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“GOP Hot Mess”: It’s Almost Enough To Make You Feel Bad For Them, Almost

It’s hard enough fighting a war against the president of the United States, with his bully pulpit and the resources of the executive branch at his disposal. But how can you prevail over him when all your time is spent battling your own comrades? This is the dilemma the Republican party confronts.

It’s happening everywhere. Mitch McConnell, who could plausibly claim to have done more to undermine Barack Obama than anyone else in the country, now faces a Tea Party primary challenge in his re-election race. Yesterday the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee lit into his party’s leadership after the Speaker pulled a bill funding transportation and housing from the floor, probably because they didn’t have the votes to pass it. Two likely 2016 presidential candidates, Senator Rand Paul and Governor Chris Christie, are in a public battle of insults that has all the dignity and gravitas of a grade-school playground slap-fight. Heroes of the right like Ted Cruz pour contempt on their colleagues for knuckling under to liberals, while establishment figures like John McCain fire back with equal derision. And the issue of immigration reform continues to rip the party apart at the seams, with elite Republicans convinced the GOP needs to pass reform if it’s to win a presidential campaign any time soon, and the party’s base (and the members of Congress who represent it) dead-set against anything that looks too kind to undocumented immigrants.

It wasn’t too long ago that Democrats looked at the Republican party with envy, marveling at its ability to keep all its factions talking, thinking, and moving in lockstep. That unity of purpose and action may return one day, but for now, the GOP is a hot mess. It’s almost enough to make you feel bad for them. Almost.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor;  Jamie Fuller, The American Prospect, August 1, 2013

August 3, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Could This Prompt A Rush On Executions?”: Texas Running Low On Lethal Injection Drug But Confident It Won’t Miss A Beat

Texas already leads the nation in carrying out executions, having killed 11 inmates so far this year. The state’s Department of Criminal Justice announced this week, however, that state supplies of the sedative pentobarbital, used in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail, were running low and remaining supplies would expire by September. Like other states, Texas switched to pentobarbital when supplies of another sedative regularly used in the lethal cocktail were cut off. Now the situation is repeating with this sedative.

However, as the Guardian noted, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Jason Clark, expressed confidence that it would be able to continue to carry out executions. “Alternate sources of pentobarbital are possible, or an alternate drug,” he said.

When Georgia faced a similar predicament earlier this year, with its limited supplies of lethal drugs nearing expiration, a troubling situation arose in which the state attempted to rush through a spate of executions. As I noted in February, state prosecutors pushed aggressively to overturn the stay of execution granted intellectually disabled death row inmate Warren Hill (although the stay remains) and reportedly executed 38-year-old Andrew Allen Cook (on death row since 1995 for the murder of two college students) in the hurry prompted by drug shortages.

With 300 inmates currently on Texas death row, attempts to speed up executions before pentobarbital supplies expire would be of grave concern to human rights advocates. It is of some hope, however, that more and more death penalty states are under a stranglehold from companies and authorities around the world refusing to provide drugs used in executions.


By: Natasha Lennard, Salon, August 2, 2013

August 3, 2013 Posted by | Death Penalty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Few, The Proud, The Frightened”: Only The Fringe Standing With Rand Paul On Aid To Egypt

Yesterday wasn’t the best day for Rand Paul’s efforts to transform himself from a less cranky version of his old man into a power broker and potential presidential candidate in the Republican Party. Aside from Chris Christie’s contemptuous rejection of Paul’s suggestion that they sit down over a tall cool one and resolve their war of words over foreign policy, Paul failed to make much headway in the Senate in his long-standing attempt to cut off military aid to Egypt, despite having an almost ideal set of circumstances. While Democrats united behind the administration’s position that an aid cutoff could de-stabilize Egypt, most of the floor action involved the pummeling of Paul by his Republican colleagues, prior to a 86-13 vote against his amendment to the THUD appropriations bill.

WaPo’s Dana Milbank captured the flavor of the debate:

More than a dozen senators sat or stood at their desks in the usually empty chamber, engaging Paul, who tried to rebut their points. So many wished to join the fray that Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) extended the debate.

The result reinforced the proud tradition of internationalism in the body, and in the GOP. For all the talk of a Republican civil war over foreign policy, Wednesday’s vote showed that the internationalists still dominate. McCain portrayed Paul as the heir to the America Firsters. But there has been no growth in the isolationist sentiment since March, when an amendment to restrict aid to Egypt failed, 74-25, or since September 2012, when a Paul bill to cut off aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Libya went down, 81-10.

The coup de grace probably occurred when Lindsay Graham read aloud a letter from AIPAC opposing the aid cutoff.

McCain needled Paul. “The question here is whether the senator from Kentucky knows what’s better for Israel, or Israel.”

Paul shook his head, reclaimed the floor and challenged the “so-called leadership” of AIPAC.

When the clerk called the roll, McCain whipped his colleagues aggressively: arguing with Dean Heller (R-Nev.) after the new senator took Paul’s side, applauding when John Hoeven (R-N.D.) voted against Paul and working over Tim Scott (R-S.C.) until the senator cried uncle. “I’m with you,” Scott said.

For the Republican internationalists, this wasn’t about winning but dominating.

Well, maybe. 13 Republicans decided to Stand with Rand on aid to Egypt. That’s just one short of the number of Republican senators who stood with McCain and Graham on immigration reform, which was supposedly a triumph of party “pragmatism” against the craziness of the House GOP. You also see some significant names supporting Paul’s amendment: Mike Lee, the majordomo of the Senate’s “constitutional conservatives,” and his boon companion Ted Cruz, a potential rival of Paul’s in 2016. There’s Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who may be counting on help from Paul in rebuffing a primary challenge from Lynn Cheney that bids fair to become a national Neocon crusade. And then there was Mitch McConnell, who has clearly decided that snuggling up to Paul is his best insurance against his own primary challenge next year.

For dedicated Paulites, this was just another vote in a long struggle against foreign policy internationalists in both parties. For the GOP as a whole, it’s unclear whether the vote pitted the dominant faction against the fringe, or the party’s past against its future.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 1, 2013

August 3, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Shared History”: Edward Snowden Walked Right Into A Bizarre Alliance Between Wikileaks And Russia

One thing that has become clear as the Edward Snowden saga unfolds is that WikiLeaks and Russia have both been integral to the NSA leaker’s arrival and extended stay in Moscow.

The Kremlin and the renegade publisher haven’t overtly coordinated moves in regards to Snowden, but they certainly haven’t been working against each other.

And the two had a shared history before Snowden arrived in Moscow.

Here are a few notable details from a tentative timeline of Edward Snowden and his associates created by former senior U.S. intelligence analyst Joshua Foust:

  • November 2, 2010: An official at the Center for Information Security of the FSB, Russia’s secret police, told the independent Russian news website LifeNews “It’s essential to remember that given the will and the relevant orders, [WikiLeaks] can be made inaccessible forever.”
  • December, 2010: Israel Shamir, a long-standing associate of Wikileaks traveled to Belarus, a close ally of Russia, in December with a cache of Wikileaks files. Belarussian authorities published the cables and cracked down, harshly, on pro-democracy activists.
  • April 17, 2012: Government-funded Russian TV station RT gives [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange his own talk show.
  • June 23, 2013: Izvestia, a state-owned Russian newspaper, writes that the Kremlin and its intelligence services collaborated with Wikileaks to help Snowden escape from Hong Kong (Wikileaks did not mention any official involvement in Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong in their press statements).

Ever since the 30-year-old ex-Booz Allen contractor got on a flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, Russia and WikiLeaks have been working parallel to each other.

On June 23, after the U.S. voided Snowden’s passport while he was in Hong Kong, WikiLeaks tweeted that the organization “assisted Mr. Snowden’s political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers ans [sic] safe exit from Hong Kong.”

That was followed by the update that “Mr. Snowden is currently over Russian airspace accompanied by WikiLeaks legal advisors.”

It turned out that Assange convinced Ecuador’s consul in London to provide a travel document requesting that authorities allow Snowden to travel to Ecuador “for the purpose of political asylum.” The country’s president subsequently said the document was “completely invalid.”

When Snowden arrived in Moscow with void travel papers, all signs suggest that Russia’s domestic intelligence service (i.e. FSB) took control of him.

That day a radio host in Moscow “saw about 20 Russian officials, supposedly FSB agents, in suits, crowding around somebody in a restricted area of the airport,” according to Anna Nemtsova of Foreign Policy.

WikiLeaks, meanwhile, insisted that Snowden was “not being ‘debriefed’ by the FSB.”

Snowden’s FSB-linked Moscow lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, has been speaking for Snowden ever since Snowden accepted all offers for support and asylum on July 12.

On July 11 WikiLeaks had said that Snowden and it had “made sure that he cannot be meaningfully coersed [sic] by either the US or its rivals,” even though that cannot be guaranteed when Russian intelligence is in play.

On Thursday Kucherena announced that Russia has granted Snowden temporary asylum — giving him “the same rights and freedoms possessed by [Russian] citizens” — and led him to a car that would take him to a “secure location.”

PHOTO: #Snowden leaving Moscow airport today after granted 1-year temporary asylum in Russia

— RT (@RT_com) August 1, 2013

WikiLeaks then announced that Sarah Harrison, Assange’s closest advisor, “has remained with Mr. Snowden at all times to protect his safety and security, including during his exit from Hong Kong. They departed from the airport together in a taxi and are headed to a secure, confidential place.”

And it tweeted this:

We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden. We have won the battle–now the war.

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 1, 2013

(WikiLeaks’ spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told RT that the “war” is “a war against secrecy … a war for transparency, [and] a war for government accountability.”)

All in all, the organization’s gratitude for those “who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden” — which primarily includes the FSB and Harrison — raises the question of how much the WikiLeaks and the Kremlin have coordinated during the Snowden saga.


By: Michael Kelley, Business Insider, August 2, 2013

August 3, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not Done Yet”: Wisconsin’s Gov Scott Walker Targets Collective Bargaining, Again

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) caused a massive uproar in 2011 when he and his Republican allies eliminated collective-bargaining rights for most state employees, most notably public school teachers. The policy, which Walker neglected to mention to voters before he was elected, positioned the Republican governor as one of the nation’s fiercest opponents of organized labor.

Indeed, Walker later admitted his tactics were intended to “divide and conquer” his opponents in Wisconsin unions.

Viewer Dave Wollert emailed us this week to let us know Walker isn’t quite done dividing and conquering.

Two-and-a-half years after mostly sparing police officers and firefighters, Gov. Scott Walker said this week he is open to the idea of limiting their ability to collectively bargain.

Such a move would undercut the few unions where he has found support. The unions for Milwaukee officers and firefighters, for example, were among those that endorsed Walker in 2010 and in the 2012 attempt to recall him from office.

After expressing his openness to the idea on Monday, Walker hedged a little on Tuesday, telling reporters he doesn’t have “a specific proposal” that he’s currently “pushing.”

And while that may be mildly comforting to firefighters who want to keep their collective-bargaining rights, it doesn’t change the fact that the Republican governor has an opportunity to take those rights away, and he’s clearly interested in doing just that. Indeed, in context, it’s worth keeping in mind that Walker conceded that the topic came up in legislative discussions — suggesting some state GOP policymakers may well pursue the policy.

In case anyone needs a reminder, Walker’s union-busting policy is, from a labor perspective, simply atrocious.

Under the law, known as Act 10, most public-sector unions can bargain over base wages but nothing else. That makes it impossible for the unions to negotiate over issues such as working conditions, overtime, health care, sick leave and vacation. In negotiations over wages, they can seek raises that are no greater than the rate of inflation.

They also face much tougher standards to achieve recognition from the state. For instance, in annual votes they must win 51% support from all workers eligible to be in the union, not just those voting…. Another aspect of Act 10 required public workers to pay more for their pensions and health care, effectively cutting their take-home pay.

And now the governor is open to applying the law to some of the only public employees in Wisconsin who weren’t punished under the 2011 bill.

As Scott Walker gears up for a national campaign in 2016, he appears to have positioned himself as the most anti-union Republican in recent memory.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 1, 2013

August 3, 2013 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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