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“Netanyahu, The Linchpin Of GOP Foreign Policy”: Hooray! Boehner Wins The Israeli Elections! Time For A Victory Tour!

It’s pretty ironic: just as Bibi Netanyahu seems ready to get over the recent unpleasantness with the Obama administration and get back to the status quo ante of unfriendly cooperation, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives is packing for a trip to Israel that is inevitably being called a “victory tour.” According to Josh Marshall, the trip is expected to last ten days. I’m not 100% sure John Boehner has spent ten straight days in Ohio in recent memory.

But since Boehner accommodated Bibi’s wish for a pre-election campaign rally on the floor of the House, the Israeli leader is hardly in a position to say no, though he may feel like a husband who’s tried to make his wife jealous by consorting with her deadliest enemy, only to discover the intended catspaw on his doorstep with a suitcase.

In any event, Boehner’s trip is a vivid reminder of something I’ve been saying off and on since 2012: the current Israeli government has become the linchpin of Republican foreign policy, as central to the GOP’s calculations on how it views the world as the USSR was (in a negative rather than positive sense, of course) before Gorbachev. So of course Bibi’s victory is Boehner’s victory, and he’d want to share in the celebration. He may claim he’s just another Catholic tourist going to the Holy Land for Holy Week. But I suspect it’s Netanyahu’s resurrection rather than Jesus Christ’s we’ll eventually hear him talking about.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, March 20, 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cruz Tells Small Child, ‘Your World Is On Fire'”: Scare Them While They’re Young And You’ll Have Them For Life

For politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), fear is an important motivating tool. Listen to the far-right Texan deliver a typical stump speech and you’ll hear quite a few dire assessments from Cruz about nearly everything.

But as a rule, when politicians address small children, they dial it down a notch. It made a Cruz event in New Hampshire the other day that much more noteworthy.

[Cruz said,] “The Obama economy is a disaster. Obamacare is a train wreck. And the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind – the whole world’s on fire!”

Julie Trant, a child in the audience, took this literally. “The world’s on fire?” she asked.

“The world is on fire, yes,” said Cruz, not missing a beat as the crowd chuckled. “Your world is on fire.”

Let’s note that the child in this story is just three years old. During the event, she was sitting on her mother’s lap.

Cruz quickly added, however, “But you know what? Your mommy’s here, and everyone’s here to make sure that the world you grow up in is even better.”

Let’s unpack this one:

  1. The “Obama economy,” in reality, is not a disaster. On the contrary, the president’s economic agenda ended the Great Recession, turned the economy around, and created the strongest job growth since the 1990s.
  2. The Affordable Care Act is not “a train wreck.” On the contrary, the ACA is actually succeeding beautifully, exceeding the expectations of many optimists.
  3. The whole world is not “on fire,” at least not any more than usual.
  4. Telling a three-year-old child, “Your world is on fire” is probably inappropriate at any time, but it’s especially unsettling when it’s wrong.
  5. Telling that same child that Republicans are going to “make sure that the world you grow up in is even better” is odd phrasing. “Even better” usually follows “things are good,” not “things are horrible.”

The child’s mother, for what it’s worth, describes herself as “a huge Ted Cruz supporter” and said during a radio interview this morning that she describes the senator as “Uncle Cruz” to her daughter.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, March 16, 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Fearmongering, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Should Voting Be A Choice?”: Voter Non-Participation Is A Giant Pimple On The Face Of American Democracy

President Obama gave a rather unusual answer to a question about money in politics during an event in Cleveland this week. His antidote for the burgeoning influence of fat stacks of Supreme Court-sanctioned cash on elections was fairly simple: make everyone vote.

“If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” he said, adding that voting was mandatory in other countries. Universal participation would “counteract money more than anything.”

He might have a point.

Voter participation–or, more accurately, non-participation–is a giant pimple on the face of American democracy, one that the U.S. been unable to pop since the 1960s.

Every two years, an average of 56 percent of eligible voters (PDF) participate in their own self-governance, weighed heavily towards presidential contests. Midterms usually draw around 40 percent, putting 2014’s dismal effort only slightly below average.

Line that up next to other industrialized democracies and it’s not pretty. Great Britain usually gets around three quarters of its population to the polls in national elections.

Greece, the birthplace of democracy and modern geopolitical punchline, gets 86 percent. Australia’s citizens turn out in droves, averaging a 95 percent turnout down under.

How do the Aussies do it? Quite simply, they make their citizens vote–or at least show up.

They are forced to register, forced to appear at a polling station on Election Day, and forced to at least make a mark on the ballot paper. By law, they don’t actually have to choose a candidate or party, but you’d imagine the phrase “might as well” applies here.

Australia, cited by the president in his Wednesday remarks, is not the only country with compulsory voting, and not the only one to see strong turnout. Argentina has it, and usually sees around 85 percent participation. Brazil does too, and usually turns out at a rate around 80 percent. All of these are enforced compulsory systems: that is, there is a penalty (normally a fine) if a citizen cannot reasonably explain why they did not vote.

Now, none of those three are examples of ideal democratic outcomes at present, but at least they have robust participation. The United States faces a formidable participation gap, partly because, quite frankly, not enough people care.

But the U.S. has also been doing all the wrong things, policy-wise, for decades.

Rather than make it easier to vote, lawmakers here have been putting up barriers to participation.

New York and Ohio eliminated same-day voter registration in 1965 and 1977 respectively. According to political scientist Marjorie Random Hershey, turnout dropped by 7 percent in the subsequent elections and between 3 and 5 percent over the longer term (PDF). Many states have imposed early closing dates for registration, and if there were no closing date (in other words, same-day registration), some experts “estimate that…turnout would increase by 6.1 percent” across the nation. Early voting has also been scaled back in a number of states, including Ohio and North Carolina, where 7 in 10 black Americans vote early.

Then there are Voter ID laws, passed to combat the largely mythical phenomenon known as voter fraud.

To start, voter fraud does not exist in any significant sense. Out of the 197 million votes cast in federal elections between 2000 and 2005, only 26 (yes, twenty-six) votes eventually resulted in convictions for voter fraud. That is .00000013 percent, and it indicates that no one committing voter fraud could have affected any federal election in any way during that time.

Yet eight states have strict photo ID requirements to vote, and a further six have strict non-photo ID policies. And these policies can suppress the vote.

Hershey’s study cites Vercellotti and Anderson’s (2006), which found that “non-photo and photo ID rules were associated with lower turnout in 2004, in the range of 3 to 4 percent.” Laws enacted in Kansas and Tennessee dropped turnout by 2 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office. Texas’s policies, some of the most restrictive in the nation, were also heavily scrutinized after the 2014 election.

All of these figures are across the demographic board, leaving aside that these policies have been accused of being partisan and discriminatory, disproportionately affecting minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Voter ID is just the latest in a long line of counterproductive policies when it comes to the ballot box. The suppression numbers associated are not huge, but there is a pile-on effect.

That’s because the decision to vote is an economic one. There’s an element of civic duty or pride, sure, but the individual essentially conducts a cost–benefit analysis with regard to how they spend their time and money. The more obstacles that are put in the way of voter participation, from restricting early voting to banning voting out-of-district to requiring IDs (which cost time and money to procure), the higher the opportunity cost and the fewer people will vote.

The end result is that the laws and regulations governing voting in some states are thoroughly undemocratic.

Thankfully, though, the U.S. is not some sort of uniformly hopeless electoral dystopia. Some states are making progress. Oregon, along with more recent converts Washington and Colorado (the Civic-Minded Stoner Bloc) has conducted all mail-in voting for years. All enjoyed turnouts of 64 percent turnout or higher in 2012, well above the national average, with Colorado at 71 percent.

This week, Oregon crossed into new territory in its efforts to get out the vote. Under the new policy, all eligible voters will be registered automatically unless they opt out. Now the Oregon secretary of state’s office will mail all voting-age citizens a ballot 20 days before any election. They need only send it back with a few marks of a pen.

Oregon’s is a step in the right direction, emphasizing ease of voting over mandates. Compulsory voting does not hold all the answers–though some political scientists credit it with as much as double-digit gains in turnout percentage–and there are other ways to avoid ghastly-looking turnout numbers. After all, Britain and Greece are doing just fine without it. Belgium, where mandatory voting policies have not been enforced since 2003, averages 90 percent turnout.

Though it would likely bring more people to the polls, it’s not immediately clear how, as the president says, mandatory voting would combat money’s influence on American politics. Maybe he’s hoping that the few people whose lives aren’t consumed by political advertisements in the run-up to Election Day–that is, who don’t own a TV or computer–would show up. Maybe his roots in community organizing tell him there’s strength in numbers, that there’s power to be found in the kind of mass participation by informed citizens that is simply lacking today.


By: Jack Holmes, The Daily Beast, March 20, 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He’s Really Running For Vice-President”: Why Haven’t Republicans Caught On To Marco Rubio?

When you try to assess candidates from the other party, even the most unsentimental among us can have a hard time separating our emotional reactions from our level-headed assessment of who’s a strong contender and who isn’t. For instance, to me, Scott Walker radiates a kind of unpleasant meanness that I suspect wouldn’t wear very well among the general electorate. But that’s hard to quantify, and I can’t be sure that I don’t feel that way only because I disagree with his policy positions and with what he has done in Wisconsin.

As a liberal, Walker scares me, because among the serious Republican presidential candidates, I suspect he’s the one who would govern with the most intense combination of recklessness and malice. But he doesn’t strike me as the most formidable general-election candidate. That would probably be Marco Rubio. Although that judgment is subject to change (we’ll have to see how they all perform in the rigors of the primary campaign), Rubio’s appeal is undeniable. He’s extremely conservative, but wears his ideology lightly—unlike someone like Ted Cruz, he doesn’t seem eager to smack voters in the face with how much of a right-winger he is. He’s obviously smart, and of course the fact that he’s Latino means he could cut in to the Democrats’ advantage among that increasingly important group (though by how much, we really have no idea). If I were a Republican, I’d be amazed that more of my compatriots weren’t flocking to him.

Amy Walter points out that according to some recent poll results, Walker and Rubio are the only candidates whom every sector of the Republican electorate finds appealing. Yet at the moment, he seems to be barely anyone’s first choice, and she doesn’t have much of an explanation as to why:

Yet, if Rubio’s got such obvious advantages, why is he stuck in the low single digits while Walker has become a “co-frontrunner” with Bush? First, don’t underestimate the power of Walker’s profile as a conservative governor of a blue state. Furthermore, for a party that’s ambivalent at best about the idea of the idea of a “legacy” candidate like Bush, Walker’s understated Midwestern-ism is appealing.

Rubio backers, however, aren’t worried about his low standing in the polls. If anything, they like where he sits today. Rubio gets to go about his work without the same level of scrutiny that Walker and Bush get. They also see Rubio as a candidate who can endure for the long-haul thanks to his natural political talent. Where Bush struggles on the stump, Rubio shines. Where Walker fails to engage, Rubio connects emotionally.

So, when can we expect to see Rubio’s poll numbers catch up with his potential? A high-profile stumble by Bush or Walker could give the Florida senator an opening. The debates could be another place for Rubio to break out. His allies, meanwhile, aren’t convinced they need those things to happen for him to succeed. Instead, they say, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and the voters will catch on to his appeal.

That could be true. It’s still very early, and now that we’ve gone through the “Hey, check out this Scott Walker guy” stage of the campaign, there could be a Rubio boomlet on its way. If there’s anything that will hold Rubio back, it may be his youth. Not only is he young, he seems young. In November 2016, he will only be two years younger than Barack Obama was in November 2008 (45 versus 47), but Obama looked like a grown-up while Rubio has a baby face that makes it hard to imagine him at the top of the ticket. That’s why I still think he’s really running for vice-president, which would set up a second try for the presidency in 2020 or 2024. It isn’t such a bad idea.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 20, 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker | , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Budget Gimmickry”: Republicans Vote To Hide Costs Of Repealing Obamacare In Budget

Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee voted Thursday to shield attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act from objections that it would add to the government’s budget deficit.

The budget resolution for 2016 includes what are known as reconciliation instructions that tell several congressional committees to come up with ways to undo Obamacare. Such reconciliation measures only require 51 votes to pass in the Senate.

But the spending plan also includes language that allows lawmakers to raise what are known as budget points of order against any legislation that would add more than $5 billion to the deficit, and block it. According to the last estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, repealing Obamcare would add $210 billion to the deficit.

That would seem to make it likely that any Obamacare repeal effort would run afoul of a point of order, which takes 60 votes to surmount. So, later in the resolution, it exempts an attempt to repeal Obamacare from those points of order.

“What we have in this budget is a very interesting situation,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who offered an amendment to make the deficit rules apply to Obamacare repeal.

“We have a point of order in the budget for anything that adds to the deficit, but we have a section that specifically excludes the Affordable Care Act from that,” Stabenow said. “So think about it. This budget is conceding the fact that the Affordable Care Act has reduced the deficit, and repealing the law would increase the deficit.”

Stabenow also alluded a related problem the GOP budget ignores: At the same time that it instructs Congress to come up with a repeal, it continues to count all the revenue that the Affordable Care Act is expected to raise — and which the government wouldn’t collect if the law is dismantled.

“You can’t rig the rules on both sides,” Stabenow said. “That’s not fair. I would argue that’s really budget gimmickry. I think it’s important if you are going to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, you have to step up and assume the consequences of that.”

Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) did not dispute Stabenow’s claim, but seemed to think it was irrelevant, since even if a point of order applies to a repeal measure, it still could be overridden if 60 senators vote to do so. That’s the same filibuster-proof number it takes to pass controversial legislation.

And while using budget reconciliation instructions prevents filibusters — so something can pass with just 51 votes — many parts of the Affordable Care Act could not be legally included in such a measure. And even if they could, it would take a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto that would be certain to follow.

“I think that probably any repeal is probably going to take at least 60 votes, and probably 67 votes,” Enzi said.

Still, Stabenow countered that her amendment was useful in making clear what was actually happening in the name of “honest budgeting.”

Republicans opposed Stabenow’s amendment on a party-line vote, 12 to 10, and passed the budget by the same tally.

The measure is expected to be on the Senate floor next week.


By: Michael McAuliff, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 19 , 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Federal Budget, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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