|9:01 PM, Aug 18, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
How does a Democratic Senate candidate running in a conservative state in 2014 try to win? There are many strategies, from Louisiana’s incumbent senator Mary Landrieu emphasizing her ties to the energy industry to Michelle Nunn of Georgia running as a business-friendly moderate willing to work with Republicans. Behind the various strategies is an underlying principle: These Democrats should distance themselves as far as possible from their unpopular party and its head, the increasingly unpopular Barack Obama. The goal is to convince red-state voters that you’re not one of those Democrats.
Even so, it’s tough to raise campaign cash from Democratic donors when you’re touting your oil-and-gas bona fides or saying you’ll reach across the aisle. That explains why the campaigns of five Democrats, including four from Republican-heavy states, have created a joint fundraising committee with one stated goal: keeping the Senate blue. In fact, it’s in the organization’s name.
On August 13, Blue Senate 2014 registered with the Federal Election Commission as a joint fundraising committee, a sort of political fundraising co-op that allows like-minded candidates to raise and pool funds. The campaign committees of Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Natalie Tennant of West Virginia, and Michelle Nunn of Georgia are listed as participants in Blue Senate 2014. Each hail from states Barack Obama lost in 2012 and, in the cases of Landrieu, Tennant, and Nunn, from states the Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won since 1996 or earlier. In addition, the campaign committee of Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire is listed as an additional participant in the joint committee.
According to the FEC filing documents, Blue Senate 2014 “collects contributions, pays fundraising expenses and disburses net proceeds” on behalf of all five Democrats’ campaigns. The group’s treasurer is Judith Zamore, a veteran of Democratic campaigns including Sherrod Brown’s successful 2006 Senate run in Ohio. Zamore is described at her firm’s website as having done “extensive work in the area of joint fundraising agreements [that] has been unparalleled.” The listed address for Blue Senate 2014 is in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
All five participating candidates are running in Senate races of varying difficulty. In the most trouble is Tennant, West Virginia's secretary of state whose campaign has struggled to gain much traction against Republican Shelley Moore Capito, the popular congresswoman whose likely to succeed retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller in the Senate. In Georgia, Nunn has a better shot against Republican David Perdue in that state's open seat; she's behind by about 4 points, and has racked up the endorsement of conservative Democrat (and frequent Republican supporter) Zell Miller. The daughter of former senator Sam Nunn will need plenty of cash to run ads in the expensive Atlanta market if she hopes to have a chance.
5:17 PM, Aug 18, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The latest Conversation with Bill Kristol, featuring contributing editor Yuval Levin:
3:21 PM, Aug 18, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Writing in The Week, James Pethokoukis asks the troubling question: “Is the U.S. economic recovery almost over — already?”
The answer to this question is, as always: Who knows? But as Pethokoukis writes:
If history is any guide, we're overdue for another recession. The average length of a post-WWII upturn after a downturn is 58 months. The current recovery, which began in July 2009, has been plugging along for 62 months. But because this recovery has been so weak, even a mild downturn, like the one after the internet stock bubble popped, could conceivably push the jobless rate back over 8 percent.
It hasn’t been much or a recovery – so anemic that half the country doest believe it ever happened – but that does not mean that we won’t miss it when it ends.
As it soon might.
12:48 PM, Aug 18, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Possible 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie refused speak out against the police in Ferguson, Missouri, following the ongoing unrest there.
A reporter "asked Gov. Chris Christie on Friday if he thought there was a general problem in this country with the way police deal with young African American men and teenagers."
Christie responded,"Listen I think it's very dangerous to make generalizations about anybody like that, Matt. We have millions of dedicated men and women who are police officers across this country, who work in grave danger every day, who try to make sure they protect innocent people across the country.
"So I'm not going to get into this game of generalizing and characterizing people in that way. Everybody should be judged on their merits. Whatever happened in Ferguson, we have a justice system in this country that will be able to make that judgement and if there are people who need to be held accountable I'm confident they will be. But I'm not going to get into this business of generalizing against law enforcement officers. It's not right."
12:42 PM, Aug 18, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Natan Sharansky, writing for the Washington Post:
The pictures of destruction and mourning in Gaza that have filled media around the world for the past several weeks have been very painful and sad to view. One would be hard-pressed to find an Israeli who does not sympathize with the suffering of Gaza’s victims.
Yet there are also few Israelis who feel we are responsible for this suffering. For us, the tragedy of Gaza is inseparable from the tragedy of the entire Middle East. Over the past three years, in countries around our tiny state, more than a quarter of a million people have been killed in the most horrific ways. This wave of terror recognizes no official borders. The only border at which the savagery stops is Israel’s.
Hamas and Hezbollah are doing their best to change this. So what protects us? The United Nations or human rights groups? No. Only the military power of the Israel Defense Forces. In response to our enemies’ relentless campaigns, the army is constantly developing new ways to defend us. One new weapon, Iron Dome, has in the past few weeks protected civilians from almost 3,000 missiles.
But while Israelis have developed missile shields to protect children, Hamas has been using children as shields to protect missiles. This perverse strategy is the brainchild of a society that hails death. For Hamas, using living shields serves the double function of increasing the number of martyrs and galvanizing a free world that values life to pressure Israel to stop fighting.
Whole thing here.
10:42 AM, Aug 18, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Economic factors alone cannot, of course, account for the tensions and violence in Ferguson, Missouri which are undeniable and alarming. Still, one wonders how much less volatile things might have been if the community were not experiencing the following, as detailed by Brookings:
The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010-12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using federal Housing Choice Vouchers climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade.
Amid these changes, poverty skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2010-2012, Ferguson’s poor population doubled. By the end of that period, roughly one in four residents lived below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012), and 44 percent fell below twice that level.
Economic growth and prosperity do not, of course, cure all ills. But they do make most problems easier to bear and stimulate confidence that they can, in time, be ameliorated if not solved.
10:17 AM, Aug 18, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Thom Tillis of North Carolina says the Senate needs "more people who had to sweat for a living" in a new TV ad. The 30-second ad features the Republican Senate candidate speaking directly to the camera inside a diner.
"Washington has completely lost touch with working Americans," Tillis says. "The federal budget's a joke, and senators never pay the price." Tillis, who is challening incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan, says he's worked as a paper boy, a short-order cook, a warehouse clerk, and "eventually, a partner at IBM." Watch the ad below:
The race between Hagan and Tillis is among the closest of the 2014 cycle. Real Clear Politics reports Tillis just a 1.3-point edge over Hagan, and Tillis has had a small lead in every nonpartisan poll of the race since May. The latest from Rasmussen gives Tillis a 5-point lead, 45 percent to 40 percent.
9:34 AM, Aug 18, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The legislative fix has been passed and signed into law, along with a generous appropriation of new money. Also, a new top person has been named and confirmed. So time to move on from the VA and its woes. But before doing so, consider the magnitude of the problems and their duration. As Brad Schrade of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports:
By July 2012, the backlog of veterans whose applications were in so-called pending status had grown to 848,699, according to an internal VA analysis. VA’s backlog of pending health care applications had festered for more than a decade, and ... new online applications made the problem worse.
As many as 47,786 veterans whose applications languished in the pending application pool had died, according to the VA’s own records of deceased servicemen and women. Had any of them died because they failed to gain access to VA health care …?
According to Schrade, the source of the problem was a new, online system which the VA claimed was the best way to apply for benefits but that sent applicants into digital limbo. One analyst became aware of the problem and:
... prodded her superiors at the VA to solve the crisis in pending applications and fix the online system. Instead, the superiors ignored her warnings, she said, and continued to tell veterans that the online application was the fastest, easiest way to apply for VA health care.
Government. The things we do together.
8:09 AM, Aug 18, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Marc Lamont Hill, a CNN contributor, reported late last night that out of towners from Oakland might be the ones responsible for inciting violence in Ferguson, Missouri. He made the comments when talking about the continued unrest last night:
"It was a peaceful rally. I was at the rally, at the church. I came back to the area. I saw the youth marches as they were coming up the road. I was standing there talking to them. They said they were committed to having a peaceful march. I spoke to Michael Brown's parents. They said that they were proud of the young people doing who were doing this peaceful march. The only thing -- two things seem to be apparent to me. One is that the young people who may have moved into an area that was restricted, that they may have moved beyond an area that they were allowed to. The command center, I believe it's called Northland Shopping Center, is where all the law enforcement are and it's taped off. I think they attempted to enter that area. Somebody did, not all of them, but somebody did.
"And the second dimension here that I see, there is a small group of people who are doing something different and out of step from everyone else. They're out of towners. The ones I spoke to are actually from Oakland. I saw them last night past curfew, I saw them this morning. And they are the ones who initiate violence.
But I think the police reaction has also been pretty intense, some would argue overreaching. I was here in the parking lot. I got out of my car, out of a media vehicle, and the officer immediately drew his weapon in a very, very threatening manner."
1:02 PM, Aug 16, 2014 • By WHITNEY BLAKE
Following Texas governor Rick Perry's grand jury indictment yesterday, even David Axelrod cast significant doubts on the merits.
Perry, a Republican, was indicted for actions he took allegedly to coerce a resignation from District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after her DUI.
This morning Axelrod tweeted:
12:00 AM, Aug 16, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
At long last we are emerging from the blind alleys down which the debate about income inequality seems to have wandered. The first such dead end was marked “fairness.” The top tenth of one percent of earners feel the tax system unfairly expropriates too large a portion of their incomes, bloated though those after-tax incomes are with special tax advantages. Those in the top 1 percent who have not made it to the top 0.1 percent say it is unfair that they should have to charter jets while the 0.1 percent own their jets: Hillary Clinton, a jet-charterer, feels “broke” because jet-owning funders of her campaign are richer. Many members of the 99 percent believe it unfair that they should have to fly economy on vacation jaunts that they could not dreamed of taking a few short years ago. Developing countries believe it unfair that more productive economies claim “a disproportionate” share of the world’s resources. Politicians hope to cope with claimed unfairness by concocting measures of “happiness” to guide them.
The second blind alley is a street strewn with erroneous data, data that interfere with the formulation of intelligent policy. In this alley inequality is measured:
· by comparing pre-tax incomes. Never mind that progressive income taxes sharply reduce inequality in incomes available for spending;
· by incomes rather than by consumption, which is the real indicator of differences in living standards;
· by ignoring the ameliorating effect on inequality of housing, food and other benefits.
The result of a trip down these dead-ends is an inability to recognize that widening inequality can co-exist with a massive increase in living standards at all incomes levels. The gap between the living standard of a Saks Fifth Avenue shopper and a Saks Fifth Avenue sales person is surely less today than it was a few decades ago, in part because of the expanded availability of health care, education, and a wider range of public goods. And in equal part because of rapid innovation. Consider only two. Inexpensive machine-made clothing homogenizes the appearance of all save the very poor as thanks to the tech-savvy prêt-à-porter artists who work their copying magic. Then there is affordable indoor plumbing. In the U.S. only 1 percent of homes had electricity and indoor plumbing in 1920; now, fewer than 1 percent do not. The gap in recorded incomes between rich and poor might be widening, but the gap in living standards is certainly narrowing.
3:31 PM, Aug 15, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Kurds need heavy weapons in their fight (also our fight) against ISIS. And as Mitch Swenson of War is Boring reports:
Historically isolated from arms suppliers and outgunned by Islamic State militants, resourceful Kurdish security forces have built their own makeshift armored vehicles—all in a desperate bid to beef up their own fighting strength.
The improvised tanks in the photographs look comic. Obscenely so. They also make a strong point about the seriousness—indeed, the desperation—of the Kurds’ situation.
As Swenson notes:
On Aug. 14, the U.S., France and the U.K. pledged to supply Kurdish forces with modern weapons to aid in their fight against Islamic State. The new hardware could kill the demand for DIY tanks.
Can’t happen soon enough.
2:48 PM, Aug 15, 2014 • By JOSH COHEN
It was a threat Europe’s security services had long feared coming true. In June, Mehdi Nemmouche, a French-born jihadist who had returned to Europe after fighting in Syria with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, shot four people to death in an attack at the Jewish museum in Brussels. While the Brussels attack was the first successful one executed by European jihadists returning from Syria, there have been other numerous other planned assaults.
Last fall, Britain’s MI5 disrupted an attack allegedly planned by a cell of “returnee” jihadists for a Mumbai-style mass attack on civilians in London. And in March of this year, French counterterrorism authorities announced they had foiled an imminent attack by a jihadist from Syria who was preparing to strike in southern France. Moreover, several European countries have broken up networks recruiting European Muslims to fight with jihadist groups in Syria, most recently in Spain where police arrested eight people suspected of forming a group that recruited militants to fight in Iraq and Syria.
Imitating al Qaeda’s Afghanistan strategy, radical jihadist groups in Syria have begun to put down permanent roots. Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, recently announced the establishment of two training camps in Syria, one of which was named after al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Meanwhile ISIS has established the formation of the "Zarqawi Camp" on the outskirts of Damascus as well as a number of other training sites. ISIS has even formed entire European fighting units—primarily French-speaking Muslims from France and Belgium—near Aleppo. Now, with ISIS’s rapid advance in Iraq, the organization controls large swaths of northern Syria and western and central Iraq, which provides the strategic depth for ISIS to establish additional training camps while its lighting success provides the group a potent recruiting tool to encourage foreign fighters to join their cause.
A recent EU assessment figures over 2,000 European passport holders have gone to Syria to fight, while the Belgian security services have estimated that the number may be over 4,000. According to an ISIS defector, many Western fighters are being trained with the aim of sending them back to their home countries to commit terrorist acts. “The volume of European returnees is so huge that it is almost impossible for the European security services to keep track of them all,” said Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College. “There is a strong likelihood,” continued Ranstorp, “that at some point we could see another 7/7 or Mumbai-style attack in Europe.”
1:38 PM, Aug 15, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Yesterday’s first time claims number was disappointing. Today, as Renee Dudley of Bloomberg reports, Walmart's
… latest struggles to revive U.S. sales, following a disappointing Commerce Department report earlier this week, add to evidence that the economy isn’t recovering as quickly as expected. The company posted stagnant same-store sales today in its second-quarter earnings report, marking the sixth straight period of no growth. The world’s largest retailer also cut its earnings forecast for the year, citing higher spending on health care and e-commerce.
And, then, there is the consumer confidence number from the University of Michigan which, as Zero Hedge reports, “Collapses To 9-Month Low, Biggest Miss In Over 8 Years.”
These are not, plainly, auguries of a booming recovery. And very hard to blame on the weather.
James Pethokoukis writes:
Americans have lost a lot of confidence and replaced it with fear and concern that if something goes wrong things will get even worse. People no longer have that feeling that if they fall down they can pick themselves back up. And I think that’s expressed in the expectation variables. The economy needs to put in stronger numbers for people to feel that they are on more solid ground. And it’s fair to say that the politician simply don’t get it and don’t accept the blame for their contribution to this difficult situation. I was not very optimistic about what the Michigan index would do this week. But the survey managed to come in bellow my expectations. It’s a very depressing report.
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