Today in Massachusetts, at a ceremony for the the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, Senator Elizabeth Warren borrowed President Obama's lectern for a bit. Behind the lectern, Warren looked almost presidential:
Many have called for Warren to enter the presidential race. This image, of her speaking behind the presidential lectern, may increase calls for her to challenge Hillary Clinton.
In her remarks, Warren shared a story about how she told Kennedy to show some leadership, not just vote. Watch here:
A new poll of New Hampshire GOP primary voters from the Boston Herald and Franklin Pierce University finds Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are tied at 15 percent support, with a slew of other likely candidates close behind in the first presidential primary of the cycle. Here's the Herald on the implications of the survey:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has lost his front-runner edge in New Hampshire, not because GOP voters are sick of the Bush family but because conservatives are roundly rejecting him, a new Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll shows.
Bush is tied with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 15 percent, while a pack of other GOP contenders are within striking distance, according to the poll of 429 likely GOP primary voters in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
The Herald refers to Bush losing his "frontrunner" status, even though Bush hasn't had much of a lead in the Granite State. According to the Real Clear Politics poll average, Bush and Walker are essentially tied at around 15 percent. Bush's largest lead in the New Hampshire primary polling since October was 5 points, and he had just 17 percent support. Bush hasn't cracked 18 percent support in New Hampshire since announcing he was exploring a presidential run.
Not that other possible GOP presidential candidates have been doing much better. In two polls of New Hampshire primary voters, one likely and one registered, Scott Walker had a 7-point lead over his Republican rivals, getting 21 percent and 23 percent, respectively. That's the best showing of any Republican candidate so far in New Hampshire, but it's not a consistent trend.
Rand Paul, inheriting his father's built-in libertarian base, has been hovering around 10 percent in the most recent New Hampshire polls, placing him in third place to Walker and Bush. In the Herald poll, Paul gets a healthy 13 percent. And despite claims that Chris Christie's presidential aspirations are finished, the New Jersey governor appears to be hanging on in New Hampshire with an average of just under 10 percent, which is right where the Herald poll finds him. The only declared candidate in the race, Ted Cruz, polls at nine percent in the Herald poll, which is much higher than his average had been in New Hampshire. Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio also register significant single-digit support in the crowded field.
Two big Clinton stories landed last week. The first is that Hillary Clinton destroyed the electronic copies of her State Department emails on her private server after the State Department subpoenaed her emails. The second is that Hillary Clinton had an aide running a "secret spy network" that was, among other things, feeding her information on Benghazi, according to a report by Pro Publica and Gawker. Earlier this month, I noted the myriad ways that Clinton running her own private email server breathes new life into the Benghazi investigation, but this last revelation takes things to a whole new level.
Specifically, this new report suggests that three men -- Sidney Blumenthal, Tyler Drumhiller, and Cody Shearer -- were involved in her private intelligence gathering efforts. Each of these men has a reputation for being associated with scandal.
We only know about Clinton's spy ring because a hacker who goes by the moniker "Guccifer" hacked the email account of former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal and posted his emails online. (Guccifer is now serving a prison sentence in his native Romania.) Guccifer's emails reveal Blumenthal was providing Clinton with detailed intelligence briefings on events in the Middle East and running the ad hoc spy ring. This arrangement is very curious, considering that the Obama White House made it clear that they didn't want Blumenthal working for the administration after Hillary Clinton previously tried to formally hire him to work at the State Department.
Blumenthal is a controversial figure to put it mildly; Andrew Sullivan called the former New Yorker scribe "the most pro-Clinton writer on the planet." He was the subject of intense scrutiny during the Clinton impeachment hearings. The late Christopher Hitchens submitted an affidavit during the Clinton impeachment hearings aleging that Blumenthal had told him that Monica Lewinsky was a "stalker," and subsequently excoriated his former friend for his lack of ethics in his book on the Clintons,No One Left To Lie To. Blumenthal carries a lot of other baggage, as well, such as his virulently anti-Israel, frequently factually challenged son, Max. Insofar as Blumenthal's briefings relate to Benghazi, they do raise some questions about what Hillary Clinton said in the aftermath of the attacks:
One memo was sent on August 23, 2012, less than three weeks before Islamic militants stormed the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. It cites “an extremely sensitive source” who highlighted a string of bombings and kidnappings of foreign diplomats and aid workers in Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata, suggesting they were the work of people loyal to late Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi.
While businesses across the globe scramble to exploit the potential opportunities to be found in a country with 1.3 billion consumers, operating in China comes with profound business risks as well.
The country’s regulatory practices -- especially as they are applied to foreign businesses -- leave much to be desired, as most companies that do business in China eventually come to realize. The latest casualties of aggressive Chinese trade policies are foreign technology firms, most notably Cisco and Apple, which were dropped from approved state purchase lists for dubious sins.
The systematic targeting of U.S. companies by China’s various regulatory authorities is straining U.S.-Sino relations and chilling foreign investment into the country. While China may meet the letter of the law when it comes to myriad WTO rules, Chinese officials use the arbitrary and capricious enforcement of byzantine regulations as a cudgel to punish foreign firms that encroach on the turf of politically connected domestic businesses.
The most egregious example occurred last July, when enforcers with the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) raided a processing plant of Husi Food, a subsidiary of U.S.-based OSI Group. Under the accusation that Husi was selling expired meat to American restaurants operating in China, the SFDA arrested six employees and shut down the plant. They remain incarcerated in a Chinese prison to this day.
The supposedly incriminating evidence was a video of an employee dropping meat on the floor and throwing it back into the mix, which turned out to be the work of two reporters from the state-controlled Dragon TV, working undercover at Husi to film the plant’s operations. It turns out that one reporter purposefully dropped the meat and the other filmed it.
While the Chinese government recently cracked down on investigative journalists who were selling their choice of subject to the highest bidder, the benefits of taking down a rival business this way is too lucrative to expect the practice to simply cease. Last week, CCTV, Chinese state television, took aim at foreign car companies selling in China, with the regulatory authorities quickly following up.
While U.S. businesses may kvetch about regulatory authorities, at home, they largely deal with a single agency and have recourse via the courts to fight irrational rules or dubious enforcement. Not so in China, where each city and province has its own regulatory authority, every one of which operates under a dual mandate: to protect both consumers as well as domestic companies. It's a noxious mix.
During President Obama's tenure, religious Americans have been increasingly marginalized by an administration that can be intolerant or at least unaccomodating of beliefs that conflict with its policies, regulations, or legislative goals. Perhaps most notably, President Obama campaigned by expressing support for traditional marriage, more than once citing his Christianity as the basis for his position, a position he later "evolved" away from. This has not stopped the president, however, from invoking scripture in support of other items on his agenda.
The most recent example came last week during a trip to Alabama to draw attention to a relatively obscure item on the president's policy list, payday lending rules. The president said some "very conservative folks" recognize scriptural prohibitions against excessive interest, or usury, part of a Biblical principle to prevent exploitation of the poor. Here are the president's remarks in context:
You've got some very conservative folks here in Alabama who recognize -- they're reading their Bible, they're saying, well, that ain’t right. (Laughter and applause.) Right? I mean, they're saying the Bible is not wild about somebody charging $1,000 worth of interest on a $500 loan. Because it feels like you're taking advantage of somebody.
President Obama's citation of "folks" in Alabama reading their Bibles and concluding "that ain’t right" seems especially ironic in light of the recent drama in that state over same-sex marriage. A federal judge struck down state laws defining marriage as one man-on woman, a decision the state appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to stay the original ruling. However, the Alabama state supreme court chief justice, Roy Moore, subsequently ordered a halt to the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, and the Alabama house approved a bill that would permit judges, ministers and other officials to decline to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Although the president has not directly commented on the same-sex marriage controversy in Alabama, just three weeks ago White House press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that the president speaks out "boldly in support of gay marriage," so it seems safe to say the those who look at their Bibles and same-sex marriage and conclude "that ain't right" would not find the president in their corner on that issue.
Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, writes in an email:
The issue with respect to Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) is whether people should be allowed to practice their religion, even when their acts would otherwise be illegal, if they are not doing any real harm. The American tradition of religious liberty has exempted religious practices since the seventeenth century. Quakers in colonial times didn't have to swear oaths, or serve in the militia.
Sometimes this is entirely uncontroversial. It is illegal to give alcohol to minors, but no one thinks that law should be applied to communion wine, or seder wine at the Jewish Passover.
For a time, the federal Free Exercise Clause (part of the First Amendment) required religious exemptions unless the government had a compelling interest in enforcing its regulation. Then in 1990, the Supreme Court changed that rule, and basically said that the free exercise of religion is protected only against discrimination.
Congress responded with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, creating a statutory right to practice your religion, free of government regulation except where necessary to serve a compelling government interest. That law passed unanimously in the House, and 97-3 in the Senate; Bill Clinton praised it and signed it.
But in 1997, the Supreme Court said that the federal RFRA could not constitutionally be applied to the states. If states wanted to protect religious practice subject to the compelling interest test, they would have to do it themselves. This is the background to why states began enacting their own RFRAs.
There are now twenty states with RFRAs, and eleven more that have interpreted their state constitution to provide the same level of protection. These 31 states include all the big states except California: Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois. You had probably never heard anything about any of these laws, except for Hobby Lobby, because they haven't done anything controversial.
There are hardly any cases about discrimination, and nobody has ever won a religious exemption from a discrimination law under a RFRA standard. (Churches are exempt when sued by their ministers, but that is a separate constitutional rule. Some discrimination laws have specific exemptions for churches or religious organizations. That is very different from trying to persuade a court that anti-discrimination laws do not serve compelling government interests.)
So what kinds of cases are RFRAs really about? They are about churches feeding the homeless; sometimes the city or the neighbors object. They are about Muslim women wearing scarfs or veils. They are about Amish buggies. They are about Sabbath observers. They are about church bells. They are about all the unexpected ways in which a great diversity of religious practices come into conflict with a great diversity of laws and regulations. And usually, the government wins. These laws have been under enforced, not over enforced.
Bashar al-Assad told Charlie Rose that some Americans are sugarcoating ISIS. Moreover, the Syrian dictator claimed, ISIS has expanded since the beginning of the strikes."
Rose asked Assad, "How much of a benefit are you getting from American airstrikes in Syria reducing the power of ISIS?"
"President Assad: Sometimes you could have local benefit but in general if you want to talk in terms of ISIS actually ISIS has expanded since the beginning of the strikes," answered Assad, in an interview that aired Sunday on 60 Minutes.
"Not like some-- American-- wants to sugar coat the situation as the-- to say that it's getting better. As-- ISIS is being defeated and so on. Actually, no, you have more recruits. Some estimates that they have 1,000 recruits every month in Syria. And Iraq-- they are expanding in Libya and many other al Qaeda affiliate organizations have announced their allegiance to ISIS. So that's the situation."
Before airing the interview, Rose explained the unusual ground rules, "We traveled to Damascus this past week and met with Assad for an interview, under the conditions that we use Syrian TV technicians and cameras."
They come and they go and, now, Harry Reid has said he is going. When he announced his decision to retire, the predictable chorus of “attaboys” followed. He was a “fighter,” many of his colleagues said. President Obama went the extra mile and spoke fondly of Reid’s “curmudgeonly charm that’s hard to replace.”
Maybe you had to be there. In Washington, that is.
To people out Beyond the Beltway, who knew only what they saw on television, Reid was a mean spirited, inarticulate, partisan gut fighter. And they held the institution of which he was a “leader” in record low esteem. Not least because he was the face of it.
Reid is known best for his enemies and the way he chose to attack them. He didn’t like Mitt Romney and it plainly went way beyond politics. So Reid attacked Romney at what he considered his point of greatest vulnerability. Romney was rich. It was immaterial that he had been successful in business. Romney was a rich Republican, a breed to be first resented and, then, destroyed.
So Reid accused Romney of failing to pay taxes for ten years.
When asked for proof, he said, “I don't think the burden should be on me. The burden should be on him. He's the one I've alleged has not paid any taxes.”
The Washington Post investigated and dismissed the charges but Reid, of course, moved on.
His next target would be the Koch Brothers whom he described as being “un-American.” How could they not be? They were rich and they contributed to causes and candidates that Reid didn’t like. Reid launched into rhetorical attacks on the Koch brothers as obsessively as Ahab denouncing the white whale but without the artful language. Reid wasn’t much with words and, as the Post reported, was once obliged to apologize “ for referring to President Barack Obama as ‘light skinned’ and ‘with no Negro dialect’ in private conversations during the 2008 presidential campaign.”
Reid could be forgiven, perhaps, since he wasn’t very good with compliments. Didn’t have much practice as he much preferred the other thing. So he laid into the Koch brothers, over and over. One suspects he’ll keep it up until he leaves the Senate and maybe beyond, muttering angrily about them and their money as he leaves Washington (assuming he does) and heads back to Nevada.
Interestingly, the Koch brothers consider themselves libertarians. So it may be that Harry Reid has done their cause more good than he has done them harm. At the very least, the Koch’s philanthropic enterprises will continue without the distracting and embarrassing attacks. So the Kochs will be providing financial support for the arts when Harry Reid is no longer able, even, to throw a little federal money the way of “Cowboy Poetry festivals,” which he once mourned as casualties of a mean spirited Republican agenda. After the Senate, in fact, it is hard to imagine that Reid will be in much of a position to help people out in the ways to which he has become accustomed. The early reports on his departure from the Senate are generally agreed that he has no future on K-Street, being temperamentally unsuited for work as a lobbyist.
Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, a supporter of the Ready for Hillary super PAC, threatened Martin O'Malley that he "better watch it" in the presidential race. Why? Because, Granholm said she "was thinking that he might make a nice member of a President Clinton administration."
The implication of Granholm's comment is that if O'Malley crosses Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, he will not get a plum administration posting under President Hillary Clinton.
"She is comfortable enough to be able to withstand a primary," Granholm, who long ago endorsed Hillary, said on ABC. "And Martin O’Malley, he’s a very nice guy, and you know I was thinking that he might make a nice member of a President Clinton administration, so he better watch out."
In an appearance on ABC's This Week, Indiana governor Mike Pence defended his state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act by noting that Barack Obama had voted for the same law as an Illinois state senator.
"The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago, and it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given any time government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American," Pence said. "After last year's Hobby Lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then-state senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our legislature."
This Week Host George Stephanoplous later asked White House press secretary Josh Earnest to respond to Pence's claim: "Josh, you just heard the governor say right there this is the same law, he says, that Barack Obama voted for as a state senator back in Illinois."
Earnest didn't dispute the Indiana governor's statement. "Look, if you have to go back two decades to try to justify something that you're doing today, it may raise some question about the wisdom of what you're doing," Earnest said.
For more on the controversy surrounding Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, see this article.
Martin O'Malley, a likely Democratic presidential candidate, took a shot this morning at Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, saying that the presidency is not a "crown" and need not "be passed between two families." Of course Clinton's husband Bill Clinton was president. And Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, and brother, George W. Bush, were both president.
O'Malley made the remarks on ABC's This Week:
"Well I think that our country always benefits from new leadership and new perspectives. I mean, let's be honest here: the presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust, that to be earned, and exercised, on behalf of the American people," O'Malley told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
An Iranian journalist writing about the nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran has defected. In an interview Amir Hossein Motaghi, has some harsh words for his native Iran. He also has a damning indictment of America's role in the nuclear negotiations.
“The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal," Motaghi told a TV station after just defecting from the Iranian delegation while abroad for the nuclear talks. The P 5 + 1 is made up of United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, plus Germany.
A close media aide to Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, has sought political asylum in Switzerland after travelling to Lausanne to cover the nuclear talks between Tehran and the West.
Amir Hossein Motaghi, who managed public relations for Mr Rouhani during his 2013 election campaign, was said by Iranian news agencies to have quit his job at the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA).
He then appeared on an opposition television channel based in London to say he no longer saw any “sense” in his profession as a journalist as he could only write what he was told.
“There are a number of people attending on the Iranian side at the negotiations who are said to be journalists reporting on the negotiations,” he told Irane Farda television. “But they are not journalists and their main job is to make sure that all the news fed back to Iran goes through their channels.
“My conscience would not allow me to carry out my profession in this manner any more.” Mr Mottaghi was a journalist and commentator who went on to use social media successfully to promote Mr Rouhani to a youthful audience that overwhelmingly elected him to power.
Why would a young Jewish American equate the democratic state of Israel with Nazi Germany?
Why would a young Jewish American call for Israeli Jews to choose between “Exodus” from the Middle East, or “indigenization” to fit in with their Arab neighborhood?
Why would a young Jewish American join forces with Islamists to try to discredit the bravest living proponent of reform of Islam?
Is it a case of stupidity of the sort that afflicted the “useful idiots,” who unwittingly helped the cause of Soviet Communism in the 1940s? Or is it pathology?
I first came across Max Blumenthal last year when he was touting his book Goliath on college campuses across the United States. Blumenthal, a virulently anti-Israel polemicist, spoke at Brandeis University last March and was received warmly by members of the campus community, even though his talk was choc-full of malicious blood libels about the Jewish state.
“Israel has attacked everyone of its neighbors, invaded, I think, everyone of its Arab neighbors, occupied most of those neighbors at, some point, and they do so as the Jewish state, speaking on the behalf of the Jewish people,” Blumenthal told the crowd. “That’s very dangerous, it encourages anti-Semitism.” He also hypothesized that there is “this campaign of incitement, of attacking people with what are basically ethnic slurs is being encouraged, it’s a top-down campaign encouraged by [pro-Israel] communal elders.”
Blumenthal has made a name for himself as a Jew whose bête noire is the Jewish state. Offering pure fantasy rather than facts and evidence, Blumenthal paints a fictitious picture of a Nazi-esque, evil incarnate Israel, much to the delight of his fans, who include neo-Nazi and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke, members of the neo-Nazi Internet forum Stormfront, and the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper.
As David Mikics explained in TabletMagazine, “As a reporter, the best one can say about him [Blumenthal] is that he doesn’t speak Hebrew or Arabic, and he doesn’t have any sources—so it’s hard to fault him for getting things wrong.”
Blumenthal’s book, subtitled Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, explicitly likens Israel to Nazi Germany. Chapter titles such as “The Concentration Camp” and “The Night of Broken Glass” flippantly invoke the memory of the Holocaust. The book is so egregious that even the left-wing writer Eric Alterman wrote in the Nation that it could have been a selection for the “Hamas book-of-the-month-club.” Blumenthal, he wrote, was “a profoundly unreliable narrator.” Alterman concluded that “[l]iterally nothing this fellow writes can be taken at face value. He shames all of us with his presence in our magazine.”