Political MoJo

Donald Trump Is Making a "Major" Announcement Tomorrow. Here Are 6 Possibilities.

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 1:17 PM EDT

Tomorrow will be a really big day for America, or so real estate mogul and reality TV host Donald Trump has declared. He promises he will issue a "major" announcement on Tuesday at Manhattan's Trump Tower. It's anyone's guess what the outspoken tycoon will say, but here are some possibilities.

A Celebrity Apprentice spin-off: Following the close of the show's seventh season, with Leeza Gibbons edging out Geraldo Rivera for the cash prize, the series is becoming stale and needs to up the ante. Perhaps he's announcing a merger with ABC's similarly entrepreneurial show, Shark Tank, to create a show in which celebrity entrepreneurs are dropped into a tank of live sharks. If their pitches are worthy of moving to the next round, great! If not, well... And "you're food" is a much better catch phrase than "you're fired."

Trump is filing for bankruptcy...again: If you could win an award for filing for corporate bankruptcy, Trump would have a ring for every finger on his check-signing hand. Since 1991, Trump's corporations have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy four times. Tomorrow's announcement could prove the fifth time is the charm!

He is filing for divorce...again: This would mean that the fellow who is no fan of gay marriage is going for a three-peat.

He found President Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate: Bust out the "Mission Accomplished" banners for his birther crusade. 

He is resigning from Twitter: Trump has found a natural outlet for his bombast on Twitter. Some might say he over utilizes the platform. But the tweets in his feed live in perpetuity for all of us admire from afar—except for the ones he has to delete. Here are a few of his best...or worst:

He may or may not be running for president. Compared to the other possibilities, this will be a let-down, either way.

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The Supreme Court Just Killed One of the Country's Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Laws

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 12:56 PM EDT

The Supreme Court killed one of the nation's most extreme anti-abortion laws on Monday.

The justices declined to hear a case concerning the constitutionality of a North Carolina law that required women seeking an abortion to submit to a mandatory ultrasound. The law also compelled physicians to show women the images and describe the fetus in detail. Unlike similar laws in Texas, Wisconsin, and Louisiana that include some exceptions for victims of rape or incest, the North Carolina measure made no exceptions for rape, incest, health risks to the mother, or severe abnormalities in the fetus.

Most abortion cases center on the rights of pregnant women, but this one hinged on doctors' First Amendment right to free speech—or in this case, their lack of freedom to choose what to tell their patients. The North Carolina law, passed in 2011 over the veto of then-Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, was struck down by a federal district court in North Carolina. The Fourth Circuit agreed that the "compelled speech provision" was unconstitutional. By refusing to take the case, the Supreme Court has assured that the law remains dead.

Several states have passed pre-abortion ultrasound requirements in recent years. The bills became a source of major controversy in 2012 when Virginia legislators proposed a law that would have mandated invasive transvaginal ultrasounds for some women. Overall, 10 states currently require abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and offer the woman the option of seeing the image, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks state-level abortion policies. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which litigates against restrictive abortion laws, indicated Monday it is considering challenges to similar laws "in light of today’s order out of the Supreme Court which allowed strong lower court rulings to stand."

Though the justices took a pass this time, don't expect the Supreme Court to ignore every abortion law that comes their way. Experts believe that the biggest abortion case in decades is likely right around the corner—just in time for the 2016 elections.

The Colorado Supreme Court Just Ruled You Can Get Fired For Smoking Pot Even When You're Not At Work

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 12:51 PM EDT

The Colorado Supreme Court just ruled that employees can be fired for smoking marijuana even when they aren't at work, according to the Denver Post.

The 6-0 decision comes nine months after the state's highest court heard oral arguments in Brandon Coats' case against Dish Network. Coats, who had a medical marijuana card and consumed pot off-duty to control muscle spasms, was fired in 2010.

Coats challenged Dish and its company policy, claiming that his use was legal under state law. The firing was upheld in both trial court and the Colorado Court of Appeals.

When the case went to the Colorado Supreme Court, legal observers said the case could have significant implications for employers across the state.

They also noted that the ruling could be precedent-setting as Colorado and other states wrangle with adapting laws to a nascent industry that is illegal under federal law.

So here's the deal: Marijuana is legal in Colorado but it's illegal under federal law. Even though the DOJ has not prosecuted recreational users, businesses are still allowed to fire people for unlawful behavior.

tl;dr:

Here's the full ruling:

 

 

Charts: Here’s How Much We’re Spending on the War Against ISIS

| Sun Jun. 14, 2015 6:05 AM EDT

As the White House considers opening operating bases in Iraq and deploying troops to bolster support for Iraqi forces against ISIS, including one in ISIS-held territory, the cost of airstrikes in the region continues its steady rise.

The Department of Defense has spent more than $2.7 billion—some $9 million per day—since the United States began operations against the so-called Islamic State last August. To put that in perspective, the DOD is on pace to spend a little more than $14 million per day to combat ISIS in fiscal year 2015. That's minuscule compared to the roughly $187 million the Defense Department is still spending on the Iraq War each day.

The result? More than 6,200 targets damaged or destroyed in the course of nine months, according to the DOD. Roughly two-thirds of that spending, or a little more than $1.8 billion, came from the Air Force, with air operations costing $5 million per day. 

The newly released DOD data comes as the House passed a $579 billion defense spending bill for the coming fiscal year. Here's the breakdown:

 

Hillary Clinton Officially Launches Campaign for White House

| Sat Jun. 13, 2015 1:45 PM EDT

There was the first, inevitable video announcement. Then, the media-phobic "Scooby" van tour through early primary states. Now, speaking today in front of a bright New York skyline, on an island in the middle of one of the most polluted waterways in America, Clinton officially launched her campaign for presidency.

The former Secretary of State hit every major talking point of her highly publicized campaign so far. Seriously, nothing was left out of this 45-minute populist, progressive speech outlining her campaign's policies: mass incarceration reform, LGBT equality, climate change and alternative energy, income inequality, a constitutional amendment to overhaul Citizens United, paid family leave, immigration, universal pre-K... even broadband.

"You brought our country back, now it's time, your time, to secure the gains and move ahead—and you know what? America can't succeed unless you succeed. That is why I am running for president of the United States."

The speech on Roosevelt Island, opposite the UN building, would have been difficult to give in the heat; once the clouds cleared, the stage would have certainly felt hotter than 81 degrees—maybe that's one reason the crowd appeared at times somewhat muted. The luckiest supporters crowded under the European Littleleaf Linden trees along the waterfront, which park staff assured us were low allergenic. Nonetheless, the biggest applause lines came when Clinton spoke about marriage equality and women's rights. While the "overflow" area—where a large screen had been set up seemingly in the hopes of bigger crowds—remained nearly empty, the live TV footage would have looked pretty great: billowing American flags, and soaring in the distance, One World Trade, once known as the Freedom Tower.

Danny Jestakom (L) and Philip Fry. James West

The diversity of the supporters here today represents the Obama coalition that Clinton surely hopes to recapture. Valerie Wakin, 29, from Brooklyn, liked that Clinton was focusing on pay equality as a campaign issue, and also felt that Clinton had broad appeal: "I don't think she just supports African American rights, she supports everyone," she said. Ahmad Nelson, 28, from Pittsburgh admitted that while "she does have some baggage" from a long life in the public eye, he will vote for Clinton to help raise the minimum wage across the country.

Valerie Wakin, 29, from Brooklyn. James West

Noticeable in the crowd was a large cohort wearing the rainbow flag version of Hillary's much-derided logo. Danny Jestakom, 26 and Philip Fry, 24, who have been a couple for about a year, said Clinton's embrace marriage equality appealed to them, as did her attempts to let voters learn more about her personal story—evident in today's speech, which drew heavily on her biography. "She seems like a real woman, a real person," Fry said.

"I may not be the youngest candidate in this race," Hillary joked, "but I'll be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States."

China's Huge Hack of the US Government Is Only Getting Worse

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 5:47 PM EDT

Whenever someone wants a security clearance, the US government first asks a seemingly endless series of questions. Some of them are predictable like the applicant's current address and social security number. Others are far more intimate like histories of drug use or psychiatric treatment. Now China likely has that information.

The AP reported on Friday that hackers believed to be working with China targeted the Office of Personnel Management and stole the forms used to gather information in those background investigations. This personal information could be used by a foreign intelligence service to blackmail someone with access to government secrets. Having that information in the hands of the Chinese government potentially puts some of the nation's military and intelligence workers at serious risk.

Evan Lesser, the managing director of ClearanceJobs.com, a job site for positions requiring a security clearance, told the AP that "you don’t need these records to blackmail or exploit someone, but it would sure make the job easier."

While it's not yet known how many people are affected by the breach, government officials who spoke to the AP put the potential number in the millions:

Nearly all of the millions of security clearance holders, including CIA, National Security Agency and military special operations personnel, are potentially exposed in the security clearance breach, the officials said. More than 2.9 million people had been investigated for a security clearance as of October 2014, according to government records.

This hack is the second major breach into OPM records in the past two weeks. A hack announced last week may have exposed the personnel records and social security numbers of up to 14 million government workers.

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Jeb Bush’s Nonexistent Campaign Faces Nonexistent Hurdles

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 5:36 PM EDT
Jeb Bush at The World Affairs Council in September, 2012. (cropped from original image)

Technically, Jeb Bush is not yet running for president. So technically, there have not been recent staff changes in the former Florida governor's presidential campaign.

According to an NBC Nightly News report on Wednesday, two top campaign aides, Danny Diaz and David Kochel, were given new titles and new responsibilities. Diaz became campaign manager, and Kochel became chief strategist. While on a trip to Europe, Bush was asked by NBC's Chris Jansing why he replaced his campaign manager, and his reply was firm. "Well first of all, we don't have a campaign," Bush said. "So there was no switching."

Bush's strategy seems to be to eliminate any potential questions about internal campaign discord by insisting that the campaign itself does not exist.

But what works for a staff shake up may not be so effective with the Federal Election Commission. Some watchdog organizations contend that this non-campaign campaign could get him into legal hot water. Candidates must follow strict FEC regulations when they raise their campaign war chests, but those regulations don't apply to candidates who are merely "testing the waters."  Bush's ambivalence has attracted the attention of some watchdog organizations. Yesterday, the nonpartisan watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to "investigate apparent campaign finance violations by Jeb Bush and his associated Super PAC." The groups allege that Bush's super-PAC has violated federal contribution laws in the way it has raised and spent its money:

We are writing to make clear that Bush's formal declaration of candidacy has absolutely no effect on the allegations made in our May 27 letter requesting an investigation of the Bush Super PAC scheme. In the letter, we showed that Bush already is, and has for some time been, a candidate for federal office under the statutory definition of "candidate" set forth in the federal campaign finance laws. Bush cannot evade the statutory definition of "candidate" by proclaiming he is not a candidate.

On Monday, Bush is expected to announce that his presidential campaign actually does exist.

The Iowa Straw Poll Is Dead. Good Riddance.

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 11:59 AM EDT

The Iowa Straw Poll, a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Iowa that advertised itself as a pivotal proving ground for the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, died on Friday. It was 36.

Per the Des Moines Register:

The governing board for the Republican Party of Iowa voted unanimously Friday to cancel the straw poll, a milestone on the path to the White House that had passed the strategic tipping point. It was no longer a political risk for presidential campaigns to walk away from the straw poll, and too many of the 2016 contenders had opted to skip it for it to survive.

It was a brilliant scheme while it lasted—at least for the state party. Candidates would shell out tens of thousands of dollars to cover the cost of admission for supporters (or people who claimed to be supporters). They'd even bus them in from distant corners of the state in the hopes that the free ticket, transportation, and food would buy them loyalty in the voting booth. If it happened on Election Day, it'd be a scandal. (This is a state that spent $250,000 to prevent people from voting.) But in August in Iowa, it was just folksy.

The straw poll was not a good predictor of who would win the GOP primary, though. Only one victor (Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 1999) ever went on to win the party's nomination. Maybe that's why Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, two of the GOP's leading candidates, decided not to participate. (Even Mike Huckabee, whose strong straw poll performance in 2007 presaged his victory in the caucuses, said he wouldn't spend resources to compete at the event.) The straw poll was a test, and the only way to pass was to recognize that you didn't have to take it.

But it was also a victim of its own success. Now conservatives don't have to wait until the straw poll to see their favorite candidates in one place, and interest groups within the party are getting into the business themselves. Weekend cattle calls are the new normal, whether it's a meet-and-greet with the Koch donor network, ribs at Sen. Joni Ernst's motorcycle barbecue, an appearance to Erick Erickson's RedState Gathering, or even a trip to Disney World.

Breaking: House Delivers Stunning Blow to Obama's Trade Deal

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 6:15 AM EDT
Demonstrators outside the Capitol.

Update (6/12/15): The House narrowly voted in favor of passing the TPA legislation, 219-211, but not before House Democrats voted against a bill originally part of TPA legislation in the Senate. By voting against the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, intended to compensate workers who are displaced by trade agreements, Democrats force the TPA legislation back to the Senate—where it likely will not pass.

The House is expected to vote today on the "fast track" trade authority bill that would allow the Obama administration to finish negotiating several major trade agreements now under discussion, including the divisive Trans-Pacific Partnership.

While every other president from Ford onward has been granted similar powers, today's vote has turned out to be anything but routine. Critics who oppose the TPP and other pending agreements are working to stop the bill—and thwart the anticipated trade deals.

The fast-track process was set out in 1974's Trade Act, which empowered Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority bills—like the one slated to be voted on today—that allow presidents to negotiate and sign trade deals with less involvement from the legislative branch. Congress still gets to vote yes or no on any final agreement, but amendments are generally prohibited. In exchange, TPA bills let legislators lay out trade priorities and negotiating objectives for the president, and set requirements on how and how often the administration must check in while negotiations are underway.

This TPA, if passed, will guide presidential trade negotiations through 2021. It builds upon a bill that expired in 2007, and is likely more complex than any other in history, expanding congressional oversight and consultation while including new provisions on intellectual property, cross-border data protection, and the environment and human rights. It also increases transparency, requiring presidential administrations to make agreements public 60 days before signing them.

Though it passed the Senate by a vote of 62 to 37 in May, today's House vote is expected to be much closer. Some Republicans have said they may vote against fast-track authority because they aren't eager to hand over more power to the Obama administration. Many Democrats are opposing the bill, citing concerns that it doesn't do enough to prevent overly secret deals and the expanded corporate power that could come with them.

If the House does vote to reestablish fast-track authority, it would likely ease the finalization of several notable trade agreements, including the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a new agreement with the European Union; the Trade in Services Agreement, an initiative being negotiated between 23 economies focused specifically on service industries like telecommunications and tech; and, of course, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretive trade agreement involving 12 countries that together account for 40 percent of global GDP.

Unions, environmentalists, digital rights advocates, and other advocacy groups have campaigned heavily against the Pacific deal—and the TPA that would allow negotiations to move forward. Critics have suggested the trade deal could bring environmental and labor abuses, reduce internet freedom, increase the cost of certain medications, and expand "investor-state-dispute settlements"—tribunals where companies can seek damages from taxpayers when US regulations interfere with their business. Backers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership insist that the agreement will be huge boon for the economy and increase the US national income by $77 billion annually.

Despite the opposition, House Republicans are confident the bill will pass. If it fails, its possible that negotiations on the TPP could continue—but not without major complications.

Judge Finds Probable Cause to Charge Cleveland Cops With Tamir Rice's Death

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 5:21 PM EDT

A Cleveland judge said Thursday that he believes there is probable cause to charge the officers involved in Tamir Rice's death with homicide.

Judge Ron Adrine's "advisory" opinion follows a push by community members to bypass prosecutors by directly appealing to a judge.

Adrine found that probable cause existed to sustain charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty against officer Timothy Loehmann and of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty against officer Frank Gamback.

Though the decision whether to actually prosecute the officers remains up to prosecutors, Thursday's development was welcomed by Rice's family. "We are very much relieved and it is a step towards procedural justice and people having access to their government," family attorney Walter Madison told the Guardian.

This is a developing story...