The 5 Craziest Political Ads Of 2014 (So Far)

The 5 Craziest Political Ads Of 2014 (So Far)

Screenshot: YouTube

Screenshot: YouTube

When it comes to truly entertaining ads, forget the Super Bowl and look no further than political campaigns.

While politicians aren’t always as effective as Coca-Cola or Budweiser in convincing consumers — or in this case, voters — to buy what they’re selling, their efforts are often far more amusing. This year’s midterm elections have already churned out a slew of surprising results in the primaries, and some of these ads just might have played a small part in swaying voters (though not necessarily in the intended direction).

We’re only halfway through the year and still have the general elections — and the ads they will bring — to look forward to, but the commercials that have already graced the screens of voters across the United States deserve some well-warranted attention for their absurdity.

Here, in no particular order, are the five craziest ads of 2014 so far: 

Joni Ernst Wants To Castrate Washington

Let’s start things off with a bang, or in this case, a squeal. Iowa state senator Joni Ernst’s (R) slightly threatening ad was uncomfortable in a number of ways — after all, what good could possibly follow from an opening line like, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm”? And was it really necessary to go straight to castration in order to make the point that Ernst knows how to “cut pork?” To be fair, starting things off with a story about butchering a piglet wouldn’t have been much better, but castration… yikes.

Ernst concludes her charming presentation with an approval message that goes a step beyond consent, saying, “I approve this message because Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make them squeal.” If that doesn’t convince you, we don’t know what will.

The threat must have worked, as Ernst won her primary, and will face off against Rep. Bruce Braley (D) for the Senate seat in November.

John Boehner Suffers From ‘Electile Dysfunction’

In what we can only hope is the most immature ad to hit the airwaves in 2014, J.D. Winteregg — a little-known primary challenger to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) — suggested that his opponent suffers from erectile dysfunction. Well, not exactly.

Winteregg’s ad coined the term “electile dysfunction,” which occurs when “a politician has been in Washington for too long.” This causes the blood to go to his head, and “he just can’t seem to get the job done.” Bastardizing Boehner — whose name kind of looks like “boner,” in case you still didn’t get it — for working too closely with President Obama, Winteregg presented himself as the political equivalent to Viagra, which is always the comparison one wants to make when running for national office.

A few weeks after releasing the ad, Winteregg lost his job, and then proceeded to lose the primary. An all-around nasty end to a nasty campaign.

Thad Cochran, Please Come Home

In part one of the Cochran vs. McDaniel showdown in Mississippi’s Republican Senate primary, state senator Chris McDaniel set a new standard for grassroots campaigning with this song-and-dance routine that features his supporters begged longtime senator Thad Cochran to “please come home.” The three-minute-long ad features The Boomers in a dream sequence, in which they sing a catchy little jingle that is possibly the most creative combination of arts and politics to date. Unfortunately for McDaniel, while his supporters’ music and lyrics were winners, he lost the primary to Cochran on Tuesday.

Thad Cochran Does Indecent Things To Animals

This ad supporting Chris McDaniel over Thad Cochran is a bit less nuanced than The Boomers’ song, but a little more concerning. The spot, made by the Now or Never PAC, begins boldly by taking a segment of a Cochran speech out of context  and warning listeners that growing up, Cochran thought it was “fun to do all kinds of indecent things with animals.”

The takeaway? Bestiality bad. Cochran bad. McDaniel good.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst Ruins Frozen Forever

We’ve saved the best for last, in yet another display of things that can only happen in Texas. David Dewhurst, who was defending his position as lieutenant governor of Texas against Tea Party challenger Dan Patrick, released his own version of Let It Go, promptly ruining the song for Frozen fans everywhere. The video’s bizarre, poor production values are surpassed in mediocrity only by the lyrics, which attack Patrick’s past as a DJ, his name change from Daniel Goeb to Dan Patrick, and his bankruptcy.

Sadly, it seems that songs really don’t sit well with voters. Like McDaniel, Dewhurst lost to Dan Patrick — marking the second time the Republican has been outflanked from the right in a primary election.   

Vance McAllister Considers Comeback After Consulting God, Constituents

Vance McAllister Considers Comeback After Consulting God, Constituents

In another display of excellent decision making, Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA) — otherwise known as the Kissing Congressman — is considering reversing course and pursuing re-election in the fall. The disgraced congressman, who made headlines earlier this year when a video showing the married father of five locked in a passionate embrace with a staffer was leaked, has apparently made adequate apologies to his wife and to God, and has received the green light for another campaign.

Polling also played a role in McAllister’s change of heart; private surveys released earlier this week actually show McAllister as the frontrunner in Louisiana’s 5th congressional district. Conducted by the Glascock Group, the latest poll shows McAllister with a slight 26.1 to 25.6 percent edge over state senator Neil Riser, a former opponent. Riser has since decided against a campaign, however, leaving McAllister as the only candidate with considerable public support.

Then again, Zach Dasher — a member of Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family — recently announced plans to run for McAllister’s seat, so maybe there will be some stiff competition after all. Dasher, the nephew of Phil Robertson — the “Duck Commander” of the family, who is famously close with McAllister — is a 36-year-old father of four with no political experience, but plenty of reality TV support. In a statement, Dasher emphasized his religious-right bona fides, saying, “Man is made in the image of the Almighty God. If we are afraid to say that, then we don’t have a case for liberty.” He went on to proclaim his position as “a strong supporter of the Second Amendment [who] favors adoption of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a strong U.S. military.” 

Glascock’s poll also listed McAllister as both a Republican and a Democrat, following rumors of an affiliation switch, but McAllister reaffirmed his dedication to the GOP in a statement earlier this week. “I believe in pro-life, I believe in a strong military, in a smaller government, I believe in a free enterprise system,” he assured constituents. “Those are all core values of the Republican Party … and I’ll always be a Republican.” Apparently, one of the core values of the Republican party is not fidelity.

Of course, McAllister has never completely ruled out a potential re-bid for Congress. “If there’s a possibility that the people want me to do another political office, again,” he said in May, “maybe I’ll do it.

Now, it would appear that the people have spoken.

McAllister may be taking his cues from another famously scandal-ridden Louisiana politician. In 2007, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) was revealed as a client of “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Vitter admitted to his dalliance with prostitutes, and like McAllister, apologized to his wife and to God, asking his constituency for forgiveness. 

Though the scandal was expected to sound the death knell for Vitter’s political career, the senator not only managed to escape with his career intact, but also went on to win a landslide re-election in 2010. Vitter, one of the few prominent politicians to support McAllister during his scandal, is now the frontrunner in Louisiana’s 2015 gubernatorial race.

While Vitter is a prime example of a scandal success story, his situation is the exception, not the norm. According to a Washington Post analysis of 38 political sex scandals over the past four decades, only 39 percent of House and Senate members involved in such a sticky situation won re-election. The rest lost, resigned, or chose not to run again. Even more troubling for McAllister, the rate of re-election for scandal-ridden members of Congress has plummeted since Bill Clinton’s impeachment; just 20 percent have held on to their seats after a scandal since 2000.

Chart via Washington Post

Chart via Washington Post

The odds are against McAllister, but that won’t stop him now.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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5 Times Eric Cantor Pandered To The Right Wing That Booted Him From Office

5 Times Eric Cantor Pandered To The Right Wing That Booted Him From Office

Gage Skidmore via

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

On Tuesday, voters in Virginia’s 7th congressional district deemed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) just not conservative enough for re-election. Challenger David Brat, a little-known economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, handed Cantor a stunning 56 to 44 percent defeat in the Republican primary, and is now being touted as the Tea Party’s best underdog story.

Given Cantor’s long record as a hard-hitting right-winger, however, one must wonder how extreme you have to be to win GOP support these days.

A member of the House since 2001, Cantor has long represented the far right’s interests in Congress. His name became almost synonymous with ultra-conservatism and, in many ways, Cantor paved the way for the Tea Party’s rise. And while Brat is now being heralded as the “Tea Party candidate,” and Tea Party groups are celebrating Cantor’s defeat, they seem to be forgetting that the man they call a “moderate” was a member of the Tea Party before the Tea Party was cool.

In fact, a walk down memory lane shows that when it comes to being conservative, it’s hard to outflank Cantor. Now that his reign as majority leader is coming to an end, let’s revisit some of Cantor’s most memorable right-wing moments — which still failed to land him another term in Congress.

The Grand Bargain

Photo: Jeff Malet

Photo: Jeff Malet

In an interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker, Cantor boasted that it was a “fair assessment” to say he was a driving force behind the collapse of the 2011 “grand bargain” negotiations. Although budget talks had dominated politics that year, Cantor successfully convinced House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to pull out of discussions with President Obama and reject his offer to make significant spending cuts to the federal budget. Even with a government shutdown on the horizon, Cantor urged Boehner to refuse Obama’s offer to cut social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and reduce government spending by about $300 billion over 10 years.

Cantor bragged that his influence ultimately derailed the deal that could have avoided sequestration and sidestepped the constant threat of fiscal crisis that now plagues the federal government. Why did he do it? Cantor hoped to use the budget crisis to his political advantage, and told Lizza that he wanted to “have it out” with Obama during the 2012 election. Considering that Obama won re-election, that didn’t exactly work out in Cantor’s favor.  

Extending The Government Shutdown

Photo: Republican Conference via Flickr

Photo: Republican Conference via Flickr

In another display of stubborn, backhanded politics, Cantor played a critical role in prolonging the 2013 government shutdown, which Tea Partiers vainly hoped would lead to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. On the eve of the shutdown, the House Rules Committee made Cantor the only member of the House with the power to call a vote on a “clean” funding bill that would allow the government to continue operations.

This meant Cantor, quite literally, was the one thing standing in the way of ending the government shutdown. And Cantor did not move. This continued resistance was particularly detrimental to Virginians; the commonwealth contains a high number of federal employees (185,000 at the time), and is home to many veterans whose benefits were delayed by the government shutdown. Moreover, federal spending comprised around a third of the state’s economy, which Cantor persistently ignored as he stood his ground.

Refusing Disaster Relief

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

In another slight against his home state, Cantor has consistently opposed disaster relief funds, insisting that such aid would have to be balanced by federal spending cuts in other sectors. Cantor voted in 2004 and 2011 to refuse to allocate funds for disaster relief.

This was particularly startling in 2011, when tornadoes had just decimated Joplin, Missouri, and an earthquake — whose epicenter was located in Cantor’s own district — had just shaken Virginia. According to an estimate by Standard & Poor’s, the 2013 government shutdown (which was spearheaded and perpetuated by Cantor) cost the United States $24 billion. But Cantor couldn’t justify spending any money for Americans to rebuild their homes.

Hanging With The Religious Right

Gage Skidmore via

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Cantor didn’t just pander to the far right; the far right seemed to be big fans of his, too. In 2013, Cantor rubbed shoulders with Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and other ultra-conservative leaders at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast, hosted by a religious-right organization. Cantor was proudly broadcast as a special guest of the event, which featured Messianic Rabbi Jonathan Cahn as a keynote speaker. Cahn believes that the Bible forewarned us against the September 11 attacks, that the U.S. is in the midst of divine punishment for “tolerance for immorality” and teaching “sexual immorality in public schools,” and that America has about 10 to 20 years left before God destroys it.

The Eventbrite invitation for the breakfast noted that it would include pancakes, warm apples, yogurt martini, sausage or turkey bacon, and coffee or tea, but failed to mention the main attraction on the menu — a healthy helping of far-right lunacy.

Inviting Secessionists To The Capitol

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

In what might be our favorite example of Cantor’s far-right tendencies, the former majority leader once planned to receive a group of secessionists on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. In 2010, an anti-government, pro-secession group known as the Constitution Alliance organized an event in Washington, D.C., in which Cantor was expected to accept a letter from Virginian lawmakers declaring the state a sovereign entity.

At the time, the Virginia Sovereignty March claimed on its website that Cantor would “officially receive the delegation at the U.S. Capitol,” not only tacitly encouraging its attempts to leave the United States, but seeming to support them. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) was also an expected participant in the Sovereignty March’s antics, along with Richard Viguerie, a pioneer of the religious right.

With company like this, how could Cantor possibly lose the support of the conservative base? 

Report: Over 27 Million Previously Uninsured Americans Now Eligible For Coverage Under Obamacare

Report: Over 27 Million Previously Uninsured Americans Now Eligible For Coverage Under Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act will reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 56 percent — or 27.7 million individuals – by 2016, according to an updated report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report supports the findings of a March Gallup poll that showed the percentage of uninsured consistently decreasing. In mid-2013, 18 percent lacked health insurance. In March of this year, that number was down to 15.9 percent, the lowest level since 2009. The RWJF report finds that by 2016, only 9 percent of Americans will be uninsured.

While Obamacare will improve health care access for residents of all 50 states, the states that have expanded Medicaid coverage have unsurprisingly benefited more than those that have not. Already, states that accepted Medicaid expansion have covered 68 percent of previously uninsured individuals, while states that did not have covered just 44 percent.

In the states that expanded Medicaid, 50 percent of individuals are newly eligible for Medicaid or CHIP. On the other hand, only 18 percent of residents in states that did not accept the expansion are granted access to Medicaid or CHIP under the ACA. Conversely, 26 percent of individuals in non-expanding states are granted subsidy eligibility, compared to 18 percent of expanding states’ populations. While subsidies are certainly helpful components of health care, they do not provide coverage as comprehensive as Medicaid or CHIP, suggesting that states that have not yet expanded Medicaid coverage are falling considerably behind other states when it comes to insuring their residents.

Among states that have refused to expand Medicaid, Texas has the worst coverage numbers, with only 40 percent of its uninsured now receiving access to some form of health care coverage. By contrast, West Virginia has granted 83 percent of its uninsured residents health care access. The RWJF report suggests that if states like Texas were to expand Medicaid coverage, they could increase their number of insured citizens by 27 percent.

These states’ stubbornness could have further-reaching effects, as the RWJF projects that by 2016, states will have the potential to insure 59 percent of their population if they adopt expanded Medicaid coverage. If they fail to do so, however, non-expanding states will only be able to reduce the proportion of uninsured individuals by 34 percent. States that already have expanded Medicaid coverage are predicted to insure an additional 56 percent of residents.

Quite a few states, noticing this distinct disparity, have made plans to improve their coverage plans. Both Pennsylvania and Indiana have submitted proposals to expand Medicaid coverage, and New Hampshire is on track to expand its program in in July. Wisconsin, the expansion holdout that has fared best in covering its previously uninsured citizens, likely has such high numbers (74 percent) because “adults up to 100 percent of federal poverty level (FPL) are now eligible for Medicaid and can enroll.”

Of the 27.1 million individuals who are projected to remain uninsured in 2016 — just 8.6 percent of the population — a plurality of 37 percent would be eligible for Medicaid, CHIP, or subsidies applicable to marketplace coverage. As such, many of these individuals would also likely be able to enroll in some form of coverage, further boosting the proportion of insured Americans. Of the remaining uninsured individuals, around 40 percent are undocumented immigrants, who are ineligible to receive marketplace coverage, Medicaid and CHIP assistance. Around 35 percent of the uninsured are likely to be low-income residents of states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage. The majority of these individuals would receive assistance if their states were to expand Medicaid.

Photo via Flickr

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Veterans Lash Out At GOP Senator’s Attempt To Politicize VA Scandal

Veterans Lash Out At GOP Senator’s Attempt To Politicize VA Scandal

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) picked an incredibly inopportune time to bungle his political attack against the Department of Veterans Affairs, when he lashed out at veterans organizations over Memorial Day weekend. In an “Open Letter to America’s Veterans,” Burr demonstrated a distinct lack of respect for military veterans, choosing not to thank them for their service, but rather to criticize their failure to conform to his opinion.

For the past several weeks, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has faced mounting criticism over the VA’s treatment of former service men and women, and their access to health care. Following accusations of poor management, forged records, and other cover-ups, both Shinseki and President Obama have vowed to right the wrongs. The GOP, predictably, has seized upon the controversy as another opportunity to hype a political scandal — only this time, Burr managed to create a scandal of his own.

In his open letter, Burr ripped veterans service organizations (VSOs) that have not echoed his call for Shinseki’s resignation, saying that they are “more interested in defending the status quo within VA, protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the Secretary and his inner circle” than in helping their own members. To say that Burr’s letter backfired would be an understatement.  Three major veterans groups — Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Disabled American Veterans — responded furiously to the senator’s shortsighted attack.

“Senator Burr may be enamored with the idea that all of VA’s problems and challenges can be overcome by replacing one Secretary, but the plain facts and simple logic indicate otherwise,” Disabled American Veterans said in a statement on its website. Indeed, some members of Burr’s own party are not entirely onboard with his one-step solution; House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and numerous other Republicans have not called for Shinseki’s resignation.

DVA went on to add, “Senator Burr shows no interest in pursuing serious policy solutions, preferring instead to launch cheap political attacks on the integrity of leaders of veterans organizations that do not agree with him.” While these statements may seem like a harsh blow, responses from Veterans of Foreign Wars and Paralyzed Veterans of American made this reply seem kind in comparison.

Veterans of Foreign Wars called Burr’s letter a “monumental cheap shot,” and bristled at his suggestion that the dedicated individuals at VFW did not care about their members. Comparing their tireless and constant efforts to help veterans to Burr’s “exorbitant amount of days off,” VFW scoffed at the notion that Burr feels entitled to question the principles of men and women who have “walk[ed] the walk.”

Sparing no feelings, VFW added that Burr’s letter was one of the most “dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we’ve witnessed in more than forty years of involvement with the veteran community,” and branded Burr’s accusations as “ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the words and profoundly wrong, both logically and morally.”

In a particularly acidic conclusion, VFW wrote,

If we’ve been remiss in anything, Senator, we’ve been remiss in being too polite with Congress…We will not stand by and let our members be distracted by rhetoric or finger-pointing and we certainly won’t abide our veterans being used as political footballs. And you can be sure that we will let our membership know the low regard you hold for their organization.

Paralyzed Veterans of America had a similarly infuriated message for Burr, saying that he clearly represented “the worst of politics in this country.” Burr’s letter, the organization said, “displays why the vast majority of the American public puts no faith in their elected officials to do what is right for this country.” Paralyzed Veterans of America also neatly demonstrated the hypocrisy in Burr’s accusations, noting that Burr was “not actually present during the testimony that the VSO representatives provided” and “did not ask a single question…about how to fix the problems the VA health care system” faces.

While most reasonable human beings — especially those whose jobs depend on keeping voters happy — would take such criticism as a sign of an enormously offensive mistake and apologize, Burr did no such thing. The North Carolina Republican refused to retract his letter or its sentiments, or to issue an apology. Instead, Burr zeroed in on the responses as further proof of the misplaced priorities of the VSOs, saying, “I think they’ve shown more outrage toward my open letter than outrage toward the current crisis at the VA.”

For good reason, Senator Burr.

 Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Ted Cruz: Democrats Plan To ‘Repeal The First Amendment’

Ted Cruz: Democrats Plan To ‘Repeal The First Amendment’

Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) made a religious-right audience gasp in horror when he announced that Senate Democrats were on a warpath “to repeal the First Amendment.” Addressing a terrified audience of conservative pastors in Washington, D.C., Cruz assured his listeners that he “was not making this up,” and that Democrats were really and truly attempting to do away with such honored rights as freedom of speech, the press, and religion.

In the words of Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler: Really, Senator Cruz? Really?

Cruz’s bold claim was inspired by Senator Tom Udall’s (D-NM) proposed Constitutional amendment that would grant the federal government the “power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents for federal political campaigns.” Nowhere in the amendment does Udall suggest repealing the First Amendment.

According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), however, “In our society, spending is speech.” As such, it seems that Cruz has conflated the Democrats’ attempts to curb Big Money’s influence on policy and politics with an attack on the wealthy’s First Amendment rights.

In reality, Udall’s amendment is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling and the more recent McCutcheon, which have eroded limitations on campaign donations. Recent studies by professors at Yale and the University of California, Berkeley have suggested that individuals with the means to make significant financial contributions have better access to politicians, lending statistical evidence to support the widely held assumption that “financial resources translate into political power.” Consequently, eliminating contribution ceilings gives even greater influence to the wealthy donor class whose money serves as a megaphone in the political arena. Udall’s amendment — which is strongly supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has said he will force “multiple votes” on the issue — attempts to restore some equality in political representation.

Of course, this is not how Cruz views the amendment. Rather, the ultra-conservative senator told onlookers at the Family Research Council event that the amendment would give Congress the ability “to muzzle each and every one of you.” Ostensibly, when Cruz says that the government will “muzzle” pastors, he is speaking of the amendment’s aim of capping campaign contributions. But religious institutions — specifically churches, synagogues, mosques, and/or temples — are considered tax-exempt non-profits by the IRS, which means that they are prohibited from participating in, contributing to, or interfering with any political campaigns. In fact, the IRS expressly states:

Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

Therefore, if Udall’s amendment were to pass, Cruz’s audience would be unaffected, because they are and would remain unable to financially influence public official elections.

Moreover, Cruz’s claims that the amendment grants Congress “unlimited authority” to “regulate political speech” is equally untrue. The senator seems to believe that Congress would receive unprecedented power to check campaign donations. But what he has conveniently forgotten is that before Citizens United, there were ceilings in place to ensure that no individual (or individuals) could give unlimited cash to campaigns or candidates. So really, the amendment would simply return the campaign contribution landscape to its pre-2010 state, not create a new era of total government control.

For Cruz, however, Congress’ audacity to suggest that more money should not mean more influence places the United States in “perilous, perilous times.” The senator continued his histrionic rant by saying, “elected officials have decided they don’t like it when the citizenry has the temerity to criticize what they’ve done.” Because for Cruz, criticism comes in the form of a check.

And while the amendment explicitly says nothing “shall abridge the freedom of the press,” Cruz takes issue with the fact that the amendment does not proceed to list every other aspect that will be unaffected, including freedom of speech and religious liberty. By this logic, because the amendment does not mention the guarantee of kittens’ safety, we may also assume that upon its passage, all kittens will be in immediate danger.

Luckily for Cruz, the likelihood of passage is slim — only 27 amendments have been ratified in the course of American history, as the process is long and difficult. However, regardless of the amendment’s chances, the probability that Ted Cruz has officially lost his mind — judging by these kinds of absurd claims — seems higher every day.

Photo: jbouie via Flickr

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Washington Redskins Still Have An Offensive Team Name

Washington Redskins Still Have An Offensive Team Name

About half of the Senate — the Democratic half, that is — is joining the growing chorus of Americans asking the Washington Redskins football team to change its name. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter, co-signed by 47 senators, to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, requesting that the NFL “take action to remove the racial slur from the name of one of its marquee franchises.” Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who described himself as “one of [the Redskins’] great fans for both the game and [the Redskins] personally,” wrote to the NFL separately, saying that the name is not “appropriate in this day and age.” But not even the United States Senate can convince Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder and the NFL to show a little respect for critics.

Prominent figures and fans, including President Obama, have long urged Snyder to reconsider the epithet that serves as both his team’s name and mascot. And the Washington, D.C. team is no stranger to government intervention, or to racial controversy. In 1962, the John F. Kennedy administration took issue with the team’s 25-year ban on black players, and offered then-team owner George Preston Marshall a choice — either integrate, or face federal sanctions that would potentially deny the team the use of the newly built D.C. stadium. While this initially generated cries of Big Government overstepping its bounds, public opinion was solidly set against the Redskins’ blatant racism, and eventually Marshall caved, and began hiring black players.

Today, Snyder faces similarly mounting public dissatisfaction with his continued refusal to change the team name. Many prominent sports journalists have publicly criticized the use of the epithet, and the team is even in the midst of a lawsuit. Last year, President Obama told the Associated Press, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

Obama is not the team’s owner, however, and neither the NFL nor Snyder appear to be on the same page with the president when it comes to racial sensitivity. In a written response to the letter, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said “diversity and inclusion” are important aspects of the NFL, and that “the intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image.” Apparently, for the NFL, as long as intentions are pure, it doesn’t at all matter how offensive the reality of the situation may be. McCarthy continued, “The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.” Just not enough to change it, apparently.

The term “redskin,” which was originally coined to refer to Native use of vermilion face and body paint, is widely defined as a pejorative term, cited as discriminatory and offensive by dictionaries, encyclopedias, and Native Americans themselves. While the sports world was quick to condemn Donald Sterling for his racist comments about black people, the same consideration is not being given to the Native population.

The Senate’s letter to the NFL reads, “The Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African-Americans while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?”

For the NFL and Snyder, that message doesn’t matter, as long as they get to keep their precious team name.

Photo Credit: AFP/Patrick McDermott

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Rebrand Redux: GOP Hopes To Appeal To Middle Class Through New Book Release

Rebrand Redux: GOP Hopes To Appeal To Middle Class Through New Book Release

On Thursday, the Republican Party unveiled the latest strategy in its ongoing struggle to appeal to the middle class, or any class outside of the 1 percent. The release of a new conservative manifesto, entitled Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class, is meant to serve as a first step in “building a post-Obama conservatism,” as contributor Ramesh Ponnuru told The New York Times. The 121-page document is a collection of articles from a number of self-described “reform conservatives,” and attempts to rebrand the GOP as more accessible and in touch with today’s voters.

Largely backed by the YG Network, which calls itself a “non-profit dedicated to supporting conservative policies and the efforts of policymakers who fight for those policies,” the book points to the “demonstrable failure of the liberal welfare state” as motivation for “an innovative agenda that empowers individuals by increasing competition and replacing failed government policies.” The agenda includes 10 essays addressing issues like health care, tax, and education reform, as well as pro-family and employment policies.

The book focuses on the issues that affect the everyday lives of middle-class Americans, a markedly different approach from that of Mitt Romney, who focused on the entrepreneurial vote in 2012. As YG advisor Kate O’Beirne told the Times“News flash: Most people don’t own their own businesses.”

According to Peter Wehner, author of the introduction entitled “The Problem: The Anxieties and Worries of Middle America,” the 85 percent of the population that comprises the middle-class serve as “America’s center of gravity,” and are the key to Republican success. Wehner believes that “conservatives in American politics need to understand constituents’ concerns, speak to those aspirations and worries, and help people see how applying conservative principles and deploying conservative policies could help make their lives better.” However, this seems to be much easier said than done.

On Thursday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will attend the book’s release party in hopes of advancing its proposed policies. Since President Obama took office in 2009, however, the GOP has seemed more concerned with opposing his policies than with presenting ideas of their own. The health care debate is a prime example of Republicans’ lack of creativity, as party members have voted more than 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act without ever unifying around an alternative.

Room to Grow fills this gap, suggesting that the government offer tax credits for those without employer-based health insurance, which James C. Capretta — who authored the chapter on health care reform — says will “generate intense price competition in the marketplace.” However, with continued infighting among Republicans, it seems unlikely that the party will be able to come together to support a single Obamacare substitute. To date, the party has debated several other options — including allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, creating health savings accounts, and forming high-risk pools — none of which have addressed the quality of health care, and none of which have been fully supported by the GOP.

More importantly, however, is the issue with the proposed tax credit alternative itself. In September 2013, the Republican Study Committee suggested a $7,500 tax deduction for individuals and $20,000 for families in order to incentivize the uninsured to purchase health coverage and reduce costs for the already insured. In order to pay for this tax break, however, tax breaks on employer-provided insurance would have to be eliminated, which would likely increase the costs of health care for those who received insurance through their employers. So while such a plan might allow some uninsured Americans to purchase coverage, it would result in an overall increase in costs.

Similarly, a bill proposed in June of 2013 by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) requested a $5,000 tax credit to families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This bill, according to the bill tracker, was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice last July, and has seen no further action since. With this sort of track record, it is unlikely that the Room to Grow alternative will make it into law, much less work for the middle class.

As for tax reform, the report certainly hopes to address middle-class worries that they bear the brunt of the tax burden. But while Robert Stein says in his chapter that conservatives should offer benefits to middle-class parents, it does not appear that Republicans will agree with such a policy. Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget, released in April and passed by House Republicans, actually raised taxes for many middle-class Americans. An analysis of the budget by the Office of Management and Budget showed that middle-class parents in Aurora, Colorado would see a $2,000 tax increase, while those making over $1 million would receive a $200,000 tax cut, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.

Furthermore, the Ryan budget points to several “good plans,” including proposals from Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), who hopes to replace the income and payroll tax with a flat 17 percent wage tax, and Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA), who would use a national retail sales tax to replace the current tax code. Neither of these plans is particularly good for the middle class either. Economists have consistently found that a flat tax results in a tax break for the wealthy, and a tax hike for the middle class, who must pick up the slack.

On energy policy, Room to Grow recognizes the need for reform given last year’s frigid winter, which resulted in average spending of 5 percent more on electricity and 10 percent more on gas. But the chances of the GOP passing meaningful energy reform that decreases reliance on natural gas and increases investments in alternative energy sources is slim at best.

Finally, the manifesto’s conspicuous lack of female authors makes it clear that the Republican Party is still not the women’s party. Carrie Lukas, the sole woman involved in writing the document, is the managing director at the Independent Women’s Forum, and wrote — you guessed it — about how to balance work and family.

As the GOP attempts to move forward with the middle class in tow, it seems that even with the release of its new book, there’s still plenty of room for growth in the party.

Photo via Flickr 

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Chipotle To Customers: Don’t Bring Assault Rifles To Meals

Chipotle To Customers: Don’t Bring Assault Rifles To Meals

At Chipotle, you can have a side of chips with your order, but not a military assault rifle. Following an uncomfortable situation at a Chipotle restaurant in Dallas, Texas, in which a few customers brought SKS semi-automatic rifles to enjoy along with their food, the company issued a statement in which they urged gun owners to leave their firearms behind when dining at the burrito joint: “The display of firearms in our restaurants has now created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers,” it read.

The very public display of Second Amendment rights prompted gun control advocacy group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, backed by billionaire and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, to petition Chipotle to ban firearms in their restaurants. While it is unclear whether Chipotle’s statement serves as an outright ban, it certainly comes as a “bold move” for the chain, according to Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for the gun control group. Texas is a staunchly pro-gun state, and while Chipotle said that it generally adhered to local gun policies, it seemed that the “weekend armed lunch” was just a little too much to stomach.

Photo via Twitter

Photo via Twitter

Gun rights activists — including those affiliated with Open Carry Texas, whose members brought the rifles into Chipotle last weekend — are no strangers to using restaurants and other public places as platforms for their  lunacy advocacy. Earlier this month, members of Open Carry Tarrant County appeared at a Jack in the Box in Fort Worth carrying plenty of rifles — but not a single sign indicating their purpose. They neither notified the police nor the employees, who, believing they were being attacked, “locked themselves inside a freezer for protection out of fear the rifle-carrying men would rob them,” according to a statement by the Fort Worth Police Department. This was apparently too much even for Open Carry Texas, which requires demonstrators to notify police of their intentions before staging any sort of event. The state group severed all ties to the local branch.

But even after warning the police, it seems that having a meal disrupted by a group of gun-wielding individuals would be somewhat terrifying, especially at a family-friendly establishment like Chipotle. Moms Demand Action used #BurritosNotBullets to drive their Twitter campaign that urged Chipotle to keep their restaurants safe and approachable for families and children. Shannon Watts, the founder of the organization, noted that “you can support the Second Amendment while also taking reasonable measures to ensure that Americans are safe and secure in the places we take our children.”

Photo via Twitter

Photo via Twitter

And to most, loaded assault rifles simply don’t scream “safety and security” in a restaurant. Alex Clark, one of the men who took his gun to Chipotle, informed KRLD-TV of the diversity of guns included in the demonstration, saying “We had all different types of long guns, some people had shotguns. I personally carry an AK-47.” And these guns weren’t just for show — rather, they were fully locked and loaded, and ready for action. Said Clark, “There’s no reason to carry an unloaded weapon — it wouldn’t do any good.”

Chipotle’s statement follows the example set by Starbucks, who made a similar statement last year asking customers to refrain from carrying guns in their stores. However, Starbucks did not issue a full-fledged ban, and like Chipotle, believes that “it is the role of elected officials and the legislative process to set policy in this area.”

One thing is for sure: Chipotle certainly doesn’t want to serve as a battleground for the gun-rights debate. 

Photo via Flickr

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Report: Interest Groups Have Greatest Effect On Policy

Report: Interest Groups Have Greatest Effect On Policy

A study published Monday by the Sunlight Foundation suggests that interest groups, not individual voters, are the primary catalysts of policy change in American government. Michigan State University political science professor Matt Grossmann studied “790 significant domestic policy changes” occurring since 1945, and found that interest groups were more likely to motivate change than “public opinion, research, events, ideas, the media or courts.”

These findings come as little surprise in light of recent research indicating that in the hierarchy of influence on policy decisions, average voters come dead last. However, Grossmann’s study differs slightly in his findings of which group exercises the most power.

Last month, Princeton University released a study entitled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” that quickly went viral and was rebranded in the headlines as “America Is An Oligarchy.” While this study also determined that average citizens had the least amount of impact on the government, it also claimed that businesses and other economic elites carried the most sway, and that mass-based interest groups were largely ineffective in influencing policy.

But in Grossmann’s new study, he manages to restore a little faith in the effectiveness of advocacy groups that are meant to represent public interest, not just the economic affairs of big business. According to Grossmann’s work, “The interest groups credited with policy changes most often since 1945 were the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the ACLU.” 

For Grossmann, influence is indicated by successful policy change. Businesses, according to the Princeton study, tend to advocate for the status quo, and oppose policy change. As such, though their opposition is effective, it is not responsible for affecting actual change, but rather for simply maintaining existing conditions.Therefore, big business and its interest groups tend to stymie policy change, rather than encourage it. 

The Princeton study also failed to include a variety of interest groups and advocacy groups, only taking into consideration five generally conservative interest groups and “only two of the top 28 advocacy groups,” as indicated by policy historians.

Regardless of their differences, both studies found that organized action and large groups were far more influential in policy decisions than individual voters, which as the Princeton study suggests, de-legitimizes a Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism as the structure of the American government.

These results also further corroborate another recent study conducted by professors at Yale and the University of California, Berkeley which determined that campaign donors received better access to their politicians. The study provided statistical support for the previously unproven (though largely held) belief that “financial resources translate into political power.”

This finding is raising increasing concerns into the influence of wealth in today’s political scene, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions to further loosen limitations on campaign contributions. As individuals are able to contribute more and more to candidates and campaigns, it seems that the rule of the economic elite may be almost inevitable.

However, Grossmann’s study made one more interesting discovery that may quell these fears. According to Grossmann, although the number of lobbyists and organizations (and therefore money in play) has skyrocketed, with the amount spent on presidential elections consistently on the rise since 2000, interest group influence has not increased in parallel.

Moreover, when comparing the effects of business interest to that of advocacy groups and public interest groups on policy change, the latter two were more influential in 9 out of 14 policy areas, whereas business was more effective in predictable industries, including finance and commerce, science and technology, and macroeconomics.

So while the United States certainly isn’t the sort of democracy that we might imagine it to be, Grossmann still manages to make the argument that the best interests of the people continue to be represented in Washington –even if not by way of individual votes.

Photo via Flickr

American Bridge Targets Koch Brothers And GOP Beneficiaries

American Bridge Targets Koch Brothers And GOP Beneficiaries

On Thursday, the Democratic SuperPAC American Bridge launched, a digital project that delves into the Koch brothers, their policy agenda, business impact, and political spending, including a state-by-state analysis of how the big-spending conservatives have affected local legislation.

The website’s release comes on the same day that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to take to the Senate floor in support of a constitutional amendment that will reinstate limitations on campaign spending, contributions, and independent group spending. These limits were recently eliminated by McCutcheon v. FEC, which further loosened campaign spending regulations that were previously weakened by the Citizens United decision in 1988.  J. Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Legal Center, said that the decision “exponentially increased the already significant political influence of the very richest while further undermining the influence of the overwhelming majority of Americans.” 

With, American Bridge hopes to draw attention to a specific subset of the very richest: Charles and David Koch. According to the website, in conjunction with Americans For Prosperity, the Koch brothers spent more than $122 million during the 2012 electionPolitico also reports that this year, the Koch brothers aim to spend more than $125 million “on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives.” And according to a Politico source close to AFP, the $125 million number is a “very conservative estimate.”

According to a recent New York Times article, the chief aim of AFP is not only to advance Republican candidates, but more importantly, to convince “Americans that big government is bad government.” And with a veritable arsenal of financial ammunition, American Bridge believes that “voters need to know what’s at stake,” especially with midterm elections on the horizon. Gwen Rocco, the spokesperson for American Bridge, told The National Memo,

The organizations the Kochs fund and the extreme conservative candidates they support show the truth behind their agenda: supporting tax cuts for the wealthy, weakening Medicare, and eliminating the minimum wage. The Real Koch Facts project will serve as a daily research, communications and rapid response effort to show voters just how dangerous the Kochs’ self-serving agenda is for working families.

AFP has advanced that agenda in a variety of ways, notably opposing Hurricane Sandy relief, renewable energy, and environmental protection. Given that Koch Industries, America’s second largest private company, is a titan in the petroleum and fossil fuel industry, AFP’s resistance to alternative energy sources and stemming pollution comes as little surprise. It also shows how closely tied the Koch brothers’ personal interests are to their political maneuverings and AFP’s donations.

Following the Hurricane Sandy disaster, AFP’s director of policy wrote to the Senate: “Unless the legislation is fully offset with other spending reductions, I urge you to vote NO on the Hurricane Sandy disaster-aid supplemental.” AFP also sent the same message in opposition to an amendment that sought to provide “$33 billion in funding for long-term projects, including repairs to federal buildings, coastlines and subway tunnels to protect against future disasters.”

In regard to environmental issues, Greenpeace reports that since 1997, the Koch brothers have given over $67 million to groups denying climate change. This is likely spurred by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s finding that “Koch Industries ranked in the top 30 polluters nationwide in airwaterand greenhouse gases.” A Greenpeace examination of lobbying records show that for the past decade, the Koch brothers have deployed more lobbyists than Dow, Dupont, American Petroleum Institute, and the Chamber of Commerce in order to block legislation that seeks to address the “bulk storage of poison gasses at dangerous chemical facilities such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing facilities, and water treatment plants.” The only organization with more lobbyists for this cause was the American Chemistry Council.

Sen. Reid’s support of Thursday’s proposed constitutional amendment, which he hopes will “grant Congress the authority to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns,” comes as a direct attack on the Kochs, their agenda, and their financially backed political influence. With Mitch McConnell voicing the opinion of seemingly the entirety of the GOP, that “in our society, spending is speech,” there is a pronounced inequality in representation. In excerpts of Reid’s remarks obtained by the Washington Post, the Majority Leader points out,

The Supreme Court has equated money with speech, so the more money you have, the more speech you get, and the more influence in our democracy. That is wrong. Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the Constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote…

In Reid’s view, “the Kochs’ bid for a hostile takeover of American democracy is calculated to make themselves even richer” — and seems poised to prove his argument. 

Screenshot via Al-Jazeera

Christie’s Potomac Fever Persists Even As Approval Ratings Fall

Christie’s Potomac Fever Persists Even As Approval Ratings Fall

Chris Christie is still thinking about running for president in 2016. In perhaps one of the most straightfoward answers the embattled New Jersey governor has given on the topic, Christie responded to CBS News’ Bob Schieffer’s question of whether he was thinking of running for president and when he would make a decision: “Yes, and later.

Adamant that the George Washington Bridge scandal will have little impact on his political career, Christie predicted that despite a lengthy investigation and the firing of top aides, it will be nothing more than a “footnote” by election time. But despite his confidence, voters and donors seem more skeptical.

A Fairleigh Dickson University PublicMind poll conducted in March showed that Christie’s approval ratings had dropped to an all-time low, with only 41 percent responding favorably to the governor, and 44 percent negatively. Since November, public opinion has been steadily declining, with the latest figures representing a 20-point drop from his standing last year. Despite strong initial backing for Christie immediately following allegations that he knew about the bridge lane closures, continuing investigations that appear to further implicate him and reveal inconsistencies have eroded public support. 

In another Wall Street Journal/NBC News pollonly 17 percent of Americans approved of Christie, while 32 percent disapproved. This represents an increasingly large gap between approval and disapproval ratings; in January, the same poll found that 22 percent of respondents saw him positively and 29 percent negatively. Most damning of all, no political group, including his own, saw Christie in a positive light. By a 28 to 12 percent margin, independents regarded him negatively, and 29 percent of Republicans disapproved of Christie, while only 23 percent approved.

While Democrats have a clear frontrunner for their 2016 presidential ticket in Hillary Clinton, the GOP is suffering from a severe lack of strong candidates. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, none of the top five contenders for the Republican nomination manage to break 15 percent in support, with Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) barely edging out Mike Huckabee to tie for first place at 14 percent. Chris Christie just manages to clear double digits, with only 10 percent of voters hoping he will run for president. 

Beyond waning public support for the governor, further complications emerged on Wednesday concerning Bridgegate. One of Christie’s former top political advisors, Bill Stepien, who was largely responsible for Christie’s landslide re-election victory in 2013, publicly disagreed with the internal investigation’s report. Stepien is now threatening legal action for what he says are misrepresentations of his involvement in the scandal. The report claims that Stepien lied to Christie about his knowledge of the George Washington Bridge plot. Stepien, who was fired as a result of the scandal, has said that he was unfairly punished by the governor, and is the second former Christie administration employee to come forward with accusations of errors in the report.

As Christie continues to accumulate former friends, it is hard not to wonder how their enmity may affect the final outcome of the scandal — and he presidential ambitions. For the moment, he appears determined to press forward.

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Brush Fires Burn Hundreds Of Acres In San Diego, Santa Barbara Counties

Brush Fires Burn Hundreds Of Acres In San Diego, Santa Barbara Counties

By Tony Perry and Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO—Driven by hot, dry winds, fast-moving brush fires in San Diego and Santa Barbara counties burned hundreds of acres Tuesday and forced mandatory evacuations in both areas.

With even higher temperatures forecast for Wednesday, fire officials throughout Southern California were gearing up for more hot spots and warning residents to remain vigilant.

In northern San Diego County, a brush fire burned more than 800 acres, but an aggressive response by firefighters from the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and several local fire departments was credited with preventing the flames from damaging any homes.

“We think we have a pretty good handle on it,” San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar said at an evening media briefing.

In Santa Barbara County, mandatory evacuations were ordered for 1,200 homes and businesses near Lompoc as a wind-driven brush fire there swelled to 700 acres.

Residents in the San Miguelito Canyon area were advised to evacuate as their homes were threatened by flames moving rapidly toward Lompoc, said Capt. David Sadecki of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

The fire was reported about 1:30 p.m. Strike teams and helicopters were used to battle the blaze in 15 mph winds. County firefighters ordered eight air tankers for additional support.

In San Diego County, more than 20,000 evacuation calls were made by various fire and emergency agencies to homes, businesses and cell phone numbers, the San Diego County Emergency Site said late Tuesday afternoon.

But those figures were later revised, and at day’s end it remained unclear how many homes were actually evacuated and how many residents may have opted not to leave despite receiving a call.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said 300 mandatory evacuation calls were made within the city limits. San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said his department made 5,000 calls.

The calls were made in the Black Mountain Road, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Torrey Highlands, Santaluz, Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe areas. The Fairbanks Ranch Country Club was ordered evacuated.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said a joint effort by Cal Fire and several local departments mobilized “every available resource to attack this fire all day.”

The fire was reported shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday near Rancho Bernardo. By 6:30 p.m., the fire was considered 5 percent contained.

“We’ve come a long way since the wildfires of 2003,” Mainar said. After the Cedar fire in 2003 destroyed more than 2,200 homes in San Diego County, reports pointed to communication and equipment problems.

Across Southern California, fire agencies were beefing up crews and setting up equipment in wilderness areas because of Santa Ana winds and hot weather expected to last for several days.

Dry northeast winds, along with dangerously low relative humidity and temperatures above 100 degrees in some areas, are forecast for inland and mountain areas across the region, according to the National Weather Service.

Earlier in the week, the agency issued red-flag fire warnings, high-wind warnings and heat advisories from Ventura to San Diego counties, and the U.S. Forest Service said it has assigned 24-hour staffing for crews on more than two dozen fire engine and lightweight brush patrol vehicles across the Angeles National Forest.

Some roads were closed in the forest area because of the fire danger. Those include Glendora Mountain and Mount Baldy. For a map of the closures, which are expected to last through Wednesday, see the Los Angeles Department of Public Works web site.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department has more than 70 additional firefighters on duty across the county, Inspector Tony Akins said. The department also has already deployed extra fire engines, brush patrol vehicles and water tender trucks in Agoura Hills and Malibu.

Akins said a Cal Fire strike team has been assigned to county Fire Station 126 in Santa Clarita.

USFWS/Southeast via Flickr

Boehner: ‘Democrats Are Probably Fundraising Off Of Benghazi Just Like We Are’

Boehner: ‘Democrats Are Probably Fundraising Off Of Benghazi Just Like We Are’

During a Monday appearance at a San Antonio Chamber of Commerce event, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) both conceded that Republicans are indeed using their ongoing Benghazi investigations to raise funds, and also claimed that Democrats are probably doing the same thing.

When Boehner was asked about a National Republican Congressional Committee email asking for donations between $25 and $500 to join GOP efforts to serve as a “Benghazi Watchdog,” the Speaker replied by saying he is “involved in [the] investigation…not in what goes on in the campaign committee.”

“All I know is that we’re trying to get to the truth here,” Boehner said, as quoted by Politico. “And I’ve got to believe that the Democrats are probably fundraising off of Benghazi just like we are.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has fervently denied Boehner’s claims. DCCC spokesman Josh Schwerin told The National Memo:

Unlike the NRCC, we are not fundraising off this terrible tragedy. Speaker Boehner should show some leadership and tell his campaign committee to stop exploiting this tragedy for political gain. While Boehner may not be able to control his caucus, nobody believes that he couldn’t stop the NRCC from fundraising off Benghazi if he really wanted to.

Although Boehner claims that he has nothing to do with the fundraising arm of the Republican Party, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. On Tuesday, Sam Stein, a White House correspondent and political editor for The Huffington Post, tweeted an email from the NRCC sent under John Boehner’s name. The email requests donations of “$100, $50, or even $25” to help “combat liberal attacks.”



Despite Select Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-SC) request that lawmakers refrain from raising money from the Benghazi investigation, many Republicans have pushed ahead with their fundraising attempts. The NRCC wasted no time in rolling out its “Benghazi Watchdog” campaign, with the homepage proclaiming, “no one will get away from Gowdy and the Select Committee.” Another fundraising page is titled “Benghazi Was A Cover Up: Demand Answers.”

According to Politico, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) sent an email in January soliciting donations and claiming that Obama “failed to mention Benghazi, the IRS, or the NSA.” Rep. Scott Rigell’s (R-VA) campaign requested donations to “help keep him in Congress and hold the Administration accountable,” asking, “Why didn’t the military respond to the events in Benghazi Were there even military assets in the region available? If not, why not? Who made the decision not to send support? House Republicans are committed to finding out the truth about Benghazi.” Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin (R-Paulden) accused Obama in an email of “covering up vital information about what happened that night” and also asked for donations to his campaign.

Other Republicans have pushed back, however. Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele told MSNBC last week, “I think Congressman Gowdy is absolutely correct…There should not be this opportunistic fundraising gorging that tends to happen around these types of things.” Similarly, former Republican congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called the fundraising “disgusting,” and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, (R-TX) — who may challenge Boehner for the Speaker’s gavel following the midterm elections — deemed the NRCC’s solicitation emails “not appropriate.”

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Karl Rove Suggests Hillary Clinton Has Brain Damage

Karl Rove Suggests Hillary Clinton Has Brain Damage

For a professional strategist, Karl Rove doesn’t seem to be particularly strategic.

During a public conference with former Obama administration press secretary Robert Gibbs and CBS correspondent Dan Raviv, Rove made a series of baseless and fallacious allegations about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Rove suggested that she suffered a “traumatic brain injury” and that voters “need to know what’s up with that.” In reality, we just need to know what’s up with Karl Rove and his inability to do his research.

In December 2012, Clinton suffered a concussion after fainting and striking her head. During a checkup visit two weeks after the episode, a brain scan revealed a blood clot that could have been dangerous had it not been discovered and treated, as it was during Clinton’s three-day stay in a hospital.

But this is not Rove’s version of the events. According to the former senior advisor to the Bush administration, Republicans still have not reached the bottom of the Benghazi “scandal,” particularly considering Clinton’s health scare that delayed her Senate hearing on the attacks. Said Rove:

Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”

If Rove had bothered to do his homework on Clinton’s 2012 health issues, he would have discovered that his report of the length of her hospital stay was 10 times its actual duration. He also might have realized that the glasses were worn to treat the double vision that resulted from her fall. Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill responded to Rove’s claims indignantly, saying, “Karl Rove has deceived the country for years, but there are no words for this level of lying. She is 100 percent. Period.”

On Tuesday morning, Rove defended his comments on Fox Newssaying he “never used” the phrase “traumatic brain injury.” When pressed about his faulty timeline, Rove insisted that even though Clinton’s hospital stay only lasted three days, there was “a 30-day period where she [was] fighting something.”

After his comments were made public, Democrats and other Clinton supporters were quick to blast Rove, and his attempts to question her ability to run in 2016 may have backfired. As Politico’s Katie Glueck notes, Clinton “tends to be viewed more favorably when she is perceived as being under unfair assault, causing the Democratic base to rally around her.” 

Rove also seems to be forgetting his own party’s tendency to run rather “senior” candidates for office. John McCain was 72 when he faced President Obama in 2008, and had battled melanoma for several years. Dick Cheney’s heart problems have been a consistent issue since he suffered his first heart attack at age 37. And although Clinton’s medical history is sure to come into question in 2016, creating nonexistent health issues in order to cast doubt on her capacity to serve as the president is low even for Karl Rove.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Report: Taxes Barely Affect Decisions To Move Between States

Report: Taxes Barely Affect Decisions To Move Between States

A report released by the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities on Thursday shows that differing tax rates among states have negligible effects on whether or where Americans choose to move. In other words: Rick Perry is wrong.

For years, conservative economists and politicians have touted lower tax rates as a major incentive that draws new residents and businesses to certain states. But according to the CBPP report, not only is this relatively insignificant to potential movers, but may also have detrimental effects on the state.

Cutting taxes may result in the deterioration of important state-funded public services, including education, public safety, parks, roads, and other critical infrastructure, which in turn reduces the state’s attractiveness both to current residents and families looking to find new homes. Instead, factors that were most commonly cited as attractive to movers included employment opportunities, inexpensive housing, and warmer climates.

The rate of interstate migration is actually very low, currently estimated to be around 1.5 to 2 percent of Americans per year, and is projected to drop over the next few years. The vast majority of these individuals said they moved because of “new, transferred, or lost jobs or family-related reasons,” not lower taxes.


Chart via CBPP

Moreover, CBPP’s analysis of Census and IRS data showed that interstate movers are just about as likely to move from a low-tax state to a high-tax state as they are to move in the opposite direction. In fact, over the past 20 years, more people moved from Florida — which has no income tax — to 11 other states with income taxes than residents of those 11 states moved to Florida. When neighboring states that were similar in every aspect aside from tax levels were compared, in many cases, the states with income taxes attracted more new residents that states without. 

Rather, it seems that residents trying to save money would be most motivated to move by lower housing costs. In most cases, mortgage savings far outweighed tax savings for people moving from “expensive” states like California and New York to Florida and Texas, where housing is considerably cheaper. Moving from New York to Texas saves an individual three times as much in mortgage than it does in tax.

Chart via CBPP

Chart via CBPP

This means that states that intend to cut taxes in order to stymie out-migration or attract in-migration are operating from a flawed assumption. And for politicians like Rick Perry, who has made no secret of his attempts to poach businesses and families from other states, promises to catalyze growth and economic prosperity by lowering taxes don’t exactly hold water.

Perry, despite his disastrous 2012 campaign, is likely considering yet another presidential bid. And in preparation for his campaign, the Texas governor has begun airing ads in states with higher tax levels, like New York and Connecticut, in which he urges these states’ residents to make a move to no-income-tax Texas. These ad campaigns have already cost taxpayers $1 million in these two states alone, and have also been run in Maryland, California, Illinois, and Missouri. And while Perry’s office states that “no state tax dollars” are being used to buy each $500,000 ad, this isn’t altogether true.

The “Texas: Wide Open For Business” ads are sponsored by TexasOne, which Perry’s spokeswoman told ThinkProgress draws no money from the state government. However, though “the state does not pay for any of [the campaign’s costs],” the same cannot be said for local governments. ThinkProgress’ review of TexasOne found that at least $465,000 of its funds come from local governments and sales-tax-funded local economic development councils.

So apparently, Rick Perry won’t tax you, but he’ll lie about using your money to talk about how he won’t tax you.

Of course, none of these ads bear any mention of many of the problems that result from Texas’ low tax rates — and, consequently, few state-funded public services — including its high child-poverty rate, high percentage of Texans without health insurance, and continued cuts to public schools.

Texas also ranked 49th in public education spending, so while Perry may be saving taxpayer dollars, he is doing so at the expense of their children’s academic careers.

Unfortunately for Perry, the CBPP’s new report makes it apparent that cutting taxes will not do anything for state in-migration rates. But knowing Perry, he’ll just forget that too.

Photo: Ed Schipul via Flickr

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WATCH: Jon Stewart’s Bullet Points Over Benghazi

WATCH: Jon Stewart’s Bullet Points Over Benghazi

In the latest update on the “scandal” that just won’t quit, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) named Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a former federal prosecutor, to lead the select committee that will conduct yet another investigation into the supposed cover-up staged by the White House following the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi.

Republicans and Fox News have seized upon the opportunity to call newly released emails that say almost nothing new about the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks a “smoking gun,” and are clearly indignant that they are the only ones showing any outrage. This may be because these emails do not reveal anything that the White House hasn’t already admitted — that there was a communication breakdown and that they decided to move forward with an early intelligence assessment provided by the CIA.

Or perhaps, as Jon Stewart says, it may be because there have already been “a hundred network news stories, hundreds of cable news stories, 13 congressional hearings, 50 further congressional briefings, and 25,000 pages of findings” about Benghazi over the course of the past year and a half.

“Here’s the problem,” Stewart says of Fox News and the GOP. “You’re asking people to get angry over an intelligence failure…one intelligence failure,” while ignoring broader intelligence failures, like George W. Bush’s now infamous claim of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Stewart notes the lack of GOP outrage for that particular intelligence failure, emphasizing the partisanship of politicizing tragedies. Watch it below: