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“The Emperor Needs New Clothes”: The Time Chris Christie Stood Up To Sheldon Adelson

It was clarifying indeed to watch the rush by Chris Christie over the weekend to make up for the sin of using the term “occupied territories” in his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, where Christie and three other 2016 contenders had assembled to court billionaire casino magnate and profligate political donor Sheldon Adelson. Never mind that Christie’s comments were couched in a strongly pro-Israel riff, or that the term “occupied territories” has been used, at various points, by the U.S. government, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Supreme Court. No, Christie was harshly scolded for his language and issued an apology for his transgression to Adelson.

What made Christie’s penitence especially striking, though, is that not that long ago, he had been willing to stand up to the Adelson camp. In 2011, he spoke out vehemently against conservatives criticizing his nomination of a Muslim Indian-American for a Superior Court judgeship in New Jersey on the grounds that the nominee, Sohail Mohammed, would prioritize shariah law over the laws of New Jersey and the United States. In remarks that went viral on YouTube, Christie decried the “ignorance” behind the criticism. “Shariah law has nothing to do with this at all. It’s crazy,” Christie said. “The guy’s an American citizen who has been an admitted lawyer to practice in New Jersey, swearing an oath to uphold the law of New Jersey, the constitution of New Jersey and the constitution of the United States of America….This sharia law business is crap. It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies. It’s unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background…There’s nothing to any of this stuff. I’m not going to talk about sharia law because sharia law has nothing to do with Sohail Mohammed…I’m happy he’s willing to serve after all this baloney.”

Sheldon Adelson did not weigh in on the nomination of a judge for a Passaic County judgeship. But he has been credibly linked to an outfit that has for some years now been busy fanning the flames of Western paranoia about Muslim encroachment, the Clarion Fund, the distributor for an incendiary 2005 film called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” Haaretz reported in 2007 that Adelson had personally distributed copies of the documentary to participants in the Taglit-Birthright Israel project, which allows young American Jews to visit Israel and to which Adelson has pledged $60 million. The New York Times reported, in a 2012 article about another anti-Muslim film distributed by Clarion Group, “The Third Jihad,” that the first film had “attracted support” from Adelson, but did not elaborate on whether that support went beyond his distribution of the film to Birthright participants to include actual financial backing. (“Obsession” had considerable financial heft behind it, given that it was distributed to millions of Americans before the 2008 election as an insert in swing-state newspapers.)

The bottom line is that just a few years ago, Chris Christie was willing to ruffle feathers of the likes of Sheldon Adelson when he stood up, in typically pugnacious fashion, on behalf of a Muslim-American lawyer who had defended fellow Muslims picked up in the overbroad FBI sweeps following the September 11 attacks. Yet here he was in Vegas hurrying to make up for his dread mistake of using the “o” word. There are two ways of looking at this. One is that we’re simply seeing the inevitable tension that would arise as a relatively moderate, independent-minded Republican tried to conform to the strictures of pleasing various funders and interest groups thought necessary for a presidential run. (Leave aside the irony that Adelson’s purported goal for 2016 is to find an electable Republican to back, regardless of whether he checks all the ideological boxes, only to have coverage of his big Vegas summit dominated by a candidate’s apology for deviating from orthodoxy.)

But the other way of looking at it is that what we are witnessing is more fallout from the scandal over the politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Had Christie still been riding high following his big re-election victory and solidifying his standing as the GOP establishment favorite in the run-up to 2016, he might’ve felt less need to plead forgiveness over a single reality-based utterance in the presence of Sheldon Adelson. But he is not riding high, and may have decided that he cannot afford forthrightness as much as he could have just a short while ago. Which again raises the question some of us have been asking since Bridgegate broke: without his famous forthrightness, what, exactly, does Chris Christie have to offer?


By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, March 31, 2014

April 3, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Worried About The Men”: Paycheck Fairness Act Generates Unexpected GOP Fears

Senate Democrats are moving forward with their election-year “Fair Shot” agenda, including popular bills intended to make life a little more difficult for the Senate Republican minority. First up is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which GOP policymakers have already killed twice – once in 2010 and again in 2012.

For those who may need a refresher, the bill would “enhance the remedies available for victims of gender-based discrimination and require employers to show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity. The measure would also protect employees from retaliation for sharing salary information, which is important for deterring and challenging discriminatory compensation.”

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was an important step forward when it comes to combating discrimination, but it was also narrowly focused to address a specific problem: giving victims of discrimination access to the courts for legal redress. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a broader measure and Dems consider it an important part of their agenda.

It’s not surprising that Republican opposition will likely kill the bill for a third time, but I am struck by the arguments some in the GOP have come up with.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is worried that the Paycheck Fairness Act – a bill designed to ensure equal pay – will hurt men.

“Take me through exactly what would have to happen, with a specific example of a man and woman, where a man is being paid less than the woman,” Alexander asked during a Senate hearing. “Because this law is not just about women – it’s about men and women.”

Under the status quo, women receive unequal pay for equal work – for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes 77 cents. Alexander isn’t just opposed to a legislation intended to address wage discrimination, he also wants to know what men will get out of it?

The answer isn’t complicated: men will get a more just society for all. Isn’t that enough?

Perhaps the more salient point to consider is why pay equity has become such a problematic issue for much of the Republican Party.

Two weeks ago, Cari Christman, the executive director of a political action committee for Texas Republican women, got the ball rolling when she struggled to explain her party’s opposition to pay-equity laws. She said women don’t need measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, in part because “women are extremely busy.”

Soon after, Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Texas Republican Party, said women are to blame for receiving unequal pay for equal work. She argued that if women “become better negotiators,” the problem will take care of itself.

Last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) appeared on msnbc and seemed annoyed by the entire subject, calling the debate “nonsense,” and urging Democrats to focus on “substantive issues” – as if this issue isn’t substantive at all.

And now Lamar Alexander is worried about men facing gender-based wage discrimination.

Don’t be too surprised if pay equity becomes a key element of Democrats’ 2014 strategy. Not only are they on the right side of public opinion, but it seems the GOP is struggling badly to address the issue coherently.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 2, 2014

April 3, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Paycheck Fairness Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blood On GOP’s Hands”: How Many Would Be Covered Without Its Sabotage Plan?

The cynicism of the GOP’s anti-Obamacare strategy has been obvious forever, but some particular kinks in it only became clear as the enrollment deadline approached and it seemed the Obama administration would not just meet but beat its public-exchange enrollment target. Republicans went from shrieking about what an awful program it was to complaining that not enough people had signed up, and then, when the goal was met, complaining that not enough uninsured people had gotten coverage, and of course lying about that, too.

The lunacy of their complaint – “This program is a nightmare – but not enough people are being helped by it!” – is like the old joke about the kvetchy restaurant patron who complains the food is terrible, and the portions are too small. It would be funny if it weren’t sad.

I confess that the freakout over the federal exchange’s rocky start had me convinced the administration would miss its enrollment target. So hitting the seven million mark is cause for elation, but also anger: Imagine how many people might have enrolled if the entire Republican Party coast to coast hadn’t spent the last six months telling them not to?

Let’s take it further: Imagine if all 50 states had implemented their own exchanges, instead of just 17 of them. Imagine if all 50 states had expanded Medicaid, instead of just 27. Imagine if a well-funded noise machine, from Fox to Rush to the online swarm hadn’t publicized every glitch and every allegation of someone losing their insurance, often fabricating the problems, sometimes lying outright, while ignoring every positive story.

It’s absolutely true that this first enrollment period still leaves most of the uninsured without insurance. Still, at least 9.5 million of the uninsured now have care, thanks to the state and federal exchanges, Medicaid expansion and people buying coverage privately. (On Fox, Charles Krauthammer simply lied when he says it’s only 1 million.) It must be noted that states that built their own exchanges and expanded Medicaid did much better when it comes to covering the uninsured. The Los Angeles Times estimates that at least 27 percent of the newly insured were previously uninsured; in Kentucky, it’s 75 percent and in New York it’s 70 percent. If Republican governors and legislatures hadn’t sabotaged the program in roughly half the states, we would see numbers like that nationwide.

When you add in young people covered by their parents’ insurance and people with pre-existing conditions who can now get coverage, the number goes higher still. As President Obama noted in his Rose Garden victory lap, 100 million people have received free preventive care under new regulations for insurance plans. It’s no wonder that the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showed approval of the Affordable Care Act topping disapproval for the first time ever, with approval jumping from 40 percent in November to 49 percent last week. Barring a major meltdown, those numbers are likely to climb too.

This is, of course, what the GOP feared – not that the plan would fail, but that it would work. Again, it’s not perfect – we still don’t know exactly who signed up, and whether the balance of young and old, sick and well will make plans affordable. But this enormous milestone should make Democrats smarter about how to make Republicans pay for their obstruction in 2014. The conventional wisdom is that Obamacare will be a millstone in the midterms, especially for red state Democrats, but conventional wisdom is often wrong.

Democrats should challenge Republicans to take away that free preventive care from 100 million Americans. Challenge them to transfer money from women back to men, by letting insurance companies once again charge women more, sometimes much more, for health insurance. Take insurance away from people with pre-existing conditions; kick young people off their parents’ plans. Roll back Medicaid expansion in the 27 states that participated. Go on and tell the American people you’re going to do that, Republicans. The midterms might not be the cakewalk you think.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 2, 2014

April 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The General Public Will Not Be Heard”: John Roberts Shows He Has No Idea How Money Works In Politics

Shaun McCutcheon is the kind of donor that the Republican Party can’t get enough of. The CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development in McCalla, Alabama, McCutcheon made a small fortune from his work in the mining industry and dedicated much of his life to electing Republicans. The Chairman of the Alabama State Republican Party said that McCutcheon was great at “supporting conservative candidates, getting conservatives elected to office.” Upset that he couldn’t donate more than the federal limit of $46,200 to individual candidates, he teamed up with Senator Mitch McConnell at a CPAC conference in 2012 to launch the latest assault on campaign finance law.

In today’s Supreme Court decision, the Roberts Court, in another 5-4 decision, tore down the aggregate donation restriction. Going forward, donors like McCutcheon can donate up to $3.6 million per cycle, as long as the donations are done in $2,600 blocks to individual candidates.

In reality, the case may not have a huge impact on elections. By tearing down any restriction on the amount that an individual can donate to a Super PAC, Citizens United already opened the spigot on unlimited money in our electoral system. Today’s decision builds on Citizens United but the harm to democracy has already been done.

What is striking about the opinion is how completely off-base Chief Justice Roberts is in his understanding of the role of money in politics. Roberts struck down the law, framing the attempt to limit the flow of money into politics as an attempt to stifle unpopular speech. Just as the First Amendment protects, “flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades—despite the profound offense such spectacles cause—it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.” For the Roberts Court, wealthy donors are under attack as a minority and need the protection of the Supreme Court. Under the Citizens United framework that money is speech, the court in McCutcheon struck the aggregate limit as a violation of the First Amendment.

The Court comes off as remarkably uninformed when it comes to the relationship between wealthy donors and elected officials. Roberts says that legislation cannot seek to limit what he calls the “general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.” Roberts said “spending large sums of money” would not “give rise to such quid pro quo corruption.” The reality is, of course, that looking for evidence of direct trades of a Congressional vote for a donation will reveal very few instances of corruption. However, as Lawrence Lessig has established, there is a broader system of “dependence corruption” in which candidates must rely on wealthy donors in order to have access to the political system. The Roberts Court reflects a lack of understanding in how money actually operates in our political system and has adopted such a hollow understanding of corruption that they are able to view our system as free of any corrupting influence.

The reality, as Justice Breyer stated from the bench, is that the decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon “eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance law.” We are left with an inability to regulate the flow of millions into the campaign finance system and a Court that is unwilling to stand up to anything but the most blatant forms of corruption.

Conservatives will celebrate today’s decision as a victory for the First Amendment but the reality is that the right to political speech is under assault from the torrent of money pouring into our elections. This is a point that Justice Breyer captured in his dissent; “Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.”

The Supreme Court is now controlling how the Congress can limit the electoral process but, remarkably, not a single Justice has ever held elected office. Since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a former State Senator in Arizona, resigned from the Supreme Court in 2005, we have not had a Justice with any experience in elected office. Since she left the Court, Justice O’Connor has openly critiqued the decision in Citizens United, and has argued “we’re in a bit of trouble in this whole area.” While putting elected officials on the Supreme Court has fallen out of fashion, due in part to the extensive voting records they are forced to defend, the Court’s decision in McCutcheon is a reminder that it may be quite valuable to have a Justice who can tell his or her colleagues how a campaign actually works and the impact of money in our electoral system.

If there is any silver lining in this decision, it is that it can help to draw public attention to the outsized role that large-scale donors are playing in our electoral process. The backlash to Citizens United demonstrated that the public does care about this issue and after today’s decision there will be a demand for further action. The decision may not change the landscape of the 2014 elections because donors can already dump huge sums of money into elections but it does show how little the Roberts Court understands about how our campaign finance system actually works. Thanks to the Roberts Court, we no longer have a working campaign finance system; all we have left, as Justice Breyer noted today, is “a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.” We are living in a brave new world of elections, a world where millionaires and billionaires speak loudly and the rest of us do the listening.


By: Sam Kleiner, Fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project; Published in The New Republic, April 2, 2014

April 3, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, John Roberts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“BobbyCare”: Jindal’s Generic Obamacare Alternative

If congressional Republicans need a fresh excuse to delay settling on an Obamacare “replacement” plan, Bobby Jindal’s given them one by throwing another plan into the mix. But on further examination, the Genius’ proposal is sort of the ultimate Generic Conservative Plan, complete with a Generic Conservative label, the Freedom and Empowerment Plan. It was released by Jindal’s pocket “think tank,” America Next.

Is there any hoary conservative health policy pet rock this plan omits? I don’t see any on a quick examination. You got your interstate insurance sales. You got “tort reform.” You got new incentives for setting up Health Savings Accounts. You got state-run high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions. You got a shift in the tax code from deductions for employer-sponsored health insurance to individually purchased health insurance. There’s a Medicaid block grant, and for extra measure, borrowed from the Ryan Budget, there’s Medicare converted to a premium support system for private insurance instead of single-payer government-supplied insurance.

There are a couple of wrinkles that stand out. Unlike, say, John McCain’s 2008 health care proposal, which BobbyCare resembles, Jindal would deploy not tax credits for insurance purposes but a new standard deduction. Wouldn’t that be regressive in its impact? No problem, says Jindal: po’ folks with little use for a tax deduction could share the state-run high-risk pools designed for those with preexisting conditions, providing an appropriately fenced-off health insurance ghetto for the poor and the sick (I’m sure that would fare really well in the federal and state appropriations processes).

Jindal’s plan is also a little vague about the transition to voucherized Medicare, though he suggests traditional Medicare should include a cap on “catastrophic” health expenses, presumably to reduce reliance on Medigap policies.

One provision isn’t vague at all:

[R]epeal of Obamacare will remove the law’s anti-conscience mandates, and the funding of plans that cover abortions. But true health reform should go further, instituting conscience protections for businesses and medical providers, as well as a permanent ban on federal funding of abortions, consistent with the Hyde Amendment protections passed by Congress every year since 1976.

BobbyCare is the work of a genius only if hunting and collecting past proposals is a brilliant endeavor (indeed, he seems concerned to take credit for Medicare as Premium Support away from Ryan by noting the 1999 commission he chaired proposed something similar). It will probably undercut support for more novel and politically feasible Republican proposals like the Coburn-Burr-Hatch plan. But no matter: the Legend of Bobby Jindal, Boy Genius, will get another layer of thin varnish.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 2, 2014


April 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Bobby Jindal, Health Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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