Newt Gingrich is in the midst of the worst Presidential campaign rollout in history.[...]
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In response to the looming recall elections, Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate are on the brink of passing a law making it more difficult to vote in those recall elections. Democrats in the state Senate delayed it last night, but it will pass Thursday:
Senate Republicans gave initial approval early Wednesday to a bill requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, but Democrats blocked a final vote on the measure until Thursday.
Senators signaled their approval of the bill on a voice vote, with Republicans who control the house voting for it and Democrats opposed. That vote came at 12:30 a.m., after more than 10 hours of debate, but Democrats used Senate rules to prevent the final vote.
Senators will reconvene at 9 a.m. Thursday on the bill.
The law severely restricts absentee voting (see an update on that here), lengthens residency requirements, and requires state-issued photo ID at the polls (update on that provision here). The absentee and residency requirements will go into effect before the recall elections, although the photo ID requirements will go into effect next year.
I'd write that I'm shocked a party facing recall elections is about to pass a law making it more difficult to vote in those recall elections, but sadly it isn't shocking at all. Limiting voting from Democratic-leaning demographic groups?in this case students, the poor, and those without cars?is a long-standing Republican tactic. Combined with Republican attempts to remove all limits on corporate spending in politics, it's part of a strategy to structurally alter the electorate in their favor.
We're going to keep fighting back. Today on Orange to Blue, we've added the final two Democrats, Sandy Pasch and Nancy Nusbaum, who are challenging Republican state Senators in recall elections. So, you can now contribute to all six of the Democratic challengers in one place. Please, chip in $6 to support the effort to take back the Wisconsin state Senate.
As regular readers know, I was the last one around here to give up on Afghanistan, and I will argue fiercely with anyone who trots out the "graveyard of empires" cannard or ridiculous Vietnam comparrisons. That's because in the beginning we were firing on all cylinders and actually doing some good and we were on the path to helping the poor and beleaguered Afghan people to a better, more stable life after decades of war and anarchy.
But that ship sailed eight years ago when Bush went bumbling into Iraq, and we can't get it back. Now we are there and the only way out involves a political solution, and the Taliban is who exists on the other side to negotiate with.
Fortunately, this President is not a warmongering, jingoistic goon and he realizes that talking to the Taliban is integral to getting our asses out of there.
The administration has accelerated direct talks with the Taliban, initiated several months ago, that U.S. officials say they hope will enable President Obama to report progress toward a settlement of the Afghanistan war when he announces troop withdrawals in July.
A senior Afghan official said a U.S. representative attended at least three meetings in Qatar and Germany, one as recently as "eight or nine days ago," with a Taliban official considered close to Mohammad Omar, the group's leader.
State Department spokesman Michael A. Hammer on Monday declined to comment on the Afghan official's assertion, saying the United States had a "broad range of contacts across Afghanistan and the region, at many levels. ... We're not going to get into the details of those contacts."
The talks have proceeded on several tracks, including through nongovernmental intermediaries and Arab and European governments. The Taliban has made clear its preference for direct negotiations with the Americans and has proposed establishing a formal political office, with Qatar under consideration as a venue, according to U.S. officials.
An attempt to open talks with the insurgent group failed late last year when an alleged Taliban leader, secretly flown by NATO to Kabul, turned out to be a fraud. "Nobody wants to do that again," a senior Obama administration official said.
Other earlier meetings between Afghan government representatives and Taliban delegates faltered when the self-professed insurgents could not establish their bona fides as genuine representatives of the group's leadership.
But the Obama administration is "getting more sure" that the contacts currently underway are with those who have a direct line to Omar and influence in the Pakistan-based Quetta Shura, or ruling council, he heads, according to one of several senior U.S. officials who discussed the closely held initiative only on the condition of anonymity.
The officials cautioned that the discussions were preliminary. But they said "exploratory" conversations, first reported in February by the New Yorker magazine, have advanced significantly in terms of the substance and the willingness of both sides to engage.
Of course this has led to a torent of criticism from all the usual suspects -- but I haven't heard the "Obama's war now" crowd weigh in.
I realize that there is a contingent over there to my left that will never be happy until Presiident Obama puts on his Superman underoos and personally plucks every last American Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine out of that landlocked hellhole and flies him or her home to the waiting embrace of a loving family, and nothing short of that will ever do.
But a little intellectual honesty -- you know, an honest assessment of the facts as they are, not as we wish they were, and realistic evaluation of what is genuinely, inconveniently involved in getting out of there -- would be nice. Even the devil occasionally get's his due, afterall.
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Now that the Westover Market Beer Garden's conditional live music permit has been approved, up next on the Arlington County Board's agenda of unsolvable issues: At what temperature should we set the thermostat?
I kid, and I don't mean to dwell on a hyper-local issue. But I do want to point out that while The Green Miles, the Examiner, ArlNow.com, and TBD were focused on whether Arlington County would really ban the playing of Jack Johnson covers in Westover, a much more critical action by the board has gotten far less attention. (Notable exception on that list of media outlets: The Washington Post, which apparently covers Arlington County so little it's forgotten the "C" is capitalized.)
Last night the County Board also accepted the Arlington Community Energy & Sustainability Task Force's final report:
The Community Energy and Sustainability Task Force?s comprehensive long-term energy planning vision for Arlington includes 18 recommendations and strategies covering many energy-related issues. Among those recommendations and strategies:That's what everyone should be talking about today. Arlington County will cut its carbon pollution, jobs in energy efficiency will be created, and Arlington residents will save boatloads of money on their energy bills.
The task force recommended a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from today?s 13.4 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent per capita per year to 3.0 metric tons per capita per year by 2050. If a regional energy plan is put in place, the task force advocates achieving 2.2 metric tons per capita per year.
- Improving energy efficiency in new and renovated residential and commercial buildings
- Managing building operations to reduce energy costs
- Deploying district energy and combined heat and power systems in the County?s high-density areas
- Investing in alternative energy sources such as solar photovoltaics
- Continuing the County?s efforts to encourage use of mass transit and to work with employers to encourage cycling, walking, public transit and vehicle pooling
I read last night that even Gov. Rick Perry (who would have to address persistent rumors about being yet another GOP closet case) is making exploratory moves toward a possible presidential run. Not with stories like this, he shouldn't. Why does it not surprise me that Texas Republicans think entertainment is more important than education?
Texas, which may balance its budget by firing thousands of teachers, plans to commit $25 million in state funds to Formula One auto racing each year for a decade.
Four years after motorsports? most popular series left the U.S., Texas investors including Clear Channel Communications Inc. co-founder B.J. ?Red? McCombs are building a 3.4-mile (5.5-kilometer) track to bring the event to Austin. Comptroller Susan Combs has agreed to pay $25 million for races through 2022, a subsidy questioned by critics and lawmakers as the state cuts costs to close an estimated $15 billion two-year deficit.
?I don?t understand why 25 people in Austin could not put up $1 million each if they thought this was a good opportunity instead of the state making a $25 million commitment,? said Senator Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican. ?The developers should find the money through private sources.?
As many as 100,000 teachers in Texas may be fired because of spending cuts to cope with the state?s budget crisis, according to Moak Casey & Associates, an Austin-based education consultant. For $25 million a year, the state could pay more than 500 teachers an average salary of $48,000.
The key investor on the project is Texas billionaire Red McCombs, former owner of the Minnesota Vikings, the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets. These franchise owners are so addicted to government money, they wouldn't know how to do anything on their own, I guess.
It was a procedural measure requiring 60 affirmative votes, as explained ahead of time by David Waldman. Even with the Senate's two independents and both Republican Senators from Maine on board, there was no way it could pass. So, S. 940, the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, bit the dust late Tuesday, with only 52 votes in favor of a motion that would have allowed the bill to be debated. Three Democrats joined the GOP side.
Sneer at forcing a filibuster as being nothing more than political theater if you want. But this was one of those worthwhile instances for Democrats to make Republicans publicly and at length defend their indefensible stance. In this case, they stood opposed to even discussing the merits of a Democratic bill to keep Americans from having to shell out $2 billion a year in tax "incentives" to the world's five largest private oil giants. Companies that made $36 billion in first-quarter profits. Companies for whom ending these giveaways works out to 1.4 percent of their annual profits. Annual profits bolstered by motorists paying 38 percent more for gasoline than they were last year at this time.
Several Republicans who voted not to talk about S. 940 have in the past said they favored ending some or all oil-company giveaways. However, faced with glares from Grover Norquist at Americans for Tax Reform, they closed ranks Tuesday. All except for Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins,
Unfortunately, the political impact of making Republicans defend their blockade of discussion gets diluted a wee bit when Democrats jump ship, as Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Ben Nelson of Nebraska did. Especially when they add to it by ridiculing compatriots on their side of the aisle. Here's Landrieu doing just that: ?This is entertainment. And it's really not funny, and it's not laughable?it's very serious."
What's really not funny is that Republicans and Democrats have been trying to hack a few trillions out of federal spending, much of which will come from programs designed for Americans on the bottom economic rungs. Yet a paltry $2 billion a year of "shared sacrifice" by the richest oil companies is too much for Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. They are the Republican members of the now-defunct "Gang of Six," the ad hoc group of Senators which was doing the hacking. All three voted against the motion to discuss the oil-company giveaways. They haven't been so reticent when it comes to taking a hunk out of, say, Head Start funds. (Coburn scuttled the gang this week by dropping out because his proposal for Medicare cuts was considered unacceptable.)
What Tuesday's vote comes down to is exactly what Sen. Jay Rockefeller said to the gang of five oil CEOs who testified last week at a Senate Finance Committee hearing:
"The main reason you're out of touch ? is that you never lose. You've never lost. You always prevail in the halls of Congress. ? [You are] deeply and profoundly committed to sharing nothing."
Democrats say they're not going to give up this fight. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he plans to push the repeal of the giveaways:
?I am confident that before we finish our budget negotiations here in anticipation of raising the debt ceiling that that will be part of it,? Reid told reporters in the Capitol.
Just how Reid expects to pull this off given the stubborn recalcitrance of not only the Republicans but also of at least one Democrat?Ben Nelson?is anyone's guess.
Helping to put on some pressure are Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Chuck Schumer of New York and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who are running a petition campaign on ending the giveaways. You can sign here.
McCaskill and Schumer are also seeking a probe by the Federal Trade Commission into alleged gasoline price fixing. Several oil executives and trade groups have ridiculed the idea, with Charles T. Drevna of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association saying:
"Instead of telling the American people the truth about gasoline prices, some politicians continue to spin tall tales and call for witch hunts to investigate discredited conspiracy theories about America's oil refiners," Drevna said in a statement Tuesday. "Once again, the same baseless claims are being trotted out by the same cast of characters."
He got one thing right: The same cast of characters is involved.
David Petraeus' favorite tool for cowing populations into quiescence, the night raid, has led yet again to deaths NATO characterizes as insurgents but Afghans say are civilians. In this case, four were killed in an overnight raid Tuesday night, two men[...]
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Former Wisconsin Governor and Bush-era Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who is reportedly getting in the race for the Senate seat of retiring Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl (D), was once an advocate of microchipping human beings, The Huffington Post reports. Thompson once sat on the board of VeriChip, a company that makes small, implantable microchips (also known as RFIDs) that can be used for a variety of purposes.
VeriChip, now known as PositiveID, provides "unique health and security identification tools to protect consumers and businesses" and lays claim to the "first and only FDA-cleared implantable microchip for patient identification." Thompson joined the board in 2005, but left to run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, according to The Huffington Post.
"I certainly would, and I think its a coming thing," Thompson told CNBC of human-chipping back in his VeriChip days.
Human-chipping has actually come up as a political issue in several states. Over the last few years, lawmakers in at least eight states have considered legislation to ban the technology, citing by a mix of health, privacy and even theological concerns. VeriChip/PositiveID also drew some headlines in 2004, when a Barcelona nightclub offered "its VIP clients the opportunity to have a syringe-injected microchip implanted in their upper arms that not only gives them special access to VIP lounges, but also acts as a debit account from which they can pay for drinks."
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