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“The Koch Brothers’ Expanding 2014 Operation”: Democrats Are Now Running Against Two Parties

It’s a number that gives Democrats chills: $125 million. That’s the widely reported number reflecting how much the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity intends to spend on this year’s midterm elections. In practical terms, it means Democrats will effectively be running against two rivals: Republicans and the Republicans’ outside allies.

Reid Wilson reports today, however, that the scope of the AFP operation isn’t done expanding.

Americans for Prosperity, the on-the-ground wing of the network of conservative organizations spearheaded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, will open new state chapters in South Dakota and Alaska in coming weeks, the group’s president said. In an interview, Tim Phillips said that would bring to 35 the number of states where AFP has permanent offices. […]

Phillips said early reports that his organization will dish out $125 million on the midterm elections understates the actual amount they will spend.

If you’re starting to see AFP as something resembling an actual political party, there’s a good reason – the lines have blurred. The Koch-funded group has hundreds of field operatives, just like a party. It’s opening field offices in dozens of states, just like a party. It’s focusing on GOTV operations, just like a party.

And, of course, it’s investing millions in anti-Democratic attack ads, just like a party.

But unlike other national far-right forces, the Kochs’ group (just like a party) also intends to help “influence the makeup of state legislatures.” Tim Phillips told the Washington Post,  ”A lot of times a local property tax battle will bring a whole new group of people out. It’s easier to get movement on the state level.”

All of this, incidentally, doesn’t include the AFP’s “action fund.”

Remember this one?

During a closed-door gathering of major donors in Southern California on Monday, the political operation spearheaded by the Koch brothers unveiled a significant new weapon in its rapidly expanding arsenal – a super PAC called Freedom Partners Action Fund.

The new group aims to spend more than $15 million in the 2014 midterm campaigns – part of a much larger spending effort expected to total $290 million, sources told POLITICO.

As we talked about at the time, the “action fund” will allow the Koch brothers and their donor allies to be more explicit in their backing of like-minded Republicans, while devoting more of their campaign dollars to actual campaign activities.

This isn’t to say the beneficiaries of the Kochs’ support always win; the results from the 2012 cycle clearly show otherwise. But we’re nevertheless looking a formidable political force that Democrats and the left will simply never be able to keep up with financially.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 18, 2014

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fat Chance!”: Chris Christie Admits He Ignored The Law To Help Tesla. Do Republicans Want To Sue Him, Too?

After initially threatening to sue President Barack Obama over a variety of issues, House Speaker John Boehner settled on just one: the delay of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate. The legality of that action, as law school professor Nicholas Bagley has pointed out, is questionable. But the lawsuit also implies that the executive branch should have limited discretion in implementing laws. And Republicans only have to look toward Governor Chris Christie to show how that doesn’t make much sense.

In 2013, Obama delayed for a year the employer mandate, which requires all businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide health insurance to their employees or pay a penalty. Infuriated, Republicans called the president’s unilateral action illegal. On this count, they may be right. But it will be nearly impossible for Boehner to convince the courts that the House has suffered concrete damage that gives them the constitutional authority to challenge the action. In all likelihood, the lawsuit is meaningless.

However, this case has implications beyond its legal importance. Simon Lazarus, the senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, testified on Wednesday before the House Rules Committee about the historic discretion afforded presidents to implement laws.

“The Administration has not postponed the employer mandate out of policy opposition to the ACA, nor to any specific provision of it,” he said, according to his prepared remarks. “It is ludicrous to suggest otherwise, and at best misleading to characterize the action as a ‘refusal to enforce’ at all. Rather, the President has authorized a minor temporary course correction regarding individual ACA provisions, necessary in his Administration’s judgment to faithfully execute the overall statute, other related laws, and the purposes of the ACA’s framers.” The key is that Obama delayed the employer mandate in order to prioritize the success of the entire law. It does not fundamentally change the legislation or attempt to undermine it.

Lazarus also gave examples when former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton used their discretion in implementing legislation. Bush, for instance, delayed certain EPA regulations not out of technical need, but because he opposed the policies. That is a much graver offense than delaying part of the law in order to increase the chances of its success. The Bush administration actively tried to undermine it. “Such intentional refusals to enforce or implement laws … do violate the laws in question, and are, by definition, failures to faithfully execute the laws as required by the Constitution,” Lazarus said.

Christie used discretion similarly in a decision regarding Tesla’s ability to sell directly to its customers. Under New Jersey statute, direct sales of automobiles are illegal. Christie opposes that law, but must enforce itexcept, as he told CNBC’s John Harwood Wednesday, he gave Tesla a one-year grace period.

“The fact is we looked the other way for a year, to allow Tesla to do what they are doing,” he said. “I can’t just pick and choose the laws to enforce. So I give [sic] them what I felt was a reasonable period of time to operate the way they were operating.”

After a year, Christie believed that he had to enforce the lawand Republicans around the country freaked out. A.J. Delgado, of the National Review, questioned Christie’s commitment to the free market. “[Y]ou’d expect Christie, who claims to believe in free markets, to recognize a protectionist swindle, as he did when he took on the state’s powerful public-school teacher unions,” he wrote.

Legally, Christie’s selective enforcement on the ban on direct automobile sales might be more justifiable than Obama’s delay of the employer mandate. Executives frequently prioritize certain laws based on their limited resources. Obama defied a specific deadline in the law. But the functional implications of them are the same. Christie and Obama both used their discretion in enforcing laws to improve their administration’s governance. For Obama, that meant delaying the employer mandate to ease the implementation of Obamacare. For Christie, it meant giving Tesla a year-long reprieve from the direct-sales ban to give the legislature time to change the law.

That’s not to say that executives should have unlimited authority to adjust legislation. But they should be able to use discretion in implementing laws so that they have the greatest chance of success. The House’s lawsuit threatens to eliminate that discretion.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, July 17, 2014

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fighting Bad Science In The Senate”: The Days Of Making A Sport Of Trampling On Women’s Health And Rights Are Numbered

The Senate hearing for the Women’s Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women’s health advocates to push for the facts.

The propensity of anti-choice advocates to eulogize false science was on full display on Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). That bill is a bold measure that would counter the relentless barrage of anti-choice legislation that has made abortion — a constitutionally protected medical procedure — altogether inaccessible for many U.S. women.

The bill was introduced last year by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel and Marcia Fudge. It prohibits states from applying regulations to reproductive health care centers and providers that do not also apply to other low-risk medical procedures. It would, essentially, remove politicians from decisions that — for every other medical issue — remain between individuals and their providers.

The WHPA is long overdue. For the past three years, conservative lawmakers have used the guise of protecting women’s health to pass more than 200 state laws that have closed clinics, eliminated abortion services, and left women across the country without access to critical reproductive health care. The WHPA would reverse many of those policies and prevent others from being passed.

Tuesday’s hearing was representative of the broader debate over abortion rights. Those in favor of the bill argued that securing unfettered access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is critical to the health and lives of U.S. women and their families.

Those in opposition used familiar canards about abortion to argue that the law would be calamitous for U.S. women. Representative Diane Black of Tennessee had the gall to make the abortion-leads-to-breast cancer claim, one that has been disproven many times over. Others repeatedly cited the horrific cases of Kermit Gosnell, insinuating that all abortion providers (abortionists, in their lingo) are predatory and that late-term abortions are a common occurrence. In fact, if women had access to safe, comprehensive and intimidation-free care, Kermit Gosnell would have never been in business. Given the opposition’s testimony, you’d never know that late-term abortion is actually a rarity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90 percent of all abortions occur before 13 weeks gestation, with just over 1 percent taking place past 21 weeks.

At one point Representative Black argued that abortion is actually not health care. The one in three U.S. women who have undergone the procedure would surely argue otherwise.

Perhaps the most ironic testimony against the WHPA — and in favor of abortion restrictions – came from Senator Ted Cruz, who hails from Texas, a state with so many abortion restrictions that women are now risking their health and lives by self-inducing abortions or crossing the border to get care in Mexico. Senator Cruz attempted to validate U.S. abortion restrictions by referencing a handful of European countries with gestational restrictions on abortions. This was a popular argument during the hearing for Texas’ HB2 — the bill responsible for shuttering the majority of clinics in that state.

Cruz wins the prize for cherry picking facts to best support his argument. When citing our European counterparts, he conveniently ignored that such abortion restrictions are entrenched in progressive public health systems that enable all individuals to access quality, affordable (often free) health care, including comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Senator Cruz and his colleagues have adamantly opposed similar policies in the U.S., particularly the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for contraceptive coverage and Medicaid expansion. On the one hand conservatives lean on European policies to argue for stricter abortion restrictions at home, and on the other they claim those policies are antithetical to the moral fabric of the United States.

Would Cruz support France’s policies that enable women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and that guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control? Or Belgium’s policy that enables young people to be reimbursed for the cost of emergency contraception? Or the broad exceptions that both countries make for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons? He absolutely would not.

As the House of Representatives seems to be more motivated by suing the president than by voting on – let alone passing — laws that will actually improve the health and lives of their constituents, it’s highly unlikely that the WHPA will become law. But Tuesday’s debate – and the bill itself — is significant and shows a willingness among pro-choice advocates to go on offense after too many years of playing defense.

Bills such as the WHPA — even if they face a slim chance of being passed by a gridlocked Congress — provide an opportunity to call out conservatives’ use of bad science in their attempts to convince women that lawmakers know best when it comes to their personal medical decisions. And they allow us to remind lawmakers and citizens that despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary, abortion is a common, safe and constitutionally protected medical procedure, and that regulating it into extinction will only force women into back-alley practices like those run by Gosnell, costing them their health and their lives.

Those in support of the WHPA showed anti-choice lawmakers that the days of making a sport of trampling on women’s health and rights are numbered.

 

By: Andrea Flynn, Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute; The National Memo, July 18, 2014

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Senate, Ted Cruz, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stop Undermining The President!”: I Am Glad We Have Barack Obama As Our President At This Time In Our History

For a short time after September 11, 2001 anyone who dared to criticize then President Bush was called an unpatriotic traitor. Remember the Dixie Chicks?

But today when international crises occur those same folks pushing that patriotic fervor are quick to find fault with our current Commander in Chief. Whatever happened to putting our country first? It seems to me any global unrest becomes an excuse to bash our President for political purposes.

Take this recent shooting down of Malaysian domestic Flight 17 over the Ukraine. President Obama addressed the disaster the day it happened at an event in Delaware but he was criticized by pundits at Fox News and right wing radio for continuing his speech about building infrastructure. A case could be made that the President wanted to promote calm and business as usual on the home front. On the same day he spoke on the phone with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, who later put the blame on Ukraine.

The next day our President labeled it an “outrage of unspeakable proportions” and a “global tragedy” and asked for a ceasefire between Russia and the Ukraine and called for an international investigation into the incident. He also spoke on the phone to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razale, and Prime Minister Marke Rutte of the Netherlands over the course of the past two days.

In other words, he took the appropriate steps and actions to lead and stay on top of this international crisis. Yet, Senator John McCain pointed fingers at President Obama for not supplying weapons to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian rebels accused of this dastardly deed (whether it was an accident or not.) In fact, President Obama just two days ago announced even tougher sanctions on Russia for its involvement in Ukraine. So he has been taking actions, just not the military ones that war hawks McCain and others in the GOP have been pushing.

Then the Fox pundits, Sean Hannity in particular, compared this situation to President Reagan‘s reaction to a downed Korean passenger airliner by the Soviet Union in 1983. Yes, President Reagan, great actor that he was, condemned it in strong words, but it took him four days to do it and then he never took any action after that. Plus, it was a totally different world then. We were in a Cold War with the Soviets and things are much more complicated today with all of the unrest in the Middle East.

The conservative pundits will never talk about the Iranian passenger plane Air 655 that we shot down by accident in 1988 under President Reagan’s watch. The United States never apologized for it, paid $61 million for the 290 victims’ families, and no one was fired or held accountable for it. Talk about ironic hypocrisy by those who are so outraged by this.

I, for one, am getting tired of hearing about how “weak” our President is regarding foreign policy. Isn’t it possible that calling him that undermines our country and our reputation in the world? He is not weak. He is not John Wayne (emulated by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) but rather Cool Hand Luke. He thinks before he acts. He doesn’t shoot from the hip. He takes his time and consults his advisors and looks at the big picture of any long term effects his decisions may create. This may infuriate the action hero testosterone crowd but I think it is the better approach.

Sure, there are statements and mistakes the President made that he would like to take back like the “red line” in Syria, providing more security in Benghazi, and domestically the “you didn’t build that” (although that was taken outside of context), and “if you like your plan you can keep it” (which I think he really believed.)

But the vitriol and hatred lashed out against our leader is very disturbing and maddening. Many of it is based on lies told against him by his opponents (remember the so-called “apology tour” and “death panels” and the debacle over his birth certificate?)

A Facebook friend accused President Obama of raising his middle finger to Republicans from the beginning. I had to straighten him out by pointing out that right after Obama was inaugurated he invited the GOP over to the White House for a Super Bowl party, he played golf with Speaker of the House John Boehner after the 2010 election, he said in his address to the American people “even if you didn’t vote for me, I am your President too.” He wanted to unite the country. Remember his 2004 Democratic Convention speech about the red and blue states and how we are the United States?

It was the Republicans who turned against him from the beginning. The first day of his Presidency they had a meeting to devise a plan to defeat him. The Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said his number one priority was to make Barack Obama a one-term president (we all know how that turned out.) Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said in the midst of our Great Recession “I hope he fails.”

You can only extend the hand of friendship and have it rebuffed so many times until you get the message that it is pointless. And I’m not saying it’s racial although there may be elements of that. The GOP did the same thing to President Bill Clinton, leading numerous dead-end investigations until they latched onto the Monica Lewinsky scandal and actually impeached him in the House of Representatives.

The irony is that the oppositions’ constant barrages have actually strengthened the President. I have never heard him speak with more fire than after Boehner announced the GOP were going to sue him. He has become immune to the chatter on the right and has taken up this latest attack as a battle cry for him to “do his job” for the country as Congress has become the least productive branch of government in history.

President Obama has finally gotten the message that FDR, LBJ, Bill Clinton and even Ronald Reagan learned. You can’t please the opposing party so you have to stick to your principles and do what you feel is right for the country.

I don’t know if other Americans are sick of all of this infighting but I have reached my boiling point. I am seriously considering banning Fox News from my channel surfing as it just irritates the heck out of me.

I just wish we as a nation would get behind our President at times of international crises. Maybe that will happen after the mid-term elections, but I am not holding my breath. In the meantime, I am glad we have Barack Obama as our president at this time in our history. We need his calm, cool, clear headed approach to leadership at this time of unprecedented international turmoil. And if enough of us just get behind him, maybe we can once again become the “United States of America.”

 

By: Joan E. Dowlin, The Huffington Post Blog, July 19, 20

 

 

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Moral Responsibility And The Israel-Palestinian Conflict”: No Moral Equivalency, Being Responsible For Your Own Actions

As Israel begins a ground invasion of Gaza in which hundreds of civilians will almost certainly be killed and the endless misery of the people who live there will only intensify, we haven’t actually seen much debate about the subject here in the U.S. There’s plenty of news about it, but unlike most issues, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one we don’t actually argue about much. There aren’t dueling op-eds in every paper the way there are when even a country Americans care far less about, like Ukraine, works its way into our attention.

There are many reasons for that, not least of which is the absurdly constrained debate we have over the topic of Israel. But I suspect that the relative quiet is in part because in a debate where even casting the two sides as equivalent is portrayed as a betrayal of Israel (you’ll notice, for instance, that the White House is careful to say, again and again, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but you’ll hear them say that the Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves at the approximate time the Winter X Games are held in Hell), few people can even manage to say with a straight face that both sides are suffering equally. Having to constantly rush to the bomb shelters and being afraid go outside is awful; I have many relatives and friends in Israel who are experiencing that right now. But it’s different from knowing that there is a good possibility that in the next few days a missile will blow apart a house on your street—as one “targeted” strike after another kills a house full of people—and there are no shelters to retreat to.

It’s been said many times that no government would tolerate rockets being fired into its territory without a response, which is true.But those rockets do not grant Israel a pass from moral responsibility for what it does and the deaths it causes, any more than prior acts of terrorism have. In this as in so many conflicts, both sides—and those who defend each—try to justify their own abdication of human morality with a plea that what the other side has done or is doing is worse. We’ve heard that argument made before, and we’ll continue to hear it. But when we do, we should acknowledge it for what it is: no justification at all.

Actions are either defensible on their own terms or they aren’t. The brutality of your enemy makes no difference in that judgment. It wasn’t acceptable for the Bush administration’s defenders to say (as many did) that torturing prisoners was justified because Al Qaeda beheads prisoners, which is worse. And our judgment of Hamas’s lobbing of hundreds of rockets toward civilian areas tells us nothing about whether Israel’s actions in Gaza are right or wrong.

According to this tally from the New York Times, as of Wednesday, Israeli strikes had killed 214 people in Gaza, most of whom were civilians. One Israeli has been killed by a Hamas rocket over the same period. Yes, Hamas would kill many more Israelis if they could. But if the question you’re asking is what kind of moral responsibility Israel bears for the choices it makes, that fact is irrelevant.

Nor does saying “Hamas is a terrorist organization!” tell you how to judge Israel’s actions. While it doesn’t appear that the group ordered the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers that started this conflagration, Hamas is quite happy to provoke Israel with rockets and watch its own people die in response; I suppose its leaders believe that the more terrible Israeli actions toward Gaza are, the better it is for their position there. Had Palestinians chosen to wage a campaign of nonviolent resistance against Israel, they could have had their own country a decade or two ago. But today, Hamas and Israeli hard-liners, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are partners in maintaining this ghastly status quo, both happy to see Gaza drown in blood and despair so long as a two-state solution never comes to pass and they can both maintain power.

But if you consider yourself a friend of Israel, the next time a bomb kills four kids playing soccer on a beach or buries a family under the rubble of their house, you have a few options. You can condemn it, or you can say it was just an accident, or you can say that regrettable things happen in war and there’s nothing anyone can do. But what you can’t say is that it’s OK because Hamas are terrible people. Israel is responsible for its own actions, just as Hamas is, and everyone else is, and nothing the other side does changes that.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 18, 2014

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Palestine | , , , , | Leave a comment

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