|5:08 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Marco Rubio is pushing President Obama to strengthen Russian sanctions. “Russia’s efforts to foment unrest in eastern Ukraine are tantamount to another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Assertions from Moscow that Russia is not involved hold little credibility, particularly in the wake of its unlawful annexation of Crimea," the Florida senator writes in a statement released by his office.
“The Obama administration must immediately increase sanctions on Russia. Sector-based sanctions should begin to be imposed and President Putin’s own financial assets, and those of his associates, targeted. By delaying the most significant penalties, the United States and our allies have unfortunately sent the message to Russia that there will be little cost to pay for this type of behavior. We should also stand with Ukraine as the interim government attempts to deal with these provocations. This includes immediately providing the lethal assistance they requested weeks ago. We also need to take measures to reassure our allies in Central and Eastern Europe by deploying more alliance assets to their territories to reinforce our NATO commitments to their security.
“Armed takeovers of foreign territory by masked men are the crude tactics of bygone regional powers, not the actions of 21st century nations. Until Russia is convinced of a real cost of its current course of action, I fear that Ukraine’s stability will continue to be undermined. I urge the President to act without delay.”
3:02 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott of Texas is more popular among female voters than his Democratic opponent, state senator Wendy Davis, according to a new poll from PPP. The Democratic polling firm found 51 percent of Texas voters support Abbott while 37 percent support Davis. That's not surprising, since Texas is a solidly Republican state.
But Davis, who rose to fame last year by filibustering a bill in the Texas legislature that would restrict late-term abortions, isn't just losing among voters overall. Just 41 percent of women voters say they support Davis, with 49 percent saying they support Abbott. Abbott also has positive favorability among women voters (35 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable) while Davis is underwater on that metric with women (32 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable).
Texas voters also disapprove of Barack Obama's job as president, with 58 percent saying they disapprove and just 36 percent saying they approve. The numbers aren't much better for Obama with women voters (56 percent and 38 percent, respectively).
Abbott, the attorney general, recently told THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an interview why he thought Davis was not doing well in her race against him:
Abbott mostly ignores his opponent. In his primary night victory party in San Antonio, he doesn’t mention Davis at all. With some coaxing in our interview, he simply notes that she’s too liberal for Texas.
“After Senator Davis got into the race, she realized, wait a second, Texas is a little bit different than the narrow focus that she had,” he says. “As a conservative who has been involved in running the state of Texas for more than a decade, I know where Texans stand on issues. Where they stand is where I stand on issues.”
2:25 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By ELLEN BORK
At the beginning of this month, two prominent Hong Kong democracy advocates visited Washington to seek America’s support.
Vice President Joseph Biden “dropped by” to meet Anson Chan, a former top civil servant under both the British and Chinese administrations, and Martin Lee, a distinguished barrister and founder of the territory’s democratic party. The White House press office gave a brief “read out” of the meeting citing America’s “long standing support for democracy in Hong Kong and for the city’s high degree of autonomy.”
Considering China’s predictably negative reaction, and the low priority given to supporting democracy abroad by the Obama administration, the White House reception for the Hong Kong democrats was respectable. At the same time, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Lee might share the sentiments a Russian democrat opposition politician expressed after a meeting with President Obama: “less than what we wanted but more than what we expected.” What Hong Kong’s democrats need is for the U.S. to explicitly support democratic elections for the chief executive and a fully democratic legislature.
Beijing is expected to decide sometime this year on changes to how the chief executive will be chosen in 2017, but few expect real progress toward democracy. Beijing set up the post-1997 government it wanted so that it could rely on pro-Beijing “patriots” who “love Hong Kong” to run Hong Kong. Under the system devised by Beijing, the chief executive is chosen in a manner reflecting “the actual situation” in Hong Kong. Far from full democracy, Beijing’s “ultimate goal” is for Hong Kong people to vote on candidates selected by a “broadly representative nominating committee” and in keeping with “the principle of gradual and orderly progress.” In the past, such gradual progress has meant expanding the committee that rubber stamps Beijing’s choice of chief executive from 800 to 1,200.
Beijing’s interpretation of the “actual situation” differs from what Hong Kong people want and is at odds with democratic principles. At the same time, without legitimacy and accountability, Hong Kong’s government is growing weaker and concerns about the future stability rising. There are increasing tensions between Hong Kong citizens and Mainland Chinese residents, deterioration in press freedom, and incidents of violence against journalists. The possibility of provocations orchestrated by Beijing to justify a clampdown, including the imposition of an anti-subversion law, is real, especially during civil disobedience campaign planned for this summer.
Beijing likely prefers the problems of authoritarian rule to allowing democracy. In the past, American leaders have tried to reason with Beijing that greater liberalization is in Beijing’s interest – but Communist party leaders tend not to see things the same way as elected democrats.
1:26 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The crisis in Ukraine has not reached the dreaded point where it turns into a shooting war. And likely it will not. So we hear no urgent analysis of things like objectives, interior lines, unity of command, logistical staying power, the durability of alliances, and the other matters that have been the concern of European strategists since the days of Napoleon. Germany is not going to invade Russia and visa versa.
But there are analogous strategic considerations and on most of them, Russia has the advantage. It faces a weak alliance – NATO – that counts on the member with the least at stake in this crisis for its existence and effectiveness. The United States picks up 75 percent of NATO’s tab and depends on Russia for … nothing.
The alliance is not only structurally weak, it also suffers from its lack of single, centralized command. Germany’s Merkel may be NATO's strongest leader but she will be as busy keeping her allies in line as she is in dealing with the opposition. Vladimir Putin is not similarly handicapped.
Then, there is the question of will and stamina. If it is to be a war of economic attrition, then, as Gerald F. Seib points out in the Wall Street Journal, economic sanctions cut both ways and:
Europeans are much less enthusiastic about economic sanctions than are Americans, because they have more to lose in the process. Their economy is more tied to Russia’s, so their companies have more to lose if economic ties are cut.
Some 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia. If NATO clamps down on the flow of money through banks, Russian can retaliate by cutting the flow of gas, by pipeline, to nations where it gets cold. Ukrainian independence and sovereignty are nice in the abstract but don’t keep citizens warm in the winter.
One suspects that Mr. Putin, meanwhile, is prepared to have his people suffer the pain of stock market losses and higher interest rates if that is what it takes.
12:34 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Writing in the Daily Beast, Mark McKinnon argues that a Hillary/Jeb contest in 2016 would be good for the nation. (Not to mention, good for business.) His arguments amount to the usual pap, made without much rigor or, even, conviction. That is, Hillary & Jeb are both experienced. Not too partisan. Real policy chops. So on.
But there is one little item that catches your otherwise flagging attention. Mr. McKinnon asserts that in such a contest, voters would be treated to
Donnez mois une breaks, Mon, one thinks. Does not Mr. McKinnon realize that Messrs Lincoln and Douglas actually a) disagreed on what one might call “the big issues,” b) had the ability to say things in compelling fashion, and c) actually believed in what they said.
But, then, they suffered from not having access to the services of the kind of consultants available to Jeb and Hillary.
11:41 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Attorney General Eric Holder tells the Huffington Post that he had "youthful experimentation" of marijuana. In other words, he smoked pot in college.
As the liberal website reports:
Asked about his own personal history with marijuana, Holder told HuffPost he used pot in college and had characterized it as "youthful experimentation" in background checks for various federal nominations.
"Yeah, I certainly have said in my four, five, whatever number confirmation hearings I've had that you fill out the forms, that I had 'youthful experimentation' -- I think was the phrase that we were told to use -- when I was in college," Holder said.
Holder also told the Huffington Post he's "cautiously optimistic" about legalization in Washington and Colorado:
Based on the reports he has received out of Washington and Colorado, Holder also said he thinks things are going about how he'd expected them to go.
"I think what people have to understand is that when we have those eight prioritiesthat we have set out, it essentially means that the federal government is not going to be involved in the prosecution of small-time, possessory drug cases, but we never were," Holder said. "So I'm not sure that I see a huge change yet, we've tried to adapt to the situation in Colorado with regard to how money is kept and transacted and all that stuff, and try to open up the banking system."
"But I think, so far, I'm cautiously optimistic," Holder continued. "But as I indicated to both governors, we will be monitoring the progress of those efforts and if we conclude that they are not being done in an appropriate way, we reserve our rights to file lawsuits."
10:59 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Democratic senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is in a tough reelection battle because of her support for Obamacare. So its not surprising her latest TV ad focuses on the one high-profile fight she's had with the Obama administration, over oil and gas exploration. The 60-second spot features people watching Landrieu arguing for expanding energy exploration in Louisiana and criticizing Barack Obama for its restrictionist policies. Watch the video below:
Most of the clips the ad features are from her appearances on local and cable TV news. But watch the clips of Landrieu around the video's halfway point. They feature the senator speaking in what looks like a congressional hearing, excoriating a faceless witness. "They have to sit here and listen to the federal government say, 'We can't share a penny with you'? I will not rest until this injustice is fixed," Landrieu says. "Do you think there are a bunch of fairy godmothers out there who just wave a magic wand?"
The clips feature a chyron at the bottom of the screen for a program called "Eye on Washington." Below that is the headline, "Obama administration says it won't support increased oil and gas revenue sharing." The problem is that the video clip doesn't come from C-SPAN or any other real TV show. In fact, the clip is a reenactment of a real committee hearing from last year, viewable here. The relevant lines that Landrieu recreated for the campaign ad begin at about 2 hours and 30 minutes into the video.
The reenactment fixes a verbal flub from Landrieu's original speech. Originally, she said "Do you think there are a bunch of fairy godmothers out there that just wish a magic wand?" The line is cleaned up for the campaign ad.
There are clues from the ad that the clips of her talking tough on energy are from a reenactment. Landrieu is wearing a different jacket and has a different haircut. Her nameplate that reads "Sen. Landrieu" is a larger size, and the aides sitting behind her are different, in a room that is clearly not the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing room.
Landrieu is in a tough reelection battle against Republican congressman Bill Cassidy and other candidates in Louisiana's open primary. If she is unable to break 50 percent support in the November primary, she'll most likely face Cassidy in the December runoff. In the Real Clear Politics average for the head-to-head matchup between Cassidy and Landrieu, Cassidy holds a 2.4-point lead.
Hosted by Michael Graham.10:25 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD Podcast with editor William Kristol, on Obama's weakness abroad.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
Democrats' "culture of corruption" provides an opening for CA GOP.9:20 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The Republican party's best chance to win a statewide office in California for the first time since 2006 all started with a check for $800. Pete Peterson’s wife Gina is graphic designer in Santa Monica who owns her own business, a limited liability company. Last year, she was getting ready to pay her company's annual $800 licensing tax to the secretary of state’s office, which oversees business licensing. Only in California are LLCs taxed so much just to keep a license. In Delaware, the annual tax is just $300, and in Missouri, it’s just a one-time $50 free. As she was writing the check, Gina looked at Peterson and said, “I don’t know where this money goes.”
The issue still gets Pete Peterson going. The money is ostensibly going to update the state’s business licensing website, but he says there are no signs that the site is any closer to allowing businesses to register with the state of California online. Next door in Nevada, he points out, it’s easy and simple to file online. Why is the home of Silicon Valley and the technology boom so far behind? And why are LLCs specifically required to pay such a hefty tax, every year?
Peterson decided to change that by running for secretary of state himself, and in the latest poll, he’s ahead by 13 points. The survey of 1,000 registered California voters, conducted by Field Research, found that 30 percent support Peterson, while his closest opponent, Democratic state senator Alex Padilla, polled at 17 percent. California uses a “jungle primary” system, whereby all declared candidates in all parties face off against each other. The top two vote-getters on primary day (that’s June 3 this year) advance to the general election in November.
Peterson’s lead is a big deal, he says, but he notes he’s not the only Republican statewide candidate in a strong position. Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, a GOP candidate for state controller, also leads her Democratic opponents in the latest Field poll, with 28 percent support. At the top of the ticket, the GOP’s faring worse. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the top Republican challenger, is trailing Democratic incumbent Jerry Brown badly, and Brown’s approval rating is solidly positive.
The GOP’s California comeback won’t come via the governor’s race, at least not this year, but Peterson hopes his race down-ballot will play a role in reenergizing and rebranding the party. Republicans are getting a big help from Democrats in Sacramento who typify what Peterson calls a “culture of corruption.”
Take the secretary of state’s race, for example, where the leading candidate was Democratic state senator Leland Yee of San Francisco. But on March 26, Yee was arrested by the FBI for political corruption and gun trafficking. The story is a doozy, even for California. Yee, a staunch gun-control advocate, is accused of setting up a deal to illegally purchase $2.5 million worth of automatic weapons from a militant Muslim group in the Philippines to sell them to what turned out to be an undercover FBI operation. Yee and his campaign also accepted bribes from that operation to call in political favors. He's since been suspended by the state senate and has dropped out of the secretary of state's race. And's that's provided the opening for Peterson.
8:49 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
An excerpt from Bill Kristol's weekly newsletter:
"One private poll I was shown (now however more than a week old), had the Nebraska Senate race between former state treasurer Shane Osborn and Midland University president Ben Sasse even, with the other candidates far behind. Osborn, having previously been elected statewide, began the race with a huge name ID advantage. The fact that Sasse has caught him suggests Sasse has the momentum and is now the favorite (and I gather that subsequent polling shows him pulling ahead). Osborn's campaign has, as a result, unleashed a wave of negative phone calls (of dubious veracity) about Sasse. These could slow his momentum—but Sasse probably has enough money to counteract them and continue to tell his story. Both are impressive candidates—young (Osborn is 39, Sasse 41), conservative, with interesting life experiences—and either would be a fine addition to the Republican Senate conference. But Sasse's distinctive potential to be an intellectual champion in the fight against Obamacare and a legislative leader in developing a conservative reform agenda may well carry the day.
"In the governor's race, too, it looks as if the outsider candidate may beat the candidate who's held elective office before. When Jon Bruning, who's been Nebraska's attorney general for over a decade, entered the race a couple of months ago, he immediately surged to the lead. But now Pete Ricketts, a businessman running as a candidate of change and bringing sound private sector practices to government, has moved slightly ahead (31-27 in the poll I saw), with the other candidates in the 8 to 12 percent range. And I gather the momentum has stayed over the past week with Ricketts, helped in part by a Sarah Palin endorsement. Anything could happen in the six-way race, and the trailing candidates all hope to replicate the achievement of Deb Fischer in 2012, when the two leading candidates (one of whom was Bruning) beat each other up and she surged late from third place to first. But the odds seems to favor Ricketts, who has run a disciplined campaign. He and Sasse seem to embody what GOP primary voters may turn out to want this year—outsiders who are qualified, conservatives who aren't crazy.
"The primary election is May 13 (and there's no runoff—a plurality wins)."
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7:49 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
A new 30-second TV ad from Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton hits back at an attack from the Harry Reid-affiliated Senate Majority PAC. The original ad claimed the Arkansas congressman "got paid handsomely working for insurance companies," but the Cotton ad notes that the Washington Post said the ad's claims were all "factually incorrect" and "totally false." Read the Post's fact-check here (with a similar Politifact "false" rating here), then watch the Cotton ad below:
"After 24 years in politics, Mark Pryor has become unfaithful to the truth," the ad concludes.
Cotton is in a tight battle with incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor over the Senate seat in Arkansas. The Real Clear Politics average gives Cotton, a first-term congressman and Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, just a 1.5-point lead over Pryor, who is seeking a third Senate term. The most recent poll, however, found Pryor with a three-point advantage.
7:06 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
Four years after Obamacare became law, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is notifying Medicare providers and suppliers of new fingerprint-based background checks. Eventually, all individuals who hold a five percent or greater stake in a Medicare supplier or provider that is categorized as "high risk" will be subject to the requirement. The provision is part of the Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP Program Integrity Provisions (Title E) of the Affordable Care Act, and gives the HHS secretary broad discretion in applying the background check requirements depending on the potential for abuse, fraud, and/or waste.
The new requirements are spelled out in a document posted online on the website of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last Friday. The new rules will apply to both current and future enrollees who are classified as "high risk," the stated purpose being to weed out "bad actors" in the Medicare program and prevent any more from enrolling.
This particular document is a "News Flash" from CMS's Medicare Learning Network and is addressed to suppliers and providers who submit claims for "Durable Medical Equipment Medicare Administrative Contractors (DME MACs) and Home Health and Hospice (HH&H) MACs for services provided to Medicare beneficiaries." There is no effective date or implementation date listed on the document; rather, the document states that "fingerprint-based background check implementation will be phased in beginning in 2014," and that those affected will receive letters after which the individuals will have thirty days to comply with the finger-printing requirement. The fingerprints will be submitted to the FBI for a background check and will be stored by the government in accordance with federal requirements and FBI guidelines.
Although initially the new regulations will only be applied to providers and suppliers of "Durable Medicare Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) suppliers or Home Health Agencies (HHA)," the "high risk" category is defined at the discretion of the HHS secretary and may be expanded in the future.
5:10 PM, Apr 14, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
From U.S. Treasury Department:
Today, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced the signing of a $1 billion loan guarantee agreement for Ukraine. This guarantee, when completed, will complement the Government of Ukraine's International Monetary Fund (IMF) reform program and underscores the United States' commitment to Ukraine.
This comes as Ukraine is threatening to stop paying what it says are usurious prices for Russian natural gas, and the Russians are threatening to cut off deliveries for past underpayments. Thus, as Zero Hedge points out, the right headline for this story could be:
US Pays Half Of Gazprom's Overdue Invoice With $1 Billion Ukraine Loan Guarantee
Meanwhile, stand by for news of further U.S. sanctions against Russia.
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