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Rand Paul Is Learning How To Be a Good Stage Actor

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 11:12 AM EDT

Back when he was a reckless and irresponsible youngster, Rand Paul suggested cutting off all foreign aid, specifically including aid to Israel. "I want to be known as a friend of Israel," he said, "but not with money you don’t have."

Oh wait. That was actually 2011. Not so long ago after all. It's certainly well after the internet was invented and politicians' past statements became impossible to hide or fudge. Nevertheless, Paul is now running for president, so he needs to revise his position. That shouldn't be too hard, really, but as usual, he's making it hard:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Monday denied that he once supported ending federal aid to Israel — an idea he proposed as recently as 2011.

“I haven’t really proposed that in the past,” Paul told Yahoo News when asked if he still thought the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, which has been battling Hamas in Gaza for weeks. “We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money — more money — to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.

This is starting to become one of Paul's distinguishing features. He's also done the same thing regarding the Civil Rights Act. Instead of simply saying that his thinking has evolved in some way or another, he aggressively denies he ever held his previous position and then pretends to be outraged that some liberal shill of a reporter is deliberately misrepresenting his position. How dare he?!? So far the mainstream press isn't really giving him much grief over this, but that could change if he mounts a serious presidential run.

Poor Rand Paul. He's discovering that the actual existing Republican Party isn't really all that libertarian after all. If he wants to be president, he's going to have to jettison a whole bunch of fervently held positions, and he's obviously not very happy about that. I wonder how many times he's going to pull a performance like this? If he perfects it, maybe he deserves a Tony.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 5, 2014

Tue Aug. 5, 2014 9:42 AM EDT

US Navy Lt. Audrey Koecher talks with Guetemalan children at a community relations event. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Wojciechowski)

Three-Quarters of Mexican Child Migrants Have Been Caught at the Border Before

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Mexican child migrant map
Pew Research Center

While the focus of the recent border crisis has been on unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, thousands of Mexican kids also have been apprehended trying to cross into the United States since last fall. According to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center, the vast majority had been caught several times before—and 15 percent of them reported having been previously apprehended six times or more.

The US Border Patrol made more than 11,300 apprehensions of unaccompanied Mexican child migrants from October 2013 to May 2014. Among the kids picked up, 76 percent said they'd been caught "multiple times before," according to the Pew report, which is based on data provided by Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As the map above shows, 64 percent of Mexican minors crossing alone came from six states: Tamaulipas, Sonora, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Guanajuato, and Michoacán.

Currently, child migrants from Mexico (and Canada) can be deported shortly after apprehension, unlike kids from elsewhere, who are reunified with US-based family while their immigration proceedings are pending. As I wrote last month in a post about why the federal government shouldn't change the law to more easily deport Central American kids:

When an unaccompanied Mexican child is apprehended by the Border Patrol, agents are supposed to screen him within 48 hours. Specifically, they are supposed to determine three things: (1) whether the child has been the victim of trafficking; (2) whether the child has a fear of returning to Mexico; and (3) whether the child is able to voluntarily make the decision to return home. If the screening reveals that the child hasn't been trafficked, isn't afraid to go back, and can make the decision by himself, then he can be sent back.

In practice, says the ACLU's Sarah Mehta, "when they're happening, the screenings are inconsistent, but often they're not happening." Some agents don't speak Spanish; in other cases, Mehta says, kids have reported not being asked any questions at all, or being told by agents that they can't get deportation relief for whatever they experienced at home or along the way to the United States.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a UN Refugee Commission report claimed that more than 95 percent of Mexican children caught at the border by themselves in fiscal 2013 were returned to Mexico. If Mexican kids do have legitimate asylum claims, they're likely not being heard, advocates claim. And when these kids do get sent back, many try to cross again.

Here's another Pew chart, this one showing the numbers of unaccompanied child apprehensions by country of origin since 2009:

child migrants over time
Pew Research Center

33 Years Ago: Reagan Goes Union-Busting, Fires 11,000 Striking Air Traffic Controllers

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
A group of uniformed men, who acknowledged they were military air traffic controllers, stand at the door which leads to the tower of Washington’s National Airport, as a guard rises to let them in. The Reagan administration claims its firings of striking air traffic controllers have broken the strike, partly due to the work of military controllers. Jeff Taylor/AP
 

Just days after members of the Professional Air Traffic Controls Organization (PATCO) went on strike, President Ronald Reagan declared the strike illegal under the Taft-Hartley act. Reagan ordered the 13,000 striking air traffic controllers to return to work within 48 hours. On August 5, 1981 Reagan fired over 11,000 workers who refused to return to work. PATCO, who supported Reagan in the 1980 election, was decertified as a union and the fired workers were banned from holding federal jobs ever again. It took the FAA close to ten years to return staffing to its normal level. Some former air traffic employees were eventually rehired. Military air traffic controllers also worked as replacements until new controllers could be trained. In 1993 Bill Clinton lifted the civil service ban on former strikers.

President Reagan with US Attorney General William French Smith making a statement to the press regarding the air traffic controllers strike from the Rose Garden. White House Photo/Ronald Reagan Library

 

Did the NRA Know About Robert Dowlut's Reversed Murder Conviction?

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
The Webley Mark VI revolver that police said Dowlut dug up in the South Bend City Cemetery

For all its bluster, the National Rifle Association also knows how to maintain a disciplined silence in the face of uncomfortable questions. Most notably, it went to ground in the wake of the Newtown school shooting in December 2012, resurfacing after a few days with bland talking points, followed by Wayne LaPierre's assertion that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that in the week since I published an investigation into the complicated past of the NRA's top lawyer, the gun lobby has not responded. 

The subject of my article, NRA general counsel Robert J. Dowlut, is a low-profile yet influential legal expert who has spent more than 35 years pushing for an aggressively broad interpretation of the Second Amendment. In 1964, he was sentenced to life in prison for shooting his girlfriend's mother in South Bend, Indiana. Several years later, the conviction was reversed due to bad police work, and Dowlut eventually walked free.

Before I reported on Dowlut's background, I contacted him 10 times by phone, email, and registered mail, explaining what I was writing about and inviting him to share his side of the story. When I did not hear from him, I asked the NRA and its public affairs head, Andrew Arulanandam, for comment multiple times. I also sent registered letters directly to NRA leaders, including executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, president Jim Porter, and lobbying head Chris Cox. None responded.

If Dowlut or the NRA do decide to talk, here are the four questions I'd most like them to answer:

1. Did Dowlut ever disclose his past to his colleagues or the NRA? So far, none of Dowlut's colleagues and friends have come forward to talk about what they did or didn't know. David Hardy, a prominent gun rights writer who's known Dowlut "longer than I can remember" told me he had "no idea" about Dowlut's previous conviction and reversal. Other gun rights groups and bloggers have also been conspicuously silent since the story ran.

2. How did Dowlut's experience influence his career? Dowlut's writings strongly suggest that his legal odyssey played a role in shaping his philosophy. In a 1983 article, he disapprovingly cited Supreme Court Justice Byron White's dissent in Miranda v. Arizona, a case very similar to his own. White had predicted that protecting criminal suspects' rights "will return a killer, a rapist or other criminal to the streets." Did Dowlut's position—that gun rights are another essential defense against official overreach—stem from his time as the accused? Did this stance put Dowlut at odds with the NRA's tough-on-crime talking points? (Consider that the NRA's president from 1992 to 1994 was Robert Corbin, the prosecutor who made a point of retrying Ernesto Miranda after the landmark 1966 Supreme Court decision bearing his name. Corbin also served as the vice chairman of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund; Dowlut is the fund's longtime secretary.)

3. Did Dowlut ever disclose his past to the bar? Several readers have asked if Dowlut disclosed his experience as a criminal defendant while applying for admission to the bar. (He was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1980 and is also a member of the Virginia Bar.) I don't know: Bar applications are confidential, and it's not clear what was asked on the character and fitness sections of the DC and Virginia Bar applications four decades ago. Currently, the DC Bar asks applicants to disclose all previous arrests, charges, and convictions, even for matters that have been dismissed or expunged. The Virginia Bar asks applicants to disclose any involvement in criminal proceedings (including juvenile cases and traffic offenses). Assuming that Dowlut faced similar questions when he became a lawyer, how did he respond?

4. What really happened 51 years ago in South Bend? The South Bend police still consider the murder of Anna Marie Yocum on the night of April 15, 1963, to be an open case. Most of the main characters involved in Dowlut's murder trial are dead; the victim's daughter is alive, but refused to speak with me. The court records I obtained, while voluminous, offer competing narratives that leave a trail of nagging questions: The police interviewed several other potential suspects—what were they asked, and why were they released? If Dowlut had no knowledge of the crime, how was he able to lead detectives to a buried gun allegedly linked to it? Whom did the gun belong to? And finally, what does Dowlut think actually happened on that night?

Chart of the Day: How Austerity Wrecked the Recovery

| Mon Aug. 4, 2014 3:09 PM EDT

I've previously nominated a version of the illustration below as chart of the year, and last year I wrote an entire piece for the print magazine as basically just an excuse to get it in print. Bill McBride's version focuses on public sector payroll, not total public sector spending, but it tells the same story: after every previous recession of the past 40 years, the subsequent recovery was helped along by increased government outlays. In the 2007-08 recession—and only in this recession—the recovery was deliberately hobbled by insisting on declining government outlays. This is despite the fact that it was the worst recession of the bunch.

The result, of course, was that there was no Obama Miracle in 2011. In fact, there was barely even an Obama Recovery. If you think that's just a coincidence, I have a bridge to sell you.

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Anti-Immigrant Activist Says Influx of Migrants Will Lead to "Ethnic Replacement"

| Mon Aug. 4, 2014 2:42 PM EDT

In Texas, a resurgent tea party movement has trained its sights on the ongoing crisis at the US-Mexico border, where some 70,000 unaccompanied minors will arrive this year alone. At a July 16 press conference at the state capitol in Austin, tea party leaders ripped Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, both Republicans, for not doing more to keep undocumented immigrants out of the US. The activists said they wanted a special legislative session devoted to the migrant crisis and urged Perry to deploy the Texas National Guard to the border. (Days later, Perry announced he would deploy up to 1,000 guardsmen.)

One of the speakers at the event was Thomas Korkmas, who runs an anti-immigrant group called Texans for Immigration Reduction and Enforcement. In his remarks, Korkmas drew a comparison between the current border crisis and the horrific ethnic cleansing that occurred in eastern Europe after the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. That Serb-led campaign of ethnic cleansing saw the creation of concentration camps, widespread rape and murder, and a death toll that reached an estimated 100,000. The way Korkmas sees it, where the Serbs systemically eliminated Bosnian Muslims and Croatian civilians, the influx of undocumented migrants to the US is diluting the population of white Americans via "ethnic replacement."

You can watch Korkmas' comments in the above video. Here's what he said:

We have an invasion. It has to be stopped. About 20 years ago when Bill Clinton was in office, there was an issue over in what had been Yugoslavia. And it was called at that time ethnic cleansing. What is going on right now in this country could be called ethnic replacement. Because what is happening right now is we are seeing the eradication of our Constitution and its rule of law. We're seeing the elimination of our borders, our language, and our culture. And anyone who does not think that a culture that embraces lawlessness will not become our dominant culture within a few years, I hate to tell you you're wrong. It will be because it already has.

Korkmas seems to have borrowed the term "ethnic replacement" from the right-wing talk radio host Michael Savage. Recently, Savage accused President Obama and his administration of engaging in ethnic replacement—a term Savage claims he coined—by allowing illegal immigrants to "flood America" and replace white Americans.

This isn't Korkmas' first controversial comment on the issue of immigration. Last year, he claimed that the Boston Marathon bombings resulted in part from an insecure US-Mexico border. Every politician who has served in Washington and failed to "close the border" since the Boston attacks, Korkmas went on, "is guilty, as far as I’m concerned, as an accessory to homicide."

Hispanic Vote Unlikely to Be Crucial in 2014

| Mon Aug. 4, 2014 12:47 PM EDT

Republicans have repeatedly failed to pass anything of substance regarding immigration, and their latest fiasco over the border crisis makes their haplessness more apparent than ever. But will it matter this November? Nate Cohn says no:

Hispanic voters are all but absent from this year’s most competitive Senate battlegrounds. Hispanic voters make up about 11 percent of eligible voters but represent 5 percent or fewer of the eligible voters in eight of the nine states deemed competitive by Leo, The Upshot’s Senate model.

....Hispanic voters will have even less influence over the composition of the House, which is all but assured to remain in Republican hands....The reason is simple. In districts held by House Republicans, Hispanics represent only 6.7 percent of eligible voters. The Hispanic share of eligible voters is nearly as low in the House battlegrounds, 7.4 percent.

Add to this the fact that Hispanics already vote for Democrats in large numbers, and Republicans just don't have very much to lose. Even if they lost another 10 percent of the Hispanic vote (an improbably huge number), that would represent considerably less than 1 percent of the total vote. That just won't make a difference except in a few of the very tightest races.

The main exception here is Colorado, which has a substantial Hispanic population. But Colorado has never been a likely Republican pickup anyway, so it's unlikely to affect overall Republican chances of taking control of the Senate this year.

Now, as Cohn says, in a tight race anything can make a difference. And the Senate race is tight enough that control could easily come down to one close race in one state. If Georgia ends up being decided by a 51-49 vote, it's just possible that Hispanic turnout could make the difference.

Probably not, though, and this is a good illustration of the current dynamics in American elections: national demographic trends are making it harder and harder for Republicans to win the presidency, but those same trends don't affect congressional votes that much as long as Republicans can hold onto their base. So the GOP can maintain its ability to obstruct, but is losing its ability to lead.

In other words, you should probably get used to gridlock. It's not going away anytime soon.

House Report: Benghazi Is Just Benghazi

| Mon Aug. 4, 2014 10:54 AM EDT

The Republican-led House Intelligence Committee—officially now just a bunch of RINO traitors, I guess—is about to release a report saying that what happened in Benghazi is pretty much what the entire non-insane world has figured all along:

The House Intelligence Committee, led by Republicans, has concluded that there was no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration in the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, said Rep. Mike Thompson of St. Helena, the second-ranking Democrat on the committee....Among the Intelligence Committee's findings, according to Thompson:

  • Intelligence agencies were "warned about an increased threat environment, but did not have specific tactical warning of an attack before it happened."
  • A mixed group of individuals, including those associated with al Qaeda, (Moammar) Khadafy loyalists and other Libyan militias, participated in the attack."
  • "There was no 'stand-down order' given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening, no illegal activity or illegal arms transfers occurring by U.S. personnel in Benghazi, and no American was left behind."
  • The administration's process for developing "talking points" was "flawed, but the talking points reflected the conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the crisis."

We'll know shortly whether the full report really says this, or whether Thompson is leaving out the juicy parts. If his summary is accurate, this report represents a rare display of GOP levelheadedness before we get started with the Trey Gowdy conspiracy theory fest later this year.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 4, 2014

Mon Aug. 4, 2014 10:45 AM EDT

A US Marine climbs a rope ladder from the flight deck of the USS San Diego.  ( US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan R. Waldman)