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“An Amusing Sideshow”: The Never-Ending Ben Carson Silliness

The silliness about a Ben Carson presidential bid just got sillier. With much fanfare, he recently gathered a flock of supposedly well-heeled donors, boosters, and political operatives in Palm Beach, Florida, and announced that he’s formed a PAC with the presumptuous name One Nation to prep for his 2016 White House bid. As in past times, when he’s teased the media and some of the more gullible GOP acolytes into actually thinking that his presidential talk is anything more than an amusing sideshow, it makes good copy. And just as in past times, when he pops off about a White House run, no one ever asks the obvious question: Beyond his endlessly milking of his rags-to-successful-neurosurgeon story and a few inane quips about President Obama and Democrats before packs of ultraconservative fawners and groupies, what makes him real political timber, let alone presidential stuff?

Then again, that’s really not the question anyone who buys into the Carson silliness would ask, since he has about as much of a chance of mounting a serious run for the White House as someone has of winning the Big Prize lottery without buying a ticket. Carson has currency for only one reason: He’s black and can be trotted out to make those ridiculous digs about Obama. He can say what GOP ultraconservatives and unreconstructed bigots want to say about Obama, but it just sounds better coming out of Carson’s mouth. The GOP has turned this tactic into a studied art with black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas. But Carson makes far better copy than Thomas, because, unlike Thomas, Carson actually speaks, and when he does, he’ll say something just ludicrous enough to get attention.

In the Obama era the GOP has worked overtime to tout, cultivate, prop up, and showcase a motley collection of black GOP candidates for a scattering of offices. The aim is two-fold: to find that someone who can have just enough luster and media appeal to be a counterbalance to Obama while at the same time allowing the party to thump its chest and claim it’s not racist.

Carson seemingly fits that double bill — actually, triple bill, because he gets even more attention for the GOP. But, more importantly, the notion of Carson as a presidential candidate touches a deep, dark, and throbbing pulse among legions of ultraconservatives who think that Obama and many Democrats are communists, that gays are immoral, and that the healthcare-reform law is “slavery,” as Carson infamously quipped, meaning a tyrannical intrusion by big government into Americans’ lives. Mainstream GOP leaders can’t utter this idiocy. They must always give the appearance that they are above the dirty, muddy, hate-slinging fray, so they leave it to a well-paid stalking horse like Carson to do their dirty work for them.

But let’s assume, for a moment, that Carson is the real presidential deal. Again, the road to the 2016 GOP presidential nomination will be a knock-down, drag-out, bruising, low-intensity war. The names that have already staked out turf for that battle — Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and a cluster of popular GOP governors — are deeply embedded in the GOP political hierarchy. They have money, means, and a dedicated, entrenched following. They have wooed and courted the key state party leaders and potential party delegates who will make or break a candidate in the key party primaries later next year. Their work has been ongoing, and it requires a team of professional, connected, and financially stout party officials to do the hard leg work required.

Then there is the gauntlet of the GOP presidential debates. These are equally vital for a potential candidate to prove that he or she has a firm grasp of the big-ticket policy issues: immigration reform, health care, education, taxation, jobs and the economy, and foreign-policy concerns. Who can forget the moment in the November 2011 GOP debate when Perry put his foot in his mouth when he couldn’t name the three agencies of government that he vowed to eliminate if elected president? His candidacy quickly was yanked off life support. A well-placed sound bite or pithy remark won’t cut it here. There has to be real substance behind the answers that serious presidential candidates must and are expected to give in the heat of a debate, in interviews, and in policy speeches to groups of potential supporters.

Carson’s supposed backers see all of this as a plus. That he is the old self-made, non-politician patriot who simply wants to unite the nation as hard political nostrums won’t fly, in part because of the hard-wired, encrusted, political-insider dominance over the presidential-vetting process, and in bigger part because Carson is nothing more than a curiosity, good for a few more spots on the TV-talk-show circuit. This is just enough to ensure the silliness of Carson will continue.

 

By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Associate Editor of New America Media; The Huffington Post Blog, August 5, 2014

 

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“In The Shadows”: There’s A Shady, All-Cash Economy For Lethal Injection Drugs

Facing a shortage of lethal injection drugs amid widespread opposition to the death penalty, Missouri has resorted to a controversial method of obtaining lethal drugs that resembles the illicit drug trade more than government policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to halt Wednesday’s execution of Michael Worthington due to concerns about the state’s method of obtaining lethal injection drugs.

That method entails the Missouri Department of Corrections’ (DOC) giving one of its officers $11,000 in cash and sending him to neighboring Oklahoma to purchase lethal injection drugs from a secret source, before hand-delivering the drugs to the Department, as the Missouri Times has reported.

St. Louis Public Radio reporter Chris McDaniel told the Reveal radio program he discovered Missouri’s Division of Adult Institutions Director Dave Dormire was taking more than $11,000 in cash each month to a Tulsa, Oklahoma compounding pharmacy called the Apothecary Shoppe that wasn’t licensed to sell drugs in Missouri. After word got out, Missouri turned to a different supplier, still shrouded in secrecy.

In February, DOC Director George Lombardi admitted a Department official pays for the state’s new execution drug pentobarbital with $11,000 in cash, before hand-delivering it from Oklahoma, reported The Missouri Times. The method of cash payment, avoiding a paper trail, is necessary because compounding pharmacies refuse to sell execution drugs to states unless they remain anonymous, Lombardi said.

Amid growing opposition to the death penalty, manufacturers of a key ingredient of lethal injections, sodium thiopental, stopped supplying that chemical to state governments by 2011, as Vox has reported. As a result, state governments like Missouri facing shortages of the chemical have had to develop their own modified injections with legally available drugs, and they are keeping the identities of their suppliers secret.

Because the Danish maker of pentobarbital is now refusing to supply that drug to corrections departments, Missouri resorts to compounding pharmacies to make their own versions of pentobarbital, the Associated Press reports.

A Missouri law states that the members of an “execution team,” shall remain confidential, including “individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure.” Oklahoma, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas also have policies or laws that hide details about the content of lethal injection drugs, according to the Miami Herald.

Death Penalty Litigation Center attorney Jacob Luby compared the DOC official to a drug mule and expressed concern with the transport method because the pentobarbital drug needs to be kept frozen rather than at room temperature.

The ACLU has also questioned whether the purchased drugs are pure and if they’d been properly stored and transferred. “When execution teams are buying drugs with cash, we should question why they’ve taken to the shadows,” ACLU’s Tanya Greene wrote.

Amid the shortage of lethal injection drugs, Missouri switched to using pentobarbital in late 2013, and has since executed eight people with the drug without signs of distress, reports the Associated Press.

Rather than Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona, where the drug midazolam was used in combination with other drugs during recent botched executions, Missouri administers a single large dose of pentobarbital, which is typically used for treating seizures and euthanizing animals. 

The ACLU asserts Missouri cannot rightfully carry out an execution because it has not divulged information about its lethal injection drugs, the manufacturer, as well as guarantees that the drugs are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and administered by medically qualified executioners.

We reached out to the Missouri Department of Corrections for comment on the cash transfers. In response, the Department forwarded us a document outlining its lethal injection protocol (which can be accessed here), as well as its protocol for selecting an execution team (which can be accessed here).

 

By: Corey Adwar, Business Insider, August 5, 2014

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Death Penalty, Lethal Injections, Missouri | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Helping The Troops?”: Conservative Military Charity Faces Serious Allegations

Any time a charity is accused of fraud, it’s alarming, but especially during a war, there’s something even more outrageous about dubious charities that claim to be helping veterans and active-duty military personnel.

Last year, for example, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, was forced to abruptly resign over her connections to something called Allied Veterans of the World. The Florida-based non-profit was accused of trying to “defraud the public and governmental agencies by misrepresenting how much of its proceeds were donated to charities affiliated with Veterans Administration.”

This year, a Tea Party affiliated group called Move America Forward, is facing allegations every bit as serious. Kim Barker’s piece in The Daily Beast raises serious questions the charity will have to answer quickly.

Move America Forward calls itself the nation’s “largest grassroots pro-troop organization,” and has recruited a bevy of Republican luminaries, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, to support its efforts.

Yet an examination of its fundraising appeals, tax records and other documents shows that Move America Forward has repeatedly misled donors and inflated its charitable accomplishments, while funneling millions of dollars in revenue to the men behind the group and their political consulting firms.

Barker’s report raises allegations that, if true, may point to illegalities, including the possible use the charity’s funds to subsidize conservative political action committees.

The driving force behind Move America Forward is Sal Russo, 67, the longtime political consultant who is listed on the 10-year-old charity’s tax returns as chief strategist.

Russo is better known for helping to form the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, also known as the Tea Party Express, one of the largest Tea Party groups in the country.  Consultants from his Sacramento-based firm, Russo, Marsh and Associates, also set up two other PACs, the Move America Forward Freedom PAC and the Conservative Campaign Committee, to aid conservative causes and candidates.

According to its tax returns, Move America Forward paid out more than $2.3 million – about 30% of the group’s overall expenditures – to Russo or his firm.

Barker talked to a former Tea Party Express consultant who said, “It was just so shady. With PACs, I know it’s dirty money – it’s politics. But this is a charity that’s supposed to be helping the troops.”

It’s not clear who, if anyone, is handling the day-to-day management of this charity. The organization’s former executive director left in 2012 “and does not seem to have been replaced.”

The same report goes on to detail instances in which Move America Forward falsely claimed to deliver care packages to troops, used photos in fundraising and promotional materials that belonged to other organizations, and even boasted to donors about a partnership with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that never existed.

And yet, despite all of this, Dave Weigel notes that Move America Forward benefited from testimonials from Dick Cheney, Rick Perry, Rush Limbaugh and other high-profile Republicans.

Obviously, the charges raised in this investigatory piece remain in the realm of unproven allegations. But given the evidence and seriousness of the potential wrongdoing, it’s easy to imagine law enforcement taking a keen interest in Move America Forward’s records, bank accounts, and activities.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 5, 2014

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Veterans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Real Crises On Their Doorsteps”: Will The Green Goop In Toledo’s Water Be The End Of GOP Anti-Environmentalism?

It’s easy to doubt the effects of climate change – especially if you’re a Republican or a dedicated Fox News watcher. It’s an abstract concept easily “disproven” by the first cold day, and Republican-driven policies (or the lack thereof) to address it reflect just that. But it’s more difficult to deny the causes of smelly green goop washing up on a lakeshore or sticking to your toes.

But the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie that caused 400,000 Toledo residents to avoid municipal water for two days provides an opportunity for conservatives to illustrate the ease with which they could co-opt the environment movement to push for local control, market solutions and individual choice – and start dealing with the very real crises on their doorsteps.

To that end, Ohio’s Republican governor – and pro-fracking enemy to the state’s environmentalists – John Kasich already signed legislation to address the algal blooms producing the toxins in Lake Erie earlier this year. That was too late, of course, and it might also be too little: it’s a voluntary program to certify farmers who use the phosphorous fertilizers that cause the blooms, and it won’t take effect untl 2017.

But even signing the legislation puts Kasich on the “Al Gore” side of the environmentalist spectrum to others in the GOP. In Washington state, Republican state house members argued that there was no science “that proves fertilizers have any impact on water quality”. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker “eased” the deadlines for polluters in the state to meet the previous administration’s numerical standards for the amount of phosphorous allowed in public waters (he tried to replace the numeric standards with a “narrative description” of reduction efforts, but wasn’t successful). In Tea Partying Florida, the Republican state legislature sought to overturn locally-enacted bans on phosphorus fertilizer – an effort pushed by a Scotts Miracle-Gro lobbyist who texted a representative, “I am begging for your help here.”

Meanwhile, dozens of communities and 12 states have banned phosphorous fertilizers – and some even ban phosphorous in detergent, too. These laws don’t just spring up in Birkenstock Nation capitals such as Vermont or Ann Arbor, Michigan: Virginia banned phosphorous fertilizers in 2011 under the watchful eye of Republican governor Bob McDonnell, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie enacted the nation’s strictest regulations on the use of the chemical with trademark defiance and sentimentality in 2012. Christie explained:

We understand that the beauty of the body of water that we have here in New Jersey is much more important to our psychic health and our economic health than any of the arguments being made by the other side.

Research from 2009 shows that the results of fertilizer bans are clear: one of the oldest bans in the country – in Michigan – was linked to 28% reduction in phosphorus in downstream waters.

We shouldn’t be too surprised by some GOP flexibility on this aspect of environmental regulation: it’s mayors and governors who wind up having to deal with environmental crises on the ground and in real time – and who ultimately cannot afford ideological purity at the cost of their communities (though it may cost them higher office).

For them, GOP disdain for executive power stops at the Beltway’s edge; they cannot afford the luxury of speeches and stunts when their constituents go thirsty or can’t take baths.

Environmental crises are usually trotted out as case studies in the limits of conservative governance: they are systemic problems, requiring broad, coordinated action and strict penalties in place to dramatize the cost of continued malfeasance (since the real costs are all too broad to force individuals to take action). Coal seems like “cheap” energy … until you calculate the associated health and environmental costs after its use; avoiding chemical fertilizers seems expensive until you compare it with the cost of cleaning up after them.

The situation in Ohio has brought home how short the timeline of deferred costs can become, and it should: phosphorus fertilizers aren’t like oil wells or fracking fields, because consumers can make a direct choice in using them or not. Specific sites such as waste management plants (so-called point sources) aren’t even the primary sources for phosphorous pollutants in public waters like Lake Erie; rather, much of the pollution in the water is the result of run-off from developed land (non-point sources).

And algal blooms aren’t like climate change – though, importantly, they’re exacerbated by it: they are near-term and ugly, comparatively immediate consequences of definable actions that everyday citizens can see without a microscope or binoculars. They are inarguable.

In Ohio, the urgency to take action on the algal blooms can only be enhanced by the recognition that doing so makes economic sense – and will keep harsher regulations at bay. Phosphorus bans even make a certain economic sense: The EPA estimates that “nutrient pollution” costs the US $1bn a year in lost revenue from outdoor tourism and waterway recreation.

The problem with getting consensus on environmental policy is not, primarily, that Democrats want to continue expanding the leviathan of big government and Republicans are seeking local solutions – it’s that many conservatives refuse beyond all reason to acknowledge that there is a problem to be solved at all.

Maybe a glass of goop can change that.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian, August 5, 2014

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Environment, GOP, Pollution | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bought And Paid For With A Texas Hunting Trip”: How ‘I Can’t Be Bought’ Rick Scott Overcame His ‘Disgust’

Back when he first ran for governor of Florida as a self-styled outsider, Rick Scott lambasted his opponent in the Republican primary for taking campaign money from U.S. Sugar, one of the worst corporate polluters of the Everglades.

Scott indignantly squeaked that Bill McCollum had been “bought and paid for” by U.S. Sugar. He said the company’s support of McCollum was “disgusting.”

“I can’t be bought,” Scott declared.

Seriously, that’s what the man said. Stop gagging and read on.

Four years later, the governor’s re-election campaign is hungrily raking in money from U.S. Sugar, more than $534,000 so far.

Exactly when Scott overcame his disgust isn’t clear, but in February 2013 he and undisclosed others jetted to the King Ranch in Texas for a hog- and deer-hunting junket on U.S. Sugar’s 30,000-acre lease.

Apparently this has become a secret tribal rite for some top Florida Republicans. Exposed last week by reporters Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times, the politicians ran like jackrabbits for the hills.

All questions were redirected to the state Republican Party, which couldn’t get its story straight. “Fundraising” wound up as the official explanation for the free pig-shooting sorties.

Scott refused to field questions about the King Ranch shindig. A spokesman said the governor covered his own air flight and hunting license.

Days later, a bit more information: Scott shot a buck deer on the trip, his flack said, and paid the taxidermist out of his own pocket. What a guy!

A month after his secret safari, the governor appointed an executive of King Ranch’s Florida agricultural holdings to the board of the South Florida Water Management District, the agency supposedly supervising the Everglades cleanup.

The inner circle, you see, goes unbroken.

Florida Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam was so mortified to be asked about his King Ranch excursions that he slithered behind a door that was then shut in a reporter’s face. Slick move. Putnam is the same social butterfly who once criticized the state law forbidding elected officeholders from accepting gifts like free trips, booze and meals. Putnam lamented that the ban was “a disincentive for fellowship.”

Thwarting the statutory gift ban has been accomplished by letting the political parties operate as money launderers for special interests. U.S. Sugar, for example, gives tons of cash to the Republican Party of Florida, which then spreads it around to Scott, Putnam and other candidates for purported political expenses.

The King Ranch, which has its own sugar and cattle holdings in Florida, has also hosted GOP House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel and Dean Cannon when he was House Speaker.

The current House Speaker, Will Weatherford, and the incoming speaker, Steve Crisafulli, have both received Texas hunting licenses, although they won’t say if they’ve been to the King spread.

Florida has an abundance of deer and wild hogs, but an out-of-state safari offers the appeal of seclusion and anonymity. Interestingly, no Republican senators or Democratic leaders appear to have participated in the King Ranch flyouts. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott’s likely opponent in November, has taken contributions from Big Sugar, but said he’s never been to the ranch.

Buying off politicians with hunting and fishing trips is an old tradition in Tallahassee, interrupted by the occasional embarrassing headline followed by flaccid stabs at reform.

Nobody believes the absurd GOP party line saying that the King Ranch hunting jaunts are “fundraisers.” They’re just free (or heavily discounted) vacations.

You really can’t blame Big Sugar or its lobbyists. They know who and what they’re dealing with; the only issue is the price.

The company has given more than $2.2 million to Republican candidates in the 2014 election cycle, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t get its money’s worth.

Taxpayers, not the sugar tycoons, remain stuck with most of the cost of cleaning up the Everglades. Every time someone tries to make the polluters pay a larger share, the idea gets snuffed in Tallahassee.

Meanwhile the politicians who could make it happen are partying in Texas with the polluters — shootin’ at critters, smokin’ cigars, sippin’ bourbon around the fire. Hell, maybe there’s even a steam bath.

These are the people controlling the fate of the Everglades. They’ve been bought and paid for, just like Rick Scott said four years ago. Now he’s one of them. His staff won’t say why he changed his mind about taking Big Sugar’s money. It also won’t say where he put the stuffed head of that buck he killed at the King Ranch.

The bathroom wall would be a fitting place, hanging right over the toilet where he flushed his integrity.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist, The Miami Herald; Published in The National Memo, August 5, 2014

 

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Florida, Rick Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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