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“He’s A Hypocrite”: Why I Was Wrong About Chris Christie

A year ago, I wrote: “The smartest move in politics today is to move against Washington and the two major parties. And the smartest man in politics may be Chris Christie.” I take it back.

At the time, the New Jersey governor had channeled the public’s disgust with political dysfunction, chastising House Republican leaders for refusing to allow a vote on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Christie said the game-playing that derailed the relief bill showed “why the American people hate Congress.” He accused his own party’s leadership for “selfishness,” “duplicity,” and moral failure.

His approval rating topped 70 percent.

Now his numbers are dropping, because he wasn’t so smart. Rather than stay true to his post-partisan image, Christie ran a hyper-political governor’s office that focused relentlessly on a big re-election win to position him for a 2016 presidential race. In this zero-sum gain culture, Christie enabled (if not directly ordered) an infamous abuse of power: the closure of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge in a fit of political retribution.

If not criminal, it was pretty damn stupid. His reputation is in tatters. Reporting a poll conducted jointly with ABC News, Philip Rucker and Scott Clement of the Washington Post wrote:

Christie has benefited from the perception that he has unique appeal among independents and some Democrats, a reputation the governor burnished with his 2013 reelection in his strongly Democratic state.

But that image has been tarnished, the survey finds. More Democrats now view Christie unfavorably than favorably, with independents divided. Republicans, meanwhile, have a lukewarm opinion, with 43 percent viewing him favorably and 33 percent unfavorably. Overall, 35 percent of Americans see him favorably and 40 percent unfavorably.

Christie has fallen from first to third among potential GOP presidential candidates, according to the Washington PostABC News poll, behind Rep. Paul Ryan and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

A plurality of respondents said the bridge episode represents a pattern of abuse in Christie’s office. While most Republicans give him the benefit of the doubt, 60 percent of Democrats and half of all independents don’t think it was an isolated incident. There is good reason for the suspicion.

First, the governor is deeply engaged in the minutia of his office, an operation that doesn’t discriminate between politics and policy. As the New York Times reported this week in a must-read analysis:

Mr. Christie has said that he had not been aware of his office’s involvement in the maneuver, and nothing has directly tied to him to it. But a close look at his operation and how intimately he was involved in it, described in interviews with dozens of people — Republican and Democrat, including current and former Christie administration officials, elected leaders and legislative aides — gives credence to the puzzlement expressed by some Republicans and many Democrats in the state, who question how a detail-obsessed governor could have been unaware of the closings or the effort over months to cover up the political motive.

In other words, how stupid do you think we are, governor? Christie either knew or should have known that his administration was snarling Fort Lee in traffic and endangering lives.

Second, the governor’s team is now under siege. Everything they’ve done and will do is cast in suspicion. Accusations that previously might have brought them a benefit of the doubt are now filtered by scandal. Like the Times story today about pressure applied to the Hoboken mayor to support a development project favored by Christie. The leverage his team used against the mayor: flood relief linked to Hurricane Sandy.

The Christie administration’s actions were little different from the game-playing of the House Republicans that drew his wrath a year ago. A politician trying to smartly distance himself from Washington can’t be a hypocrite.

Having leaned too far over my skis a year ago, I’m not prepared to write Christie’s political obituary today. But there is a growing sense of how it might read, starting with what I wrote after Christie’s mea culpa news conference Jan. 9:

While Christie said many of the right things in a lengthy and wide-ranging new conference—the contrast to President Obama’s response to 2013 controversies was unmistakable—his actions were far from dispositive. We don’t know how voters in New Jersey and beyond will assess his truthfulness. We can’t predict whether the investigations will uncover more wrongdoing. And we need to find out whether the George Washington Bridge incident is isolated, or part of a pattern of abuse.

In the three weeks since that column, polls suggest a good number of Americans doubt his veracity and wonder whether he was running a corrupt administration. Voters aren’t dumb.


By: Ron Fournier, The National Journal, January 30, 2014

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Standing With The People”: Democratic Governors and Statehouse Candidates To Adopt Obama’s Minimum-Wage Message

Democratic governors and candidates competing in battleground states are planning to make a minimum-wage increase a centerpiece of this year’s campaigns, taking the baton from President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, according to a memo shared with National Journal.

Raising the wage was a core part of Obama’s larger theme of boosting “opportunity” for all, and it’s a policy that Democrats running for statehouses think will help them politically, according to the memo from the Democratic Governors Association.

“No issue better crystalizes the broader debate between 2014 Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates than that of a minimum wage hike,” DGA Communications Director Danny Kanner says in the memo.

This is a big year for the Democratic Governors Association, given the number of Republican governors swept in during the 2010 wave who are now up for reelection.

Republican governors from Florida to Wisconsin have consistently opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage, and Dems think that choice will come back to bite the GOP. The DGA points to a recent Wall Street Journal poll showing 63 percent of Americans support raising the wage and a separate Quinnipiac poll showing a plurality of Republican voters agree.

While it’s not surprising that Democrats would echo the president on a central policy goal, raising the minimum wage has until recently been seen as the domain of the party’s progressive wing and an issue that candidates in battleground states might shy away from.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to a handful of gubernatorial races, at least. In Maine, while Republican Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed legislation to raise the minimum wage, Rep. Michael Michaud, the presumed Democratic nominee, cosponsored a bill in the House to raise the wage nationwide.

Democrat Mark Schauer, who is hoping to oust Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, has proposed boosting the wage to $9.25 an hour and indexing it to inflation, and said he would make hiking it a top priority if elected.

In Iowa, Jack Hatch wants to go even further and raise the wage to $10.10, which would give the important political state the highest minimum wage in the country. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat former governor, who is running to reclaim his old seat in Florida’s statehouse, also supports setting the wage at $10.10.

Meanwhile in Illinois, where Democrats are hoping to defend Gov. Pat Quinn as he heads into a tough reelection battle, all four Republican challengers oppose Quinn’s proposal to boost the wage.

And Democrats think the message will resonate as well in redder states like Kansas, where they’re hoping to push aside Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Kanner says Democrats will use the minimum wage to present a larger economic message.

“These are two starkly different economic philosophies, and the minimum wage debate makes that clear. In this case, Democrats are standing with the American people while Republicans, once again, thumb their nose at them,” he said.

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, The National Journal, January 29, 2014

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Minimum Wage | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Back Street Abortions?”: New Law Could Force All Of Louisiana’s Abortion Clinics To Close

Women in Louisiana could lose all access to abortion services if the state succeeds in enacting a secretive overhaul of its clinic regulations. The requirements are so stringent that every one of the five clinics currently operating in Louisiana would have to close, according to a lawyer advising the clinics. The new regulatory framework would also impose a de facto 30-day waiting period for many women—an exceptional requirement.

“What it amounts to is a back door abortion ban,” said Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans attorney. “The way the [Department of Health and Hospitals] went about passing these regulations was in a secretive and undemocratic way. The public definitely doesn’t know what’s going on.”

DHH enacted the overhaul just before Thanksgiving, when it passed the rules as an emergency measure, effective immediately—exempting them from the normal comment period. None of the clinics were given notice; one heard about the declaration of emergency from  anti-abortion protestors.

It isn’t clear what emergency the agency was responding to. There has been virtually no reporting on the new rules, and DHH did not respond to questions submitted Monday. The Declaration of Emergency states that the agency proposed the licensing standards in order to comply with two acts passed by the Louisiana legislature in 2013, but a complete overhaul goes well beyond their demands. DHH formally declared its intentions to make the emergency rules permanent in December.

According to Schilling, the law gives the agency the ability to shut down every existing clinic in Louisiana immediately, by imposing new space requirements that none of the existing clinics meets. Providers would lose some of their rights to appeal noncompliance citations, while new and complex documentation and staffing requirements create more opportunities for DHH to cite clinics for deficiencies. “Deficiencies are used to create this impression of clinics being repeat offenders, and that’s a basis for revoking their license,” explained Schilling.

The regulatory overhaul would also give the state tools to prevent new clinics from getting a license. Proposed facilities—like a $4.2 million Planned Parenthood health center on South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans—would have to prove to DHH that their services are needed; it’s unclear what criteria the agency would use to determine need. “It certainly seems that one intention is to prohibit Planned Parenthood from entering the market,” Schilling said. (Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana do not currently offer abortion services. “We are evaluating all our options” in light of the regulations, a spokesperson said.)

The new rules place a significant, unjustified burden on women by requiring that they undergo blood tests at least a month before an abortion procedure. That means that unless a patient happens to have gone to the doctor previously and had those tests done by chance, she will face a mandatory 30-day waiting period.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s pretty outrageous,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute.

Louisiana already has a 20-week cutoff, and so the waiting period could dramatically shorten the window in which women are legally allowed to have abortions. There is no medical rationale for conducting those particular tests so far in advance; they are routinely conducted by providers prior to an abortion, and legislation passed in 2003 that tightened the laws governing Louisiana’s abortion providers stipulated that they had to be done within 30 days of the procedure. To the contrary, forcing women to delay the procedures increases their expense, and raise the risk of complications.

Dozens of other states have passed waiting periods or regulations, known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws, which single out abortion providers with burdensome rules. But Nash said that a de facto 30 day waiting period combined with requiring clinics to prove need for their services makes Louisiana’s law striking. “It’s a great way to eliminate access,” said Nash.

All that’s stopping the state from completing the overhaul, Schilling said, is going through the motions of a public hearing. One is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Baton Rouge, but bad weather threatens to cancel it. It isn’t clear if the state would hold another hearing, as it was already scheduled at the very end of the comment period.  Legal challenges would surely follow, but as Nash warned, rolling back clinic regulations in the courts is challenging.

“As it is right now, you have to go to the major cities to have procedure done. If these clinics close, where will the patients go? Then what are we back to? Back street abortions?” said Missy Cuevas, who is fighting a legal battle with the state after her New Orleans clinic lost its license a little over a year ago. With more than two decades of work in women’s health, Cueva has seen the burden on Louisiana women grow as regulators clamp down. Five to ten women still call every day looking for services, even though she’s been closed for so long.

“If we make it any more difficult, where are the patients going to go—Houston? Atlanta? My patients can’t afford to go to Baton Rouge from New Orleans, much less to Houston or Atlanta. It’s going to force women to go back to what they used to do before, and women will die.”


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, January 27, 2014

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not A Smart Media Strategy”: The RNC’s Endless, Misguided War With MSNBC

Someone at MSNBC offends Republicans. Conservatives explode. MSNBC apologizes. Rinse, and repeat.

This is the cycle we’ve seen play out several times in the past few months, with the spat reaching a new high (low?) point this week with a tweet from the TV network suggesting Republicans are racist.

“Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family,” read the tweet, which has since been deleted.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus quickly called for a boycott, saying no RNC staffers, officials, pundits, or strategists would appear on MSNBC until the network apologized. In short order, MSNBC President Phil Griffin personally did so, calling the remark “outrageous and unacceptable” and saying the person responsible had been fired. Priebus then called off the boycott, instead placing MSNBC on “probation.”

Sure, the tweet was an offensive cheap shot. So, too, was former anchor Martin Bashir’s statement that someone should defecate on Sarah Palin, and the comments made by guests on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show about Mitt Romney’s adopted black grandson.

Still, it’s unclear what purpose is served by dialing the outrage machine up to 11 over a few dumb remarks made on cable TV. Is it to discredit MSNBC? Well, in a PPP poll this week, registered voters named Fox News, once again, the most trusted TV news source. MSNBC came in second to last, at six percent — ahead of only NBC, and tied with Comedy Central.

In other words, the RNC is maligning an oft-maligned network, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not beloved by liberals the way Fox News is by conservatives.

Indeed, Priebus’ Network-esque defense of the “right wing” seemed more about channeling the right’s grievances and giving the base a short-lived sense of vindication. But that has little appeal for the more moderate swath of the public his party wants to court.

On its own, this would be sort of comical, though mostly harmless. But coupled with the RNC’s vote to ban MSNBC and CNN from hosting future presidential debates, it’s indicative of the party’s tendency toward insularity. The whole thing ends up being a myopic charade that could ultimately make the GOP — so desperate to rebrand — even more cloistered.

The RNC is right to be upset over MSNBC’s insensitive needling. But retreating into the safe confines of Fox News won’t help the GOP achieve its stated goal of attracting a broader array of voters. Next time, try a strongly worded statement and then carry on.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, January 31, 2014

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Media, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Preserving Welfare For The Rich”: Farm Subsidies Reveal Congressional Double Standard

Congress has left me confused. Stunned, actually, as well as bewildered, chagrined and slightly depressed. The GOP-dominated House has passed a bill that defies compassion, mathematics and common sense.

OK, so there’s nothing unusual about that. Point taken.

But the recent passage of a farm bill, after months of delay, is an especially sharp example of congressional priorities — protect the rich and punish the poor, comfort the comfortable while brutalizing the afflicted. The bill will cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), usually known as food stamps, while preserving subsidies for farmers, most of whom could get by quite nicely without help.

By contrast, many Americans are struggling with a globalized, roboticized economy that has devalued the average worker. The new economy has forced down wages, eliminated job security and abandoned traditional perks such as pensions. It is quite possible to work 40 or 50 hours a week and still need help to put food on the table, as the managers of food pantries around the country will attest.

Yet, congressional observers are predicting that the farm bill will pass the Senate and get President Obama’s signature. While most Democrats don’t like the cuts, the current bill, they figure, is the best they can do. It takes about 1 percent from SNAP — around $800 million a year in the $80 billion-a-year program — but that’s less than conservatives had initially sought.

Still, if Republicans really care about deficits, if they really want to rein in government, if they believe people ought to stand on their own two feet and refuse the “welfare state,” why are they preserving welfare for those who need it least? Do they not see the glaring hypocrisy in their insistence on farm subsidies?

The bill does end the least politically defensible part of farm welfare: direct payments, paid to farmers whether they plant or not. But it continues a host of other unnecessary programs that cost billions — including crop subsidies and crop insurance. Indeed, the bill increases some crop subsidies, such as those to Southern peanut farmers. And the remaining programs are just as bad as the direct payments.

Take crop insurance, which has its roots in the Dust Bowl era. Though conditions have changed substantially since then — the small family farmer has virtually disappeared — crop insurance has mushroomed. In 2012, according to The Insurance Journal, taxpayers spent $14 billion insuring farmers against a loss of income. Is there any other business in America that gets that sort of benefit? Aren’t farmers supposed to be entrepreneurs willing to take risks?

This farm welfare comes at a time when agricultural income is soaring. Last year, farm income was expected to top $120 billion, its highest mark, adjusted for inflation, since 1973, the Insurance Journal said. Lots of millionaires and billionaires are on the list of those receiving the assistance.

One case of mind-boggling hypocrisy is that of U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican and a farmer from Frog Jump, TN, who collected nearly $3.5 million in subsidies from 1999 to 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group. In 2012, he received $70,000 in direct payments alone — again, money paid to farmers whether they plant or not. (Can anyone say “moochers” and “takers”?)

Fincher, however, supports draconian cuts to food stamps. During a congressional debate over the SNAP program, he said, without apparent irony: “We have to remember there is not a big printing press in Washington that continually prints money over and over. This is other people’s money that Washington is appropriating and spending.”

I don’t know why the cognitive dissonance doesn’t make his brain explode.

Fraud, by the way, is rampant in farm subsidies, although you’re unlikely to hear anything about it. While the occasional welfare cheat or food stamp grifter is held up as an example of widespread abuse, neither politicians nor reporters talk much about the fraud involved in agricultural programs. You have to burrow into reports from the Government Accountability Office for that. They point to millions stolen by farm cheats.

It’s enough to make you wonder what the food stamp critics are really upset about. Government spending? Or giving the working poor a little more to eat?


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, February 2, 2014

February 3, 2014 Posted by | Agriculture, Farm Bill | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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