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“And Get Off My Lawn!”: John McCain And The Case Of Mistaken Identity

If you’ve ever watched a congressional hearing featuring Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a bad mood, you know the Arizona Republican can get pretty quarrelsome with witnesses who annoy him in some way.

Take today, for example.

During a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the ongoing border crisis, McCain was outraged by a recent memo saying visitors to detention facilities had to check cell phones with cameras. The senator, outraged, demanded that Thomas Winkowski, a Deputy Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, explain himself (thanks to my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani for the heads-up).

McCAIN: Mr. Winkowski, I’ve been representing the state of Arizona for many years and I’ve never seen anything like your instructions to signed by your name, ‘interim protocol for visitations and tours to CBP detention facilities.’ Are you telling me, when I visit a detention facility that I can’t bring a cellphone with me? Are you saying that?  A United States Senator visiting a facility. These are the instructions that you have signed. Is that what you’re saying?

WINKOWSKI: That the visitors can’t bring cell…?

McCAIN: Visiting congressional deleg, uh, member of Congress.

WINKOWSKI: I don’t recall saying that. What I recall….

McCAIN: Let me provide you with a copy. It says see distribution. R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner interim, protocol for visitations and tours to CBP detention facilities. You didn’t see your own memo?

You might have noticed the problem. R. Gil Kerlikowske wrote the memo. McCain was yelling at Thomas Winkowski.

For the record, R. Gil Kerlikowske and Thomas Winkowski are not the same person. Their names may rhyme, but I’m afraid that doesn’t much matter. Senators in high dudgeon should probably get these details right before upbraiding a witness publicly.

In any case, R. Gil Kerlikowske was sitting next to Thomas Winkowski, and so McCain’s bellicose line of questioning continued after the identity question was straightened out.

McCAIN: Am I allowed to bring a cell phone with me when I go onto a facility in Nogales Arizona?

KERLIKOWSKE: Not to take photographs senator.

McCAIN: I am not allowed to take photographs? Why not? Why not? Why am I not allowed to do that?

KERLIKOWSKE: That children have a right to privacy and that’s why we’re not having their faces shown…

McCAIN: I may want to take a photo of something else!

Kerlikowske, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, stayed admirably calm in the face of McCain’s angry questions, patiently trying to explain the rationale for the current policy. Officials are trying to look out for the children’s privacy, so they’re not allowing people to bring cameras into facilities.

If McCain wants to take pictures of something else, Customs and Border Protection officials will arrange to let him take pictures of whatever he wants. If McCain wants to talk to people at the facilities, Customs and Border Protection officials will arrange conversations with whomever McCain wishes to meet.

That, apparently, wasn’t quite good enough for McCain, who demanded a new memo.

The moral of the story, apparently, is that the senior senator from Arizona really loves his cell phone.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 9, 2014

July 10, 2014 Posted by | Homeland Security, John McCain | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s A Sad State Of Affairs”: Is This Who We Want Driving Our Democracy?

On Tuesday, the Center for Media and Democracy released documents showing that mega-donor Charles Koch was a member of the far-right John Birch Society from 1961 to 1968, when the organization’s work opposing the civil rights movement was reaching a fever pitch.

From publishing materials calling the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King the “biggest” “liar in the country” and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery a “sham and farce” to promoting pieces railing against the racial integration of schools, the 1960s saw the John Birch Society leading abhorrent attacks on the civil rights movement. According to The Progressive, Charles Koch was not simply a member of the society in name. He funded the organization’s campaigns, helped it promote right-wing radio programs, and supported its bookstore in Wichita.

Sound familiar? Though Charles resigned from the John Birch Society in 1968, he and his brother David are still using their wealth to support right-wing efforts — now through a complicated and secretive web of conservative groups. Put together, the groups in the Koch-backed network raised over $400 million in 2012 and have dumped heaps of cash into campaigns and projects to promote an anti-government and anti-worker agenda.

Unfortunately, today’s campaign finance landscape makes it easy for billionaires, corporations, and special interests to try and bend our political system to their will. In 2010, the Supreme Court infamously ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations can give unlimited sums of money to independently influence elections. This year, the High Court made things even worse when they ruled in McCutcheon v. FEC that wealthy individuals can give significantly more money directly to candidates, parties, and committees than they could before, upwards of $3.5 million per election cycle.

It’s a sad state of affairs. But as the leader of a national network of progressive African American ministers, many of whom are working hard to raise awareness about the dangers of money in politics, I often remind people: Democracy is for all of us. Though it can feel like democracy in America today is only for the few — the elite donor class who can bankroll the candidates of their choice — I have faith that this is not how things will always be.

There’s an important proposal moving forward across the country and in Congress that would help shift the power in our political system away from people like the Koch brothers and towards everyday Americans. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is voting on a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizen United. Introduced by Sen. Tom Udall, the 28th Amendment would restore legislators’ ability to set commonsense limits on money in elections. While amending our nation’s guiding text is a weighty proposal, our country has a proud history of amending the Constitution, when necessary, to expand democracy and fix damaging Supreme Court decisions.

With the voices of everyday Americans increasingly being drowned out by the likes of the Koch brothers, fixing our democracy can’t wait.

 

By:Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, The Huffington Post Blog, July 9, 2014

 

 

July 10, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enough With The Katrina Analogies”: The Ethical Merits And Demerits Don’t Quite Match Up

It’s more obvious every day that a certain element of the conservative movement is focused on achieving revenge for the humiliation suffered by George W. Bush during his second term, and wants Barack Obama to be understood as walking the same downward path to ignominy. And so any time the president has a public relations setback or a policy problem, it’s his “Iraq” or “Katrina.” The latter has unsurprisingly become the preferred label for the sudden surge in border crossings at the Rio Grande attributable to events in Central America, and now for the president’s refusal to do photo ops at the border.

Before the practice gets too far out of hand, TNR’s Alec MacGillis offers a brisk refutation of the meme:

[T]here is the failure to consider even the most basic differences in context between the crisis in New Orleans and the Gulf coast in 2005 and what has been unfolding on the border. In the former instance, we were presented with an administration that willfully downplayed both the immediate threat of the approaching storm and the broader threat that, if the climatologists are to be believed, was represented by the storm.

In the latter instance, we are presented with an administration struggling to contain one particularly dramatic manifestation of a problem—a broken immigration policy—that the administration itself has been trying to fix, has indeed made its chief priority for the remainder of the president’s term, but has been stymied in comprehensively addressing by the identity crisis-driven obstructionism and indifference of the party that controls the House of Representatives. Other than that, yes, this is just like Hurricane Katrina. And the women and children lingering on the border, and the overwhelmed Border Patrol personnel trying their best to manage their presence, will be awaiting the magic word of whether the president’s caravan will be arriving on the horizon, which will surely solve everything.

I’d say there’s one more pretty big difference between Bush’s handling of Katrina and Obama’s handling of the “border crisis.” Bush was criticized by liberals for failing to take quick compassionate action to save lives threatened by flooding. Obama’s being criticized by conservatives for failing to immediately ship children back across the border in cattle cars; some seem to think they should simply be shot on sight. The ethical merits and demerits don’t quite match up.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 9, 2014

July 10, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Katrina | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Desperation Mode”: What ‘Draft Mitt’ Reveals About The GOP’s Future

Could Mitt Romney really run for president again in 2016?

According to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the answer is yes. During a Monday evening appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chaffetz insisted that Romney will not only run — but that this time, he’ll win.

“A hundred times he says he’s not, but Mitt Romney has always accomplished what he’s set out to do,” Chaffetz explained to host Chris Matthews. “I think he’s proven right on a lot of stuff. I happen to be in the camp that thinks he’s actually going to run, and I think he will be the next president of the United States.”

Chaffetz, who endorsed Romney early in the 2012 primaries, is not the only Republican to call for a third Romney run. Former Bush administration Assistant Treasury Secretary Emil Henry penned a Politico op-ed which (favorably) compared Romney to Richard Nixon. The Washington Post reported on a GOP donor summit which “quickly became a Romney revival,” and quoted several of the attendees pining for another presidential bid from the twice-failed candidate.

“Everybody realizes we’re devoid of leadership in DC,” top Republican fundraiser Harold Hamm told the Post. “Everybody would encourage him to consider it again.”

The report also notes that MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough encouraged the crowd “to begin a ‘Draft Romney’ movement in 2016,” insisting that “this is the only person that can fill the stage.”

Such a movement now exists; more than 51,000 people have signed a petition urging Romney to run in the next election.

Despite all of this “Mittmentum,” the odds of a Romney run remain extremely long. Romney himself has repeatedly denied any interest in another White House bid, and after the long string of indignities he suffered during his two presidential campaigns, it’s easy to believe him.

Still, the “Draft Mitt” drive is undisputably a real and growing movement within the GOP. And that must be profoundly sad for Republicans.

For years, Republicans boasted of their “deep bench” of 2016 presidential contenders (a narrative that was eagerly embraced by the political media). But by 2014 the bench has been left, as Salon’s Joan Walsh deftly put it, “in splinters.” New Jersey governor Chris Christie entangled himself in “Bridgegate” as his state’s economy sank. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is fending off ethics questions of his own, and is no longer even a safe bet to be re-elected in 2014. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal boasts a 32 percent approval rating in his own state. Florida senator Marco Rubio’s clunky attempts to appeal to both sides of the GOP civil war left him detested by both. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is literally Democrats’ dream candidate. And former Viriginia governor Bob McDonnell is literally on his way to jail.

Of course, Romney has plenty of baggage of his own. He’s still the same stiff, sneering right-wing plutocrat who struggled to fight off the likes of Herman Cain and Rick Santorum before losing the general election by 126 electoral votes. In 2016, he’d face the added hurdles of age (at 69, he’d be tied with Ronald Reagan as the oldest president to ever enter the office), and the fact that it’s been nearly a decade since he’s held a job other than unsuccessfully running for president.

It’s not as though Republicans aren’t aware of Romney’s flaws; many of them vocally and repeatedly pointed them out in 2008 and 2012, when Romney still had a realistic shot at becoming president. That some are now crawling back to him when his odds would be longer than ever speaks volumes about the damaged state of the Republican Party.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, July 9, 2014

July 10, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Who’s Paying The Premiums?”: Health Insurance Is Not A Favor Your Boss Does For You

The debate over the Hobby Lobby case has been plagued by many problematic presumptions, but there’s one that even many people who disliked the decision seem to sign on to without thinking about it. It’s the idea that the health insurance you get through your employer is something that they do for you—not just administratively, but in a complete sense. But this is utterly wrong. You work, and in exchange for that labor you are given a compensation package that includes salary and certain benefits like a retirement account and health coverage. Like the other forms of compensation, the details of that insurance are subject to negotiation between you and your employer, and the government’s involvement is to set some minimums—just as it mandates a minimum wage, it mandates certain components health insurance must include.

Those who support Hobby Lobby are now talking as though mandating that insurance include preventive care is tantamount to them forcing you to make a contribution to your local food bank when you’d rather give to the pet shelter. You can see it, for instance, in this piece by Megan McArdle in which she tries to look at the clash of rights involved in this dispute, but running through the whole piece is the idea that an employee’s health insurance isn’t compensation for her labor but a piece of charity her boss has bestowed upon her for no reason other than the goodness of his heart. Referring to the question of whether the religious beliefs of  Hobby Lobby’s owners are being imposed on its employees, she writes: “How is not buying you something equivalent to ‘imposing’ on you?” Then later she refers to “a positive right to have birth control purchased for me.”

But when your insurance coverage includes birth control, your employer isn’t “buying you” anything. Your employer is basically acting as an administrative middleman between you and the insurance company. Your employer isn’t the one whose money is paying the premiums, you are. It’s compensation for the work you’ve done, just as much as your salary is.

This goes all the way back to to the roots of our employer-based insurance system. During World War II, the government imposed wage and price controls, meaning employers couldn’t give raises. So they began to offer health insurance as an alternate form of compensation, and when the IRS decided in 1943 that insurance could be paid with pre-tax dollars, it made it all the more attractive as a form of compensation. And keep in mind that the preferential tax treatment of health insurance (which the self-employed don’t get) is a tax benefit to the employee, not the employer. If you eliminated it, employers’ balance sheets would stay the same (it would still be counted as an expense), but employees would have to pay taxes on the benefit.

You might or might not think that remembering the true nature of the insurance benefit should change the calculation in the Hobby Lobby case. I’m guessing that for the plaintiffs, it wouldn’t; they’d probably argue that even having to think about what sinful harlots their employees are imposes a “substantial burden” on their religious freedom. And as I’ve argued before, we should get rid of the employer-based insurance system entirely. That may happen eventually, but in the meantime, it’s good to remember just whose health insurance it is. It’s not your boss’. It’s yours.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 9, 2014

July 10, 2014 Posted by | Health Insurance, Hobby Lobby, Women's Health | , , , | Leave a comment

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