addition to its mandate to sustain high levels of employment. If they raise interest rates it will be because they fear inflationary pressures will build if they let the economy continue to grow and unemployment to fall.

But this is inevitably a judgment call. The call is based on both their assessment of the risk of inflation and also the relative harm from higher rates of inflation as opposed to higher rates of unemployment.

It is likely that the members of the FOMC, who largely come from the financial industry, are much more concerned about inflation than the population as a whole. They are also likely to be less concerned about unemployment. These are people who tend to read about unemployment in the data, not to see it themselves or among their friends and family members.

This is why it is important that the public be paying attention to the Fed's interest rate policies and let them know how they feel about raising interest rates to kill jobs. The Center for Popular Democracy has organized an impressive grassroots campaign around the Fed's interest rate policies. Those who don't want to see the government deliberately trying to kill jobs might want to join in.