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“Carson’s Campaign Meets With Alleged Organ Smuggler”: No Questions In Polls About Iowans Opinions Of Organ Smuggling

Two days out from the Iowa Caucus, most campaigns spent time with voters. Ben Carson’s team spent time with a man who has been accused of being a human organ smuggler.

Carson’s campaign touted the meeting in a press release on Saturday announcing that General Bob Dees, the campaign’s Christian-crusading chairman, had met with Hashim Thaci, the Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo. The meeting allegedly highlighted the “special relationship between the Republic of Kosovo and Iowa,” according to the press release, largely predicated on the recent opening of a Kosovo consulate in Des Moines.

“Having served in Kosovo during my U.S. Army career, I was honored to represent Dr. Carson and the campaign, and delighted to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Thaci,” Dees said in the statement. “I look forward to seeing even greater cooperation between Kosovo and the United States, and Iowa is the perfect state to be the bedrock of that relationship.”

If his excitement wasn’t enough, Carson himself also shared some thoughts on the meeting.

“Kosovo’s history is a testament to the resiliency of its people,” Carson said. “This new consulate also demonstrates that when the United States and its NATO allies commit to the fight for peace and liberty, it can have profound effects for victims of violence and oppression. All Americans should be proud to see this vibrant relationship that has developed between Iowa and Kosovo, and I look forward to seeing this friendship and cooperation grow in the years to come.”

The press release somewhat conveniently neglects to mention that Thaci, was named as the head of an Albanian group which smuggled drugs, weapons and human organs through Eastern Europe, according to a 2010 Council of Europe inquiry into organized crime.

According to a report from The Guardian on the two-year inquiry, Thaci allegedly headed up a network that operated criminal rackets prior to the Kosovo war in the late 1990s. He is accused of having used “violent control” over the heroin trade in the region and individuals within his inner circle were accused of taking captives across the Albanian border after the war, killing them and taking their kidneys to be sold on the black market.

Thaci, in his capacity as a co-founder of the Kosovo Liberation Army, was also accused of ordering killings from a professional hit man responsible for at least 11 contract murders. The KLA was also linked to as the culprit in an alleged organ trafficking case in 2008 during which organs were allegedly taken from impoverished victims at a clinic in the region. A 2003 United Nations report named the KLA as being responsible for the abduction of hundreds of Serbians, many of whom had their organs extracted and died.

When asked about whether the campaign knew of Thaci’s past criminal activities, Carson’s communications director Larry Ross seemed confused.

“The campaign wasn’t aware that prior to his positions in government, Mr. Thaci served in the Kosovo Liberation Army,” Ross first told The Daily Beast.

“Just as Dr. Carson’s life story involves redemption from anger, one’s past doesn’t have to dictate or determine one’s future.” It’s unclear if that applies to people who steal organs as well.

When pressed about specifically whether the campaign was aware of the organ smuggling allegations, Ross reversed course.

“My response should have read: The campaign WAS aware that prior to his positions in government, Mr. Thaci served in the Kosovo Liberation Army,” Ross said in an email.

According to a newly released Des Moines Register poll, Carson is at 10 percent in Iowa behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, following a calamitous drop in his numbers as 2015 drew to a close.

While the numbers don’t look good for the former neurosurgeon, there were no questions in the poll about Iowans opinions of organ smuggling.

 

By: Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast, January 31, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Ben Carson, Iowa Caucuses, Organ Smuggling | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz’s ‘Flat Out Lie’ On Immigration”: How Do You Say Hypocrite In Spanish? Do You Know? It’s Ted Cruz

For Latino Republicans who have known Ted Cruz over the last 15 years, the candidate stumping across the country on an anti-immigration platform is not the rising talent they once worked with on the George W. Bush campaign, in the Bush administration, and then as Texas Solicitor General.

The Ted Cruz of those years was a whip-smart and audaciously ambitious lawyer who lent his considerable intellectual heft to the policies many Latino Republicans cared most about, including immigration reform. But during a CNN debate in December, as Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio clashed over Cruz’s past positions on offering legal status to undocumented immigrants, Cruz said definitively, “I’ve never supported legalization, I do not intend to support it.”

Weeks later, Cruz doubled down, explaining to Fox News’ Bret Baier that he tried to amend the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill not to pass it, but to doom it to defeat. “Bret, you’ve been around Washington long enough, you know how to defeat bad legislation.”

And with that, Cruz’s bridge back to his former colleagues in Latino Republican circles began to burn.

“It’s just a flat out lie. Period,” said Robert De Posada. “There’s just no truth behind it.”

De Posada is a former Director of Hispanic Affairs for the RNC and founder of the Latino Coalition, a conservative Latino organization that worked with the Bush administration unsuccessfully to pass immigration reform. “My criticism is that Cruz can say, ‘Things have changed and I’ve changed my position.’ But don’t sit here and flat out lie that you have never been for legalization when the facts are very clear.”

The facts, according to De Posada and several Republicans who worked with Cruz in Washington and Texas, are that in Cruz’s past work for Bush and later as a board member of the Washington-based Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute, Cruz helped craft policies to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and pursue legal status.

None of those efforts included granting automatic amnesty to undocumented workers, but it is clear in the minds of his former colleagues that finding a way to offer immigrants a way to remain in the United States and gain legal status was central to the work Cruz did.

A former Bush administration official who worked with Cruz during the 2000 campaign and later as a part of an interdepartmental White House working group on immigration remembered Cruz as an aggressive member of the teams tasked with creating a framework to pass Bush’s pro-immigration agenda. The position Cruz holds today was not in play in those years, the official said, in sometimes deeply personal terms.

“How do you say hypocrite in Spanish? Do you know? It’s Ted Cruz,” the former official said. “To know Ted is to hate Ted.”

The official described Cruz’s role on the Bush immigration agenda as working as a liaison between the office of public liaison and the White House’s policy shop. “He wanted to bring immigrants out of the shadows,” the official said. “That’s changed since the campaign and changed since the White House days. But of course it has. If it suits Ted, he’s for it. If it doesn’t, he’s against it.”

“It’s a disappointment,” said the official, who, like many of the people interviewed for this piece, referenced Cruz’s natural intelligence. “I think Ted could do a lot of good if he had a soul.”

But before the White House, Cruz worked in Texas as a policy adviser for the Bush presidential campaign, including on Bush’s plans for immigration reform.

When Charles Foster, a prominent Houston immigration lawyer, was tapped to draft Bush’s plan, he said he was told the campaign had a team of bright young lawyers to work with him. “One of them, named Ted Cruz, had in his bailiwick of issues immigration and he would be my contact with the campaign,” Foster said.

Together, Foster and Cruz worked for nine months drafting what would become the immigration principles of the Bush campaign and eventually the White House. The plan would not include amnesty like Ronald Reagan’s blanket legalization program, which immediately put undocumented immigrants in line for citizenship. But Bush would push for a path to legal status, an aggressive temporary worker program, and a requirement that undocumented workers who stayed in the United States would go to the back of the line for citizenship.

Foster remembers Cruz as a “very hands on” professional who never raised objections to the policies. “I assumed Ted was supportive of Gov. Bush’s positions, but I honestly can’t remember asking Ted if he agreed with the position and personally supported it. I assume he did, but we were like lawyers representing the interests of our client.”

After the campaign and two years in the Bush administration, Cruz moved home to Texas to become the state’s Solicitor General in 2003. Once in Texas, he joined the board of advisers for HAPI, a group of Latino conservatives that included George P. Bush, former members of Congress, and multiple veterans of the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations.

While Cruz was a member of the board and its policy committee, HAPI advocated conservative positions to an array of issues, including its opposition to both climate change legislation and the Affordable Care Act. On immigration, HAPI strongly advocated for a path to legalization, including President Bush’s principles for immigration reform, as well as the 2006 McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill.

“It’s just bullshit,” said a former member of the HAPI when asked about Cruz’s contention that he never supported legalization. “That’s what pisses us all off. Don’t throw us under the bus for legalization and not take on the nativists and the crazies when you wrote the language. Stand for something.”

The former HAPI board member, who asked not to be named in order to speak freely, described Cruz as a fully engaged member of the group. Cruz co-chaired a 2005 event featuring Gov. Rick Perry and served as a keynote speaker for two of the group’s events. And because of Cruz’s legal expertise, board members said they relied on him to do the first draft of policy positions, including HAPI’s support for immigration reform. When he ran for Senate in 2012, HAPI hosted a fundraiser to support his candidacy.

In the 2012 campaign for Senate, Cruz’s role at HAPI became the subject of a bitter disagreement between Cruz and David Dewhurst, then the lieutenant governor of Texas and Cruz’s opponent in the Senate primary race. The Dewhurst campaign accused Cruz of “leading two organizations that support amnesty,” a position that neither HAPI nor the other group ever supported. But members of HAPI’s board insist that legalization for undocumented immigrants was always unequivocally a part of its platform.

HAPI no longer exists, but Cruz has gone on to become its most famous and potentially most powerful former member, an end to the story that many of his fellow Latino Republicans lament.

“When he went so far as to say he’s never been for legalizing, that’s where he crossed the line and lost people like me,” said Robert De Posada. “It’s a character issue where a lot of us are just like, ‘Um, no.’”

 

By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, January 28, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Immigration Reform, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Casting Himself As The Leader Of The GOP”: Donald Trump Wants You To Believe He’s The Commander-In-Chief In Waiting

After all the sturm und drang of the last few days of Donald Trump’s feud with Fox News—Trump again invoked the word “bimbo” about Megyn Kelly and exchanged insults with the network brass—the “special event” he organized as an alternative to Thursday night’s Republican debate turned out to be a surprisingly dull political rally dressed up as a celebration of patriotism and military service. But perhaps boredom was the point all along.

As Trump constantly reminds us, he leads in all of the polls. Another debate would have been risky, opening himself to attacks from his rivals—notably Ted Cruz, his closest challenger in Iowa. So the fight with Fox allowed the real estate magnate to duck the debate, draw more attention to himself, deprive the other candidates of needed media oxygen, and hold a safe event where he could bask in the valor of veterans. To be sure, Trump couldn’t resist a few of his old favorite jabs, like calling Jeb Bush “low energy.” But his event lacked the electric confrontation that has characterized the GOP debates. In contrast, the debate across town on Fox was more substantive and revealing about the candidates (and their flaws).

But the seventh Republican debate may have been pointless without Trump—that’s his gamble, anyway. Trump is casting himself as the leader of the GOP even before the first vote has been cast, and did so by assuming the role of commander-in-chief in waiting. Surrounded by vets in a room draped in American flags, and feted by rivals like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee (who hurried over after appearing in the undercard debate), Trump served as the master of ceremony of an evening celebrating the beneficence of himself and his rich friends, all of whom are allegedly donating money for veterans (although it appears the money will be funneled through Trump’s personal foundation).

Trump isn’t the only candidate to use patriotism and veterans for political gain recently—see Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz—but it’s striking how strong these themes have become. He presents himself as the champion of the vets, and he’s holding up their sacrifice and suffering as a model of American greatness, which he wants to restore. His chief claim to be president is that he’ll be tough: the sort of fighter these men deserve. Of course, this Trumpian narrative elides his deferments during the Vietnam War and mockery of John McCain’s suffering as a prisoner of war. But Trump is not one to let past behavior stand in the way of current claims.

Thursday night was the last major event before the Iowa caucus on Monday, when we’ll find out whether his strategy of playing it safe paid off. It’ll be up to the voters to decide whether Trump is really the frontrunner, or just the man who used polls to pretend he was the king of the world.

 

By: Jeet Heer, The New Republic, January 29, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Commander In Chief, Donald Trump, Veterans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sorry State Of Huckabee And Santorum”: The Only Feeling Voters Have For These Two Is Apathy

Rick Santorum was unhappy.

While other candidates have managed to draw crowds of hundreds and even tens of thousands this cycle, Santorum arrived at Second Street Emporium, a dimly lit restaurant and bar in Webster City, Iowa, on Saturday afternoon, to find that fewer than 50 people had come to see his town hall.

Making matters worse, the majority of them weren’t Iowa voters, but high school students who’d been bussed in from Cincinnati. They couldn’t even vote in the caucus on Monday.

“This is actually more than I expected,” Bob Algard, his field director in the Northwest part of the state, told me. He nodded at the crowd. “So this is pretty good.”

But Santorum, dressed in his signature sweater vest, was finding it hard to stay positive. His speech began optimistically enough—“things are gonna go surprisingly well for us on Monday!”—but he soon dropped the act.

“People always criticize Iowa because you put forth someone—myself and Mike Huckabee—who didn’t win the nomination,” he said, “but they don’t ask the second question: did the person who won the nomination win the election?”

He paused for a second and then answered his own question with a dramatic, “No!”

“So maybe,” he added, “they should’ve listened to Iowa instead of listening to New Hampshire! I think Iowa better reflects the values of this country, frankly, than New Hampshire does.”

In 2008, Huckabee won the Iowa caucus. In 2012, Santorum did. This time around, both men are nonentities. Huckabee polls at 2.5 percent on average. Santorum commands just 1 percent.

It’s hard to say what’s changed since the last cycle, except everything. Santorum, in his remarks, seemed bewildered by this frightening new world.

He is unable to comprehend how people could go from supporting someone like himself—a passive aggressive Catholic with enough kids to form a basketball team and some hours clocked in the U.S. Senate—to supporting a reality TV star the color of a clementine, or someone who boasts that their biggest accomplishment in Washington is the fact that everyone in Washington has learned to hate him in just a handful of years.

“Standing up for principles you believe in and have for 25 years, well, that doesn’t make you newsworthy!” he shouted. “But! If you call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, you can get on O’Reilly!”

For all his supposed disgust with Trump, Santorum did appear with him—and Huckabee—at his Drake University rally on Thursday, but he seemed to have forgotten that Saturday morning. He called the campaign “the Celebrity Apprentice” and “Presidential Apprentice.” He asked the crowd to help him “set things straight.”

Then his tone changed from angry to pleading.

“Here’s what I would suggest: that past is prologue,” he said. There is, according to him, “one person” running who has a history of going to Washington and passing conservative laws (his name rhymes with Shmick Shmamshmorum) and “look, the people of Iowa, four years ago, made that conclusion. So my feeling is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

A few hours later, about 60 miles South in Johnston, a bullet casing pegged my ribs. Then another hit my foot.

They came from Huckabee.

He was standing two feet away and pummeling the heart of a target—mostly its left side—with firepower from a handgun.

Rather than complain about his predicament, Huckabee channeled his anger in a different way: using weapons to get as much attention as possible before Monday.

I asked Huckabee if he was picturing anyone in particular as he looked at this target. Deflected. pic.twitter.com/2oYmvugH5l

— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) January 30, 2016

A modest scrum of a little over a dozen reporters and photographers looked on as he shot, all of us wearing pink protective headsets and plastic eyewear. For perspective, there was just one other member of the media covering Santorum’s town hall.

Huckabee assessed his grouping. “I’m a left eye-dominant shooter,” he said, adding that the last time he shot was “about a a week ago.”

I asked him if he was picturing anyone’s face in particular as he fired at the target. He answered, “I aim for the heart.”

Though it certainly felt happier than Santorum’s event, it was difficult to find any actual Huckabee supporters at the gun range. After asking around a bit, a staffer introduced me to David Haake, Huckabee’s friend of 30 years. He drove in from his native Arkansas to support him.

“There’s new faces in the crowd,” he said when I asked about Huckabee’s performance this time around. People may feel, he said, “like ok, you’ve done this once, let’s look at somebody else.”

“But I really believe that come caucus night, when its all said and done, he will do much better than what the polls say. I really believe so.”

In the distance, Huckabee could be heard firing away.

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, January 31, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Iowa Caucuses, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The G.O.P.’s Holy War”: Righteousness Is A Tricky Business, It Has A Way Of Coming Back To Bite You

In the final, furious days of campaigning here, it was sometimes hard to tell whether this state’s Republicans were poised to vote for a president or a preacher, a commander or a crusader.

The references to religion were expansive. The talk of it was excessive. A few candidates didn’t just profess the supposed purity of their own faith. They questioned rivals’ piety, with Ted Cruz inevitably leading the way.

A rally of his devolved into an inquisition of Donald Trump. Speakers mocked Trump’s occasional claims of devout Christianity. Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, pointedly recalled Trump’s admission last summer that he never really does penance.

Cruz, in contrast, “probably gets up every morning and asks God for forgiveness at least a couple of times, even before breakfast,” Perry told the audience.

The evangelist or the apostate: That’s how the choice was framed. And it underscored the extent to which the Iowa caucuses have turned into an unsettling holy war.

Religion routinely plays a prominent part in political campaigns, especially on the Republican side, and always has an outsize role in Iowa, where evangelical Christians make up an especially large fraction of the Republican electorate.

But there was a particular edge to the discussion this time around. It reflected Trump’s surprising strength among evangelicals and his adversaries’ obvious befuddlement and consternation about that.

Cruz’s whole strategy for capturing the presidency hinges on evangelicals’ support, as Robert Draper details in The Times Magazine.

He rails against abortion rights and same-sex marriage in speeches that sound like sermons, with references to Scripture and invocations of God.

He ended a question-and-answer session with Iowans that I attended in a typical fashion, asking them to use the waning hours until the caucuses to pray.

“Spend just a minute a day saying, ‘Father, God, please,’” he implored them. “Continue this awakening. Continue this spirit of revival. Awaken the body of Christ to pull this country back from the abyss.”

But righteousness is a tricky business. It has a way of coming back to bite you.

A super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee produced an ad for both radio and TV in which two women express doubts about Cruz’s commitment to Christian causes, saying that he speaks in one way to Iowans and in another to New Yorkers whose campaign donations he needs.

“I also heard that Cruz gives less than 1 percent to charity and church,” says one of the two women.

“He doesn’t tithe?” asks the other. “A millionaire that brags about his faith all the time?” They conclude that he’s a phony.

Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s impossible to know the genuineness of someone’s faith. That’s among the reasons we shouldn’t grant it center stage.

Religion was integral to our country’s founding. It’s central to our understanding of the liberty that each of us deserves. But so are the principles that we don’t enshrine any one creed or submit anyone — including those running for office — to religious litmus tests.

So why does a Republican race frequently resemble such an exam?

The winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2012 was Rick Santorum, who put his Catholicism at the forefront of his campaign. The winner in 2008 was Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor who never let you forget that.

To emerge victorious in 2016, several candidates are leaning hard on religion, hoping it’s an advantage over Trump.

But just as God is said to work in mysterious ways, religion is working in unexpected ways in this campaign. According to some national polls, more evangelicals back Trump than they do any other candidate.

That’s true although he’s on his third marriage; although he’s boasted of sexual conquests; although he went to the evangelical stronghold of Liberty University in 2012 and, in a rambling speech, mentioned the importance of prenuptial agreements; although he returned to Liberty University just weeks ago and revealed his inexperience in talking about the Bible by citing “two Corinthians” when anyone with any biblical fluency would have pronounced it “Second Corinthians.”

Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., went so far as to endorse Trump, a development that clearly galled Trump’s rivals and bolstered their resolve to prove that they’re the better Christians.

Jeb Bush questioned Trump’s faith. Marco Rubio kept going out of his way to extol his own.

He released a television commercial here in which he speaks directly to the camera about what it means to be Christian. “Our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our creator for all time,” he says. “The purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan.”

During last week’s debate, he worked religion into an answer to a question that had nothing to do with it. The Fox News anchor Bret Baier had asked him about his electability, mentioning a Time magazine story that called Rubio “the Republican savior.”

“Let me be clear about one thing,” Rubio responded. “There’s only one savior and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ, who came down to Earth and died for our sins.”

And at a rally, Rubio visibly brightened when a voter brought up faith and gave him an opportunity to expound on it.

“I pray for wisdom,” he said. “The presidency of the United States is an extraordinary burden and you look at some of the greatest presidents in American history. They were very clear. They were on their knees all the time asking for God, asking God for the wisdom to solve, for the strength to persevere incredible tests.”

That same image came up at the Cruz event during which Perry denigrated Trump. One of the speakers expressed joy at the thought of “a president who’s willing to kneel down and ask God for guidance as he’s leading our country.”

Cruz had declared such willingness in Iowa in November at an evangelical conference where a right-wing pastor talked about the death penalty for gay people and the need for candidates to accept Jesus as the “king of the president of the United States.”

“Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief of this country,” Cruz said then.

I’m less interested in whether a president kneels down than in whether he or she stands up for the important values that many religions teach — altruism, mercy, sacrifice — along with the religious pluralism that this country rightly cherishes. And while I agree that Trump is unfit for the Oval Office, Corinthians has nothing to do with it.

 

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 30, 2016

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Iowa Caucuses, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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