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Jim Webb Wanted to Punch George W. Bush. Now He Wants His Old Job.

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 11:44 AM EST

Jim Webb is running for president. The former secretary of the Navy and Virginia senator launched a presidential exploratory committee on Thursday, becoming the first Democrat to formally dip his toe in the 2016 waters. Webb explained his candidacy in a video that looks like it was filmed by the people who make commercials for personal-injury attorneys:

A Republican for most of his life, Webb endeared himself to Democrats when he switched parties and beat incumbent GOP Sen. George Allen in 2006 by just a few thousand votes. Webb ran that campaign on an anti-Iraq War message, touting his own experience in Vietnam, but may have been pushed across the finish line by Allen, who called a Democratic volunteer "Macaca" (an obscure North African racial slur) at a campaign event.

As a senator he was a bit of an iconoclast, defined mostly by his disdain for Washington (something most senators espouse but rarely act on). His first meeting with President George W. Bush ended with the senator walking away furiously, reportedly on the verge of throwing a punch, after Dubya asked Webb about his son serving in Iraq. He sought to carve out a niche for himself by working for criminal justice reform, but left office before any political momentum developed on the issue. And then he left, after one term, leaving Democrats to defend a purple seat against Allen. His most impressive resume item may be his Navy Cross citation:

On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb's platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.

Webb has at least a few bumps to smooth over, though. He defended the Confederate flag and "the venerable Robert E. Lee" in his book Born Fighting, about the Scots-Irish, and in 1979, he wrote an essay for Washingtonian titled "Why Women Can't Fight"—a spirited case against admitting women into service academies. As a senator from a major coal-producing state, he opposed proposals to combat climate change. And only last month expressed his support for same-sex marriage. Beating an entrenched Republican in Virginia as a centrist in 2006 is one thing—but winning a Democratic presidential nomination requires winning Democratic primary voters.

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Is Dianne Feinstein Crafting a Secret Water Deal to Help Big Pistachio? UPDATED

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 6:00 AM EST

UPDATE: Sen. Dianne Feinstein has called off her backroom negotiations to push a California water bill through the current, lame-duck Congressional session, The Fresno Bee reported late Thursday afternoon. But she's not finished trying to make a deal with Big Ag-aligned GOP reps. She vowed to "put together a first-day bill for the next Congress, and it can go through the regular order,” the Bee reported. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is negotiating a behind-closed-doors deal with Republican lawmakers to pass a bill that would ostensibly address California's drought—an effort that has uncorked a flood of criticism from environmental circles.

Feinstein's quiet push for a compromise drought bill that's palatable to Big Ag-aligned House Republicans has been in the works for six months, Kate Poole, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me. And it has accelerated recently, as the Senator hopes to pass it by year end, during the "lame duck" period of the outgoing Democratic-controlled Senate.

Grandmothers Smoke Pot for First Time, Play Jenga, Are Perfect

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 7:23 PM EST

Here is a video of three grandmothers in Washington smoking pot for the first time. It is wonderful.

P.S. Smoking pot is legal in the Evergreen state so put your cuffs away.

(via HuffPo)

Exclusive: Jay Leno Cancels Performance at Gun Lobby Trade Show Following Pressure from Newtown Group

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 3:03 PM EST

Update, 7:10 p.m. ET: Late Wednesday, Jay Leno said in a brief phone interview that he had called the National Shooting Sports Foundation to cancel his scheduled performance at the SHOT Show. He also said that he'd spoken with Po Murray of the Newtown Action Alliance to let her know. "I understand it's Newtown, and of course I get it," Leno told Mother Jones. "It's just sometimes, mistakes get made." (Read the original story below):

Gun control advocates aren't laughing about Jay Leno's next move.

On Tuesday, several gun violence-prevention groups called on the comedian to cancel his appearance at January's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT), an annual event put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is based in Newtown, Connecticut. A petition posted by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence accuses Leno of "helping to legitimize a crass commercialism which values profit over human lives" by speaking to this group, which lobbied against the background checks bill in Congress following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The drive is backed by the Campaign to Unload, which pushes for divestment from gun companies, and the Newtown Action Alliance, founded by residents of the Connecticut town who support gun-safety legislation. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which has pushed corporate restaurants and retailers to take a stand against open-carry activists in their stores, has also launched a social media campaign against Leno.

"I'm not sure if Jay Leno has done his research and understands that NSSF is the corporate gun lobby and they spend a significant amount of money to lobby congressional leaders to not pass significant gun reform legislation," says Newtown Action Alliance chairman Po Murray, whose children previously attended Sandy Hook. "It's a disheartening as a Newtown resident to see him make this appearance at the SHOT Show. So we're urging him to cancel his appearance."

Seats for the event, held at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, go for $135 apiece. Leno's publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

Watch a Wall of Snow Consume Buffalo, N.Y.

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 12:59 PM EST

Today it is literally freezing in every state in America. But no where has been hit harder than Buffalo, New York, which yesterday got buried under 70 inches of snow. Yeah, seven-zero, as in nearly six feet. At least six people there have died, and one hundred are still trapped.

The video below, from Buffalo-based producer Joseph DeBenedictis, shows yesterday's apocalyptic storm sweeping across the city. The insane snowfall was brought on by something called the "lake effect," which could grow more severe with global warming—our friend Eric Holthaus at Slate has the details on that.

It Turns Out That Ferguson Is Pretty Typical of America

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 12:40 PM EST

The Ferguson police department famously arrests blacks at a rate three times higher than other races. A USA Today investigation shows just how commonplace that is:

At least 1,581 other police departments across the USA arrest black people at rates even more skewed than in Ferguson, a USA TODAY analysis of arrest records shows. That includes departments in cities as large and diverse as Chicago and San Francisco and in the suburbs that encircle St. Louis, New York and Detroit.

Those disparities are easier to measure than they are to explain. They could be a reflection of biased policing; they could just as easily be a byproduct of the vast economic and educational gaps that persist across much of the USA — factors closely tied to crime rates. In other words, experts said, the fact that such disparities exist does little to explain their causes.

Curious to know how your city fares? Click here and check out various places in your state. My hometown, it turns out, beats out Ferguson easily, arresting blacks at a rate nearly four times higher than other races. The difference, of course, is that Irvine is only 1.7 percent black to begin with, so there's hardly anyone here to complain about it. That makes it easy to ignore, but that's about all it means.

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Voter ID Laws: Terrible Public Policy, But Probably Pretty Feeble

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 11:47 AM EST

Republican-led voter-ID laws may be pernicious, but Nate Cohn says there are three reasons to think their actual electoral impact is overstated:

To begin with, the true number of registered voters without photo identification is usually much lower than the statistics on registered voters without identification suggest. The number of voters without photo identification is calculated by matching voter registration files with state ID databases. But perfect matching is impossible and the effect is to overestimate the number of voters without identification.

....People without ID are less likely to vote than other registered voters. The North Carolina study found that 43 percent of the unmatched voters — registered voters who could not be matched with a driver’s license — participated in 2012, compared with more than 70 percent of matched voters.

....There’s no question that voter ID has a disparate impact on Democratic-leaning groups....[But] voters without an identification might be breaking something more like 70/30 for Democrats than 95/5. A 70/30 margin is a big deal, and, again, it’s fully consistent with Democratic concerns about voter suppression. But when we’re down to the subset of unmatched voters who don’t have any identification and still vote, a 70/30 margin probably isn’t generating enough votes to decide anything but an extremely close election.

When I looked into this a couple of years ago, I basically came to the same conclusion. Only a few studies were available at the time, but they suggested that the real-world impact of voter ID laws was fairly small. I haven't seen anything since then to suggest otherwise.

None of this justifies the cynical Republican effort to suppress voting via ID laws. For one thing, they still matter in close elections. For another, the simple fact that they deliberately target minority voters is noxious—and this is very much not ameliorated by the common Republican defense that the real reason they're targeted isn't race related. It's because they vote for Democrats. If anything, that makes it worse. Republicans are knowingly making it harder for blacks and Hispanics to vote because they vote for the wrong people. I'm not sure how much more noxious a voter suppression effort can be.

These laws should be stricken from the books, lock, stock and extremely smoking barrel. They don't prevent voter fraud and they have no purpose except to suppress the votes of targeted groups. The evidence on this point is now clear enough that the Supreme Court should revisit its 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion that upheld strict voter ID laws. They have no place in a decent society.

At the same time, if you're wondering how much actual effect they have, the answer is probably not much. We still don't have any definitive academic studies on this point, I think, but Cohn makes a pretty good case. It's possible that Kay Hagan might have lost her Senate race this year thanks to voter ID laws, but she's probably the only one.

Why Scott Walker Might Be Our Next President

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 10:38 AM EST

In 2012, I basically considered Mitt Romney a shoo-in for the Republican nomination. I figured that he'd hoover up most of the moderate votes—and despite all the breathless press accounts, moderates still account for at least half of GOP voters—plus a share of the tea partiers, and that was that. The rest of the field would destroy each other as they fought over their own sliver of the tea party vote, eventually leaving Romney battered and unloved, but triumphant.

Sure enough, that's what happened. But I don't see a strong moderate in the field right now. I suppose Jeb Bush and Chris Christie come the closest, but even if they run, they strike me as having some pretty serious problems. Romney was willing to adopt tea party positions across the board, even as he projected a moderate, adult persona, but neither Christie nor Bush will kowtow in quite that way. That's going to cause them problems, and Christie's fondness for showy confrontations is going to be an additional millstone around his neck. Either one might win, but neither seems like an especially likely nominee to me.

All this is a long way of explaining why I think Scott Walker is the frontrunner. He has a record of governance. His persona is generally adult. He doesn't say crazy stuff. Relatively speaking, he's attractive to moderates. But at the same time, the tea partiers love him too. The big strike against him, of course, is that he's lousy on TV. He's a terrible public speaker. And he's just boring as hell. However, Ed Kilgore perfectly explains why this doesn't make him another Tim Pawlenty or John Kasich:

This is why Walker is so very commonly compared to Tim Pawlenty in 2012; the Minnesotan was perfectly positioned to become the most-conservative-electable-candidate nominee in a large but shaky field. And he wound up being the first candidate to drop out, before a single vote (other than in the completely non-official Ames Straw Poll) was cast. His sin was congenital blandness, and the defining moment of his campaign was when he all but repudiated his one great zinger: referring to the Affordable Care Act as "Obamneycare."

But TPaw's demise does point up one big difference between these two avatars of the Republican revival in the Upper Midwest: nobody suspects Scott Walker may be too nice for his party. He may be bland, and a bad orator, but his bad intent towards conservatism's enemies is unmistakable. He's sorta Death by Vanilla, or a great white shark; boring until he rips you apart. I think Republican elites get that, and it excites them. But how about voters?

Mitt Romney managed to base nearly his entire campaign on hating Barack Obama more than anyone else. It worked. Whenever someone started to score some points against his sometimes liberalish record in Massachusetts, he'd just launch into an over-the-top denunciation of Obama and the crowd would go wild. Walker can do the same thing, but without the artifice. Unlike Romney, he really has been fighting liberals tooth and nail for the past four years, and he has the scars to prove it. This will go a long, long way to make up for a bit of blandness.

Besides, it's worth remembering that people can improve on the basics of campaigning. Maybe Walker will turn out to be hopeless. You never know until the campaign really gets going. But if he's serious, he'll get some media training and start working on developing a better stump speech. A few months of this can do wonders.

Predictions are hard, especially about the future. But if he runs, I rate Walker a favorite right now. If his only real drawback is Midwestern blandness—well, Mitt Romney wasn't Mr. Excitement either. Walker can get better if he puts in the work. And if he does, he'll have most of Romney's upside with very little of the downside. He could be formidable.

CNN's Don Lemon Tells Woman Accusing Bill Cosby of Rape She Could Have Bitten Her Way to Safety

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 10:32 AM EST

Following weeks of renewed rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, CNN host Don Lemon wanted Joan Tarshis, who has accused Cosby of sexual assault, to know she could have escaped the alleged 1969 attack, if she had used her teeth as a weapon during oral sex.

Lemon, insisting he was not trying to be "crude," suggested this tactic while interviewing Tarshis on CNN Tonight:

Lemon: You know, there are way not to perform oral sex if you didn't want to do it.

Tarshis: Oh, I was kind of stoned at the time, and quite honestly, that didn't even enter my mind. Now I wish it would have.

Lemon: Right. Meaning the using of the teeth, right?

Tarshis: Yes, that's what I'm thinking you're....

Lemon: As a weapon.

Tarshis: I didn't even think of it.

Lemon: Biting.

Tarshis: Ouch.

Lemon: Yes. I had to ask. I mean, it is, yeah.

The awkward exchange followed an interview Tarshis gave to Lemon the day before, in which she claimed she had lied to Cosby about having an STD in order to convince him not to rape her. She alleged that Cosby then forced her perform oral sex on him. In the first interview, Lemon asked, "Why didn't you tell police?"

Update, Wednesday, November 19: Following the backlash incited by Lemon's comments, the CNN host issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon: "As a victim myself I would never want to suggest that any victim could have prevented a rape. If my question struck anyone as insensitive, I’m sorry as that was not my intention." In the past, Lemon has discussed being sexually abused as a child.

Elizabeth Warren to Banks: Prove You Can Protect Customer Data From Hackers

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 6:15 AM EST

Elizabeth Warren is off to a running start in her new leadership role with the Senate Democratic caucus. She called out Walmart for its terrible labor practices. She wrote an op-ed this week warning the president against appointing Wall Street insiders to the Federal Reserve. And Tuesday morning, she called on financial institutions to prove that they can protect customer data from cybercriminals.

Over the past year, cyber attackers have stolen roughly 500 million records from financial institutions, according to federal law enforcement officials. In a joint letter also signed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Warren asked 16 firms—including Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley—for detailed information about cyberattacks they experienced over the past year and how they plan to prevent future breaches.

"The increasing number of cyberattacks and data breaches is unprecedented and poses a clear and present danger to our nation’s economic security," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Each successive cyberattack and data breach not only results in hefty costs and liabilities for businesses, but exposes consumers to identity theft and other fraud, as well as a host of other cyber-crimes."

Warren and Cummings requested the firms provide information on the number of customers that may have been affected by breaches, data security measures the companies have taken in response, the value of the fraudulent transactions connected with the cyber attacks, and who is suspected to have carried them out. The letters also request that IT security officers at each firm brief the lawmakers on how they are protecting their data from cybervillains.

The lawmakers hope to use the information the firms provide to inform new federal cybersecurity legislation. Current cybersecurity law is unclear about when companies are required to notify the government about a data hack. Warren has previously called on Congress to give the Federal Trade Commission more power to regulate data breaches.

The American financial sector is one of the most targeted in the world, according to the FBI and Secret Service officials. The hackers who stole data from JPMorgan Chase earlier this year—compromising information from 76 million households—also targeted 13 other financial institutions, Bloomberg reported last month.