Political MoJo

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.

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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...

GOP Senator: Lindsey Graham Is a "Bro With No Ho"

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 4:40 PM EDT

After announcing he'd have a "rotating first lady" if elected to the White House, forever bachelor Sen. Lindsey Graham is taking some heat from fellow Republicans. But not for the reasons you might think.

"Did you see that?" Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said on Thursday, caught forever by a hot mic. "He's going to have a rotating first lady. He's a bro with no ho."

Kirk's comments, recorded by Huff Post's Sam Stein, are relatively innocuous. What could possibly be wrong with two male Republican senators in their fifties using words like "rotating" and "ho" to describe their non-game. Compared to them, Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" looks positively respectful.

Meanwhile in the real world, Graham is "dying" for the debate on abortion rights with his push for a 20-week abortion ban. Slaying it with the ladies, Lindsey.

Bernie: Hillary's Iraq War Vote Is Fair Game

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 3:25 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton has yet to live down the vote she cast to back the Iraq War as a senator in 2002—a vote that helped President Obama beat her in the 2008 democratic primaries. On Thursday, her 2016 rival Bernie Sanders stopped short of saying that her vote should disqualify her from being president. But there was a "but."

"I'm not here to criticize the vote she cast years ago," Sanders, the most progressive candidate in the democratic field, told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington, DC. "But what does that mean in terms of your judgment in assessing information?"

His answer didn't go as far as another 2016 Clinton challenger, former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, who doesn't believe that "anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake." Sanders' take was more forgiving: "Everybody makes bad votes in their lives and I don't think anyone is 'disqualified.'"

Sanders did throw down the gauntlet for his Democratic rival on another issue: trade. Clinton has been conspicuously silent on Congress' imminent vote on a trade promotion authority bill that would allow President Obama to move forward with a big Pacific Rim trade agreement. Sanders and many other progressive Democrats—along with tea party Republicans—oppose both the so-called "fast track" legislation and the trade deal waiting around the corner. The candidate said Thursday he is working with progressive House Democrats to defeat the legislation.

"If she's against this, we need her to speak out, right now. Right now," Sanders said. "Be for it or against it, but I don't understand how on an issue of such huge consequence you don't have an opinion."

"My own very strong view is that when you try to understand why the middle class in this country is disappearing, trade has got to be one of the issues you look at for an explanation," he said.

Jamie Dimon Doubts Elizabeth Warren "Fully Understands" Global Banking

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

Jamie Dimon, the billionaire CEO of JP Morgan Chase, is concerned about Elizabeth Warren. He worries that the former Harvard Law bankruptcy professor and the senate's loudest Wall Street critic might not grasp the complexities of high finance.

"I don't know if she fully understands the global banking system," Dimon said at an executive luncheon in Chicago on Wednesday.

Although he acknowledged that Warren had a few "legitimate complaints," he ultimately doubts the Massachusetts senator understands his business.

This isn't the first time the two have clashed. In her book "A Fighting Chance," Warren wrote about a tense 2013 meeting in which Dimon expressed unhappiness with her ongoing work to strengthen financial regulations. When she eventually told him, "I think you guys are breaking the law," Warren writes Dimon suddenly got quiet and responded, "So hit me with a fine. We can afford it."

That's for sure. JP Morgan Chase was one of five of the world's largest banks hit with a total $5.7 billion fine after pleading guilty to global currency manipulation charges. Add to that, the $13 billion settlement it paid because of its funding of bad mortgages. Nonetheless, in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone, the company reaped in a $4.9 billion profit.

But Dimon proves to be far more benevolent than Warren may realize. On Wednesday, he kindly offered to sit down with the senator whenever she wants so he could explain Global Banking 101 to her—one transaction at a time.

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Michelle Obama Delivers Powerful Call for Chicago Students to Rise Above City's Tragedies

| Wed Jun. 10, 2015 1:49 PM EDT

More than two years after the death of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old student who was fatally shot in a Chicago park just a week after participating in a march in Washington to celebrate President Obama's second inauguration, Michelle Obama delivered a powerful speech to the girl's graduating class on Tuesday.

In her commencement speech at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory, the first lady, who attended Pendleton's funeral in 2013,  honored the girl's memory and urged students to rise above the city's rampant gang violence. An empty chair decorated with flowers and Pendleton's favorite color purple sat as a tribute to Pendleton in Tuesday's ceremony.

"I know the struggles many of you face, how you walk the long way home to avoid the gangs; how you fight to concentrate on your schoolwork when there's too much noise at home; how you keep it together when your family's having a hard time making ends meet," Obama said. "But more importantly, I know the strength of this community."

Obama grew up in Chicago's south side where the school is located and she spoke about being raised in the neighborhood because she wanted "people across this country to know that story; the real story of the South Side." She described the "quiet majority of good folks—families like mine and young people like all of you who face real challenges but make good choices every single day." Obama told the graduates, "I'm here tonight because I want you all to know, graduates, that with your roots in this community and your education from this school, you have everything you need to succeed."

"Hadiya's memory is truly a blessing and an inspiration to me and to my husband, and to people across this country and around the world, and we are so grateful for her family's presence here tonight," she added. "Love you all. Love you so much."

Honduran President Decides That Going to an Event Called "Disrupting Democracy" Isn't Such a Good Idea

| Wed Jun. 10, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
A protester outside the Disrupting Democracy event, where the Honduran president had been scheduled to speak.

On Monday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was expected to appear in San Francisco to talk about his efforts to cede a chunk of his impoverished Central American nation to an international group of investors who want to create an autonomous, self-governing, libertarian paradise. There was one problem, however: His talk was part of a speaker series called Disrupting Democracy, which may be a better venue for someone like Rand Paul than the beneficiary of a military coup who won office using funds allegedly embezzled from the national social security system.

Hernández and his deputies skipped Disrupting Democracy due to "civil unrest," according the event's organizers. On Sunday, 8,000 protesters had marched through the capital city of Tegucigalpa calling for his ouster.

"Before we begin, I would like to apologize for some confused messaging," said panelist Randy Hencken, who directs the Seasteading Institute, which promotes the creation of floating technoutopian nation-states and cosponsored the event. "Here in Silicon Valley, when we want to improve something, we say 'disrupt,'" Hencken continued. "Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."

At least a dozen anti-Hernández protesters showed up oustide the event, which was held at the South of Market headquarters of Lincoln Labs, a tech incubator cofounded by a former Mitt Romney campaign staffer.

"Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."

The first Disrupting Democracy event, held in May, featured Paul discussing the growth of "a new generation of voter engagement." Any subject that appeals to both libertarians and techies appears to interest Lincoln Labs, which was founded in 2013 to serve "liberty advocates living in Silicon Valley"—"a forgotten community that felt ostracized with no home." Other Lincoln Labs events include its Reboot conferences and hackathons focusing on the technology of political campaigning.

Everyone at Monday's event seemed to agree that the Honduran scheme, known as Zones for Employment and Economic Development, or ZEDEs, now seemed imperiled—a discouraging turn, given Hernández's close cooperation with antitax crusader Grover Norquist and high-ranking representatives of the libertarian Cato and Hayek Institutes.

Yet the seasteaders were undeterred, even emboldened. If Honduras didn't want to create a Hong-Kong style city on its coast, maybe it would host a floating city in its territorial waters. "That gets rid of complaints of ceding over large portions of land," noted Seasteading Institute member Mike Doty, who had a long gray beard and a pirate-skull-patterned bandanna. "On the Pacific side, there's a large bay there…They've done the engineering studies, the feasibility studies. We're pretty far along."

One thing that can never be disrupted, it seems, is the vision of a technolibertarian.

Israel and Palestine Would Make $173 Billion If They Stopped Fighting Today

| Tue Jun. 9, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

There are many reasons to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to a recent study, there might even be 173 billion reasons.

Researchers at the Rand Corporation's Center for Middle East Public Policy recently mounted a study to determine the net economic costs and benefits of various alternatives in the Middle East over the next ten years. They looked at five possible scenarios: a two state solution; a coordinated unilateral withdrawal of 60,000 Israelis from much of the West Bank, with 75 percent of the cost covered by the international community and 25 percent of the bill footed by Israel; an uncoordinated unilateral withdrawal, in which only 30,000 Israeli settlers leave the West Bank and Israel bankrolls the withdrawal completely; nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israel through boycotts of Israeli products in the region, and diplomatic efforts in the UN; and a violent Palestinian uprising beginning Gaza, with the potential to spread to the West Bank and involve players like Hezbollah.

The study asserts that the two-state solution is most profitable, and could allow Israel to gain $123 billion by 2024. Assuming that an agreement is reached and Israel retreats to the 1967 borders (save for agreed-upon swapped territories), 100,000 Israeli settlers relocated from the West Bank to Israel, Palestinian trade and travel restrictions are lifted, and up to 600,000 refugees are returned to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza, the changes in "direct and opportunity costs"—among them a projected 20 percent increase in tourism and a 150 percent increase in Palestinian trade—would be immediate boons. The peace would bring the cessation of Arab country trade sanctions and with it, a raise of Israel's GDP by $23 billion over what it would have been under the status quo. Palestine would pocket over $50 billion under these conditions. Palestinians would see an average per capita income increase of approximately 36 percent. Under such a peace accord, Israelis would experience a 5 percent increase in income.

Conversely, the study found that "a return to violence would have profoundly negative economic consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis." Specifically, it estimates that per capita GDP would fall by 46 percent in Gaza and the West Bank, and by 10 percent in Israel.

The study was posted with an interactive calculator that allows users to estimate GDP increases and decreases with changes in the Israeli defense budget or an influx of Palestinian workers in Israel.

Top Campaign Watchdog Petitions Her Own Agency to Do Its Job

| Mon Jun. 8, 2015 6:02 PM EDT

The Federal Election Commission should just do its job already.

That's not a #hottake. It's the formal opinion of the chairwoman of the FEC itself.

In a sign of how bad things have gotten at the government watchdog tasked with keeping federal elections clean, chairwoman Ann Ravel and fellow Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub filed a petition with their own agency this morning pleading for campaign finance rules to be enforced this election cycle. The move is not likely to have earth-shattering consequences, but it's a sign of desperation—when even the officials who are supposed to be enforcing the law throw up their hands and file a complaint about themselves, to themselves, because there's no one else to complain to, things are officially off-the-rails.

"People will say: 'You're the chair of the commission. You should work from within.' I tried," Ravel told CNN Monday. "We needed to take more creative avenues to try and get public disclosure."

Petitions are almost always filed by outsiders hoping to change policy. The FEC chief now counts herself as one of those outsiders.