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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Romney: ‘Best to Give Other Leaders in the Party the Opportunity’



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The decision is in:

Hugh Hewitt is too plugged-in with Romney and his team to get this wrong.

UPDATE: He has the full statement here. Key point:

I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.

Tags: Mitt Romney

In One Hour, Mitt Romney Reveals . . .



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For what it is worth, The Daily Beast reports Romney is running, and Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin offers . . . 

While it’s conceivably possible Romney would gather his closest friends in one call, and then his top donors in another call scheduled later, just to say, “Hey, I’m not running . . . ,” he could declare that any way he likes, and wouldn’t need all this dramatic build-up. Then there’s this news from yesterday:

David Kochel, a former adviser to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney and a longtime Republican strategist, is joining Jeb Bush’s political action committee.

Why the public Romney decision now? Perhaps to ensure no more former staffers or supporters jump onto the Jeb Bush bandwagon.

UPDATE: Nope, he’s not running, Hugh Hewitt reports.

Tags: Mitt Romney

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Either Mitt Is Running in 2016, or He Just Wants to Talk to a Lot of People



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From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Either Mitt Is Running in 2016, or He Just Wants to Talk to a Lot of People

Maybe by the time you read this, it will be official. But let’s face it, you don’t do the things Mitt Romney has done in recent weeks if you’re not running for president.

Former Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has made a decision on whether to go forward with a third presidential bid and will tell to supporters which way he is going in a Friday morning call, a source familiar with Romney’s plans tells CNN.

Another Romney source said “the call is an ‘update’ call with finance, political, policy and grassroots leadership around the country.” While Romney will not officially announce his plans for 2016, he will clarify whether he is moving towards a run or pulling back from the prospect.

The news of the call was first reported by Bloomberg News, which highlighted an email that went out to supporters Thursday night inviting them to dial in.

Halperin:

Those who have been helping Romney make up his mind say there are three factors in favor of a run, and two factors against. The main rationale on the “go” side is Mitt and Ann Romney’s strongly held conviction that no one in the current field would make a better president. Critics in both parties and the press may scoff at this view, but the Romneys believe it to their core and thus feel Mitt has an obligation to his country to once again shoulder the mantle. Following his crushing defeat in 2012, Romney has deemed Obama’s second term an utter failure, particularly on issues of national security and the domestic economy. Furthermore, those in Romney’s orbit are convinced that Mitt is not just best qualified, but almost uniquely qualified to turn around the nation and help guide the world to safer pastures. The Romneys consider this assessment a clear-eyed, rational analysis of his skills as a manager and a leader, augmented by the sense of duty he was raised with in the Mormon faith.

For what it’s worth, many, many fans of Mitt passionately disagree with my assessment from earlier in the week:

When people go up to Romney and tell him, “Governor, I really wish you had won in 2012,” they’re not saying, “Governor, I think you would have been one of the greatest presidents in our lifetimes.” They’re saying, “Governor, Obama is really, really, really terrible, and electing you would have spared the country a lot of pain.”

Get ready for Mitt-mania, I guess.

“We’re getting the band back together.”

Tags: Mitt Romney

Mike Huckabee, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and the Iowa Caucuses



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University of Iowa professor Tim Hagle, a usually amiable cheerleader for his state, contends I’ve insulted Iowa caucusgoers with this section of the Jolt:

Why Jay-Z Has a Good Reason to Be Mad at Mike Huckabee

While we’re picking on Mike Huckabee, a quick point about this section of his book:

My reaction: Why? Beyoncé is incredibly talented — gifted, in fact. She has an exceptional set of pipes and can actually sing. She is a terrific dancer — without the explicit moves best left for the privacy of her bedroom. Jay-Z is a very shrewd businessman, but I wonder: Does it occur to him that he is arguably crossing the line from husband to pimp by exploiting his wife as a sex object?

Would anyone dispute that the above statement, suggesting Jay-Z is Beyoncé’s “pimp,” implies Beyoncé is a whore, or dresses like a whore?

As noted on the pop-culture podcast . . . gentlemen, if another guy came up to you and called your wife a whore . . . wouldn’t you knock his teeth out? Ladies, if a man called you a whore and said your husband was your pimp, would you or would your husband knock the guy’s teeth out first? I’m not endorsing bare-knuckle dental work on those who call married women whores, per se . . . I’m just saying I can understand.

Separately, I’m sure this is the sort of statement that plays terrifically among the 120,000 or so Republicans who participate in the Iowa caucuses. It also plays terribly among the millions of Beyoncé fans out there. There’s a really legitimate discussion to be had about sexually explicit images and behavior in pop culture, particularly about whether these images, intended for adults, are permeating the culture of America’s pre-teens and adolescents. But suggesting that Jay-Z is pimping out his wife — as if Beyoncé wears anything she doesn’t want to wear! — is precisely the wrong way to have that conversation.

Now, in Huckabee’s defense . . . here’s Beyoncé with her backup dancers at the Video Music Awards last year. No, I’m not putting that photo in the e-mail, you’ll have to click-through.

If Huckabee accuses Jay-Z of “crossing the line from husband to pimp,” then who, pray tell, does Huckabee contend Jay-Z is pimping?

Tags: Mike Huckabee , Iowa Caucuses

‘The Game Is Rigged,’ but Not the Way Elizabeth Warren Thinks



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“The game is rigged,” declared Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard University Law School professor who claimed Native American ancestry and minority status in professional directories.

Yes, she’s right that the game is rigged, but she’s off-base in her assessment of how it’s rigged. The Economist recently ran a cover story entitled, “America’s new aristocracy: Education and the inheritance of privilege.”

There’s no doubt this is going to be one of the preeminent themes in the 2016 elections — the traditional path to the good life blew up in the Great Recession, and Americans are left scrambling for a new way to find a good job, live in a good home, know that their kids are being prepared to succeed once they’re grown, and have a little something saved for retirement. Ever since the passage of TARP, when the federal government loaned gobs of money to the some of the richest figures in the country to save them (and us) from the consequences of their bad judgment, Americans have suspected that the elites’ top priority is to take care of their own.

A serious assessment of our “new aristocracy” would require a hard look at two realms, each one allied with one of our major parties. On one side, the liberal-dominated world of higher education has turned itself into the exorbitantly expensive entry gate to the middle class, setting aside quite a few slots for the offspring of current elites.

Evan J. Mandery, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, wrote in the New York Times last year:

Public and private colleges routinely give preferential treatment to children of alumni . . . 

For “legacies,” the picture isn’t nearly so bleak. Reviewing admission data from 30 top colleges in the Economics of Education Review, the researcher Michael Hurwitz concluded that children of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of admission. A Princeton team found the advantage to be worth the equivalent of 160 additional points on an applicant’s SAT, nearly as much as being a star athlete or African-American or Hispanic.

At Harvard, my alma mater, the legacy acceptance rate is 30 percent, which is not an unusual number at elite colleges. That’s roughly five times the overall rate.

The disparity is so great it makes the most sense to conceptualize college applications to elite colleges as two separate competitions: one for children whose parents are legacies, the other for children whose parents aren’t.

And the non-legacy students aren’t much more diverse in terms of backgrounds:

Visit any elite campus across our great nation, and you can thrill to the heart-warming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. Kids at schools like Stanford think that their environment is diverse if one comes from Missouri and another from Pakistan, or if one plays the cello and the other lacrosse. Never mind that all of their parents are doctors or bankers.

. . . In 1985, 46 percent of incoming freshmen at the 250 most selective colleges came from the top quarter of the income distribution. By 2000, it was 55 percent. As of 2006, only about 15 percent of students at the most competitive schools came from the bottom half. The more prestigious the school, the more unequal its student body is apt to be.

But after college, the problem of hereditary elites is exacerbated by the decision-making of America’s top businesses, corporations, and private enterprises.

The Economist article points to research by Lauren Rivera of the Kellogg School of Management indicating that law firms, investment banks, and consulting firms tend to hire applicants from well-known universities who were already “culturally similar” to the institution. “Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about absolute productivity.” In other words, if you don’t remind the elite employer making the hiring decision of himself, you’re less likely to be hired for the big job.

This isn’t even getting into the blatant examples of nepotism on the part of political or business elites.

Republicans probably aren’t eager to see government officials or politicians telling law firms, investment banks, and consulting firms whom they ought to hire. And Democrats’ approach to higher-education reform is probably best symbolized by Hillary Clinton charging the University of Nevada–Las Vegas $225,000 to give a speech in which she lamented the cost of tuition and declared, “Higher education shouldn’t be a privilege for those able to afford it.” The wife of a president, whose daughter entered one high-status job after another, is not going to lead a national crusade against American elites’ culture of nepotism.

Tags: Elizabeth Warren , Economy , 2016 , Opportunity

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Careful With That ‘We Like the Simple Life’ Routine, Governor Huckabee.



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From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Careful With That ‘We Like the Simple Life’ Routine, Governor Huckabee.

Our Charlie Cooke is getting tired of Mike Huckabee’s homespun schtick:

Huckabee is essentially attempting to become to the Right what the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson have become to the Left: namely, a proxy figure who can be used as shorthand by the lazy and the lost to signify their allegiance to a set of cherished cultural values. “We like the simple life,” Huckabee announces in his book. “Status is a Ford 150 truck; luxury is crawfish étouffée and slaw on your pulled-pork sandwich; and privilege is front-row seats at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.” And unlike those “misfortunate” souls in “Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or in Beverly Hills,” we know the joy that one can get from wading “in chest-deep water to hunt mallards.” Insofar as it goes, there is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, I like many of these things too. But the self-conscious spinning of local tradition into a national political aesthetic is invariably irritating, and, typically, electorally counterproductive. There are many wonderful things about the world Huckabee is attempting to represent. But surely, just surely, it is possible for a southerner to run for high office without dressing up as Forrest Gump?

A quick point about that line, “Status is a Ford 150 truck; luxury is crawfish étouffée and slaw on your pulled-pork sandwich” . . . 

Governor, I think you have to be a little careful about suggesting that you’re all about the “simple life” with a more humble definition of luxury than all those coastal elites.

For starters, your three-story beachfront house in Florida — with 8,224 square feet of living space, and 2,969 square feet of porch and deck space — is worth $2.8 million. It’s a nice house, with a built-in radio studio.

And he’s flown quite a bit on private planes in recent years.

Huckabee had a $500,000-per-year contract with Fox News. His speaking fee is listed at $50,000 and above.

And then there’s all the money that’s gone to his PAC . . . 

Over the last six years, the Fox News host’s political action committee, which was created to raise money for GOP candidates, has paid nearly $400,000 to members of Huckabee’s extended family, while spending just a fraction of its multimillion-dollar fundraising haul on the Republican contenders . . . 

Since its inception, Huck PAC has never spent more than 12 percent of its funds on candidates or other PACs. It gave only 5 percent of its revenues — that is $47,000 of $1,063,142 — to candidates during the 2012 cycle.

He’s welcome to enjoy all that; to contradict our president, he built that. But I’m not so sure that fits most people’s definition of “the simple life.”

Tags: Mike Huckabee

Progressives Suddenly Realize They’ve Created Frankenstein



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Also from this morning’s Jolt:

Progressives Suddenly Realize They’ve Created Frankenstein

Jonathan Chait suddenly realizes that what he calls “political correctness” — i.e., the radical Left’s need to demonize, denounce, ban, shut down, and exile anyone who offends them with a contrary thought, a.k.a., “rage-whiners” — is a threat to good progressives like himself:

But it would be a mistake to categorize today’s p.c. culture as only an academic phenomenon. Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.

In a short period of time, the p.c. movement has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular. “All over social media, there dwell armies of unpaid but widely read commentators, ready to launch hashtag campaigns and circulate Change.org petitions in response to the slightest of identity-politics missteps,” Rebecca Traister wrote recently in The New Republic.

Yes, there’s a Die Hard moment for everything:

You’ll want to read Kevin’s take.

Chait’s fear of the Leftist Frankenstein’s Monster isn’t terribly surprising; the mindset of the Left demands enemies, and will manufacture new ones when the old ones fade away. Progressives now dominate large corners of American life — academia, some media institutions, most large cities, particularly in blue states — and many reside in environments where genuine opposition to their viewpoints, from a conservative perspective, either doesn’t exist or pops up so rarely it’s a non-issue. So they turn against whoever’s insufficiently agreeable:

Storming into bars and restaurants, locking themselves to concrete-filled-barrels and blocking Interstates . . . this is the progressive grassroots of 2015. This is the Left, capital-L. This is blind fury, lashing out at others for having the audacity to drink beverages, eat brunch, or commute in a manner that the self-appointed arbiters of justice on the Left deem insufficiently down with the cause. There is no actual “activism” here. There is no attempt at persuasion here. There is no thought here. There is only resentment and anger and a desire to lash out at anybody who isn’t one of them. There’s no agenda or plan to actually improve things. There’s no call to action. It’s just rage-whining.

Notice that there’s not a single prominent member of the Democratic party willing to call out this idiocy for what it is. Notice that the furies are disrupting life in Oakland, Boston, San Francisco, and New York City, places where Republicans, much less conservatives, are few and far between. The far Left is making life miserable for the rank-and-file Democrats, and Mayor de Blasio, Governors Andrew Cuomo and Jerry Brown, and President Obama are nowhere to be found, nothing to say. They can’t take the Left on too directly or too loudly.

And Chait comes around and again — all too slowly — recognizes what we’ve seen from Day One: These are miserable people, and very few of us would voluntarily spend any more time with them than we must:

The p.c. style of politics has one serious, possibly fatal drawback: It is exhausting. Claims of victimhood that are useful within the left-wing subculture may alienate much of America. The movement’s dour puritanism can move people to outrage, but it may prove ill suited to the hopeful mood required of mass politics. Nor does it bode well for the movement’s longevity that many of its allies are worn out. “It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing,” confessed the progressive writer Freddie deBoer. “There are so many ways to step on a land mine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.” Goldber wrote recently about people “who feel emotionally savaged by their involvement in [online feminism] — not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists.” Former Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay told her, “Everyone is so scared to speak right now.”

That the new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence is a triumph, but one of limited use.

Ace of Spades, back in 2012:

As I’ve said so many times: There is a subset of “politics” which isn’t politics at all, but some very dark and twisted psychological baggage which would be anti-social to vent, except in a supposedly “political” context. The supposed intellectualization, abstracted nature of the discussion renders what would otherwise be the rantings of the mentally unwell into something fit for polite company.

Except sometimes this doesn’t work, and it’s all too obvious that We’re Not Really Talking About Politics Here Anymore, Are We?

Or to quote another action movie — because most of life’s great lessons can be found in action movies! — “What is wrong with these people, huh? Mason? Don’t you think there’s a lot of, uh, a lot of anger flowing around this island? Kind of a pubescent volatility? Don’t you think? A lotta angst, a lot of ‘I’m sixteen, I’m angry at my father’ syndrome? I mean grow up!”

Tags: Progressives , political correctness , Political Discourse

The Green Police Are Here!



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Remember this Super Bowl ad from 2010, from Audi, depicting a not-so-distant future America under the “Green Police”?

“Battery! Battery! Let’s go! Take the house! Come on!” . . . ”Put the rind down! Sir, that’s a compost infraction!”

Funny! Scary! . . . Prophetic!

Days into enforcing its new ban on food waste, Seattle Public Utilities is flagging close to 300 customers a day — or 1 percent of its collection base — for throwing away too much food, food scraps and other compostable materials.

Effective Jan. 1, residents and business are now required to compost 90 percent or more of their food waste and food-contaminated paper napkins, paper towels and cardboard, such as pizza boxes. Those who continue to trash large amounts of food will have their garbage tagged and receive a violation notification on their bi-monthly bill.

Following a six-month education and implementation period, the city will begin issuing fines. Starting July 1, residents breaking the food waste law will receive a fine of $1 per week and multifamily and commercial customers will receive two warnings and then a $50 fine for each additional infraction.

Which lucky Seattle Public Utilities worker gets to sort through the trash-talking of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman?

Tags: Seattle , Environmentalism

Nobody’s Really ‘Vetted’ Until They Run for President.



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I talked to a veteran of one of the big 2012 Republican presidential campaigns, and he noted that very few politicians know what it is like to be vetted at the level of security that occurs in a presidential campaign.

He thought back to the 1996 cycle. California governor Pete Wilson was, at first glance, a top-tier contender. The New York Times declared, “it is hard to imagine anyone in a better position to run for the Republican presidential nomination next year than Pete Wilson, the boyish-looking 61-year-old Governor of California.” One might think that a man who had been elected mayor, elected and reelected U.S. senator, and elected and reelected governor of the most populous state in the union would have already been thoroughly vetted by the state’s press corps.

Not quite, it turns out; 17 years earlier, Wilson had unknowingly employed an illegal immigrant from Mexico as a housekeeper, and failed to pay her Social Security taxes. Wilson’s bid didn’t take off for quite a few reasons, but that brouhaha, particularly after Wilson’s association with Proposition 187, hurt.

Another top contender that year was Texas senator Phil Gramm — former member of Congress and two-term senator. Again, you would think reporters had combed over the history and life of a longtime elected official in the public eye . . . until the The New Republic found that Gramm had invested $7,500 in a brother-in-law’s effort to make an R-rated spoof called “Beauty Queens” that some characterized as soft-core pornography. Gramm said he had never seen a script of the movie, and that it was never produced.

In 1988, Joe Biden was a three-term senator, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a top fundraiser — undoubtedly living in the public eye, and the subject of profiles, for years and years. Then Maureen Dowd found that Biden had “lifted [British Labour-party leader Neil] Kinnock’s closing speech with phrases, gestures and lyrical Welsh syntax intact for his own closing speech at a debate at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 23 — without crediting Mr. Kinnock.” Then the New York Times found that he had plagiarized a law-review article in law school. Within a month, his campaign had ended.

You can argue whether this level of scrutiny is fair or not, but you can’t argue that it isn’t going to happen, and it’s naïve for a candidate and/or his staff to think that rivals and the opposing party won’t attempt to use these past mistakes or unsavory aspects of a candidate’s past.

At first glance, this would appear to be an argument for one of the rerun candidates — Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Mike Huckabee — under the notion that they’ve already been vetted by the national press corps. But a party can’t just keep rerunning the same guys forever, and there’s an obvious wariness about candidates whose appeal proved limited four to eight years earlier.

Perhaps it’s a good thing for Republicans to have so many serious options at this early stage — because we never know when any of the first-time candidates could suddenly be forced to confront something in their past that either blows up or severely complicates their bid for the nomination.

Tags: Campaigns , Presidential Elections , Media

Obama’s Position on 529 Plans Is Even Worse Than It Originally Seemed



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From the midweek Morning Jolt:

Obama’s Position on 529 Plans Is Even Worse Than It Originally Seemed

Hey, remember when President Obama proposed ending the tax-free status of 529 college savings plans?

This is one of those allegedly unfair loopholes in our tax system that he’s completely fine with utilizing for his own family. Back in 2007, he and Michelle put a huge amount of money in a 529 plan for their daughters:

According to their 2008 tax returns, the Obamas took advantage of a unique feature of 529 plans that allows account owners to front-load five years’ worth of contributions, $240,000 in total for the two girls. They did so without triggering gift taxes — now levied on any gift exceeding $13,000 a year. Form 709, the federal gift-tax form, shows that Barack and Michelle Obama made equal contributions of $120,000 each, or $60,000 to each of the two children in 2007.

The claim that the tax-free status of 529 plans represents some sort of giveaway to the rich turns out to be typically inaccurate administration propaganda:

As of March 2014, close to ten percent of 529 accounts are owned by households with income below $50,000, over 70 percent are owned by households with income below $150,000, and almost 95 percent of 529 accounts are in households with income below $250,000.

The good news — if temporary — is that Obama is dropping the proposal:

President Obama, facing angry reprisals from parents and from lawmakers of both parties, will drop his proposal to effectively end popular college savings accounts known as 529s, but will keep an expanded tuition tax credit at the center of his college access plan, the White House said Tuesday.

The decision came just hours after House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio demanded the proposal be withdrawn from the president’s budget, due out Monday, “for the sake of middle-class families.” But the call for the White House to relent also came from top Democrats, including Representatives Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking member of the Budget Committee.

Ms. Pelosi pressed the case to senior administration officials on board Air Force One as she flew with the president from India to Saudi Arabia, according to Democratic aides familiar with the discussions.

House Speaker John Boehner does a touchdown dance.

In other news . . . why is the House minority leader flying with President Obama on his trip to India and Saudi Arabia?

If it’s good enough for his kids, why isn’t it okay for your kids?

Tags: Barack Obama , Education , 529 Plans

Here Comes Matt Bevin for Governor.



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In the e-mailbox, moments ago:

Louisville, KY – Today, small business owner and entrepreneur, Matt Bevin, filed to run for Kentucky Governor. With running mate, Jenean Hampton, his entry into the race marks an historic gubernatorial ticket in Kentucky. Both were born into financially humble circumstances, and have been blessed with the opportunity to live the American dream. Once elected, Hampton will be the first black female Lt. Governor in Kentucky history.

According to Bevin, the decision comes after much careful consideration:

“After many months of prayer and consultation with my family and fellow Kentuckians all around our Commonwealth, I am pleased to announce that I am running for Governor of Kentucky. It is not a decision I have made lightly, but rather, after careful consideration of all the variables currently in this race. I believe that Jenean and I are the right leaders with the right ideas and experience to lead Kentucky forward.

“Talk is cheap and voters are looking for bold leaders with the courage to actually do what needs to be done in Frankfort. Jenean and I represent our Commonwealth both figuratively and literally. Our experiences in the private sector along with our years of military service, make us uniquely qualified to tackle the issues facing Kentucky today. We are excited by the challenges and opportunities before us!”

His website can be found here. He won 125,787 votes in the 2014 Kentucky GOP senatorial primary, losing to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, 35 percent to 60 percent.

Tags: Matt Bevin

The Deal: Five Captured Taliban for a Soldier Charged With Desertion



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President Obama, speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House, May 31:

Sergeant Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays and the simple moments with family and friends, which all of us take for granted. But while Bowe was gone he was never forgotten. His parents thought about him and prayed for him every single day, as did his sister, Sky, who prayed for his safe return.

He wasn’t forgotten by his community in Idaho, or the military, which rallied to support the Bergdahls through thick and thin. And he wasn’t forgotten by his country, because the United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.

And of course, Susan Rice assured us that Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction.”

The news today:

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by enemy forces in Afghanistan for five years, will be charged with desertion, a senior defense officials [sic] tell NBC News. The officials say the charges could be referred within a week.

According to the officials, the desertion charges would be based on allegations that Bergdahl abandoned his remote outpost in June 2009 to avoid hazardous duty or important service, which are grounds for charges of desertion under the Uniform Military Code of Justice, or UCMJ. According to one senior official, Bergdahl’s actions in Afghanistan go well beyond the lesser offense of AWOL, absent without leave, because he allegedly abandoned his post “in the middle of a combat zone, potentially putting the lives of his fellows soldiers at risk.”

UPDATE: Army Times: “The Army continues to review the case against Bergdahl, said Paul Boyce, a spokesman for Forces Command, on Tuesday morning.”

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Afganistan , Barack Obama

How a Slain Argentine Prosecutor Could Complicate U.S.-Iranian Negotiations



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Also noted in today’s Jolt, Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald said that recently slain Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman said he had testimony that “Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was one of the members of a committee that signed off on the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires” — a terrorist attack that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.

Yes, that’s the same Iranian president that our administration is reaching out to so fervently and consistently.

So, our partner in negotiations may have had a personal hand in the worst terror attack in Argentina’s history.

In 2005, the first prominent Argentine personality to sign a petition demanding justice in the bombing case was then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Today he’s better known by the name “Pope Francis.”

Tags: Iran , Argentina , Barack Obama , Pope Francis , Terrorism

The President Who Boasts of His Love for Privacy Is Monitoring Your Car



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From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:

The President Who Boasts of His Love for Privacy Is Monitoring Your Car

What Obama said in the State of the Union address:

As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties — and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks. So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.

You knew he was full of it, you just didn’t know how much. This morning we learn:

The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists, according to current and former officials and government documents.

The primary goal of the license-plate tracking program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking, according to one government document. But the database’s use has expanded to hunt for vehicles associated with numerous other potential crimes, from kidnappings to killings to rape suspects, say people familiar with the matter.

Many state and local law-enforcement agencies are accessing the database for a variety of investigations, according to people familiar with the program, putting a wealth of information in the hands of local officials who can track vehicles in real time on major roadways.

The database raises new questions about privacy and the scope of government surveillance. The existence of the program and its expansion were described in interviews with current and former government officials, and in documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a Freedom of Information Act request and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It is unclear if any court oversees or approves the intelligence-gathering . . . 

Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities, according to DEA documents and people familiar with the program.

The documents show that the DEA also uses license-plate readers operated by state, local and federal law-enforcement agencies to feed into its own network and create a far-reaching, constantly updating database of electronic eyes scanning traffic on the roads to steer police toward suspects.

Here come the knee-jerk, right-wing administration critics to complain . . . 

Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the government’s use of license-plate readers “raises significant privacy concerns. The fact that this intrusive technology is potentially being used to expand the reach of the government’s asset-forfeiture efforts is of even greater concern.”

I suppose we should give Leahy a bit of credit. For a lot of progressives, government surveillance of citizens without a warrant is only a problem when Republicans are in charge.

The British were really ahead of the curve on this, weren’t they?

Fear not, subjects! You are secure beneath the never-blinking eyes of government!

Tags: Barack Obama , Domestic Surveillance

Happy School Choice Week!



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This is School Choice Week. The good folks at the Franklin Center keep on eye on school-choice news, legislation, and legal battles here. The organization will be hosting a “Twitter town hall” on Wednesday with their reporters on the school-choice beat, who will be tweeting from their @WatchdogEd Twitter account starting at 2 p.m. Eastern. They invite readers to Tweet questions to them at @WatchdogOrg and join the conversation using the #AmplifyChoice hashtag.

Then, at 3 p.m. Friday, the Franklin Center will host Institute for Justice’s Dick Komer for a short tweet-up on ongoing school-choice litigation and 2015 battles.

Major fights over school-choice programs are brewing at the Colorado supreme court, in the Texas legislature, in the Florida state courts, and in Alabama. Meanwhile, the outlook for school-choice programs in New Jersey is dimming a bit.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is making this the centerpiece of his legislative agenda for the coming year:

“Tonight, I call on the members of the state Legislature to pass legislation ensuring objective information is available for each and every school receiving public funds in this state,” Walker said. “Provide the information and allow parents to make the choice.”

Walker also called for the Legislature to pass a law removing all requirements that schools adhere to Common Core standards.

Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly got a jumpstart on Walker’s agenda already this week, introducing bills in both houses to increase penalties for schools not up to par by the state’s school rating method, ending funding for public schools that consistently do not meet standards and offering private companies an opportunity to take over management of these schools.

Back in November, I urged the next GOP presidential nominee to pursue “an Uber for Education” — a big, bold idea that works around existing state-sponsored monopolies and focuses on giving the customers — i.e., kids and their parents — what they really need. The first element was:

School choice everywhere. Any parent, in any community, should be able to send his or her child to any school that will accept that child. Period. Yes, some might say this is Washington forcing a change on the states. Too bad. We don’t run our education system for the benefit of state and local education officials — or at least we shouldn’t. We do it for kids and parents. Any administrator who wants to deny parents the right to send their children to the school of their choice can get the hell out of the education system.

You never know who will join the cause of charter schools and school choice next.

Tags: Public Schools

Here’s What Your Postage Fees Are Buying in Chicago . . .



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I know this will shock you, but an inspector general’s report out today finds that the U.S. Postal Service’s Chicago Network Distribution Center is wasting a lot of man-hours:

[The Inspector General] found the Chicago NDC’s parcel sorter machines and sack sorter operations were inefficient and determined the facility used more workhours in mailhandler operations than necessary. As a result, the Chicago NDC could eliminate 119,572 workhours from its mail processing operations.

We also found some mail transport equipment with unused space, equipment not properly restrained for transport, and some trailers from the Chicago NDC headed to Pittsburgh and Des Moines NDCs were not filled to capacity. These conditions occurred because officials did not properly staff operations based on mail volume and did not have the latest technology installed on parcel sorter machines to automate parcel distribution.

In addition, the Powered Industrial Vehicle Management System used for tracking motorized equipment was not working; and employees did not fully use the Yard Management System to ensure efficient trailer yard moves or follow NDC guidelines for properly sorting, labeling, and consolidating mail. Further, management did not review its highway contract route transportation requirements. The Postal Service could save about $5.6 million annually by eliminating unnecessary work hours, ensuring compliance with NDC guidelines, and eliminating three underutilized transportation round trips.

Is there such a thing as “peak inefficiency”?

Tags: Government Waste , Chicago

A Completely Different Sense of the GOP’s ‘First Tier’



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From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

American Politics Should Not Require So Much Travel to Iowa in Winter.

A great big crowd of conservatives met in Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend to watch aspiring presidents kiss the ring of Representative Steve King.

Okay, that’s a metaphor, but you know each contender in town intensely hoped to leave a lasting impression with the socially conservative, staunchly anti-illegal-immigration congressman. Our John Fund declares, “The field this cycle is the most open and competitive I’ve ever seen.”

Our Eliana Johnson was there and brought back this key takeaway:

The love affair between the Iowa voters and Ted Cruz is going strong.

The Texas senator, pacing across the stage at the Iowa Freedom Summit in a tan jacket and slacks, praised the state’s “unique and special role in the political process.” Iowa voters, he said, have a responsibility “to scrutinize every candidate for national office, to look them in the eyes and to hold them to account.”

The tea-party darling urged them to be discerning when presidential contenders begin streaming through the state vaunting their conservative credentials. It helps, of course, that nobody can out-conservative Ted Cruz.

“Every candidate is going to come in front of you and say I’m the most conservative guy who ever lived,” Cruz said. “Well gosh darnit, talk is cheap. One of the most important roles men and women of Iowa will play is to say, ‘Don’t talk, show me.’”

Allow me to offer a completely different grouping of the big names than you’ve seen elsewhere:

First Tier:

Scott Walker: He’s serious and accomplished enough for the “Establishment,” and indisputably conservative enough for the grassroots. The Left threw everything it had at this guy and he’s still going strong. Despite the questions about his charisma, he’s getting rave reviews for his passion in his appearance this weekend.

Marco Rubio: He’s arguably the best communicator in the Republican party, and the Republican party desperately needs a good communicator as its nominee.

With rave reviews from Charles Krauthammer and James Pethokoukis, he could end up being the conservative pundits’ favorite choice. Yes, there’s still irritation about the gang of “Gang of Eight” and anti-Senator skepticism to overcome, but he’s speaking about the broad, unifying national theme of American exceptionalism since 2010. Obviously, he offers a fantastic contrast with Hillary.

Rick Perry: The former governor of Texas is likely to be the only rerunning candidate who improves upon his past performance. He still has a sterling economic record to point to, he’s been going toe-to-toe with the Obama administration consistently, he’s got enough charm to work on Jimmy Kimmel. This time, he won’t be coming off back surgery, he won’t start late and we’ll see just how much the hipster glasses help.

Bobby Jindal: Yes, he needs to speak slower. Yes, it’s not clear that a style that works in Louisiana will work on the national stage. But he’s a bit like Walker in that he’s amassed an indisputably conservative record while getting things done in two terms. There’s probably not another contender who knows more detail about more policies, and he’s guided his state through some severe challenges — post-Katrina rebuilding, a pair of serious hurricanes, the Deepwater Horizon and the drilling moratorium. What’s more, he’s been fighting the administration on issues like school choice for years and he moves fast when an opportunity opens like the House GOP botching a late-term abortion bill.

Second Tier:

Jeb Bush: Sure, he’ll have the money, and he’ll have the name. But let’s not even get into the immigration, Common Core, business ties or family dynasty issues yet. Republican primary voters, particularly conservative ones, think that the Obama presidency is the worst calamity to hit America in their lifetimes, and fear it is doing permanent damage to the national values, identity, and standing in the world. GOP primary voters are going to want a fighter, and do they think Jeb Bush has been leading the fight against Obama?

Mitt Romney: When people tell Mitt Romney, “Governor, I really wish you had won in 2012,” they’re not saying, “Governor, I think you would have been one of the greatest presidents in our lifetimes.” They’re saying, “Governor, Obama is really, really, really terrible, and electing you would have spared the country a lot of pain.” He’s a good man, but a lot of Republicans are ready to move on to new options. Plus, you know . . . Gruber.

Chris Christie: If Bush and Romney are both in, you have to wonder how many big donors stick by him. He did better in his Iowa appearance than some might have expected, and he’s undoubtedly going to be a dominant figure in the debates. But he’s positioned himself in opposition to the rest of the party way too often, and you can’t win the GOP nomination from the Jon Huntsman slot, as the Republican nominee most acceptable to the Acela class that can’t stand Republicans.

Rand Paul: He’ll have his dad’s network, and he’s way more compelling than his father was. But there’s a ceiling to Libertarian-minded candidates in the modern Republican party, and it’s going to be tougher to sell quasi-isolationist non-interventionism as the world blows up and grows even more dangerous in Obama’s final two years in office.

Ted Cruz: He will easily get elected President of Conservative America. The question is whether he can win votes among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who don’t already agree with him. The path to being king-maker may be easier to see than being king.

Mike Huckabee: He will easily get elected President of Socially Conservative America. The problem is that his less jovial analogue, Rick Santorum, tried the same approach in 2012 and you remember where that got him: leverage phenomenal popularity with social conservatives to a win in the Iowa caucuses, concede New Hampshire, don’t do quite as well in South Carolina as you hoped, and then you’re the dog chasing the big-spending frontrunner’s limousine.

Rick Santorum: See above. He’s got the same odds as 2012, except that Huckabee’s competing for the same base of support.

Ben Carson: He’s got buckets of charisma and a dedicated fan base, but some primary voters are going to be wary about him having zero experience in government. Plus . . . you know.

Carly Fiorina: Whether she is open about it or not, she’s running for vice president, not president. The thing is, the way she tears into Hillary and touts her own accomplishments, she may be a much more serious contender for that slot than most people think right now. For example — did you know she’s with CSIS? Here’s her speech:

We must understand our role in the world — which is to lead — and the nature of our allies and especially, our adversaries. Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is an activity not an accomplishment. I have met Vladimir Putin and know that it will take more to halt his ambitions than a gimmicky red “Reset” button. Having done business in over 80 countries and having served as the Chairman of the External Advisory Board at the CIA, I know that China is a state-sponsor of cyberwarfare and has a strategy to steal our intellectual property. I know Bibi Netanyahu and know that when he warns us, over and over and over again, that Iran is a danger to this nation as well as to his own, that we must listen. And unlike Hillary Clinton I know what difference it makes that our Ambassador to Libya and 3 other brave Americans were killed in a deliberate terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9-11 and that the response of our nation must be more forceful that the arrest of a single individual a year later.

For someone who has never been elected to anything, she’s got a pretty good résumé.

Tags: Jeb Bush , Rick Perry , Scott Walker , Bobby Jindal , 2016 , Marco Rubio

Footballs. Footballs! Always Refer to Them as Footballs!



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Okay, I admit it. I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to laughing at the unintended double entendres in Tom Brady’s press conference yesterday.

But amidst all the chuckling, there’s a serious allegation here, some pretty compelling evidence, and a completely implausible explanation.

The occasional grumpy Patriots fan will ask, “What evidence?” Today’s league statement makes clear that the footballs used in the first half by the Patriots offense were indeed under-inflated, outside of the range permitted by league rules.

While the evidence thus far supports the conclusion that footballs that were under-inflated were used by the Patriots in the first half, the footballs were properly inflated for the second half and confirmed at the conclusion of the game to have remained properly inflated. The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action. We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence.

A lot of fans are still asking, “Don’t both teams use the same footballs?” and the answer is no; each team brings twelve footballs for their offense to use. All footballs for both teams were checked before the game and all of them were then within the acceptable range (12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch). Sometime between the beginning of the game and halftime, 11 of the 12 footballs were inflated “2 pounds per square inch below what’s required by NFL regulations”, according to ESPN.

Some folks are insisting that the deflation must have been a result of the cold weather, but that explanation doesn’t account for why the footballs used by the Indianapolis Colts weren’t similarly affected.

Finally, a lot of folks are pointing out that the Patriots routed the Colts in both the first and second halves, so that the ball deflation couldn’t have been decisive in the Patriots’ victory. That statement implies that a certain amount of cheating is acceptable, as long as it does not decide the outcome of the game.

As for the implausible explanation, if New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady really had nothing to do with deflating the balls outside the range permitted by the league, as they claimed Thursday . . . are we really to believe some equipment manager or ballboy or other team staffer decided, on his own, to meddle with the footballs without checking with the team’s star quarterback? What if Brady had had a terrible game? Wouldn’t he be furious that somebody had messed with his footballs?

“I would never do anything outside of the rules of play,” Brady said.

But his own words told a different tale, and as soon as he was done talking, a 17-year veteran of the quarterback position, Mark Brunell, said on ESPN that he was among those who didn’t believe Brady. Earlier Thursday, even before Bill Belichick seemed to be throwing his franchise player under a triple-decker bus in his own news conference, Hall of Famer Troy Aikman said on a Dallas radio station the following:

“It’s obvious that Tom Brady had something to do with this.” . . . 

Focus on the loosest brick in Brady’s version of events — or non-version of events — that took down the whole house. The quarterback said more than once that a ball at 12.5 psi felt like magic in his hands, and it made sense. Any elite craftsman or artist or athlete could tell you that the tools of his or her trade are not interchangeable parts. Right before a performance, Jimi Hendrix would’ve known if he’d been handed something other than his most reliable guitar.

But Brady claimed that the NFL game moves so fast, he doesn’t have time to worry about the weight or feel of the ball once the bodies start flying. “I get the snap,” he said, “I drop back, I throw the ball.”

You know who’s really hurt by this mess? Every player on the New England Patriots who doesn’t handle the ball on most plays. The offensive linemen, the defense, the special teams – all of those guys went out and played their hearts out and did their jobs, and now their victory appears tainted. They didn’t have any advantage from a deflated, easier-to-grip-and-catch ball.

The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy:

. . . the most important thing — the Patriot legacy — is lost. The Patriots and their fans will never win the “best ever” argument. Everything is tainted. Footballs (reportedly) have been doctored, headlines have been written, and opinions have been formed.

Locally, the Patriots are revered. Nationally, they are loathed and branded as cheaters, and once again they have handed the hammer to their legion of enemies.

At this hour, even if the Patriots are cleared of wrongdoing, they are the modern-day sports equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Labor, Ray Donovan, who asked, “Where do I go to get my reputation back?’’ after he was declared not guilty in a corruption case.

Granted, it didn’t matter in Sunday’s game. But what about all the other games? If the Patriots are cheating, are they not cheating systematically?

Like Spygate, it’s not a one-game anecdote.

Did deflating footballs ever give the Patriots an illegal advantage in any of their close games? Did it help them win the division 11 times in 12 years? We know they don’t like to play on the road. In the playoffs. Ever. This great Patriot dynasty has not won a road playoff game in seven years.

Tags: Football , Something Lighter

Ah, Yes, the ‘Dignity of the Administration.’



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Haaretz:

“We thought we’ve seen everything,” a senior American official said. “But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”

As Hot Air’s Noah Rothman puts it:

Speaking to the center-left Israeli newspaper, one unnamed source said that congressional Republicans’ decision to invite Netanyahu to speak before an upcoming joint session was an affront to the dignity of the administration.

Yes, it’s simply awful that the “dignity of the administration” was insulted on the day the president of the United States conducted an interview with a woman famous for eating Froot Loops* in a bathtub on YouTube.

*This post originally spelled it “Fruit Loops” … because that’s the way you spell “fruit,” Kellogg’s.

Tags: Binyamin Netanyahu , Barack Obama

Jindal: Late-Term Abortion Ban ‘Shouldn’t Take a Lot of Political Courage’



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House Republicans’ recent pratfall on a late-term abortion bill offers an easy lay-up for any potential GOP presidential candidate seeking to win over pro-life GOP primary voters.

Here’s Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal on Fox News last night, declaring that passing that bill “shouldn’t take a lot of political courage.”

GOV. JINDAL: . . . It shouldn’t take a lot of political courage to stand up and say we are going to end late term abortions in America. America is one of only a handful of countries in the entire world that allows these late-term abortions without restrictions. We elected a conservative Republican majority to stand up for our values. One of those important values is the dignity, the sacredness of innocent human life.

We signed a similar bill here in Louisiana that would end abortions after 20 weeks. It was a bipartisan bill with great bipartisan support. I wish the leadership had had the courage of their convictions. Yesterday they said they were going to bring this bill up for a vote today. They blinked — they didn’t do it. Now they are saying some time in the future. I think it’s a shame. Here we are looking at the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. One small step we could have taken as a country is to join most of the rest of the civilized world and ban late-term abortions.

Tags: Bobby Jindal , Abortion

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