|11:49 AM, Jul 28, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Lamar Alexander, the two-term Republican senator from Tennessee, is in a strong position to win reelection this November. But only if he can get through his August 7 primary.
Polling has been scarce in the race between Alexander and his GOP primary challenger, state representative Joe Carr, though the incumbent enjoys advantages in fundraising and name recognition (Alexander twice served as governor in the 1980s). An independent poll in January found Carr down by 40 points.
But with Carr getting somewhat of a boost from endorsements by radio host Laura Ingraham and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, an independent outside group supporting Alexander isn't taking any chances. Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions has a new TV ad running in the Nashville and Knoxville markets that, according to Politico, is a $257,000 buy over the final week and a half of the primary.
The spot refers to Alexander as a "conservative leader" and references unrest in the Middle East and the border crisis. Watch the ad below:
The ad attempts to address the chief argument Carr is making in the primary: that Alexander has been too soft on immigration. The voiceover says Alexander is "working to secure our nation [and] strengthening our borders" before moving on to tout the senator's record on energy.
But Carr and those who oppose Alexander cite his vote for the Senate's Gang of 8 immigration bill as evidence that the Republican incumbent isn't on their side. Alexander defended his vote for the bill in an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD last week:
“I voted to end amnesty,” he says. “By doing nothing, you perpetuate amnesty for 11 million people who are here illegally. I voted to double border security, end amnesty for those 11 million people, and create a legal immigration system.”
Tennessee is a conservative state, but there was some indication its residents might have supported Alexander’s vote. In a June 2013 poll sponsored by a pro-immigration-reform organization, 63 percent of respondents from Tennessee said they approved a description of the Gang of 8’s proposed legislation.
Nevertheless, Carr says Alexander’s vote for the reform bill is out of step with the views of most Tennessee voters and an example of how the senator “capitulated” to the Chamber of Commerce. “When both senators are promoting an alternative other than securing the border and the rule of law and advocating for the American worker, vis-à-vis amnesty, then it gives you a distorted picture about what Tennesseans really want,” Carr says. On August 20, 2013, Carr formally entered the primary against Alexander, with the senator’s immigration reform vote chief among his complaints.
10:25 AM, Jul 28, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown has a new ad targeting what the Republican calls the Democrats' "pro-amnesty policies." The 30-second spot, among the first in the 2014 cycle to address the illegal immigration crisis on the border, features the former Massachusetts senator juxtaposing the security lines at airports and public events with the lack of security at the Mexican border.
"We have an immigration crisis on our hands. We respond with compassion, but it's time for us to secure the border once and for all," Brown says. Watch the ad below:
Brown, who is leading the GOP Senate primary in New Hampshire, is running against incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Polls show Shaheen with a substantial lead over Brown, and Real Clear Politics says the race leans Democratic.
9:23 AM, Jul 28, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Agreement has been reached on the particulars of a bill that supporters say will fix the VA’s problem and as Matthew Daly of the AP reports:
The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have scheduled a news conference Monday afternoon to unveil a plan expected to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care.
The announcement has been some time in coming, which might account for the limited enthusiasm with which it is being received:
Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the agreement was good news - although several months late. "It's about time they're doing their jobs … You don't get a medal for doing your job.”
Also, one thinks, more money and more flexibility may not necessarily root out the corruption revealed to be systemic at the VA:
… which has been rocked by reports of patients dying while awaiting VA treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays.
7:01 AM, Jul 28, 2014 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
The New York Times has described M.I.T. economist Jonathan Gruber as “a card-carrying Democrat” whose “position as an adviser to the influential Congressional Budget Office also left him perfectly positioned to advise the White House on health reform.” Moreover, the Times writes, “After Mr. Gruber helped the administration put together the basic principles of the [Obamacare] proposal, the White House lent him to Capitol Hill to help Congressional staff members draft the specifics of the legislation.” Now it turns out that, as the Competitive Enterprise Institute has unearthed, Gruber told audiences as far back as early 2012 that Obamacare’s taxpayer-funded subsidies couldn’t flow through federally established exchanges, but only through state-established ones. More recently, Gruber has been singing a different tune, as legal challenges on that aspect of the law have proceeded.
As Politico writes, “This matters not because it is an embarrassing deception for an academic to be caught in, but because it suggests the falsity of the administration’s claim that this was a glitch and not a feature.”
Here’s Gruber, in a video that was uploaded in early 2012 (the relevant comments start around the 31:30 mark):
“I think, what’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all your taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges and that they’ll do it.”
The legislative text of Obamacare speaks of the premiums as being available only “through an Exchange established by the State.” But 36 states have not established exchanges and are instead relying on exchanges that have been established, and are being operated, by the federal government. The IRS, apparently responding to pressure from Obama’s political appointees, is allowing subsidies to flow through such federally established exchanges as well as through state-established ones. Last week, a 3-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that this was in violation of the legislation’s plain text.
The Books & Arts podcast is hosted by Philip Terzian.8:15 PM, Jul 27, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD Books & Arts Podcast with Philip Terzian, on the July 28, 2014 edition of the Books and Arts section.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
10:50 AM, Jul 27, 2014 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
A leading drug policy researcher, David Murray, has a must-read piece up at the Hudson Institute website, "Comparing Marijuana and Alcohol: Seriously." Murray's article is a devastating deconstruction of claims that marijuana is relatively safe, or at least safer than alcohol. And, as he points out, it thereby undermines much of the basis of the New York Times's blithely irresponsible editorial endorsement of marijuana legalization.
Read Murray's whole piece. Here are highlights:
It’s a remarkable weekend when one finds the Grey Lady arguing for state’s rights, and worrying huffily about arbitrary Presidential powers. But when it comes to smoking dope, the mind of the New York Times has fully boggled. Against careful science, sound public policy, and even liberal politics that defends the vulnerable, the venerable editors have decided that what America needs now is marijuana, and more of it. ...
Entranced by the specter of Al Capone, the Times embraces the wrong-headed idea that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. There are two problems with this belief: it’s terribly dated. And it is contradicted by any serious consideration of the facts. ...
A central point is that virtually everything that the New York Times thinks they know about marijuana’s effects is based on old anecdotes (including personal experimentation), cultural perceptions, and in some cases, even legitimate research derived from a time when marijuana was, on average, one-fifth to one-sixth as powerful as it is today. To compound the threat, the mean age for initiating marijuana use today is 18, with a substantial number of 12-15 year-olds starting every year. They are at an even greater developmental risk than the older, young adult initiates of the past. ...
Simply put, were marijuana (or cocaine) to be legal, and subject to comparable access and use patterns by subjects on a daily basis, the impact on their dangers as found in dependency and addiction rates, while unknown, would likely be staggering. ...
No one is trying to underplay the dangers to be found in alcohol consumption. It’s a substance with known risks and exorbitant costs. But to argue that because alcohol is dangerous, therefore we should admit cannabis, the true risks of which we are just discovering, into the same regulatory regime of access and use, is certainly not justified by the actual research. Moreover, the pervasive reportorial neglect, ignorance, and distortion concerning marijuana are, at best, unprofessional. ...
8:59 PM, Jul 26, 2014 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Writing in Haaretz (Israel's New York Times, but further left), Barak Ravid, unquestionably a man of the left, turns on John Kerry. Read the whole thing, but here are highlights:
The draft Kerry passed to Israel on Friday shocked the cabinet ministers not only because it was the opposite of what Kerry told them less than 24 hours earlier, but mostly because it might as well have been penned by Khaled Meshal. It was everything Hamas could have hoped for.
The document recognized Hamas' position in the Gaza Strip, promised the organization billions in donation funds and demanded no dismantling of rockets, tunnels or other heavy weaponry at Hamas' disposal. The document placed Israel and Hamas on the same level, as if the first is not a primary U.S. ally and as if the second isn't a terror group which overtook part of the Palestinian Authority in a military coup and fired thousands of rockets at Israel....
The secretary of state's draft empowered the most radical and problematic elements in the region – Qatar, Turkey, and Hamas – and was a slap on the face to the rapidly forming camp of Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, who have many shared interests. What Kerry's draft spells for the internal Palestinian political arena is even direr: It crowns Hamas and issues Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a death warrant....
If Kerry did anything on Friday it was to thwart the possibility of reaching a cease-fire in Gaza. Instead of promoting a cease-fire, Kerry pushed it away. If this failed diplomatic attempt leads Israel to escalate its operation in Gaza, the American secretary of state will be responsible for every additional drop of blood that is spilled.
These words come from the heart of the peace camp in Israel. They come from one of President Obama's strongest defenders in Israel. And they present to Barack Obama this question: How do you ask an Israeli--or a Palestinian--to die for John Kerry's mistakes? Surely it's time for John Kerry to go.
9:18 AM, Jul 26, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In making the case for closing tax loopholes used by corporations, President Obama says in his weekly address that the American people "don't get to pick which rules you play by." Neither should corporations, Obama argues.
"Even as corporate profits are as high as ever, a small but growing group of big corporations are fleeing the country to get out of paying taxes. They’re keeping most of their business inside the United States, but they’re basically renouncing their citizenship and declaring that they’re based somewhere else, just to avoid paying their fair share," Obama says.
"I want to be clear: this is only a few big corporations so far. The vast majority of American businesses pay their taxes right here in the United States. But when some companies cherrypick their taxes, it damages the country’s finances. It adds to the deficit. It makes it harder to invest in the things that will keep America strong, and it sticks you with the tab for what they stash offshore. Right now, a loophole in our tax laws makes this totally legal – and I think that’s totally wrong. You don’t get to pick which rules you play by, or which tax rate you pay, and neither should these companies."
The irony of President Obama -- who has been criticized for governing by interpreting laws however he says fit and by executive order--was not lost on everyone.
Don Stewart, a communications aide to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, tweeted, "Pres. Obama actually said this today: "You don’t get to pick which rules you play by" 1.usa.gov/1rHufLS #SelfAwareness."
12:00 AM, Jul 26, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Celebrating a fourth birthday and growing nicely. That’s the story of the Dodd-Frank law, designed to end a “too big to fail” banking system that forced taxpayers to bail out bankers who took not only their own banks but the entire financial system to the verge of collapse, and brought on a record recession. Dodd-Frank, which weighed in at over 2,000 pages at birth, has since put on 14,000 pages of implementing regulations, with more to come. Lawyers here in Washington, as always the big winners when the politicians decide to fix something, estimate that the delicious regulation-writing is only half done, and that it will be five-to-ten years before all the required 400+ rules are in place. Enough fees to fund the college education of their children and, with luck, their grandchildren.
Still to come are rules requiring greater transparency for complicated transactions, and tougher rules to govern the credit rating agencies that splashed AAA ratings on duff securities, and still earn their fees from issuers only if their ratings are high enough to allow the transactions to proceed. The SEC has already notified S&P that it might face fraud charges in connection with some of the credit ratings it issued in 2011.
By which time dozens of amendments will have been added to the existing statute. Some 80 percent of the voters polled by Lake Research Partners say tighter regulation of Wall Street is needed. No surprise that President Obama, for whom bankers are his favorite whipping boy -- or a close second to Republicans -- used the occasion of a recent radio interview to call for additional measures to reduce risk-taking by financial institutions. Republican senator John McCain joined with Democrat Elizabeth Warren, the current darling of the White House and the party’s left, to go further: hey introduced legislation to completely separate risk-taking investment banking from plain vanilla deposit-taking. The so-called Volcker rule, which prevents banks from making risky bets with their own capital, will not go into effect until next year, at which time we will find out whether it accomplishes by rule what McCain-Warren aims to achieve by breaking up the banks into separate risky and non-risky institutions.
Regulatory cost is not the only problem Dodd-Frank has created. The regulatory maze awaits banks with assets of more than $50 billion. So banks approaching that size have an incentive to cut back on lending, since the borrowers’ IOUs are assets for the bank. Such credit squeezes by “small” banks hurt their small- and medium-size business customers, the very ones being counted on to grow and create the jobs that might turn the feeble recovery into a robust one, and relieve Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen of any guilt she might feel at tightening monetary policy.
Fortunately, Dodd-Frank seems to have accomplished more than to provide a flow of legal fees.
· The “stress tests” to which banks must submit periodically encourage more sensible management of risk.
· Banks now have “living wills” that lay out liquidation procedures aimed at forcing share- and bond-holders to bear all of the losses should a bank fail; taxpayers presumably will not be called on again to bail out a failed bank.
4:02 PM, Jul 25, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The Obama administration is preparing to effectively "nullify" the immigration laws of the United States through an executive action, says one Republican senator. As Time reported Thursday, President Obama appears prepared to provide millions of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. work authorization via executive orders:
When President Obama issues executive orders on immigration in coming weeks, pro-reform activists are expecting something dramatic: temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for perhaps several million undocumented immigrants. If the activists are right, the sweeping move would upend a contentious policy fight and carry broad political consequences.
The activists met privately with the President and his aides June 30 at the White House, and say in that meeting Obama suggested he will act before the November midterm elections. They hope his decision will offer relief to a significant percentage of the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. “He seems resolute that he’s going to go big and go soon,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice.
But Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican, says in a statement that the "temporary relief from deportation" would be a de facto ending of immigration enforcement:
It has now been extensively reported that these executive actions will likely expand his Deferred Action program (DACA) to apply to an additional 5–6 million adult illegal immigrants. The existing DACA program has been widely misunderstood. The executive action did not, as The Hill writes today, only result in ‘deferred deportations for young undocumented immigrants.’ Illegal immigrants in the interior of the U.S. have already, as a practical matter, been immune from enforcement under this Administration. DACA applies to individuals up to 30 years of age and provides actual amnesty papers, photo ID, and work permits to illegal immigrants—who can then take any job in America.
The President’s planned executive orders would expand this permitting program to another 5–6 million illegal immigrants. This would effectively end immigration enforcement in America.
Sessions goes on to urge Americans to call on their elected members of Congress to not support any bill dealing with the current border crisis that does not "block" the Obama administration's executive actions.
3:19 PM, Jul 25, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
CNBC reports the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Douglas Lute, is saying that
Russia has now amassed around 15,000 troops along the border with Ukraine ... a higher figure than one previously cited by the Pentagon.
With the men, comes material as
U.S. intelligence also indicates that Russia plans to soon provide heavier and more sophisticated weaponry to Ukrainian separatists, a Pentagon spokesman said on Friday.
These reports confine themselves to capabilities, with neither Ambassador Lute nor the Pentagon spokesman saying anything about Russian intentions.
But they can’t be good.
2:01 PM, Jul 25, 2014 • By IKE BRANNON
The law does not always deliver what people might consider the “fairest” outcome. But setting aside the law and the various compromises made by elected officials when they crafted it in order to deliver a “fair” outcome would be a costly mistake—costly for every single city, county or state government that borrows money. Unfortunately, this is precisely what may occur in Detroit when the courts finish adjudicating the morass that is the Motor City's historic bankruptcy.
Detroit filed for bankruptcy protection just over a year ago, saddled with $19 billion of debt—most of which is in the form of unfunded pension obligations. Its financial demise was decades in the making, the result of middle class flight combined with a gradually worsening economic climate in the region, all of which was exacerbated by a series of poor decisions made by various governments over the years.
In order to shed its debt, bankruptcy law requires there be a repayment plan that is agreed upon by a majority of each class of creditor. Like almost anything of import in this day and age, the process has become highly politicized: Public employee unions and other Detroit denizens are fighting a public relations battle that is encouraging the under-valuation of Detroit’s assets—namely its historic fine art collection, along with real estate and infrastructure.
The city—not unlike other creditors in the same situation—would prefer to keep these assets, and the state has put together a consortium with various donors to pledge up to $800 million to creditors if the city can retain its art collection. There is significant pressure on the unsecured creditors to acquiesce to such a deal.
There is some evidence that this valuation may be low: An appraiser recently suggested the collection could be worth as much as $4.7 billion, although donor litigation and the practicalities of selling such an immense collection could make it difficult to collect that much in a timely manner. However, political exigencies may effectively preclude that option.
Detroit will certainly not be the last city to file bankruptcy, as communities around the country find themselves facing some of the same fiscal pressures—most notably escalating public pension debt—that exist in Detroit. If the city manages to hold onto valuable assets while bondholders hold the bag it would cause problems for any community that tried to borrow money in the future. Lenders would have a greater reason to believe they would be stiffed in a bankruptcy and ask for a higher interest rate, making it costlier for cities to finance roads, bridges, schools, or other public investments. Taxes would need to be raised and fewer public investments would occur as a result.
One reason that the public employees’ unions have gotten traction in their PR battle is that they can put a empathetic mien onto their campaign—that of their current workers and retirees. However, caricaturing the other side as merely wealthy Wall Street bondholders is mistaken; the people who would be hurt from giving in to the city would be the people whose money is in their municipal bonds, namely current and future retirees from the rest of the country whose money is invested in Detroit’s municipal bonds.
1:54 PM, Jul 25, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who serves as the chairman of the financial services committee, wrote a letter to President Obama Friday urging him to stop all Export-Import bank deals with the Russian government and Russian companies:
The situation in Ukraine grows worse every day. Russia bears responsibility for this conflict, including the atrocity of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, because Russia is supplying the separatists with advanced weapons and encouraging their attacks on aircraft and on the people of Ukraine. Russia’s actions are in direct conflict with our national interests.
Yet, still, the Export-Import Bank remains open for business in Russia. In fact, total authorizations for deals between Ex-Im and Russia have increased nine-fold since you took office. While your Administration announces sanctions on Russian companies on the one hand, on the other it offers sweetheart deals to Russian companies through Ex-Im. Indeed, some of the very same Russian firms that are being sanctioned by the United States have benefitted from Ex-Im: Vnesheconombank (VEB) and Gazprombank – two state-owned Russian banks.
As you know, Congress is in the midst of debating whether to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. But in the face of growing Russian aggression, Ex-Im’s continuing – and even increasing – connections with Russian companies, many of them run by Vladimir Putin’s cronies, has got to stop and stop immediately.
Section 2(b)(1)(B) of the Export-Import Bank Charter provides the President of the United States with the authority to deny applications for financing that would benefit Russian companies. I therefore ask you to immediately halt any and all deals the Export-Import Bank is working on with Russia and with Russian companies and to suspend consideration of future Ex-Im deals involving Russia.
Increasing economic sanctions on Russia is not a partisan issue. Only two days ago, you received a letter from Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the Chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations, Armed Services, and Intelligence Committees, respectively. In their letter, they called on you to “give additional consideration to imposing broader sanctions on Russia’s energy and financial industries, as well as other sectors of the Russian economy as appropriate.” I could not agree more, Mr. President, and a good place for you to start is by halting continued Ex-Im activity in Russia.
Chairman, Committee on Financial Services
cc: The Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State
The Honorable Jacob “Jack” Lew, Secretary of the Treasury
The Honorable Fred Hochberg, Chairman, Export-Import Bank
The Honorable Maxine Waters, Ranking Member, Committee on Financial Services
Hensarling is currently leading the fight on Capitol Hill to stop the reauthorization of the Ex-Im bank.
But Iowa Dem missed three-quarters of committee hearings.1:52 PM, Jul 25, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Bruce Braley, the Iowa Democratic congressman running for U.S. Senate, touted his work on behalf of veterans at his state party's 2012 convention. "I fight for veterans every day on the Veterans' Affairs committee," he said. Watch the video below:
But it was reported this week that Braley missed 75 percent of the House committee's hearings in 2011 and 2012, including one day during which he attended three fundraisers. Braley's campaign has claimed he was attending a separate hearing on the Fast and Furious scandal, though there's no evidence the Iowa Democrat was active or even present for most of that hearing, either.
Braley faces Republican Joni Ernst for the open Senate seat in Iowa, and the race is currently a toss-up.
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