Richard Nixon

10 things you need to know today: January 4, 2015

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee | Darren McCollester / Getty Images

The Week

Mike Huckabee prepares for a 2016 run, the first popularly elected black senator dies, and more.
1. Mike Huckabee leaves Fox News to consider 2016 bid

Fox News host Mike Huckabee announced Saturday he would leave his TV show while weighing whether to mount another White House bid. The former Arkansas governor, who fell short to eventual nominee John McCain in 2008, said the speculation surrounding his intentions was not fair to Fox and that the “honorable thing to do at this point” was leave the network. Huckabee said he would make a final decision on a 2016 bid by late spring. [Politico]

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2. Edward Brooke, first elected black senator, dies

Edward W. Brooke, the first African-American ever elected by popular vote to serve in the U.S. Senate, died Saturday at the age of 95. A Republican, Brooke won his first Senate election in Massachusetts in 1966, and later became the first Republican senator to call for President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The only two black senators to precede Brooke, Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram R. Revels, were both elected by Mississippi’s legislature — not the people — in the 1870s. [The Boston Globe]

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3. Israel withholds Palestinian tax payment

Israel on Saturday froze about $127 million in tax payments in retaliation for Palestine applying to join the International Criminal Court. Palestine moved on Friday to join the ICC in hopes of addressing alleged Israeli war crimes. Collected by Israel on behalf of Palestine, the tax revenue makes up more than half of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget. [The Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera]

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4. North Korea blasts U.S. over Sony hack sanctions

North Korea on Sunday struck back at the U.S. over new sanctions aimed at punishing the Hermit Kingdom for its alleged role in the massive Sony cyberattack. Imposed Friday, the sanctions target three companies and 10 government officials the U.S. claims had a hand in the hack. In response, North Korea continued to deny any involvement in the breach, instead accusing Washington of “groundlessly stirring up bad blood” and maintaining an “inveterate repugnancy and hostility” toward the Pyongyang. [BBC]

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5. Funeral to be held Sunday for slain NYPD officer

The funeral of New York Police Department officer Wenjian Liu, who was killed in the line of duty last month, will be held Sunday in Brooklyn. Thousands of police officers and politicians from around the country are expected to attend the memorial service. At a funeral last weekend for Rafael Ramos, the other officer killed in the December ambush, some members of the city’s police force turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio, highlighting lingering tension between City Hall and the NYPD. [CBS]

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6. U.N. report: 12,300 civilian deaths in Iraq last year

An estimated 12,282 civilians died last year in violence across Iraq, making it the deadliest year there since 2007, according to the United Nations. The bulk of the deaths came later in the year as ISIS gained ground in the country. “This is a very sad state of affairs,” Nickolay Mladenov, a U.N. representative for Iraq, said. [The Los Angeles Times]

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7. Boko Haram abducts dozens in Nigeria

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram last week abducted about 40 men and boys from a village in northern Nigeria. The group seized its captives on Dec. 31, but news of the abduction didn’t trickle out for a few days due to faulty communications infrastructure destroyed in previous Boko Haram attacks. [CNN]

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8. Pope Francis names 15 new cardinals

Pope Francis on Sunday named 15 new cardinals from disparate places around the globe, saying the selections were intended to “show the indelible tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world.” Francis tabbed cardinals from Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Tonga, among others. [The Associated Press]

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9. Oregon, Ohio, to change name for college football championship

The town of Oregon, Ohio, says it will temporarily change its name ahead of next week’s college football title game. The first ever College Football Playoff National Championship pits the Oregon Ducks against the Ohio State Buckeyes, which prompted two Oregon — the suburb, not the state — natives to petition the city council for a name change. Oregon City Administrator Michael Beazley told the Toledo Free Press the town had not settled on a new name yet, but that they were “going to do something” in the next few days. [Toledo Free Press, ESPN]

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10. Opry star Jimmy Dickens dead at 94

Jimmy Dickens, a Country Music Hall of Fame member known best for his decades-long presence at the Grand Ole Opry, died Friday at a hospital in Nashville after suffering a stroke. He was 94 years old. Standing at just 4-foot-11, the country music star earned the nicknames “Little Jimmy Dickens,” and, as he called himself, “Mighty Mouse in Pajamas.” [The New York Times]

Another “10 Things” List

H/t: Ted

Friday Fox Follies – A Shakespearean Festival

fox news canadaedited

The death of Ben Bradlee got me thinking about what passes for the sorry state of journalism these days. Watergate reporting may have been the high-water mark, but that should also remind us that Richard Nixon’s media architect was Roger Ailes, current president of the Fox “News” Channel, the low water mark.
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It Gets Worse For Republicans As Mitch McConnell Busted For Using Non-Kentucky Woman in Ad

mcconnell-frown

Mitch McConnell has done it again. The fading Kentucky Republican has gone beyond paying people to attend his rallies to having a non-Kentucky woman appear in his ad touting female support for Sen. McConnell in Kentucky.
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Open Carry Enthusiasts Plan On Marching Through St. Louis Carrying Pistols And Rifles

open carry texas

A gun rights activist from Ohio plans to lead a march through downtown St. Louis on Saturday afternoon. The walk through the heart of the downtown area will start at 1 PM local time and consist of other open carry enthusiasts.
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Democratic Senator Bob Casey Wants To Restore The Voting Rights Act

Bob Casey

On Friday, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) held a news conference where he called on his colleagues to restore the gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act.
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Georgia GOP Senate Candidate Tries To Obstruct Camera Taping Him Signing A Woman’s Hip

David Perdue signing hip/torso of young woman

Down in the polls and disgraced as a proud outsourcer, Republican David Perdue decided the best course of action was to sign a young woman’s hip/torso at a rally on Thursday.
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New Polls Show Democrats Have All The Momentum In Georgia Senate Race

michelle nunn momentum

A new CNN/ORC Poll is the latest in a long line of polls to show Democrat Michelle Nunn leading David Perdue in the Georgia Senate race. More importantly, the CNN poll shows that Nunn would win a runoff between the two candidates.
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Republican Senate Wave Is Disintegrating As Democrats Again Outraise Republicans

Obama and the Democrats Set a Wall Street Reform Trap for the GOP

Senate Democrats have outraised Republicans again, with the DSCC taking in $6.5 million to the NRSC’s $6 million in the first two weeks of October.
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Senator Ted Cruz’s Deputy Chief Of Staff Says Obamacare Is To Blame For Ebola

obama-wtf

After it had been confirmed that a doctor in New York City had tested positive for Ebola, conservatives reignited their fear mongering and Obama-blaming over the disease. Among them was Nick Muzin, Deputy Chief of Staff for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
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In One Fell Swoop Obama Announces Solar Jobs For 50,000 Veterans and Takes On Climate Change

President Obama Delivers Commencement Address At West Point

Since Republicans have relentlessly obstructed jobs programs for America’s Veterans, the President took it upon himself to enact the program at American military bases and provide job training for at least 50,000 veterans.
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With Clinton and Obama Inbound, Scott Walker is on the Ropes in Wisconsin

Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker is reeling in Wisconsin. Will Tea Party extremism trump Clinton and Obama support for Mary Burke?
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10 things you need to know today: October 22, 2014

Bradlee being awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Bradlee being awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Week

Legendary editor Ben Bradlee dies, North Korea frees one of three captive Americans, and more

1. Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee dies at 93
Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who presided over the Watergate reporting that brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency, died on Tuesday. He was 93. Bradlee took over leadership of the Post in 1965, and helped make the newspaper one of the world’s great dailies. Bradlee was widely praised for making tough calls, including publishing the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam war. “For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy,” President Obama said. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

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2. North Korea frees American Jeffrey Fowle
North Korea unexpectedly released Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans held by North Korea, on Tuesday, six months after he was arrested for leaving a Bible in a club in the reclusive communist country. Fowle, 56, was first flown on a U.S. military plane from Pyongyang to Guam, then to his home state, Ohio, where he landed early Wednesday. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to say how Fowle, a municipal worker who had traveled on a tourist visa, was freed, to avoid complicating efforts to get the other two captive Americans released. [Los Angeles Times]

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3. U.S. tightens Ebola safeguards on travelers from West Africa
The federal government tightened its precautions against Ebola on Tuesday by requiring travelers from the three hardest hit West African countries to enter the U.S. through one of five major airports performing enhanced screening for the virus. People flying into the U.S. from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea will be limited to New York’s John F. Kennedy, Washington Dulles, Newark, Atlanta, or Chicago O’Hare international airports, starting Wednesday. [Reuters]

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4. Hong Kong activists debate government officials on democracy
Hong Kong pro-democracy activists debated city officials on Tuesday in an event intended to jumpstart talks on ending three weeks of demonstrations demanding free elections and the resignation of the Chinese-controlled former British colony’s leader, Leung Chun-ying. Protest leaders said they didn’t believe the debate, beamed live on big screens around the city, would lead to change, but that it would show viewers “the difference between right and wrong.” City leaders said there was room for negotiation. [Sydney Morning Herald]

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5. Ebola vaccine trials could start in January
The World Health Organization said Tuesday it hopes to begin testing two experimental Ebola vaccines as early as next January. The vaccines will be given to more than 20,000 health-care workers in West Africa’s hardest hit areas. Even if a vaccine works, it would not be expected to be enough to stop the outbreak, partly because there won’t be enough to immunize everyone. An effective vaccine would, however, provide crucial protection to doctors and nurses fighting the disease. So far, more than 200 of them have died. [The Associated Press]

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6. Colorado teens suspected of trying to join ISIS
The FBI is investigating whether three Colorado teenage girls detained in Germany were trying to reach Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS. The teenagers — all of whom are under 18 — were persuaded by a contact in Germany to leave home “to fulfill what they believe is some vision that has been put out on a slick media campaign,” a law enforcement official said. The families of the girls — two of Somali descent, the other of Sudanese descent — reported them missing last week. [Fox News]

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7. Wyoming becomes 32nd state to legalize gay marriage
Wyoming filed a legal notice on Tuesday declaring that it would not defend its recently overturned gay-marriage ban, making the state the 32nd in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision means that county clerks can immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and state officials will have to recognize same-sex couples married in other states. Wyoming became a focal point in the gay-rights debate after Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was killed in a 1998 hate crime there. [MSNBC]

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8. Michael Sam cut from the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad
The Dallas Cowboys cut rookie Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, from the team’s practice squad on Tuesday. Dallas had given Sam, a linebacker, a shot after he was waived in August by the St. Louis Rams, who drafted him out of Missouri in the seventh round. Sam said he would not give up. “While this is disappointing, I will take the lessons I learned here in Dallas and continue to fight for an opportunity to prove that I can play every Sunday,” Sam tweeted. [USA Today]

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9. NBC cameraman declared Ebola-free
Freelance NBC News cameraman Ashoka Mukpo — the fifth Ebola patient flown to the U.S. for treatment — was told he could leave a Nebraska hospital on Wednesday after a blood test showed he was free of any sign of Ebola. Mukpo, 33, contracted the virus while working for NBC in Liberia covering West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 4,500 people. “Recovering from Ebola is a truly humbling feeling,” Mukpo said, according to the hospital. “Too many are not as fortunate and lucky as I’ve been.” [NBC News]

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10. Giants beat Royals in World Series opener
The San Francisco Giants trounced the Kansas City Royals, 7-1, on Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series. Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner held the Royals to just three hits in seven innings, helping lead the Giants to their seventh straight victory in World Series games. The Royals won a spot in their first World Series in 29 years with a surprising sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. “We didn’t come in here and expect to sweep the San Francisco Giants,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. [USA Today]

Check Out This FBI Memo Citing John Lennon’s “Revolutionary Activities”

John Lennon speaks outside of a Manhattan immigration office prior to a deportation hearing. Ron Frehm/AP

Mother Jones

Richard Nixon apparently didn’t like the beloved Beatle that much.

Today (October 9th actually) would have been John Lennon’s 74th(!) birthday had he not been gunned down on the sidewalk outside of The Dakota in December 1980. Before his death, his political activism and pacifism endeared him to millions, but certainly not to the United States government. Check out this May 1972 FBI memo re: “Security matter dash revolutionary activities” with notes from the deportation hearings the Nixon administration was throwing at him:

Happy Birthday, John!

10 things you need to know today: July 11, 2014

Palestinians look over the remains of a house destroyed by an Israeli missile strike. 

Palestinians look over the remains of a house destroyed by an Israeli missile strike. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Week

President Obama pushes a cease-fire in Israel, HIV returns to a child thought cured, and more

1. Obama offers to broker truce between Israel and Hamas
President Obama offered to help start cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas in a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday. Obama condemned Hamas’ firing of rockets into Israel and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. Rocket fire continued early Friday from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. One rocket struck a gas station in southern Israel, igniting a fire and seriously injuring one person. Israel has hit Gaza with more than 1,000 air strikes, killing at least 98 people. [The Jerusalem PostThe Associated Press]

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2. HIV returns in girl believed cured by early treatment
A Mississippi girl who appeared cured of H.I.V. after aggressive drug treatment as a newborn is now showing signs of infection, federal health officials announced Thursday. The March 2013 report that the child, now 4, appeared cured raised hopes that aggressive early treatment could reverse infections in babies, and possibly adults. Dr. Hannah B. Gay, the University of Mississippi pediatrician who started the child on antiretroviral drugs, said the setback was “like a punch in the gut.” [The New York Times]

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3. Court rules Boulder’s clerk can continue issuing same-sex marriage licenses
A state judge in Colorado on Thursday ruled that Boulder County’s clerk can continue issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Clerks in two more counties — Denver and Pueblo — promptly said they would do the same. Boulder’s clerk, Hillary Hall, began issuing the licenses on June 25 when a federal appeals court found neighboring Utah’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, although the ruling is on hold pending further appeal. Another federal judge struck down Colorado’s gay marriage ban on Wednesday. [Reuters]

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4. Kerry tries to referee Afghanistan’s electoral crisis
Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kabul early Friday to attempt to mediate a dispute over Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election, urging Afghans to let an audit of the vote count settle allegations of fraud. The initial count gave former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai 56.4 percent of the vote. His rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, refused to accept the result. The showdown threatens to disrupt 13 years of U.S. democracy building in the country. [USA Today]

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5. White House tape reveals Nixon thought gays were “born that way”
Former president Richard Nixon believed gay people are “born that way,” according to newly unearthed White House recordings posted by Vanity Fair on Thursday. That view was moderately progressive for 1971, and the late president said in the recording that he was “the most tolerant person” in his administration, but then he went on to describe being gay as “a problem” the government should not condone. Nixon also said “smart girls” don’t swear, because then “all femininity is gone.” [New York PostVanity Fair]

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6. Germany kicks out U.S. intelligence official over double agents
Germany on Thursday ordered the U.S. embassy’s intelligence chief to leave the country after investigators in Berlin interviewed a man suspected of passing defense ministry information to the U.S. A week earlier an officer in Germany’s foreign intelligence service said he had sold classified information to the CIA. German leaders were already frustrated with Washington over revelations on U.S. spying revealed in secret documents leaked by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. [Irish Times]

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7. Court finds Florida redistricting unfairly favors GOP
A Florida judge ruled Thursday that the state’s congressional redistricting map favored Republicans and was therefore invalid, a decision that could impact 2014 elections. Leon County Judge Terry P. Lewis wrote in a scathing opinion that the GOP-controlled Legislature had “made a mockery” of the 2012 redistricting process, which was supposed to produce fair districts under state constitutional amendments voters approved in 2010. League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre Macnab called the ruling “a great day for democracy.” [Los Angeles Times]

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8. FTC sues Amazon over kids’ in-app purchases
The Federal Trade Commission is suing Amazon over unauthorized in-app purchases made by children, according to court papers filed Thursday. Amazon last week said it would not agree to a settlement with the FTC because it had already given refunds to parents who complained. The dispute centers on charges racked up by kids playing games on Kindle devices, due to confusion about whether the money they are spending is virtual or real. The complaint cites a woman billed $358.42 for her daughter’s in-app spending. [The Associated Press]

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9. Polar vortex returns for summer
A wave of unseasonably cold air reminiscent of January’s polar vortex is due to hit the North and Northeast next week with temperatures as much as 30 degrees below normal. Morning temperatures could dip into the 40s in some areas as the cold blast from Alaska crosses the Great Lakes en route to the East. Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters blames the chill on Typhoon Neoguri, which triggered a chain reaction of weather shifts. [The Washington PostNBC News]

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10. Game of Thrones stands out with 19 Emmy nominations
HBO’s Game of Thrones led the 2014 Emmy Award nominations with 19 nods. The FX miniseriesFargo was close behind with 18 nominations. Other noteworthy shows included AMC’s Breaking Bad with 16 nominations for its final season, and Netflix’s House of Cards with 13. PBS’s Downton Abbey and HBO’s True Detective each got 12. It was clearly another big year for cable — HBO piled up 99 nominations, compared to 47 for CBS, 46 for NBC, and 37 for ABC. [NPR]

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.”

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.

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.

‘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.

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]