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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Will North Carolina Marriage Amendment Force Obama’s Hand At DNC?

North Carolina voters are poised to pass a constitutional amendment next week that would bar all government recognition of same-sex couples, putting pressure on President Barack Obama to address marriage equality in his platform at the September Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

According to the latest Public Policy Polling survey of the state, Amendment One could pass by a double-digit margin even though 55 percent of  North Carolina residents support some form of legal recognition for gay couples.

“Voters who understand what the amendment does are opposed to it,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “But there’s a lot of education left to be done in this final week of the campaign.”

State Senator and Democratic Whip Josh Stein, who has led the charge against the amendment, agrees that the problem is most voters lack an understanding of the stakes.

“When people have information about the amendment and how unnecessary it is, they don’t support it,” Stein told The National Memo. “The key is, do we have enough resources to communicate, to inform voters?”

Richard Socarides, former special adviser to President Bill Clinton on LGBT issues and a Democratic strategist, expressed confidence opponents of discrimination could close the gap in the final days.

“The momentum is with us and the ads are very good on our side,” he said. PPP’s data seems to back him up: when voters are informed of what the amendment would do (and not do), they reject it 46 to 38 percent, according to the survey.

But if the numbers do not flip before the primary on Tuesday, national Democrats — some of whom had already suggested Obama’s equivocation on marriage would need to change before November — will put increased pressure on the president to use the power and prestige of the his office to make a case for marriage equality in what he is telling supporters will be his “last campaign.”

“If it does pass, it’s more pressure on Obama and the DNC to address the marriage issue head-on in the platform,” said Socarides. “But really either way I don’t see how they avoid it.”

Scathing British Government Report Calls Murdoch Unfit To Lead

Calling Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch unfit to lead a major corporation, a panel of British lawmakers on Tuesday charged him with having “exhibited willful blindness” toward illegal phone hacking at his now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

The 121-page report from the British Parliament’s select committee on culture, media and sport had not been expected to threaten Murdoch’s leadership so directly, and reflects persistent public anger at revelations last summer that News Corp. employees hacked the phones of a missing 13-year-old girl and relatives of slain British soldiers, in addition to celebrities and politicians.

News Corp. “acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World and apologizes to everyone whose privacy was invaded,” the company said in a response.

The House of Commons will have to decide how to punish three News Corp. executives (besides Murdoch and his son, James) that it says gave misleading or false testimony: Colin Myler, an ex-News of The World editor who is now editor-in-chief at the New York Daily News; Tom Crone, the British tabloid’s lawyer; and Les Hinton, former executive chairman of News International, Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper arm.

“Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications,” reads the report, which was passed on a party-line 6-4 vote, Conservatives opposing the harsh language used toward Murdoch. “This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International. We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

But even if the new report might imperil the Murdoch family’s prospects for indefinite, unlimited power at the helm of News Corp., the media corporation is unlikely to have its licenses revoked by the Federal Communications Commission here in the United States.

“Based on everything that I know, all that was in another country,” said Reed Hundt, FCC chairman for several years under President Bill Clinton. “And besides, the facts are cold and dead. I don’t see any risk to the Fox licenses,” he added, referring to News Corp.’s conservative American cable network.

Michael Copps, FCC commissioner under George W. Bush and the only member of the commission to vote against Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal last year, was more bullish, expressing hope the U.S. might take action.

“At a minimum, something like this should be a wake-up call for the FCC to get serious about re-licensing,” he said.

May Day A Crucial Test For Occupy Wall Street

NEW YORK — Occupy Wall Street protesters will fan out across Manhattan and the nation on Tuesday in an effort to breathe new life into a movement that has sputtered since bursting onto the national stage last September.

The “nationwide emergency outcry” by activists intent on showing America what a day would be like without the “99 percent” — workers of all stripes who don’t rake in millions at financial firms — represents something of a gamble, as months of anticipation and hype have raised expectations and put the burden on Occupiers to demonstrate continued, broad appeal.

“The lazy narrative is Occupy Wall Street is dead because we haven’t been having as many large demonstrations,” said Mark Bray, a member of the Occupy Wall Street press team. “We want to get across the message that it’s the labor of the 99 percent that makes this country run, makes it tick.”

The action comes after several months of hibernation for Occupy Wall Street, where the focus has shifted from civil disobedience to targeted actions, like halting home foreclosures and protesting rising student debt.

Events are planned in over 100 cities, and in New York, there will be 99 pickets at banks and other institutions to “disrupt the one percent.” There have been reports that major bridges and roadways will be blocked and that activists will attempt to shut down the city, but while acknowledging civil disobedience and direct action were likely, Bray indicated they were not on the formal agenda.

“It’s not something that was planned at any official capacity or any public meeting,” he said.

Cognizant of the risks associated with potentially delaying commuters and alienating workers — most national unions have officially declined to take part in the May Day action even if locals like the powerful 1199-SEIU in New York have pledged support — ‘Occupy’ has determined that to shake things up and get some of its magic back, a show of force is necessary.

“We sympathize with people who are trying to get somewhere who are delayed,” Bray said. “If simply petitioning the government were sufficient to get the kinds of political changes we’re looking for, we wouldn’t be bothering with all of this. You need to look at in the context of crisis and desperation; the normal means of political change aren’t getting the job done. That’s the way groups have responded to similar crises in the past. It was not uncommon in the Civil Rights era to block bridges. We’re simply tapping into that tradition because that’s how we can grab people’s attention, and show our collective action.”

A direct action on the Brooklyn Bridge not long after the first Occupiers entered Zuccotti Park in September ended with 700 arrests, but it also seemed to garner the kind of press coverage necessary to grow the movement and create buzz. The best case scenario for die-hard activists is that May Day brings a similar infusion of new blood.

“It’s going to be important for the morale one way or the other of the movement,” said Todd Gitlin, a social movement historian and Columbia professor who led Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s and is the author of a new book on Occupy Wall Street. “If you want to convince people who are not inside the circle of the committed that the movement is back then you have to be able to make a case to them. Numbers are the easiest way to do that.”

If righteous indignation is the lifeblood of popular social movements, it doesn’t hurt that bankers have enlisted Pinkerton security consultants — yes, that Pinkerton — to help them prepare for May Day, one top Pinkerton analyst comparing banks bracing for occupation to elk fending off wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Demonstrations will focus on midtown banks for the morning and early afternoon, when activists will march from a pop-up occupation of Bryant Park to Union Square and hold a 4 p.m. rally. Later, there is a city-approved march from Union Square to Lower Manhattan, where Goldman Sachs’ headquarters could be targeted for protest.

“A success would be relatively good press and relatively decent numbers,” said Gitlin. “If the numbers in New York turn out to be much smaller than the numbers from the big marches in October and November, it will be hard to spin that.”

Dems Hope For Osama Election

Eight years after he released an inflammatory video just days before election day that may have helped George W. Bush win a second term, the late Osama bin Laden has become a political talisman for Barack Obama and the Democrats — a reminder of the president’s most tangible accomplishment since taking office.

Between the video of Bill Clinton praising Obama for ordering the Navy SEAL mission a year ago that found and killed bin Laden in Pakistan, and Vice President Joe Biden’s new slogan, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” it’s clear the White House has decided the killing is a legitimate — and especially useful — campaign weapon, as the AP reports:

Obama’s re-election campaign is portraying his risky decision to go after America’s top enemy as a defining difference with his Republican presidential opponent, suggesting Mitt Romney might not have had the guts to order a mission that put lives and perhaps a presidency at stake.

Obama himself is opening up on the raid again — and opening the secretive White House Situation Room as an interview stage — to hail the one-year anniversary.

The broader goal for Obama, whether through campaign web videos or the trappings of the White House, is not to just to remind voters of an enormous victory on his watch. It is to maximize a political narrative that he has the courage to make tough calls that his opponent might not.

“Does anybody doubt that had the mission failed, it would have written the beginning of the end of the president’s first term?” Vice President Joe Biden says in laying out Obama’s foreign policy campaign message. “We know what President Obama did. We can’t say for certain what Governor Romney would have done.”

Embracing Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson Goes Stealth

Sick of negative press, Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul best known for donating over $20 million to a Super PAC backing Newt Gingrich’s failed presidential bid, teased his plan for the rest of 2012 Friday: funneling money to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which is not required to disclose its donors and could help him take out his nemesis, Nevada Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Berkley.

Adelson told Jon Ralston at The Las Vegas Sun, “I’m going to give one more small donation — you might not think it’s that small — to a SuperPAC and then if I give it will be to a c4,” a reference to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits that are tax-exempt and can keep donors secret. Ralston said that Adelson must be referring to Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)(4) arm of Rove’s American Crossroads, a clearinghouse for outside Republican political spending.

“Do you know how many c4s there are?” Adelson replied. But as Ralston notes, Crossroads is the biggest game in town, and the 78-year-old Israel hawk expressed “gushing admiration” for Rove in the same interview. Crossroads has already sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into attack ads against Shelley Berkley, Adelson’s one-time employee with whom he had a major falling out just before she began her first congressional run in 1997.

And this may just be the beginning of a trend away from Super PACs — which despite pathetic disclosure requirements, do tend to draw scrutiny to their benefactors — toward 501(c)(4)s, which can avoid any sunlight at all until after the election.

“We’re now living in a world where someone who wants to influence an election can do so through a group that doesn’t have to disclose it’s donors,” said Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, a good government group. “That’s the really troubling thing here.”

All 501(c)(4)s have to do to retain their special protected status is spend less than 50 percent of funds on expressly political activity, a blurry line that will almost surely get crossed sometime between now and November.

“How the IRS defines that is pretty shaky, and because these are “social welfare” organizations, a lot of their issue advertising counts toward the 50 percent that is not supposed to go to political activity,” said Allison, referring to ads attacking policy initiatives of the White House like the 2010 healthcare law. “They can say, ‘Our mission is educating the public about this particular issue.'”

 

Karl Rove: Obama Poised For Electoral Triumph

Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s top political adviser for over a decade and the brains behind an outside group that hopes to raise and spend $300 million opposing President Obama’s re-election, released his first analysis of the 2012 electoral map this week, picking Obama as the early favorite.

His electoral map, reproduced below, pegs the president as the solid favorite in 18 states totaling 220 electoral votes, and as the slight favorite in another five states (New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) totaling 64 votes; the combined 284 electoral votes would be well over the 270 needed to win a second term.

While some of Rove’s choices — especially listing South Carolina, a conservative state Obama has almost no chance of winning, as a toss-up — might raise eyebrows, his 2008 map proved quite accurate. And even if this early look is meant to scare wealthy Republican donors into contributing to his American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS groups, the simple fact is that President Obama is in a strong position six months out from election day.

Biden Skewers Romney’s ‘Back To The Future’ Foreign Policy

Vice President Joe Biden delivered the latest in a series of speeches intended to frame the fall campaign against Mitt Romney with a foreign policy address at New York University Thursday, slamming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee as a “CEO” out of his depth.

Touting the Obama administration’s successful mission to assassinate 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and the relatively smooth withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, Biden repeated what will likely be his signature refrain of the campaign.

“If you’re looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” he said to the audience of 500 law students and national security experts. “You have to ask yourself, if Gov. Romney had been president, could he have used the same slogan…in reverse?”

Arguing that Romney would bring a return to the “go it alone” strategy of George W. Bush, who began the Iraq War with few allies less than two years after invading Afghanistan as part of a NATO coalition, Biden said Romney’s years as a business executive delegating tasks to subordinates was no fit for the nuanced foreign policy challenges facing America’s next president.

“He starts with a profound misunderstanding of the responsibilities of a President and the Commander-in-Chief,” Biden said. “Here’s what he said, and I want to quote him exactly. And I quote: ‘If we want someone who has a lot of experience in foreign policy, we can simply go to the State Department.’ He went on to say, and I quote, ‘But that’s not how we choose a President. A President is not a foreign policy expert.'”

“In my view,” Biden continued, “the last thing we need is a President who believes that he can subcontract our foreign policy to experts at the State Department, or for that matter, any other department or agency.”

Holding a conference call with reporters to rebut the charges, one of which was that Romney is stuck in Cold War-era thinking, Republican foreign policy experts seemed to buttress the Vice President’s case, using archaic terminology on more than one occasion. Former Reagan Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman said that the “Soviets” were taking advantage of a weaker U.S. military, and a Bush-era ambassador cited scuttled plans to place missile defense sites in “Czechoslovakia,” which has been called the Czech Republic for two decades.

Biden drew laughs when he cited the example of President Theodore Roosevelt as an inspiration for Obama.

“Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’  I promise you the President has a big stick.  I promise you.”

Whereas George W. Bush and his father both got the better of Democrats on national security issues, Barack Obama effectively neutralized them in 2008. To be sure, the financial collapse that fall did draw attention away from foreign affairs and focus it on the failure of the Republican Party’s economic policies, but Obama appears to have won the debate over the Iraq War and split the votes of those concerned about another attack on the country evenly with John McCain, quite the accomplishment for a first-term senator with no military background going up against a war hero and Senate veteran.

It will be interesting to see how and when the Obama campaign attempts to insert national security issues into his re-election bid, an issue they know is a sure winner for them this time around. The elder Bush tried — and failed — to get Americans frightened about Bill Clinton’s weak foreign policy chops and lack of military record. It didn’t work, Clinton riding economic frustration to an easy win in the 1992 presidential race.

 

Check out the video of the “Big Stick” moment:

Obama Blames Economy For Lack Of Global Warming Fix

Barack Obama has disappointed liberals on everything from civil liberties to health care to financial reform since taking office in 2009, and nowhere has he let his base down more than on climate change. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, a cap-and-trade bill that would have reduced carbon emissions by roughly the amount needed to avert catastrophe, passed the House in 2009 but was dead on arrival in the Senate.

And since the Tea Party wave of 2010, the White House has made no effort to bring another comprehensive bill to deal with the mounting problem before Congress.

So when discussing the Keystone XL pipeline in a new interview with Rolling Stone, the president tries to get at the obstacles (mostly a weak economy) that have made progress on the environment so difficult:

The reason that Keystone got so much attention is not because that particular pipeline is a make-or-break issue for climate change, but because those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared and concerned about a general lack of sufficient movement to deal with the problem. Frankly, I’m deeply concerned that internationally, we have not made as much progress as we need to make. Within the constraints of this Congress, we’ve tried to do a whole range of things, administratively, that are making a difference – doubling fuel-efficiency standards on cars is going to take a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere. We’re going to continue to push on energy efficiency, and renewable energy standards, and the promotion of green energy. But there is no doubt that we have a lot more work to do.

Part of the challenge over these past three years has been that people’s number-one priority is finding a job and paying the mortgage and dealing with high gas prices. In that environment, it’s been easy for the other side to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to debunk climate-change science. I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way. That there’s a way to do it that is entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation – that taking steps, for example, to retrofit buildings all across America with existing technologies will reduce our power usage by 15 or 20 percent. That’s an achievable goal, and we should be getting started now.

As much as small steps like postponing (and perhaps even cancelling) the Keystone pipeline make a difference, the president must refocus the debate on global warming in this campaign — and a second term — to be regarded as anything other than a failure on environmental issues.

In this interview we get a hint of how he might do that: by drawing attention to the villains (mostly big oil and other corporate interests) blocking progress.

But first he needs the economy to recover.

Santorum Takes His Time To Endorse Romney

Former Pennsylvania senator and social conservative firebrand Rick Santorum may have come close to derailing Mitt Romney’s glide to the Republican presidential nomination, but now that he’s quit the race, the big question is how (and not whether) he endorses his former rival.

Having announced that he would end his campaign on April 10, Santorum has kept quiet, spending time with his family and emerging only to discuss his love of fantasy baseball and the need to defeat Barack Obama.

“He’s the person that is going to go up against Barack Obama it’s pretty clear and we need to win this race,” Santorum said of Romney on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” Tuesday. “We need to beat Barack Obama,” he repeated as he warded off multiple attempts by Morgan to get him to formally back Romney.

But even if some are wondering out loud what’s taking so long — Santorum did endorse and campaign for Romney in 2008 over John McCain — the election is still over six months from now, and it would be a mistake to read too much into his silence.

“This is still really early,” said David Karol, an expert on party dynamics at the University of Maryland. “There’s the psychological element. Campaigns are very personal for these guys. Look at how upset [Newt] Gingrich was when the barrage of Super PAC ads landed on him in Iowa. They’re human beings. It’s hard to turn it off the next day.”

As long as he eventually gets in line, then — and a planned meeting with Romney on May 4 suggests he will — Santorum does himself no harm by holding off on an official endorsement.

“He understands political imperative, and he presumably might want to run in 2016 if Romney loses, and in that situation, you want to show you were a good soldier,” said Karol.

Will Super PACs Depress Turnout In November?

Super PACs and the changed campaign finance terrain are all the rage this election season, and a national poll released Tuesday found a quarter of Americans — including large numbers of racial minorities and young voters, the essential components of Barack Obama’s electoral coalition — are less likely to vote as a result.

The survey, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation on behalf of NYU Law School’s Brennan Center For Justice, asked 1,000 voters nationwide about Super PACs, corruption, and voting. Fully a quarter of Americans — 26 percent — say they are less likely to vote because Super PACs and their donors are drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens, making their votes less important:

The poll reveals that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe Super PAC spending will lead to corruption and that three in four Americans believe limiting how much corporations, unions, and individuals can donate to Super PACs would curb corruption.  Of those who expressed an opinion, more than 80 percent believe that, compared with past elections, the money being spent by political groups this year is more likely to lead to corruption.  And, most alarmingly, the poll revealed that concerns about the influence Super PACs have over elected officials undermine Americans’ faith in democracy:  one in four respondents — and even larger numbers of low-income people, African Americans, and Latinos — reported that they are less likely to vote because big donors to Super PACs have so much more sway than average Americans.

But there is reason for skepticism.

“People love to say that there’s corruption and that politicians are bought and sold but it doesn’t seem to affect much their rates of turnout, especially because you very rarely believe the person you like is corrupt,” said Michael Franz, an expert on interest groups and money in politics at Bowdoin College. “Turnout rates haven’t changed much in recent years, and if anything they’ve gone up as the influence of soft money to parties, and big donors and issue advocacy campaigns [outside groups] have taken hold.”

Indeed, though Democrats could panic at the idea that a post-Citizens United world will depress their voters more than Republicans, personality tends to trump process issues in campaigns, and Barack Obama will likely recapture some of the magic of his 2008 bid as the contrast with Mitt Romney sharpens in the fall.

Protesting GOP, Huntsman Torches Political Career

Former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, the conservative Republican who just a few months ago was making a serious bid to steer his party back toward moderation and rationality, has moved from trying to change the GOP from within to mocking it from the sidelines.

In a freewheeling discussion at the 92nd Street Y in upper Manhattan this weekend, he compared the Republican Party to the Chinese Communist governing party and complained about how weak its primary field was.

“This is what they do in China on party matters, they punish you, if you talk off script,” he said of the GOP disinviting him from a Florida fundraiser in March after he suggested a third party might do the American political system some good.

“Is this the best we could do?” Huntsman claims he asked himself when standing on the debate stage with his Republican rivals.

And while he certainly did his best to brush the comments off when asked about them on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday (see the video below), conversations with seasoned GOP operatives suggest Huntsman has sealed his fate when it comes to national Republican politics.

“This is a guy who’s pouring gasoline on his political career and setting it on fire,” said Rick Wilson, a veteran Florida-based Republican consultant.

Huntsman was careful to endorse his fellow Mormon and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney as the sane moderate in the field after a third-place showing in the New Hampshire presidential primary sent him packing. But the plug was far from enthusiastic — Huntsman and Romney despise each other — and lobbing grenades from the sidelines isn’t going over well in a party that hates sore losers.

“There’s obviously a seething rivalry there, and Huntsman is letting it get the best of him,” said Rob Stutzman, the California-based GOP strategist behind Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful gubernatorial campaigns. “John McCain and George Bush were never big fans of each other but they were always able to consolidate at the right time. Huntsman has somewhat failed at that test, starting with that tepid endorsement when he dropped out of the race.”

Rather than reaching out to moderates as Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota senator who has worked with the center-right American Action Network and the bipartisan U.S. Global Leadership Coalition since losing his re-election bid to Al Franken in 2008, has done, Huntsman is venting his frustration. And for all his talk of science and reason, his behavior dumbfounds political professionals.

“He is doing his level-best to piss off enough people to disqualify himself forever from Republican politics,” said Wilson. “If he wants to be part of the Republican and conservative movement, this is certainly not the way any rational person would pursue those goals.”

 

Here’s the video of Huntsman discussing his attacks on the GOP, courtesy of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”:

Study: Media Coverage Of Obama ‘Consistently Negative’

In sharp contrast to the perception on the right that the press corps is in the tank for Democrats and Barack Obama, there has not been a single week this year when the president received more positive coverage than negative, according to a media study released Monday.

The nonpartisan report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that it was Mitt Romney’s primary win in his home state of Michigan on Feb. 28 that convinced journalists he was certain to be the Republican standard-bearer; from then on, coverage of his candidacy grew considerably more positive.

But the most interesting nugget in the report, which is based on “analysis of the tone and volume of candidate coverage during the 2012 primary season from January 2-April 15 using human coding of 52 key news outlets and computer-assisted coding of more than 11,000 news outlets,” is that Barack Obama has been subjected to sustained negative coverage as Republicans have fought to challenge him:

In Obama’s case, his negative coverage was driven by several factors. One was the consistent criticism leveled at him by each of the Republican contenders during primary season. The other involved news coverage of issues—ranging from the tenuous economic recovery to the continuing challenges to his health care legislation—with which he was inextricably linked. An examination of the themes in Obama’s coverage also reveals that the coverage placed him firmly in campaign mode. His coverage that focused on the strategic frame exceeded that relating to policy issues by 3:1.

The upshot for the White House? As attention shifts to a focus on the Romney-Obama match-up, polls showing the president in a strong starting position and Romney with major weaknesses among key demographic groups — especially women and minorities — will influence coverage, evening out the narrative.

Find the full Pew study here.

 

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Mocks Feds, Trumpets Abuse Of Power At Fundraiser

Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, hero of the anti-immigrant right and endorser of John McCain’s 2010 Senate re-election bid, has been caught on tape mocking a federal investigation into racial profiling and abuse of power at his office.

Referring to initial inquiries into his arrest patterns — he clearly targets Latinos — Arpaio says, “After they went after me, we arrested 500 more just for spite.” The crowd laughs and applauds.

The sheriff goes on to suggest a large budget cut to his department led him to pursue a criminal investigation into Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley for revenge.

“We have already indicted one, so I am not their favorite guy,” Arpaio said to the crowd in Houston, drawing more laughs. “The county has cut my budget $35 million just for spite. But I’m still locking them all up. I have ways to get the job done.”

The recording of the speech was given to the Associated Press recently by Joel Robbins, a perennial Arpaio critic. The Justice Department has announced a pending civil rights lawsuit for the racial profiling case, and a grand jury has been convened to look at the abuse of power allegations, though the status of that case is unknown.

Citigroup Sued By Shareholder Over Executive Pay

Citigroup, one of a litany of American banks bailed out by U.S. taxpayers at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, was sued in Manhattan Federal Court Thursday by a shareholder angry at $54 million in compensation doled out to executives last year.

The suit, brought by shareholder Stanley Moskal against CEO Vikram Pandit and the board of directors, comes in the wake of the Citigroup annual meeting on Tuesday, where some 55 percent of shareholders (in a non-binding, advisory vote) rejected the executive pay scheme, which included $15 million for Pandit.

The vote “has cast doubt on the board’s decision-making process, as well as the accuracy and truthfulness of its public statements,” reads the complaint. “Absent this (lawsuit), the majority will of the company’s stockholders shall be rendered meaningless.”

While Citigroup said the lawsuit was without merit, the third-largest bank by assets in the United States did attempt to sympathize with shareholder anger.

“The board takes the shareholder vote on executive compensation very seriously and will consult with representative shareholders to better understand their concerns,” said Citigroup spokeswoman Shannon Bell. The ability to cast a shareholder vote on executive pay at publicly-traded companies stems from the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.

Citigroup has bounced back since its collapse, gaining market value and posting significant — if underwhelming — profits in 2011. The culture has not changed enough to assuage the concerns of shareholders frustrated at its low stock price and vulnerability to European debt troubles, however.

Ted Nugent Clings to Guns, Religion, And… The Secret Service?

1970s rocker and pro-gun conservative activist Ted Nugent, who made headlines when he told National Rifle Association members last weekend that “I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year” if Barack Obama is re-elected president, met with Secret Service agents in Oklahoma Thursday to explain himself.

“The issue has been resolved” and the agency “does not anticipate any further action,” Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary told the Washington Post.

Nugent went in to the meeting confident, bragging to radio host Dana Loesch that “the Secret Service are my buddies” and claiming that several seasoned FBI and Secret Service agents appeared at the very NRA event where he suggested he might attack the president.

“They work for me. I pay their salaries, and I mean that seriously. But also, I train with the Secret Service. I conduct federal marshal raids here in Texas. So I rely on these heroes of the federal agencies to save my life during these raids on fugitive felons. I know a lot of people don’t know that, but I’m very active in law enforcement. So when you say Secret Service, all I can do is get a big grin on my face and realize that we’ll either be shooting some taxpayer ammo at targets or we’ll be eating barbecue.”

But the point here was never to actually threaten the president’s life, but rather to stoke the Republican base and renew his brand as a conservative firebrand. And on those counts, Nugent’s incendiary remarks would appear to have been quite successful. Perhaps a run for Senate in his native Michigan is in the cards?

Paul Ryan Budget Puts House In Play

Republicans clamoring for presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney to tap Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, author of the controversial budget plan that would privatize Medicare, as his vice presidential candidate might want to think twice: their House majority could be at stake.

A new Democracy Corps/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey of 1,000 voters in the 56 most competitive GOP-held districts finds Democrats improving their party brand and performing far better than they did during the disastrous 2010 midterms. The numbers also show the GOP losing ground among key demographic groups, including senior women, suburban voters, and moderates; the party’s image has taken a beating as state and national leaders have tried to pass harsh anti-abortion laws and reduce access to contraception.

But the real threat might be Ryan’s budget, which the Republican-controlled House passed a revised version of late last month:

Many of the proposals in this newest Ryan budget are deeply unpopular, leaving Republicans vulnerable to attack, particularly on taxes, Medicaid, Medicare, cuts to anti-poverty programs, and health care. Republicans do well when they describe their budget as a plan to “save Medicare,” but the bulk of their proposals misinterpret voters’ enthusiasm for fiscal restraint. While the Republican plan lays out deficit reduction as an end in and of itself, voters see deficit reduction as a means to protect the programs they rely on and care about most. Any budget that eliminates these programs in order to tackle the debt has deeply misunderstood voters’ priorities.

The result is that after voters hear a neutral description of the budget and a balanced debate between Republican arguments for the budget and Democratic attacks against it, the vote shifts a net 9 points, from a six-point vote margin for Republicans to a three-point advantage for Democrats. Importantly, those who shift include key blocs of voters that will be essential to the outcomes in these districts in November.

Voters in these districts have polarized along gender lines, with Democrats gaining ground among women, particularly unmarried women, while Republicans pick up support among men. This movement is notable in light of the recent Republican focus on contraception.

Perhaps most notably, Republican redistricting, which was supposed to buttress their control on power, could be backfiring. The poll found that in 14 competitive districts, the new lines are less favorable than the old ones to Republican incumbents.

It seems unlikely, however, that party leaders will change their minds on the policy — or politics — of the Ryan plan before November. Their presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, embraces it wholeheartedly, and has even made noises about putting Ryan on his ticket. For all the reasons that it alienates the center of the electorate, the Ryan plan excites and energizes the Republican base, which Romney will need fired up to have a shot at victory in November.

Facing Conservative Onslaught, Dick Lugar Fights For His Life In Indiana

Dick Lugar, the six-term Republican Senator from Indiana, is locked in the fight of his political life, fending off a vigorous challenge from conservative groups angry at his cooperation with President Obama. And just as they did in Nevada, Colorado, and Delaware in 2010, those groups risk losing a Senate seat for their Republican Party in the name of ideological purity.

Having not faced a primary fight since 1976, Lugar is gearing up for a slugfest over the next few weeks with his challenger, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. But with a healthy bank account and all the other advantages of incumbency, Lugar’s far more concerned about the fiscally conservative Club For Growth and National Rifle Association pounding him with negative TV ads.

“Some things shouldn’t change,” begins an NRA spot airing statewide on broadcast and cable stations. “But over his 36 years in Washington, Dick Lugar has changed. He’s become the only Republican candidate in Indiana with an “F” rating from the NRA.”

A Howey Politics/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll conducted March 26-28 found Lugar ahead in the primary by five points, 42 to 35 percent. But while the same poll showed Lugar crushing the Democratic candidate, Congressman Joe Donnelly, by a huge margin, Mourdock broke dead even with him at 35 percent.

The race, then, could prove another instance of the Club for Growth and Tea Party overreaching, choosing a candidate beloved by hardcore Republicans but despised by the broad center of the electorate. In 2010, they backed Sharron Angle in Nevada, who went on to lose to the unpopular incumbent, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, because he portrayed her as outside the mainstream. Likewise, Tea Party-backed Ken Buck in Colorado and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware were weak candidates in what might have been fertile territory for Republican gains.

Conservatives are angry at Lugar, though, for his support of the bank bailout in 2008, Obama’s New START treaty with Russia, and the president’s Supreme Court nominees. The 80-year-old veteran legislator, having already worked with Obama in the Senate on nuclear proliferaton in 2006, has reacted to his presidency with a bit less hysteria than many in his party. And that’s a big problem.

“We are grateful for Lugar’s long years of service to Indiana,” Greg Fettig, a landscaper who heads Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, a Tea Party umbrella group leading the charge against Lugar, told Reuters. “But he has moved too far to the left and has to go.”

Lugar’s television ads are clearly intended to buttress his credentials as an enemy of the president; one recent spot brags that he voted against the president’s heath care law, ‘Obamacare,’ 32 times.

But he is the product of a bygone era when senators collaborated on tough issues and brokered compromises that drew the ire of their party bases. Now that the GOP grassroots is energized and has the Tea Party and other outside national groups to provide logistical support, elderly Republican statesmen are a dying breed. Just ask Bob Bennett, the seasoned Utah senator who was tossed out in the Tea Party wave two years ago.

One friend who could save Lugar: Governor  Mitch Daniels, who worked for Lugar when he was mayor of Indianapolis in the 1960s and asked him to be godfather to one of his children. Daniels has star power and credibility with the Republican base.

“It’s ironic and it’s just inaccurate to suggest that somehow he’s not very strongly Republican in his viewpoints,” Daniels told The New York Times.