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GOP donors stuffing party committees' 2016 coffers thanks to budget loophole

A provision quietly inserted into last year’s Cromnibus spending bill increased the maximum party committees can accept to over $334,000 – and Republicans are out-raising Democrats among these mega-donors by an 11-to-1 margin

Ben Jacobs and Russ Choma in Washington
Wednesday 27 May 2015 21.10 BST

A new loophole stuck into a budget bill last year allows donors to gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties. However, only the Republican party is benefiting from it.

A provision quietly inserted into the combination continuing resolution/omnibus spending bill – or Cromnibus – last year increased the maximum that party committees can accept from $33,400 to over $334,000 each year. (The limits were also increased for senate and congressional campaign committees to $234,000 apiece.)

And while Republicans are already taking advantage of this and have several donors giving this amount, Democrats are not keeping up.

According to the most recent FEC finance reports, while the Republican National Committee has six donors who have given the maximum of $334,600 to the GOP, not a single Democratic donor has even approached these totals in gifts to the Democratic National Committee. This imbalance is less pronounced but still present in contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Campaign Committee versus those to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The result is that even as Democrats worry about the growing rise of Republican Super Pacs heavily funded by conservative mega-donors, they are lagging even further in competing with the GOP in this new category of hard money.

Yet, this shortfall isn’t necessary fatal for Democrats yet. The additional $300,000 that donors can give is only allowed to go to special accounts earmarked for specific purposes, party headquarters maintenance, recount preparations and presidential conventions. These are segregated from the party’s regular accounts, which means that the money cannot legally be used for other purposes.

But it’s still likely to make an impact. Through the parties’ April fundraising report, the GOP is outraising Democrats in these new special accounts by a margin of over 11 to 1. This gap is particularly noticeable with the party committees. The RNC has raised over $36m with 101 donors giving the old maximum of $33,400 and six giving the new maximum of $334,000. In contrast, the DNC lags behind, raising only $20m with 32 donors at the old maximum and none at the new.

Both the DNC and RNC declined to comment to the Guardian about this fundraising and whether it had any implications for the 2016 election.

However, Joe Sandler, a prominent Democratic election lawyer, told the Guardian that he suspected that this was just a matter of “timing and sequencing”. He thought the DNC eventually “will take advantage” of the new rules, particularly for funding conventions. “My guess is that that’s a temporary difference,” Sandler said.

But for now, this temporary difference gives the GOP a significant advantage. The headquarters account is a relatively amorphous category that can go to building maintenance for offices across the country, and the recount account means that campaigns don’t have to hold some money back before Election Day just in case the race is too close to call. It frees up valuable hard money that can be used to elect candidates up and down the ticket in 2016, and gives additional advantages to the party which can attract the most big donors.


Rand Paul Blames Republican Hawks for Rise of ISIS

by Naharnet Newsdesk 28 May 2015, 08:55

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul is blaming his own party for the rise of the Islamic State group.

The senator from Kentucky said Wednesday that the Republicans' foreign policy hawks "created these people." That assertion led potential 2016 rival Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's governor, to say Paul was unqualified to be president.

The Islamic State group, commonly referred to as ISIS, has seized one-third of Iraq and Syria and in recent days made gains in central Iraq.

"ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately," Paul said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." He continued: "They created these people. ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved — they loved Hillary Clinton's war in Libya. They just wanted more of it."

Foreign policy has emerged as a central debate in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Many of Paul's Republican colleagues have offered aggressive rhetoric, but few specifics when asked about IS.

Paul favors less military intervention abroad, wants a dramatic reduction in U.S. money to foreign governments and stands in opposition to the Patriot Act and the U.S. policy behind drone strikes. It all makes him something of an outlier on foreign policy and national security in the Republican field.

He stood apart from many in his party in opposing U.S. military action in Syria before the ascension of the Islamic State.

Sensitive to being branded an isolationist in the race, he has scaled back some of his positions, no longer calling for deep cuts in the Pentagon budget, for example, and no longer proposing the elimination of foreign aid, including to Israel.

On the Islamic State, he wants coalitions of Arab troops — instead of U.S. troops — to take the lead on the ground.

Paul's comments also underscore the challenge for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose brother launched the invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago.

Jeb Bush said Wednesday that U.S. military leadership is key to stabilizing Iraq, although with American advisers and intelligence, not combat forces.

"Most particularly the United States needs to regain its position militarily in Iraq to bring some order to the Iraqi military," he told Republicans during a call to Republican activists in Alabama.

In addition, the U.S. must also lead an international coalition to create support within Iraq to rid it of IS for the long term, Bush said. "You have to do this militarily and build on that with a political solution," he said.

In his interview earlier, Paul described Iraq as "a failed state" and criticized Republicans who condemn his foreign policy as weak.

Source: Agence France Presse


Despite Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Pledge, Koch-Republicans Will Block Infrastructure Spending

By: Rmuse
Wednesday, May, 27th, 2015, 10:05 pm   

Few Americans would argue that this nation is the richest on Earth, or that there is enough money to make America the greatest nation on the planet. However, Republicans have made no secret that their ardent belief is that all of the nation’s wealth belongs, by god’s will, to the richest one percent and spending one penny to improve this pathetic crumbling nation is an abomination bordering on religious sacrilege. It was encouraging, if for no other reason than someone is saying it out loud, to hear Senator Bernie Sanders pledge that if elected president he will make rebuilding and repairing the nation’s third rate and crumbling infrastructure a high priority.

It is likely that Senator Sanders was sending a message to the Koch brothers that regardless they currently control government spending, he intends on appealing to the people for support to invest in America. Something Republicans oppose regardless Americans’ lives have been lost and are increasingly in danger due to America’s substandard transportation infrastructure.

It is curious that Republicans claim to be the “pro-life” party, and yet their willingness to cut spending for Amtrak revealed that they have no problem refusing to spend on infrastructure that literally kills Americans. There are no valid reasons for not spending profusely on repairing and rebuilding the nation’s decrepit infrastructure. There are, however, at least three very important reasons why Bernie Sanders called for substantial infrastructure spending when he officially launched his presidential campaign.

First, spending on the nation’s infrastructure is a necessary and unavoidable investment in the country and failing to do so in a timely manner increases the deficit in real terms and postponing repairs will only cost more down the road. It also is a boon to the nation’s economy because it improves the gross domestic product and impacts America’s competitiveness on the world market. Last, but not least, it is beyond dispute infrastructure investment is one of the most obvious sources for job creation that leads to increased tax revenue, reduced need for social welfare spending, and reduces poverty. Also, for most Americans, spending on infrastructure projects is wildly popular and a top priority that at one time enjoyed the greatest bipartisan support. However, that was before America was ripped apart by racist religious teabaggers, Republicans, Ayn Rand devotees, and anti-government conservatives bent on starving the government into bankruptcy.

America stopped being a bipartisan nation when Barack Obama won the Presidency in 2008 due to constant propaganda from Republicans and conservative media. The result is that today there are two Americas; one that believes the nation is a “United States” of America, and one dominated by the “real Americans clutching their guns, god, and Constitution” that reside primarily in the Republican-controlled former Confederacy and Midwest. Subsequently, there is a valid opinion that since Republicans predominate the Confederate states, they are unwilling to support one penny of funding for the heaviest center of infrastructure in the Northeast and West coast. It is, as one commenter noted, nothing less than a Republican “bipartisan scandal” putting America in a precarious position as the wealthiest nation on Earth with the infrastructure of a second-rate developing nation.  It is why when the Northeast was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, Republicans had to set aside the so-called “Boehner rule” to garner Democratic votes because only 70 House Republicans would vote for hurricane relief for those “damn Yankees” that are not real Americans because they are not Republican states.

Republicans like Paul Ryan already pledged two weeks ago that regardless the Amtrak derailment, crumbling bridges, and roads barely fit for foot traffic, Republicans would not fund any infrastructure improvements to, as Ryan said, “save money.” However, Republicans had no problem passing a “balanced budget” rife with tax cuts for the rich and corporations, or proposing standalone monumental tax cuts for the rich that would make George W. Bush gasp. Like Republicans’ predilection to always finding ‘surplus’ funds for the bloated defense budget, they always find money for tax cuts while opposing infrastructure spending due to “America being broke.”

This opposition to infrastructure spending is not new to 2015.  In 2012, House Republicans introduced a farce called a “transportation bill” that slashed Amtrak spending and increased truck-weight limits, but provided no spending for the nation’s highways and bridges. The GOP austerity plan left Ray LaHood, secretary of transportation during President Obama’s first term, with no choice but to call it “the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.” Mr. LaHood’s remarks are notable since he was a seven-term Republican congressman from Illinois before he was tapped to serve in President Obama’s cabinet.

Besides Republican Confederate states refusing to vote for anything that may benefit other Americans, Republicans generally oppose raising revenue as part of their Starve the (government) Beast philosophy to “drown it in a bathtub.” In a newer version of Starve the Beast, since President Obama’s election, the Republican approach is holding hostage any infrastructure spending for cuts to social spending like Medicare, food stamps, Social Security, and Medicaid but to name a few. Republicans see the required hundreds-of-billions or trillions needed to bring America’s infrastructure into the 21st Century as “a golden opportunity” to extort massive cuts or completely eliminate any and all domestic, social, regulatory, and non-defense spending.

The GOP’s only goal in hostage-funding infrastructure with Draconian social program cuts is not their “fiscally-conservative” way to “invest in America,” but a plot to serve the Kochs and Grover Norquist’s purpose of “drowning the government in a bathtub;” something that was glaringly evident in 2011. When President Obama proposed increased spending for infrastructure in 2011, Republicans opposed the plan as proposed vehemently. Instead, they came up with a devious “alternative proposal” to fund infrastructure improvements by cutting “$40 billion from other domestic programs, block the President’s clean air rules, and prohibit him from ever issuing new environmental rules again.”

One of the primary, and hardly mentioned, reasons Republicans will never approve a penny for infrastructure is their goal of privatizing the nation’s entire infrastructure for the Koch brothers, banks, and Wall Street. The plan is transforming all public roads and highways into “privately-owned profit centers” by charging Americans to pass over “private roads, bridges, and waterways. It is why nearly all conservative infrastructure reform proposals” include privatization and toll roads and bridges. In the Senate, the Cato Institute testified that  “now is the time to go back (to the 19th Century) to reducing hurdles to entrepreneurship and private investment the way the nation operated before the 20th Century.” It is stunning that Cato said go back to 19th Century aloud before the Senate, but not that the mainstream media failed to report an abominable proposition and admission that conservatives lust to return to the 19th Century.

Republicans, and their Koch libertarian masters, believe that giving the highway system to corporations and allowing private turnpike companies to build thousands of miles of toll roads the nation’s infrastructure would be in great shape. Cato, in speaking for the Kochs, claimed that “the takeover of infrastructure like highways and bridges by the government in the 20th century was a drastic mistake, and policymakers should focus on correcting that overreach.” That so-called overreach created America’s great interstate highway system post World War II that helped created  the now-vanishing great middle class able to traverse the nation without paying toll fees to corporations; but those days of ‘free passage‘ are numbered if Republicans have their way.

There are other reasons Republicans will never, never ever, again support funding infrastructure improvements, but they are too numerous to note. Except, however, it is worth noting that the hundreds-of-thousands of Americans working on infrastructure projects earn living wages thanks to the 1931 New Deal law, the Davis-Bacon Act, that requires payment of the local prevailing wage on all public works projects for laborers and mechanics. Republicans want that, and all other, New Deal employee protections abolished and teabagger Senator Mike Lee made repealing Davis-Bacon a major requirement for any future infrastructure funding bill.

It was encouraging to hear Bernie Sanders make infrastructure improvements one of his proposals to help rebuild the middle class and give America back to the masses. However, as long as the Koch brothers control the Congress, and the Republican Party, there will never be another penny spent to “improve and rebuild” America. Not, that is, unless Democrats concede that Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, Medicaid, environmental protections, and labor laws are abolished in their entirety before one red cent is spent on infrastructure.


Watch Elizabeth Warren hammer the rich: ‘We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this any more’

Zaid Jilani, AlterNet
28 May 2015 at 06:31 ET       

Tuesday night, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) spoke at the Re/code conference, a confab of media and tech influencers. During a question and answer session, a voter asked why politicians aren’t building infrastructure or implementing other policy that respects the will of the people. Warren explained that the government in Washington just isn’t responsive to the people who elected it – and won’t be unless their constituents revolt and demand accountability:

QUESTION: How am I or the fifty percent of people who can vote or don’t supposed to actually believe any politician that says we are going to rebuild this country, energy infrastructure, internet infrastructure, education all these things matter. I believe that. And with interest rates this low, it makes sense for us to issue paper on 30 or 100 year notes to rebuild America. Why aren’t we doing that?

WARREN: It’s exactly the right question. We are not doing it because the people in Washington, too many of the people in Washington, do not represent the folks who elected them. They represent the rich and the powerful who don’t want their taxes raised, who don’t want to see any change. Who are perfectly happy with things where they are, indeed they’re doing great with things where they are. And they stay in the ear of enough of the folks in Washington that it has made it impossible to get any kind of change. The only way we get change is when enough people in this country say I’m mad as hell and I’m fed up and I’m not going to do this anymore. You are not going to go back and represent me in Washington, DC. if you are not willing to pass a meaningful infrastructure bill. If you are not willing to refinance student loan interest rates and stop dragging in billions of dollars in profits off the backs of kids who otherwise can’t afford to go to college. If you don’t say you’re going to fund the NIH and NISF because that is our future. We have to make these issues salient and not just wonky. When you hear us talk about this and you say this is like the wonkiest conference ever, can you imagine saying that at a tech conference, when you say this is the wonkiest conference we’ve ever had, no! These have to be the things that you wake up people all over America and say what matters? Whether or not  you’re going to have a job, whether or not you’re going to have a retirement, whether or not your kids are going to have any chance to build a future for them. It’s gotta be about these core issues. And we gotta talk about ’em, talk about ’em enough until there’s some real change in this country that’s all I know to do.


Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Case That Could Undermine One Person One Vote

By: Keith Brekhus
Wednesday, May, 27th, 2015, 5:37 pm      

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could fundamentally alter the way districts are drawn in the United States. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could also undermine the bedrock American principle of “one person, one vote”.

The case brought forward by Texas plaintiffs Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, argues that Texas Senate Districts dilute the plaintiffs’ voting power, because a higher proportion of residents is eligible to vote in their districts than in other districts in the state. The two plaintiffs are represented by the right-wing group Project on Fair Representation, which also brought the suit against the Voting Rights Act to the Supreme Court.

Under current law, federal and state districts are drawn based on the principle that each district should have equal or nearly equal populations. The challenge brought before the Supreme Court would alter that formula, instead redrawing district’s based on eligible voter population, rather than total population. If the court accepts the plaintiff’s arguments, it will clear the way for redrawing districts, to further dilute the political power of already disenfranchised groups like children, prisoners, and undocumented immigrants.

If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it will undermine “representational equality” which ensures that each elected representative in a body governs roughly the same number of people. It would also throw redistricting into chaos, as Census population data would be replaced by a hodgepodge of competing formulas used to estimate the voter eligible population in each district.

The court agreed to hear the case even though it has not been tested in the lower courts, which would typically rule on a case before it reaches the Supreme Court. The intended effect of the change would be to dilute the political power of Latinos, children, and voters in urban areas while disproportionately empowering older, rural and whiter voters.

While it remains uncertain how the Supreme Court will rule on the case, their decision to hear the case already confirms a  familiar pattern with the Roberts’ Court. When it comes to election law, the only guiding principle that governs the decisions of the conservative justices on the Robert’s Court, is will the change benefit Republicans? If the answer is yes, then that is how the court will likely rule.


Obama Takes Bold Executive Action To Protect America’s Drinking Water From Corporate Polluters

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, May, 27th, 2015, 11:50 am      

President Obama and his administration have announced bold new executive actions that have left Republicans fuming by protecting 33% of the nation’s clean drinking water supply.

In a statement, President Obama said:

For more than 40 years, American families and businesses across the country have counted on the Clean Water Act to protect the streams and wetlands we rely on for our way of life – from recreation to public health to a growing economy. In recent years, however, court decisions have led to uncertainty and a need for clarification. One in three Americans now gets drinking water from streams lacking clear protection, and businesses and industries that depend on clean water face uncertainty and delay, which costs our economy every day. Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to pollution. That’s why I called on the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear up the confusion and uphold our basic duty to protect these vital resources.

Today, after extensive input from the American public, they’re doing just that – finalizing the Clean Water Rule to restore protection for the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources, without getting in the way of farming, ranching, or forestry. This rule will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable. My Administration has made historic commitments to clean water, from restoring iconic watersheds like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes to preserving more than a thousand miles of rivers and other waters for future generations. With today’s rule, we take another step towards protecting the waters that belong to all of us.

Republicans are already losing their minds and calling the new administration rule a land grab. Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “The administration’s decree to unilaterally expand federal authority is a raw and tyrannical power grab that will crush jobs. House Members of both parties have joined more than 30 governors and government leaders to reject EPA’s disastrous WOTUS rule. These leaders know firsthand that the rule is being shoved down the throats of hardworking people with no input, and places landowners, small businesses, farmers, and manufacturers on the road to a regulatory and economic hell.”

Boehner’s statement is just one example of the outcry from Congressional Republicans. Republicans are trying to hide the issue. The new rule does not give the federal government possession of any land or waterways. What the new rule does do is give these waterways federal protections from corporate polluters.

EPA head Gina McCarthy debunked the Republican claims of a land grab, “It does not interfere with private property rights or address land use. It does not regulate any ditches unless they function as tributaries. It does not apply to groundwater or shallow subsurface water, copper tile drains or change policy on irrigation or water transfer.”

When Republicans claim that this rule is harming the economy, what they really mean is that these changes aren’t going to allow agribusiness and corporations to destroy the clean water supply for 33% of the country. Republicans are literally advocating for one-third of the country to potentially lose access to clean drinking water.

The action by President Obama and his administration was a bold, forward-thinking step that was designed to protect a key portion of the nation’s clean water supply.

Sorry Republicans, Obama isn’t coming for your land, but he is trying to make sure that you and your children have access to safe and clean drinking water.


Americans keep getting fatter: poll

Agence France-Presse
27 May 2015 at 15:10 ET                  

Waistlines of American adults kept growing last year with obesity creeping up to 27.7 percent, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

It was the highest percentage since Gallup started studying American weight issues in 2008, the pollster said.

The rate was 27.1 percent in 2013, 26.2 percent in 2012 and 25.5 percent in 2008.

The percentage of Americans who are either obese or simply overweight stood at 62.9 percent last year. And more overweight people passed over into the more serious obese category, Gallup said.

Americans who have a body mass index of 30 or higher are classified as obese.

Gallup said that obesity rates rose in particular among people over age 45 and among women.

As in previous years, African Americans, the poorest Americans and people living in southern states like Mississippi or Louisiana are the most likely to suffer from obesity.

Obese people also enjoy less “well-being,” calculated with a related poll that takes into account personal, social and financial factors.

The Gallup poll involved 176,702 American adults and was conducted from January 2 through December 30, 2014. It had a margin of error ranging from one to four percentage points, depending on the size of the state being studied.

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