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Former Ohio Rep. James Traficant Dies After Accident

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-09-27 14:24
Former U.S. Rep. James Traficant Jr., who spent time in prison on corruption charges, died Saturday, according to the Vindicator.

Traficant, 73, was in "very critical" condition after suffering an injury from a tractor that tipped over him on his farm in Ohio earlier this month. The tractor rolled over backward while he was still in the driver’s seat.

Goshen police district Chief Steven McDaniel told the Associated Press that, "We're unsure if he might have hit the clutch instead of the brake."

Traficant was expelled from the House in 2002 after a federal court found him guilty on 10 counts. He was in public office for more than 17 years.

More from the Associated Press below:

CLEVELAND (AP) — James Traficant, the colorful Ohio politician whose conviction for taking bribes and kickbacks made him only the second person to be expelled from Congress since the Civil War, died Saturday. He was 73.

Traficant was seriously injured Tuesday after a vintage tractor flipped over on him as he tried to park it inside a barn on the family farm near Youngstown. He died four days later in a Youngstown hospital, said Dave Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party.

The Democrat's expulsion from Congress in 2002 came three months after a federal jury in Cleveland convicted him. Prosecutors said he used his office to extract bribes from businesspeople and coerced staffers to work on his farm and his house boat on the Potomac River in Washington. He also was charged with witness tampering, destroying evidence and filing false tax returns. He spent seven years in prison.

Traficant's notoriety was rivaled only by his eccentricity.

He loved to play the buffoon during his 17 years in Congress. He got plenty of notice within the staid, buttoned-down Capitol and airtime on C-SPAN for his messy mop of hair — revealed to be a wig when he went to prison — his typical wardrobe of cowboy boots, denim or polyester suits, and his bombastic speaking style.

His made-for-TV rants on the House floor invariably ended with the signoff "Beam me up," which Traficant borrowed from "Star Trek" to show his disgust or bemusement at whatever he found particularly outrageous.

"Mr. Traficant was a complex man," Betras said. "He gave voice to the frustrations and anxieties of the common man. The public felt he was one of them and because of that connection, they supported him in good times and in bad. He was a larger than life character who will long be remembered."


Traficant was born May 8, 1941, in Youngstown and was a quarterback for the University of Pittsburgh, where he played with future NFL coaches Mike Ditka and Marty Schottenheimer.

He worked as a drug counselor for 10 years before running for Mahoning County sheriff at a colleague's suggestion.

He endeared himself to voters in the early 1980s by defying the courts and going to jail for three nights rather than foreclose on the homes of workers laid off from the city's dying steel industry.

The antagonism between Traficant and federal law enforcement authorities lasted throughout his public career, with Traficant trumpeting it as proof that he was on the side of "the little guy" against powerful government interests.

He faced his first federal bribery and corruption trial in 1983, when he was Mahoning County sheriff. Prosecutors accused Traficant of taking bribes to protect mobsters' criminal activity. He defended himself in court, although he was not a lawyer, and won. He argued that he was conducting a one-person sting.

He was elected to Congress the following year and was easily re-elected eight times.

He championed "Buy American" requirements on virtually every spending bill and prided himself on landing federal grants for hometown prospects, including highways, a sports arena and Youngstown's airport.

Yet he often exasperated fellow Democrats by breaking ranks, such as his decision to vote for Republican Dennis Hastert as speaker and his differences with President Bill Clinton on trade and other issues. He denounced Justice Department tactics and belittled Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno, as a good prospect to run for governor of Beijing.

In 2000, as he geared up for re-election, Traficant was indicted in a grand jury investigation that targeted corruption and organized crime in the Youngstown area and led to the convictions of scores of people, including judges, a prosecutor and a sheriff.

But Traficant was the biggest prize, and he was not as lucky in his second trial as in his first.

He claimed the government had tried to frame him because of his criticism of the FBI, CIA and Internal Revenue Service.

During the two-month trial, he did a curbside interview on live network TV outside the courthouse each morning and then went inside to challenge U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells, who tried to dissuade Traficant from representing himself.

He often slumped alone at the defense table preparing handwritten motions as a team of prosecutors and investigators pressed the government's case under the eye of Justice Department attorneys.

He was expelled from Congress in a 420-1 vote on July 24, 2002, three months after being convicted on 10 corruption-related counts. He could have avoided the indignity of expulsion by choosing to resign, but he remained defiant to the end.

"I'm prepared to lose everything. I'm prepared to go to jail," Traficant told colleagues as they debated his political fate. "You go ahead and expel me."

Six days later, at his sentencing, he abruptly fired his attorney.

"Take your things and move," he told the lawyer, who then switched seats with Traficant.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison and led from the federal courtroom in handcuffs.

Traficant called life in prison "tough."

"Most political figures go to some camps in country clubs," he said. "I didn't."

His case over, Traficant ran for re-election from prison as an independent in 2002 and lost to former aide Tim Ryan. Traficant got 15 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

He was released from prison in September 2009 and the following year ran for the Youngstown-area congressional seat as an independent. He received 16 percent of the vote, again losing to Tim Ryan, and then faded from the spotlight.

From then on, he lived a quiet life on his farm, doting on his grandchildren.

The barn where his tractor tipped over played a key role in his criminal case.

A Youngstown businessman had the barn built for Traficant in return for a favor. The businessman later billed Traficant for the full construction cost after the congressman continued asking for favors. Traficant ended up paying him far less than what the barn was worth, and the businessman testified against him.

___

Biographical material in this report was written by former AP staffer Thomas J. Sheeran. Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

The Worst Cancer of All

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-09-27 14:07
President Obama's decision to deploy 3,000 troops to Liberia in Africa to assist in efforts to contain Ebola got me to thinking about the military as white blood cells. As a military officer, I took an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. In a sense, I was vowing to defend the collective body politic just as white blood cells defend our individual bodies against "enemy" invaders.

But when was the last time the United States faced invaders who posed a virulent and direct threat to our existence? Invaders who directly attacked (or planned to attack) and utterly defeat our body politic? You'd have to go back to World War II and Japan's attack at Pearl Harbor; similarly, Nazi Germany did have plans (that were never implemented) to take its world war to U.S. shores once the Soviet Union and Britain were defeated. Fortunately, our body mobilized its "white blood cells" and defeated (with lots of help from our allies) these enemies before they could afflict our vitals here at home.

Jump ahead to 2001 and the al Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Yes, they were serious and shocking and traumatic. But compared to the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II (true cancers), al Qaeda was the equivalent to a 24-hour "bug," violent in the extreme, but ultimately not a serious long-term threat to the health of America.

By calling 9/11 a "bug," I don't mean to diminish the tragedy of 9/11 for those who lost loved ones. It's just that repeats of 9/11-like attacks were not possible: al Qaeda simply lacked the resources to sustain them. There was no "cancer" that could metastasize. So there was no need to deploy our white blood cells (our troops) in extended wars, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, the latter country of which had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.

Now we have the President referring to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as a "cancer" that must be eradicated, even though that "cancer" has no means of attacking the body that is our country. Despite this fact, the U.S. is deploying its white blood cells yet again to quash a threat that for our nation simply doesn't exist.

From medicine, we know that overactive white blood cells can be as dangerous as underactive ones. White blood cells are part of our immune systems; when these systems are overactive, they convert non-threats into threats. Sometimes that results in violent allergic reactions that can lead to death. Other times, one's own immune system turns on healthy tissue within one's body. The immune system itself becomes a cancer, eating away at the body in misdirected attempts to defend it.

Whenever the U.S. faces a "threat" nowadays, our leaders treat it aggressively as a "cancer" even when the threat poses no direct peril to us. American presidents, whether they're named Bush or Obama, eagerly deploy America's antibodies -- the military -- to search and destroy bad terrorist cells. But the USA is like a patient whose antibodies have run wild, a patient whose antibodies have turned on external threats even when they're not threats, a patient whose antibodies are now attacking healthy tissue within the American body politic.

Consider the fact that U.S. presidents commit the troops -- our nation's antibodies -- to wars against "cancers" without formal declarations of war by Congress. In the name of protecting America, they violate the Constitution that our troops are sworn to uphold. They fail to recognize it's their actions that pose the true threat to the Constitution. It's their actions that constitute the cancer.

The invasive "cure" of continuous military action without oversight exercised by the people is truly worse than the disease, for it's a "cure" that violates our Constitution and weakens our body politic.

And that is indeed the worst cancer of all.

--

A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, William Astore edits the blog The Contrary Perspective.

Cuomo Makes Surprise Afghanistan Trip

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-09-27 13:53
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Saturday.

Cuomo was invited to Afghanistan by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, along with Tennessee Gov. William Haslam (R), Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R). Cuomo will be in the country for 3 days, where he will receive briefings about security threats relevant to New York and meet with National Guard members from his state.

The trip was not announced in advance for security reasons, according to Cuomo's press office.

Cuomo's visit to Afghanistan is likely to fuel speculation that he is gearing up for a presidential run.

The governor told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that he was motivated to take the trip because of the growing power of Islamic State. "[I]t is now abundantly clear that this terrorist threat, even though it has been quiet for 13 years—that this is the new normal."

"It's here," Cuomo told the Journal. "It may get a little bit better. It may get a little bit worse. But it's never going away. And it is very important to me to immerse myself in the topic."

Bill Maher Says If President Obama's 'Latte Salute' Offended You, Go 'Marry Your Teddy Bear'

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-09-27 13:18
Earlier this week the Internet was pretty upset over President Obama's "latte salute," when he saluted Marines with a coffee cup in his hand.

On this week's "Real Time With Bill Maher," the host debated the controversial incident with General Anthony Zinni. Maher, who hilariously dubbed it "latte-gate," found the matter more ridiculous than scandalous. "Let me just say, if this offends you that much, you should marry your teddy bear," Maher said.

Zinni quickly cut in to add just how offended he was by the President's salute. "[It] may be fine in a frat house, it's not the way in the Marine Corps," he said. Maher went on to mock "latte-gate" asking if it was "more important than, like, anything else in the world." While the two disagreed over it, the audience continued laughing at an old photo of the time President George W. Bush saluted with his dog in his arms. We wonder what object will be the center of the next disgraceful salute debate.

[h/t Mediaite]

"Real Time With Bill Maher" airs Fridays at 10:00 p.m. ET on HBO.

Scott Brown Does Jeanne Shaheen A Favor

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-09-27 13:16
Scott Brown had an easy layup opportunity against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the woman he hopes to defeat come the midterm elections in November. He missed.

Calling in to the Boston Herald radio show on Friday, Brown was given the chance to pile on a simple, if not inane, attack against Shaheen's absenteeism at numerous Senate Foreign Relations committee hearings. The conservative-leaning Boston Herald reported Thursday that the Democrat "skipped out on nearly half of the public hearings held by the committee over the last two years," including an April hearing on the dangers of the Islamic State.

The report prompted immediate hysteria from Republicans. "New Hampshire is an independent state, and it's sad that Granite Staters are being poorly represented by an Obama puppet and a no-show senator like Jeanne Shaheen," said New Hampshire GOP Chair Jennifer Horn. Former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R) released a statement saying that, had Shaheen been in the military, she would have been "charged with abandoning her post."

To his credit, Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts, took a more measured approach. He explained that while it was practically impossible to hold a spotless attendance record, the one hearing Shaheen missed on Islamic State was a matter of concern because it had taken place before the militants seized control of parts of Iraq earlier this year. Yet in passing up the opportunity to criticize Shaheen, Brown neutralized a line of attack from his own party and did Shaheen a favor at a time when the race appears to be tightening.

"Senators have tremendous amount of responsibilities," he said. "I don't think there's ever an expectation to have 100 percent attendance."

"They're double-booked a lot," he explained of committee hearings.

Asked by the host about gaps in his own attendance record while on the Arms Services and Homeland Security committees, Brown conceded the point entirely.

"That wouldn't surprise me. We would have to pick and choose what are we listening to, what are we working on today," he said. "I'm not criticizing [Shaheen] for her attendance at committee hearings. I am questioning where we are with ISIS."

Shaheen is not the only member of Congress whose committee attendance has come into question this year. In the deadlocked Iowa Senate Race, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) was pilloried by Republicans for missing 75 percent of meetings for a committee that provides oversight over the Veterans Administration -- a headline especially damaging during the widely followed VA scandal.

Islamic State Shells Syrian Kurdish Town, Defying Air Strikes

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-09-27 13:07

* IS pounded again in northern Syria

* Group presses attack on strategic border town

* Turkey says its troops could be used in Syria (Adds monitoring group on IS casualties, 9th paragraph)

By Mariam Karouny and Jonny Hogg

BEIRUT/MURSITPINAR, Turkey, Sept 27 (Reuters) - New U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State fighters failed to stop them from pressing their assault on a strategic Syrian town near the Turkish border on Saturday, hitting it with shell fire for the first time.

The U.S. Central Command said the air strikes destroyed an IS building and two armed vehicles near the border town of Kobani, which the insurgents have been besieging for the past 10 days.

It said an airfield, garrison and training camp near the IS stronghold of Raqqa were also among the targets damaged in seven air strikes conducted by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, using fighter planes and remotely piloted aircraft.

Three air strikes in Iraq destroyed four IS armed vehicles and a "fighting position" southwest of Arbil, Centcom said.

The United States has been carrying out strikes in Iraq since Aug. 8 and in Syria, with the help of Arab allies, since Tuesday, in a campaign it says is aimed at "degrading and destroying" the Islamist militants who have captured swathes of both countries.

A day after the UK parliament voted to allow British warplanes to attack IS in Iraq, two British fighter jets flew a mission over the country, the Ministry of Defense said, adding they had gathered intelligence but did not carry out air strikes.

IS, which swept across northern Iraq in June, has proclaimed an Islamic "caliphate," beheaded Western hostages and ordered Shi'ites and non-Muslims to convert or die. Its rise has prompted President Barack Obama to order U.S. forces back into Iraq, which they left in 2011, and to go into action over Syria for the first time.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group that supports opposition forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Saturday's air strikes set off more than 30 explosions in Raqqa.

Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Observatory, said 23 Islamic State fighters were killed. He said the heaviest casualties were inflicted in attacks on an airport.

But the monitoring group said IS was still able to shell eastern parts of Kobani, wounding several people, in a sign that its fighters were drawing closer. The insurgents' offensive against the Kurdish town, also known as Ayn al-Arab, has prompted around 150,000 refugees to pour across the border into Turkey since last week.


ERDOGAN SHIFT

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signaled a shift in Ankara's position by saying for the first time that Turkish troops could be used to help set up a secure zone in Syria, if there was international agreement to establish one as a haven for those fleeing the fighting.

Turkey has so far declined to take a frontline role in the U.S.-led coalition against IS, but Erdogan told the Hurriyet newspaper: "The logic that assumes Turkey would not take a position militarily is wrong."

He said negotiations were under way to determine how and by which countries the air strikes and a potential ground operation would be undertaken, and that Turkey was ready to take part.

"You can't finish off such a terrorist organization only with air strikes. Ground forces are complementary ... You have to look at it as a whole. Obviously I'm not a soldier but the air (operations) are logistical. If there's no ground force, it would not be permanent," he said.

Turkish officials near the Syrian border said IS fighters battling Kurdish forces for Kobani sent four mortar shells into Turkish territory, wounding two people.

One of the shells hit a minibus near Tavsanli, a Turkish village within sight of Kobani. A large hole was visible in the rear of the vehicle.

"Two people were injured in the face when the minibus was hit. If they'd been 3 meters (10 feet) closer to the car, many people would have died," said Abuzer Kelepce, a provincial official from the pro-Kurdish party HDP.

Heavy weapons fire was audible, and authorities blocked off the road towards the border.

"The situation has intensified since the morning. We are not letting anyone through right now because it is not secure at all. There is constant fighting, you can hear it," the official said.

Kobani sits on a road linking north and northwestern Syria. IS militants were repulsed by local forces, backed by Kurdish fighters from Turkey, when they tried to take it in July, and that failure has so far prevented them from consolidating their gains in the region.


COALITION WIDENS

Syria's government, which in the past accused its opponents of being Western agents trying to topple Assad, has not objected to the U.S.-led air strikes, saying it was informed by Washington before they began.

It too has carried out air strikes across the country, including in the east, and its ground forces have recaptured the town of Adra, northeast of Damascus, tightening Assad's grip on territory around the capital.

But Russia has questioned the legality of U.S. and Arab state air strikes in Syria because they were carried out without the approval of Damascus, Moscow's ally.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Friday that this week's strikes in Syria had disrupted Islamic State's command, control and logistics capabilities. But he said a Western-backed opposition force of 12,000 to 15,000 would be needed to retake areas of eastern Syria controlled by the militants. (Reporting by Mariam Karouny; additional reporting by Michele Kambas; writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Jason Neely)

Chelsea Clinton Gives Birth To A Girl

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-09-27 01:01
Chelsea Clinton is a mom!

The daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted early Saturday morning that she had given birth to a baby girl named Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky:

Marc and I are full of love, awe and gratitude as we celebrate the birth of our daughter, Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky.

— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) September 27, 2014


This is the first grandchild for the Clintons, who have been vocal in the past about wanting grandchildren.

Both Clintons have openly discussed their first grandchild. In mid-September, Bill Clinton received a call on a phone only used by his wife and daughter during an event, and said he hoped the call wasn't a "premature" birth announcement. A few days later, Hillary Clinton told the crowd at the annual Harkin Steak Fry she and her husband were "on constant grandchild watch."

Clinton announced her pregnancy while speaking at the Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York City in April.

2014 Early Voting Underway

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 23:32
Fall has just begun and voters are already casting ballots in key states holding U.S. Senate races that will likely determine which party will be the Senate majority. So far, at least 18,000 people have already cast mail ballots as of Friday, September 26, 38 days out from Election Day on November 4.

Election officials in these states release early voting data that provide clues as to which party currently has an edge. (I track these statistics here.) The $60 million voter mobilization "Bannock Street project" is a key component of the DSCC's strategy to expand the electorate just enough in the most closely contested states to lift the Democrats' candidates over the top. The fingerprints of these efforts can be seen in these data, as well.

The DSCC's investment appears to be paying off. There are signs Republicans are not going to cede early voting, but their efforts are being swamped by the Democrats' mobilization drives.

Two states are currently and publicly providing robust early voting data, Iowa and North Carolina. More states will release statistics as Election Day nears. Iowa and North Carolina report party registration of those requesting and returning mail ballots. North Carolina, which is very transparent, provides a wealth of individual level data that allows a deep dive into the data.

Although statistics on the returned ballots is interesting, at this stage in the game the much larger number of requested ballots is more relevant. Although some of these requested ballots will not be returned or will be rejected by election officials, the overwhelming majority will be counted. The requested ballot statistics thus provide a forecast of where the early vote is going in the coming weeks, and are what I will focus on.

In all of 2010 in Iowa 349,219 mail ballots were counted. More than a month from the election, already 145,890 voters have requested ballots. An average of more than 8,000 new mail ballot requests were made each day this week (of the four days of new reports). At this pace -- which typically only increases as November nears -- either Iowa will set a record for the share of early voting in a midterm election or Election Day turnout will very high. I would not be surprised if both come to pass given the intense interest in the Braley (D) - Ernst (R) Senate matchup.

Democrats have a commanding lead among Iowa's mail ballot requests. Registered Democrats comprise 52.6% of Iowans who have requested ballots so far, while Republicans compose only 26.7%. In 2010, Democrats were 43.7% compared to 38.0% for Republicans among all ballots cast. For Republicans to match their 2010 performance, moving forward they need to have 46% of all new ballot requests compared to 37% for the Democrats. This assumes the same absolute number of early voters as in 2010; if its higher their challenge will be greater. Republicans need to kick it up into high gear. After a strong start out of the gate for Republicans compared to the start of 2010 -- perhaps driven by mobilization during the primary -- Democrats have dominated the 33,712 new ballot requests this week: 56.1% to 23.3%.

While this is good news for Braley, it is instructive to remember that even in 2004, Kerry won the early vote but lost the state. In 2010, incumbent Sen. Grassley cruised to victory despite the Democratic advantage in the early vote. Much is different about the candidates in 2014 compared to 2010, but if the past is a guide, Democrats are going to need all these early votes if they are to overcome the surge of Republicans who will vote on Election Day.


NC's mail ballots counted (2010) & requests (2014), by party registration

In North Carolina, the number of mail ballots is much smaller. Usually, the early vote is dominated by in-person early voting. In 2010, over 90% of early votes were cast in-person. For this election, the Republican state government -- led in part by North Carolina House Speaker Tillis who is now a U.S. Senate candidate -- overhauled North Carolina's voting laws. Among the changes affecting early voting, the number of early voting days is reduced, but the number of hours is just slightly less, such that there is more weeknight and weekend access. North Carolina's unique "one-stop" registration and voting during the in-person early voting period is scrapped. Of the two changes, I believe the latter will have a greater depressive effect on turnout.

When Florida reduced early voting hours in 2012 (since restored), Democrats changed their behavior by casting mail ballots. Republicans had about a 14 point edge in Florida mail ballots in 2008, but had only a 4 point advantage in 2012. At least some of this change in behavior was due to the Obama campaign encouraging their supporters to cast a mail ballot.

It appears something similar to Florida is happening in North Carolina. Typically, registered Republicans lead the mail ballots; in 2010 they led ballot counted 45.4% to 35.7%. This year is topsy-turvy, with Democrats leading mail ballot requests 41.4% to 35.0%. Their lead is persisting in the daily ballot request updates. Once in-person early voting opens on October 23, we'll have a better sense how much Democrats are going to need these banked mail votes.

North Carolina's wealth of data provides an opportunity to peek under the hood of the DSCC's voter mobilization efforts. The key support target any campaign wishes to encourage to vote is not high propensity voters; they will take care of themselves. It's mobilizing moderate and low propensity voters that is a key to winning elections. The fruits of these efforts can be measured by examining those North Carolina voters with and without a record of voting in the 2010 general election. Those without are the gold campaigns are mining for.

Among the 9,981 who requested ballots and voted in the 2010 election, registered Democrats are 41.4% to Republicans 38.0%. Among the 5,558 without, Democrats are 41.6% to 29.7%. Logically, the difference among Republicans must be among those without a party, who were 20.5% of those who voted in 2010 and 28.0% of those who did not. Republicans are doing a bit worse among the persons who did not vote in 2010. So, so far it appears that Democrats have banked a good number of votes among people who would have voted anyway, and are seeing some modest success with mobilizing lower-propensity voters. We'll have to see if this will be enough for Hagan to prevail over Tillis.

The early voting period has just begun. In North Carolina, perhaps the early vote confirms that Hagan indeed has a narrow lead over Tillis in the polls; the signal is in the same direction. The intense voter mobilization underway in Iowa may mean high turnout. Pollsters don't typically report their expected turnout, but any number of polls are showing Democratic candidates doing better among registered voters than likely voters. The higher the turnout, the more the electorate will look like profile of registered voters, which could be decisive for who wins Iowa and Senate control.

Friday Talking Points -- Eric Holder's Record

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 21:00

We have to pre-empt the usual Friday Talking Points column this week, because when we started writing about Eric Holder in the awards section, it just kind of grew and grew as a subject until it essentially consumed the rest of the column. We still have our notes on all the political foibles and foofaroo from the past week, and we promise we'll keep this list handy and try to review parts of it in next week's column, mostly because some of the stories were real doozies (like the Kansas governor's race, where the Republican is now basing his whole campaign on "my Democratic opponent once visited a strip club," while simultaneously presiding over a state which is about to hold a sex-toy auction because they really, really need the money after the Republican incumbent's disastrous implementation of "pure" conservative economic theory, which consisted of: "Cut all taxes! There, all done -- just sit back and wait for the boom times!"). But we digress.


The news that Attorney General Eric Holder would be stepping down sent a shockwave through Washington (even though he had admitted earlier in the year to an interviewer that he would likely step down before next January). Democrats (and pundits) immediately started whispering about who would be named to replace Holder, while Republicans -- laughably -- tried to make the case that no replacement should get a vote in the Senate during the lame-duck period (good luck with that one, guys). One thing worth remembering: Harry Reid's "nuclear option" is looking pretty good right about now, isn't it? If Republicans could filibuster Holder's replacement, then he might still be still in his job when Obama leaves office in 2017.


Holder certainly had a momentous term in office. Depending on when he is officially replaced, his will either be the fourth-longest or third-longest record as Attorney General in American history. Liberals found him lacking on civil liberties issues (especially in Obama's first term), and conservatives just despised him because he was serving a president they really, really hated (he's also the first Attorney General to be found in contempt of Congress by the House).


On the whole, was his term worth praising or condemning? We have to say that "both" is the only real answer to that question. Because it has many facets, we are going to spend the rest of the article examining his legacy. As we said, we'll return to our usual, more lighthearted fare next week, but for now let's weigh Eric Holder's leadership at the Justice Department, as seen through the eyes of this column.


 



This is going to be a rather unique awards section this week, for two reasons. The first is that it will be a "lifetime achievement" review (or, more accurately "term in office" review) of one person's accomplishments, good and bad. The second reason this is unusual is that it will actually be a review of accomplishments on the scale of "bad to good," as we switch the order of presentation of our awards for one week. This is really necessary, because of the timeline involved.


Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that he will soon be stepping down from his job as America's Top Cop brought mixed reactions from the left. Some choose to focus on only the good he has accomplished, while some insisted that the bad outweighed any good. We're going to take a more comprehensive look, and have to say right here at the start that Holder seems to have balanced it all out fairly well.


But the story of Eric Holder's term in office is really more of a bad-to-good transition, which is why we're going to review his record of winning the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards first. Holder won the MDDOTW six times since this column began, and five of these occurred during Obama's first term in office. In contrast, Holder won eight Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards, but only two of them during Obama's first term. So you can see the progression, and why we had to flip the order of the two awards sections this week.


On the all-time Friday Talking Points "Hall Of Fame/Hall Of Shame" list, Holder's six MDDOTW awards puts him (currently) in a five-way tie for eighth place, with the following unsavory characters: Jay "Rocky IV" Rockefeller IV, Charlie Rangel, Blanche Lincoln, and Rod "Blaggy" Blagojevich.


The first-ever MDDOTW Holder won was way back in FTP [73], for continuing the Bush policy on state secrets in three separate lawsuits. Holder had many other instances of continuing Bush's national security policies, but this was the only one which earned him our award.


The second time Holder won the award was an early disappointment in how the Obama Justice Department was going to handle the War On Weed from FTP [144]. Holder sent a letter weighing in on the first serious attempt of a state's voters to legalize recreational marijuana -- California's Proposition 19 (which ultimately lost at the ballot box in 2010). At the time, we wrote:


Holder's letter, and other recent statements from the Obama administration, make it plain that they will not be happy if Prop. 19 passes, and that they will fight it with every legal weapon they can bring to bear. The timing of these statements (just before voters get a chance to make their choice) and the political nature of what is being said puts these actions over the line, as far as we're concerned. Now, if you're a retired politician, then endorsing or coming out against such a citizens' initiative is certainly fair game, such as former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders recently throwing her support behind Proposition 19. But when you're the nation's top law enforcement officer, you have a duty to uphold the laws -- but also a duty not to influence their creation.


Attorney General Eric Holder, by threatening get-tough measures should Proposition 19 pass -- in an obvious and naked attempt by the Obama administration to throw its weight behind the political forces opposing the measure -- has more than earned this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Please, Mister Attorney General, keep out of California's democratic process, as you are supposed to do. At least until after the election is over.


The third award Holder earned in FTP [173], for sending a memo out to U.S. Attorneys which, in essence, supported overzealous federal prosecutors in states with legal medical marijuana. We wrote, at the time:


The new memo seems to back up the fact that the feds seemed to be concentrating on the biggest growing operations. If an activity is deemed legal (or even "look the other way" quasi-legal), then what difference does it make whether the activity is large or small? The second problem with the new memo is that it seems to give a green light to overzealous federal prosecutors to go after state government officials for making an honest attempt to fill in the legal void when it comes to legalizing the entire seed-to-end-product production chain. Some states -- rather than leave a gaping legal hole -- decided to lay down a few rules as to what was acceptable and what was not for growers of medical marijuana. Before the new rules were even given a chance to be enacted, a few federal prosecutors sent letters to very high-ranking state officials warning them that the feds would haul their butts into court and charge them with conspiring to break federal drug laws. Got that? If a state's attorney general released regulations for legally growing medical marijuana in their state, then they would be prosecuted (read: "persecuted") for falling afoul of the drug laws. This is ridiculous, but the new Justice Department memo seems to back this reasoning up.


Almost exactly a year later, in FTP [218], Holder won again for the fallout from this memo (this was, admittedly, a rather backhanded way for us to give the award to Holder, since it was mainly about one particular U.S. Attorney in California, Melinda Haag).


In Haag's own words, and our snarky response:


"I now find the need to consider actions regarding marijuana superstores such as Harborside. The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need."


Well, golly gee, maybe she needs to be reassigned to Wall Street, huh? Wouldn't that be great to see? "The larger the bank or investment firm, the greater the likelihood that they are abusing financial regulations and performing transactions which are illegal, so we are hereby immediately moving to shut down [fill in the name of your least favorite "Too Big To Fail" institution], even though we have not a shred of evidence that any such crime has been committed."


This will, of course, never happen in a million billion years, but it sure is fun to daydream, isn't it?


A few months later, Holder won again in FTP [231], for the Justice Department arguing in court that marijuana did not have any accepted medical use. We took a look at the administration's position on this:


But the Justice Department is trying to square the circle. They are arguing that there simply aren't enough properly-run scientific peer-reviewed studies of marijuana's use as a beneficial medicine to prove that marijuana has accepted medical uses. The problem -- the indefensible part -- is that to run one of these proper scientific studies, you need the permission of the federal government before you begin. Marijuana is, after all, illegal, and so any legitimate scientific study has to get permission to administer an illegal substance. However, the process for getting such approval is not only long, difficult, and convoluted, even when a research team attempts to jump over the multiple hurdles set in their path by the feds, approval is almost never forthcoming.


This leaves the Justice Department lawyers to argue the following in court: there are not enough proper scientific studies to determine that marijuana is a valid medicine, and we are not going to allow proper scientific studies to take place, because we are afraid of what they will prove.


Catch-22.


Holder's final Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award came a little over a year ago, in FTP [259] in the midst of a scandal over subpoenas issued to journalists in leak investigation cases. Holder got caught right in the middle of this disgraceful episode:


The Obama administration's "War On Leakers" has now officially morphed into a "War On Journalists." On leaks, the Obama team has brought more prosecutions than all other presidents combined -- twice as many, in fact. But while Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself from the case involving the Associated Press' phone records, his signature was discovered this week on an application for a subpoena for a Fox News reporter's emails and phone records. The subpoena charged the Fox reporter, essentially, with spying. The Justice Department didn't really have any intention of prosecuting him, they just wanted to root around in his emails and phone records to pin charges on the government employee who was his source.


This is disgraceful. This is an abuse of power. The subpoena on the Fox reporter was nothing short of a fishing expedition to prosecute yet another leak case. President Obama now says he wants a federal shield law for reporters, even though he helped kill the last such effort in Congress.


Which ends our review of Holder's negative record, and brings us to taking a look at the good things Holder should be remembered for.


 



Eric Holder decided to stay on as Attorney General after President Obama won re-election, even though many expected him to step down. We have to admit, we jumped on that wagon ourselves quite a few times, and indicated (even, at times, while handing him the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award), that we would "cry no tears if he announced his impending retirement."


Looking back, we're glad he stayed as long as he did. His second-term accomplishments were a lot more impressive than his first, to put it mildly. He "evolved" on the marijuana issue, to a breathtaking extent. He will now be remembered as the man who did more to shift the federal government's stance in the War On Weed than anyone else in history, in fact.


Overall, Holder held the same position -- eighth place -- on the overall tally of MIDOTW awards, which is one reason why we say his good balanced his bad, when considering his entire record.


The first time Holder won the prestigious "Golden Backbone" award was in FTP [102], for defending his position on trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York City. This was an enormous political fight (and one that the Obama administration lost), but it was still the right thing to do. We just tried a similar 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorist in federal court and it was just announced he got a life sentence -- but the news media (and the political world) barely blinked. Federal courts have an astoundingly good record at convicting international terrorists, and Holder was right to defend his position. As we said at the time: "It's a rare thing in Washington to see a government official make a strong decision, and then defend it as the right thing to do without either (a.) trying to blame everyone else for the idea's shortcomings, or (b.) immediately apologizing for the decision, or (c.) 'walking back' or even overturning the decision at the slightest sign of political stormclouds on the horizon."


Holder's second MIDOTW award is a relevant one this week, since the news just broke of another record settlement, this time with the Navajo Nation. Back in 2010, Holder earned the award for an even-bigger settlement -- to the tune of three-quarters of a billion dollars -- the Justice Department offered in a case where Native Americans were suing the Agriculture Department for discrimination. One interesting note is that Holder won both the MIDOTW and the MDDOTW that week, back in FTP [144].


Jumping forward to Obama's second term, Holder won again in FTP [262] for finally (and belatedly) dropping a losing case the Obama Justice Department never should have argued in the first place -- trying to keep the "Plan B" morning-after pill from teens who needed it. This court case brought forth some downright scathing commentary from the judge, on the subject of the federal government's idiocy in fighting it, and in June of 2013 Eric Holder finally threw in the towel and stopped his appeals. By doing so, the morning-after pill was made available (as the scientists and doctors had recommended) over-the-counter to anyone without age limit and without having to show identification. So while Holder did win the MIDOTW for finally ending this fight, he certainly took far too long to do the right thing in this case.


The next four MIDOTW awards were all won for Holder's dramatic and historic "evolution" on marijuana law, and his leadership in changing Justice Department policy to reflect the new realities of the last two decades (since medical marijuana was first made legal by a state).


Because of the historic nature of this shift in federal policy, we tended towards rather dramatic language in summing up Holder's new direction. When he first won the award in FTP [269] for a speech he gave on reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws, our response was: "For the first time since the days of Nancy Reagan, a Democrat publicly stated that parts of the Drug War should be scrapped. This is a big deal, in other words."


Two weeks later, in FTP [271], we had to give him another MIDOTW, for sending out a new memo to U.S. Attorneys which was drastically different than earlier memos his Justice Department had sent. This memo was the long-awaited response (it came almost a full year afterwards) to the citizens of Colorado and Washington voting to allow recreational marijuana use for adults. What it laid out was a very reasonable policy, in almost complete contradiction to the previous policy.


In a separate article (one not written on a Friday, in other words), we applauded Holder's decision, again in rather dramatic language. We began with:


It's a new day in America.


Today will be marked in history as the day the federal government finally realized that their 80-90 year war on a plant is not only ineffective and counterproductive, but also a gigantic waste of money and everyone's time.


Attorney General Eric Holder -- the nation's chief law enforcement officer -- announced today that the Department of Justice would not challenge state laws enacted by popular vote in the states of Washington and Colorado which legalized cannabis for adult recreational use. The federal government will not sue the states in court to prevent the laws from fully being implemented, and they will not waste their resources prosecuting people in these states who follow the rules. In addition, Holder informed all 50 of the state-level attorneys general that the Justice Department was issuing new guidelines for how federal prosecutors will prioritize enforcement efforts in the forty percent of the country where medicinal marijuana is now legal at the state level.


While this is not exactly the ratification of the 21st Amendment, it is indeed a historic turning point in the Marihuana Prohibition Era (using the original anti-cannabis terminology, to give the period the full century-old flavor it truly deserves). This is the first significant step the federal government has taken in almost a century which loosens rather than tightens federal law-enforcement efforts towards cannabis. While marijuana will remain illegal under federal law -- under the strictest rules of any "controlled dangerous substance" -- Holder has announced that in states where the citizens have plainly shown at the ballot box their disapproval of such federal laws, the federal government will now back off. Thus begins an end to the insanity of the War On Weed. Think "insanity" is too strong a term? Consider the fact that under federal law marijuana is considered more dangerous than the following: cocaine, opium, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and PCP. That is, truly, nothing short of insanity.


We have to admit, we ended this article with what can only be called the wildest of hyperbole:


But now the waiting is over. Marijuana enthusiasts in Colorado and Washington and sick people in 18 other states and the District of Columbia can now breathe a little deeper (if you'll pardon the pun). Because while the Marihuana Prohibition Era is not over yet, and while marijuana remains technically illegal at the federal level, and while marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I dangerous controlled substance, and while individual federal prosecutors will no doubt overstep the new boundaries -- it's still a new day in America. Eric Holder has signaled a retreat in the War On Weed -- the biggest such retreat since the intensification of the drug war hysteria in the 1980s. The war isn't over, but two states just scored immense victories which are going to signal the beginning of the end. The next generation of Americans will one day look back at the War On Weed the same way we look back on Prohibition today. And when they study the history, August 29, 2013 may be marked as the most important turning point.


I could even see "420" eventually being replaced with "829," personally.


Holder followed this historic turnaround with an attempt at assuring banks that they could now offer their services to state-legal marijuana businesses without running afoul of federal anti-drug-trafficking laws. In the same week, while winning the MIDOTW award in FTP [289], Holder also announced a new policy of providing clemency for prisoners who had been given overly-long sentences, and he backed a Senate bill on sentencing reform. All in all, a good week for Holder.


This all led to us giving Holder a sort of generic "gee, you've been impressive in the past year" MIDOTW award, when we were looking back at the column's history in our own record-setting "Friday Talking Points [Volume 300]" edition.


Which brings us to the final entry, just a few short weeks ago. In FTP [317], Holder won his eighth Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, for his personal attention to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Holder, in his announcement this week, said that he'd always considered Robert F. Kennedy his role model, but Holder's personal attention to Ferguson surpassed even Kennedy (who was a bit of a reluctant warrior on civil rights, at times).


Thus endeth our rundown on the (to date) record of Eric Holder, America's first African-American Attorney General.


 



Volume 321 (9/26/14)


Since Eric Holder's record is so balanced, in a sort of political Purgatory (in the theological sense), we thought it would be worth the effort to convince Holder what he could do to decisively tip these scales, with one dramatic stroke of the pen, perhaps on the day before he leaves office.


As you can tell from the awards section, we have been closely following Holder's evolution on the marijuana issue. While we firmly believe that Holder will be considered historic for being the first to begin reversing the federal government's Reefer Madness attitude towards a plant that humans have been using for thousands of years, there is still one final step he could take which would be an enormous breakthrough.


So, here it is in a nutshell: Eric Holder should sign an order moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, right before he steps down. He has this power, and does not need the permission of Congress or even the president to do so. He has, in fact, always had this power.


For those not familiar with the details, here is a quick rundown on the federal drug law in question. The law divides drugs into different categories or "schedules," depending on how dangerous they are. Here is how the first three such schedules are defined, from the text of the law:


(1) Schedule I.
    (A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
    (B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
    (C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.


(2) Schedule II.
    (A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
    (B) The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.
    (C) Abuse of the drug or other substances may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.


(3) Schedule III.
    (A) The drug or other substance has a potential for abuse less than the drugs or other substances in schedules I and II.
    (B) The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
    (C) Abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.


The other two Schedules (IV and V) are even less restrictive, and also use: "The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."


Elsewhere in this law are the rules for changing a substance from one schedule to another, or for removing a substance from the schedules entirely. This section begins with the basic concept: "the Attorney General may by rule... transfer between such schedules any drug or other substance.... [and/or may] remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule."


You'll notice that Congress or the president are not mentioned in the law. The Attorney General alone has this power.


Now, reading over those classifications, which schedule do you think marijuana belongs in? To further help you, here are a few drugs currently on each list:


Schedule I -- heroin, LSD, mescaline, peyote


Schedule II -- cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine (crystal meth), opium, morphine


Schedule III -- barbiturates, anabolic steroids, ketamine


Where does marijuana belong on this list? Well, no matter what your answer, the law states that it is on Schedule I right now. This means it has "high potential for abuse" and has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." This, despite the fact that the federal government itself still provides marijuana as medicine to patients (grandfathered in from a program from the 1980s for glaucoma), and that 2014 could mark the year when fully half the country's states legalize medicinal use of marijuana (if Florida accepts it, it will be the 25th state to do so, depending on how you count).


Marijuana is treated by the federal government as more dangerous than cocaine, morphine, opium, and all those prescription opioid pills causing so much trouble. Marijuana is seen as more dangerous than crystal meth, for crying out loud! This is nothing short of insane.


Marijuana should be completely descheduled -- it should be treated by the federal government as alcohol is treated (we even had fun with a contest to rename the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in this column, a while back, to add "Marijuana" to the acronym). For this drastic a change, though, Congress would likely feel better about being involved.


But for the time being, marijuana should be moved down the list, to (at a maximum) Schedule III. Scientifically and medically, there is no other argument to be made, really. President Obama entered office promising an end to putting politics in front of science in the federal government, and Eric Holder could dramatically follow through on this pledge by rescheduling marijuana on his way out the door.


Politically, it would cause an uproar. Fine. Let it.


Holder should wait until after the Senate confirms his successor, and then sign an order rescheduling marijuana on his last day in office. This would put the cat among the pigeons, since the incoming Attorney General would have to quickly decide whether to overturn Holder's order or not. Even if marijuana were rescheduled for a single day, it would put the issue front and center for the American people to begin a conversation about how the federal drug laws need to change.


The person who did so -- on his own, without even consulting President Obama -- would be our idea of a profile in courage.


The War On Weed needs to end. It is stupid, costly, and wildly ineffective. The American people have been pouring trillions of dollars down this rathole for almost a century now, to absolutely no effect whatsoever. Eric Holder can be the one to boldly state that the emperor has no clothes. With one swipe of his pen, he could go down in history as the biggest reformer of the War On Weed in all history (to date, that is).


If there is one thing Holder could do to tip the balance of his legacy, this would be it. We strongly urge Holder to consider leaving office with such a dramatic measure. Because, in the end, it would be the right thing to do.


 


Chris Weigant blogs at:


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
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Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank


 

Top Billionaire Campaign Donors Favor Republicans In 2014

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 20:58
WASHINGTON -- The wealthiest Americans are playing a larger role in politics these days, thanks to campaign finance laws loosened by the Supreme Court's conservative majority. Billionaires can now make unlimited contributions to super PACs, or, if they prefer discretion, to nonprofit groups that don't disclose their donors.

At the same time, the rich are making contributions directly to candidates and political parties. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in April in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that those with the means may contribute to as many candidates and political party committees as they please.

The Huffington Post reported on Thursday that Americans whose fortunes exceed $1 billion and their families have contributed a total of $113.7 million in this year's races for federal offices. Billionaires have given $27.4 million directly to parties, political campaigns and leadership PACs, with more than one-quarter of those direct contributions from just 20 billionaires. Contributions from individuals and their families come from Federal Election Commission records for party committees, candidate committees and leadership PACs affiliated with candidates.

Donors are limited to giving $2,600 per election to each candidate. A donor who gives the maximum to a candidate in both a primary and a general election contributes a total of $5,200. For candidates who have run in a special election and face a subsequent election within the same two-year cycle, donors can give up to $10,400. National party committees can receive $32,400 per year from a donor, and may accept an additional contribution in the event of a recount. State party committees can receive up to $10,000 per year. Leadership PACs may accept an annual maximum of $5,000.

Below are the 20 top billionaire donors to these committees for the 2014 election, so far:

1) Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas: $814,300 (100 percent to Republicans)
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the top donor to super PACs in the 2012 election, has flown under the radar so far in this year's midterms. Adelson has not registered a single super PAC donation this cycle. Instead, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. has chosen to make contributions to dark money nonprofits, allowing him to avoid publicity. Politico reported that Adelson had donated $10 million to the Karl Rove-founded nonprofit Crossroads GPS.

Adelson, with a fortune estimated at $28.5 billion, has reached the top of billionaire donors to campaigns and parties with help from his family. His contributions are combined with those of his wife, Miriam, his daughters, Shelley, Sivan and Yasmin, and the latter two daughters' husbands. All contributions have gone to Republicans. The Republican National Committee received $324,000 from the Adelsons, while the National Republican Congressional Committee brought in $226,800. Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) was the leading recipient among candidates, with $36,400.

While Adelson's interests include stability for his business in China, and banning online gambling, a threat to his profit at home, his main political concern is the unflinching support of the U.S. for Israel. Adelson is a major supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and spent tens of millions to support pro-Israel charities.

2) Richard DeVos, Holland, Michigan: $692,450 (100 percent to Republicans)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Richard DeVos, the Amway co-founder worth a reported $6.8 billion, heads a large family active in Republican Party politics and conservative causes. The DeVos family has given $692,450 to Republican Party committees and candidates in 2014. The Michigan-based family has, for decades, funded conservative causes, including the passage of anti-labor right-to-work laws, opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and the creation of charter schools. All of their contributions have gone to Republicans, with more than half going to candidates.

3) Charles Koch, Wichita, Kansas, and David Koch, New York: $682,100 (100 percent to Republicans)
Ron Galella via Getty Images

Brothers Charles and David Koch, heirs and operators of the nation's largest private company, Koch Industries, have become the most prominent faces of billionaire politics through their vast and well-financed political machine. In addition to the millions spent by groups connected to them, the Kochs and their families have contributed $682,100 to Republican Party committees and candidates in 2014. The Koch political network includes groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. These groups plan to spend close to $300 million on the midterm elections.

4) Charles Schwab, San Francisco: $487,100 (100 percent to Republicans)
Bloomberg via Getty Images

You've probably seen the rotoscope-animated commercials for his discount brokerage service on television. Behind that business is a major Republican Party donor also linked to the Koch political network. Schwab and his family have given $487,100 to Republicans in 2014. The majority of this has gone to party committees, like the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee.

5) Steve Wynn, Las Vegas: $481,200 (100 percent to Republicans)
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Steve Wynn, operator of Wynn Casinos in Las Vegas and Macau, became known for political tirades during earnings calls with investors following the election of President Barack Obama. Wynn said that Obama holds a "weird political philosophy," and makes "speeches about redistribution" using language not heard, "except from pure socialists." In 2012, Wynn emerged as a major funder of Rove's Crossroads GPS. Wynn and his family have given $481,200 in 2014 in disclosed contributions. Nearly all of this went to Republican Party committees.

6) Ken Griffin, Chicago: $473,609 (100 percent to Republicans)
CNBC via Getty Images

Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin in 2012 made headlines for saying that the rich have "an insufficient influence" in politics. He proceeded to muddle this statement by becoming one of the leading donors to political campaigns and super PACs. While Griffin and his wife Anne recently announced they were divorcing, their contributions since the beginning of 2013 totaled $473,609. Griffin donated to Obama in 2008, but now all of his contributions go to Republicans.

7) Vince and Linda McMahon, Greenwich, Connecticut: $456,050 (100 percent to Republicans)
Jim Spellman via Getty Images

Vince and Linda McMahon, operators of World Wrestling Entertainment, emerged as major Republican Party donors in recent years as Linda McMahon attempted to launch her own political career. After two failed Senate runs, Linda McMahon has fallen into place as one of the party's most prolific donors. She and her husband have given $456,050 to Republicans in 2014, with large amounts to the party committees. Linda McMahon also provides strong support to Republican women candidates and incumbents.

8) Paul Singer, New York: $451,700 (100 percent to Republicans)
Associated Press

Hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer is known for buying distressed foreign debt and then reaping big rewards when the payments come through. He is also a major Republican Party donor who has expanded his profile within the party in recent years. The billionaire financier runs a super PAC, a nonprofit and a joint fundraising committee to funnel his money around the country, giving to other unlimited money groups and directly to candidates and parties. Singer is also a major supporter of right-wing political parties in Israel and advocates a hawkish foreign policy in support of Israel and against its enemies. Overall, he and his family have given $451,700 to Republicans, in addition to the millions to super PACs.

9) James Simons, East Setauket, New York: $341,100 (98 percent to Democrats)
Bloomberg via Getty Images

James Simons, founder of the high frequency trading hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, is the top donor to Democratic Party candidates and committees in 2014. Simons, a major super PAC donor, also has given $341,100 to political candidates and parties, almost entirely to Democrats. His sole contribution to a Republican was $5,200 to Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

10) Philip Anschutz, Denver: $323,200 (100 percent to Republicans)
Associated Press

Billionaire entertainment investor Philip Anschutz has long been a supporter of Republican politics. He is a major backer of evangelical Christian organizations opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. He also is a major supporter of charter schools, and funded the pro-charter documentary "Waiting for Superman." Anschutz and his family have given $323,200 to Republicans in 2014. Most of that has gone to party committees.

11) Stanley Hubbard, St. Paul, Minnesota: $321,150 (95 percent to Republicans)

12) J. Joe Ricketts, Little Jackson Hole, Wyoming: $320,325 (100 percent to Republicans)

13) Haim Saban, Beverly Hills, California: $310,000 (100 percent to Democrats)

14) Charles Johnson, Hillsborough, California: $309,400 (100 percent to Republicans)

15) Stephen Bechtel, San Francisco: $307,601 (100 percent to Republicans)

16) John Catsimatidis, New York: $284,550 (85 percent to Republicans)

17) John Fisher, San Francisco: $279,400 (96 percent to Republicans)

18) Kenny Troutt, Dallas: $261,400 (100 percent to Republicans)

19) Bruce Kovner, New York: $257,600 (92 percent to Republicans)

20) Marc Rowan, New York: $256,600 (63 percent to Republicans)

U.S. Carbon Emissions Tick Higher; Obama Tells U.N.: ‘We Have To Do More’ - The Washington Post

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 20:15
The Obama administration appears to be losing ground in its efforts to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, according to new government figures that show pollution levels rising again after several years of gradual decline.

Students Protesting Conservative Rewrite Of History Get Their Most Important Endorsement Yet

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 20:10
The organization that oversees the Advanced Placement curriculum, whose history course is being defended by massive, ongoing student protests in a Denver suburb, has now said that it backs those protests.

"The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program supports the actions taken by students in Jefferson County, Colorado to protest a school board member’s request to censor aspects of the AP U.S. History course," said a statement from the College Board released on Friday.

"These students recognize that the social order can -- and sometimes must -- be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice. Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history -- from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. And these events and ideas are essential within the study of a college-level, AP U.S. History course," the statement continued.

Protests in Jefferson County, the state's second-largest school district, began a week ago Friday. By this Thursday, there were nearly 1,000 students marching in protest of the county school board's call for an Advanced Placement curriculum on U.S. history that promotes "respect for authority" and discourages "civil disorder, social strife or disregard for the law."

The proposal in question would create a school board committee tasked with ensuring that all U.S. history materials taught in Jefferson County "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights." The proposal also says that instructional materials "should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage." The committee would be directed to inform the school board of any "objectionable materials" it might encounter.

Julie Williams, one of three conservative members who control the county school board and who helped design the proposal, said on Friday that she's "not saying let's not teach history accurately," but what she is saying is "let's not encourage our children to disobey the law." When Denver's KUSA-TV asked Williams for examples of moments in history that might be misrepresented in the AP course and could lead to the negative outcomes she fears, Williams couldn't cite a single example.

"I'm not familiar enough with everything that is in AP history to make that judgment," she said.

In a statement posted to Facebook this week, Williams said she was "surprised" by the outrage her proposal has provoked and stood by her mission, arguing that the existing AP curriculum "rejects the history that has been taught in the country for generations" and that it "has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing."

Dakota Ridge High School senior Maggie Ramseur, who is involved in the protests, told HuffPost that the students fear that if the school board succeeds at changing the AP curriculum, a "dangerous" precedent would be set. "The policies they are suggesting are ridden with political agendas," Ramseur said, "something that belongs in our curriculum about as much as religious agendas do."

The school board is expected to take up the curriculum proposal in early October.

"The point of civil disobedience is to break an unjust law with the intention of bringing attention to it so that it may be rectified and made just," Ramseur said. "Teaching students about that does not encourage them to become anarchists. It encourages them to speak up about policy and make the government serve the people, which is what our democratic republic was designed for."

"And that is something that I learned in Advanced Placement United States History," she added. "The uncensored version."

Read the College Board's full statement below:

The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program® supports the actions taken by students in Jefferson County, Colorado to protest a school board member’s request to censor aspects of the AP U.S. History course. The board member claims that some historical content in the course “encouraged or condoned civil disorder, social strife, or disregard for the law.”

These students recognize that the social order can -- and sometimes must -- be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice. Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history -- from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. And these events and ideas are essential within the study of a college-level, AP U.S. History course.

The College Board will always listen to principled concerns based on evidence -- and in fact has announced a public-review process for the AP U.S. History course framework. But in light of current events, an important policy reminder is in order:

College faculty and AP teachers collaborate to develop, deliver, and evaluate AP courses and exams. Their partnership ensures that these courses align with the content and rigor of college-level learning, while still providing teachers with the flexibility to examine topics of local interest in greater depth.

To offer a course labeled “AP” or “Advanced Placement,” a school must agree to meet the expectations set for such courses by the more than 3,300 colleges and universities across the globe that use AP Exam scores for credit, placement, or consideration in the admission process.

As vital context for the courageous voices of the students in Colorado, the AP community, our member institutions and the American people can rest assured: If a school or district censors essential concepts from an Advanced Placement course, that course can no longer bear the “AP” designation.

The Needed Debate

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 19:58
After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait President George H.W. Bush vowed "This will not stand" and assembled plans and forces to expel him. He agreed that Congressional approval was required. But he did not insist it be a hurried decision. Nor did he want it embroiled in the 1990 mid-term elections lest short term politics pollute the serious business of going to war. After a heated and serious debate the lame duck session passed the resolution, narrowly in the Senate. The UN also approved. A broad international coalition was assembled to fight and fund the effort at no cost to U.S. taxpayers.

When President George W. Bush cavalierly decided to invade Iraq, by contrast, he pushed for a congressional vote with a truncated debate before the 2002 mid-terms and used the issue to attack opponents of the war. Political calculations consumed more thought than examination of the administration's claims of weapons of mass destruction and mushroom shaped clouds. Little mention was made of the U.S. taxpayer funds going to bribe entry into the "coalition of the willing" or to the dubious at best claim of UN approval.

The lesson? How you go to war has a significant impact on the outcome.

Enter the Islamic State. Congress has given President Obama approval for limited operations until mid-December, after the mid-term elections. He has amassed an impressive coalition without apparent financial inducement. He has taken the case to the UN but it is unclear whether he will seek formal UN approval It also is uncertain whether the president thinks he needs congressional authorization for continued operations. And some in Congress want to delay any vote until the new Congress convenes in January. Not getting specific authorization from Congress would undermine coalition building. Kicking the can down the street, a Congressional proclivity, would leave the status of the operations and of our service members participating in limbo. Worse still, we would repeat the mistakes of the 2003 invasion by not asking, let alone debating the serious questions of war. These include:

• Do we have any idea what we are getting into? We did not understand the motivations or commitment of the Vietnamese, friend or foe. We did not understand even the basics of the Suni-Shia divide in Iraq. What makes us thing we can comprehend the swirl of tribes, ethnicities, feuds and hatreds of this far more complex tableaux?

• What is the nature of the threat to the U.S. and/or our allies and interests near term, medium term and long term? If, as seems likely, this is primarily a near and medium term threat to the region, what scale of response from the U.S. is justified?

• An inclusive government in Baghdad is a sine qua non for success. Prime Maliki's replacement is a good but insufficient step. If the Sunis and Kurds are not brought in, what faction or factions will we be fighting for.

Ground troops will be needed but why should U.S. troops be deployed? Why cannot those most directly threatened do the job, perhaps with temporary U.S. training? Should this be done with U.S. combat troops deployed under Title 10 USC 10 (DOD)? Or should trainers and advisors be under Title 50 USC (CIA)?

• Airpower is a U.S. comparative advantage and has been helpful in blunting the Islamic State drive. But regional air forces have significant capability including F-15, F-16, F-18 and European advanced fighters as well as tanker and AWACS capability. When will the air mission be localized?

Avoiding a full and honest debate while conducting political manipulation, getting in with a muddled mission and incoherent strategy for post invasion Iraq led directly to this current calamity in Iraq and Syria.. If we ignore the lessons of our involvement in this tragic and troubled quagmire without debate or clear strategy , we will again waste precious blood and treasure.

It is inexcusable that young American men and women put their lives at risk and the House and Senate cannot take the time to debate the limits, goals and strategy on which their lives may depend.

American Politics Are a Mess. Is This Why?

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 19:50


In a thought-provoking feature in this week's New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai recounts in (surprisingly gripping) detail the collapse of Gary Hart's presidential campaign and then pivots to make a larger point about the tabloidization of American politics.

Bai's article, which is rightly getting a lot of attention, suggests that the push to expose personal character flaws in politicians has shoved substance to the margins, both for the media and for candidates. From there, the dominoes fall in ugly progression -- capable people choose not to run for public office, mediocrities take their place and are never really challenged to demonstrate depth, campaigns devolve into nasty battles about trivialities, government grinds to a dysfunctional halt and the public grows increasingly disenchanted with choices that all look bad. Here's a key excerpt:

As an industry, we [in the press] aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions . . . Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters'. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial. It drove a lot of potential candidates with complex ideas away from the process, and it made it easier for a lot of candidates who knew nothing about policy to breeze into national office, because there was no expectation that a candidate was going to say anything of substance anyway.

Much of Bai's account is hard to dispute; anyone who thinks our political system is in good shape just isn't paying attention. And part of the appeal of his argument is that it can serve as a sort of grand unified theory for everything that's gone wrong.

But is the media's excessive interest in personal scandal really at the root of the superficiality and viciousness of today's politics? I'm not convinced. Yes, tabloid-style coverage is a problem, but I see much bigger factors at play:

Polarization Run Amok

People are psychologically primed to absorb information that confirms their pre-existing views and to filter out information that challenges those views -- and if you think you're immune, think again, because it's a nearly universal human trait. So what's changed?

First, these psychological tendencies are now reinforced by a fractured media landscape that offers up news sources finely tailored to affirm what we already believe. Liberals watching MSNBC or conservatives watching Fox News barely need to engage their personal confirmation filters, because the cable channels have already done the filtering for them. It doesn't take much of this to push people into alternative, mutually antagonistic realities. And when you can't even agree on basic facts, it's awfully hard to find your way to a constructive political dialogue of any kind. Ezra Klein had a great write-up on this a few months ago.

Second, our political parties, which used to encompass a broader range of views, have lately evolved into European-style ideological camps. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- it never made much sense for reactionary segregationists to be under the same party banner as ardent New Dealers -- but it adds a pungent third ingredient, along with psychology and the media, to a witch's brew of polarization.

A tribal political culture poses a special challenge in the United States, because unlike, say, Britain's parliamentary system, our government institutions require collaboration to get things done. When legislators are oriented toward compromise, then the American system of checks and balances works quite well. By contrast, when fiercely ideological parties are required to share power, this same system becomes hopelessly obstructed. There's a reason the current Congress is the least productive in history -- our institutions simply aren't designed to handle political divisions of such intensity.

(And at the risk of being partisan in my analysis of partisanship, there is objective evidence that these trends are more pronounced on the Republican side.)

The Chronic Illness of Money

The corrupt exchange of dollars for official action, although shameful (or criminal) is actually pretty rare -- think of a quid pro quo as the "acute" form of the money-in-politics disease. The "chronic" form of this illness, which is far more widespread and debilitating to our political system as a whole, is the shocking amount of time, energy and attention that must be spent raising campaign funds. Asking strangers for a check is uncomfortable, and asking friends can be soul-crushing. Then imagine doing this for hours at a time, day after day after day. I'd wager this is the single biggest factor deterring good people from running for office.

This is all made much worse by a senseless patchwork of campaign finance rules that perversely impose the tightest restrictions and disclosure requirements on candidates (who are ultimately held accountable for their campaigns) and the loosest restrictions and disclosure requirements on interest groups (which can secretly raise and spend unlimited amounts with little or no oversight.) This semi-regulated middle-ground is the worst of all worlds. We'd be better off going to one of the extremes, by either: (1) publicly-financing campaigns to level the playing field and get private contributions out of the equation; or (2) deregulating campaign finance entirely by lifting contribution and spending limits for everyone, with universal full disclosure as the only requirement (if some billionaire is going to effectively own a candidate anyway, then at least make this relationship apparent, so that voters can decide if they care about it.)

Campaigns Have Gotten Too Good

Imagine Mitt Romney's unsuccessful campaign operation of 2012 going up against Harry Truman's victorious campaign operation of 1948. Who do you think would come out on top?

My bet is on Romney, because the Romney camp would benefit from decades of accumulated experience and technology, all of which have given political operatives a far better understanding of voter psychology, coupled with an amazing array of communication styles and targeting tools to exploit that psychology.

And what does all that know-how say about effective political messages, especially when it comes to reaching swing voters who are least engaged in the political process? Go with simplicity, imagery, repetition and emotion. Don't waste resources on boring content, confusing nuance and hard-to-remember complexity. Ignore big chunks of the electorate whose votes are either assured or unattainable, while hitting targeted voters over the head with the messaging equivalent of a baseball bat.

Candidates and operatives have always responded to the incentives created by voters. Now they do it much more efficiently than ever before; campaigns have gotten really good at doing what it takes to win.

You can see the problem: the messages and methods that are most effective in a particular campaign are often also the most harmful to the long-term health of our political system as a whole. And in a business where success is measured by the outcome of the next election, as opposed to the condition of our democracy in the next decade, you get punished for taking the long view.



There aren't any obvious villains in all this.

I don't buy the argument that the tabloid culture has transformed most politicians into self-serving, unprincipled, empty suits, who conceal their beliefs or don't have any beliefs in the first place. I've personally witnessed too many counter-examples.

I don't buy the argument that most members of the media are obsessed by scandal and bored by substance. Again, I have seen too many counter-examples, Matt Bai being one of them.

Most of all, I don't but the argument that voters are lazy, stupid or indifferent to politics. In my experience, people usually care about their community and country, are fair-minded in their judgments, do their best to make sensible decisions at the ballot box and really want to be inspired by their leaders.

Reducing the media's appetite for personal scandals would help a little, but when good politicians, good journalists and good citizens are trapped together in an awful feedback loop that encourages the worst in all of them, then our problems are much bigger and our solutions need to be bigger, too.

California Quietly Adopts Landmark Condom Law To Protect Sex Workers

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 19:33
Last week, without fanfare or media attention, California became the first state in the nation to adopt a law aiming to protect sex workers from being prosecuted as prostitutes merely because they're carrying condoms. The police practice of targeting for arrest those in possession of multiple condoms undermines critical efforts to help this vulnerable population avoid sexually transmitted diseases, advocates for sex workers argue.

The advocates applauded California's legislation as a step in the right direction, but they said the measure as written doesn’t go far enough.

"It's great that the California Legislature has contemplated this issue and taken it seriously," Sienna Baskin, managing director of the New York-based Sex Worker Project at the Urban Justice Center, told The Huffington Post. "That said, I do think a more comprehensive bill would be more effective."

The California legislation, which Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law on Sept. 19, requires a court to state explicitly that the presence of condoms is relevant to the individual case before prosecutors can use them as evidence of prostitution. The original bill, authored by California Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would have banned the use of condoms entirely as evidence of prostitution, but it didn’t have the votes to pass.

"Right now, there’s no process, and condoms are admitted into court even when they aren’t actual evidence," Wendy Hill, Ammiano’s senior legislative assistant, said to HuffPost. "There are very few cases [against sex workers] in which an actual condom is listed as a valid piece of evidence."

A report released by Human Rights Watch in 2012 looked at prostitution cases in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington. It found that in all four cities, police officers frequently seized condoms from sex workers and used them as justification for arrest. "The practice makes sex workers and transgender women reluctant to carry condoms for fear of arrest, causes them to engage in sex without protection, and puts them at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases," stated the 112-page report, published in advance of that year's International AIDS Conference.

Advocates for sex workers hope the additional legal requirement under California’s new law will act as a deterrent against specifically targeting those sex workers who carry condoms. "We believe that the process of having to seek a court’s permission on a repeated basis will ultimately prove too burdensome for many district attorneys to pursue," Whitney Engeran-Cordova, senior director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s public health division, said in a statement. "As a result, sex workers, prostitutes and others may now possess more than one condom without the current -- and rational -- fear of incriminating themselves."

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s public health division supported Ammiano’s broader measure.

Last year, San Francisco banned the practice of confiscating condoms to use as evidence against sex workers outright. But according to Hill, incidents similar to those chronicled in the Human Rights Watch study are still commonplace in Los Angeles.

"There are cases where HIV health outreach workers would go out and distribute condoms, and then law enforcement will follow up right behind them as a means of 'cleaning up the streets,'" Hill said. "[Police officers] would threaten [the sex workers], arrest them or just scare the crap out of them."

According to the Human Rights Watch report, such police actions do nothing to “clean up the streets” and only lead to more unprotected sex. Hill argues that the only way to reduce prostitution is to "provide services and alternatives to the folks who are engaging in that kind of work."

She noted that in California, prostitution is usually considered a misdemeanor, resulting in the offender spending a night or two, if any, in jail. "It ends up costing the public in tax money, and it ends up being harder for [the sex worker] to get a job," Hill said. "And so the cycle repeats itself."

Beyond the four cities featured in the Human Rights Watch report, Baskin said further research has found that the practice of police officers using condoms to intimidate sex workers is widespread not only across the United States but worldwide. "It’s an issue in many countries around the world," she said. "There’s a real need for this kind of documentation."

Although she believes the California law doesn’t go far enough, Baskin said she’s encouraged. "It takes one state to take the first step," she said. "I’m excited to see a piece of legislation pass. There’s been a slow and steady building movement."

Baskin’s organization, which provides legal and social services for sex workers, is currently rallying behind a bill pending in the New York state legislature that would bar the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. New York City adopted a similar ban earlier this year.

"Sex workers should have full access to human rights just like all other individuals," Baskin said. "The right to protect yourself and to protect your health is something we’ve spent a lot of resources ensuring everyone has. We shouldn’t take that right away from anyone."

Gay Marriage Finds Scant Mention Among Republicans At Values Voter Summit

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 19:10
WASHINGTON -- The need to preserve "traditional" marriage was on the minds of many at the opening day of Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of religious conservatives in Washington. It was on the lips of event organizers, a topic of debate at several panels, and the mission of many groups assembled there. But it received much less attention from prominent Republicans who spoke at the event than in previous years.

While many talked about abortion and the right to life, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was one of few who spoke about marriage. But even Cruz did so in passing.

"How do we win? We defend the values that are American values. We stand for life. We stand for marriage. We stand for Israel. We bring back jobs and opportunity and unleash small businesses to make it easier for people to achieve the American dream. We abolish the IRS. We repeal Common Core," Cruz said, to resounding applause on the latter point.

The conservative firebrand addressed "religious liberty" several times, but only in the context of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. He denounced the so-called birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and criticized Democrats for fighting groups that have sought Obamacare exemptions because they say it goes against their values.

Contrary to Cruz's evangelist approach, which won him standing ovations from the friendly crowd several times, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) struck a more professorial tone. The libertarian-leaning senator called for the end of U.S. aid to nations that persecute Christians, and offered a sharp critique of the Obama administration's broader war in the Middle East. But Paul, too, strayed away from mentions of gay marriage, devoting his remarks largely to foreign policy.

Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) ardent opposition to gay marriage is well known. The former GOP presidential candidate campaigned tirelessly for her state's same-sex marriage ban, only to see it legalized in 2013. But her remarks at the Values Voter Summit had nary a mention of the hot-button issue.

Addressing a journalist following her speech, Bachmann, who is retiring from Congress this year, said gay marriage was “not an issue anymore."

"In fact it’s boring," she added.

Even Sarah Palin, a darling of the conservative movement long after her failed bid for the vice presidency in 2008, stayed clear of the subject.

Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 candidate for president, noted the trend and criticized conservatives for retreating on key social issues like gay marriage.

"I have never been involved in a race, where you play defense on an issue and yet you put points on the board. And yet that's what we do," Santorum told the crowd. "If you look at the current conservative movement, the Republican Party, there are issues we haven't even lost yet, and we're talking about giving up."

Asked later why marriage had scant mention at the event, Santorum demurred and plugged his book, Blue Collar Conservatives, where he writes about "reclaiming" the institution.

"Believe or not, I don’t go talking about that everywhere I go. Believe it or not, I don’t," Santorum told a reporter.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, the host of the event, argued the issue was as important to social conservatives as ever, in light of the steady march of the marriage equality movement.

"Oh there are some here that have said it. They may not have said it here today, but they have been on record," Perkins told The Huffington Post of the Republicans who spoke at the gathering. "I think the redefinition of marriage and the loss of religious freedom will continue to be an issue.

"I don’t see among the core conservative Republican leaders anything backing away from natural marriage," Perkins added.

Values Voter Summit continues with more speakers on Saturday, where the National Organization for Marriage will host a panel on "The Future of Marriage: To the Supreme Court and Beyond."

Raging GOP Candidate Mike Bost's Past Includes Dog Killing And Mysterious Stolen Gun

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:57
WASHINGTON -- Illinois state Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) has made a name for himself throwing extraordinary tantrums during legislative sessions. But he doesn't appear to have contained his notorious temper to the statehouse, according to a review of court and police records obtained by The Huffington Post.

Bost, who is running for Congress this fall under the slogan "Passionate Leadership for Southern Illinois," has a lengthy history with local authorities, including some incidents that suggest "passionate" is a bit of an understatement.

The earliest episode dates back to 1986, when a neighborhood beagle named Rusty bit Bost's 4-year-old daughter. The report filed by animal control officials indicates that the girl provoked the attack by chasing the dog. She ultimately had to get 19 stitches on her face.

According to court records, Bost was displeased that authorities would not be able to deal with the 10-year-old dog immediately. So he got his handgun, drove to Rusty's owner's home, and shot the dog to death while it was penned in an enclosure.

Neighbors were "very alarmed and disturbed," according to the police report, but a jury eventually found Bost not guilty of breaking any laws. The local paper reported the case under the headline "Area man acquitted in dog killing trial."

The documents also detail another alarming, more mysterious incident. Bost, a gun-rights defender who in 2008 voted against a bill to require the prompt reporting of stolen guns, did not report a gun that was stolen from his own home.

In 2006, Bost's nickel-plated special edition .357 Rossi revolver was stolen from his gun safe. According to police records, Bost did not know about the theft until police showed up at his door to inform him that the gun had been used to threaten another man's life. Bost led investigators to the safe, and the firearm was indeed missing.

It is unclear who stole the weapon and how it was removed from the safe, but Bost and family members suspected that the thief may have been connected to a 17-year-old girl who had stayed briefly in Bost's house. Bost told police that he usually did not lock the side door to the room that contained the safe.

Other incidents found in the files are less distressing, but similarly portray Bost as an aggressive man whose actions often put him in conflict with others.

While Bost once felt justified in shooting a dog to death, in later years, he wasn't too worried about his own dog roaming the neighborhood. Local police records show that neighbors were so concerned about Bost's pet scampering around their homes and the local school that they called police at least four separate times.

Several people who encountered the lawmaker seem to have responded especially poorly to him, though the records do not indicate why. According to one report, in 1999 someone kicked in Bost's front door looking for him, but left when they encountered only his wife. Bost reported the incident to police. He also called the cops in 2009 after someone left a note on his car that was described as suspicious, along with a copy of the "Narcotics Anonymous" pamphlet.

Along with a fairly typical assortment of traffic tickets and moving violations, Bost was also involved in at least two car accidents. In a 1996 crash involving his red Beetle, Bost was found at fault for failing to yield to another motorist.

Bost's campaign did not respond to requests for comment, including questions about the stolen gun and what the string of incidents might say about the candidate.

Bost's outbursts are a regular hit on YouTube. Perhaps most notoriously, while railing in 2012 against what he saw as unfair floor procedures, he punched at a stack of papers that he had flung into the air. At the end of that rant, he compared Illinois Republicans and his constituents to biblical Jews in Egypt, hollering, "I feel like somebody trying to be released from Egypt! Let my people go!” And last spring, during debate on concealed carry rules, Bost smashed his microphone, prompting a Democrat to quip, "We don't want someone like that carrying a concealed weapon."

Democrats have sought to portray Bost, who is challenging Rep. Bill Enyart (D-Ill.), as a fundamentally unsound person whose volatile temper would only make Washington worse. So far, they've used his infamous outbursts in at least two ads, in which they dub Bost "Meltdown Mike."

Jailing Migrant Children Is Immoral and Un-American

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:39
As Americans, we cannot accept that our government is jailing child migrants. Last week I headed to Artesia, New Mexico, where I provided pro bono legal services to some of the 600 women and children detained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). The facility is about 3.5 hours from El Paso, Texas. It is surrounded by barren desert and hidden to the public by barbed wire and mesh covering. Behind the gates lies a largely untold story of human misery and suffering. The "inmates," including infants, toddlers, children and their mothers, hail from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The great majority are refugees. They cannot return to their countries because they will likely be harmed or killed. The U.S. Government justifies these detentions to send a message to other prospective migrants to deter them from coming here.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), through a cadre of attorney volunteers, has negotiated with DHS to provide legal services out of a makeshift trailer on the premises. Despite the concession, these migrants are denied due process and basic human rights. For example, though many detainees have viable asylum claims, and would otherwise be eligible for release on bond, the DHS routinely argues that the immigrants present a security risk due to the surge in migration. The impression among lawyers on the ground is that the "judges" are kowtowing to DHS's agenda by either denying bond outright or setting it at outrageous amounts. There is no easy fix to stemming the flow of immigrants across our Southern border. However, detaining these destitute mothers and children with no bond is no solution; it adds to the trauma they have already suffered and violates their basic human rights.

The Government is required by law to protect individuals in custody and must honor their human rights. Our Government is failing at both. We observed that many of the children suffer from diarrhea, fevers and other ailments. A domestic violence survivor I met with, had a 6-month-old who had twice been sent to the local hospital with viral bronchitis and fevers of 104 degrees. He required antibiotics, rehydration and nebulization treatments. When he was discharged, back to jail he went. The baby was whiney and covered with a rash when I met with them. Children are re-traumatized by being forced to accompany their mothers as they recount the violence they've suffered. I watched as a 4-year-old boy listened to his mother during her three-hour bond hearing. She told how gang members tried to cut her baby out of her stomach because they wrongly believed her husband was part of a rival gang. Later, as she crossed the Rio Grande to enter the U.S., she and her son almost drowned after falling from their raft. In response, the Judge set bond at $15,000, insisting that the mother and 4-year-old constituted a "security risk."

While in Artesia, I also witnessed the humanity of some DHS officers. I watched law enforcement officials carry sleeping babies and hand out crayons and coloring paper. The officers walk an uncomfortable line between enforcing the law and handling their child prisoners. But there is no two ways about it: these children are prisoners. They cannot leave, have no visitation rights, no meaningful right to bond, no access to schooling, toys or appropriate medical attention. They receive no food other than during set meal hours -- an inappropriate condition for children whose dietary needs do not conform to government schedules. Jailing these refugees is un-American and immoral.

The consequences of mistaken moral and political choices are often only apparent in retrospect. Remember, for example, the St. Louis, a German ship carrying 930 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. The US refused entry. Many perished under Hitler. So too, by jailing these hapless migrants in the middle of a vast desert, we are effectively denying them entry to the US, as well as access to counsel. They have no meaningful opportunity to prepare and present their asylum claims. However, it is not too late for this administration to change course. At the very least, these mothers and children should be released on reasonable bond so that they can access the medical, psychological and legal assistance they need.

These migrants cross the desert, often surviving horrific violence and intense suffering because they have no other choice. They are inspired and drawn by the promise of America, just as other immigrants have been before them. Their vision should not prove to be an illusion. Every human being deserves the dignity and care that is compliant with domestic and international law regarding the treatment of refugees. President Obama, release these women and children before its too late. Your legacy and their lives depend on it.

GOP Congressman Warns Of The Real Social Ill Destroying American Values: Marijuana

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:39
WASHINGTON -- Conservatives are losing ground on the fight to keep marijuana illegal, a Republican congressman warned in dire terms at the Values Voter Summit.

During a conference mostly focused on religious liberty, abolishing the IRS and promoting small government, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) delivered a full speech on the ills of decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana.

Fleming, a medical doctor, warned of a "growing acceptance" of marijuana -- a fact hard to deny, considering public opinion and state laws. Colorado and Washington state have legalized recreational marijuana, and 23 states and the District of Columbia have allowed the substance for medical use.

"The time for us to speak up on this issue is now," Fleming told the crowd of conservatives.

Fleming linked marijuana to deaths and domestic violence and said legalization supporters spread lies that marijuana is not addictive. Most supporters don't actually say it can't be addictive.

Of course, those ills apply even more so to alcohol. Asked about the comparison after his speech, Fleming acknowledged that there are problems with alcohol, but said it has been accepted by the culture for thousands of years, making prohibition "obviously problematic." The same social acceptance doesn't exist for marijuana, he said, echoing an argument he has made before.

"If you and I accept the fact that alcohol is a problem and a danger, is it logical to say, 'Well, instead of having one problem, that we should have two problems?'" he asked reporters after his speech. "Why add a second one if one is already causing problems?"

Fleming also dismissed the argument by advocates of legalization that it would allow states to collect significant amounts of tax revenue. A study released this month by personal finance site NerdWallet estimated that states would bring in a total $3.1 billion each year if they legalized marijuana.

The congressman said that more revenue may come in, but the cost of dealing with health issues, larger homeless populations and other social ills would make legal marijuana a net loss. (Whether Colorado's pot laws have actually drawn more homeless people is unclear.)

Fleming said he thinks efforts to keep marijuana illegal seem to be working -- at least to some degree. A recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute found that support for legalizing marijuana nationwide had dropped from 51 percent in 2013 to 44 percent this year.

But Fleming lamented that marijuana supporters remain unconvinced that the drug is dangerous.

"I'll show them the real science, and they just don't want to believe it because quite frankly, they want to smoke marijuana," Fleming said. "It's like if you're overweight. Who wants to cut back on eating when you enjoy eating? But it's still bad for your health."

Russian Cosmonaut Slaps Down Reporters Asking About Her Hair And Makeup

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-09-26 18:38
WASHINGTON -- Yelena Serova is making history. She is about to be the first Russian woman to go to the International Space Station and only the fourth Russian woman in history to enter space.

But during a Friday press conference with two of her male colleagues before lift-off, Serova -- and only Serova -- was questioned about her hair and makeup.

"Can you tell me more about your everyday life on the station? For example, how are you planning to do your hair?" one reporter asked.

Serova shot back with an indignant response.

"Can I ask a question, too?" she replied. "Aren't you interested in the hairstyles of my colleagues?"

Serova was also quizzed on whether she would be taking makeup with her on the flight and how her daughter would cope in her absence.

According to the BBC, Serova has faced similar questions in the past, and once offered to demonstrate how she intended to wash her hair on board.

"My flight is my job," Serova said during the conference on Friday.

"I'll be the first Russian woman who will fly to the ISS," she added. "I feel a huge responsibility towards the people who taught and trained us, and I want to tell them that we won't let you down."