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“Unstable Lawmakers”: Five Worst Ideas From Texas’ Tea Party Government

It’s no surprise that in the state that gave us personalities like Representative Ron Paul, Governor Rick Perry, and Senator Ted Cruz, legislators have proposed more than their fair share of outrageous laws. Nearly failing to extend Medicaid benefits to the state’s disadvantaged, moving to make English the state’s official language, and putting forward a constitutional referendum that would prohibit tax increases only scratch the surface in the Lone Star State..

Here are the 5 worst ideas to come from Texas’s right-wing government:

Suing The Obama Administration 25+ Times

Texas’ attorney general sure knows how to put taxpayers’ money to good use. Greg Abbott takes pride in the fact that he has sued the Obama administration more than 25 times since February, 2010. “In all, Abbott’s federal cases have cost the state more than $2.8 million,” according to a Texas newspaper. “That includes $1.5 million-plus in salaries for state employees working on the cases, nearly $250,000 in court costs and the travel expenses of attorney general’s office personnel, and roughly $1 million for outside counsel and expert witnesses.”

Abbott, who once insisted that Democrats are more of a threat than North Korea, sued the federal government and lost in cases of discriminatory voter-ID laws and gerrymandered district maps, costing the state well over $1 million in these two cases alone.

Making It Illegal To Introduce Or Implement Any New Federal Gun Laws

Texas lawmakers took their Second Amendment paranoia to an entirely new level in April with the proposal of HB 1076. This law “would ban state agencies from enforcing any new federal gun laws, including background checks,” according to MaddowBlog. “The bill passed the Republican-led House on a largely party-line vote Monday, but legal experts say the attempt to ‘nullify’ possible future federal laws likely wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Texas Republicans have given themselves full authority to ignore federal laws that place any restrictions on gun sales. The proposed law states that the American people have a right granted to them by the U.S. and Texas Constitutions to bear arms, and any law that threatens those rights—even a law instituting simple background checks—will be immediately rejected.

Placing Armed Guards In Texas Schools

While you will not see any new gun laws in Texas that limit gun purchases, Republican legislators won’t think twice about implementing laws that increase the use of guns—even in schools. Gun-loving Texas lawmakers introduced a proposal that would put “school marshals” in every one of the state’s K-12 schools.

According to the Dallas News, “Marshals will be allowed to carry a gun and their identity would only be known to the school’s head administrator and law enforcement. If working in a classroom or around children, the school marshal’s weapon will be locked away but within reach.”

Following the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed in a school shooting, Republican lawmakers in Texas decided the best response to this was to put more guns in the hands of citizens—and to put those citizens in our children’s schools.

Defunding Planned Parenthood

Pro-life legislators in Texas who were working to defund Planned Parenthood and close down all locations in the state suffered a minor setback when the case was taken before a Texas judge—but they overcame that obstacle when the judge ruled that the state has the authority to defund the women’s health organization simply because it advocates for abortion rights. State Republicans were even making absurd claims that Planned Parenthood was pushing teenagers to get pregnant, in an attempt to bring in steady business.

Texas lawmakers were also seeking to keep funds from the Women’s Health Program—a government program that provides low-income women with preventive care—away from Planned Parenthood. This issue was also taken to court, where the same judge voted again in their favor, despite the fact that states do not have the authority to block health providers (such as Planned Parenthood) from receiving Medicaid funds.

After a backlash from voters and a report from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission that projected a significant increase in births among low-income women, Texas Republicans have quickly worked to reverse their initial actions against Planned Parenthood and women’s health organizations statewide.

Rewarding Companies That Deny Contraception To Employees

Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts supplier chain, recently sued the U.S. government over the health care law that requires they provide their employees coverage for contraceptives. Hobby Lobby president Steve Green cited his Christian values as his reason for standing against this women’s health law.

“When a business is being stressed nearly to the point of bankruptcy by punitive federal taxes, of course the state should give them relief,” Texas State Republican representative Jonathan Stickland stated. “The Obama administration’s mandate and their threats to bury Hobby Lobby with $1.3 million per day in tax penalties aren’t just unconstitutional, they’re unconscionable. It is simply appalling that any business owner should have to choose between violating their religious convictions and watching their business be strangled by the strong arm of Federal mandates and taxation.”

Stickland’s efforts through House Bill 649 to grant tax breaks to Hobby Lobby so they can cover the cost of contraception for employees would actually keep them from paying any state taxes at all. The state of Texas would lose over a million dollars in tax revenue from Hobby Lobby alone.


By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, May 15, 2013

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A National Laughingstock”: Alberto Gonzales Returns From Obscurity

We’ve heard quite a bit recently from Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and Michael Mukasey, so I suppose it stands to reason that it’s time for Alberto Gonzales to reemerge, too.

The former attorney general has been wise to keep a low profile. In office, he was a national laughingstock. Upon Gonzales’ departure, Andrew Cohen wrote a terrific piece explaining, “By any reasonable standard, the Gonzales Era at the Justice Department is void of almost all redemptive qualities.” He sought a legal job in D.C. but couldn’t find a firm that would hire him, and the last I heard, Gonzales ended up teaching at an unaccredited law school.

The former A.G. nevertheless appeared on MSNBC this morning, apparently ready to address some of the ongoing controversies. He seemed inclined to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt when it came to subpoenaing Associated Press phone logs, but this nevertheless stood out for me.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recalled on Wednesday a time when he was confronted with a “very serious leak investigation” similar to the one that has embroiled the Obama administration this week. But, he said, he went a very different route and decided against subpoenaing a reporter’s notes.

Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the seizure of Associated Press phone records, saying the Department of Justice was trying to get to the bottom of a “very serious leak” that “put American people at risk.” Gonzales, who oversaw a massive domestic wiretapping program under former President George W. Bush, acknowledged on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the attorney general is often forced to “make a very hard determination” but when faced with a similar dilemma, his Justice Department “ultimately decided not to move forward.”

Now, I can’t be sure which case Gonzales is referring to, but for the record, let’s not forget that during his tenure as attorney general, the Justice Department “improperly gained access to reporters’ calling records as part of leak investigations.” Indeed, it happened quite a bit.

Unlike the current uproar, we didn’t hear much about this at the time, but if Gonzales wants to give the impression now that his DOJ showed greater restraint when it came to journalists and phone logs, he’s mistaken.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Media, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Aiding And Abetting: The Flawed Reporting That Touched Off A Firestorm

We talked yesterday about last week’s ABC News reporting on emails related to the Obama administration’s Benghazi talking points, which are now very much in doubt. I’ve heard from ABC, so let’s follow up.

ABC’s reporting on Friday, which touched off a major political firestorm, pointed to a top White House official who reportedly sent an email siding with the State Department and recommending the removal of specific references to terrorist organizations and CIA warnings from the talking points. Jake Tapper at CNN reported yesterday that ABC was wrong — the “actual email differs from how sources characterized it” to ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

ABC last night referred me to this statement from Karl.

I asked my original source today to explain the different wording on the Ben Rhodes e-mail, and the fact that the words “State Department” were not included in the e-mail provided to CNN’s Tapper.

This was my source’s response, via e-mail: “WH reply was after a long chain of email about State Dept concerns. So when WH emailer says, take into account all equities, he is talking about the State equities, since that is what the email chain was about.”

As Josh Marshall explained, “I guarantee you Karl had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he saw that explanation. Because that explanation by reference to earlier comments in the thread is pretty weak. Karl’s follow on piece is entitled ‘More Details on Benghazi Talking Points Emerge’ but the substance is, ‘How the Story Changes When I Realize the Notes I Was Using Weren’t Reliable.’ The answer here is that Karl pretty clearly got burned by his source. But he at least seriously singed himself by making it really, really look like he was looking at the emails themselves when he wasn’t.”

Right. ABC’s Karl originally told his audience that he’d “obtained” White House materials, when in fact he’d seen summaries, apparently provided by a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, which we now know were misleading. Karl received unreliable information, and seems to have been incomplete in how he characterized his direct knowledge of the information.

I wouldn’t ordinarily focus on one flawed report like this — we all make mistakes — but ABC’s coverage on Friday became the basis for a media firestorm, which now appears to have been a mistake.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reporters Aren’t Above The Law”: The Media Shouldn’t Have Freer Speech Or Special Immunities From Investigation

Secret government investigations into speech protected by the First Amendment should alarm all of us. But we all have the same First Amendment rights; reporters don’t have freer speech. And giving reporters a special privilege to withhold evidence too often leads to lazy reporting in which nameless “official sources” get to make false accusations against innocent people without any accountability for either the government or the press. Instead of lobbying for a special privilege, reporters should consistently fight for more liberty for all Americans, including greater freedom of speech and greater freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Associated Press is understandably outraged that the government used secret subpoenas to get phone records that might reveal who leaked classified information to the news wire. But the real problem is not that the government is investigating the AP; it is that the government is investigating speech about government operations. That would be just as troubling if the targets were non-journalists.

The government claims the AP’s reporting contained classified information, but that’s hard to avoid when so much of what the government does is classified. The temptation to overclassify and underdisclose must be very powerful; each administration promises greater transparency, yet each turns out to be worse than the last. That frustrates the control we’re supposed to have over our government.

Media companies think the answer is to give their employees special immunities from investigation. But reporters aren’t always right, either. Sometimes they team up with government leakers to wreck the lives of innocent men and women whom the leakers want to disparage publicly, like Steven Hatfill, Wen Ho Lee or Richard Jewell. When that happens, the victims have rights too. Reporters (like everyone else) have a duty to provide the evidence necessary to do justice. No one should be above the law.

A better answer is to tighten the rules for when government can act in secret and provide more protections for whistleblowers. That gives us the benefit of more public discourse about public policy without giving the press a license to smear.

Our government does too many things in the dark, and the press is often at its best when it shines a light on previously unknown programs or policies that we ought to debate publicly. We need laws that help the press shine a light on government actions, not laws that permit reporters to join government officials in the shadows.


By: Mark Grannis, Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, May 16, 2013

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Media, Press | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Benghazi Syndrome”: An Irrational And Absolutely Rabid Dislike Of President Obama

The American Psychiatric Association’s latest handbook — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — is about to be published. It is the handbook of mental health, and if you’re not in it, you are among the fortunate few. Even though the hour is late, I beseech the DSM’s publishers to consider one additional entry, the seriousness of which will be apparent to anyone who watches Fox News: Benghazi Syndrome.

Benghazi Syndrome is a grave malady of the noggin, the symptoms of which are a compulsion to grossly exaggerate matters and to compare almost anything to Watergate (see Watergate Syndrome, DSM-IV). Patient Zero in this regard is Sen. Lindsey Graham, a usually affable Republican from South Carolina who has suggested that the Benghazi episode warrants an investigation by a special congressional committee, just like Iran-contra and — drum roll, please — Watergate.

Others have gone even further. Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and a man who once suggested the Environmental Protective Agency has something in common with the Gestapo, called the Benghazi whatchamacallit the “most egregious cover-up in American history” and possibly an impeachable offense. These charges are so serious we can only conclude that l’affaire Benghazi has the potential to bring down the Obama administration — the proverbial thread that, if pulled, could unravel the entire garment. Such drama!

So what is Benghazi? It is the place in Libya where the United States maintained two installations — a consulate and a much larger CIA outpost. Both of these were attacked on Sept. 11, 2012, a date of some significance. The assaults, we all now know, were conducted by a jihadist group and were not — as the Obama administration initially maintained — a spur-of-the-moment thing precipitated by the airing of an anti-Muslim video. We also know that the administration either was unsure of the facts or simply didn’t like them. So it knitted together the infamous talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice repeated on all the Sunday talk shows. Aside from “good morning,” little of what she said was true.

President Obama was then really Candidate Obama and he surely did not want the words “terrorist attack” uttered during the presidential campaign. In addition, the CIA and the State Department were in a cat fight and could not agree on the wording of the talking points — or even, from a fair reading of their clashing e-mails, who the fanatical enemy was: al-Qaeda or members of Congress?

In all this, it’s almost possible to forget that four Americans died in Benghazi. The event was a tragedy and it hardly matters, as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vociferously maintained, if the attack occurred spontaneously or was planned. Either way, it was a success for the terrorists and a debacle for the United States.

It is good to find out how this happened — who’s responsible for the inadequate security, etc. — and it is also good to hold the Obama administration accountable for putting out a misleading statement. But the record will show that a thorough report was, in fact, compiled. Its authors were Thomas Pickering, an esteemed retired diplomat, and Adm. Mike Mullen, an equally esteemed retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They found the standard mistakes and snafus — but no crime.

Watergate, though, was a crime. Iran-contra was a crime. Government officials were convicted and some of them went to jail. Fudging a press release is not a crime. Compromising on wording is not a crime. Making a decision — even if wrong — that there was no time to call in the cavalry is not a crime. And having inadequate security is not only not a crime but partly a consequence of congressional budget cuts.

It is not a crime either to make a mountain out of a molehill, but this particular one is constructed of a fetid combination of bad taste and poisonous politics. Dig down a bit and it becomes clear that some — many? — Republicans suspect that Barack Obama and-or Hillary Clinton are capable of letting people die to cover up a terrorist attack. Either that, or this is what they want us to think.

In the end, it all comes down to an irrational and absolutely rabid dislike of Obama that so clouds judgment that utterly preposterous statements are uttered, usually within the precincts of the Fox News studios. This, as you might have guessed, is classic Benghazi Syndrome. There is no known cure.


By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 13, 2013

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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