Tag Archives: Richard Nixon

The Roberts Court Just Endorsed Many Of Nixon’s Most Corrupt Campaign Finance Schemes

Nixon 1973

CREDIT: AP

Think about this for a moment:  The Roberts Court has just endorsed campaign finance policies that were deemed criminal during the Nixon era.  Yet, in today’s corrupt political environment it’s “legal”.  The goal of the Roberts Court on these types of cases appears to be the eradication of all campaign finance statutes and legislation…

Think Progress

Mention the word “Nixonian,” and many people’s mind immediately go to Watergate, the break-in scandal and subsequent cover-up that eventually forced President Richard Nixon to resign. Watergate, however, was only one strand of a web of access-buying scandals, pay-to-play deals between the White House and major industries, and, in at least one instance, an effort to sell an ambassadorship for $100,000 in campaign donations.

And yet, according to an opinion Chief Justice John Roberts handed down last week, most of the Nixon Administration’s shadiest efforts to raise campaign funds do not qualify as “corruption.”

In 1974, a Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC) revealed activities that nearly anyone other than the five justices who signed on to Roberts’ decision in McCutcheon v. FEC would unreservedly describe as corruption. In the early 1970s, for example, the dairy industry desired increased price supports from the federal government, but Secretary of Agriculture Clifford Hardin has decided not to give these price supports to the milk producers. In response, various dairy industry organizations pledged $2 million to Nixon’s reelection campaign — and then developed a complicated scheme to launder the money through various small donations to “hundreds of committees in various states which could then hold the money for the President’s reelection campaign, so as to permit the producers to meet independent reporting requirements without disclosure.”

President Nixon later agreed to a meeting with industry representatives, and he decided to overrule his Agriculture Secretary. The milk producers got their price supports.

The Ervin report “identified over $1.8 million in Presidential campaign contributions as ascribable, in whole or in part, to 31 persons holding ambassadorial appointments from President Nixon, and stated that six other large contributors, accounting for $3 million, appear to have been actively seeking such appointment at the time of their contributions.” Outside of the White House, the report uncovered “lavish contributions” to members of Congress from both political parties. The chairman of one oil company testified that executives perceived campaign donations as a “calling card” that would “get us in the door and make our point of view heard.” American Airlines’ former chair testified that many companies funneled money to politicians “in response to pressure for fear of a competitive disadvantage that might result” if they did not buy off lawmakers. In essence, businesses feared that if they did not give money to elected officials, but their competitors did, then their competition could use their enhanced access to politicians in order to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

And yet, according to Chief Justice Roberts and his fellow conservative justices, hardly any of this activity amounts to “corruption.”

In its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court upheld much of, but not all of, the campaign finance regulation enacted to prevent the kind of corruption that infected the Nixon White House and the Nixon era Congress. Although Buckley held that political campaign contributions are a form a speech entitled to First Amendment protection, it also concluded that Congress may regulate these contributions in order to “limit the actuality and appearance of corruption resulting from large individual financial contributions.”

Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon, however, defines the word “corruption” so narrowly that it is practically meaningless. In order to survive constitutional review, Roberts writes, a campaign finance regulation must “target what we have called “quid pro quo” corruption or its appearance. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money.” Thus, unless a donor offers “dollars for political favors,” no corruption exists.

Lest there be any doubt, this narrow understanding of the word “corruption” does not capture cases where a donor pays off a politician in order to buy access. To the contrary, as the conservative justices held in Citizens United v. FEC, “[t]he fact that speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt” (The word “speakers,” in this context, is used to refer to what most people describe as “donors”). Indeed, Citizens United goes much further than simply claiming that dollars-for-access arrangements must be tolerated. At one point, it seems to view them as an objective good:

Favoritism and influence are not . . . avoidable in representative politics. It is in the nature of an elected representative to favor certain policies, and, by necessary corollary, to favor the voters and contributors who support those policies. It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors. Democracy is premised on responsiveness.

Democracy certainly is premised on responsiveness. Though it is a strange definition of democracy that offers enhanced responsiveness to those who can afford to pay for it.

Under Roberts’ definition of “corruption” most of the corrupt activities of the Nixon era would be viewed as completely benign. Though an isolated incident, where a Nixon fundraiser promised that the president would make a donor Ambassador to Trinidad in return for $100,000, would qualify as an explicit “dollars for political favors,” arrangement, politicians who give greater access to their donors are not “corrupt” under McCutcheon and Citizens United unless they offer to exchange votes or similar favors in return for campaign donations. Indeed, even the dairy industry’s $2 million bid for a meeting with President Nixon may not qualify as “corruption,” as Roberts understands the word, because there is some uncertainty as to whether the $2 million donation was “conditioned upon or ‘linked’ to” the President agreeing to make specific changes to the administration’s policies. According to Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon,

Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner “influence over or access to” elected officials or political parties. And because the Government’s interest in preventing the appearance of corruption is equally confined to the appearance of of quid pro quo corruption, the Government may not seek to limit the appearance of mere influence or access.

Very few Americans agree with Roberts’ view of what constitutes corruption. Indeed, a 2012 poll determined that 69 percent of Americans believed that the rule emerging from cases likeCitizens United allowing “corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption.” Just 15 percent disagreed.

To put that number in perspective, another poll found that fully 19 percent of Americans believe in “spells or witchcraft” — a full four percentage points more than those who agree with Roberts’ narrow definition of “corruption.”

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An alternative look at Obama’s 5th year

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks to media before a meeting with mayors and newly-elected mayors from across the country, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks to media before a meeting with mayors and newly-elected mayors from across the country, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. CAROLYN KASTER/AP PHOTO

MSNBC

When books are written on Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s unlikely that his fifth year will be celebrated as the pinnacle of his tenure. On the contrary, it’s a year White House officials almost certainly consider a disappointment.

But I’m not sure it’s been quite as disastrous as advertised.
For much of the Beltway, that the year was an abject disaster is a foregone conclusion. “Little seems to have gone right for the White House in 2013,” Politico noted this morning in a piece asking which administration had the worst fifth year. Obama had the “worst year in Washington,” the Washington Postconcluded last week. 2013 “has been a pretty terrible year” for the president, BuzzFeed argued.
This has been “Obama’s year from hell,” The New Republic said. When Beltway pundits aren’t comparing Obama’s 2013 to George W. Bush’s 5th year, they’re comparing it Richard Nixon’s 5th year.
Even the most enthusiastic Obama supporter would probably balk at heralding 2013 as a success, but the premise of these analyses seems a little excessive. Consider:
* Twice congressional Republicans threatened debt-ceiling default; twice Obama stood his ground; and twice the GOP backed down before Congress did real harm. The presidential leadership helped establish a new precedent that will benefit Obama, his successors, and the country.
* Congressional Republicans shut down the government to extract White House concessions. Obama and congressional Democrats stood firm and the GOP backed down.
* The Obama administration forged an international agreement to rid Syria of chemical weapons, struck a historic nuclear deal with Iran, and brought Israelis and Palestinians to the table together for the first peace talks in years.
* The economy has steadily improved, and 2013 is on pace to be the best year for U.S. job creation since 2005 and the second best since 1999.
* The “scandals” the media hyped relentlessly in the spring proved to be largely meaningless, and while the president’s poll numbers have dropped, his standing is roughly at the same point as two years ago.
Obviously, the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period got off to a dreadful start, though there’s ample evidence that the system is the midst of a dramatic turnaround. Besides, two months of website troubles do not a year make.
And while Obama’s detractors will also note that no major legislation was signed into law this year, that just makes 2013 identical to 2011 and 2012 – when Americans elected a divided government featuring radicalized Republicans unwilling to compromise, the fate of good bills with popular support was sealed, but that’s hardly the White House’s fault.
Songs will never be sung in honor of Obama’s fifth year, but the “year from hell” talk seems disproportionate given the circumstances. There have been disappointments, but 2013 just hasn’t been that bad.

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Is Obama really doing worse than Bush and Nixon?

Don’t count him out just yet. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Week

Obama’s dismal poll numbers are prompting dire predictions about what’s in store for the rest of his presidency

ne year removed from a comfortable reelection, President Obama is now mired in the lowest point, at least in terms of public opinion, of his presidency.

Battered by a litany of bad headlines, the president’s approval rating has steadily fallen throughout the year, bottoming out in recent weeks in the low 40s. In a Washington Post/ABC poll released Tuesday, 43 percent of Americans said they approved of Obama’s job performance, while 55 percent disapproved.

Given that trend, Obama’s sputtering presidency is drawing comparisons to those of other recent presidents with dismal second terms. In particular, Obama’s presidency has been likened to that of George W. Bush, since the two presidents’ second term approval ratings charted strikingly similar paths.

Yet while Obama’s woes are quite serious, the hyperventilating comparisons overstate the degree to which he is in jeopardy of going the way of his predecessor.

To be sure, Obama is hardly in a good place for a second-term president with an ambitious agenda. He’s been dogged all year by mini-scandals and a do-nothing Congress, culminating with the government shutdown and, more pertinently, ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout. In November, a majority of Americans for the first time didn’t find Obama honest or trustworthy, a supposed death knell, some said, for Obama’s presidency.

“Once a president suffers a blow such as Obama is now suffering with his health-care law, it is difficult to recover,” wrote the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, adding that it was “starting to look as if it may be game over.”

Yet one month removed from that prognostication, there are signs Obama could be about to turn his presidency around.

On an important front, Obama has already regained the public trust. According to the last Post/ABC survey, majorities once again think Obama is honest and that he understands the problems of regular people. And though Obama’s approval rating is still horrendous, it appears to have at least plateaued.

Focusing solely on the raw polling numbers though, sans context, Obama’s presidency does stack up unfavorably to that of past presidents. As Business Insider noted, Obama’s approval rating is the lowest for a president at this point in his tenure since Richard Nixon and his Watergate-fueled 29 percent.

But that’s a horribly misleading comparison.

Of the six presidents in between Nixon and Obama, three never served a second term and so don’t fit into the comparison. And though George W. Bush had a marginally better approval rating in thePost’s final 2005 poll, his numbers overall were right in line with where Obama’s are now. (Obama has a marginal edge at present per Gallup, for instance.)

So, to rephrase the Nixon comparison with those qualifiers in mind: Obama’s approval rating is tied or better than that of all but two of the past five two-term presidents through this point in their presidencies. Not so dire (and clicky) now, is it?

Moreover, these reductive comparisons tend to strip out necessary context.

Bush’s poll numbers post-Katrina only soured as the Iraq War worsened and Americans turned, in huge numbers, against it. Obama’s biggest blow this year, by contrast, was the terrible debut of his health care law.

A continuous stream of bad headlines about ObamaCare could certainly further erode the president’s standing over the coming months and years. On the other hand, ObamaCare is finally on the mend. Enrollments are, though still below expectations, surging. And polls have shown the public beginning to come around on the health care law. A recent CBS/New York Times survey, for instance, found that opposition to ObamaCare had dropped a net 19 points since mid-November.

If the health care law continues to improve — or if any number of other things go right for Obama — the doldrums of late 2013 could quickly become a thing of the past. It’s worth noting that Obama’s approval rating fell to near-record lows in 2011, only to surge back into positive territory one year later.

There is a tendency in political prognosticating to miss the forest for the trees. Obama is in historically bad shape now (trees), but his circumstances are vastly different from those of his predecessors, and there are signs he could soon turn things around (forest).

Obama does, after all, have three years left in the White House to chart his own course.

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‘Worse than Watergate’

The Watergate Hotel Washington, D.C., June 11, 2012.

The Watergate Hotel Washington, D.C., June 11, 2012.  JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Steve Benen, a contributor on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC website makes a few salient points about the GOP comparing every perceived left-wing failure to the Nixon Administration’s Watergate scandal.

The Rachel Maddow Show

On his Fox News show yesterday, Howard Kurtz sat down with Bob Woodward and raised a question that caught me a little off guard. “Some of the president’s detractors compare every scandal to Watergate, with which you are famously associated,” Kurtz said. “And so Benghazi is worse than Watergate. IRS was worse than Watergate. Bill Kristol said the other day that Obamacare is worse than Watergate in its impact on the country. What do you make of those comparisons?”

Woodward, who’s had some unfortunate missteps this year, didn’t fully answer, but the question itself gave me pause. Bill Kristol actually said the other day that Obamacare is worse than Watergate?
As it turns out, yes, he really said that.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich this week compared the Affordable Care Act to the Watergate Scandal, but Kristol believes the healthcare law is far worse. “Obamacare, honestly, will do more damage to the country than Watergate ever could’ve done,” he said.
“Watergate was stupid, petty, partisan politics and [President Richard] Nixon did misuse the Oval Office and then did lie to the country about it, probably. But, here, we have a legislative takeover of a huge percentage of the economy and an area that’s so important to everyone’s lives.”
Remember, as far as the Beltway is concerned, Bill Kristol is an establishment figure in good standing. He also thinks Nixon “probably” lied about the criminal conspiracy the disgraced president ran out of the Oval Office.
But it’s the comparison to the Affordable Care Act that’s uniquely incomprehensible. “Obamacare” critics are on safe ground complaining about a dysfunctional website, but to suggest that the law itself – a Republican-friendly reform system, which focuses on private insurers, cost-saving measures, and deficit reduction – is worse than the constitutional crisis posed by the Nixon White House becoming a criminal enterprise is plainly silly , even for contemporary Republicans.
That said, I suppose it’s time to updating a post from last year. Republicans are on record arguing:
* Benghazi is “worse than Watergate.” [Update: this argument comes up quite a bit.]
* The IRS story carries “echoes of Watergate.”
* National security leaks are “worse than Watergate.”
* A job offer for former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) might be “Obama’s Watergate.”
* “Fast and Furious” might be “Obama’s Watergate.”
* The White House’s relationship with Media Matters might be “Obama’s Watergate.”
* NSA surveillance is one of “Obamas Watergates.”
* The James Rosen controverys is “becoming Watergate.”
In May, Peggy Noonan was so overwhelmed by her contempt for the president, she wrote in her column, “We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate,” and then neglected to mention which perceived “scandal” she was even referring to.
If you’re thinking this overheated nonsense is hard to take seriously, you’re not the only one.

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10 things you need to know today: September 1, 2013

President Obama delivers a statement on Syria in the White House’s Rose Garden on August 31.

The Week

President Obama seeks Congressional approval for Syria action, Nelson Mandela heads home from the hospital, and more

1. President Obama intends to seek Congressional approval before striking Syria
President Obama postponed a military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack so he could seek authorization from Congress on Saturday. Since last week, Obama has considered taking action without the support of the UN, Congress, or Britain, a usually reliable partner. His decision leaves him at the political mercy of House Republicans, many of whom have already suggested that Syria’s civil war does not pose a threat to the U.S. As a result, he may be the first president in modern times to lose a vote on the use of force, much as British Prime Minister David Cameron did in Parliament last week. [The New York Times]
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2. Kerry: Syria tests positive for Sarin gas
Secretary of State John Kerry said on NBC’s Meet the Press, the first of his appearances on all five morning talk shows on Sunday, that samples tested by first responders in Damascus have tested positive for signs of Sarin gas exposure. The attacks killed 1,429 people on Aug. 21 in the suburbs of Damascus, according to estimates provided by Kerry. [Politico]
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3. Nelson Mandela heads home from the hospital
Nelson Mandela was discharged from a hospital in the South African capital of Pretoria on Sunday while still in critical condition and was driven in an ambulance to his Johannesburg home which has been set up to provide intensive care. The former South African president had been in the hospital since June 8 for a recurring lung infection. [USA TODAY]
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4. India convicts youngest gang rape suspect
An Indian juvenile court on Saturday handed down the first conviction in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, convicting a teenager of rape and murder and sentencing him to three years in a reform home. The victim’s family denounced the verdict, having insisted the teen be tried as an adult, and thus face the death penalty. The December attack sparked protests across the country and led to reforms of India’s antiquated sexual violence laws. [Associated Press]
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5. Infamous Nixon interviewer David Frost dies
Veteran British broadcaster David Frost, best known for his series of interviews with disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon, has died. He was 74. Frost’s interviews with Nixon were portrayed in the play and film “Frost/Nixon.” Nixon at one point let down his guard, telling Frost, “I’m saying when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” For many viewers, that moment cemented Nixon’s infamy. [CNN]
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6. Radiation readings spike at Japan’s Fukushima power plant
Radiation near a water tank at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has spiked 18-fold to over 100 millisieverts. Japanese law has set an annual radiation exposure safety threshold of 50 millisieverts for nuclear plant workers during normal hours. The Fukushima Daiichi power plant was devastated by a tsunami on March 11, 2011 that resulted in radioactive contamination and the evacuation of 160,000 people. [Reuters]
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7. Pope Francis selects veteran Vatican diplomat as his top aide
Pope Francis on Saturday tapped a veteran Vatican diplomat to be his top aide, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who became divisive in recent years amid the church’s scandals and financial probes. Archbishop Pietro Parolin, an Italian and former deputy foreign minister at the Vatican, will assume the post held since 2006 by Bertone on Oct. 15. Pope Benedict XVI, who retired earlier this year, had relied heavily on Bertone. [TIME]
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8. Diana Nyad begins her final attempt at a Cuba-Florida swim
Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad is reportedly doing well in her fourth attempt to swim between Cuba and Florida in three years. Nyad, 64, began swimming the Florida Strait, a dangerous stretch of sea, without a protective shark cage on Saturday. Her last attempt was cut short amid boat trouble, storms, unfavorable currents and box jellyfish stings. Nyad says this will be her final try. [ABC News]
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9. Scientists discover new “Grand Canyon” in Greenland
Scientists from the University of Bristol have discovered a canyon twice as long as the Grand Canyon in Greenland, the world’s largest island. The canyon is buried beneath as much as two miles of ice. “It really shows how little we know about what’s below the major continental ice sheets, like the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet,” Michael Studinger at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center says. [NPR]
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10. The New England Patriots release Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow left his third team in 18 months after the New England Patriots released him after 2 1/2 months on Saturday. The decision came as NFL teams faced a 6 p.m. deadline for reducing rosters to 53 men. The question now remains as to whether the former Heisman Trophy winner’s NFL career is over as well, following careers with both the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets. [The Washington Post]

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10 things you need to know today: August 22, 2013

Bradley Manning, who will now go by Chelsea Manning, is escorted out of a military court facility during the sentencing phase of his trial on Aug. 20.

 

The Week

New revelations dog the NSA, Bradley Manning says he wants to live as a woman, and more

1. SECRET-COURT JUDGE SLAMMED THE NSA IN A NEWLY REVEALED RULING
A secret court opinion in 2011 found that the National Security Agency unlawfully collected tens of thousands of e-mails and other internet communications between Americans. The NSA discovered and fixed the problem. In the ruling, released after a freedom of information request, Judge John D. Bates said the NSA had violated the Constitution, and that this was the third time the government had “disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program.” [Washington Post]
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2. MANNING SENTENCED TO 35 YEARS
A military judge on Wednesday sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret government documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in 2010. Manning could have received up to 90 years for his crimes, which included several violations of the Espionage Act. Manning could be eligible for release in about nine years, but plans to request a presidential pardon. In his letter to President Obama, he says he acted out of love for his country. [TIMEAssociated Press]
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3. MANNING SAYS HE WANTS TO LIVE AS A WOMAN
On the heels of yesterday’s sentencing, NBC’s Today show revealed this statement from Manning Thursday morning: “I am Chelsea Manning. I am female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.” Manning’s lawyers suggested in his trial that his identity struggle had been a factor in his decision to leak documents. [Today]
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4. FRANCE CALLS FOR USING FORCE AGAINST SYRIA OVER CHEMICAL WEAPONS
France on Thursday called for a “reaction with force” against Syria if an investigation confirmsopposition claims of a poison-gas attack that killed hundreds of people. Estimates put the death toll as high as 1,400. Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, demanded that Syria grant United Nations inspectors access to the site. Russia and China, however, shielded the Syrian government from a harsh condemnation in a Security Council meeting. Iran blamed rebels for the attack. [CNN]
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5. CHINA’S BO XILAI CLAIMS HE WAS FRAMED
Fallen former Chinese Politburo member Bo Xilai claimed he was framed as he publicly defended himself against corruption charges for the first time on Thursday. Bo was ousted last year and accused of taking $4.4 million in bribes. His trial, China’s most high-profile political scandal in decades, has pitted his supporters in China’s Maoist old guard against capitalist-leaning reformers. A guilty verdict is expected, but Bo’s spirited defense suggests he won’t go quietly. [Reuters]
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6. EGYPT SAYS MUBARAK WILL BE MOVED TO HOUSE ARREST
Egypt’s interim government has ordered former leader Hosni Mubarak to be put under house arrest, following a court ruling that he can no longer be held in prison on corruption charges. Many in Egypt fear that Mubarak’s release will trigger more violence between security forces and Islamists demanding the return of Mubarak’s freely elected successor, Mohamed Morsi. Mubarak still faces charges of complicity in the deaths of protesters before his 2011 downfall. [NBC News]
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7. UPS DROPS 15,000 WORKERS’ SPOUSES FROM ITS HEALTH PLAN
United Parcel Service is dropping the spouses of 15,000 workers from it health insurance plan. It blamed costs associated with ObamaCare — although some experts said the move looked like a simple attempt to save money. The change applies to spouses eligible for coverage from their own employers. The package delivery company told employees in a memo that their spouses should be covered by their employers, “just as UPS has a responsibility to offer coverage to you, our employee.” [New York Times]
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8. FINAL BATCH OF NIXON TAPES RELEASED
The Nixon Library on Wednesday released the last 340 hours of former President Richard Nixon’s once-secret White House tapes. The final batch — out of 3,700 hours in all — shows the sometimes reflective, sometimes profane Nixon struggling to contain the Watergate scandal in spring 1973. It also includes the only known recording of a superpower summit, in which Nixon told his Cold War Soviet counterpart, Leonid Brezhnev, that the world’s safety hinged on their mutual trust. [Los Angeles Times]
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9. FILNER REPORTEDLY REACHES SEXUAL-HARASSMENT SETTLEMENT
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner reportedly reached a settlement with city lawyers on Wednesday over the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by his former press secretary. The city filed a cross-claim to cover damages it could face. Officials didn’t disclose details, although an aide to one local elected official shared a video clip she said showed Filner leaving City Hall carrying boxes. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed resolution on Friday. [USA Today]
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10. ACTOR WENTWORTH MILLER OUTS HIMSELF IN PROTEST OF RUSSIAN LAW
Prison Break star Wentworth Miller outed himself Wednesday in a letter declining an invitation to the St. Petersburg International Film Festival in Russia. In the letter, the actor said that, “as a gay man,” he had to decline because of the country’s harsh new anti-gay rules. “I cannot in good conscience participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly,” he said. [Los Angeles Times]

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Ted Cruz’s personality problem

Ted Cruz's personality problem

Ted Cruz (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

From where I stand, Ted Cruz is an opportunistic nitwit.

He’s a freshman senator trying his best to make his mark with the Tea Party faithful.  It also appears he has ambitious plans to run for the presidency in 2016.

Salon

The Texas senator is annoying, and doesn’t play well with others. Will that doom his White House ambitions?

Ted Cruz has sharp elbows. He’s already managed to annoy several senators, including Republicans, and sparked what appears to be a full-on feud with Sen. John McCain. He also wants to be president of the United States.

Do those things go together? The political scientist John Sides thinks it’s going to be a problem:

[T]o be the Republican nominee, he’ll need the support of his Republican colleagues. The 2012 election once again showed—and despite some skepticism—that it is very hard to win the nomination unless you’re preferred by a substantial chunk, if not the vast majority of, your party’s leaders (as was Romney). Which is to say, it pays to be nice to your colleagues. It’s no guarantee, of course: junior Senator Hillary Clinton kept her head down and played nice, and lost the nomination. John McCain often irritated his fellow Republicans, but still mustered enough support within the party to win the nomination.

But political scientist Dave Hopkins isn’t so sure: “Don’t think this is the problem for Cruz that John does. McCain bugged Sen colleagues/leaders too; still won ’08 nom.”

They’re both right … but Dave is more right than John is.

It’s absolutely true, as Sides, the co-author of “The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election,” says, that party leaders are important to winning presidential nominations.

But U.S. political parties are large, and have many leaders, only a small subset of whom are members of Congress. There are governors, interest group leaders, activists, fundraisers and more. And there’s a long history, from Lyndon Johnson in 1960 through Dick Gephardt in 2004, of candidates being overrated because they had strong support within Congress – just as there’s a long history, from John Kennedy through John McCain, of candidates doing well with less-than-stellar Hill reputations (not just nomination winners; John Edwards wasn’t exactly a legislative dynamo but did just fine in 2004; Gary Hart had few supporters from the Senate and almost won in 1984).

To back up a bit: There are really two tests for whether someone is a viable candidate for a presidential nomination. The candidate needs to have conventional qualifications, and with (by then) four years in the Senate, Cruz qualifies, albeit just barely. The candidate must also be within the mainstream of his or her party when it comes to public policy. This is where Cruz is a solid step ahead of his fellow Tea Partying Sen. Rand Paul – as far as we know so far, Cruz doesn’t have major issue areas, such as Paul has with foreign policy, where there are important differences between him and key party groups.

Where Cruz stands out, and where he gets in trouble with his Senate colleagues, is in his willingness to use demagogic rhetoric (such as his McCarthyite and uncollegial attacks on Chuck Hagel) and his frequent attacks on “Republican leaders” or the “Republican establishment.” Many members of Congress may see themselves as targets of those attacks.

But outside of those chambers (and even to some extent within them), there’s a curious phenomenon in both parties, and usefully for Cruz it’s probably even stronger in the Republican Party than it is among Democrats: people who by any objective standards function as party leaders but nevertheless think of themselves as outsiders and rebels.

Indeed, in U.S. politics, hardly anyone thinks of themselves as the “establishment” – that’s always those other folks. Tea Party activists hardly think of themselves as “Republican leaders” no matter how long they have been active within GOP politics, and how many battles they’ve won. Neither do most talk show hosts – my guess is that Rush Limbaugh would throw a fit if you called him a longtime leader of the Republican establishment that he regularly mocks. Even within government, my guess is that there are a fair number of staffers in Barack Obama’s White House, even some who previously served with Bill Clinton, who think of themselves as infiltrating the establishment, not embodying it – and I’m sure the same was true during George W. Bush’s presidency, just as it was during Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s presidencies.

All of which means that even if those who actually have to work with Ted Cruz may not like him, there are still plenty of party leaders who may interpret his attacks on “party leaders” as those of an ally ready to help them storm the gates, rather than as a threat to their insider status.

None of which means that Cruz is a sure thing, of course. It’s very early, and it’s extremely difficult to predict how any of the candidates will navigate the process, or even what strengths and weaknesses they will reveal along the way. Cruz surely won’t be the only candidate vying for the support of Tea Party and other extreme conservative party elites. At this point, he’s a potentially viable candidate, no more.

But feuding with John McCain, and having other Republican senators uncomfortable with his excesses? That’s not going to be what stops him.

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MSNBC: Senator Kerry’s most important Senate appearance was in 1971

MSNBC – The Last Word

The next chapter in Sen. John Kerry’s story began Thursday during his confirmation hearings for his nomination to be Secretary of State. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell took a look back at John Kerry’s place in history when he testified on Capitol Hill before a panel nearly 40 years ago as a Vietnam War veteran and protester.

In his opening statement on Thursday, Kerry reminded himself of his own journey that began in 1971 when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971 and spoke about his  experience in war and as the leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

“Nearly 42 years ago, Chairman Fulbright first gave me the opportunity to testify before this committee during a difficult and divided time for our country,” Kerry said. “Today I can’t help but recognize that the world itself then was in many ways simpler, divided as it was along bi-polar, Cold War antagonism. Today’s world is more complicated than anything we have experienced.”

Speaking to the complex challenges the country is now facing, Kerry remained humble about the first time he set foot on Capitol Hill. “I’ll tell you, Mr. Chairman, when I first came to Washington to testify it was as a member of group who came to have their voices heard. That is what this place is all about.” Kerry was a former navy lieutenant in Vietnam, was wounded three times and awarded the silver star for heroism.

His well-received testimony received a standing ovation from peace demonstrators in the gallery; his speech also resonated with President Richard Nixon who ended the draft a year later.

O’Donnell praised Kerry as the ultimate war hero, saving countless of lives with his powerful testimony against the war.

“More than 2,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam after John Kerry’s testimony. That number was going to be higher, much higher. 5,000? 10,000? We’ll never know, but it was going to be higher if John Kerry hadn’t become the most “extremely effective” war protester in American history. The only war protester who the war President, Richard Nixon, thought was, in his words, ‘extremely effective.’”

O’Donnell thanked Kerry for his most valuable contribution to the country and the world.

There are men who are alive today in this country thanks to John Kerry. I have brothers who I believe are alive today, thanks to John Kerry. Some of you have brothers, fathers, uncles, who are alive today because of John Kerry. John Kerry didn’t play it safe when he testified against the war. He personally attacked by name President Johnson’s Defense Secretary–along with the other Democrats in the Johnson Administration who were the architects of that war… the so-called best and the brightest who failed the country and the world so miserably. On April 22, 1971, at the age of 27, John Kerry assured his position in American history, and that position is war hero…the most valuable kind of war hero, the hero who helps end the war.”

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Obama’s Margin of Victory is Now Bigger than Both of George W. Bush’s Wins

Good news for the POTUS historically and contextually…

PoliticusUSA

As of now, President Obama’s popular margin of victory is bigger than both of George W. Bush’s election wins in 2000 and 2004.

According to the numbers compiled by David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report,President Obama now leads Mitt Romney 50.81%-47.48% in the popular vote. President Obama’s popular vote margin is now bigger than both of the last two successful Republican presidential elections. In 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore, 48.38%-47.87%. In 2004, George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in the popular vote, 50.73%-48.27%. Obama is currently posting the biggest margin of victory since Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole, 49.24%-40.71% in 1996.

What was supposed to be a nail biter of an election turned out to be only the 13th closest election in US history. Obama’s margin of victory was bigger than four other modern era (since 1952) winning candidates. George W. Bush (2000 & 2004), Jimmy Carter (1976), and Richard Nixon (1968) all had smaller margins of victory than Obama did.

This means that the bluster coming from the right about President Obama not having a mandate is nothing more than political hot air. Due to the fact that many of the yet to be counted ballots are in New York and California, President Obama’s margin of victory is expected to grow.

While Mitt Romney’s 47% popular vote percentage is a juicy bit of political karma, the real story here is the political staying power and popularity of Barack Obama.

This president won reelection by a sizable margin despite a still recovering economy and an opposition party that was determined to obstruct his agenda. One can only imagine the size and scope of Obama’s reelection victory if the economy had been a bit better, or Republicans had put “country first.”

If you really want an answer to the question of President Obama’s potential mandate, pay attention to the deeds — not the words — of his political opponents. Judging from their post-election behavior, Congressional Republicans have been knocked back on their heels by Obama’s victory. They now find themselves trapped between two very different and opposing strategies. Republicans are trying to sound a moderate tone by backing away from the Norquist tax pledge, while at the same time opposing raising any new taxes.

As the nation draws closer to the fiscal cliff, this will be an impossible position to maintain. Republicans are posturing on no new tax hikes because they have to, or their base will go into full rebellion. The reality is that taxes will go up whether Republicans agree to it or not. Either they will send a deal to the president that includes a tax hike on the wealthy, or taxes will go up when the nation tumbles off the fiscal cliff.

Obama not only achieved a larger political victory than expected, but he is parlaying that momentum into a potential series of victories that could define the course of the country and his presidential legacy.

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Mitt Romney tells 533 lies in 30 weeks, Steve Benen documents them

It’s so much easier to be truthful…One would think that an allegedly devout Christian, regardless of denomination, would never prefer power above truth.

H/t: Don Babets

Patheos - Fred Clark

I’ve written about or linked to a great deal here “chronicling Mitt’s mendacity” — to borrow Steven Benen’s phrase.

Mitt Romney says many, many things that are not true. He says this despite being in possession of the correct facts of the matter.

Which is to say that Mitt Romney lies. A lot. He lies more than any other national candidate for office in my lifetime. And I was born before the Nixon administration.

This is documented. Proven. Validated, verified, demonstrated, catalogued and quantified. Mitt Romney lies.

Here are 30 — 30! — of Benen’s weekly “chronicling” posts. These are all backed up and sourced. These are not assertions, interpretations or allegations. These are facts, actual instances.

Over the past 30 weeks, Mitt Romney has told lie after lie after lie: IIIIIIIVVVI,VIIVIIIIXXXIXIIXIIIXIVXVXVIXVIIXVIIIXIXXXXXIXXII,XXIIIXXIVXXVXXVIXXVIIXXVIIIXXIXXXX.

Click those links. Read the lists. List after list of lie after lie. Hundreds of them — 533, to be exact, although Benen does not make any claim to providing a comprehensive chronicle.

This is unprecedented. “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, said.

This has produced what James Fallows calls the “post-truth” age — a relentlessly dishonest onslaught of brazen falsehoods with which the media and the political system are struggling to cope. What do you do when every article, every “fact-check,” every arbiter denounces a lie and corrects it, but then a politician just keeps repeating it?

It’s remarkable to behold.

One of the weirder aspects of this for me is watching this unfold in the politically conservative culture of my evangelical world. The most partisan evangelical conservatives are also those most likely to rant against “relativism” and to trumpet their status as defenders of “absolute truth.” Those same folks will dismiss this post — and all 30 of Benen’s posts above — as mere partisan attacks without ever bothering to examine the 533 factual instances of Mitt’s mendacity, chronicled.

That’s the only cognitive defense they have, I guess. Jam fingers in ears and shout la-la-la-you’re-being-partisan!

Because, you see, the fact that Mitt Romney said something he knew to be false is apartisan fact. And the fact that he has done this at least 533 times in the past 30 weeks is also partisan.

I suppose the other approach for Romney defenders who cannot bear to face the fact of those 533 facts will be to angrily pore over all of Benen’s lists, reading each one with a lawyerly eye.

Have at it. Please. Cherry-pick. Spin. Split hairs. Hand-wave away whichever lies you wish as mere misdemeanors and not full-fledged felonies against honesty.

But how many of those charges do you think you can get dismissed? 10 percent? 20 percent? Maybe, if you’re that sort of person and you work really hard at it — if you’re willing to get even more pedantic and semantic and technical than even you are usually comfortable with — maybe you could half convince yourself that 50 percent of those lies somehow shouldn’t really count against Romney.

That still leaves more than 260 lies. That still leaves Mitt Romney as a convicted liar, 260 times over. And at that point you’ll have to join your friends with their fingers in their ears.

But you’ll still know.

Because everyone knows. Mitt Romney lies. A lot. That is what he doesThat is who he is.

And friend or foehe does not care if you know it.

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