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No Charges For LAPD Cops Who Shot Unarmed Man To Death On Live Television

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-02-24 21:28
No charges will be filed against three Los Angeles police officers who fatally shot an unarmed, mentally ill man on live television following a high-speed chase, the city's top prosecutor said.

In a letter dated Jan. 29, first reported by The Associated Press, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey says her office found "there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that Officers Armando Corral, Leonardo Ortiz and Michael Ayala "did not act in self-defense and in defense of others" during the fatal 2013 shooting of 51-year-old Brian Beaird, a National Guard veteran.

Beaird's erratic, hour-long sprint across the region in a Corvette was "tense and chaotic" and gave officers reason to believe he was a threat, Lacey wrote in the letter to the LAPD. Officers said they thought Beaird was reaching under the seat during the chase and saw him reach for his waistband at least twice as the pursuit climaxed with a crash and standoff, Lacey said. No weapon was recovered.

"Given the fact that the entire incident from Beaird exiting the car until the shooting ceased lasted less than six seconds," Lacey concluded, "such defense testimony would create reasonable doubt as to whether the officers were unjustified in continuing to shoot after the suspect had turned and even fallen to the ground."

The DA's decision not to press charges comes after LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the officers' use of force was "not justified." Beck detailed the findings in a 2014 report following an internal investigation.

The three officers have been relieved of duty without pay and continue to face internal discipline "that may be as much as termination," LAPD Commander Andrew Smith told HuffPost.

On the night of Dec. 13, 2013, Beaird led law enforcement a high-speed pursuit, swerving into oncoming traffic and failing to obey patrol vehicles with sirens and lights. The chase ended when Beaird's Corvette struck another vehicle in an intersection, spun out of control, and lodged between a tree and a light pole on Olympic Boulevard and Los Angeles Street. The other vehicle collided with a fire hydrant, shearing off the bolts securing the hydrant to the concrete and spraying a geyser of water into the air.

According to the police account, Beaird got out of the car, but ignored officers' orders to get on the ground and show his hands. One officer, saying he believed he saw Beaird reaching for his waistband, fired a beanbag, causing Beaird to stagger and bend over. But he continued walking, and three officers opened fire when they said they believed he again was reaching for his waistband.

The cops fired a total of 21 shots, according to Beck's internal investigation. Lacey's letter noted that Beaird was hit with 13 rounds -- three of which were fatal and, based on the bullet trajectories, were fired when Beaird was on the ground.

Beaird's 80-year-old father, Billy Beaird, said he watched the chase and the hail of gunfire that killed his son live on television.

"They shot my son in cold blood," Billy Beaird said after the city voted to pay a $5 million settlement to the Beaird family. "I would not trade my son’s life for every nickel in LA. He means that much to me. I could not believe what I saw.”

Read Lacey's full letter, provided to HuffPost by the DA's office, here.

This briefcase is actually a complete offgrid micro solar power system

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Tue, 2015-02-24 17:33
In the event of an emergency, or in the case of an offgrid adventure, this little micro power plant can help keep the lights on and the gear charged.

6 ways to do good with your old cell phone

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Tue, 2015-02-24 07:00
Donating your old cell phones to these causes will keep them out of landfills and help others too.

Marijuana Is Officially Legal In Alaska

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-02-24 04:02
Marijuana is now legal for adults in Alaska.

Alaska on Tuesday becomes the third U.S. state to end prohibition of marijuana, officially putting into effect Ballot Measure 2, approved by 53 percent of state voters in November.

Alaskans age 21 and older may now legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, grow as many as six marijuana plants in their homes (with no more than three flowering), and possess any additional marijuana produced by those plants.

Shops selling legal recreational marijuana aren't likely to open until 2016, after the state legislature establishes a regulatory framework. State lawmakers have begun introducing legislation to that end.

"State laws allowing adults to use marijuana are becoming less and less of a novelty," said Mason Tvert, communications director for drug policy reform group Marijuana Policy Project. "It won’t be long before it’s the rule instead of the exception nationwide. Colorado and Washington are proving that regulating marijuana works, and soon Alaska will, too.”

The Marijuana Policy Project, a backer of the Alaska ballot measure, is launching a public education campaign reminding marijuana users to "consume responsibly," with ads that read: "With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility.”

“Most adults use marijuana for the same reasons most adults use alcohol,” Tvert said. “We want them to keep in mind that it carries the same responsibilities.”

Voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., passed similar marijuana laws last year, joining Colorado and Washington state, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 and opened retail shops in 2014.

Oregon's law is scheduled to go into effect later this year. D.C.'s law, which prohibits retail sales, is expected to take effect later this week, when a congressional review period expires.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law and states that have proceeded with legalization have been able to do so because of Department of Justice guidance that urges federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.

Despite the conflicted federal stance, legal marijuana is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S., according to a recent report from industry analyst ArcView Group. At least 10 more states are considering legalizing marijuana by 2016. By 2020, there could be as many as 18 states where recreational marijuana is legal.

When regulated marijuana sales begin next year in Alaska, the industry is likely to generate millions in tax revenue. According to a recent study, as much as $8 million in marijuana taxes could flow into state coffers in the first year of sales, with more than $20 million projected by 2020.

There's A Startling North-South Divide When It Comes To Health Care

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-02-24 03:02
The good news is the uninsured rate in the U.S. has fallen to a record low. The bad news is the benefits of health care reform aren't reaching a large swath of the country.

Over the last year, the uninsured rate in the U.S. fell 3.5 percentage points, from 17.3 percent in 2013 to 13.8 percent in 2014, according to the latest data from Gallup. That's the lowest yearly rate that's been recorded by Gallup's Well-Being Index.

According to Gallup, much of the decline can be linked to President Obama's health care reform law, which implemented a number of new policies to help Americans afford health insurance. But some states' refusal to adapt Obamacare's key provisions are causing a startling gap in uninsured rates across the country.

The states with the highest uninsured rates in 2014 are pretty much all found in the South, the Gallup poll found.

Not coincidentally, all 10 of the states with the highest uninsured rates have refused to carry out two key parts of Obamacare.

"States that have implemented two of the law's core mechanisms -- Medicaid expansion and state health exchanges -- are seeing a substantially larger drop in the uninsured rate than states that did not take both of these actions," Gallup announced. "Consequently, the gap in uninsured rates that existed between these two groups in 2013 nearly doubled in 2014."

That said, two southern states -- Arkansas and Kentucky -- saw the sharpest declines in their uninsured rates, which fell by 11.1 and 10.6 percentage points, respectively. Both states expanded Medicaid and had implemented state exchanges. (Arkansas had a state-federal partnership in 2014 and is transitioning to a state-run exchange.)

Ten out of the 11 states that saw their uninsured rates fall the most had expanded Medicaid and offered either a state-run exchange or a state-federal partnership.

8 Women Share What It's Like Switching To An IUD

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-02-24 00:02
Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of reversible birth control, but few American women use them. That, however, is starting to change: The percentage of women using IUDs has grown rapidly in recent years as new products have come onto the market and as more doctors recommend women consider them.

Recent government reports show that over 6 percent of women -- and over 11 percent of women ages 25 to 34 -- now use IUDs to prevent pregnancy. Those are small numbers, but the share of women who have IUDs is still nearly double what it was just five years ago. To find out more about the reasons IUD use is on the rise, read "The IUD Is Getting More Popular In America. Here's Why."

To learn why women are making this choice, The Huffington Post asked our Facebook followers to share their stories, and more than 100 people did so. Here's what they had to say, in their own words (the quotations have been edited for clarity).

Chelsea Rae Breeze, 22, Newton, Utah

I have wanted an IUD since I first heard of them as a teenager. I knew then that I didn't want children until I was older and my life had stabilized. I first approached my family practitioner about an IUD when I was 17, almost 18. I wasn't sexually active, but I had read that with certain IUDs you didn't have a monthly menstruation, which intrigued me. My family practitioner refused to discuss it with me because I wasn't old enough. I wish that I had pushed harder for an IUD sooner. It is the best decision I have made regarding my birth control needs. Many women are sadly very misinformed about the various forms of birth control. When I first told my friends and family of my decision to get an IUD, many told me that I couldn't receive one because I haven't had a child or that I was too young to receive one. Neither of these are true!

Gabrielle Rozonewski 24, Albany, New York

I forgot to pick up my new pack of pills at Rite Aid and opted taking my cousin’s sample pack that our OB/GYN had given her, and I got pregnant. Whether the pack was expired or not, I am not sure. I wasn’t thinking of that at the time; I just knew I needed to take my pill so I didn’t get pregnant. I am now blessed with a beautiful baby girl. I don’t know if it’s having all the responsibilities of a working mom or what, but I couldn't remember to take my pill for the life of me. After my annual I spoke with my OB/GYN and decided I would try the new IUD craze that seemed to be happening. I LOVE IT! (So Far...)

Christina Olsen, 33, Carmel, California

I had DVT [deep vein thrombosis] and a pulmonary embolism caused by the birth control I was on. It took six months to get the situation under control and a week of hospitalization. It ended being that the birth control I was on was the only cause for what had happened. I switched to the copper IUD, as that was the only birth control my doctor suggested, as it has no hormones.

Angela Lloyd, 42, Middletown, Pennsylvania

I switched from birth control to an IUD. BIG MISTAKE. I had bleeding the entire eight months I had it in. Apparently, mine had moved just so ever slightly. The removal was TERRIBLE -- two days after, I experienced the worst bleeding and cramping that I've ever had in my life. I would NEVER EVER recommend an IUD to anyone.

Erin Stevens, 28, Jeffersonville, Indiana

I started missing my pills, or even worse, dropping them down the sink because they were so damn small. If I missed a pill, I would then double up. I would tell my husband I missed the pill and he would immediately freak out, always want to use a condom as a backup. I went to my doctor to beg her for an IUD. I heard that normally the IUD was meant for those who had already had a child. I had to ask and was willing to pay for the peace of mind. Luckily, my doctor agreed and it was scheduled. Also a bonus, this was RIGHT after the ACA was passed and my entire IUD WAS FREE!

Katie Clancy, 45, Dennis, Massachusetts

A safe IUD is the answer to all birth control prayers, both for young women and women of childbearing age. I had my 16- and 19-year-old daughters get them, too. One has ADHD so is a poor candidate for remembering to take a pill or to take the time to insert a diaphragm. Of all the things I have to worry about with her, at least I know she won’t get pregnant. The other has had historically heavy periods, and this was a great solution for her.

Jessica Gangwer, 30, Greenville, South Carolina

I switched over a year ago from the pill to an IUD, and it has made a world of difference. I am EXTREMELY forgetful, and it is how we ended up with my now-5-year-old! I had a very heavy flow, sometimes waking up four times a night to fix the issue. I now have very little to nothing. After insurance I paid around $17 for a contraceptive that is going to last me seven years. Whereas before, with the pill, I was paying around $30 a month. Lastly, my husband and I have made the decision to not have any more children.

Sarah Morgan-Ruth, 34, Buffalo, New York

I'm currently on my third IUD (this one is Mirena, first two were just copper) and I'd never go back to the pill! I suffer from endometriosis, and the Mirena is what gave me my life back. Prior to that, I was immobilized 20 out of 30 days of the month. Now I run a small business and nothing stands in my way!

Kentucky Senate Committee Passes School Restroom Mandate For Transgender Students

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 23:40
A Kentucky Senate committee on Monday approved a bill that would require transgender students to use restrooms designated for "their biological sex," days after an identical measure failed.

The legislation, introduced last month, would require schools to “provide separate, private areas designated for use by students based on their biological sex” rather than their gender identity.

The legislation last week failed to earn seven votes needed to pass the Senate education committee, but legislators voted again on Monday and approved the measure 8-1, sending it to the full Senate. When a Kentucky Senate bill fails a committee vote, the committee chair can order a reconsideration, Amber Duke, communications director of the ACLU of Kentucky, told The Huffington Post. Bad weather was blamed for two senators missing last week's vote, Duke said.

In a statement Monday evening, a coalition of Kentucky pro-LGBT groups noted that three senators, including two who voted against the bill last week, were missing from Monday's vote.

“Unfortunately, tonight, the Kentucky Senate chose to prioritize an issue of discrimination after it was defeated just days ago with bi-partisan opposition,” Chris Hartman, the director of the Kentucky LGBT advocacy group Fairness Campaign, said in the statement. “Given the number and scale of important issues before the Senate this session, it is shocking the committee felt the need to re-vote on this. It is willful, mean-spirited, and does nothing to move our commonwealth forward.”

Pat Robertson Tries To Explain 'Fifty Shades Of Grey'

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 23:29
Televangelist Pat Robertson might not seem like your typical "Fifty Shades of Grey" reader nor the type to catch the movie. But he does think he knows what it's all about.

Robertson called the book and film "an unbelievable story of sadomasochistic bondage of women."

"It’s about all kinds of sadomasochism, it’s about bondage, about whips, it’s about boiling oil, it’s about various types of restraints," Robertson explained on Monday on his ABC Family show "The 700 Club" in a clip posted online by Raw Story.

"The amazing thing about 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' is how many women have read the book and how many have gone to the movie," he said.

Check out his full comments in the clip above.

(h/t Raw Story)

Texas V United States of America (and President Obama) Explained

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 23:02
I recently interviewed Harry DeMell, an immigration lawyer since 1977 and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, about the current immigration crisis.

Schupak: President Obama's executive action of last November, stopping deportation and granting benefits to parents of citizens and legal residents, has been stopped by one judge in Texas. Is that correct?

DeMell: That's right.

Schupak: So let me get this straight, Mr. DeMell. You think that the immigration decision out of the U.S. District Court in Texas was correct.

DeMell: Yes.

Schupak: Even though this will mean that the president will not be able to use his discretion in the enforcement of the law, doesn't he have the right to do this especially in immigration matters?

DeMell: Yes and maybe. The decision by Judge Hanen is just a preliminary injunction issued to delay the beginning of the president's program until a full hearing on the merits can be conducted. A preliminary injunction delays things, keeps them in place until the court can conduct a hearing or trial and look carefully at the issues. The program is not stopped, just delayed. The judge weighed the harm to the plaintiffs and the defendants and determined it would do no harm to the government to wait in starting the program that would grant many rights to a class of aliens, since the court might determine that the harm to the various states might outweigh the rights of the president here.

Schupak: You didn't answer my last question.

DeMell: Yes and maybe. The president is charged with the enforcement of our laws. When President Obama decides not to prosecute someone on policy grounds, he may be on sure footing, but when he grants rights and benefits he needs a legal basis to do so. He also must comply with the Administrative Procedure Act when he takes actions that affect the rights and procedures that our federal agencies are responsible for. He did not here, and the Court is holding his feet over the fire on this issue.

Schupak: The president says that this case will be overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

DeMell: Right now, the only thing to appeal is the preliminary injunction. Only that will be heard by the 5th Circuit. That's the most conservative federal appeals court in the nation. They will almost certainly confirm Judge Hanen's decision and stop the start of the president's program until a full hearing on the merits can be conducted.

Schupak: Why so?

DeMell: It's a separation of powers issue. Congress makes the laws and the executive branch administers them, but the judiciary has the right to review these actions and the appeals court will allow Judge Hanen the time to do so.

Schupak: So why is President Obama so sure of himself on this issue?

DeMell: He shouldn't be. His advice on this issue is shaky. The courts will almost always allow themselves the time necessary to finish their job, unless the issue is so pressing that they must act immediately. This is not that urgent.

Schupak: Do you think the president will prevail in the end?

DeMell: OK. That's the meat of this discussion. My answer is yes and maybe. The president has real discretion when he decides to prosecute a case or not. He will win on that issue. When he grants rights, he either needs congressional approval or he must comply with the administrative procedure act. He did not comply with that act. He took a short cut that any lawyer familiar with administrative law could have told you he needed to do.

Schupak: The President has taught constitutional law. Surely he understands this.

DeMell: In the complaint filed in this matter the plaintiffs quote the president as first saying he has no power and then quoting him as saying he does. President Obama's power on the granting of rights and benefits without congressional support is at best questionable. His right to do so outside the Administrative Procedure Act is unlikely. I suspect that the administration's eagerness to act on this issue clouded its judgment. You might remember the last time we spoke on this issue was just after the president's announcement in November, and I told you it could take almost a year to complete the administrative process. Now it may take longer still.

Schupak: What will happen if the president loses on this issue?

DeMell: The legal process can be very slow. It will be up to the next president.

Chuck Todd Calls Rudy Giuliani Media Frenzy A ‘Race To The Bottom' For Politicians, Press

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 22:46
NEW YORK -– “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd spent the first quarter of Sunday’s show covering the fallout from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s claim four days earlier that President Barack Obama doesn’t love America.

While giving the controversy more oxygen, Todd seemed conflicted. He began Sunday’s segment by describing the frenzy over Giuliani’s recent comments at a private dinner for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) as a “race to the bottom” for all involved, showing “why Americans are learning how to hate politics and the media.”

When discussing the outrage of the week with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), Todd asked if anyone should care what Giuliani, who isn’t in office or running for one, thinks about the president. Todd later asked Barbour about Walker’s response to a question of whether Obama is Christian, yet acknowledged there’s debate over whether that question -- posed Saturday by The Washington Post -- was appropriate to ask. Before turning to the panelists to weigh in on all this, Todd lamented, “I’ve hated this story in so many ways.”

Todd’s ambivalence is likely felt by other political journalists who, after days of covering partisan volleys on cable news and social media, may get existential about how much of this -- from Giuliani’s inflammatory comments to Walker not identifying Obama as Christian -- actually matters to the public.

Such questions, even if far removed from public policy, could be said to help vet candidates by showing voters who can handle the pressure of the national spotlight. Such lines of inquiry may also indicate which candidates, in the case of Republicans, seem more willing to pander to the conservative base than to simply acknowledge that, yes, the president is Christian and surely loves America.

But the firestorm over Giuliani’s comments and Walker’s non-answers also highlight the media’s tendency to inflate any campaign utterance to the level of a scandal. It also poses a challenge to journalists who may be hesitant to promote a story, but don't want to appear out of the loop. So they end up reporting, tweeting or asking Sunday show panelists about the latest comment or unwillingness to comment about someone else's comment.

That's because the Giuliani mess didn't stop with Walker, but includes other potential 2016 contenders weighing in. On Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked if Walker and Obama discussed faith during a meeting with governors.

It’s understandable that Walker faced questions after Giuliani’s swipes at the president, given that he was within earshot and the dinner's guest of honor. Walker also had the ability to squash the burgeoning controversy by quickly distancing himself from Giuliani’s comments in interviews with CNBC (Thursday), the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Friday), and The Associated Press (Saturday). Instead, Walker wouldn't say if he believed Obama loved his country.

It was after the AP interview on Saturday afternoon that The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Robert Costa posed a different question for Walker: Does he think Obama is a Christian? “I don’t know,” Walker said.

The answer would seem clear to anyone awake for the 2008 election, complete with coverage of Obama's former fiery pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

All of which made it unclear and agitating for conservatives as to why Balz and Costa asked Walker for a take on Obama’s Christian views in the first place. Balz declined to comment and Costa did not respond to requests for comment.

Walker did tell the Post reporters that the question didn’t reflect the public’s interest and is “a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press.”

By Sunday night, Friends of Scott Walker kept up the press critique and began trying to raise money to fight back against the “Liberal Media” and its brand of “gotcha journalism.”

Not all conservatives thought attacking the messenger was a good idea. The Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis said Walker gave a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad answer” to the Christianity question, and it didn't matter if it was relevant.

Campaign operatives on both sides of the aisle echoed Lewis's point. Whether one considers such questions unredeemable “gotcha journalism” or a useful way to to vet candidates, the savvy politician must answer.

Hogan Gidley, who served as an adviser on the presidential campaigns of Mike Huckabee in 2008, and Rick Santorum in 2012, told The Huffington Post that such questions are “par for the course.”

“This is the process. These are the questions,” Gidley said. “They’re not all going to be in-depth questions about foreign policy or domestic economic policy. You’re going to get some odd questions.

“If Governor Walker thinks that’s out of bounds, or that’s a tough question, wait until he gets in a living room in Iowa or a coffee shop in New Hampshire or pier in South Carolina,” said Gidley, who isn’t currently aligned with any candidate, but could be in 2016.

Gidley recalled how voters asked candidates he worked for about votes cast more than a decade earlier, and how such exchanges with the public may also be covered by the media. “You’ve just got to be able to be a little more nimble than these candidates are showing so far,” he added.

Former top Obama adviser Robert Gibbs similarly pointed out on “Meet the Press” Sunday that “there are trap doors every day running for president, and if you want to run and talk about policy, you have to answer the very easy questions easily.”

Gibbs said that if Walker had just said he thought Obama is a Christian, then “there wouldn’t be a story in The Washington Post today.”

GOP Senator Insists Case For Obamacare Lawsuit Is 'Clear,' Then Shows Why It Isn't

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 21:59
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Monday tried to argue that something he wrote in 2010 does not undercut the premise of the anti-Obamacare lawsuit that the Supreme Court will hear next week.

It was not a particularly convincing effort.

Yes, we’re back to talking about King v. Burwell -- the case, scheduled for oral argument on March 4, about how and where the federal government may help people buy health insurance. The Affordable Care Act calls upon states to create special insurance exchanges, through which people without access to job-based coverage can buy policies -- and, depending on their incomes, qualify for tax credits that discount the premiums by hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. If states fail to act, the law says, the federal government should step in and create the exchanges instead.

About these issues, there’s no real argument. The controversy is over whether those federally run exchanges should be functionally similar to the state-run versions. The answer, according to the lawsuit, is unambiguously “no.” Proponents of this view focus on a few passages in the law -- in particular, a key section authorizing the distribution of tax credits in exchanges “established by the State.” The section says nothing about federally run exchanges. This omission, the lawsuit claims, was intentional -- designed to compel states to act out of fear their citizens wouldn’t get the tax credits.

If this view prevails in the Supreme Court, the consequences may be chaos and increased misery. Officials in roughly two-thirds of the states, including Florida and Texas, have not built exchanges. Millions of people now getting subsidized coverage in those places would lose their tax credits and, in most cases, become uninsured. Entire state insurance markets would likely become unstable.

But that’s only if the case succeeds. There’s a powerful argument -- a very, very powerful argument -- that the lawsuit’s supporters are misreading both the law and its history. For one thing, other provisions suggest the tax credits should flow in all states, regardless of who runs the exchanges. In addition, virtually every elected and appointed official who worked directly on the law has stated publicly that he or she understood subsidies would be available in all states. (The most recent to make this argument was Phil Schiliro, who was the White House director of legislative affairs during Obamacare’s enactment.)

But some of the most powerful testimonials have come from the archives: mainly, quotes from Republican members of Congress from back in 2009 and 2010. And one of the more telling quotes came from Hatch.

Ever since the lawsuit that became King v. Burwell started getting attention, Hatch has been a staunch supporter of its arguments -- going so far as to join more than a dozen other Republicans on an amicus brief insisting that Congress intended to deny subsidies in states that didn’t create exchanges. In his statements about the case, he has said that the controversy over the law's meaning is not even a close call -- a sentiment he repeated during an appearance at the Heritage Foundation on Monday. “The incentive for states to act also could not be more clear,” Hatch said. “If a state fails to establish an exchange, its citizens lose out on millions -- perhaps even billions -- of dollars in subsidies.”

But things didn’t seem so clear to Hatch back in January 2010, when he co-authored an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. In making an argument about health care reform’s constitutionality, Hatch explained how the law would work -- and proceeded to sketch out precisely the structure he now says Congress did not intend to create:

A third constitutional defect in this ObamaCare legislation is its command that states establish such things as benefit exchanges, which will require state legislation and regulations. This is not a condition for receiving federal funds, which would still leave some kind of choice to the states. No, this legislation requires states to establish these exchanges or says that the Secretary of Health and Human Services will step in and do it for them. It renders states little more than subdivisions of the federal government. [Emphasis added]

Near the end of Monday’s remarks, Hatch talked about that op-ed, which resurfaced a few weeks ago, and accused Obamacare defenders who have cited it of “twisting my words.” The subject of the op-ed, Hatch said, was not tax credits. “The op-ed is about the constitutionality -- or rather, the unconstitutionality -- of Obamacare, whereas King is about the meaning of a specific Obamacare provision,” Hatch said. “Different issues, different questions, different analysis.”

Hatch went on to say that, in the op-ed, he was actually making a much more nuanced argument -- touching, among other things, on parallels (or lack thereof) between Obamacare and the federal government’s push, in the 1970s, to make highway funding conditional upon states raising the drinking age.

Hatch’s full comments are available at his website. Readers can decide for themselves whether his explanation actually puts the excerpt of the op-ed into a different context -- or whether, by talking about constitutionality and court doctrine on federal-state relations, he was simply trying to kick up some rhetorical dust. But even with a generous interpretation, it is hard to see how he can square his present support for the lawsuit’s premise -- specifically, that establishing an exchange is a condition for the distribution of tax credits -- with his seemingly clear statement from 2010 -- namely, that building an exchange “is not a condition for receiving federal funds.”

Of course, getting clarity on precisely what Hatch was trying to say then or now is not such a simple matter. At one point Monday, he used an analogy about a child cleaning his room that, if anything, seemed to reinforce the government’s argument, not the plaintiffs’ -- although, presumably, that was not Hatch's intention. Befuddling quotes like this, alas, are pretty common -- unique neither to Republicans nor to discussions of the Affordable Care Act. Pinpointing what a member of Congress was actually thinking based on a past statement is frequently difficult, all the more so when the legislation is complex.

That’s one reason that the hunt for congressional intent is so fraught -- and that, in cases of ambiguity over what a law actually says, courts traditionally allow executive branch agencies to make any “permissible” reading. The problem for Hatch and his allies is that, in King v. Burwell, showing such deference to agencies would almost certainly mean heeding the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law -- so that Obamacare could continue working as it does today.

Mitch McConnell Unveils Plan B Against Obama Immigration Actions

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 21:11
WASHINGTON -- The Senate finally appears to have a Plan B -- or at least the beginnings of one -- to break the standstill on funding the Department of Homeland Security.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Monday that the chamber will vote on a stand-alone bill to block President Barack Obama's immigration executive actions that could allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the country and work.

That bill will be separate from funding for DHS, at risk of shutting down after Feb. 27 because of an impasse over whether funding legislation should include measures to block Obama's immigration actions. If Republicans move next to vote on a DHS funding bill without those riders, a DHS shutdown could be averted. It remains unclear whether conservative lawmakers would be open to such a strategy.

McConnell announced the plan for a stand-alone bill after Senate Democrats for the fourth time blocked a House-passed bill that would fund DHS and stop an array of Obama's immigration policies. McConnell didn't reveal next steps for DHS funding legislation, and said his preference remains passing the House measure.

"As long as Democrats continue to prevent us from even doing that, the new bill I described offers another option we can turn to," McConnell said. "It’s another way to get the Senate unstuck from a Democrat filibuster and move the debate forward."

It's also a way to call out Democratic senators who have previously expressed disapproval of the president's actions. House Republican leadership aides appeared to be on board with that strategy.

"This vote will highlight the irresponsible hypocrisy of any Senate Democrat who claims to oppose President Obama’s executive overreach on immigration, but refuses to vote to stop it," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an emailed statement after McConnell's announcement.

Senators will meet for caucus lunches on Tuesday, and House members will huddle with their parties on Wednesday. Boehner has maintained that the issue is now up to Senate Democrats to stop blocking the House-passed measure from moving forward. Asked earlier Monday whether there are other plans in the works in the House, Steel said there was nothing new to report.

Obama's 2014 immigration executive actions were stalled from moving forward last week by a federal judge presiding over a lawsuit brought against the government by 26 states. The Department of Justice appealed that decision Monday and is seeking a stay.

Some speculated that a preliminary injunction could break the stalemate over DHS funding. If the programs weren't moving forward anyway, the reasoning went, Republicans might be able to support a DHS bill that didn't block them.

Republicans floated other ideas for averting a shutdown as well. There could be a short-term continuing resolution to keep DHS open as the lawsuit works through the courts, some said. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said perhaps Republicans could fight Obama's immigration actions by filing an amicus brief in support of the states' lawsuit.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) proposed the relatively extreme option of changing Senate rules so the GOP could move forward with bills with only a simple majority, making filibusters more difficult. He told reporters that he believes it would be appropriate to make that move, since Democrats changed filibuster rules on nominees in 2013.

"They've broken the eggs now and my own view is that we should go ahead and break some more eggs," Shelby said. "It's just a rule, it's not a law."

But any plan would require Republicans to either get on board, or for leaders to rely on Democratic support. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has said he would support dealing with the immigration issue separately, told reporters he is concerned some of the more conservative members of his caucus would oppose a clean short-term funding bill.

The injunction seemed to strengthen some Republicans' resolve. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told reporters, "Democrats should not hold national security hostage" over a policy blocked by the courts. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) didn't give a firm answer when asked whether it would be bad to shut down DHS, or whether it would be something of a victory for standing up for the Constitution.

"We don't need to be funding unlawful activities, that's for sure," Sessions told reporters.

Trade Crazy: The Push for Fast-Track Trade Authority

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 20:25
Washington politics always involves a high level of silliness (does President Obama really love America?), but when it comes to trade policy it shifts to full-fledged craziness. Anything is fair game when the political establishment wants to pass major trade agreements like NAFTA or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). At such times we see respectable Washington types making pronouncements bearing so little relationship to reality that they would cause Sarah Palin to cringe.

The Washington Post gave us one such gem last week when it took issue with those saying that currency rules should be part of any new trade pact. Its lead editorial last Thursday argued against including any provisions on currency. Its main point is best summarized by a paraphrase of an old Barbie line: "Currency values are hard."

The Post argued that it would be impossible to distinguish between policies intended for other purposes, like the Fed's quantitative easing (QE) program, which was designed to boost growth, and policies whose main purpose is to depress the value of the currency. An assertion like this in the context of a debate on trade is laughable.

Every provision in trade agreements will have ambiguities, most of which are much more difficult to resolve than this one. Trade deals all prohibit export subsidies, almost by definition. But what about publicly funded vocational training in which the government picks up much of an exporter's training costs? What about publicly financed infrastructure that reduces the exporter's cost to send its products out of the country?

What about publicly financed research (e.g., the National Institutes of Health) that hugely reduce the cost to private firms of innovation? What about below-market interest loans provided by the Export-Import Bank? If the Post is really concerned about potential ambiguities raising difficult enforcement issues, then it should be staunchly opposed to restrictions on export subsidies, since many of these issues actually are hard.

As a practical matter, it really is not difficult to recognize governmental actions intended to affect currency values. Fred Bergsten, the former president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and an ardent supporter of free trade, came up with a list of conditions a few years back.

At the center of this list was the accumulation of a massive amount of foreign exchange reserves and large and persistent trade surpluses. It also helps that most of the countries accused of currency "manipulation" explicitly target the value of their currency. If the Post's editorial board and others can't tell the difference between these actions and QE, then maybe they are in the wrong line of work.

As crazy as this story is, the rest of the argument is even better. The Post tells us that adding currency rules "at this late date could cause a rebellion by TPP negotiating partners, possibly scuttling the entire project, along with all the benefits, geopolitical and economic, of knitting major Pacific Rim economies together under the aegis of U.S.-style free trade."

Actually, many of us had been complaining about currency values for a long time. The reason that the issue is being pressed "at this late date" is that there was no opportunity for action earlier. With fast-track trade authority finally being taken up by Congress, this is the first chance for the public to weigh in on the trade deal. So the Post's argument here is essentially that we kept the deal out of public sight for so long (it is still secret) that it is now too late for the public to weigh in.

The issue about a rebellion by our trading partners is also entertaining. There are many issues in the TPP that our trading partners don't like. They don't like rules that will force them to pay more for drugs from Pfizer and Merck, nor do they like rules that will make them pay more money to Time Warner for Hollywood movies, or to Microsoft for software. But President Obama and the Post were willing to risk a rebellion from our trading partners to get higher profits for the pharmaceutical, entertainment, and software industries. It is only when the question is one of jobs for U.S. workers that the risk of such a rebellion becomes an unacceptable price.

Finally, the bad story that we are supposed to fear, "scuttling the entire project," should arouse howls of derision everywhere. Wow, all those industry folks spent years trying to craft a deal that would boost their profits by circumventing laws and regulations in the U.S. and elsewhere, and now their efforts may prove pointless? Pass the handkerchief! I can't hold back the tears.

On the serious side, we could have trade deals that would advance the interests of workers in the United States. For example, if we focused on reducing patent and copyright protections nationally and internationally, we could save hundreds of billions annually on drugs and other products. We could also loosen professional barriers that cause our doctors to earn twice as much as their counterparts in other wealthy countries, leading to huge savings in healthcare costs.

But these items are not on President Obama's trade agenda. Rather, it is dominated by a list of measures that are likely to increase inequality. And if his trade deals are defeated because they refuse to take any steps to redress the trade deficit and the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs to trade, it will not be bad news for the country.

Why Turkey Finally Made A Move Against ISIS

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 20:22
WASHINGTON -- Turkey made its boldest move yet against the Islamic State over the weekend.

It wasn't to help the U.S.-led air campaign against the group, something Turkey could do by making its strategic Incirlik Air Base available to American jets. It wasn't, as has been the case for Egypt and Jordan, to avenge an attack by the extremist group on its nationals. And it wasn't to aid the Syrian Kurds of Kobani, who faced an Islamic State assault for months as Turkish tanks stood idle on nearby hilltops.

It was, instead, because of history.

Turkey sent tanks and hundreds of troops into Syria late Saturday to save a celebrated shrine threatened by Islamic State militants.

The shrine is the tomb of Suleyman Shah, whose grandson founded the Ottoman Empire. That empire, the immediate predecessor of the modern Turkish republic, decayed for centuries and eventually collapsed after World War I. But many Turks -- among them Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- see the Ottoman period as their nation's grandest moment. Though the tomb is in Syria, where Shah is thought to have died in the 13th century, Turkey retained control of it through a 1921 agreement with Syria's former colonial ruler, France.

That arrangement, like others in the region, appears to have worked fairly well until the Islamic State entered the picture. Militants linked to the extremist group and other rebels who seek to take portions of Syria from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad have been operating near and indirectly threatening the Suleyman Shah shrine for months. In March 2014, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's then-foreign minister and current prime minister, said his country would counter any assault on the mausoleum.

“Should there be an attack, either from the regime, or radical groups or elsewhere, it would be countered equally,” Davutoglu said, according to The New York Times. The comments made clear that the Turkish government, a vocal opponent of Assad, would enter his country to defend the shrine.

The incursion over the weekend was the first overt Turkish participation in the four-year Syrian civil war. Reports say up to 40 Turkish soldiers were rescued from the shrine, along with the historical remains and relics stored there. One Turkish soldier was killed in an "accident" during the operation, the Turkish military said. Whether the Turks had to actually fight off Islamic State militants remained unclear.

The government was reportedly nervous that the Islamic State would take the soldiers stationed at the tomb hostage, the way it kidnapped 46 Turks and three Iraqis working with them when it took over the Iraqi city of Mosul over the summer. (The 49 hostages were eventually released under circumstances that remain murky.)

The fighting around the shrine had become more intense in recent days as Syrian Kurdish fighters, fresh from a victory in Kobani, were advancing against fighters with the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Two Turkish newspapers, multiple Kurdish sources and a Turkish security source interviewed by Reuters said that the Turkish troops that went to the tomb, 20 miles from the border with Syria, passed through Kobani. That would represent an easing of tensions between the Turks and the Syrian Kurds, whose relationship has historically been poor because of the Syrian Kurds' connection to a Kurdish movement that has battled the Turkish state. That relationship worsened when the Turks failed to substantively support Kobani -- and, it appeared, permitted ISIS to exploit territory they had abandoned. An improved relationship would be very good news for the U.S.-led fight against ISIS.

The Assad regime, which has made its own efforts to look like a partner to the U.S. against the extremist group, blasted the Turkish move. Turkey is helping the U.S. to train and equip anti-Assad moderate Syrian rebels battle ISIS.

The ancient relics -- which include three important sarcophagi -- are, for now, being kept at another burial site in Syria, one much closer to the Turkish border (and to the Syrian Kurds.) Though Turkey has destroyed the old mausoleum, Davutoglu said it would like to return the artifacts to that site eventually.

See below what the monument looked like before the raid to rescue it from ISIS -- and what has happened to its celebrated relics since.

FILE - In this April 7, 2011, file photo, Turkey's Minister of Foresty and Waters Veysel Eroglu, fourth from right, and unidentified Turkish officials are seen during a ceremony at the entrance of the memorial site of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, in Karakozak village, northeast of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/ Ministry of Foresty and Waters.)

FILE - In this April 7, 2011, file photo, Turkish soldiers stand guard at the entrance of the memorial site of Suleyman Shah. (AP Photo/File)

In this April 7, 2011, file photo, Turkish soldiers stand guard during a ceremony at the entrance of the memorial site of Suleyman Shah. (AP Photo/ Ministry of Forestry and Waters, File)

New position of the Suleyman Shah mausoleum is pictured from Turkish side of the border as Turkish army vehicles move inside Syria on Feb. 22, 2015, at Birecik in Sanliurfa, during an operation to relieve the garrison guarding the Suleyman Shah mausoleum in northern Syria. The operation was jointly conducted by the intelligence organization and the Turkish army, a few days after reports suggested that the tomb was besieged by jihadists belonging to the Islamic State. (ILYAS AKENGIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Military ceremony for Halit Avci, the soldier who died as a result of an "accident" during the Suleyman Shah tomb operation in Syria, on Feb. 22, 2015. (Veli Gurgah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Soldiers stand during a ceremony held for coffins brought from the tomb of Suleyman Shah to a provisional tomb in Syria on Feb. 22, 2015. (Okan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Soldiers stand during a ceremony held for coffins brought from the tomb of Suleyman Shah in Karakozak village, northeast of Aleppo, Syria. (Okan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Soldiers and an imam pray beside coffins brought from the tomb of Suleyman Shah in Syria to a provisional tomb on Feb. 22, 2015. (Okan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Remedy for Right-Wing Nonsense Is More Right-Wing Nonsense

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 20:21
In the aftermath of the 2012 Presidential Election, many on the far right -- including Ted Cruz, Rush Limbaugh, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Brent Bozell and Jenny Beth Martin, president of the Tea Party Patriots -- said that the Republican Party lost the presidential election because its presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, was not conservative enough.

Whoever knew these people to be wrong?

If it were not for that Socialist buttinski Romney, the GOP would have nominated a real conservative, and he or she would have been elected president instead of you-know-who. In 2016, Republicans must nominate a true conservative, who will not compromise but rather double down on ring-wing ideas.

The GOP may lose the presidential election in a landslide, but nobody will say its candidate was not conservative enough.

The GOP should take the following positions at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C. on February 25-28.

Global warming. The liberal media continually quote scientists who claim global warming poses a danger to life on Earth. Such stories ignore the opinions of scientists who work for oil companies. If the earth is becoming warmer -- and we're not saying it is -- it is because of solar energy, which increases the amount of heat from the Sun. One doesn't need to be a scientist to see that fossil fuels are safer than solar energy.

Illegal immigration. If the United States is serious about controlling its borders, it isn't enough to deport illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin-American countries. We must do something about the million or so illegal immigrants who are here from other countries throughout the world, like Canada and Africa.

And what about all the Europeans who came to this country before we had immigration laws? It's too late to deport the people who settled here without documentation in the 1800s, but we can do something about their descendants!

Our position on illegal immigration should be as follows: Anyone who cannot prove they are in the United States legally must be deported to their home country.

Gay marriage. Socialist politicians, activist judges, and the liberal media have convinced much of America that gay marriage is acceptable. This is an affront to the Bible, which gives homosexuality a few dozen of the Book's 750,000 words -- and only tens of thousands of words to such things as love, compassion, kindness, forbearance, and mercy.

There are more passages in the Bible prohibiting leavened bread than there are passages prohibiting homosexuality. How can we call ourselves Christians if we sit idly by while so many people are eating leavened bread? What if there's a link between leavened bread and homosexuality? Or vice versa?

Conservatives must not only intensify their fight against the spread of homosexuality and leavened bread, we must insist that other Biblical prohibitions be mandated by law.

This includes eating pork (Leviticus 11:7-8), shellfish (Deuteronomy 14:9-10), and anything with fat (Leviticus 3:17); cutting the sides of your hair and trimming your beard (Leviticus 19:27); wearing polyester or anything else with more than one fabric (Leviticus 19:19); or having women teach or have jobs where they have authority over me. (1 Timothy 2:12).

The Bible also instructs us to execute anyone who works on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14). This admittedly would be unpopular with the National Football League. But how can anyone argue with us? It's God's will.

Voter Challenges Marco Rubio On Immigration During Town Hall

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 20:16

HOLLIS, N.H. (AP) — Back in New Hampshire for the first time since the midterm elections, it didn't take long for Sen. Marco Rubio to get a question about immigration.

Speaking to a group of people in a wooden barn in the southern part of the state, the Florida Republican — still debating whether to run for president or seek re-election to the Senate in 2016 — was asked about his past support for immigration legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. Rubio's aides said the crowd was "more than 100."

"When I first heard you, I liked you a lot — and then you lost me," a questioner asked Rubio, to some applause from the crowd. "But I'm back, here to give you another chance. My question for you is, 'Can you commit if elected president to send home every single person that's violated our country's laws and is here illegally?'"

In reply, Rubio didn't hesitate.

"I don't think anyone can commit that to you," Rubio said. "You have 12 million human beings in America, most of whom we don't even know who they are and some of them whom our country's not going to tolerate rounding up and sending back. That's not a realistic proposal."

The direct question at such a small event is typical of New Hampshire, home of the nation's first presidential primary. Many voters relish their chance to interact with potential candidates for president, and the question is one that Rubio is likely to face often as he considers getting into the 2016 race.

Rubio was one of eight senators to sponsor the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that passed the Senate in 2013, but that was later blocked in the House by lawmakers aligned with the tea party.

Not everyone in the crowd appeared to like Rubio's answer, including the man who asked the question. While he declined to answer questions afterward, several others at the town hall said they appreciated Rubio's directness and his ability to explain his position.

Rubio told the town hall he supports securing the border, improving the system for tracking people who overstay work visas, implementing a verification system for employers and reforming the country's legal immigration system.

"There's not one solution that fits all," said Steve Negron, of Nashua. "You can't have this broad brush and get rid of those people that are truly trying to do the right thing."


Follow Kathleen Ronayne on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/kronayne

Big Bills vs. Little Bills

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 20:13

The Senate just voted for a fourth time to open debate on a budget bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, coupled together by the House with poison-pill language to block President Obama's new policies on immigration. For the fourth time, the bill failed to gain the 60 votes necessary to move forward. This time around, Republicans could only muster 47 votes in favor of the legislation -- fewer than any of the previous three times the Senate had voted on it. (The bill has never even gotten 55 votes, much less 60, and the only bipartisanship has come from one Republican voting with the Democrats, for those of you keeping score at home.)

The reason the fourth vote was held is a simple one: Mitch McConnell is stalling. He is buying time until the last minute looms, which will happen later this week. Republicans will not back themselves out of their self-induced corner until the absolute last possible opportunity to do so arrives. What is amusing in this contest of wills is that the endgame depends not on a fight between Obama and the Republicans but on the outcome of the power struggle between John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Perhaps "power struggle" is the wrong term; what it really amounts to is "avoiding being the tea party's scapegoat." One way or another, there will be conservative blame. That blame will be laid at the feet of whichever Republican leader is seen to cave first, and neither McConnell nor Boehner wants to be that target. This is why absolutely nothing productive is going to happen until much later in the week.

There are other amusing aspects to this standoff, seen from the point of view of the Democrats. Republicans, now that they are in power in the Senate, have shifted their tactics and their rhetoric accordingly. What this means is that they are now all in favor of procedures they used to be dead-set against, and they are now horrified at the use of procedures they used to enthusiastically embrace. In other words, the hypocrisy is on full display, at least for anyone who remembers what Republicans have been saying for the past few years.

The best example of this is how Republicans now talk about the filibuster. When they were in the minority, they brought a whole new era to the Senate, one in which even the most routine of bills had to gain 60 votes to move. This expansion of the filibuster was unprecedented in American history, as Senate Republicans filibustered literally hundreds of bills. Now, however, they are decrying the use of the filibuster by Democrats. They whine and whinge about how unfair having to get 60 votes to move legislation now is, after being the filibuster champions for the past few Congresses. They are desperately trying to portray Democrats now availing themselves of the filibuster as being some sort of radicals for using the parliamentary tool that they themselves used so effectively up until two months ago. Their complaints are downright laughable, but Boehner and his ilk seem unaware of this hypocritical hilarity contained within their public statements.

Republican whining about the filibuster isn't the only amusing spin they're now trying to sell, however. Remember their rage when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") passed? One major complaint (out of many) from the Republicans was that the law was passed on a party-line vote; in the end, not a single Republican voted for it. This was supposed to be the mark of a bad law, being partisan as all get-out, and Republicans denounced the fact that Democrats had "jammed the bill down the throat of the American people" without any hint of bipartisanship.

Well, now that Republicans are in the lead, there is absolutely zero effort to get Democrats on board other than holding a department's budget hostage. A certain percentage of congressional Republicans (most of them in the House) have convinced themselves that, magically, at the last minute, a whole bunch of Senate Democrats will suddenly see the light and vote for their bill. There's really no other reason Mitch McConnell has held four votes on the same bill in the past week. In each vote the result was the same. Democrats did not cross the aisle. The only Senate votes for the bill were Republican votes. In other words, using their previous terminology, Republicans are trying to pass a purely partisan bill on a large and important issue. Remember when they were against that sort of thing?

The third biggest irony (or hypocrisy) of the Republican position on the DHS bill comes from the fight that preceded it (and should indeed supersede it) on immigration reform. Almost two years ago the Senate actually passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill. It got an impressive and bipartisan 68 votes. The bill was sent to the House, where it died. At the time, the big complaint from House Republicans was that the bill was "too big." This was also a complaint often heard about the Obamacare bill: It had too many pages and too many words and therefore was beyond the comprehension abilities of the House Republicans. That would sound like a slur if it were not, in fact, exactly what they were arguing at the time.

The relative bigness of bills had never before been much of a partisan issue in Washington, but for some reason the House default position became (to paraphrase Orwell's Animal Farm) "Big bills bad, little bills better." Rather than just hold a vote on the Senate immigration bill (which, by all accounts, would have passed with a bipartisan majority), the House would instead slice and dice the issue into lots of little bills that each dealt with one specific aspect of immigration reform. They were going to start with border security (of course). The Senate bill would have doubled the size of the Border Patrol, but that wasn't good enough for the House Republicans.

After much waiting and many promises, the House did absolutely nothing on comprehensive immigration reform. No small bills passed and were sent over to the Senate. No big bills either. Even with this record of utter failure, the core concept seemed to remain and become the Republican go-to position: The smaller and more targeted a bill is, the better.

Right up until it became time to fund the Department of Homeland Security, of course. Then House Republicans demanded that the two issues be jammed together. The DHS budget could not be passed, the House Republicans vowed, without additional measures to register their anger over President Obama's immigration policies. They've been working hard on immigration reform in the House for years now, with absolutely nothing to show for it -- no bills, big or little -- and now they are determined to make a simple budget bill bigger by hitching immigration policy to it. That this goes counter to their entire strategy for the past few years apparently does not bother them a bit.

In fact, this is likely how the standoff is going to end. Mitch McConnell is going to have to bow to the reality that the big bill the House Republicans sent over cannot pass his chamber (and would get vetoed even if it did). So the only real possible answer is going to be to separate what the House passed into two discrete bills: one that contains a clean budget for DHS and one that allows all the Republicans to vent their rage at President Obama to their heart's content. The first bill will pass both chambers and be signed by the president. The second will not. The only real question is whether the clean budget bill will fund the department all year or just for the next few months (so that Republicans can have this pointless and unwinnable battle all over again later).

Congressional Republicans who cannot do basic math will be outraged. Call them the "Ted Cruz wing" of the Republican Party -- those folks who don't understand the reality of not having a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress and therefore think that merely "holding our ground" will somehow magically win the day for them in the end. They will denounce the tactic of splitting the bills apart, because they will see all their supposed leverage disappear as a direct result.

It serves them right, though. For years now they've been arguing against big, comprehensive bills and insisting that the best bills are the smallest ones, targeted to one individual issue (or even sub-issue). So it is now amusing for Democrats to watch them try to defend their big bill, just as it will be amusing to watch them howl later this week when it gets split in two. All a Democrat will have to do to really rub it in will be to affect a mock-surprised tone of voice and say, "But you've been saying all along that immigration reform can only be done one tiny step at a time! Why are you now so upset at such a targeted bill?" Then stand back and watch the apoplexy.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Suppose America Retrenches -- A Thought Experiment

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 19:42
Critics accuse President Barack Obama of being a foreign policy minimalist seeking to do the least harm (or no stupid "stuff") rather than by choosing more effective if riskier solutions. In fairness, the president was dealt the most horrible hand on taking office dating back to FDR in 1933. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were disasters. And the financial meltdown of 2007-2008 was the worst since 1929.

While no existential danger (excepting an unpredictable catastrophe) threatening the U.S., the world is confronted with more complex, complicated and often intermingled regional and local crises than during the Cold War. The overriding causes of these crises and challenges are failed and failing government; economic despair, disparity and dislocation; rapid and ultra-violent ideological driven non-state actors; and environmental calamities. In these circumstances, a Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Churchill would find the going quite heavy.

What should be the role of the United States? It cannot be the world's policeman or even a regional cop and expect to succeed without the help of the locals. As wars in Afghanistan and Iraq painfully revealed, the best military in the world cannot defeat an adversary that lacks a coherent army, navy or air force and is armed with an idea and a movement. And the other tools for promoting governance, development and long-term stability from the outside have usually failed.

Responding to these realities, consider this thought experiment. Suppose the United States downsized its current international role reducing its overseas commitments and force posture. America would still be vitally engaged in commerce, business, finance, diplomacy, humanitarian and trade matters. And America would keep a measure of military presence abroad to protect its citizens and if necessary defend its larger security interests.

What might this new design be? First, assume change would occur over time. Second, assume it would be accomplished through discussions with friends, allies and adversaries to make certain any potential vacuums would not be filled by the wrong people. Third, a diminished security posture would be compensated for by greater diplomatic, business and trade presence and greater involvement by local states.

NATO, the most successful military alliance in history, is a starting point. Suppose any arrangement with Russia began along the lines of a substantial U.S. military withdrawal from Europe that in turn would require Moscow to take equivalent actions to reduce its military posture and aggressive behavior in Ukraine and other frozen conflicts. As strategic arms agreements demonstrated, these types of reductions would be in the mutual interest and verifiable.

The U.S. would not leave the military structure of the alliance as France did nearly fifty years ago. It does mean that U.S. presence with a quid pro quo would shrink. And possibly a European instead of the traditional American would become Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Obviously, Russia has a powerful voice and no such steps would occur without strict verification.

In the Middle East, the U.S. would strike offer alternative security arrangement to regional states. A NATO-type alliance for the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) to include Turkey, Jordan and possibly Iraq might be created underwritten by U.S. strategic guarantees. Regional powers would take the lead in defeating the Islamic State meaning less American involvement.

A similar arrangement could apply to Korea. Treaty commitments would be maintained. U.S. forces would still be stationed on the peninsula but at lower levels. And the ability to reinforce would continue.

About the spread of al Qaeda, IS and other Islamist terrorist organizations elsewhere, empowering local states is essential. Drones and other remote-type weapons might be transferred with proper safeguards. Information, intelligence and law enforcement sharing would be continued with great intensity and interaction.

The response to this experiment is predictable. Even an implied reduction of this "indispensible" nation's commitments abroad would provoke a tsunami of criticism and anguish. Many will howl that China and Russia would seize this opportunity to expand their influence with gusto and swiftness.

Others would predict that one or more Gulf States would obtain nuclear weapons. Jordan, Iraq could fall under the control of radicals or implode in civil war as befell Libya. And Iran would become even more aggressive. Chaos could follow.

Such fears and concerns cannot be discarded. The risks and possible dangers are unmistakable. But is also clear that current American policies and strategies are not working either. Because an American withdrawal would likely worsen conditions and because American policies today are not yielding good results, one conclusion is self-evident.

A new approach is vitally needed. Yet, who will heed this logic and lead in crafting effective rather than sound-bite-driven strategies?

The true impact of not recycling our old electronics

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Mon, 2015-02-23 07:00
Here are some staggering numbers of what could be saved.

"His Own Man's" Man: Jeb Bush and the Return of Wolfowitz

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-02-23 01:52
Last week the nation was treated to the sad and embarrassing spectacle of Jeb Bush, mollycoddled scion to an empire of failure, proclaiming that "I'm my own man." Here's a simple rule of thumb: Anyone who has to say he's his own man, or woman, isn't. The 62-year-old Mr. Bush has been coasting on his family's power and privilege since he was a weed-smoking, Steppenwolf-listening prep school student in the sixties.

From prep school slacker to presidential frontrunner: Now that's a "Magic Carpet Ride."

Sadder still was the list of Jeb's advisors published this week, a list which included - and was tarnished by - the genuinely execrable Paul Wolfowitz.

For those who might have forgotten Wolfowitz, here's a quick reminder: The dust had barely settled over lower Manhattan when Wolfowitz began cooking the books for the last President Bush, seeking an Iraq connection to 9/11 where none existed. National security expert Richard Clarke was there when Wolfowitz pressured the White House intelligence team to focus, not on the terrorists who did the deed, but on Iraq - a nation which wasn't involved in the attack but had been targeted years before by the "Project for a New American Century."

As Clarke recalled, Wolfowitz's words were: "No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy?"

Wolfowitz orchestrated the lies about the need for war against Iraq, and he was utterly, disastrously, stunningly wrong in his predictions about the course of that war. Wolfowitz claimed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He said the war in Iraq would pay for itself in oil revenues. (That was some $2 trillion ago.) And, most famously, Wolfowitz predicted that the Iraqi people would "greet us as liberators."

When it comes to the Iraq War, Paul Wolfowitz was - in the words of another Steppenwolf song - "The Pusher." His promotion of that conflict was the defining act of his career, and it leaves him a failure in every conceivable intellectual or moral application of that word.

There are ways in which Wolfowitz is not a failure, of course: He has succeeded in retaining the esteem, respect, attention and support of right-wing power elites. He succeeded in retaining the implicit approval of the mainstream media, which has conveniently forgotten his moral and policy failures.

But then, hasn't everyone who "matters"? Even a subsequent personal scandal at the World Bank failed to shake the high regard in which Wolfowitz is held by the powerful cohorts who shape our world. That's how it goes, once you're in the club.

It's like having a rich and powerful dad, when you think about it. Ineptitude, arrogance, and mendacity are shrugged off as lightly as the drug escapades of shaggy-haired prep school brats, even when they cost trillions of wasted dollars and hundreds of thousands of wasted lives.

Now Jeb has Wolfowitz, and Wolfowitz has another potential president's ear. That's how these things work. Behind every "great" man or woman - in this case, behind every "I'm my own man" man - is a network of servile sycophants whose primary occupation is to make sure that the presumed paragon of self-sufficiency is propped up, brushed off, and shipshape to be wheeled out onto the political stage.

Neither these advisors nor their leader need to be right about anything. They just need to represent the right people - without offending anyone that matters.

Wolfowitz isn't the only Iraq-war liar on the Jeb Bush team, of course. As Igor Volsky notes in ThinkProgress, there are a couple of other mendacious Iraq war "architects" onto the team. It's a poor moral lesson for the children, but there it is: Lies, incompetence, and poor personal ethics are no bar to success in Washington DC. In fact, they can help you climb the ladder. But if you're right in the wrong way you'll be blackballed.

It's true that the leader, not the advisors, is expected to call the shots. But when it comes to Jeb, don't expect much there. In his first major address, he actually trotted out the old (and Orwellian) Reagan phrase "Peace Through Strength," accompanied by the tired refrain that a strong military is our only hope for a peaceful world.

"Peace through strength" was a problematic concept even when there was another superpower on the planet. It's today's world of a unipolar superpower and asymmetrical warfare, it's a platitude whose falsehood is demonstrable. America's military might didn't bring peace to Iraq or prevent the rise of ISIS. On the contrary: Had our "strength" not been used in that country, ISIS wouldn't even exist.

"Shock and awe" has led to slaughter and horror.

The policies of the Bush/Wolfowitz crowd have led, not to democracy and development, but to chaos and collapse - and to the formation of a brutal and medieval "caliphate" which is drawing adherents from around the world. Our global reputation as a just and democratic state - what Gary Hart calls the "fourth power" of our principled beliefs - lies in tatters, after more than a decade of torture, spying, and unjustified military intervention.

This war has been the greatest failure in American history. The American people will be paying the price for it for generations to come, in more ways than one. But Jeb Bush has reminded us that there is no price to be paid for failure, or for ethical lapses, among the elites who govern us.

In the gendered language of male power, there is a saying: Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan. Wolfowitz's failed war has created more than its share of orphans.

How many more orphans must be left behind before Jeb Bush finally becomes "his own man"?